Africa is home to some 2,000 languages, nine biomes, 119 terrestrial ecoregions, about 45,000 plant species, 1,100 species of mammals, almost 2,500 bird species, and 950 amphibian species.
Most visitors experience only a fraction of that diversity, but 44 travelers will next September board a private jet for a 21-day journey that brings together a continent’s ecosystems and cultures in a single trip. The expedition, which includes six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will be led by David Tett, a Zimbabwean and the founder of the tour operator, Bushtracks Expeditions. He will be joined by renowned paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, who discovered the fossil of Lucy, the female australopithecine hominid, in the Afar Triangle region of Hadar, Ethiopia.
Guided by Tett and Johanson, travelers will start in Greece, before touring across Africa, observing elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, great white sharks and gorillas, learning about herbal medicine traditions, exploring Ethiopia’s ancient holy sites and studying geology, history, culture and more. “For many travelers, seeing such untouched land that carries so much biodiversity makes them feel like they’re traveling back 100 years in time,” Tett says.
Almost every site will be introduced and revealed by local experts, including a veterinarian and conservationist, Egyptologists, historians, a human rights lawyer and former Minister of Education, a Maasai guide, a wildlife photographer and great white shark expert, and the director for Uganda of the African Wildlife Foundation. For Johanson, who has criss-crossed the continent for more than 50 years, the trip is more than a vacation. It’s a new way to see the world: “Being in Africa, more than any other continent, inspires a unique opportunity to reflect on who we are, where we have come from, and what responsibilities we carry as the most dominant creature on earth.”
The trip begins at the Acropolis in Athens, where travelers will explore one of the most well-known of all archaeological sites. After exploring the still-working site, they will gather for a welcome dinner overlooking the Aegean Sea.
After a night spent in a hotel on the banks of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, the group will explore the churches of Lalibela, which were carved as monoliths from the rocky hillsides. The medieval monuments were constructed after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The group will be joined by a published expert in local history.
On the Serengeti, travelers have the chance to learn more about vegetation, medicinal plants, the ecosystem and Maasai practices with a Maasai pastoralist. They will also participate in morning and afternoon game drives and might observe the annual migration, where 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras surge across the wilderness.
The group will be guests for a day in a village of Mpisi Melusi Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe’s most distinguished herbal doctors, known for his snake bite cures and renowned for his role in the cholera outbreak of 2009, when he was flown to Harare by the Red Cross to help. Later, they’ll board a 14a class steam locomotive, built in 1952, to chug over a bridge for a sunset view of Victoria Falls.
South Africa’s False Bay sits wedged between two of the world’s great ocean currents, making it a hub for marine life. Chris Fallows, a wildlife photographer, conservationist, and host of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week series Air Jaws will accompany visitors as they look for cetaceans and African penguins and then travel to Seal Island, where travelers will spend several hours observing marine life.
The seasonal marshes of the Okavango Delta are home to herds of buffalo, elephant and antelope, and the lions that prey on them. Travelers also have an option to visit the Selinda Spillway, a pristine wilderness region, or the Savuti region in Chobe National Park, where elephants are abundant.
In the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, travelers will join local trackers to follow either gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park or chimps in Kibale National Park. The guests will hear from speakers like the veterinarian and conservationist, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, and will track gorillas with trained locals. “We take a close look at Uganda, which is considered one of the primate capitals of the world, and study animal characteristics, breeding behaviors and more,” says Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka.
The last chapter brings travelers to the Luxor Temple, the Sahara Desert and the Nile Valley, where they’ll be guided by Egyptologists. Below the Aswan High Dam, the Nile Valley spans 12 miles wide and is flanked by desert. “With so many massive ecosystems still intact, the biodiversity that travelers will experience from one destination to the next is second to none,” Tett says.