A “Godmother” Of All African Adventures?

Now that the Mother of all African Adventures is behind us, it seems my fascination with Africa isn’t over yet!  So what would I do for an encore?  If you’ve been reading this blog for the past several months, hopefully you enjoyed hearing how I planned the travel to South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana & Tanzania and saw most of my target birds.  But there is still so much more to see!

So what would be on my list if I do a “Godmother” of all African Adventures?  Here are a few places on my radar.

  1. Namibia – Peach-faced Lovebirds, Ruppells Parrots & more.  This would be a self-drive trip.
  2. Zambia/Botswana/Zimbabwe/Malawi – would choose the best of these for Brown-necked Parrots, Lillian’s Lovebirds, Black-cheeked Lovebirds, Meyers Parrots & more.  Most of these places might require using the car/driver option which is not my preferred method so I would be looking hard for national parks I can get to with public transport & taxis.  So far, these are looking like the most expensive for lodges so I need to do the most research here.
  3. Ethiopia – the layover wasn’t enough, I’d like to get to Menagesha NP for Yellow-faced Parrots, Black-winged Lovebirds & more.  Easy day trip from Addis Ababa or spend one night there.
  4. Uganda – I think my odds for African Grey Parrots are better here than in Ghana.  I’d use public transport to Fort Portal, then a taxi to Kibale.

IMG_3193WHAT DO I NEED?

Short answer – United miles as Star Alliance is by far the best alliance for Africa.  I could supplement with some Avios to get from Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia via JNB.  So looks like Chase will be my best friend for a while longer!

Getting To Tanzania & Other East African Countries With Airline Miles

East Africa is probably the most popular option for people wanting to go on a safari.  Unlike South Africa where it is easy to drive yourself around the game parks, the experience here will be in 4WD safari trucks with a driver either on you own or shared with others.

There are several airports you can use to visit East Africa and the one you choose will depend on what you want to see, safari prices and birdlife you are targeting.  I will be using Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport as an example because that is where I went and also because Tanzania is in my opinion the best country in East Africa for a general bird and mammal safari experience.

The first step is to identify which airlines that participate in one of the 3 alliances serve the airport in question.  You can do this by looking the airport up in Wikipedia and making a note of which airlines fly there and cross referencing with my guides on Star Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and SkyTeam.  Other East African airports of interest to birders will be Nairobi for Kenya, Addis Ababa, for Ethiopia, Entebbe for Uganda & Dar es Salaam for southern Tanzania & Zanzibar.

This is what you are looking for and I have highlighted all alliance members in yellow.

JRO Airport

STAR ALLIANCE

Star Alliance rules Africa in general and for most people, these are the miles you want if you are going anywhere in East Africa.  Ethiopian Airlines and Turkish Airlines fly here.  Most people will be using United Airlines miles for their trip although Australians may be using Singapore Krisflyer miles.  I advise using United or possibly Avianca Lifemiles to avoid YQ fuel surcharges.  Here are some typical routes and costs with United, all are quoted as one-ways so double it for a round trip.

Traveling from the USA or Canada will cost 40k economy or 80k business class.  Beware of mixed classes in the business class column, sometimes the long flight is in economy!

JRO UA1

From the UK or Europe you will pay 30k economy or 55k business class.  Watch the high airport tax from the UK!

JRO UA2From Australia or New Zealand you will pay 50k economy or 85k business class.

JRO UA3

If you need intra-Africa flights, these are a bargain at  17.5k economy and 35k business class.  Notice how the 2nd itinerary gets you a free overnight in Addis Ababa!

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If you are using Singapore Krisflyer, the miles are reasonable but the YQ surcharge is insane!

SQ AfricaThe website only quotes for SQ redemptions but this gives you an idea because SQ flies to JNB.  They also charge YQ on partner awards.

Seriously?  Over $500 AUD for the YQ surcharge!!!

SQ Africa1

ONEWORLD

Only 1 OneWorld Airline serves Kilimanjaro – Qatar Airways.   Beware of YQ surcharges when using Avios or Qantas miles.   Due to routing restrictions, you will need to redeem 2 awards if you are coming from Australia/New Zealand – Singapore/Bangkok – East Africa.  Americans can use Qatar all the way from the gateway to Kilimanjaro but they may need to pay extra for a positioning flight if Qatar doesn’t offer a through-fare from the originating city.

AA Ghana

If you are flush with Avios from a credit card bonus, they are an option but please beware of the YQ surcharges!  I couldn’t find any availability online using Avios on Qatar but this might mean the system is down so it’s worth calling in.  Here is what you are looking at.

JRO Avios1

LHR-DOH is 3261 miles and falls into Zone 5.

DOH-JRO is 2201 miles and falls into Zone 4.

