Image by Yoal Desurmont

Chinko Nature Reserve, CAR

The Dark Heart of Africa

£16,995 pp sharing

At a Glance

Dates: April 4th - April 11th, 2022

Extension: No extensions currently available

Prices: £16,995 pp sharing (no single supplement)​, excluding international flights

In a sentence: A cutting-edge safari to the most exciting new destination on the continent - a trip not to be missed

Overview

Every now and then, an African safari destination comes along that changes the game. In the late 20th century, it was the emergence of the Okavango Delta as an increasingly accessible destination that finally stole focus from the established reserves of Eastern and Southern Africa. In the last decade, the inimitable Zakouma National Park in Chad has set itself apart from the competition. And, soon, it will be the turn of Chinko Nature Reserve in the Central African Republic.

The Central African Republic has always had an irresistible draw for safari enthusiasts. Before it was plunged into civil war, the north of the country hosted vast quantities of wildlife in protected areas such as Manovo-Gounda-St Floris National Park, and the Bamingui-Bangoran National Park. Sadly, poaching and conflict has left these parks in a terrible condition. Even with ongoing instability, the far south-west of the country and the Dzanga-Sangha National Park retain an incredible diversity of life. Chinko Nature Reserve, however, has largely flown under the radar. Only a concerted effort to preserve the area, first as a hunting concession and then as a nature reserve under the management of African Parks, has revealed the truly extraordinary nature of the area.

Extensive camera trapping, and determined management, have resulted in the identification of Chinko as a hotspot for a wide array of wildlife. Uniquely situated on the border of dense equatorial jungle and open savanna, the reserve is home to rarities including Giant Eland, Bongo, Water Chevrotain and much more. The predator population is beginning to grow after decades of persecution, and it is possible to encounter African Golden Cat in the area, as well as Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena, Serval, Caracal and African Wild Dog, to name but a few. The reserve is also home to nine species of mongoose (a record!), 11 species of primate and all four African species of pangolin. If lucky, we may even spot the elusive Bush and Forest Elephant that have persisted in the area despite years of poaching. More common in the area are Savanna Buffalo, Forest Buffalo, Roan Antelope, Oribi, numerous duiker species and an incredible diversity of birdlife. Situated on the boundary between the traditionally-defined birding regions of East Africa and West Africa, there is really no telling what unusual species we may flush out.

Chinko is a destination for hardened safari and mammal-watching enthusiasts. There is no road network here, so we must rely on the reserve's Robinson R44 helicopter and a network of boats on the Chinko River to view game. The terrain is demanding, swarms of insects gather around salt-licks and the game can be shy and elusive. But for a small group of pioneering eco-tourists, this is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a destination on the cutting-edge of conversation. This is an adventure like no other experienced in Africa in the last 100 years.

Itinerary

Day One

Bangui

On arrival into Bangui, you will be met by a Pictus Safaris representative and transferred to the Ledger Plaza Hotel. Bangui itself is not a city with a wealth of sights, so we recommend taking this opportunity to relax and rest ahead of a busy week.

Day Two

Chinko Nature Reserve

This morning we will be transferred to Bangui Airport for our two-hour flight across the Central African Republic to Chinko. It is from this flight that we will be able to grasp the true scale of the wilderness in the Central African Republic. Much of the areas beneath us would once have been filled with game, but due to rebel activity and rampant poaching, Chinko is an island of solace surrounded by desolation.

On arrival in Chinko, we will be transferred the short distance by road or by helicopter to our beautiful camp on the banks of the Chinko River. This will be our home for the next six days, offering comfortable "Teddy Roosevelt" style tents each sleeping two people. Each tent has an en suite toilet and attached open-air shower. The camp has a central mess tent, with protection from the ample insect life. A solar power system is in operation, giving us the chance to charge camera batteries and keep our drinks cool.

We will aim to arrive in camp by early afternoon, giving us the opportunity to begin to explore the incredible area in which we find ourselves. Our best chance of encountering several species will be on foot, staking out local salt licks that attract a steady stream of wildlife. This afternoon, we could run into Red River Hog, Giant Forest Hog, Warthog, Yellow-Backed Duiker, Oribi and more.

We will also attempt to organise a night-time activity (probably a drive on the limited road network near camp), although this will depend on permission from African Parks being secured.

Days Three to Seven

Chinko Nature Reserve

Each day in Chinko will bring its own potential activities, and much of what we do will be determined by the appetite and desires of the group. Provided the helicopter is not required for emergency or anti-poaching activities, we will have two hours each day to explore the reserve from the air. The helicopter can carry up to three clients at a time, so we will ensure time in the air is split equally amongst clients - these aerial tours will offer us the best chance of seeing larger mammals including Giant Eland, Bongo, Bush Elephant, Forest Elephant, Savanna Buffalo, Forest Buffalo, Roan Antelope and much more.

When not using the helicopter, we have exclusive use of a network of six boats along the Chinko River. These will allow us access to unexplored areas of the Chinko basin, and afford us the opportunity to intercept wildlife as they come to the river to drink in the morning and evening. Bongo and Red River Hog are frequently seen on"floats" down the river, and we will aim to complete at least one extended morning "float" during our stay.

