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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Top 6 Exciting Egyptian Experiences

Civilization first dawned in Egypt over five millennia ago when Narmer, first pharaoh of the First Dynasty, unified Upper and Lower Egypt. But Egypt’s history is even older, with human settlements dating back to 4,000 BC. In all that time, Egypt has grown and developed into one of the most exciting, richly cultured places in the world. Here’s just a taste of the exciting things awaiting you when you take a trip to this timeless destination!

River Nile ©Michael Gwyther-Jones/Flickr

1. Cruising the Nile

With over 4,000 miles of waterway coursing through 11 countries, the Nile River is considered to be the longest in the world, and Egypt its gift to Earth. Ancient Egyptians revered it as the source of all life, and with a riverfront view of the bustling ports and trading posts like Luxor, Esna and Edfu that blossomed all along its shores, you’ll see why. Stop off to visit the Valley of the Kings along the West Bank of the Nile and tour Edfu and the Temple of Horus! In addition to its ancient treasures, the Nile’s banks are home to a wide assortment of Egypt’s most iconic animals from its storied history, including hippopotamuses and the legendary Nile crocodiles. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse (from the safety of your boat!) and you’ll understand why ancient Egyptians believed them to be gods.

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Through Your Eyes: a Kenya Safari Experience

One of our travelers, Deborah, recently went on our Kenya Safari Express small group tour. When she returned, she shared with us her incredible story–along with some awesome photos! Africa had been on her bucket list for decades and we are so humbled to play a small role in her unforgettable experience in this amazing country!

It’s 6 am three days before Thanksgiving, and my husband and I are sitting in a small airport café in Frankfurt, Germany sipping coffee while we wait for our next flight. While there, a couple from Texas sat down next to us to chat. As with any airport conversation, the ‘where are you going’ question popped up, and I excitedly said – Kenya on safari! After a split second of stunned silence, the woman said “I wasn’t expecting that”…to be quite frank, I wasn’t expecting it either.

Africa has been at the top of my bucket list for over 30 years. My master bedroom has an African theme, and I always watch NatGeo hoping to see another lion, cheetah, leopard — you name it, I want to see it. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with Africa, but I know one thing, I was not going to leave this life without stepping foot on the vast African savannah and seeing these incredible creatures with my own eyes. It was time to scratch this off my bucket list.

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Namibia in Photos

Zebras in Etosha National Park
Stretching from South Africa to Angola along Africa’s southwestern coast, Namibia is a large, wild, and relatively unknown land, often overshadowed by more renowned Sub-Sahara destinations. But while the country may be young (it only gained independence from South Africa in 1990), its treasures are truly ancient—a place of natural wonders and special encounters for those who pursue them. Here you’ll find expansive, other-worldly landscapes and bygone cultures found nowhere else on earth. It may be far-flung, but for those who make the trek, Namibia’s quiet beauty is endlessly rewarding. And short of seeing it first-hand, it is a place best experienced through photos.

Want to see it for yourself? Discover the Best of Namibia on our newest tour, and click below for some spectacular photos.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.