The festive season is typically associated with a ‘traditional white Christmas’, however Southern and East Africa hold much appeal over this period, with friendly locals, warm weather, scenic beaches and memorable safari experiences.
According to Willem Schaap, GM of the Riboville Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg, the appeal of an African Christmas is the warm summer weather, beautiful views and a wealth of adventure.
Dave van Smeerdijk, Co-Founder of Natural Selection, says the appeal of an African Christmas to international travellers is the calving season in Southern Africa, predator/prey interactions, which are excellent during this time of year, as well as the East African migration which is on the move south through the Serengeti.
He says visitors should consider including the zebra migration at Jack’s Camp in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, Skeleton Coast and ephemeral rivers in the remote north west of Namibia which are best at this time of the year, as well as Cape Town, as it warms up and boasts idyllic summer weather.
Diversity sets Southern Africa apart from the rest of the world, according to Schaap. “Not one part of Southern Africa is the same as another, with different cultures all in one area.”
Both Southern and East Africa, says Van Smeerdijk, have an abundance of wildlife, and migrant birding that is special at this time of the year.
Product Manager at Wilderness Safaris, Tina Kennedy, says visitors can enjoy afternoon rains and photographic opportunities with young animals, lush bush and stormy skies.
Schaap suggests visitors include the beach, the Kruger National Park, and one of the many landmark sites in their itinerary, while Kennedy suggests international travellers take advantage of the many outdoor activities on offer, as well as concerts and carols held in various botanical gardens around South Africa.
The festive season sees an increase in bookings, with many properties at full capacity for both Christmas and New Year, so much so that Van Smeerdijk says: “If possible we advise people to book two years in advance for Christmas dates.”
The main key source markets, which tend to travel to Southern Africa during the festive season, include South America, US and Europe, according to Schaap. Furthermore he says Christmas in Africa is particularly popular amongst international families and young couples.
Nic Griffin, Chief Executive of Thornybush Luxury Game Lodge Collection, adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park, has noted North American, UK and South African travellers over this period, whilst Natural Selection sees high volumes of European, UK and USA travellers at this time.
Van Smeerdijk says South Africa, in particular Cape Town, Botswana and Namibia, tend to be the most popular countries in Southern Africa visited by international travellers over this period.
Guests staying at Riboville Boutique Hotel often combine the Kruger National Park, Cape Town and Botswana’s Okavango Delta in their itinerary, mentions Schaap.
Riboville carries its usual à la carte menu over the festive season, however to make guests’ experience much more memorable, the hotel has a Christmas Day buffet and on New Year’s Day treats guests to a four-course meal with entertainment on both days.
Griffin says Thornybush hosts a European-inspired traditional feast, whilst Natural Selection does a simple Christmas dining experience for guests.
Whilst Wilderness Safaris camps put a festive spin on the menus, and incorporate “fun” décor around the camps and on table settings, explains Kennedy, with over 40 camps in its portfolio, each of Wilderness Safaris camps has a unique take on celebrating the festive season. “Guests will receive small gifts, but it will differ in each region and each camp. Festive days are always memorable with Wilderness Safaris,” she adds.
Wilderness Safaris’ guests enjoy cultural experiences with staff to celebrate the festive season, with song and dance always playing a part. In terms of the festive period, there will always be a unique identity between different regions and camps, depending on the culture of the staff, according to Kennedy, adding: “What is guaranteed is that guests will have lots of fun and great food in amazing African countries, enjoying a festive celebration. The camps are able to bring in their unique and creative spin on how they celebrate, with many surprises for guests.”
The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town harnesses the spirit of Africa, as Christmas Day has been aptly dubbed ‘Cape Christmas Magic’ with a Cape Town-inspired menu featuring Christmas classics combined with contemporary flavours and authentic South African flair, while New Year’s celebrations are set to have a distinctly African feel, with two parties, African Grace for guests over 12 and African Tribe for all ages.
“South African properties have something most others don’t, and that is friendly people. Lots of guests comment on how friendly we are,” adds Schaap, who says this is something the country should portray from the moment of arrival, and not just in quality environments.