Sahlep – the winterful, wonderful street beverage of Istanbul

The magnificent Blue Mosque

There is something indescribably “Istanbul-ish” about a warm, soothing cup of sahlep as you walk around in the cool, brusque Fall and Winter air of Sultanahmet (in the Old City) any evening between November and January.

Hagia Sofia with its generations of history

The refreshing evenings in the Old City side of Istanbul during this cooler time of year, capture an ambiance that’s definitely not in existence during the sultry summer months.

Street tea vendors at night – Istanbul

During the winter, if you go out later in the day, when the crowds have quieted down, you’ll find a different, quieter city, when there’s only you and a few other souls walking around, watching the multi-coloured dancing waters of the fountain in the Center of Sultanahmet Meydani (Square), which mystically contrasts the serenity and stately grandeur of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Meydani with Hagia Sofia as the backdrop.

To add to your winter delight on the dark streets of Istanbul, if you’ve never had the wondrous experience of drinking hot sahlep on a cold night, the sensation would feel similar to this: on a horse-drawn sleighride in the crisp winter air, enjoying a nice ‘perfectly warmed’ cup of hot chocolate.

Sahlep is similar in consistency to hot chocolate, unlike warm milk chocolate, it would be akin to a cup of warm, white chocolate drink. That is sahlep! Delicious and topped with just a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg, and some crumbled pistachios to slightly enhance the flavour. Yum! Try it! You’ll like it!

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul
Sahlep and Turkish tea vendors at night in Istanbul

These types of intimate and enriching but local, cultural experiences are what we like to share with our guests when we go to Istanbul, either on a group itinerary, or privately. Let us share our love of Istanbul with you!

Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: SultanAhmet Camii)
Sahlep! Take a walk around Istanbul this winter and experience it for yourself!

Driving New Zealand’s South Island

A drive on New Zealand’s South Island—with its Lord of the Rings landscapes, superb local wines, and glass-and-timber lodges—is like a visit to another, more perfect world.

From November 2010
By Anthony Dennis Appeared as “Road Trip: Southern Crossing” in T+L Magazine

Days 1–2: Queenstown
November is the ideal time for a springtime tour of the South Island’s secluded fjords, wild seascapes, and remote luxury lodges. Begin in Queenstown, New Zealand’s premier year-round alpine resort, a kind of antipodean Aspen. From the airport, head into town by following the shore of Lake Wakatipu and snare the lakeside window table at the glamorous Eichardt’s Private Hotel (lunch for two $58); the seafood chowder makes for a superb lunch. After shopping for merino wool sweaters in Queenstown’s compact, lively center, drive 10 minutes along Lake Esplanade to Matakauri Lodge (doubles from $1,010, including dinner), your lakeside retreat for the next two nights. Matakauri—the newest sibling to the North Island’s Kauri Cliffs and the Farm at Cape Kidnappers lodges—has 11 spacious, light-filled suites with panoramic views of the lake and Cecil Peak, whose 5,028-foot summit is often obscured by wispy clouds. Dinner at the lodge is cooked by head chef Dale Gartland, who uses exquisitely fresh local produce: green-lipped mussels; Southland beef; organic vegetables. Stretch your legs here for another day, allowing time for a lake cruise on the Earnslaw, a 98-year-old steamer, or a half day of white-water rafting on the Shotover River, with Real Journeys (lake cruises from $34; rafting trips from $130).

Day 3: Queenstown to Te Anau (110 miles)
After a final alfresco breakfast on Matakauri’s terrace—basking in the views of the aptly named Remarkables Mountains—drive back into Queenstown and hug Lake Wakatipu as it veers south. The road will lead you past farming communities such as Mossburn, New Zealand’s “deer capital” and a source of much of the venison you’ll find on your plate, before reaching Te Anau. This is the start of the Southern Scenic Route (southernscenicroute.co.nz), one of New Zealand’s greatest, though least-known, drives, traversing a sparsely populated wonderland of forests, lakes, waterfalls, and wild coastlines. Fjords figure here, too; New Zealand is one of a handful of places blessed with the narrow inlets. Check in to the rustic-modern Fiordland Lodge (doubles from $520), owned by a veteran park ranger and designed to take advantage of the views. A three-course dinner is included in the rate.

