Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

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Walk on the wild side with Friendly Planet Travel’s new Best of South Africa tour

The world’s eyes were on South Africa this summer during the World Cup. Most notably, we were introduced to the buzzing sound of the vuvuzela, which every soccer fan seemed to have in hand. But there’s so much more to South Africa than soccer. Even if you paid only the slightest attention to the media frenzy surrounding the games, you probably got a glimpse of a few of the amazing sights and sounds that have made South Africa one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations.

Best of South Africa itinerary

And all of it — the natural beauty, cosmopolitan cities, turbulent past, and unwavering hope for the future — is yours to enjoy on Friendly Planet Travel’s new 13-day Best of South Africa tour.

South Africa is a country of amazing diversity. Johannesburg and Cape Town have become destinations for style, night life, and gorgeous scenery, while the sweeping savannas are home to Africa’s big five game: lions, African elephants, cape buffaloes, leopards, and black rhinoceroses. And to add to the allure, the warm, welcoming hospitality of the South African people make every visitor feel at home.

Your exploration of South Africa begins in Johannesburg, affectionately known as “Jo’Burg” by the locals. Spend two full days in the country’s largest city and tour the former residence of Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela, the Apartheid Museum, and Soweto (short for Southwestern Township).

Leaving Johannesburg, you’ll set off for the Blyde River Canyon, one of the world’s largest, stopping for breathtaking views of rolling mountains, the Three Rondavels, God’s Window, and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Continuing your tour at the Karongwe Game Reserve, you’ll hop on safari vehicles for a game drive into the African bush in search of lions, buffalo, and smaller creatures such as chameleons, scrub hares, and more.

African elephant

If that isn’t enough animal interaction, you’ll visit a very special place not usually found on South Africa tours, Elephant Whispers, which is dedicated to securing the future of the African Elephant.

Here a warm, loving, and compassionate environment is provided for six rescued elephants. You’ll experience the thrill of getting close to these magnificent and intelligent creatures and discover how gently they interact with humans. You even get an opportunity to ride one if you wish.

After another safari drive the following day, your evening is filled with festivities at the Shangaan River Club. Watch the sunset over the Sabie River as the drums sound and the torches are lit. You can have your face painted or your hair braided while the Ronaldsi Youth Cultural Traditional Dancers, all of whom are AIDS orphans that have been rescued from a life on the streets, provide entertainment.

Cape Town via cable car

Your tour will continue to Cape Town where you travel by cable car to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most striking landmark. Stop at Milnerton Lighthouse for spectacular views of the mountain and the city below. Proceed to the country’s oldest building, the Castle of Good Hope, an imposing 17th century Dutch fort set against the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain.

Next jump from land to sea on a cruise along Hout Bay View where you’ll see the seals of Duiker Island. Then you’re transported by railway to Cape Point to visit the African jackass penguins at Boulders Beach. Venture to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where you’ll enjoy a magnificent display of indigenous South African flora.

Your last day will be spent in Cape Town where you can choose a full day optional tour to the famous Winelands, visiting the towns of Paarl, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch, as well as a wine cellar tour.

If you want to see all of this and more firsthand, book the 13-day Best of South Africa tour for $2,999. Included in the price are round-trip flights from New York via South African Airways wide-bodied jet service, including fuel surcharges; flights, ground transportation, and transfers within South Africa; 10 nights in superior first class hotels with private bath; 16 meals; professional English-speaking tour directors; comprehensive touring programs and safaris, including entrance fees; and more.

Victoria Falls

But if 13 days won’t be enough time for you, take advantage of the already included international airfare to visit Victoria Falls, one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, for five days. This pre-tour extension departs the U.S. four days before the departure dates shown.

Or extend the end of your vacation with a five-day trip along the Garden Route. It’s a beautiful stretch of the southern coastline of South Africa from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. In fact, if time and budget permits, why not take advantage of both extensions for the perfect South Africa vacation.

While the itinerary is extensive and inspired, with a number of interesting and original components not typically found on other tours, the prices are down to earth.

Comparing Friendly Planet’s Best of South Africa with other tours, you’ll discover that the savings are as amazing as the country itself. The value for money contained in this tour is easy to see, and it has proven to be one of Friendly Planet’s most popular travel programs year after year.

If you have any questions, visit our website for more details and the full itinerary of the tour. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Three Egypt tours fit for a Pharaoh

There are few places in the world with more mystery and majesty than Egypt. The contrast of ancient treasures and modern marvels is what tempts travelers year after year.

