Dawn interviews Tara from Footsteps in Africa
1. Footsteps in Africa is a really exciting concept, please can you tell me a bit more about how it works?
Footsteps in Africa brings independently owned camps, lodges and services together under one banner for international representation, sales and centralised reservations.
Our circuit offers the trade a óne stop shop’. With one email, an entire itinerary can be booked easily and quickly combining our camps, lodges and internal flights. All our products complement each other and can be packaged together well.
2. How do you decide on which camps are going to be included?
It is extremely important that the products within our circuit are independently owned and run as well as offering excellent service and value for money. The camps offer unique experiences within their location in Botswana which is why they work so well in a circuit.
3. It sounds like a really good way to plan a trip. If I had ten days to spend in Botswana what itinerary would you offer me and why would you choose those camps?
We have 3 different classification levels within the circuit which meet different budget ranges and accommodation requirements. From your one email, we can put together several 10day package options to meet your budget, expectations, interests and accommodation requirements from start to finish, you would just need to add on your international flights.
4. How independent are the camps? I want to make sure that I see a variety of accommodation will I be able to do that?
All our camps, lodges and services are independently owned and owner run so as Footsteps in Africa, we do not own any of them.
Each owner adds their own flare and quirkiness to their product which makes each camp totally different to the next. All the camps and lodges have very different designs, build and décor and more importantly, different experiences to offer their guests.
5. Am I going to be able to see different animals at the range of camps you have – any special or rare ones I might find?
Definitely, our camps and lodges cover the prime wildlife regions in Northern Botswana therefore offering different fauna and flora.
The Kalahari - the black maned Kalahari lions are often seen as well as game specific to the Kalahari such as gemsbok/oryx and of course a wide variety of birds. Rhino has recently been introduced on the western side of the reserve which is an extremely rare sighting within Botswana, especially the Kalahari. We also offer their remarkable interactive Bushman experience where guests can forage for food with an entire clan.
Chobe – the Savuti region is famous for their predators and the sheer amount of game seen never disappoints.
The Okavango - you can be sure to share your time with elephant and hippo and the birdlife in the Delta is prolific. If you are lucky, you may also find some of the recently relocated rhino to the region as well as predators, plains game, zebra, giraffe….the list goes on.
6. What cultural experiences do the camps offer?
All of our products are locally owned and run and employ Batswana therefore guests will interact on a daily basis with local people and learn about their culture.
Grasslands Bushman Lodge offer our most comprehensive bushman experience. The San experience at Grasslands takes place with the entire clan on a genuine foraging expedition. Guests become immediately sensitized to the important role every member of the clan plays, how the tasks are performed, and the opportunities exploited, by the different age and gender groups within the clan.
Deception Valley Lodge have Naro guides/trackers who not only accompany the guide on every game drive but also offer an interpretive walk for the guests demonstrating how their ancestors once lived, hunting, gathering, using plants for medicinal purposes etc. This experience is as fascinating as it is interesting and guests get a true insight into Bushman culture.
Delta Camp, Oddballs’ Enclave and Oddballs’ Camp employ all of their staff from the nearby village of Sedibana, last redoubt of the legendary baYei people who colonized these swamps in their dug-out canoes in the mid- to late-1700s. The guides are pleased to take their guests to the village, where they might meet the chief or some of his elders, and perhaps the guideʼs family. The experience of people living, in this day and age, so simply and in such idyllic surroundings is a revelation to many visitors.
Camp Savuti is situated close to the Bushman rock paintings in Chobe National Park and guests can experience this as part of their game drive activity whilst staying at the camp.
7. You have been involved with camps in Botswana for a long time. What do you like about being in the tourism industry?
I have been with Footsteps in Africa for 8 years, although I have worked within the tourism industry for the last 13 years. I started off with a large hotel chain in the UK in 2004 however my love and passion for the African bush continually pulled on the heart strings. In 2005 I left my life in cold, wet England behind and start my life and career in Africa. I started out as a guide in the Greater Kruger, then onto camp management before joining Footsteps in Africa in the reservations department before working my way up to management.
I have a passion for Africa but particularly Botswana with the diversity it has to offer and of course it is still so natural and unspoilt. Having been born and raised in Europe and knowing a very different life there to the life I now live in Africa, I want to share Africa with the world. It is an incredible destination and being able to share some of the amazing things I have been lucky enough to be exposed to within Africa is amazing. I genuinely get excited when I know that others are falling in love with Africa just as I did.
8. Where is your favourite place in Botswana to chill out and why?
My ‘happy place’ is without a doubt the Okavango Delta. The pure beauty, peace and serenity of the Delta means that I can just switch off from the outside world and get back to nature. During the day, listening to sounds of the Mayors parrots in the trees above you, fish eagles calling their mate across the water and elephants passing through without even noticing you are watching them. Then at night, listening in absolute silence at the sudden eruption of insects, lion and hyena in the distance and so much more.
It makes you realise that life can be so simple, calm and peaceful. It does not have to be the mad, technology filled rat race that most us are accustomed to.
If you are going on holiday, you need to switch off completely from everything to really rest and the Delta is that place for me.
9. What is the best sighting you have had while out on safari?
I cannot narrow it down to just one, so here are 3 of my best however there are just so many.
Pels Fishing Owl when staying at Delta Camp in 2013. I was in Botswana with my husband and 3yr old daughter and I jokingly told our guides when we arrived that I wanted to see a Pels fishing owl. I am a keen birder and had never seen one. I also appreciated I was asking the guides the near impossible. Our guides spent 2 days tracking and searching, On our final morning walk in the Delta we tracked down this amazing owl and it was an extremely special experience, one that I will never forget. I was also lucky enough to see one again in Oddballs’ staff village in 2014 with the same guide.
Wattled Crane on the Chobe River in October 2014. The Wattled Crane is an endangered species and again one that I had never seen. To my amazement, I saw one while on a Chobe River cruise. It was incredible. Myself and the guide were extremely excited although the other guests on the boat didn’t quite appreciate how special this sighting was.
Oddballs’ Camp December 2015 – It was extremely dry in the Delta, water levels were the lowest I have ever personally seen. The largest herd of Buffalo I have ever seen, must have been way over 500 buffalo passed through the camp grazing and to drink. We sat on the viewing deck just watching in awe as more and more buffalo moved in and then all slowly moved off into the distance.
10. What is your message to people thinking of booking a holiday in Botswana compared to other safari destinations?
I am fortunate enough to have lived and worked in a few of the most amazing wildlife regions in South Africa however Botswana beats them all. It really is a prime safari destination and most importantly it is still truly wild, no fences, very little human interference and it is not crowded and over populated with visitors. Botswana has so much to offer, from its breath-taking landscapes to its fascinating history, culture, and wildlife, not to mention the friendliest people I have come across.