African Safaris – which one should we do?

Many first-time travellers to Africa wonder about the differences between Southern Africa and East Africa.

Is one region better than the other? The answer depends on what you want to do and see.

Africa map with legend

East Africa

The great gamelands of East Africa have a firm hold on our imaginations, perhaps because so many of us have been exposed to African motifs since earliest childhood, perhaps because of something even deeper.

In The Tree Where Man Was Born, the great Peter Matthiessen wrote about the profound effect Africa can have on us:

“The wild creatures I had come to Africa to see are exhilarating in their multitudes and colours, and I imagined for a time that this glimpse of the earth’s morning might account for the anticipation that I felt, the sense of origins, of innocence and mystery, like a marvelous childhood faculty restored. Perhaps it is the consciousness that here in Africa, south of the Sahara, our kind was born.”

East Africa map














Whatever the source of their allure, the gamelands are dramatically, heart-stirringly unique, the greatest display of star-quality wildlife on planet Earth. The most famous of East Africa’s wildlife kingdoms is the Serengeti-Maasai Mara Ecosystem. The size of Vermont, the Serengeti-Maasai Mara has two names because it straddles two countries. In Kenya, it’s the Maasai Mara, somewhat greener and more riverine than Tanzania’s Serengeti, the “warm sea of life” so beloved of travellers. We most often recommend you visit both the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara.

We introduce safari guests to famed treasures like Amboseli and Tarangire National Parks, to the Laikipia Plateau, presided over by lordly Mount Kenya, to flamingo-thronged Lake Manyara, and to the great Lost World of the Ngorongoro Crater, one of the most amazing places imaginable. Proudly dedicated to displaying Africa’s best, we carry our unstinting commitment to excellence to all our East African destinations, staying in intelligently luxurious camps and lodges tucked away on lush river banks or set high on rocky escarpments overlooking the golden infinity of the African plain.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa map













As befits a continent that takes up almost a quarter of the planet’s land surface, Africa exhibits great and fascinating diversities, a full palette of “incongruities and incredibilities” (to steal a phrase from Mark Twain). That diversity is nowhere more dramatic than in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

South Africa’s unofficial motto is A World in One Country (its official motto is Unity in Diversity) and the country’s diversity is nearly planetary in scope. Cape Town is one of Earth’s most dazzlingly situated cities. It’s also high-spirited, modern-minded, and chock full of hip bistros and elegant hotels, all of them presided over by stupendous Table Mountain. The nearby Cape Winelands, a kind of Napa Valley with added mountains and Old Dutch-style hostelries, is a magnet for fanciers of wine, fine cuisine, and beautiful countrysides. Kruger National Park and a series of equally wildlife-rich private game reserves complete with some of the continent’s loveliest and most salubrious camps and lodges–round out South Africa’s diversity with classic opportunities to safari in well-conserved gamelands.

Botswana, commonly considered a great African success story, is one of the world’s most sparsely inhabited nations, largely because so much of it consists of beautiful, but not terribly nurturing desert, notably the famously daunting Kalahari. The great, green exception to all that dry sand is one of our favourite earthly places, the famed Okavango Delta, where the robust river of the same name, frustrated in its search for an outlet to the sea, seeps life-givingly into the Kalahari’s sands, creating a huge wonderland of peaceful lagoons, meandering waterways, marvellously isolated luxury camps, and animals in profusion.

Zimbabwe, is where ROAM’s African roots lie deepest despite ROAM founder, Brian McCutcheon, having a grandmother born in South Africa. It was the mighty Zambezi River where ROAM’s first-ever exploratory took place and it continues to impress ever since. The lifeblood of the region, the Zambezi Basin offers uncrowded and authentic safari camps, incredible big game and arguably, the most friendly and resilient people on earth.

No matter where your safari takes you, we are confident that you will have an amazing experience and it won’t be your last.

Marrakech Express

Rivers, Mountains & Deserts!

ROAM is pleased to announce Morocco as our newest destination for adventure seekers. Starting in the cultural Mecca of Marrakech, this new multi-sport adventure explores the BEST that Morocco has to offer in one deliciously crafted adventure. Enjoy Moroccan cuisine, culture and countryside as we raft, hike, bike, balloon and even camel ride across the varied landscape. With accommodations ranging from deluxe resorts to Berber villages, we’ll traverse the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara and get an insider’s perspective on this fascinating countryside.