The one conundrum travelers find themselves in is this: With over 46 centuries of history, there’s so much to see and do in Egypt. That’s why we offer more tours to Egypt than any other country. Right now we’re discounting all of them.

But don’t let the prices fool you. You’ll feel like a Pharaoh staying in five-star hotels in the heart of Cairo, and touring the most elaborate pieces of structure built by man.

Here are Friendly Planet’s Egypt tours.

Pyramids and Nile Cruise. Stand in the shadow of the Sphinx and gaze at the pyramids of Giza on this $1,699, nine-day tour. Walk the temples at Luxor and Edfu, visit King Tut’s tomb, old Cairo, and more. Then relax on a luxury excursion down the Nile River on the Tamr Henna for four nights. If you want more, an optional four-day extension to Petra is available.

Pyramids and Petra. On this eight-day, $1,699 tour, embark on an inspired exploration of the pyramids of Egypt, the oldest and only standing Ancient Wonder of the World. Stroll through the world-famous Khan El Khalili bazaars to try your hand at bargaining for unique jewelry and clothing. Then cast your eyes on the remarkable lost city of Petra in Jordan, one of the Seven New Ancient Wonders of the World.

While you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of the four-day Dead Sea extension. There’s no other place in the world where you can float (without a raft!) in the saltiest and lowest body of water on Earth. Even better, it’s said that the mineral-filled seawater can take years off your skin. 😉

Treasures of Egypt. And if you want more than a week in Egypt, this 12-day, $2,099 tour will satisfy your appetite. Be mesmerized by Egypt’s sweeping natural beauty on land, then board the M/S Tulip for a seven-night Nile River Cruise. You’ll dock at Edfu, Aswan, Kom Ombo, and more. While at port, wander the world’s greatest open air museum at Luxor and tour Abu Simbel, the site of the Great Temple of Ramses II and one of the most magnificent of all temples in Egypt.

Here’s what’s include in the prices: roundtrip flights from New York (JFK) via EgyptAir, fuel surcharges, arrival and departure transfers, all intra-Egypt flights and group transportation, superior hotels, many meals, comprehensive sightseeing tour programs, English-speaking tour guides, and much more.

To lock in these prices, book the Pyramids and Nile Cruise by June 16, Pyramids and Petra by June 2, and Treasures of Egypt by June 23. I can assure you of one thing. You’ll be itching to return to Egypt after just one visit.

For complete details about the tours, itineraries, and their extensions, visit the website. If you have any lingering questions, write to me directly.

Safari in Kenya: A roaring good deal at just $1,899

It might have taken me thirty years in tourism to do it, but I’m ecstatic to report that I’ve created my dream travel deal. I’m going to say it’s a miracle of tourism packaging. And that’s saying a lot considering I’ve been to the ends of the earth and back (yes, including Antarctica).

For the first time ever, Friendly Planet is offering the eight-day Kenya Safari Express for only $1,899. There has never been a safari tour with so many included excursions or such superior accommodations for a price like this.

Typically, an exotic African safari comes with a hefty price tag. We’re talking $3,000 to $5,000 and right on up. But this unbelievable deal opens the door for more travelers to see majestic Africa’s sweeping vistas, teeming cities, and magnificent wildlife. The experiences we’ve packed into this tour will leave your head spinning.

During a day in Nairobi, you’ll reach out and touch elephants at the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphans’ Nursery and feed giraffes from the palm of your hand.

At Lake Naivasha, home to over 400 species of birds, you’ll tour by boat while hippo, giraffe, buffulo, zebra, and waterbuck watch curiously from the shore.

The photogenic plains of the Masai Mara game reserve are like something out of a movie. During two action-packed days of game drives you’ll see Africa’s big five game: lions, African elephants, cape buffaloes, leopards, and black and white rhinoceroses. They’ll be so close you can leave the zoom lense at home.

And in true Friendly Planet tradition, you’ll have the chance to mingle with the locals. Spend an afternoon with the friendly, indigenous people in a Misaim village, and get a feel for life on the plain.

As always, the hotel and lodge accommodations are top notch, bringing a touch of luxury to the region’s natural beauty. I can say from experience that there’s no better way to relax after a day bumping over the landscape than lounging poolside with a cold drink.

Didn’t cross enough things off your bucket list during eight days in Kenya? An optional three-day extension to Dubai will take care of a few more. Experience the intersection of traditional Islamic culture and contemporary luxury in one of the world’s most talked about tourist destinations.