JRO BA Chart1

So add the figure for your preferred class of service in Zone 5 & Zone 4 as per below to find out how many Avios you need.  Partner awards use the peak chart so you need 46,000 Avios for one way economy and 81,250 for business.  When you call in, you will find out the YQ surcharges.

JRO BA Chart

 

SKYTEAM

Accra is served by 2 Skyteam partners – Kenya Airways & KLM.

Delta has annoyingly removed their award charts so I tried to quote IAD-JRO and couldn’t find anything.  I did find a quote for a sample IAD-NBO route using Delta and KLM.   However their website doesn’t see Kenya Airways flights so you may better these examples by calling in.  Also see the West Africa post for an example where Delta serves the airport – Accra.

I have to admit that I have no use for Delta’s Skypesos which seem to devalue at an alarming rate so if I need SkyTeam partner flights I use the Flying Blue program with miles transferred in from Amex or SPG.

DL NBODL NBO2

Using Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways can be good for hopping around Africa and they do add certain destinations like Madagascar that Star Alliance can’t provide.  For more information on using Kenya Airways, see my Madagascar post.

BOTTOM LINE

You can’t beat the Star Alliance coverage which at time of writing has no fuel surcharges, so collect United Mileage Plus!  Chase is your friend!

Birding The Grounds Of The Addis Ababa Hilton

We were given a pick-up time of 9:30am which pretty much killed any hope of going anywhere for birding so we had to do the best we could at the hotel.  Lucky for us the Addis Ababa Hilton has vast grounds with lots of birds!  We were up at 6am and birded for a couple hours.  Here are some of the birds and a nice look at the grounds of the Hilton.

I did my best to match them up with pics in the bird book – Birds of Africa South of the Sahara 2nd Edition by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan.

African Mourning Doves

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Heuglin’s Wheatear

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Hilton Swimming Pool

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Dusky Turtle Dove

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Typical arched hall linking the various wings of the Hilton

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I’d really like to get this Sunbird right.  I’m struggling to find one with the iridescent green head, purple breast, cream belly and yellow patch on the wing but without a red collar!  If anyone can help, please comment!

So far the most likely suspects are Violet-breasted Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Oustalet’s Sunbird, Amani Sunbird, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird or Variable Sunbird.  Any of these birds’s pics in the bird book are close but none are spot on.

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Some kind of Bulbul?

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Who’s hiding in there?

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A little Speckled Mousebird!

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While we only saw a few birds, considering this is just 2 hours in a major hotel in the capital city, I’d say Ethiopia is worth a 2nd visit someday to see more birds!

Hotel Review: Addis Ababa Hilton

There is a bright side to flying on Ethiopian Airlines.  If you have an overnight layover, they provide hotel accommodation, meals and transport between the airport and hotel.

Blurry photo taken on the run trying to beat everyone else to the transit desk.

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First you have to get past the lines.  At 8pm, they were packed.  Most people had connecting flights in the morning and several planes had disgorged passengers so being first off the plane didn’t help.  We had to go in the same bus with everyone else and pass the temperature taking control.

Then we need boarding passes which we didn’t get in Accra as the computer was down and they were handwriting passes.  So we went to the transit counter which had a Cloud Nine line and got them without drama.  Next we had to go to the accommodation desk which was packed!  Although I rarely do this, it was time to pull the DYKWIA card.  I “innocently” went to the front and asked where the business class accommodation line was.  The lady said “Right here”, took our boarding passes and issued us vouchers for the Addis Ababa Hilton, dinner and breakfast and a transit visa voucher.  Whew, one line avoided!  Most business class passengers get the Hilton, economy passengers get a cheaper hotel, maybe a 3 star.

One last hurdle to pass – immigration.  There was a business class line and next to it a line for diplomats.  The oddest people seemed to be diplomats!  The same officer was serving both lines and “diplomats” got to go first so it took forever to get through.

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It was close to 10pm by the time we got out of the airport, got in a shuttle and were carted off to the Hilton.  The Christmas tree in the lobby was gorgeous!  We outran the others in the shuttle to get our room.

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We were in the older wing which could be a disadvantage to some people but it worked ok for us.  The grounds on that side were very birdy in the morning!

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Desperate for a shower and not hungry, we grabbed some dessert from the designated restaurant, showered and passed out.

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The next morning we could see more where we were.  I like character in a hotel so the old wing with the huge atriums and catwalks over the gardens were perfect for us.  We did some early morning birding so tomorrow you will see the grounds and birds!

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There were some nice Ethiopian touches around the lobby.  There seemed to be a conference in town and the hostesses were dressed in beautiful traditional costumes.

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We couldn’t see the entrance as we arrived at night so here it is now.

IMG_6333From here, the shuttle took us back to the airport and we got a glimpse of Addis Ababa on the way.

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