Day 4 : Te Anau–Manapouri Loop (26 miles)
Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most famous fjord, is magnificent, but savvy Kiwis favor Doubtful Sound, which is both larger and less touristy. Real Journeys (cruises from $184) operates a daylong excursion to Doubtful Sound that starts in Manapouri, about 25 minutes from the lodge. You’ll take a one-hour boat ride across Lake Manapouri, then get on a bus to cross 2,200-foot Wilmot Pass before glimpsing Doubtful Sound glittering below. Once aboard the Breaksea Girl—a 20-passenger ketch small enough to get close to the waterfalls—look out for fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and penguins. The day ends with an astronomy session back at Fiordland Lodge: with no major cities for at least 100 miles, the stargazing here is unparalleled.

Day 5: Te Anau to Otago Peninsula (185 miles)
Have the lodge pack you a lunch: on today’s drive, the gourmet opportunities are limited to gas station cafés and the odd fish-and-chips shop. It is worth pausing at seaside Orepuki, about a 1 1/2-hour drive south of Te Anau, where southern right whales can sometimes be spotted. Push on another 30 minutes to Riverton, established by whalers in the 1830’s and now a busy fishing village, to find a spot on the beach for your picnic. From there, bypass the unremarkable city of Invercargill and head east directly to the Catlins, a rugged region of waterfalls, blowholes, and petrified forests from the Jurassic era—beyond this remotest of Pacific shores, the next landfall is in Antarctica. The Southern Scenic Route ends in Dunedin, a Scottish-influenced college town, but you’re heading about 30 minutes further to the Otago Peninsula, where the scenery is untamed and the wildlife abundant.

You’ll reach Kaimata Retreat (doubles from $320), a remote, timber-clad lodge, via a series of gravel roads. Toast the long drive with a bottle of outstanding Central Otago Pinot Noir and chill out on the deck overlooking the inlet and the sheep ranch that clings to the precipitous, pea-green hillside across the way Day 6: Otago Peninsula to Queenstown (185 miles) The tip of the Otago Peninsula is home to the Westpac Royal Albatross Centre ( tours from $32), the world’s only mainland breeding colony for the formidable birds, which can live longer than 60 years and have a wingspan of 10 feet or more.

Afterward, follow Portobello Road back into Dunedin and to the Octagon, its appealing central plaza—that’s a statue of Robert Burns in front of the cathedral. Grab a quick lunch at the hip Mash Café (lunch for two $23), located under the eaves of the historic Regent Theatre. From here, Queenstown is a leisurely four-hour drive via routes 8 and 6 through the interior of the South Island, passing farms and former gold fields. The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel (doubles from $335) is an unpretentious boutique property and the perfect spot to end your trip (“dairy” is Kiwi for “convenience store,” by the way).

From there, the plush and amiable Botswana Butchery (dinner for two $100), one of Queenstown’s hottest tables, is an easy walk for dinner. Dishes include a range of superior steaks, venison, and lamb, as well as seafood dishes—such as Antarctic sea bass with bouillabaisse sauce—direct from the pristine waters you’ve just been admiring.

Anthony Dennis is T+L’s Australia and New Zealand correspondent.
Link to Article: http://bit.ly/rWo330

Africa for beginners | Travel | The Guardian

A seasoned backpacker shares his tips and suggested itineraries for a memorable few weeks in southern or east Africa


by Laurence Watts
The Guardian, Saturday 21 August 2010


Take it from someone who has backpacked the length and breadth of Africa: it’s big, slow, exciting and infuriating in equal measure. Its charm lies in the simplicity of local life, the cheerfulness of its people and its natural wonders.


Travelling can be a struggle: bureaucracy and corruption can be problematic, and forget time-keeping altogether – but all this makes for roads less travelled than in other continents.


Contrary to what you might think Africa can be a pricey travel destination. Tourists stand out, so often you’ll be singled out for special attention and inflated prices. My recent four-week trip from Dakar in Senegal via Timbuktu to Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast, cost over £2,500, even though I used public transport and stayed in fairly basic hostels. Budget options won’t always exist, so stay in them when you can.


Public transport can be unreliable and uncomfortable. The bush-taxi I took from Bamako in Mali to Conakry in Guinea broke down after three hours. The car, a Peugeot 504 estate, should have been on a scrap heap – every window was cracked, every visible inch of metal rusted. The taxi that towed us to the nearest town was just as bad. There were eight of us in my taxi, and nine inside the car in front, plus two small boys, a goat, three chickens and a motorcycle on the roof. But it’s all great fun.