The trip at a glance:

  • explore Marrakech’s museums, kasbahs and souqs
  • travel to the Atlas mountains (with mountain biking opportunities)
  • raft the rollercoaster rapids of the remote Ahansel River
  • visit Lake Bin El Ouidane
  • ride camels and bivouac in the Sahara Desert
  • indulge in luxury lodgings and spas
  • experience live entertainment, culture wonder and Moroccan cuisine
  • go ballooning over Marrakech
  • visiting Erg Chebbi Auberge and Ait Benhaddou

On this trip the accommodations will almost be as diverse as the Moroccan countryside. From Riad to resort, riverside tent to deluxe spa and of course a night under the stars in the Sahara, you will be immersed in a wide array of lodgings and experiences to remember.

Morocco is intriguingly situated at the triple junction where the African continent, the expanding Atlantic Ocean and the Alpine Collision Zone all meet, resulting in a highly complex and fascinating geology. The variety of Morocco geology also presents a wide range of climactic conditions.

2017 Adventure Lineup with Ashley and Brian


Looking back, and moving forward.

Wow, Time flies is right!  Here we are, nearing the end of 2016 and planning the incredible line up for 2017!

Ashley Scanlan and Brian McCutcheon rolled “home” to Nelson this November with trucks and trailers packed to the top, a few thousand more miles on the odometer, and with more air miles than we care to remember. But what a season it was!

I am not shy to proclaim this year as our best season yet (measured by our fun-o-meter)! With a motley crew of fantastic guides, a safari camp that gets more delicious flavor with each passing year, high water, full moons, friends, musicians, and THREE new exploratory trips, we really kept ourselves busy!   I could go through and list all the amazing trips we did, but let’s look forward…

Check out our 2017 line-up so far:

New YearsGalapagos TripSOLD OUT!

New Years – Surf Trip in Mompiche, Ecuador – SOLD OUT!

January 19th – Brian’s birthday in (Nelson, BC?)

Feb 19 –26 Argentina Yoga Retreat in Bariloche (space still available)

March 2 – Party at Ashley & Brian’s new home in Chile! All welcome!

March 3-11 – Mini Trip on the Futaleufu in Chile (space still available)

March 10-18Rafting Trip on the Futaleufu (space still available)

April 10-21Brian and Jorge lead our new premium Costa Rica trip!

April 22-27 – ROAM launches our more wallet-friendly Costa Rica trip

June- August – The Chilko River Expeditions (with new camp and itinerary!) & Bear Camp Multi-Sport Trips are at a premium!

SeptemberBear Viewing is on! Photographers get your spot!

October 3-13 – Africa bound! Zambezi River Explorer (almost sold out)

October 28- November 8Zambezi River explorer

November (6 days) – NEW Capetown Multi-sport & Culture

November (4 Days) – NEW South Africa Safari and Multi-sport

November 20-30 – Office work….. it has to happen sometime

December – Get tropical surf again!

Zimbabwe delivers again and again

It’s all about perspective…

We just returned from our Zambezi Explorer trip and cannot say enough great things about the country and its amazing people.

africa-2016-024The trip started off in classic ROAM style as we were treated to giraffe, elephant and lion sightings on our very first safari.  Our dip into Botswana for the day to explore Chobe National Park was extraordinary too.   The inflatable kayaking (Africans call it canoeing, but it’s not) on the Upper Zambezi was not without drama as we had very, very close encounters with a few hippos and an elephant herd but everyone returned to our deluxe riverside expedition camp unscathed and excited.  Talk at the table over sundowners, was elevated by our day’s experience.  Rafting the Batoka Gorge of the Zambezi is beyond words…


One of the greatest aspects of the trip was missing the endless US political election banter.  Without Hillary or Donald talk, we were able to truly soak up the sounds, sights and smells of Africa.  Zimbabwe’s natural wonders can only be out done by its wonderful inhabitants.   I am the first to admit, at times, I feel pangs of guilt or “elitism”.  The juxtaposition of being in a 5 star facility in the Sub-Saharan desert while being attended to tirelessly by our support staff, makes me a little embarrassed about our fretting the political situation at home in North America, be it Trump or Clinton as President.


Our good friend and lead river guide Mandrise (a.k.a. “Hippo”), who has guided more than 2,200 trips down the Zambezi, lost his life savings when the Zimbabwe dollar tanked in the late 90’s.  The country has a 60 percent unemployment rate, is ranked 155th out of 177 countries for worst corruption and now Hippo’s precious river and resource is going to be dammed to power air conditioners in Johannesburg.  Hippo knows a few things about losses and yet, he continues to be our amazing host always proud to show off his country to foreigners like us.

