You could say that travel runs in Geoffrey Kent’s veins. He was born while his parents were on safari in Zambia. At the age of 17, he got his first taste of independent travel when he motorcycled 5,000 miles between his hometown in Kenya and South Africa’s Cape Town.
He founded luxury adventure tour operator Abercrombie & Kent with his parents 54 years ago. Since then, he has been to around 99 percent of the world’s countries. In fact, there are only three places he has yet to go. “Although I was stationed in the Middle East when I served in the British military, I never made it to Socotra, a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean that are part of Yemen. I am also hoping to get a chance to explore the vast wilderness of Kamchatka, known for its otherworldly geysers and fuming volcanoes,” he says. He also has not yet had time to make it to the South Pole, although it is on his ‘to-do’ list.
Kent now travels approximately 250 days a year as he personally leads many of his company’s private jet trips around the world. These ‘Inspiring Expeditions’ are incredibly luxurious, as well as having a strong cultural element. But Kent recalls that when he first started out five decades ago, adventure travel was not quite so comfortable.
“Since we started with the idea of ‘don’t shoot with a gun, shoot with a camera’, we could not rely on hunters for fresh meat. Instead, using experience gained in tanks in the desert with the British military, I worked with engineers from the army to design a refrigeration system that made it possible to have fresh meat, fruits and vegetables — and unlimited ice — in the bush,” he recalls. There was only one lavatory for the whole camp and, at the end of the day, the most important thing was to find a ‘shower tree’. “That really determined the location of the camp because you needed a sturdy branch at the right height to support a three-gallon canvas shower bucket.” Today, travelling with Abercrombie & Kent is rather different, although just as adventurous. The tents used on safari are heavy, sturdy and huge, with a sewn-in floor and windows made of netting to keep insects out. Each has an open-sided front verandah with a table and camp chairs where you can enjoy your coffee in the morning. Inside are two full-size beds with night stands and a dressing table with a mirror. Facilities are completely en suite with hot-and-cold running water for the sink and shower, and a flush toilet.
Kent loves the buzz of his home in Monaco, but his favourite way to spend time is on a wild African safari. “I am never happier than when I am on safari, sitting around a campfire after dinner, sharing stories about the day’s adventures.”
If you haven’t yet visited the following 10 places, says Geoffrey Kent, beg, borrow or steal until you can.
1. Go on safari in East Africa. First stop Kenya and Tanzania, the place to see the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle — the annual Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and antelope. Then travel to Uganda, considered the ‘Pearl of Africa’ with deep lakes, soaring mountains and the greatest treasure of all — half of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas.
2. Dive or snorkel in Palau, which has some of the world’s most magical sea life. From the Blue Corner (made famous by Cousteau) to the Big Drop Off and Ulong Sandbar, from the German Channel and Shark City, to Iro a Japanese ship sunk during the Second World War. Swim among millions of non-stinging Mastigias jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake. Tour historic Second World War battle sites and explore the Seventy Islands, a World Heritage Site off-limits to outsiders for nearly 60 years.
3. Wonder at Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, one of the world’s most surprising destinations: an open-air wildlife museum that is home to an astonishing variety of endemic species — enough to inspire a theory that would change the world — and an irresistible destination for nature-lovers.
4. Explore the island of Borneo, home to the seldom-seen orangutan, which share 97 percent of our DNA.
5. Hike through Bhutan, known for its commitment to maintaining its traditional culture and ‘Gross National Happiness’. Climb up to the breathtaking Tigers’ Nest Monastery.
6. Ride a snowmobile through Iceland, where you can drive across the surface of a glacier any time of year, and explore the Langjökull Glacier, where man-made tunnels are carved deep into the blue glacial ice.
7. See the Northern Lights in Finland, the best place in the world to see the aurora borealis, and meet the Sami people, traditional reindeer herders.
8. Sail through Myanmar, which is just opening up to the outside world. Take a boat through the heart of the country — and back in time — on the Irrawaddy River to Bagan.
9. Travel to Patagonia, the Torres del Paine National Park has majestic mountains, glaciers, lakes, and the Serrano River (which makes for a thrill of a Zodiac ride), as well as a plethora of pristine ecosystems.
10. Marvel at Antarctica, one of the world’s great wildlife destinations with magnificent landscapes, pristine glaciers and millions of playful penguins. There are few other places in the world where you can feel such a sense of vastness and isolation.