Much as I enjoyed my foray into west Africa, there is much less to see than in the south and east. Timbuktu is a great place to send a postcard from but its fame lies more in its inaccessibility than in anything there is to do there. Some west African states are still recovering from civil war. In many countries in the north, such as Sudan and Libya, visas are hard to obtain, and there is little provision for backpackers. Visas are often tied to expensive – and restrictive – package tours.


Instead, here are some great itineraries based on my own travels, which could be joined together.




South Africa–Namibia–Botswana–Zambia, 4 weeks


A classic route, combining wildlife and thrills, starts in Cape Town. See Robben Island (robben-island.org.za), then take a bus (intercape.co.za) to Springbok. Stay at the hostel Cat Nap Accommodation (sa-accommodation-finder.com).


Cross into Namibia by taxi or hire car to Hobas and book a five-day hike through Fish River Canyon (nwr.com.na). In Windhoek, to the north, chill for a while at Cardboard Box Backpackers (cardboardbox.com.na), before catching a bus to Swakopmund, for sandboarding, skydiving and dune-buggying, which can be arranged at Dunes Backpackers (dunes.com.na).


The best way to see Botswana’s Okavango Delta is on an organised expedition but these are expensive. Spend a day or two cruising the Chobe national park riverfront instead – Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane (chobesafarilodge.com) has good value rooms and camping, and can set up boat trips. End your journey on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. A 15-minute microlight flight over the falls will set you back $120, from any local travel agent. Entering the falls on foot costs $10 and the views are still breathtaking.


Nearby Livingstone is a good place to chill – Hippo’s, near the Fawlty Towers hostel (adventure-africa.com), is the bar to hang out at.


Tanzania–Kenya–Uganda–Rwanda, 3-4 weeks


Fly to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and take the ferry from this unappealing and dusty city to Zanzibar, where life moves slower. Here you can see giant tortoises, pristine beaches and enjoy a harbourside drink at Mercury’s in Stone Town (named after Freddie, Zanzibar’s most famous son). The Flamingo guesthouse (+255 24 223 2850) is a good budget option near the old town centre.


Back on the mainland, take a bus to Moshi at the foot of Kilimanjaro. The Kilimanjaro Backpackers Hotel (kilimanjarobackpackers.com) has small but clean rooms. Five-day return tours up Africa’s highest peak can be booked locally; Shah Tours (kilimanjaro-shah.com) is good.


From Moshi it’s a short minibus ride to Arusha. From the Via Via cafe-bar (lush forest scenery within an old German fort), plan trips to the Serengeti national park and/or the Ngorongoro crater for very accessible wildlife. One budget operator based in Arusha is Nature Beauties (naturebeauties.com).


Then catch a bus to Nairobi. Kenya offers more safari opportunities, including the Masai Mara, or you could head on to Kampala in Uganda and try white-water rafting on the White Nile close to its actual source (adrift.ug). Stay in the Backpackers hostel (backpackers.co.ug).


End with a shared taxi ride to Kigali, Rwanda. Visit the Kigali genocide memorial centre (kigalimemorialcentre.org) and the Mille Collines hotel, the real-life “Hotel Rwanda” (millecollines.net); though you’ll find the One Love Project guesthouse (onelove-project.info) significantly cheaper.




Ethiopia–Somaliland, 2-3 weeks


Ethiopian airlines (ethiopianairlines.com) is one of Africa’s best, with a good hub at Addis Ababa. Stay at La Source Guest House (ethiopiahotelguide.com). Visit the palace and final resting-place of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, then head north to Lalibela (a two-day bus journey), to see its ancient churches carved into solid rock.


The truly adventurous can get to Somaliland (the breakaway territory on the Gulf of Aden) in three days by successive buses (Addis-Jinka-Wajaale-Hargeisa) but check the local security situation and Foreign Office advice first (fco.gov.uk). The 10,000-year-old cave paintings at Laas Geel were only discovered in 2002 – when I was there I had the place to myself. The Ambassador Hotel (ambassadorhotelhargeisa.com) arranges trips.


Link to Full & Original Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/aug/21/africa-for-beginners-backpacking

The 10 best safaris in Africa – Telegraph

Published in Telegraph Journal
The 10 best safaris in Africa
Whether you go deep bush in northern Kruger or follow the big cats in the Maasai Mara, a trip into the wilderness will be life-changing.

