Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Giraffes at sunset in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in South Africa.

Giraffes at sunset in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Photo: Traveler Ronni Wlodinguer

We just returned from a trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe planned by Julian Harrison. We started working with Julian 10 months before our trip and even then we weren’t able to get into a couple of the lodges he suggested; so book early if you can. We had a few discussions about our travel preferences and which safaris would be appropriate for our first time in Africa. I had a general idea of where we wanted to go and the amount of time we wanted to spend at each destination but Julian was able to fine tune the itinerary and suggest that we spend time in two different camps and that we include Victoria Falls (so glad he did). Our travel within South Africa and Zimbabwe was seamless—every transfer was waiting for us, every tour guide was prompt, courteous and knowledgeable and our flights were scheduled correctly.

We spent 4 days in Cape Town, which included 2 full-day tours with the same tour guide who provided our transfers. He then drove us to Franschhoek and came back the next day to take us on a personalized wine tasting tour. It was a definite advantage having the same guide because after traveling with us for a number of days he was able to take us to wineries that matched our interest. It would have taken me a week of internet searches to choose wineries which he knew instinctively. The breadth of his knowledge was astounding. Julian included a list of Cape Town and Wineland restaurants. I would say don’t miss The Pot Luck Club—kitchen bar seating. Also loved Reubens in Franschhoek. We asked for a wine-tasting bike tour around Franschhoek and Julian made that happen. The wine pairings were good, we got to meet some other people and exercise a little as well as spend time admiring the gorgeous scenery.

Our third stop was Mala Mala Sable Camp and the only thing I can say about it is I wish we had stayed longer than 2 nights. The accommodations were spacious and the food delicious and the safari Ranger was experienced and adventurous and really seemed to care that we got to see as much as possible.

From there we spent 3 nights in Timbavati at Kings Camp. We were not a fan of the heavy and ornate decor and didn’t think our room had the most convenient layout, BUT the Rangers and Trackers were top notch and the animal viewing was amazing. Kings Camp has this “hidey hole” where you are at eye level with the watering hole. We got lucky and were able to watch an entire herd of elephants drinking. I had borrowed a telephoto lens for this trip but honestly we were so close to the animals that we got better pictures with our iPhones. I think that was what surprised me most, how close you get to the animals and how little attention they pay to you. We did one or two walking safaris and I found that particularly scary.

Our next stop was Johannesburg where we had to overnight due to the flight schedules. This was the one place where we probably should have stayed at the airport (this did come up in one of my conversations with Julian) rather than the deluxe hotel 40 minutes away. We were tired after 5 days straight of getting up before dawn and since we didn’t get to the hotel until 4:30pm and had to leave by 8:30 the following morning, we could not really enjoy the amenities or see anything in Johannesburg. That said, we had an exceptional dinner at the hotel.

Our last stop was Victoria Falls. Don’t miss a stay at Old Drift Lodge. Fabulous tented accommodations and a great vibe overall. We loved the sunrise and sunset river safaris, and the tour of the falls followed by lunch at The Lookout Cafe was spectacular. We toured the Wild Horizons Elephant Sanctuary and although you can get great photos up close and personal with the elephants, we found it a bit commercial. I didn’t realize that an excursion into Zambia or Chobe National Park (Botswana) was an option until we were already in Zimbabwe. We had limited time there and our days were full but I might have extended the trip one more day to crossover and experience another country in Africa.

We think Julian and Lisa did an exceptional job of planning our vacation. It exceeded our expectations in so many ways. We have great memories of the places we stayed, the people we met and of course the amazing sights we saw. The general and specific information that Julian and Lisa send is invaluable (the tip sheet, country histories, clothing and health suggestions, restaurant lists). Any time I called or emailed with a question I would receive a prompt, helpful reply. It was a pleasure working with them and hopefully we will have a chance to do so again.

Thanks to Julian Harrison and his team for arranging an absolutely fabulous trip to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Cape Town during March 2024. We had travelers on different itineraries from the USA and needed to connect with my daughter in Gaborone which complicated our agenda, and they all met up as planned. I appreciated the extra help with arranging an additional tour in Maun while we waited for our last friend. After the tour, we were the first guests at the Great Plains lounge which just opened that day while we waited until our departing flight to the Delta. We were met and escorted exactly as expected and did not encounter any snags along the way — relatively amazing given we were on a total of 14 flights in the two weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed each of the three camps in the Okavango Delta. The accommodations, service, food and animal experiences were so beyond our expectations at all three that we couldn’t pick out our favorite and wished we had another night at least to spend at all of them. We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife — lions, elephants, wild dogs and more and have a shared album of over 1000 pictures :). In Zimbabwe, the Old Drift Lodge was also very nice and Victoria Falls is spectacular. We had animals close to our tents in each of the camps which was amazing — elephants, baboons, hippos and others. Each of the camps had great views of wildlife from the tents and common areas. Our guide in Cape Town, Malcolm, was a wealth of information and really helped to show us the city and surrounding areas with a minimum of delay and made sure we had a good amount of time at each stop. We made full use of the Table Bay Hotels amenities, surrounding area and attached mall.

Square lions romping in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Playful lions in the Masai Mara. Photo: Traveler Theresa Philbrick

Jambo! (hello in Swahili). Our trip was phenomenal. If you want to experience an Africa adventure of a lifetime, we recommend Julian Harrison.

We visited Kenya and Uganda. These are beautiful countries with rich, diverse cultures, abundant wildlife and spectacular sunsets. My review here is about the practical side of travel. While the wildlife and sunsets will never change, your choice of a travel planner can absolutely make or break your trip. Julian’s expertise made our Africa visit most memorable, in some ways life changing. We will engage Julian’s company again when we decide to return.

