Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

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First time to South Africa? Expect the unexpected.

If you are heading to South Africa for the first time, consider yourself warned. Expect to be blown away. Expect to have your soul stirred. And expect to have your expectations shattered and rearranged beyond your imagination. Here are seven experiences I wasn’t expecting on my visit to South Africa.

Zulu warriors

1 Hundreds of Languages are Spoken in South Africa

Though there are 11 official languages recognized in South Africa, hundreds more are spoken by its people, most of whom speak more than one language. Visitors will most often encounter English, yet it is spoken by fewer than 10% of the population. Make it a point to ask the people you meet along your travels about the languages they speak and you will be surprised, and even heart-warmed, by the efforts of many who are learning a new language to better be able to speak to more of their brothers and sisters.

Pay attention. You never know when your hotel receptionist might effortlessly switch from English to Zulu, or when the guide and ranger team on your safari might share stories about how they are teaching each other’s families English and Xhosa (respectively).

You’ll also quickly realize that though English is often spoken, South Africans have a wide array of slang words that will confuse Americans. To brush up on your South African slang, check out this post of terms compiled by our own Product Development Manager, who was born in South Africa.


An Intro to South African Slang

School girls with painted faces
Any seasoned traveler will tell you how important it is to prepare for a trip abroad by learning the basics about your destination. One very helpful tip: learn to speak a few words of the country’s language. For Americans visiting South Africa, you can check this ‘to-do’ off your list! Though South Africa actually has 11 different national languages, you’ll find that English is widely spoken. But like English speakers in other parts of the world, South Africans have their own slang words that might leave Americans scratching their heads.

Our own Product Development Manager, who was born in South Africa, has compiled a list of South African slang words and their ‘American’ translations. Take this list along so you can preempt any confusion and even impress your new South African friends with your knowledge of what’s in.


5 must-do activities in Kenya

Every traveler has a bucket list, and here’s a destination that should be on yours: Kenya. Kenya, located in the heart of East Africa, is the perfect destination for any traveler searching for adventure off the beaten path and looking to experience nature as it has remained for thousands of years. Yet, the destination is very accessible and safe for travelers young to old.

To whet your appetite, take a look at this video to see just some of things you can do, people you can meet, and experiences you can have if you visit Kenya.


Can’t you see yourself here? Whether it’s your dream to see Africa’s Big Five game or sweeping vistas, Kenya is truly different from anything else you’ve experienced. If you’ve decided to take the trip but don’t know what to include in your itinerary, here are five can’t-miss activities in Kenya, some of which are covered in the video.

  1. Go on a safari: Kenya is known as the safari capital of Africa. Safari translates to “journey” in Swahili, and that’s exactly what you’ll get. Kenya is home to the “Big Five” game animals — lions, African elephants, Cape buffaloes, leopards, and rhinoceroses. On your journey through Kenya in search of wildlife, you’ll not only see the Big Five, but many more, including zebras, giraffes, and cheetahs to name a few.
  2. Watch the wildebeest migration: Every year as seasons change, hundreds of thousands of wildebeests migrate from Tanzania to Kenya in search of greener land. Although exact timing varies, the migration usually takes place from July through October. The wildebeests gather on Serengeti plains and begin their trek, crossing the Grumeti River along the way. This remarkable event has come to be known as the “Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth.”
  3. Climb Mount Kenya: At 5,199 meters, Mount Kenya is the highest point in Kenya and the second highest point in all of Africa. Several tracks allow visitors to hike up to 4,000 meters to see stunning panoramic views. Trails to the almost vertical top are also available for trained or experienced hikers. Even if hiking isn’t your thing, simply viewing the mountain and surrounding landscape is a spectacular site to see.
  4. Stop by a traditional tribal village: Many African tribes still live the same way that their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The most famous of these tribes are the Masai, who are known for their colorful jewelry and body paint. While visiting one of these villages, you’ll have the unique opportunity to interact with local tribes people and experience a different way of life by participating in traditional activities, such as African dance.
  5. Visit Nairobi: Kenya’s capital city offers a variety of exciting happenings for tourists. The metropolitan area contains a diverse mix of people, shops, and restaurants in addition to bustling markets and a lively nightlife. For a shopping opportunity with a special twist, visit the Kazuri (means “small and beautiful” in Swahili) Bead factory, which provides employment, health care, and other services to more than 300 mostly single mothers. And don’t miss the Langata Giraffe Center, established to protect the endangered Rothschild Giraffe.