When Telegraph Travel asked a group of Africa hands to come up with a shortlist of top safaris and safari destinations, the said hands leapt at the opportunity of celebrating the slices of African wilderness that touch their hearts and souls. So here we feature a selection of 10 ecosystems in six countries, ranging from volcanic forest landscape to desert plains, with animals from mountain gorillas and marauding lions through to equally fascinating dung beetles. People who have been on an African safari will tell you that it is life-changing; that is why, despite the high costs, those who have revelled in the experience invariably come back for more.

In these austere times the prices of the holidays listed here are bound to cause comment. They range from £2,700 to £4,000 for a total of seven days in the bush.
The African tour operators vehemently deny that they are profiteering and argue that it is the logistics of providing comfortable tourist facilities in the middle of nowhere that pushes up the cost of safaris. Again, wildife enthusiasts believe that these are prices worth paying.

Duba, Botswana

I have long held the belief that Botswana’s lions are the biggest in Africa. This is certainly the case with the large, magnificent prides of Duba – namely the Skimmer pride and the Tsaro pride, both of which were controlled for some years by two splendid males known as the Duba Boys. The Duba Boys sadly passed away last year, and for the moment a younger Skimmer male has taken over both prides. We shall see what happens next, as inevitably other males will move into the territory looking to take over these prides – and all hell could break loose.

What is so unusual about Duba is that these lions hunt by day – most prides throughout the continent hunt at night – and so visitors to Duba can watch marvellous set pieces as the lions and the buffalo take each other on in epic battles. I have been lucky enough to witness some of these battles which, from the initial stalking to the final kill and pride feeding, have run through an entire afternoon.

Duba is a 65,000-acre concession in the far north of the Okavango Delta, with no access by road for most of the year. It has been the bush home of the filmmakers and National Geographic explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert for close on a decade, and it is where they filmed Relentless Enemies, the story of the confrontations between lions and buffaloes. Their company, Great Plains, recently bought the camp, and they are currently revamping what is already an idyllic place.
Graham Boynton

The details
Seven nights at Duba Plains, to include all meals, safari activities, international & regional flights and light aircraft transfers costs from £4,115 per person, based on two sharing. Africa Travel (0845 450 1520; www.africatravel.co.uk) arrange tailor-made holidays to Botswana.

Mundulea Reserve, Namibia

Covered in seemingly endless bush, the rugged hills and sparse plains of Mundulea Reserve may match a thousand corners of Africa, but it’s the exceptional resident guide and his vision of conservation that set it apart. A decade ago, Mundulea was four large cattle farms and things were very different.
“It took two years to remove the 127km [79 miles] of internal fences,” remembered its founder, Bruno Nebe, as we wandered through his private reserve. Bruno’s aim has always been to restore the area’s ecology: “And not just the animals; the botanical side as well”, he explained, stopping to talk about the nutritional value of the grasses at our feet.

His purple T-shirt and jaunty Rastafarian hat – rather than regulation khaki and cap – bore testament to an unorthodox style. Although one of Africa’s top guides, he has never been to guiding school. Bruno grew up in Namibia, working summers on his father’s game farm, and studied for a degree in zoology before switching to fine art. Eight years at a top German film school, capped with photographic prizes, led to him covering Namibia’s Independence in 1990.

Almost 20 years later, as we climb a rock-strewn slope, Bruno talks enthusiastically about bush encroachment, burning biomass and the digestive tracts of zebras. In the distance, a small group of black-faced impala align their lyre-shaped horns to study our progress. “There are probably less than 1,000 of this native subspecies left; we reintroduced 38 three years ago: now we have 127.”

Later walks yielded more game – a herd of eland, a relaxed leopard in the fading sun and even a glimpse of rhino – but the animals and conservation projects at Mundulea aren’t the main attraction. If we had only seen the impala, it wouldn’t have mattered: a guide as inspirational as Bruno is what makes a truly great African safari.
Chris McIntyre

The details
A nine-day itinerary including three nights at Mundulea would cost from £2,995 per person including economy return flight from Britain and car hire in Namibia. With Audley Travel (01993 838500; www.audleytravel.com).

Northern Kenya

I like my Africa wild and vast, with the sort of huge horizons that reduce even the most hardened of bankers to tears. Up in Northern Kenya, right up against the Ethiopian border, far away from the fashionable animal-stuffed parks, you can find it. To wander through a land that is populated only by the indigenous peoples to whom it belongs, who live easily and naturally among all its inhabitants, the lion and the elephant as well as the goat and the cow, is to have a glimpse of how things once were and how perhaps they ought to be.