In Cape Town, we heard that Trump was victorious.  As an outsider looking in, it surprised me a little but not that much.  I was more concerned about the message it sends our children, essentially that lying and bullying gets you ahead, but then I reflected back to thoughts of Zimbabwe and it all seems so trivial.  No matter what your political stripes,  you should visit Africa and see how poverty, corruption, decades of poor leadership and rampant unemployment can only bring you down if you allow it.  America – we’ll be just fine.


We have much to learn from our friends in Zimbabwe.  Once you visit and see the people’s unbridled, wholehearted happiness, you may think twice about naive references like “third world”… as the people here are all first-class.


ROAM is proud to be working with our friends here and has two scheduled departures to the Zambezi Basin in 2017.  There are also safari extensions visiting Hwange National Park and a Cape Town multi-sport that dovetails perfectly.





Time to address the elephant in the room

Elephant Camp, which is a key component of ROAM’s Zambezi Explorer trip, has been ranked the 4th best luxury hotel in Africa.


Making the top 25 list since its inception five years ago, this fantastic private game lodge deserves all the accolades it is getting.  Situated on a private game reserve outside of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the camp features 12 deluxe safari tents and some of the region’s finest cuisine.  Home to both natural and rescued big game, guests can spend sunrises walking with Sylvester, a fully-grown Cheetah that still hunts but was never taught how to kill before being abandoned by its mother as a result of a lion attack.

More important than the decadent surroundings, the recent rise to top 4 must be because of the excellent management and wonderful staff that call Elephant Camp home.  The service here is personalized without feeling colonnial and forced as some other 5 Star camps can be.  As  regular visitors here, we will not be surprised when they are justifiably ranked number 1.


The best way to experience Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana is on a circuitous journey.  Our trips are designed so you will experience the best of the natural world while staying in exquisite accommodations perfectly suited to their respective environments.


“Damming a River” is the Appropriate Word

The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko’s incredible book that we highlighted in our last blog entry, chronicles the effects that Glen Canyon Dam had on the Colorado River and the profound water shortage issues in the Colorado Plateau.  This refresher in History 101 is just the tip of the iceberg and we seem to be forgetting our lessons that 90 percent of the ice is still below the surface.  Like the Colorado, other great rivers around the planet such as the Indus and the Yellow, no longer reach the ocean, turning once-productive deltas into biological deserts.

More than tropical rainforests, marine environments, or coastal wetlands, our freshwater ecosystems are experiencing the greatest loss of biodiversity in history and it is in large measure due to the construction of dams.  


Presently, the great river basins of the world are experiencing a new wave of damming.  The Amazon, Congo and the Mekong rivers, each superlative in their contributions to planetary cycles, biodiversity and human livelihood dependence, are in the cross hairs of civil engineers.  Each of these basins are threatened with narrow-sighted schemes that will irreversibly disconnect rivers and cost the planet billions in lost ecosystem services.  The globe’s bursting population and it’s thirst for hydropower  – much akin to crack addicts looking for their next fix – paints an ugly picture on the horizon as burgeoning economies crave electricity to try and industrialize while we, North Americans, have a relentless appetite to fuel our laptops, smart phones and Ipads.

 Africa is considered a land of plenty for the large-dam industry – lots of massive rivers and growing need for electricity.  Hundreds of new large dams are planned for major African rivers. Yet the continent’s existing dams have done little to reduce the continent’s high rates of poverty.  However, four of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams—Kariba, Itezhi-Tezhi, Kafue and Cahora Bassa—have stopped most of the Zambezi’s annual floods with their huge reservoirs.

These reservoirs create unsuitable habitat for most river species and the changes to the river have brought great hardships to the people and wildlife of the Zambezi basin.  Erratic and mistimed flooding below Cahora Bassa Dam has adversely affected the living standards of hundreds of thousands of downstream households and will eventually decimate one of the most productive and diverse wetland ecosystems in Africa, the Zambezi Delta.

Some of the most important wetland areas in Africa, such as the Okavango Delta and Kafue Flats, are linked to the Zambezi River system.  Although few places evoke a sense of untamable African wilderness like the Zambezi, efforts to control the river and its tributaries behind large hydroelectric dams have greatly diminished its productivity and diversity.  Nowhere have the consequences been more dire than in the great Zambezi Delta.