The value of Julian and his expertise is this:

Excellent, consistent communication with Julian, his staff, and local-on-the ground providers during the exploration/planning phase through trip execution/completion.

His strong relationship with on-the-ground local services, and the attention to detail (minutiae really) regarding lodging preferences, transportation preferences, park/conservancy costs, fees, permits, country-specific information, visa/passport requirements, luggage restrictions, travel insurance information, vaccinations, and local service provider contact information.

The most helpful piece was the Summary of Confirmed Services and Contact Details. I printed this document—it was also accessible in a handy app called TravelKey. I referred to this document on numerous occasions, it even smoothed my visit with passport control at Entebbe International Airport. Another aspect is we decided to make an itinerary change to the final leg of our trip, and we were accommodated without issue.

We traveled to:

Two wildlife centers around Nairobi, Kenya’s Tsavo East and West parks, and adjoining conservancies, the Masai Mara and adjoining conservancies, up to Uganda and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Ishasha region of Queen Elizabeth National Park. In Entebbe, we visited the Chimpanzee Trust, sailed on a sunset cruise on Lake Victoria, and visited local non-profits and vendors—purchasing gifts for friends and family.
The only animals we didn’t encounter were the African Wild Dog and Rhino. Well, we did get to visit a positively adorable baby rhino at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. She had been abandoned, was rescued, and is now delighting and educating the public about the importance of protecting the rhino.

In Tsavo, our first elephant sighting was a startling surprise. It appeared out of the dense emerald green brush behind us, as we were scanning the countryside from the other side of the rig, its wrinkly skin a deep, dark, burnished red (from the iron-rich soil they spray themselves with). The massive head, large Africa-shaped ears, and stark white tusks stood in sharp contrast to the red soil covering its skin and the greenery within which it stood. We gasped, snapped a few photos and then it disappeared as quietly as it appeared.

Hacking through dense Bwindi tropical forest, then sitting quietly in the company of a family of wild mountain gorillas as they snack on leaves and shoots, is an experience we highly recommend. There is something mesmerizing about these animals. As my husband noted, when they make direct eye contact and hold your gaze, you feel as though they’re looking deep into your soul.

A visit to the non-profit Ride 4 A Woman near the entrance to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was deeply personal experience for me. Ride 4 A Woman is dedicated to empowering women who are affected by poverty, domestic violence, and HIV. These women learn to weave, sew, and other skills that help them generate a small income for themselves and their families. I am a Registered Nurse, with first-hand experience with victims of domestic violence and poverty, and who have lost all hope. This organization is giving women hope. Their wares can be purchased on site and even shipped to your home via an on-site DHL service.

I had requested soft-sided lodging for at least part of our trip. Each of the lodges were sumptuous, however, our “tented” lodging was beyond belief. I’ll never look at my puny 2-man tent the same.

Did I mention our trip was phenomenal? Thank you, Julian Harrison and team for the trip of a lifetime.

My wife and I originally planned this trip way back in 2019 and Julian Harrison had recommended Botswana over Kenya for our safaris, based on our interests. Needless to say, things were put on hold for quite some time but we were able to leave for our adventure on September 4, 2023 and arrived in Cape Town on the 5th.

Julian had booked us into the Welgelegen House, a boutique hotel in the Gardens District, with a wonderful staff, led by their manager, Memory. Julian arranged for a private guide to show us around Cape Town on Day 1, including a cooking demonstration and lunch in a private home, a trip to the Cape of Good Hope and surrounding area on Day 2, along with a trip up Table Mountain and, finally, a day of wine tasting in the wine country on Day 3.

We left Cape Town and flew to Maun, Botswana, where we were flown by a small charter plane to the first of three safari camps, Camp Okavango. This camp is in the Okavango Delta and the twice-daily outings included travel by boat, canoe and walking tours. Lots of animals and a different kind of safari camp. Accommodations were superb and food, drinks and daily laundry were all included. We spent three nights there and then flew on to the next camp, Camp Xakanaxa, for another three nights.

Safaris in Camp Xakanaxa were done in jeeps, with no more than six of us, and usually four in the open-air jeeps. The guides were very knowledgeable and we were able to see every animal, save for rhinos, that one would expect on a safari.

Our last stop in Botswana was the Savute Safari Lodge, with much different geography from the previous two camps. As we were still coming into spring, the vegetation had yet to sprout leaves and the area was very arid. On our flight in, I wondered what, if any, animals we could expect to see, but this area provided us with a plethora of wildlife. Because of the dry conditions, the government sponsors some manmade waterholes, as does the Savute Lodge itself. One could probably just sit in the camp and watch almost every animal we saw while on safari just walk up for a drink.

After our third night, we flew to Zimbabwe to spend two nights and one day visiting Victoria Falls. We were led by a private guide and it is hard to put into words the magnificence of this wonder of the world. In the late afternoon, we were taken on a sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi River, where we saw everything from crocodiles to a large group of elephants going for a swim.

Overall, the trip was terrific. From the time our plane touched down in Cape Town, until we left Victoria Falls on September 21, Julian and Lisa had arranged for everything to be taken care of. Usually, I’m a “do it yourself” type when it comes to vacations, but it was a pleasure knowing that I had nothing to do but show up and somebody else was going to look after us.

I would highly recommend Julian and his company, as he took the time to listen to my “wish list” and more than delivered with the itinerary he put together for us.

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