Private tours of Réunion & Namibia

By: Carl Herzog
This item appears on page 27 of the May 2018 issue.

During our trip to Southern Africa in September 2017, my wife, Carlanne, and I were able to visit Indian Ocean and African locations we had missed on previous journeys.

Through Palace Travel (Philadelphia, PA; 800/683-7731, www.palacetravel.com), we made arrangements for private tours of Réunion Island and Namibia, with a few days at Victoria Falls at the end of our 25-day vacation.

After flying from Montreal, Canada, via Paris on Air France, we were met in Saint-Denis on RÉUNION by driver/guide Patrice Lespès of Evarun Transports & Excursions (www.evarun.re), who drove us around for the next six days.

Patrice speaks English well and was a personable, accommodating guide. In some ways, Réunion, a volcanic island, resembles Hawaii, but it is definitely not the place to go for a beach holiday, as there are few beaches and many sharks. The mountainous scenery was magnificent, however, and traveling around the island was easy.

I would especially recommend a helicopter flight covering the entire island. We used Corail Hélicoptères (www.corail-helicopteres.com/en). I would also recommend the serpentine drive to the Cilaos caldera, a drive up to the moonscape of the Piton de la Fournaise and a visit to the Cité du Volcan (volcano museum).

As you might expect on a French island, the food was excellent, and we can especially recommend the fare at the hotel and restaurant Villa Angélique (39 rue de Paris; www.villa-angelique.fr), where we stayed for one night in Saint-Denis, and at QG Restauration Traditionnelle, or Le QG (122 rue du Général de Gaulle), in Saint-Giles-Les Bains in the region of Le Tampon.

Our stay at the rustic Le Pinpin d’Amour (56 Chemin Paul Hoarau, Baril les Hauts, 97442, Saint Philippe; phone +262 262 37 14 86, www.pinpindamour.com [in French only]), amidst sugarcane fields on the east side of the island, was a unique experience. 

Before serving dinner, the proprietor gave all of the guests a 45-minute lecture (in French) on the virtues of the pinpin plant. This was made bearable by frequent interruptions for tastings of his homemade liqueurs, made from the fruit of the pinpin, the leaves of which are used to make thatch. 

Neither my wife nor I speak French, but we didn’t find this to be a problem anywhere in Réunion. The proprietor of Le Pinpin d’Amour did speak a bit of English.

We flew on via Mauritius and Johannesburg to Windhoek, NAMIBIA, where Johan Louw would be our driver/guide for 13 days.

Although Afrikaans was Johan’s first language, he spoke excellent English. He also was very knowledgeable about the geography and wildlife of Namibia. Because Namibia is in a very dry part of Southern Africa, it was relatively easy to observe wildlife, as animals visit watering holes, some of which are accessible to tourists.

After leaving Windhoek, our first overnight stop was at the Okonjima Plains Camp (www.okonjima.com), home of The AfriCat Foundation, dedicated to preserving Namibia’s largest cats. Thanks to radio-tracking collars on cheetahs and leopards, we were able to get very close to both.

From Okonjima, we traveled north to Etosha National Park for some of the best game viewing we’ve experienced in Africa. Then it was on to the rock formations of Damaraland and a stay at a rather primitive tented camp, Madisa Camp, and off-road game searches. (Our drives throughout Namibia were in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle with a protected oil pan.)

Driving west, we arrived at the cool, foggy Skeleton Coast of the South Atlantic, with conditions that reminded me of the Pacific coast of Peru. A highlight was a 2-night stay in Swakopmund, a charming coastal town with many buildings reminiscent of the German colonial era.

Our final Namibian destination was the Sossusvlei desert, with beautiful scenery and some very large sand dunes to climb — slow going on the way up but lots of fun descending! 

Two rather upmarket Sossusvlei accommodations that I recommend are the Hoodia Desert Lodge (C19, Sesriem; www.hoodiadesertlodge.com) and Le Mirage Resort & Spa (C27, Sesriem; www.mirage-lodge.com).

After flying directly from Windhoek to Victoria Falls in ZIMBABWE, we spent a few nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel (1 Mallet Dr., Victoria Falls; www.victoriafallshotel.com). The falls, of course, were magnificent, but so was the hotel. It was very much British colonial, and the public areas were something to see.

I think we were fortunate in visiting the falls when the Zambezi River flow was average. We were told that during the rainy season, the mist from the falls is so great that you’re not able to see the water. 

Ours was far from a bargain journey. The total land cost for two, including driver/guides, accommodations and all meals, was $18,180. Airfare within Africa was another $2,980.

I’m sure it would be possible to drive yourself in both Réunion and Namibia at considerable savings.  

CARL HERZOG

Charlotte, VT