To go deep into Samburu country with Anna Trzebinski and her Samburu husband, Lemarti, is to enjoy a glimpse of an Africa that almost everywhere else has vanished. The days acquire a rhythm of their own. With them you can walk in the morning, lunch in the shade of some acacia trees and then as the sun begins to cool you walk some more, arriving at the end of the day to find the tents are up, there’s a kettle on the fire and dinner around the campfire is already cooking.

The downside is that the game is sparse and very skittish, but for an intense immersion into the Africa many of us dream about, it’s hard to beat.
Lucia van der Post

The details
A seven-night trip to Lemarti’s Camp, to include all meals, game drives, walks, camel treks and cultural visits, international flights and light aircraft transfers, costs from £3,995 per person, based on two sharing. Africa Travel (0845 450 1520; www.africatravel.co.uk) can tailor-make visits to Northern Kenya.

The Zambezi Valley, Zambia

There are few other places in Africa that feel as unspoilt as this valley, through which the sluggish Zambezi river flows past grassy floodplains and lush riverine forests beneath a soaring purple escarpment. It was here that I saw the only full-moon eclipse I will ever see: a burning white flat circle brightening into a bulbous orange orb against a black sky littered with billions of glittering stars. It was here I spent a sleepless night as lions moaned and roared around my tent. Here where I marvelled at the migration of clouds of brown-veined white butterflies en route to East Africa, watched a leopard flick its tail on a branch above my head, saw a baby elephant swim beside its mother across the waters from Zimbabwe, and held my breath as a prehistoric-looking crocodile slithered off its sandbank into the murky waters beneath my canoe.

This is not a park; it’s a wilderness that happens to have a sprinkling of rather comfortable camps and expert guides to bring comfort and knowledge to the experience: Chongwe (www.chongwe.com), with its romantic open-sided tented suites, or Chiawa (www.chiawa.com), with its passionate guides, or Sausage Tree (www.sausagetreecamp.com), with its perfectly positioned sunset cocktail deck. Best of all are the activities available, from walking with armed guides in the early morning to angling for tigerfish, canoeing, boating and spotting nocturnal creatures by torchlight. Or just sitting with a cold beer, listening to hyenas whoop in the hills at night.
Lisa Grainger

The details
Seven nights in a standard tent at Chongwe River Camp, including all meals, most drinks, game activities, current park fees, flight transfers within Zambia and international flights with BA from London, costs from £2,906 per person through Expert Africa (020 8232 9777; www.expertafrica.com; zambia@expertafrica.com).
On the same basis, seven nights in the Cassia Suite at Chongwe costs from £3,268pp; seven nights at Chiawa costs from £3,613pp.

Gorillas, Rwanda

With the confidence of an accomplished slayer, François brandished his machete against a mesh of gargantuan green stems. We cautiously picked our way in his wake, in awe of his proficiency. Perhaps we needn’t have been so impressed: such skills aren’t new here; they were used to devastating effect in countless bloody murders during 1994. Since then, memories haven’t faded – even Google still expects the word “genocide” to follow “Rwanda” – but the country has moved on apace.

Although poor, Rwanda is now stable. Its parliament is run by a majority of women, average incomes are rising fast, and laws actively promote reconciliation. Africa’s most densely populated country is prospering; in many ways it is a model of success.

Tourism has played a vital role in re-energising the economy. For our mountain hike, we had each willingly paid US$500 (£316) – a price that is high but which guarantees one of Africa’s finest wildlife sightings. François always heads unerringly to the morning’s sighting, guided by radio directions from the animals’ full-time bodyguards. Even so, when we heard a rustle, just 10 minutes after hacking off the main path, and several gorillas appeared around us, it was a real surprise.

Slowly, more of the group came into view: the large ones munching on substantial shoots, the younger ones playfully wrestling and tumbling, and an infant suckling contentedly from its mother. Looking into the eyes of a sizeable silverback male transcended any other “wildlife” experience I had known. He stared right back, clearly conscious that I was another individual. We held each other’s gaze; he was, I believe, as curious to know my thoughts as I was his.
Chris McIntyre

The details
Three nights at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Rwanda followed by three nights at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge in Uganda and one night at Kampala’s best boutique hotel, Emin Pasha, costs from £3,150 per person including return international flight, transfers, full-board accommodation while on safari and one gorilla permit per person in both Rwanda and Uganda. cazenove+loyd (020 7384 2332; www.cazloyd.com).

