Meet the team

When you’re planning a trip deep into the African wilderness, where there’s very little sign of civilisation and wild animals roam free, it’s good to know you’re being guided by someone who has a real understanding of the bush, along with its camps and lodges – to offer sound advice and well informed answers to your questions. The same goes for when you are out on safari: the right guide can uncover the mysteries of the bush and its inhabitants and give new meaning to your African adventure.

  • Mary Rijnberg
    Director & Sales
  • Murielle Vegezzi
    General Manager / Senior Specialist
  • Catherine Soares de Melo
    Senior Safari Specialist
  • Nikita Smallberg
    Sales Assistant
  • Riki Small-Smith
    Safari Specialist
  • Saada Kyelula
    Operations Manager Tanzania
  • Marleen Haverkamp
    Online Marketing
  • Willow Constantine
    Safari Specialist

Mary Rijnberg

top pick: Mahale Mountains National Park , for the remote location and wild verdant forests.

travel tip: Take beautiful pictures on safari, but for the rest of the time try to really sink into the experience, looking at it with your eyes and not too much through your camera lens.

Despite the fact that she is tall and blonde, Mary was born in Ethiopia, which is probably where she first caught the ‘Africa bug’. Mary’s parents worked as Flying Doctors in Zambia and Ethiopia in the 60’s and 70’s and also travelled through the Serengeti in a Volkswagen Beetle. So, it comes as no surprise that Mary is exceptionally safari savvy.

She studied criminal law and history at Leiden University in the Netherlands before working for a beer company in Amsterdam for a few years. Then in 2003, Mary and her partner Bas decided to take a year off from their corporate jobs in Amsterdam and went to work in Tanzania. She was immediately inspired by the bush and going on safari, which lead to her becoming co-director of a small safari company in 2004. In 2009 Mary became the sole owner, moved down to Cape Town and changed the company name to Planet Africa Safaris. Mary loves going on weekend trips to the bush with Bas and their children, Morris and Kiki. She is extremely fond of giraffes and elephants, but with her feather-phobia, you won’t catch her anywhere near the local birdlife!!

Murielle Vegezzi

top pick: Botswana, Okavango Delta , feeling very small in the wonderful wilderness, experiencing Mother Nature at its best.

travel tip: Packing for the bush is not easy, best is to pack lightweight clothes rolled up and comfortable walking shoes. I never go anywhere without my flip flops, a few scarves and a pair of binoculars.

Born in France, Murielle travelled in Europe and the States before settling in Cape Town. Having studied tourism, it was normal that she would work for local and international operators creating wonderful journeys for travellers of all nationalities. Although the need to escape to the Maldives or Thailand for a holiday does cross Murielle’s mind from time to time, she still has her heart in Africa to live. She has travelled extensively in Southern Africa for the past 20 years including Botswana’s Chobe and Okavango Delta regions, numerous game lodges in South Africa, criss-crossed the Namibia coast and admired the Victoria Falls. Her bucket list includes a trip to less visited lodges in Gabon and taking her son to Zambia on a walking safari.

Catherine Soares de Melo

top pick: The gentle mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda , the pristine natural beauty of Botswana and picnicking amongst a million wildebeest in the Serengeti in Tanzania, are just some of her most memorable safari experiences.

travel tip:

Catherine’s first true passion is Africa; nothing makes her happier than a mesmerizing sunset, an al fresco shower or encountering a wild animal on safari. Graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2005, Catherine has been designing dream journeys for international travelers ever since. Born in Cape Town, she has spent a lifetime exploring Africa, with a few years spent in England as well as Portugal.

Nikita Smallberg

top pick: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe , the stunning view and immense sound of the falls are so soothing to the soul.

travel tip:

Nikita is a born and bred Capetonian. She studied Travel & Tourism, and her passion for people and tourism started at a very young age when she travelled with her family along the garden route and Western Cape. Through her previous work she has had the opportunity to explore Southern Africa, with highlights including the Kruger National Park, Namibia and Victoria Falls.