For more information about what it’s like to visit Kenya, visit check out our tours.

Friendly Planet reviewed: One traveler’s experience on our Kenya Wildlife Safari tour

Are you dreaming of wide, open spaces, and exploring the great unknown on an African safari? If so, you’re not alone. That’s why our Kenya Wildlife Safari is a very popular tour among our travelers.

We recently received the below email from Carol Schmidt, who recently returned from this 11-day tour. We wanted to share her email with you (verbatim).

“We just returned from the Wildlife Kenya Safari and one would have to say, “Hakuna Matata” about any concern I had after reading travel reviews that the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi was less than satisfactory! It is disconcerting that one could complain about the accommodations. While it is an older hotel, it is clean and in a great location, particularly given the short amount of free-time we had.

This location gave us a chance to go to the International Market and to see the Parliament and governmental buildings. I would rate our breakfasts at the Intercontinental as scrumptious and the presentation was incredible! Who could possibly complain about fresh squeezed orange juice, Kenyan coffee with hot milk, and a variety of over 50 feet of food choices? It was absolutely awesome and the service was superb.

Thanks to Vintage Africa we had an incredible driver, Dominic, who has an A+ personality, and is probably a mixture of human/animal/bird! Dominic could sense animals before they were visible and he knew their patterns along with having a vast knowledge of their behaviors and instincts. He astonished us with his mastery of the bird species. We learned so much from him and it was so obvious he loves his job!

This was the most spectacular Safari we could imagine and we cannot thank all the Friendly Planet staff and Vintage Africa for making it one we will never forget. Our accommodations, the food, everything was simply marvelous! Friendly Planet was recommended to us by an unfamiliar traveler we met in California; now we will recommend Friendly Planet to our friends and acquaintances and we will be back for another adventure with Friendly Planet in the future! Asante Sana and feel free to share the good words. While the leopard is often difficult to spot, thanks to Dominic, we were fortunate to see him up close and personal! We hope you will enjoy the photo.”

Thanks for sharing such kind words, Carol! We’re glad you enjoyed your safari vacation with us!

New Friendly Planet Travel destination #2: Magical Madagascar

It wasn’t magic that made our newest tour to Madagascar happen — it was you! In a survey from 2009, we asked folks who visited the Friendly Planet Travel website: “Where on Earth do you want to go next?” A whopping 6,780 people voted on 12 proposed exotic locations.

The locale that came out on top was Madagascar, with 941 votes. And after doing some additional research, it hit me why Madagascar won.

There are very few tour operators who offer guided tours of Madagascar. And the ones that do offer them at an exorbitant price. That is, until today.

After two years of planning, we’re unveiling Friendly Planet Travel’s Magical Madagascar tour. You spend 12 days touring the world’s fourth largest island, visiting Antananarivo, Toliara, Fianarantsoa, and Ambohitra. Plus, there’s an optional extension to Nosy Be Island.

Sitting off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar’s baobab forests, virgin coastlines, misty highlands, coral islands, and its famous lemurs offer incredible sightseeing opportunities for travelers who love exploring exotic, unspoiled destinations.

You start your 12-day journey in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. After spending a night at the Relais des Plateaux Hotel you depart for Ifaty, a fishermen’s village located near Toliara. Spend the afternoon exploring the Reniala spiny forest. This unique ecosystem is home to more than 2000 types of plants and 65 bird species.

The following day you continue to Ranohira, northeast of Toliara. Soak in the wonders of this landscape typical to the southern part of this island, which in this area are mostly savanna and bush. Pass by several sapphire mining villages, and along the way, you notice the painted tombs of the island’s southern tribe.

Next you tour Isalo National Park for the day. This park is known for its wide variety of terrain, including massive sandstone formations, deep canyons, palm-lined oases, and grasslands. Walk to the “Piscine Naturelle,” a natural oasis consisting of a stone cave overlooking a beautiful waterfall and crystal-clear pool. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, and sifaka lemurs.

