Do you like small private luxury trips with insiders and knowledgeable guides that share their home with you? I recently discovered Shackleton and Selous, a luxury travel society made up of various experienced Fellows and experts in their various parts of the world. The Society brings together private guides who have been in the travel industry for decades and who have built links to the local communities and businesses that go beyond the pure business interests.
They have access to regions that are off limits to tourism. They are personal friends with the local tribes and indigenous peoples. And they know their areas of influence like the back of their hands, not because they have organised trips there, but because they live there. They offer deep and enduring immersion in the world’s last great wildernesses, cultures, and landscapes, with flawless logistics and a level of comfort and attention to detail you might expect from the finest five-star holidays. My kind of holidays.
When I was invited to their launch event in Asia, I knew this was my type of travel. I loved the concept because I like hearing stories that have never been told by those passionate about travel and about sharing their land with others. So I decided to go back to the Africa of my first professional years with Howard, one of the founders and Fellows from the Shackleton and Selous Society. I understood the genuine interaction with the local communities S&S provides.
How it all started
Howard realised that his safari customers would end their trips with him and then get back and ask “Where to next?” and he did not know where to direct them outside of Africa. As much as everyone loved their safari experience, they were looking for variety as well. So he started to unofficially and casually recommend friends made in the travel industry which he knew personally. Drew from Australia, a close friend of his, was a first recommendation. After a few years of casual referrals, he decided to start the Shackleton and Selous Society. Much like the adventurers and explorers the society is named after, S&S, as most of them informally call it, draws from this referral system by having the Fellows help their guests connect with vetted extraordinary guides in other parts of the world for their next memorable vacation.
Here I am, sharing one of my most favourite ways of traveling and one of my best kept secrets with you. I asked some of the Fellows for their most unforgettable Shackleton and Selous trips they’ve taken guests on. Read on for the best trips of a lifetime: five luxury private expeditions to some of the most remote and exclusive corners of the Earth. If you ever needed encouragement to discover the world, this is it.
1. Alaska yacht charters and adventures aboard the Northern Song
With Dennis Rogers, Captain, expert in the water, coast, wildlife, and heritage of Alaska’s Inside Passage
The beautiful remote thousand plus islands of the Alexander Archipelago create the stage for Captain Dennis Rogers, one of Shackleton and Selous’ Fellows, cruising aboard the 25-meter motor yacht “Northern Song”.
The glacial fed, nutrient rich protected waterways of Alaska’ Inside Passage are the summer home of some of the largest populations of humpback whales found anywhere. Visitors aboard the Northern Song are able enjoy in comfort and luxury afforded by the 40 plus years of Captain Dennis’ experience, cruising these isolated waterways to explore and discover amazing wildlife and landscapes accessible only by water or air.
Whales, glaciers and bears; it’s a wildlife and nature enthusiast’s and photographer’s haven. Charter itineraries are custom developed based on the interests of those on board for the charter and can range from a more passive style cruise to many incredible locations. Or you can create a more active adventure including temperate rain forest hikes to cascading waterfalls, exploring and combing remote beaches and streams loaded with spawning salmon in prime brown bear habitat. You can also go on a pleasant sea kayaking adventure around the island shore lines for close up viewing of wild life, observe a myriad of humpback foraging strategies and behaviours and cruise deep into steep walled fjords filled with icebergs to view thundering glaciers calving into the sea.
Most journeys depart and return from the fascinating small commercial fishing hamlet of Petersburg, which has a strong Norwegian heritage. Each night finds the Northern Song nestled at anchor in a different quiet cove or bay among the numerous forested islands. It is customary aboard the Northern Song to enjoy a daily main entrée of various types of delicious seafood harvested from the rich local waters.
2. The origins of South America in Chile and Bolivia
With Macarena Iturralde, an Ecuadorian marine biologist, conservationist, sailor and diver with 30 years experience as a naturalist guide in Latin America
A 15-day experience that offers adventure, culture and geological variety against the backdrop of the formation of South America. This trip will leave you with a sense of calmness and a desire to explore other wild places on Earth.