The  Zambezi River is already one the most dammed rivers in the world and this autumn, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique reached an agreement to build two more dams on the Zambezi.  The newest dam project in the Batoka Gorge is going to radically alter communities below the falls and completely wipe out the white rafting industry.  Ironically, tourism in Victoria Falls was the only industry that has been stable in Zimbabwe since political and economic unrest nearly annihilated the economy. 

The world will certainly continue to spin without this stretch of whitewater but is certainly a lesser place and I cannot help but feel that nothing in the adventure world is held sacred or has perceived value.  On so many levels it feels blasphemous to be damming a river below one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the Word”.  So, if you ever wanted to experience the world’s greatest stretch of user-friendly whitewater, the time is now.  The plans to build these dams have been on the table for a long time and unfortunately it’s finally happening.

The Batoka Gorge section of the Zambezi is a whitewater mecca.  The volume of water coming over Victoria Falls combined with a seemingly endless, 300-foot deep vertical gorge makes for the most incredible whitewater experience on the planet.  The fact there are virtually no rocks and deep pool-drop rapids, allows paddlers to challenge rapids that were once unimaginable.   Sadly in less than two years, they will only be  “imaginable” as the Batoka Gorge will be flooded right up to the base of the falls.

Our Own African Crisis

African Safaris (cheap and cheesy or well-planned and extravagant)

As the US struggles with its own budget shortfalls and the “Obama buck” plummets further against international currency, many people are being faced with the same choices the government is needing to make.  Unfortunately for us, the travel industry, is often an indicator species for the global economy.

Our industry has been in flux since the early problems evolved in the stock market.  Like the Bear Stearns collapse, the travel sector led the way for North America as travel, surprisingly to me, is one of the first things people cut back on.  At the same time and for different reasons, the Internet has commoditized the travel market to a certain degree.  Itineraries, at a glance, look similar and it becomes challenging to differentiate one’s offering.

African Crisis

Never has this been more apparent to me as I received a barrage of email offers last week from a reputable travel outfitter offering a Zambezi trip for almost half the price of ROAM’s adventure.  Imagine my surprise when I see a company touting a trip to Africa on the same river for $2555 just weeks after I paired down our Zambezi trip from $5995 to $4700!  Wow what a deal… at first…

Lets look at the facts:

Trip length
Upon closer examination I see they are doing an 8 day trip, not 11 days.  Always read the itineraries carefully to see what IS and IS NOT included.

Who are these people?

There are many different rafting companies operating on the Zambezi.  When I first scouted the Zambezi, I went with a price-point outfitter and found out later (the hard way, sort of) they were re-filling water bottles from the river because they ran out of bottled water and did not carry an “expensive” filter.  It was a great weight loss experience for me and I learned firsthand what they mean when from the old quote “there’s sick, then there’s Africa sick”.  An experience yes, but not something I recommend.

ROAM uses classic colonial places like the Victoria Falls Hotel and Stanley Livingstone.  You can also go even further upscale to places like the Royal Livingstone.  Consolidators or wholesalers offering lower priced trips (or promoting those who pay the highest commission), will often cut corners by using mediocre and less expensive properties (well away from the falls).  These packages are geared for partiers and backpackers looking for the down and dirty experience.  Been there, done that, decades ago.

Now, it is my philosophy that you traveled half way across the world to experience Africa so you should visit properties which represent the best value for money, not necessarily the cheapest.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with lesser-quality hotels when crashing near an airport but when you have traveled all that way, it seems sensible to get a nicer experience.   
Make sure your trip will have a tour host who has been there before.  If they have not, this is what we call “a familiarization trip”  – something we do at ROAM before taking clients.  At ROAM we do offer a few first descents (and we let people know this upfront) but we never send a client on a trip we have not scouted ourselves.  In fact, that is my favorite part of owning the company 🙂

Safari Lodges
Lastly, not all “safari experiences” are the same.  The ROAM Zambezi trip flies into remote safari camps like Makalolo or Somalisa, complete with luxurious tents, gourmet food, world-class guides for a totally intimate experience.  Others travel by vehicle to Botswana to stay in cheap public campsites and label it as “being on safari”.  These are significantly different experiences.  

Yes, we at ROAM understand the world economy is in the tank but we hope that we can continue to offer unique and well-planned experiences that won’t break your bank account but never will get commoditized.  As some one recently told me, “the foundation of a democracy is that the electorate get what they deserve”.

I will let you be the judge for your travel experiences but at ROAM, we think you deserve the best.