Afterwards, embark on a city tour of the capital of the Haute Matsiatra region, Fianarantsoa, and the cultural and intellectual center for the entire island. Home to the Betsileo tribe, some of the oldest Protestant cathedrals in Madagascar are found here.

On the heels of that tour is a city tour of Antsirabe, which is well known for its rickshaws, gemstones, and hot spring waters. Then jump on a flight to Ambohitra. Enjoy a walk through the Amber Mountain National Park, which features tropical forest, waterfalls, and volcanic lakes.

Spend your remaining day enjoying Madagascar at your own leisure, that is, unless you opt for the three-day Nosy Be Island extension. There your tour continues by boat to the marine reserve of Nosy Tanikely. Enjoy a picnic lunch and some beach time for swimming. Optional snorkeling and diving excursions are available on your own at an additional cost, and much more.

This is only a taste of the full Magical Madagascar itinerary. For the complete itinerary, visit our website. Madagascar is place a travelers told us they wanted to go and now we’re making it possible for you.

We created this tour for very small groups, so space and departure dates are limited. Our 2011 departure dates include: Sept. 14, Oct. 19, Nov. 16, and Dec. 7.

The 12-day tour of Madagascar starts at $5,699. Included in the price are roundtrip flights from New York via South African Airways (flights from other cities available on request for a little more); ground transportation and all transfers; accommodations in tourist and superior class hotels; 10 breakfasts, eight lunches, and nine dinners; professional English-speaking tour guides; comprehensive touring program including entrance fees; an optional 4-day extension to gorgeous Nosy Be Island; and more.

To kick off this new tour, we’re giving you $100 off the cost of the 12-day Magical Madagascar tour if you book before May 3. Use the coupon code 041911-100 when booking online or mention the code to your phone agent. Book the Magical Madagascar today online or call us at 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team before space runs out!

Good news on Egypt travel: U.S. Department of State downgrades travel warning

Last week the U.S. Department of State downgraded its travel warning for Egypt. Instead of telling travelers to avoid all travel to the country, it now recommends travelers “consider the risks.”

You can go to the State Department’s website to read the full travel update. But I’ll save you the trouble of reading the entire document.

What this means is that the State Department is confident enough about the political situation that U.S. citizens should feel comfortable again visiting Egypt. In fact, most employees have returned to the U.S Embassy in Cairo to resume normal operations.

While the situation regarding Egypt’s new government is far from clear, what is apparent is that the country is now peaceful and the process put in place via the “revolution of the youth” is working. There is a new sense of hope that Egypt will become a more democratic and open society, which we all, of course, welcome.

Friendly Planet Travel suspended all tours to Egypt when the protests erupted, but we will be evaluating the situation this week and will decide when we plan to resume tours to Egypt. It could be as early as August or September.

There is no question that we are ready resume our program. I traveled to Israel last week, which is a neighbor to Egypt, and I learned that the entire region has suffered from a downturn in tourism. We’ll be thrilled to do our part to turn that situation around. Watch this spot to find out when we plan to resume tours to Egypt and the extraordinary deals we’ll be offering.

New Friendly Planet Travel destination #1: Discover Namibia

 Giraffes at Etosha National Park

At the end of last year I promised to introduce new destinations to Friendly Planet Travel’s tour selections. One of the continents we were looking to expand our tour offerings to was Africa.

I’m delighted to keep my promise by unveiling the first new tour of 2011: Discover Namibia. Tucked between the South Atlantic Ocean and South Africa, this country is one of our most off-the-beaten-path tours yet.

It’s home to the shimmering salt pan and diverse wildlife of Etosha National Park, the enormous Sossusvlei sand dunes in the heart of the Namib desert, the rugged terrain of Damaraland, the ancient rock engravings at Twylfelfontein, the quaint coastal town of Swakopmund, and more.

The 14-day journey begins in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. After a good night’s rest, you depart north for Etosha, stopping en route in the small town of Okahandja, known for its woodcarvings and curios.

