Discover the wonders of Africa with top National Geographic experts, visiting six countries and taking in a wide spectrum of wildlife, landscapes, and cultures. Encounter an array of legendary creatures in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and get acquainted with Madagascar’s quirky lemurs. In South Africa, pay a poignant visit to Robben Island and venture to the Cradle of Humankind to examine renowned fossil sites. Search for Namibia’s desert-adapted species, glide in a canoe through Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and trek into Rwanda’s forests to search for endangered mountain gorillas.
2 departures: August 15 to September 2, 2018 or December 27 to January 14, 2019
Day 1 — Lisbon, Portugal
Meet experts, staff, and fellow travelers for a welcome dinner at our hotel.
Pestana Pousadas Lisboa (D)
Days 2, 3 & 4 — The Serengeti Plain or Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Fly by private jet to Kilimanjaro International Airport for dinner and an overnight in Arusha. The next morning, transfer to a smaller aircraft for the flight to Serengeti National Park. In the local Maasai language, Serengeti means “extended place,” an appropriate name for this vast wildlife sanctuary, which is one of the most complex and pristine ecosystems on Earth. Head deep into the savannah on game drives to witness Africa’s greatest concentration of wildebeests and zebras, as well as lions, cheetahs, and leopards.
Arusha Coffee Lodge and Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti (B, L, D Daily)
Alternative: Instead of exploring the Serengeti, descend into the Ngorongoro Crater to observe the permanent population of about 25,000 animals in one of the largest unbroken calderas in the world. Along with herds of wildebeests, gazelles, and zebras, we may also see some or all of the “big five” (rhinoceroses, lions, leopards, elephants, and Cape buffalo). Spend your nights here at a well-appointed lodge perched on the crater’s rim.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (B, L, D Daily)
Please note: During our stay, travelers will have the opportunity to meet either Meave or Louise Leakey, both National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence whose family of renowned anthropologists has discovered many important fossils in the area.
Days 5, 6 & 7 — The Unique Wildlife of Madagascar
Thanks to its natural isolation from the African mainland, Madagascar has developed an astonishing wealth of biodiversity. More than 80 percent of the species here are endemic, including the island’s celebrated lemurs. After an evening in the colorful, multiethnic capital of Antananarivo, choose from the following excursions to Madagascar’s pristine nature reserves:
Relais des Plateaux, Antananarivo (B, L, D Daily)
Excursion 1: Spend two days in the Andasibe−Mantadia National Park, a dense rainforest that is home to the largest species of lemur, the endangered indri, whose calls resonate in the canopy overhead. During morning and nighttime walks, discover even more life among the thick undergrowth, as the forest holds more than 50 species of reptiles, more than 100 types of birds, and a wide variety of wild orchids.
Vakona Forest Lodge or Andasibe Hotel (B, L, D Daily)
Excursion 2: Or take a local flight to the unspoiled Anjajavy Peninsula. More than 1,800 floral species are found in the nature reserve that surrounds our hotel. Observe the comical antics of the Coquerel’s sifaka lemur, which moves with a jaunty two-legged gait. Choose from a variety of water activities, from sailing to snorkeling the gorgeous reefs. In the evening, catch a crimson-soaked sunset from your beach villa.
Anjajavy L’Hotel (B, L, D Daily)
Days 8, 9 & 10 — Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Cape Winelands, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa’s most beautiful city, boasts a vibrant mix of African, French, Dutch, and East Asian cultures. Explore the city’s beloved landmark, Table Mountain, which soars more than two-thirds of a mile above sea level and can be seen by sailors more than 40 miles out to sea. Weather permitting, ride a cable car to the top, and hike along wooden walkways to encounter the mountain ablaze with endemic flowers and plants.
Set out on an excursion by helicopter to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans churn together. Examine the rare flora and fauna of this vast nature reserve, including the exotic sugar bushes (proteas), a keystone species of the region.
The next day, ride a ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, now a museum whose guides are former political prisoners. After returning from the island, visit Cape Town’s District Six Museum, dedicated to a vibrant and diverse community that was forcibly removed during the era of apartheid. If you wish, browse the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a working port lined with boutiques and galleries that offer handmade crafts from a variety of African cultures. Or you may choose to journey into the famed Cape Winelands to explore Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in the country, or the charming village of Franschhoek. Visit a local wine estate, meeting with the winemakers, sampling award-winning vintages, and enjoying a fine lunch. You may also visit the area’s art galleries.
One&Only, Cape Town (B, L, D Daily)
Day 11 — Johannesburg, South Africa and the Cradle of Humankind
Continue by private jet to Johannesburg, where we’ll set out to explore the Rising Star site, excavated by renowned paleoanthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger. As a research professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of Witwatersrand, Lee has made what has been hailed as the most important archaeological discoveries in recent history—two new species of human ancestors.