South America offers a lot from the tourism perspective, but one of the most adventurous and exotic experiences is the crossing of the Chilean and Bolivian Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats and Lake Titicaca. The trip normally starts in Santiago de Chile with an invitation to sample delicious Chilean wines and seafood. From there, this adventure takes you to the driest desert on Earth, Atacama. Atacama offers the opportunity to acclimatise yourself to what later will be a crossing following dirt roads in altitudes of 3,500 to 4,400m above sea level.
While exploring the Atacama region, one gets the feeling of going back to when the Earth was first formed. One can envision the massive uplifts and volcanic eruptions that created the first Andes mountains and the high plateau or Altiplano, a place of extreme beauty and eeriness. Walk along salt flats, geysers and uplifted sediments. The trip later continues along the border with Bolivia, where not only the striking geology but also the people, take you back in time.
Green and red lagoons, eroded rocks that have taken the shape of trees and frogs, rupestrian art painted on huge rocks and finally the massive and popular Uyuni Salt Flats – a 10,000 km2 dry lagoon with a salt core that is 10m thick. Discovering the few volcanic islands located in the middle of the salt flat, seeing mummified bodies on the base of Tunupa Volcano or simply walking in the immensity of the Salt Flat is a unique experience that can’t be seen anywhere else on Earth.
After the dryness and desolation of the Salt Flat, the trip ends in one of the most beautiful and colourful places in the Altiplano: the Island of the Sun at Lake Titicaca where a sailing trip will be in order.
3. Sailing the waters of the Amazon and Mekong rivers
With Francesco Galli Zugaro, leader in luxury, small ship cruising on the world’s greatest rivers
Aqua Expeditions is a globally recognised leader in small ship river cruising both in the Amazon as well as in the Mekong. In 2008, founder Francesco Galli Zugaro launched the first luxury cruise on the Amazon River in Peru, home to exotic bird species and enchanting pink dolphins. He quickly earned accolades for these professionally guided nature-based adventures combined with sophisticated, architect-designed 5-star boutique hotel accommodations and gourmet cuisine. The floor to ceiling rooms provide fantastic views outside and on-shore excursions that give guests the ability to interact deeply with the local communities.
A decade on, the formula continues to be a successful one and Francesco has scheduled some departures which he is hosting himself and others hosted by renowned chefs like acclaimed David Thompson, famous for his award-winning fiery Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Nahm; as well as Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Lima’s Malabar Restaurant. Both chef-hosted departures are a great opportunity to learn about the local cuisines of the Amazon, Cambodia and Vietnam through cooking demonstrations and market tours.
4. Private African safari during The Great Migration
With Howard Saunders, strongly linked to the Masai communities and partner of Africa’s longest running safari company
Howard has been a guide in East Africa for the last 20 years. He came to Kenya from Australia and fell in love with the country and its people. He now lives in the Masai Mara and is one of the founding partners of Shackleton and Selous and a partner of Africa’s longest running safari company, Ker & Downey.
What makes Howard’s trips unique is the combination of luxury lodges with private mobile tented camps and conservancies where his ties to the Masai Communities give guests an insight into genuine tribal life. Howard accompanies guests and sits behind the wheel on most of the game drives that you will be going on while on the mobile tented camp. As the camp is packed up and moved to the next location, you get the chance to alternate with some of Africa’s finest lodges. How about combining Amboseli National Park where you can spend time with his right hand man, Solomon, a Masai elder, and his family while admiring large herds of elephants and predators with no other car in sight. Organise the trip during The Great Migration and witness nature’s most spectacular sight as thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross the Mara River.
Howard can take you to trek to gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda or chimpanzees in Tanzania. He can combine any of East Africa’s countries in the same trip or just take you on a 12 day classic safari and beach trip of a lifetime like I did.