In Etosha, you tour the Etosha National Park. It’s regarded as one of most interesting game-viewing reserves in the world because of its abundance of wildlife and its unusual topography.

It sits on a unique combination of an expansive dry lake (salt pan), grasslands, dense brush, and open plains. Combined with the 100 different large mammal species — including the elephant, giraffe, zebra, leopard, lion, and black rhino — and 340 bird species, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Continue to Damaraland, a huge, untamed, and ruggedly beautiful region, often considered to be one of the last true wilderness areas in Africa. You stop at the Petrified Forest, where you have the opportunity to view enormous fossilized tree trunks that are believed to date back nearly 250 million years.

The following day you tour the remote Twyfelfontein valley, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s home to more than 2,000 rock carvings estimated to be more than 3,000 years old and believed to be the work of the San Bushmen. These engravings are etched in red sandstone and depict giraffes, lions, hunters, and other symbols.

Next you drive along the Atlantic coast to the charming resort of Swakopmund. Its palm-lined streets and seaside promenades give the town a pleasant, laid-back feel, while its colonial German architecture and numerous beer gardens recall a quaint German village.

During your time in the town, you can opt for the Harbor Dolphin Cruise. It takes you to Bird Island and across the lagoon where seals will swim up to the boats and flamingoes, cormorants, White Chinned Petrels, and even the Jackass Penguin can be spotted. Or get a bird’s eye view of Swakopmund on a scenic flight.

The next day you arrive in Sossusvlei, home to the massive Sossusvlei sand dunes, reported to be the highest sand dunes in the world. The strong colors of these majestic red dunes change with the sun, making a breathtaking memory.

You arrive back in Windhoek at the end of your 14-day day tour. But if you want to spend more time in Africa, you can opt for the 5-day extension to Cape Town. Or start your tour early with our pre-tour extension to Johannesburg.

The 14-day tour includes roundtrip flights from New York via South African Airways wide-bodied jet service, including fuel surcharges; ground transportation and transfers within Namibia; 11 nights in superior, first-class hotels and lodges with private bath; 18 meals, including 11 breakfasts and seven dinners; professional English-speaking tour directors; comprehensive touring program and safaris, including entrance fees.

Right now we only have 10 departure dates available, and space is limited. Each group holds no more than 15 per departure. So if you want to take a walk on the wild side in Namibia, book the 14-day Discover Namibia tour for $4,499 before July 23, or as long as space lasts. If you have any questions, visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to leave a comment on this post or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

What’s to come at Friendly Planet Travel in 2011

One of my favorite times of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect time to take a few days off to relax from the hustle and bustle of work and spend quality time with family and friends. It’s also a fitting time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we’re hoping to achieve in the next year.

2011 will be a momentous year for Friendly Planet Travel. It marks our 30th year in business! Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world.

Throughout the year I’ll be sharing stories of why I started Friendly Planet Travel, and about our first group tour, which included my first group tour to Israel for the first gathering of Holocaust survivors in Israel. I’ll also be interviewing the travelers who have been booking tours with Friendly Planet Travel since the beginning, and much more.

In addition to celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout the year, we’ll be introducing new products and new ways of giving back to many of the countries that welcome our tours. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect from Friendly Planet Travel in 2011.

New destinations. We surveyed Friendly Planet Travelers to discover the location they want to travel to most. The winner was Madagascar. And 2011 will be the year you can visit this fascinating destination with Friendly Planet Travel. We’re also introducing tours to Spain and Portugal, Burma (Myanmar), and Botswana.

New tours. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I will be leading a select group of tours to the new destinations being introduced in 2011. I’ll get to put my first-hand experience and research of these new locales to use when I extend invitations to these four tours later this year.

New booking engine. We will be unveiling a new air-hotel-car booking engine for travelers who want to create their own vacations without worrying about set departures or prepared itineraries. This consumer- and service-oriented portal is for savvy travelers who know what they want in services, including great pricing, but don’t want to give up service to get it.

New cruises. We will also be adding a robust, new series of cruise selections, featuring such highly regarded cruise brands as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Asamara. All will be available for individuals who want to travel independently, as well as set departure programs that include lots of additional services.