Stroll through the narrow lanes of the Bastakiya District marketplace, a relic of 900-year-old Dubai. Ride one of Burj Khalifa’s 57 elevators, the tallest building in the world, at 2,625 feet. Dine on an Arabian dhow cruise down Dubai Creek, once the hub of bustling pearling and fishing industries, and today, the best way to take in the twinkling city lights. At night, wine and dine at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel.

We couldn’t be more excited about this one. This tour is the perfect example of what Friendly Planet is here to do: offer incredible experiences at incredible value. If I’ve whet your appetite enough, find the full itinerary and all the details on our Kenya Safari Express, plus optional Dubai extension page on the Friendly Planet Travel website.

Dishing on Dazzling Dubai and Kenya Wildlife Safari

Randy and Carolyn on the desert safari tour

Every time I read new feedback from our customer surveys, the travel bug in me grows a little bigger. When I hear from our customers about what a great time they had on a Friendly Planet tour, I immediately want to know more.

What was their favorite part? What did they learn from the tour guides? What did they have for dinner? A million questions run through my mind.

Some of the latest feedback I’ve read has come from Randy Jones. He sent me an e-mail with some amazing photos from the Dazzling Dubai tour and the Kenya Wildlife Safari extension that he and his wife Carolyn took. I already wanted to hop on the next plane to Dubai!

I gave Randy a call to learn more about his trip. From the lavish hotels in Dubai to the beautiful tents in Kenya, Randy recounted the fantastic time he and Carolyn had.

If you’re considering booking this six-day tour for $1,499, I suggest listening to my podcast with Randy. He offers some unique perspectives on the country, his most memorable moments, and gives advice for those thinking about traveling to Dubai. Enjoy!

Morocco: What you should know before you go

STUNNING: Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh

When I heard from Peggy that Friendly Planet was introducing a nine-day Treasures of Morocco tour, it brought back a flood of images from my trip to this exotic country.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as bizarre, exotic, and diverse as this North African country, the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, dating to AD 788. Here African, Arab, Berber, and French influences have produced a culture as ancient as Fez’s medieval walled city and as cosmopolitan as Casablanca’s Hyatt Hotel, where bar staff dress in costume from the classic film “Casablanca.”

This predominately Muslim country was a French protectorate from 1900-1956. The two cultures, and some 270 different ethnic groups, raise interesting contrasts.

One day I sunbathed at a Casablanca hotel pool with bikini-clad Europeans. On another, I explored Old Town Fez, a walled medieval maze where mules carry goods, and veiled Muslim women sweep through narrow passageways.

One magical night I found myself in a nomad’s tent in the desert, sitting on carpets around a huge, low table, eating aromatic lamb stew and being entertained by belly dancers and horseback riders.

A few days later I was shopping trendy boutiques in Casablanca. The namesake of the famous Humphrey Bogart film is also home of Hassan II Mosque, one of only a few that is open to Westerners.

To me, the excitement of Morocco culminates in Marrakesh’s market square, Djemaa el Fna. In its “Court of Marvels,” snake charmers compete with acrobats and musicians. A turbaned man threw a small chattering monkey on my shoulder for a photo op. A few coins were expected in return, a small price to pay for entering this enchanting world where so many cultures mingle.

Unlike visiting a homogeneous country with one language and one set of traditions, visitors to Morocco will need a few tips for navigating this complex culture. It might feel like a movie set, but there are some things to keep watch for.

Shopping
Bargaining is standard practice. Offer half the price and work from there.
Shops close at noon and re-open around 2 p.m.
Stick close to your guide in Old Town Fez to avoid getting lost in the intricate maze of passageways.
Reserve the word “imshee” (Arabic for “take a hike”) for overly aggressive vendors and unofficial guides.
Keep your bag or wallet secure and consider a money belt.

Dining
Eating is one of the great adventures in Morocco, where you can dine on elegant French or Mediterranean fare accompanied by fine wines in European restaurants, but I recommend trying the flavorful Moroccan dishes.
Try my favorite dish, the traditional lamb stew of raisins, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry atop a bed of couscous.
Order the sweet tea as your drink. It’s served hot in a glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves.

Manners
Never eat with your left hand; it’s taboo. The left hand is the “toilet” hand in many African and Muslim cultures. Never pat a person on the head or take a photograph without permission. Be discreet drinking alcohol in public.

Hygiene
Bring some toilet paper in your purse. It’s optional in Arabic bathrooms, and you might be required to pay for a few squares.