Being Chuck

Over the last 2 years a very strange phenomenon has been occurring.  It’s not something totally foreign to me as it was pointed by my grandmother 20 years ago, however, it has resurfaced with a vengeance.  It’s not something I embraced initially but I have begun to understand it better over time.

Apparently I look like Chuck Norris…

I couldn’t be lucky enough to look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney.  No, instead it’s the martial arts movie man also known as Walker, Texas Ranger.  I would have been OK with it if it stopped at a cameo fight appearance in “Return of the Dragon” or B-grade cult classic “Delta Force” but really…Texas Ranger? 

Don’t even get me started about “Lone Wolf McQuade”

As stated earlier, almost 2 decades ago I was visiting my grandmother donning a beard (me, not my grandmother) when she told me to shave as I looked like that “hoodlum” Chuck Norris.  The reference didn’t sink in nor did I really see the resemblance at that time but I was impressed grandma even knew who Chuck was.  I once was accused of looking like the Honeycomb Kid (on the cereal box) but Chuck is a lot shorter and a frankly older than yours truly.

In 2009, it reared its ugly head again – in a diner in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Predominantly a mill town, the diner was a place where it was plausible the patrons owned Chuck Norris VHS box sets.  Our waitress told me her co-workers thought I looked like Chuck Norris.  Without hesitation, and for those who know me you will not be surprised, I told her I was Chuck Norris.  She fist pumped and enthusiastically shouted “I knew it”.  After signing a menu for the diner wall, we enjoyed our complimentary meal and left the restaurant with a good chuckle. 

Perhaps knowing that you look like Chuck Norris leads one to carry his subconscious persona?  Nah just kidding… but the recognition did start to escalate soon after as Ashley and I made our way to Africa to run the Zambezi and climb Kilimanjaro.  In our first airport, a few security people joked that I looked like Chuck and we moved through unencumbered.  It wasn’t until  Victoria Falls trying to catch a charter flight to Hwange National Park that dividends stared to flow.  We had recovered the lost bags of another guest and were trying to get the overweight load through a backlog at the check-in desk. 

I was told that one bag was allowed and there were no exceptions.  I tried to explain the additional bags belonged to a 70-year old woman but was not making headway.  This is when “Being Chuck” became very helpful.  One of the intervening supervisors was convinced I had traveled with them before.  I assured him that I had not but was scouting the region for future business.  He was persistent and asked me why I looked so familiar?  Seizing the opportunity, I told him I was Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger and reached across the counter with a firm handshake.

He was so pleased to have a Chuck flying with his airline that we were escorted past security and straight out on to the tarmac.  The excess bag issues were as far behind us as the rest of the tourists waiting in the massive line up.  Being Chuck certainly had some advantages (although I’d still rather look like George Clooney). 

 Two weeks later on Kilimanjaro, the porters would fight each morning over who would carry my bags.  We also noticed our tent was pitched in prime locations at every camp.  I realized that this could present a problem for our paying guests and tried to get our lead trekking guide, Festo, to break it to them gently that I was not Chuck Norris.  The porters refused to believe him as they had been bragging to other groups of porters and would not retreat.  The word is that Chuck Norris films and shows are the rage these days on buses in Zimbabwe.  Who knew?

Later in early 2010, I was also identified as Chuck when traveling through Argentina.  We became further beneficiaries by not being hassled in markets or late-night on the streets Buenos Aires as well as special treatment in hotels, restaurants and shops.  New arrivals to our Futaleufu trip were skeptical of our claims until they all received 25% off their purchases at a local leather shop. 
In Mendoza, I made a comment to Ashley about a group of men who were ogling her in high heels and shorts as we were headed out for dinner.  Much to both of our surprise, they yelled “Hey Chuck” and were all very pleased when I waved in acknowledgment (Ashley also wishes I looked like George Clooney or Brad Pitt!).  That aside,  the ultimate success in this phenomenon was when I missed a connection in Buenos Aires recently.  The nice folks at American Airlines rescheduled me on a Miami flight a few hours later but warned me it was oversold and unlikely I would get on.  When asked if I get told I look like Chuck Norris, I said I was Chuck.  Despite having a Canadian passport with my name on it, I was immediately confirmed and upgraded. 

The benefits of Being Chuck are growing everyday.  So much… I feel obligated to purchase a Total Gym in Chuck’s honour.   With no assembly required, easy storage, convenient payment plans and a money back guarantee how could I go wrong?

Canuck Norris