Travel by road to the Rising Star cave, where Lee’s team has recently unearthed more than 1,550 fossil elements representing the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent of Africa. The historic discovery of Homo naledi, as this new species of human ancestor has been named, was reported in the October 2015 National Geographic magazine cover story.
Late this afternoon, board our private jet for the flight to Namibia.
Day 12 — Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and the Namib Desert, Namibia
Wedged between the Kalahari Desert and the southern Atlantic Ocean, Namibia’s spectacular landscapes include swirling desert dunes, deep-red clay pans, and dramatic seascapes. Upon arrival in Walvis Bay, take a thrilling flight-seeing tour by local aircraft over Namibia’s legendary Skeleton Coast. Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of one of the most unforgettable sights on Earth: the meeting of the dunes of the Namib Desert, among the highest in the world, with the roaring Atlantic surf. Shrouded in sea mist, countless shipwrecks and whale bones have washed up on this vast stretch of sand north of Walvis Bay, serving as haunting reminders of a long and perilous maritime history.
Choose from several options: journey through the ancient canyons of the Moon Valley in the Namib Desert and see the famous Welwitschia mirabilis, a rare and curious plant that is several hundred years old. With luck, we may see animals that gather along the linear oases of desert riverbeds that crisscross the Namib. Or, travel in 4x4s through the stark landscape to search for the fascinating creatures that live here—fish moths, white lady spiders, web-footed geckos, sanddiving lizards, sidewinders, and more. Cruise the avian paradise of the Walvis Bay lagoon to see flamingos, penguins, and pelicans. Look to the water as well for bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins and Cape fur seals, which are known to cavort around boats.
Strand Hotel Swakopmund (B, L, D Daily)
Days 13 & 14 — The Okavango Delta, Botswana
One of the world’s largest inland delta systems, the Okavango Delta is a breathtaking wetland oasis in the midst of a sunbaked, arid landscape. Because of its annual flooding schedule, the delta’s dynamic ecosystem transforms with the seasons—and its wildlife population shifts with the ever-changing landscape. Venture into the delta’s floodplains and marshlands, which attract a staggering array of species including elephants, giraffes, leopards, and buffalo. Bird enthusiasts can delight in the more than 400 species found here, from African sacred ibis to common ostriches and African fish eagles.
Our adventure here begins with a brief charter flight to our camp, where we’ll take in panoramic vistas at a classic sundowner. During our stay here, choose to explore by open safari vehicle or by traditional mokoro canoe (water level dependent), coming face-to-face with the magnificent creatures that call this area home. Rise early and set out on a morning game drive or water safari to spot elephants, wildebeests, cheetahs, hyenas, and endangered wild dogs, as well as all manner of birdlife flying through the skies overhead. Keep an eye out for lions belonging to the area’s three prides, remarkable for their unique daytime hunting tendencies and their ability to swim in the delta waterways. After the sun goes down, head back into the wilderness on a nighttime safari to discover the nocturnal creatures of the floodplains, including elusive leopards.
Vumbura Plains Camp, Mombo Camp Botswana, Little Mombo Camp (December departure), Sandibe Okavango, and Duba Plains Camp (B, L, D Daily)
Days 15, 16 & 17 — Rwanda: Kigali and Volcanoes National Park
Our private jet takes us to Rwanda, a land of rolling green hills; majestic volcanoes; and lush, grassy lowlands. The bamboo forests of the Virunga volcanic mountain range are home to roughly half of the approximately 880 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Upon arrival in the capital of Kigali, travel overland to Volcanoes National Park, where the late Dian Fossey famously studied these majestic animals with support from National Geographic.
Embark on an unforgettable trek in Volcanoes National Park with local guides in search of endangered mountain gorillas. These highly social creatures can be found in communities of more than 20 individuals, each led by an older, dominant male known as a silverback for the silver sheen of its fur. Enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe gorilla families up close in their natural habitat and witness their unique behaviors. Along the way, learn about the conservation efforts that have brought the species back from the brink of extinction after decades of decline due to war, poaching, and habitat loss, as well as renewed threats that mountain gorillas face today.
Then return to Kigali, where charming boulevards and lively markets set the backdrop for a cosmopolitan scene. Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a meaningful tribute to those who perished in the genocide of 1994. You will have an opportunity to hear survivors’ stories and learn how the country is reconciling its turbulent past with a bright future through unity and peace.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Amakoro Songa Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel: Kigali Marriott Hotel (B, L, D Daily)
Please note: Because the hikes at Volcanoes National Park are arduous, your doctor’s approval is required. A personal porter will be available to each traveler for assistance.
Days 18 & 19 — Lisbon, Portugal
Our private jet returns to Lisbon, where we celebrate our journey with a farewell dinner. The next morning, transfer to the airport to connect with your commercial flight home.
Pestana Pousadas Lisboa (B, L, D; B)