Outside of these activities, game-viewing will be based around walking safaris and game drives. Much of the wildlife in Chinko is shy but, with patience and luck, these options may allow us glimpses of smaller mammals in Chinko, including Mongoose and Duiker. Pangolin and African Golden Cat may also be encountered on walks, and game drives will be our best chance of flushing out Chimpanzees, Leopard, Lion and African Wild Dog.

Should we identify a particularly promising area, we have fly-camping equipment available at a moment's notice. We will be able to soak in the wilderness from under the cover of a mosquito net and explore the depths of this special reserve.

Of course, game can never be guaranteed. This is especially the case in a reserve as raw as Chinko, where game is unhabituated and wary, and game densities are low. However, we are confident that, with effort and luck, there are unparalleled moments to be enjoyed here in the dark heart of Africa.

Day Eight

Bangui

Sadly we must say goodbye to this incredible wilderness area, hopefully with many memories in tow. Our flight will return to Bangui by midday, allowing afternoon flights to be caught from the airport. For those wishing to stay an extra night in Bangui, we can arrange this at additional cost.

Please be aware that whilst we make every effort to follow the above itinerary as closely as possible, circumstances may occasionally arise that mean the tour deviates from the itinerary.

Dates and Prices

This tour will run in April 2022, aiming to take advantage of the dry season when wildlife populations congregate around water sources. The tour will run from April 4th to April 11th.

The cost of this trip is £16,995 per person excl. flights. This includes all meals, accommodation and wildlife-focussed activities. All drinks are included. We are pleased to confirm that there is no single supplement for this trip. To secure a booking, a deposit payment of £6,400 must be paid.

We understand that £16,995 is a lot of money to pay for a safari, even one as special as this. The extremely remote nature of Chinko, and our reliance on a helicopter for game-viewing, mean that the costs associated with this trip are high and unfortunately we must pass these costs on to our clients to make ecotourism viable. We are confident that this itinerary is worth the price tag, and certainly represents better value than many luxury photographic safaris to destinations including Zakouma. As ecotourism finds its feet in Chinko, we hope to be able to offer more affordable options - for now, this is the only itinerary available to visit Chinko, and we are sure it will be an incredible trip.

Flights and Visas

Pictus Safaris do not offer flight booking services. However, we do recommend the use of travel comparison websites such as skyscanner.net or momondo.com to identify the best fares, and then booking with the airline directly where possible. This will reduce the likelihood of complications and fees should any issues with your booking arise. If you wish to spend an additional night in Bangui at the end of your tour, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost. We strongly recommend booking flights leaving Bangui after 14.00 on your return to avoid disruption to your plans.

British nationals do require a visa to enter the Central African Republic. Clients of other nationalities are advised to check well before travel whether they require an entry visa. Details of the process of obtaining a tourist visa for the Central African Republic are complex and will be provided to you upon booking. The cost of a CAR entry visa for UK citizens is £130 - these must be obtained from your nearest CAR embassy, which for UK citizens will be in Paris. We recommend the services of third-party visa service companies such as Travcour or VisaHQ to avoid frustration and delay. To acquire a tourist visa for the CAR you will require a valid passport, two passport photos, a completed application form, proof of your residential status, proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, a Letter of Invitation (provided by Pictus Safaris), a bank statement, a copy of your health insurance document, a copy of your hotel reservations, a copy of your last three months' pay slips and a copy of your itinerary. 

Please also note that there is a departure tax of approximately £15 payable on your departure from Bangui Airport.

Weather and What to Bring

The weather in the Central African Republic in February is mild and dry, with maximum temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius. At night, temperatures will drop to around 20 degrees Celsius.

A full packing list will be circulated at least two months prior to departure. Pictus Safaris will be able to provide one extra set of binoculars and two spotlights per group, and clients are welcome to bring additional camera, videography and scope equipment should they wish to. Please note that the use of drones is not permitted in many protected areas. We strongly recommend bringing comfortable, loose-fitting and neutral-coloured clothing on safari - please do not bring camouflage clothing. We recommend against dark coloured clothing (e.g. black or dark blue) as this attracts biting flies. Worn-in hiking boots with ankle support are a must, as are sunglasses, sun protection and a hat. Importantly, if you are allergic to insect bites or bee stings, you must make us aware and carry your Epipen with you at all times - bees and biting insects are abundant in Chinko and bites/stings should be expected. 

Do also remember to budget for any expenses not included in the cost of the trip, including for gratuities and additional activities. We recommend bringing US Dollars.

Safety and Security

We understand that for some potential visitors, the security situation in the Central African Republic is a concern. Pictus Safaris take the safety of clients extremely seriously and we are in constant communication with our ground operators to monitor the security situation in all of our destinations.

The security situation in the Central African Republic is not good in much of the country. We advise clients to take sensible precautions when travelling to the country, including avoiding photography near sensitive areas (e.g. police stations or airports). However, Bangui is secured by UN forces, and there is rarely any trouble at all in the central area near the airport, including our hotel. Chinko is extremely remote but has been militarised by African Parks - the security situation is here is now stable.

All Pictus Safaris clients must have travel insurance to travel with us. As travel to the Central African Republic is advised against by national travel advisory bodies, most travel insurance policies will not be valid here. We recommend High Risk Voyager insurance as it covers medical evacuation from remote areas.

Image by Jan Kronies

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