Language
French is widely spoken, and so is Arabic.
Practice these helpful Arabic phrases:
Hello: salaam wa laykoom
Goodbye: ma’salaama
Please: afak Thank you: shukran
Where is the bathroom?: Ayna Al Hammam?
How much?: bish-hal?
That’s too much: ghalee
Take a walk/leave me alone: imshee

I had a great time traveling through this country, and I can assure you that it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Customer testimonial: A wonderful Wildlife Safari

I opened my inbox the other day, and guess what I found? An e-mail from Barbara, one of our customers, about her Kenya Wildlife Safari.

But why should I tell you about it? I’ll let Barbara tell you herself. Here’s her e-mail, unedited.

“This was our 2nd Trip with Friendly Planet, and it was absolutely wonderful. The Safari Vehicle was clean and comfy and our guide Newton was a fountain of knowledge. The accommodations are great and we saw more animals then anyone could wish for. We hit the middle of migration and saw wildebeest as far as the eye could see. We saw all of the Africa Big 5 and have memories that will last us a lifetime. THANK YOU FRIENDLY PLANET FOR ANOTHER GREAT TRIP.” – Barbara Winbush, Harbor City, Calif.

Thanks for the kind words Barbara! I can’t wait to hear about your third trip with us. 😉 If you’re interested in taking the Kenya Wildlife Safari yourself, visit our Web site for all the details or write to me and ask me what you need to know.

What’s to come at Friendly Planet in 2010

I always enjoy this time of the year. It’s relaxing to get a few days off from work and spend the holidays with friends and family. As the year comes to a close, you reflect on how much you’ve accomplished, and think about what you want to achieve in the next year. 
 
I know what I’m looking forward to in 2010. We’re going to be introducing several new and exciting tours and community projects at Friendly Planet Travel. I want to share with you all a sneak peek of what’s going to happen.  
 
New Web site. One significant change will be our upgraded Web site. By the end of January, expect to see a faster, more responsive site. It’ll be filled with new tools for individual travelers, as well as a new search engine that will make it even easier to search for deeply discounted air and hotel packages to many foreign destinations including London, Rome, Paris, even the Caribbean. 
 
New booking engine. Along with a new Web site comes a new booking engine. It will let travelers book reservations completely online. It will be even more convenient for travelers to make deposits and final payments online, safely and securely with their own username and password. Travelers can also view their tour information, reservations, documents, invoices, destination guides, and other important details anytime. 
 
New travelers’ community. Another important feature of the new Web site is the new community, where we will host forums for our visitors, have places to post pictures and travel blogs, and provide various ways to interact with us. The forums will be important in getting feedback from our travelers, and allow people who are traveling solo to find roommates easily through our site.
 
New micro-lending project in India. As you’ve heard me talk about before, we’re working on projects with Kiva and the Trailblazer Foundation, and now we’re looking into launching a new micro-lending project in India. It will fund the purchase of rickshaws for drivers who are presently forced to rent them by the day, giving up a good part of their daily earnings, rather than keeping them to support their families.
 
Since these drivers have no access to credit to fund the loans for the rickshaw purchase, they are forced into this rental situation. If we’re able to create a fund that allows the drivers to pay back the loan to us, and end up with the rickshaw in the end, the drivers will soon be able to keep the day’s wages for themselves. 
 
New ways to give back to needy students. We’re also organizing a collection of school supplies for every Friendly Planet travel destination where they are needed, but not available. This is the case in most of Africa, Asia, and certainly in India. Notebooks and pencils that are given to children directly are usually confiscated by needy families who then turn around and sell it for food. 
 
Our project will distribute the supplies to trusted teachers, who will store and distribute them as needed to students. The school supplies project is being organized by local guides in each place where the supplies are needed, and will be implemented early in the new year.
 

Thumbnail image for New Picture (3).jpgNew destinations. Finally, we’ll be adding new destinations to the Friendly Planet globe. Tours are being planned to Madagascar, Burma (Myanmar), Bali, and Indonesia, plus a number of river cruises in Europe and Asia. In addition, several new ocean cruises will be available starting in the spring of 2010, via Louis Cruises and Costa Cruises, two familiar Friendly Planet favorites. 

 
These are just a few of the new things arriving in 2010. There is plenty more in the works for throughout the year, but this gives you a taste of what’s to come!

Experience the mystery of Egypt on Friendly Planet’s 12-day Treasures of Egypt tour

As the third part of this week’s Africa series, I’d like to take you north. Egypt is the land of fascinating culture, mesmerizing history, and sweeping natural beauty. And there are perhaps few places in the world more revered for its mystery and majesty.