She has always been fascinated with beautiful destinations and has recently been on safari in Tanzania. Nikita has come to appreciate so many parts of being in the wild. Though terrified of little insects, this will never stop her from enjoying an adventure in the African Bush.

Riki Small-Smith

top pick: Kenya , because I feel like I am in a scene from Out of Africa when on safari there!

travel tip: Walking safaris are hands-down the best way to explore and experience African fauna and flora.

South African by birth, this multilingual adventurer believes that Africa offers nature as it should be: wild, authentic and breath-taking.

Now based in Paris, Riki returns to her ‘home’ regularly and keeps in touch with her favourite places in Africa by designing tailor-made safaris throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Having grown up on safaris and later acting as a tour-host in the industry, Riki enjoys nothing better than planning trips for others, so that they too can experience the rhythm of the bush at its finest. She never tires of the endless possibilities of animal sightings and encounters one can have on safari: some of her highlights include watching a leopard feasting on a fresh kill in the Serengeti; tracking a pair of teenage black back gorillas in Rwanda, and enjoying the sound of lions roaring or hippos snorting – of course while enjoying gin and tonic!

Riki knows that no trip is ever the same and she enjoys to share her love and knowledge while planning one-of-a-kind adventures in the bush.

Saada Kyelula

Saada is our trusty Operations Manager, based in our Tanzanian office. After completing her studies, Saada joined the tourism industry and has not looked back since. She is responsible for organizing all of our on-the-ground activities in East Africa. Saada has an indispensable wealth of knowledge about East Africa, having lived in the area all of her life. She has so many wonderful memories of all the camps and wildlife in Tanzania that it's hard to narrow them down, but she does have a particular soft spot for the Serengeti, which, like any self-respecting Tanzanian, she is extremely proud to share with the world.

Marleen Haverkamp

top pick: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe , a beautiful park to spot diverse game, and combines well with an adventurous canoeing trip on the Zambezi river; sleep under a fly tent and listen to hippo sounds. It doesn't get better than this!

travel tip: Be patient. Especially in the more remote, wild areas you may need to drive quite some distances for great sightings. Although animals are usually the best, don't forget to enjoy beautiful landscapes, smells and sounds of the African bush.

Marleen lived in Cape Town, South Africa for almost 5 years, and worked for a safari operator in East Africa. She fell in love with the bush and travelled extensively through East and Southern Africa. From experiencing pure luxury in the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Okavango Delta to canoeing adventures on the Zambezi river and camping on top of a Landrover while driving from South Africa to Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana.

According to Marleen, one of the most special things on a safari is to experience the contrast in landscapes this beautiful continent offers. From the extreme dry Kalahari desert and Makgadigadi salt pans in Botswana, to the stunning Okavango Delta water ways. Or from the brown yellow Serengeti plains to the lush, green forrest on Rubondo Island in Lake Victoria.

Willow Constantine

top pick: Tarangire and Ruaha in dry season - for amazing elephant, lion, and a wide variety of bird species in addition to almost everything else – far away from the crowds typical of more popular parks

travel tip: Turn off all your devices and travel slowly; that’s where the true benefit of the African wilderness really sinks in

An intrepid traveler, Willow’s teenage backpacking adventures never brought her to Africa. Instead, she was lured to Cape Town as a university student to observe the efficacy of the NGO sector in South Africa’s vibrant townships. Following this, Willow quickly got hooked on Africa and this led to a career in the travel sector where she has now worked (on-and-off) for almost 10 years! Willow shares a passion for adventure with her husband and two tiny boys, having travelled through most of East Africa and Southern Africa in a half broken Landrover - enjoying every moment simply for being in the wild.

One of Willow’s most cherished safari memories was watching two baby elephants play for hours while the sun set over the Rufiji River in Ruaha.