Where the experts holiday: Vivian McCarthy, director of Acacia Africa

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Vivian McCarthy, director of Acacia Africa (adventure tour experts specialising in overland African travel) shares his travel highs and lows with Just About Travel readers…

In the 1980s Vivian worked as a travel consultant for a London tour operator that used double-decker buses to tour through Europe, the USA, Turkey, the Middle East and Asia. It was a great learning experience. He also travelled to other parts of the world – Egypt, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, as well as the USA and Latin America. A man with a passion for adventure, Vivian did the “kibbutz thing” in Israel and his original plan to stay for five weeks turned into six months.

In 1987, he joined a trans-Africa overland tour from London to Johannesburg and enjoyed it so much that he persuaded the tour operator to give him a job. He then worked as a tour leader on Trans-Africa tours and, during his time ‘on the road’, completed three Sahara crossings, including one as a solo leader. Vivian now works as a director for adventure travel specialist, Acacia, where he can live out his lifetime passion for Africa.

What do you like to do on holiday?
I like to get off the beaten track and away from the tourist trails. This could mean taking some time out to see some of Durban’s street art or visiting lesser known areas of Cape Town or Nairobi. I’m also a fan of simply relaxing and enjoying nature. While my favourite safari park has to be Kenya’s Masai Mara, I’m keen on visiting areas which have seen a downturn in tourism over past years but are opening up to travellers again – so Zimbabwe (Hwange and Matobo National Parks are major highlights on both our camping overland and accommodated small group tours) is definitely on my bucket list.

Where did you last go?
That would be Kenya, easily one of Africa’s greatest wildlife watching destinations, and Zambia (home to the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders).

Do you know where you’re going next year?
I hope to travel to Kenya again and to South Africa. This will be partly business, but I also want to have time to take in the sights at my own pace – a ‘bleisure’ holiday if you like. In Kenya, I will visit the Masai Mara again – as I said it’s a favourite – and in South Africa I’ll be visiting Cape Town and Durban. Last year I went to the Kgaligadi Transfrontier National Park (which is about five or six hours drive north of Upington and is shared between Botswana and South Africa). It felt very remote but was stunningly beautiful. Absolute peace and the stars at night – really for anyone who lives in the UK or Europe or in any built up area – the stars at night are a stunning sight. If I ever get the chance to go back, I will.
Otherwise, I hope to visit Kruger and the Battlefields in Kwazulu-Natal, which are two very popular destinations on our 2019 escorted group tours.

Annual migration, Masai Mara (Kenya) Credit: Acacia Africa

Annual migration, Masai Mara (Kenya) Credit: Acacia Africa

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
I have a particular soft spot for Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I think it’s because these areas are less predictable, where you really do learn that “even the most rigid of plans needs a certain flexibility…” . It’s part of the joy of travelling.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Easy: the Murchison Falls in western Uganda.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
I live in London, which is one of the world’s great cities. It’s difficult to imagine recommending anything here that isn’t already in the travel guides, but perhaps I’d suggest a visitor walks around the West End. Hop on the tube to St Pauls, then walk around the cathedral and head down to the river crossing the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. A coffee on the 10th floor (great views over the city) is a must, then continue along the river as far as Westminster Bridge, crossing back to view Big Ben and turning right up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. It’s an hour or two’s walk. On reaching the West End ,I’d suggest visitors make their way to Covent Garden, perhaps popping in at Stanford’s map shop on Long Acre en-route.

Horses in Drakenberg, credit: A McGowan

Horses in Drakenberg, credit: A McGowan

How do you plan your holiday?
Some years ago, when I backpacked in the Middle East and Asia I relied on guidebooks a lot. They were good and I recommended them to friends. Later, when I was working as a tour leader in Africa I began to realise that, as good as they are, an over reliance on books sometimes means everyone goes to the same places, which can become over visited, and few people leave the commonly trod path.

How often do you go away?
I go away for work once or twice, sometimes three times a year. Other reasons to travel are family  – one side is in New Zealand and the other in Mexico and the USA.

Who do you travel with?
Unless it’s for work, I travel with my wife.

White Rhino Bull, Matobo National Park (Zimbabwe), Credit: www.bigcavematopos.com

White Rhino Bull, Matobo National Park (Zimbabwe), Credit: www.bigcavematopos.com

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
Hopefully in 10 years’ time Brexit will have settled down one way or the other and tourism into the UK will become buoyant.


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