FP_Egypt.jpg

Once again, Friendly Planet is defying skyrocketing travel prices to bring you a fantastic, truly first-class Egypt vacation deal fit for a pharaoh. On our Treasures of Egypt tour, you’ll spend 12 days exploring the famous Sphinx and pyramids at Giza, the temples at Luxor and Edfu, King Tut’s tomb, Old Cairo, and so much more, for only $2,299.

For the second leg of the journey, travelers will be treated to seven nights aboard a luxury cruise on the Nile aboard the 5-star M/S Tulip cruise ship. As always, roundtrip flights, transfers, touring, and many meals are also part of this vacation package.

Have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information, departure dates, booking, and a full itinerary.

Ten days on Kenya’s incredible wildlife safari for $2,999

FP_Kenya.jpgI’ve come across so many travelers who have always had Kenya and Tanzania at the top of their lists of dream destinations, and for very good reason. Both countries are blessed with an abundance of spectacular wildlife and lavishly gorgeous, incredibly photogenic landscapes.

Everywhere you go, from the teeming cities to the plains of the Masai Mara, people are friendly and welcoming. Every day life in Kenya is a powerful image of juxtaposition. Imagine traditional tribe members mingling with urban families at a market, bustling cities that give way to rolling grasslands, and white-glove service where the basics of running water and electricity are scarce.

Wildlife safaris have been the bread and butter of Kenya’s tourism for decades, and several Kenyan parks are among the best places in Africa to see lions, elephants, leopards, and the breath-taking wildebeest migration. And for the bird watching enthusiasts, Kenya rates as one of the top five bird-watching destinations in the world.

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With more than 50 parks to choose from in Kenya alone, and almost 25 percent of Tanzania’s lands protected as nature reserves, it’s hard to decide where to go. But Africa travel experts agree that the Masai Mara and Samburu parks in Kenya and the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania are must-see sites.

 

That’s why we’ve designed our 10-day Kenya Wildlife Safari plus optional Tanzania Extension around these culturally significant and awe-inspiring natural destinations, and so much more! And like all Friendly Planet tours, you’ll enjoy the best of Kenya and Tanzania at prices that are as amazing as the countries themselves. At $2,999, you won’t find a deal anywhere else that offers all the luxuries and experiences as this tour.

You’ll find the full itinerary and all the details on our Kenya Wildlife Safari, plus optional Tanzania extension page on the Friendly Planet Travel Web site.

The wonders of South Africa for under $2,800

FP_elephants.jpg

This week, the Friendly Planet Travel office is abuzz over one word: AFRICA. And considering the deals we just ironed out, there’s no wonder why.

Africa is perhaps the last great vacation frontier for travelers. It isn’t that people haven’t been traveling to Africa, but for several reasons — mainly political unrest and cost — many who would want to enjoy the beauty and diversity of Africa choose other destinations first.

However, trends are changing, and more people are discovering that Africa, as a continent, offers a vast array of treasures for the traveler who likes to mix nature and adventure with relaxation.

Stay tuned this week, as I feature some of our most incredible Africa adventures, starting with South Africa!

For the adventure seeker, South Africa is one of the world’s most magnificent natural settings to explore. But as with many of our destinations, it has always been incredibly expensive to get there.

With our new 12-day South African Explorer tour for $2,799, travelers get the chance to visit modern, vibrant Cape Town — one of the world’s hot new destinations for style, night life, and unforgettable scenery — as well as cosmopolitan Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest metropolis.

Then, it’s into the wild for a visit to several of the country’s lush game reserves in search of the “Big Five” —  lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and black rhinos. Vacationers will even spend a night at a traditional rural village, where you’ll be treated to warm, welcoming South African hospitality.

And while you’re in South Africa, why not take advantage of your already-included international airfare to visit Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders. Passengers taking the pre-tour extension will depart the U.S. four days before the scheduled departure date.

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On this optional extension, travelers experience the power and majesty of the largest curtain of falling water in the world. The tour also crosses over to the Zimbabwe side of the falls, and ends in Johannesburg, where you’ll meet up with the remaining group members as you depart for the full South African Adventure.

Join us in South Africa, and see why this destination is fast becoming one of the most popular in the world. It’s a vacation of a lifetime, at a price you won’t believe. But don’t wait too long to reserve your spot, because space is limited and will go very quickly.

Have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for the full South African Adventure itinerary, as well as the Victoria Falls optional extension itinerary.

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