Gail Has Traveled The African Continent Looking For Big Cats
And Keeps Coming Back For More!
After more than a dozen trips with Africa Adventure Consultants (and many more before we were introduced), Gail Laviola is still as in love with Africa as she was when she first set foot on the continent several decades ago.
Her trips with us over the last six years have taken her from South Africa all the way up to Kenya (and lots of countries in between). The only difference between her first safari and her next one is that she is completely comfortable with what to pack and how to make sure she gets the most out of every experience.
“Book a private vehicle…you can stay at sightings as long as you wish.”
If Gail could only visit one place in Africa, where would she go?
Tanzania. The migration is an almost spiritual experience – seeing 150,000 wildebeest crossing a river with crocodiles in the water and predators waiting on the banks is amazing.
Botswana is a close second. Gail described it ‘like Africa was 40 years ago.’ She says it’s the least commercial of the destinations she has visited.
Some of her favorite sightings…
- Having ‘Lady Liuwa’ (a celebrity lioness in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park) sleep outside of her tent
- Witnessing a lioness kill a warthog in Ruaha National Park in Tanzania
- Seeing the migration for the first time at a mobile camp in Tanzania’s Northern Serengeti
- Buffalo walking through the camp at Chada Katavi in Western Tanzania
Some of her favorite camps…
- Ol Mondoro – Located in the Lower Zambezi National Park, Ol Mondoro is the smallest camp and is one of the most remote. It’s an amazing location for hippo and elephant and the setting is exceptionally beautiful. Boating safaris are an option.
- Liuwa Plain – Sticking with the remote theme, Liuwa Plain National Park is way off the beaten track in Zambia. Liuwa Plain has prolific birdlife, vast open grasslands and Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration. It’s well worth the journey to get there. The camp Gail stayed in, Matamanene, will close at the end of this season to make way for a new luxury camp, Mambeti, which is scheduled to open in 2017 – stay tuned for details!
- Namiri Plains – Opened in 2014, Namiri Plains Camp is located in a game rich area of the Serengeti that is not frequented by tourists. In fact, the Eastern Serengeti was closed to tourists for 20 years to allow the cheetah population to replenish itself. Now it is big cat territory, and Gail loved the lion and cheetah sightings she had there, including seeing cheetahs with their kills every day during her visit.
- Kwihala Camp – Kwihala is in Tanzania’s little-visited Ruaha National Park. It offers both day and night game drives as well as walking safaris, and is home to 10% of the world’s lion population. It’s a great destination for big cat lovers like Gail! It is one of the largest wildlife conservation areas on the continent and incorporates multiple ecosystems that support a great and varied number of species. Ask us about a ‘stay 3 pay 2 special!’
What do these camps have in common? They are all small and intimate. They are all remote or in less touristed areas, and all are in areas known for incredible wildlife viewing.
“Choose camps in private concessions – you get exclusivity and fewer vehicles/tourists.”
Her advice for first time travelers to Africa
- Definitely work with an expert to get what you want. If you can, visit your safari planner in person.
- Travel during the low season for better pricing and fewer tourists.
- Get a private vehicle. ‘You can do anything you want and stay at sightings as long as you wish.’ A window seat is guaranteed.
- Choose camps in private concessions – you get exclusivity and fewer vehicles/tourists.
Her advice on what to pack
- 2 cameras with a 300 or 400 mm lens for wildlife photography. Gail also recommends bringing a foldable rain poncho – for the cameras.
- Don’t bring too many clothes – most camps do laundry. You don’t need anything fancy.
- Bring sturdy comfy shoes – there is no need for heavy boots (unless you’re on a multi-day walking safari or trekking primates).
- Bring whatever toiletries you consider essential. While camps have basic first aid kits and over the counter medicines, you can’t drop by a shop to buy something you forgot when you’re in the middle of the Serengeti.
“Don’t bring too many clothes – most camps do laundry. You don’t need anything fancy.”
Gail is an animal rights advocate who donates to many causes. She’s feisty and is not afraid to speak out of she sees the wildlife is not being treated with proper respect by inexperienced or unaware tourists. On her last safari, she hurt her ankle but did not let that stop her! She didn’t miss a beat and never missed a game drive despite the pain. Gail always mails photo albums of her travels to the AAC staff, which we all treasure.
Gail already has her next two safaris on the books. She’ll visit Kenya and South Africa again next year, including a visit to Tswalu Private Game Reserve in the Kalahari Desert. It’s the largest private game reserve in South Africa, and in addition to seeing predators like cheetah, wild dog and black-maned lions, guests have the chance to see some smaller rare and charismatic animals like meerkats, aardvark and pangolin. We can’t wait to learn what Gail spots on her visit!