New nonprofit foundation. When I created Friendly Planet Travel, outreach and support for humanitarian causes was always part of my mission. We contribute directly to projects in many of the countries we visit, as well as right here in America. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I’m fulfilling my original mission with the creation of the Friendly Planet Travel Foundation. All the outreach and support that we conduct will move to our foundation, and we’ll be offering you plenty of new opportunities to get involved in helping as you vacation.

Continuous improvements to our digital ecosystem. You might have noticed some changes to the Friendly Planet Travel website in 2010. It’ll continue to evolve as we include more enhancements to the website and booking engine.

There’s plenty more to come in the new year, but I hope that in the meantime, these tidbits of news will tickle your curiosity and bring you back to the blog for more details. Come back and visit the blog soon to see what else we have in the works in 2011.

Three-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our South African Explorer

Before Friendly Planet’s South African Explorer tour sold out for 2010, Holly Pecarek from Atlanta, Ga. was able to book a reservation. When she returned from South Africa, she sent me an e-mail that made my day.

While I was reading it, I found out that this was her third tour with us. Thanks Holly for continuing to choose Friendly Planet Travel! Read on to see what makes Holly a loyal customer. I copied the e-mail below (verbatim).

“Unreal trip! This is my 3rd tour with Friendly Planet and I have enjoyed every one of them. It was so organized and the guides so friendly! I don’t know how you all make any money because the accomodations are always top-notch! Amazing trip from start to finish. I can’t wait to pick my next trip! Thanks for everything!” – Holly Pecarek, Atlanta, Ga.

Thanks again for your note Holly! I look forward to hearing about tour number four. 😉 And for the rest of the folks out there, if you’re disappointed that our South African Explorer tour is sold out, don’t be! Take a gander at our new Best of South Africa tour. Departure dates are still available for 2011.

Why the National Geographic Channel’s ‘Great Migrations’ is a must-see

If you’re a nature lover, you probably have the National Geographic Channel set on your DVR, I know I do.

This Sunday night, I’m looking forward to its new new seven-part series, “Great Migrations.” It will cover the annual journey millions of animals take to ensure the survival of their species.

One migration that I’m very excited to see, which centers around Kenya and Tanzania, is that of wildebeest. Their annual migration is considered one of the most spectacular in nature.

Over a million wildebeest, along with 450 other species of wildlife, make the circular migration year after year. Friendly Planet Travel offers several tours to Africa where these migrations take place. Travelers frequently ask me about when and where they occur, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about it.

Wildebeest are herbivores and need to graze constantly. As a result, they move as the seasons change to find fresh land and water. In Tanzania, the wildebeest herds gather in the Southern Serengeti. During the rainy season in April and May, the herds begin their migration northward by heading west first.

The wildebeest herds move to the flourishing grasses and open woodlands of the Western Serengeti, whose sweeping vistas make it the best place to watch the migration unfold. This is also the time when the wildebeest mate.

By June, the herds are heading north towards Kenya. One of the most breathtaking sights of the migration is that of the herds congregating to cross the Grumeti River in Tanzania and the Mara River in Kenya. From July to September, wildebeest tackle the strong currents and the crocodiles that wait for them in the waters.

For tourists, it’s amazing to watch the lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs follow the herds. Unfortunately, a quarter of the wildebeest won’t make it, falling prey to predators or drowning in the rivers.

By the time November rolls around, the wildebeest return south to the Serengeti plains to give birth to their calves. Until the end of March, this is the perfect time to see almost a half million calves running with their mothers. The sight of the mothers and their young also attracts predators, including lions which hunt them as prey.

Then the migration begins all over again. The wildebeest migration is often spontaneous because it revolves around the weather. If the rainy season starts earlier, so does the migration. But no matter when it starts, their migration is an integral part of Africa’s ecosystem.

Wildebeest crop the grasses, fertilize the soil, and serve as food for predators. It’s important for people to understand this, and I’m sure “Great Migrations” will let us enjoy a view of their incredible journey as never before seen. That is, unless you are lucky enough to join us in Africa to see it for yourself, in person.

So I’ll be tuning in Sunday night. Will you? If you do watch it, let me your thoughts in a comment on this post.

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