With safaris throughout Africa increasingly accessible for more and more people, luxury operators have to find new ways of raising the bar for over-the-top tours, and we think the Next Big Thing just maybe private jet tours. These ultra-exclusive journeys let travelers cover multiple countries and regions in one trip while stopping in a minimal number of airports with no connecting flights.
And while many of these trips last for several weeks, using a private jet significantly cuts down on the travel time: One could easily lose days of valuable exploring time if one had to adhere to a commercial airline’s schedule. (One tour operator estimated that attempting to do the same itinerary using commercial flights would take a full week longer.)
Here are four different options from four different tour operators. Some stick to a set itinerary to be at the right place at the right time; others are created completely from scratch. All of them offer a fantastic way to see the most of Africa.
Abercrombie & Kent
A&K launched its “Africa: Across a Continent by Private Jet” tour, and quickly had to plan a second itinerary as the first sold out. The tour will kick off in late March 2014, and will include a three-night Tanzanian safari hosted by founder Geoffrey Kent.
|Mahali Mzuri means “beautiful place” in Swahili and even a simple sunset here is a sight to watch.|
The tour covers seven countries in 19 days (leaving plenty of time in each destination), moving north and east from Cape Town in South Africa to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Guests can go gorilla-trekking in Uganda, take a helicopter tour over Victoria Falls or explore the sand dunes along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast after going on a private cruise in Walvis Bay. The three-day stay in Tanzania coincides with the Serengeti seasonal migration, giving guests an up-close-and-personal view of the zebras and wildebeests that fill the landscape as they travel.
And, of course, there are the hotels and lodges where guests will stay, including the Cape Grace in Cape Town, the Sanctuary Chief’s Camp in Botswana, a choice of three options in Uganda (the group is divided among the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Buhoma Lodge and Mahogany Springs Lodge), a private tree house on the Zambezi River in Zambia’s Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, and an exclusive mobile tented camp in Tanzania. At the end of the trip, the group flies to Rome, where they can spend two days at the Hotel de Russie.
Good to know: The tour is limited to 40 passengers on the privately chartered business-class jet.
Lakani World Tours
Like Abercrombie & Kent, Lakani’s first African Adventure by Private Jet sold out quickly, necessitating repeat excursions, which will also be accompanied by company president Heidi Lakani. (We hear that beyond the company is already creating new itineraries for 2015). But unlike A&K, this tour is limited to just 14 travelers, making it ideal for a family getaway.
|Lakani’s Legacy interior has been customized for 14 people and has leather business-class seats.|
The jet, which would normally seat up to 40 passengers, has been customized for 14 people and has leather business-class seats. With the exception of one short flight from the Serengeti, with a smaller airstrip that needs a lighter chartered aircraft to return to Arusha, all flights are on the private jet.
Travelers spend their nights in a range of lodges, tented camps and hotels, including Singita’s Boulders Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Zanzibar Kilindi Resort, where the suites have private pools for cooling off at the end of the day. Some highlights include a picnic lunch on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater, hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti during the wildebeest calving season and a candlelight alfresco dinner party with entertainment in the Namibian dunes. In Victoria Falls, the tours are guided by historian Russell Gammon, a third-generation Zimbabwean who brings the guests to a traditional African homestead to learn about the local culture and traditions. In addition to a helicopter flight over the falls, travelers may choose from an elephant-back safari or a walk with the lions.
In Zanzibar, guests get a complimentary spa treatment at the resort and a private dinner party on the beach. In the Serengeti, participants meet up with the Director of the Serengeti Cheetah Project to learn more about the conservation efforts being done in this area. They also get a hot-air balloon safari over the Serengeti followed by champagne breakfast.
|Abercrombie & Kent’s ‘Africa: Across a Continent by Private Jet’ tour allows you to enjoy exclusive mobile camping in Kenya.|
There is plenty of room for customization, too, with plenty of options included in tour cost. In Cape Town, for example, they can take a pick between a helicopter flight to the Cape Point Peninsula or a boat trip to Robben Island. Those who have already been to Cape Town can go to Franschhoek and stay in Cape Winelands, where they can go on a private Cellar Master wine tasting followed by lunch at a top winery. The more adventurous can go shark-cage diving in nearby Gansbaai.
Hotels along the tour include Pioneer Camp in the southern Serengeti, which offers optimal game viewing; Singita Boulders Lodge in the Sabi Sand private game Reserve—guests stay in tents with private swimming pools; and the Cape Grace and Table Bay Hotels along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, close to the city’s best restaurants and shopping. Good to know: Some of the hotels offer complimentary laundry services, so guests can pack a little bit lighter.
Micato has arranged private jet tours of Africa that are completely customizable. A recent tour for a family of six began in Cape Town and looped up to Victoria Falls, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the desert of Namibia and back to South Africa for the Sabi Sands Reserve before departing from Johannesburg. The tour used a GII (Gulfstream) jet for most flights.
