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!

JRO UA4

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!

African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

Seeing wild African Grey Parrots is a holy grail for many people.  They are not only popular as pets worldwide but famous for their intelligence due to Dr Irene Pepperberg’s work with Alex.  I had such high hopes for Kakum as they are commonly reported being seen there and Ghana is a very easy country to get to and travel in.  Many people see them from the Canopy Walkway but we didn’t.  I was really disappointed as they were the main reason to visit Ghana.  In the evening, back at the lodge, I spoke with the guide of the organized group who were staying there and he said they saw them around 7am-ish from the car park at Kakum.

The next day, we went back and staked out the car park.  At first we saw lots of hornbills flying past but no Grey Parrots.  Our guides from the previous day showed up for work and sat with us while waiting for their clients to arrive.  Around 7:30, I was ready to give up and go back to the lodge when one of the guys said “There”!   He was pointing at a clearing through the trees over the park.  Two Grey Parrots in flight!  I grabbed my camera, said a quick Hail Mary and took aim.

IMG_6090I missed!  They were flying towards the left side of the photo and had cleared the tall tree in the middle and were heading behind the thick clump of trees on the left.  A blink of an eye, they were gone!  That was all I was going to get for African Grey Parrots after traveling all this way.  That’s how birding is, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.  In a way I was lucky, at least I DID see them for a split second, but I had wanted more time to enjoy watching them and their behaviour.

The best I can do are these photos I took at Birds of Eden, South Africa.    Many more African Grey photos can be found in the links below.

IMG_3526 IMG_3193

For birders, seeing wild African Grey Parrots has the same problem as most African birds.  A potentially large range but many areas difficult to get to or unsafe to travel in.  Independent birders should try Kakum but expect the sighting to be brief and far away.  Uganda has better possibilities now that World Parrot Trust has released some Grey Parrots who were rescued from a poacher, rehabilitated and released at Ngamba Island, a chimpanzee sanctuary located in Lake Victoria.  Kibale National Forest in Uganda is also a good place to see them.

AG RangeLEARN MORE ABOUT AFRICAN GREY PARROTS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Rainforest Alliance

African Geographic Magazine – This is a must read article about the tragedy of wild African Grey Parrots being captured by poachers and the horrible fate they suffer.  Eco-tourism encourages locals to leave the birds in the wild!

VIDEOS

There is no shortage of videos showing wild African Grey Parrots!  Many are filmed by researchers who can access areas that independent travelers would have trouble with.

These first two are what I was hoping to see in Kakum.  The videographer doesn’t say where he filmed them but this may be because he is protecting them from poachers.

World Parrot Trust Documentary – shows actual poaching technique which is horrible to see!

The journey to freedom of rescued African Grey Parrots.  They start out in such heartbreaking condition, the trapping methods and transportation by poachers is extremely cruel.