Hidden in Zimbabwe and Botswana’s treasured reserves, African Bush Camps proves that an intimate, low-frills safari is still overflowing with plenty of tangible and soulful luxuries. You can read about it below and in the Fall 2012 issue of BESPOKE Magazine.
Today’s world travelers are lucky if Africa is on their to-do list – there’s no shortage of luxurious properties to choose from, an almost limitless list of experiences to have in the bush. But for it to be an authentic excursion, it helps to have a homegrown force guiding the way – in more than just the Land Rover. The authentic Africa is a safari that is at once lavish and humble with the experience paramount, and that’s what African Bush Camps has been delivering since 2006. With a foundation of simple elegance and fueled by his experience, his passion, and his unwavering dedication to utter authenticity, African Bush Camps’ owner, Beks Ndlovu, once a rising star in Zimbabwe’s guiding community, has skyrocketed into an industry leader. It’s a Cinderella story of the savannah in which a determined young man grew from camp staffer to internationally acclaimed safari operator with no fairy godmother in sight. That is, of course, unless you count the elephants.
Growing up on the edge of Hwange National Park, a young Beks would chase elephants from his home, startling them into retreat with a chorus of pots and pans. It was this ritual that piqued his interest in the animals and their wilderness home, and led to many days of exploration with boarding school friends and eventually a job at a local lodge. His career path morphed from accounting to guiding, and as he grew into a senior guide with well-established Wilderness Safaris, his renown with clients grew too. In 2002 he started an independent guiding company, Beks Safaris, and after four years of experiential adventures in the Seregenti and Okavango, he applied for a concession from Zimbabwe’s Park Board. After two unceremoniously rejected applications, the third time was the charm and Beks was granted a 90-mile concession in Hwange, today the base for Somalisa Camp. And while the elephants planted the safari seed, it was initial funding from private investors – Beks’ past clients who he’d guided through the lands he cherished so much – that made the construction of Somalisa possible.
Beks’ African Bush Camps empire stretches from Zimbabwe to Botswana, encompassing concessions in Hwange, Mana Pools, Chobe, and Moremi that include permanent camps, semi-permanent seasonal camps, and mobile tented excursions. Each property is designed with the wilderness as the focal point, enticing visitors with the luxuries of camp amenities and the unmatched beauty of the surrounding landscapes.
In the marshy lagoons of the Linyanti Game Reserve on the western edge of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, the six Meru-style tented suites of Linyanti Bush Camp are tucked well off the main tourist routes. Modern conveniences are not scarce – en suite bathrooms house flush toilets and gas-heated showers, and the spacious living area of each tent feels like a well-lit guest room in a brick-and-mortar structure thanks to thoughtful furnishings. Larger groups have the option of using the camp’s neighbor, Linyanti Ebony Camp. This smaller collection of tents hosts just eight guests at a time with facilities separate from the main camp to offer exclusivity in identical surroundings. The Linyanti’s swamps are the only year-round water source, and the game viewing here is consistent, best seen from the fiberglass confines of a mokoro canoe. Elephant and buffalo are spotted frequently, with lion, leopard, and wild dog among the predators making appearances. Hippo and crocodile thrive in the swampy surrounds, and the elusive sitatunga can often be seen wading or even swimming through the marsh.
Adventurous travelers craving an intimate view of Linyanti get unbelievably close at Footsteps Across the Linyanti, an exclusive walking safari marrying the adventure of mobile tented camping with the amenities of a permanent site. The three “mini-Meru” tents and area for dining and relaxation are a welcome refuge after a day of excursions on foot, each tailored to abilities and interests of guests. On the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan Migration Camp welcomes visitors for a few months each year as the zebra lead the charge to the pan during green season, and is the only camp in close proximity to this annual migration. African Bush Camps’ varied options cater to guests of all interests and adventure levels, never compromising on comfort or manufacturing the experience.
Back home in Zimbabwe, the grande dame Somalisa Camp remains steadfast in Beks’ beloved Hwange National Park, its six en suite tents shaded by acacia trees. An ancient seasonal flood plain stretches before the lodge, imbuing the area with the beauty and romance of the African wilderness and displaying vibrant wildflowers that blossom with the seasonal rains. Among the 100-plus species in the area, the most prolific include zebra, giraffe, white rhino, lion, and elephant – which are no longer chased away with clanging cookware. Nearby Somalisa Acacia caters to eight guests at the most, and enjoys a private view of a water hole regularly visited by park denizens.
When one of Africa’s top guides is the boss, the standard of the naturalists on staff follows suit. Along with directors Nic Polenakis and Ian Batchelor, Beks imparts a lifetime of knowledge to his skilled staff of guides, rigorously training them on all the facets of an unhurried and comprehensive safari. Cornerstones of the company since day one have been cooperation with and giving back to the communities surrounding its camps. The African Bush Camps Foundation, helmed by Beks’ wife, Sophia, uses tourism profits to provide local support in the form of scholarships, income-generating ventures, business training, skills training for at-risk women and young girls, and community-strengthening events. On top of it all, with each camp and expansion great care is taken to assure a low-profile, low-impact addition to the face of the wilderness.
At the annual Indaba travel conference held in May, African Bush Camps was nominated for the 2012 Safari Awards for Best Safari Accommodation Group in Africa – it took bronze in the category in 2011 – and Ndlovu was nominated for Best Personal Contribution to Safari Tourism. Not a bad six-year anniversary present for a man who remains one of just a handful of black owners in Southern Africa’s white-dominated tourism industry. Still, his recognition has little to do with the color of his skin and everything to do with the amazing caliber of safari his guests experience – an authentic Africa that remains unhurried, palatial, and stunningly beautiful.