Some activities on the tour included lunch at a five-star chef’s home in Cape Town, where popular South African chef Bruce Robertson invited the family into his beachfront house for a private meal. In Zambia, they were taken on a sunset cruise along the Zambezi and a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls before going for dinner onboard the Royal Livingstone Express, a luxury Pullman-style train ride through the Irwell Valley. In Namibia, the family went boating on the Kunene River, and got to explore the wilderness of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Other activities on the trip included helicopter transfers, an elephant-back ride, a jazz jam with South African musicians (the family all play instruments and one child is especially fond of jazz), a half-day hands-on experience in a food kitchen, and bush events.
Hotels selected for this family included the One & Only Cape Town, the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia, Mombo Camp in Botswana, Serra Cafema in Namibia and Singita Boulders Lodge by South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
Note: Unlike the other tours that have one dedicated jet for the group, this trip used several planes to get from site to site. However, each flight was privately chartered for the family, and was exclusively for them.
After six years, Intrav is back under new management, offering new private jet tours all over the world. When it launches in 2015, the “Extraordinary Africa: An African Journey” tour will both start and end in Fort Lauderdale, making it especially convenient for American travelers. In between, the tour covers Madeira in Portugal; the Serengeti in Tanzania; Victoria Falls in Zambia; Kruger National Park, The Blue Train and Cape Town in South Africa; Madagascar; Walvis Bay in Namibia; and Marrakech in Morocco.
Beyond the wide range of destinations, the Intrav tour will have some top perks, most notably the exclusive custom-fitted Boeing 757-200ER plane, which offers 50 first-class seats as opposed to business-class. Each guest gets a 180 degree fully flat-bed seat with six-and-a-half feet of personal space (at a 79” pitch), privacy screens and personal lounge space. All flights have a personal chef for in-air dining as well as Wi-Fi connectivity so guests (and the guides) can keep in touch with the ground below. (This is actually an important bonus: The guides can contact the upcoming destinations and make dinner or spa reservations or handle any other requests before the plane arrives.) And since Wi-Fi doesn’t mean much without a device to access it, guests get their own iPads (to keep) pre-loaded with the full itinerary, information about each destination and even music and movies to watch in-flight.
While plenty of activities and meals are included in the tour, guests can customize their trip without incurring extra fees. Hot-air balloon tours, trainers to accompany a morning jog, museum walks—they can all be arranged, and it’s all covered by the cost of the trip. (Intrav can even arrange a ride in a fighter jet with a pilot from the South African Air Force...but that costs a little bit extra. Still, for those who have dreamed of flying in a fighter jet over South Africa, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!)
All meals are also included, and chefs will take dietary concerns or preferences into account. Private meals at local restaurants can also be arranged, and Intrav will take care of the bill. In addition to covering all meals, the operator also covers all gratuities and entrance fees. (Visas and insurance, however, are not included.)
Hotels visited in the tour include the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge (both in Tanzania), The Royal Livingstone Hotel, the One & Only Cape Town, Ulusaba Game Park or Singita Sabi Sand Reserve, the Four Seasons Resort Marrakech and the Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
In a different combination of air travel and safari, Virgin Limited Edition is opening a luxury lodge in Kenya this summer. Mahali Mzuri, which means “beautiful place” in Swahili, is the newest addition to Sir Richard Branson’s collection of private retreats.
The lodge is located within the Motorogi Conservancy in the Maasai Mara ecosystem of Kenya, about 150 miles west of Nairobi. Visitors get a front-seat view of the Great Migration of wildebeests and zebras, which usually pass through between July and October.
Mahali Mzuri has 12 sleeper tents and can accommodate a maximum of 24 guests at any one time. The tents are perched on a ridge looking over the valley, and we hear the design makes them especially suited for the local climate and terrain. Ten of the tents can be configured as doubles or with twin beds sleeping two adults, and two of the tents can accommodate up to two additional guests on pull out sofa beds. There are six tents on either side of the Main Tent, each accessible by a shared walkway, the furthest of which is approximately a five-minute walk from the Main Tent (good for honeymooners, we say). The remaining two tents are configured so that the sitting area is enclosed with fold-out sofa beds accommodating up to two additional guests—a good pick for families, and also closest to the communal tent. Note: We hear that there is no official “top suite,” but we say that they all sound very impressive.
Stays at Mahali Mzuri include all meals, drinks and daily game drives as well as unlimited access to the Olare Orok and Motorogi Conservancies. The lodge will also have a spa, and we hear treatments should be booked as far in advance as possible. (Guests can also make reservations when they arrive, but that will be subject to availability). The signature treatment will be LaiBon’s Healing Journey, a warm rose quartz and amethyst crystal massage that we hear releases pent-up energy likely to cause muscular stress.
To get to the camp, guests fly into the Mara North airstrip, about a 45-minute drive away. All guests are collected from the airstrip (unless they have made alternative arrangements—the neighboring Olare Orok Conservancy also has an airstrip that accepts private planes) in Mahali Mzuri vehicles.
For special requests, luxury travel advisors should reach out to Regional Director of Sales Katrina Gomez ([email protected]; 011-212-994-3079).