Kruger, South Africa

I have included Kruger Park more for balance than out of any personal conviction. None of my fellow Africa hands has included South Africa, and while I understand their choices, it’s difficult to leave the country off any listing of this kind.

So, the southern part of Kruger is dominated by exclusive, expensive luxury lodges that provide haute cuisine, fine wines, excellent guides and a pretty good first-timer’s glance at the Big Five. But it cannot offer the deep-bush experience my colleagues on these pages so love. For that you need to go to the northernmost part of the Kruger Park, right up to the South African border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Pafuri, a tented camp in this lovely, pristine wilderness that looks out over the Luvuvhu River, accommodates between 80 and 100 people – too many for the purists – but it is a lovely area to be in.

The vegetation and large diversity of mammals and bird life are reminiscent of the most beautiful parts of the Zambezi Valley – and until recently the area was mainly inhabited by hunters, smugglers and the local tribes people, the Makuleke. The camp has 20 exquisite thatch-covered tented rooms, all of which look onto the river, and are joined to the dining area and other communal facilities by raised walkways.

The 24,000-hectare concession is also at the centre of a significant but as yet unfulfilled wildlife experiment: the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the planned super-wilderness that will join Kruger to Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and the western wilderness in Mozambique.
Graham Boynton

The details
Seven nights at Pafuri Camp costs from £3,095 per person including return flight with BA from London to Johannesburg and connecting domestic flights to Pafuri, plus accommodation fully inclusive of meals, drinks, game drives, excursions and all activities. The Africa specialist Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk) can arrange private tailor-made travel across the continent.

Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Even before the plane touched down, I knew I was going to love Ruaha. On our approach we banked sharply over a range of broken hills. Below us a herd of zebra was stampeding across a yellow plain, and farther off was a huge river bordered by acacias.
Over much of Africa, our covenant with the wild has been broken beyond repair; but not here. Not yet. There was a rawness I had never seen before. This was the Africa of long ago, and who better to show it to me than Chris Fox, the bush-wise owner of Mwagusi safari camp?

At Mwagusi I met an American who told me he had been all over Africa, but now he goes only to Ruaha because nowhere is better. “I’ve been here two days and already I have seen three cheetahs, two leopards and God knows how many lions,” he said.

With each passing day, following Ruaha’s red ochre game trails among smouldering purple hills, I could feel the place getting under my skin. There is nothing gentle about it like the Mara. Its beauty is of an altogether harsher kind. Its parched plains are littered with boulders and wherever you look there are grotesque baobabs as old as London.

Every day we went looking for lions along the sand rivers. The land was painted in muted colours, but in the hour before sundown it glowed like amber, and that was when we watched five male lions emerge from the long grass, one after another. They were nomads, said Fox, hell-bent on a pride takeover, and that night they roared around camp for two hours or more. Life on safari doesn’t get much better.
Brian Jackman

The details
Seven nights at Mwagusi in Ruaha, including return flight from London, internal flights within Tanzania, current park fees and activities, costs from £3,795 per person sharing through Expert Africa (020 8232 9777; www.expertafrica.com; tanzania@expertafrica.com).

The South Luangwa, Zambia

This isn’t the most beautiful spot on Earth. It can be very hot (over 100F/40C in summer), is thickly vegetated and lacks any outstanding geographical features. But it’s where, in the Fifties, professional game guiding began in Zambia – and it’s from here that some of the best walking safaris operate.

Guests come not just because there is great game (everything but rhino, which were wiped out by decades of poaching), but great guides: Robin Pope (infrequently, now he has retired) and Deb Tittle at Nsefu (www.robinpopesafaris.net); and Abraham Banda at Kapani Lodge (www.normancarrsafaris.com).

With these pros at the helm, guests walk a few hours a day, stopping to learn about every moving thing en route, from the Big Five (such as buffalo) to the Little Five (buffalo weaver) and Plant Five (buffalo grass).

While walking is not for sissies (the big animals can, and sometimes do, charge), traversing the bush on foot is the best way to drink in the surroundings, to smell the dung-infused earth, to listen to elephants grumble and trumpet as they trundle, to watch dungbeetles roll their egg-filled balls, to spy on crocodiles digging nests in a sandy riverbank.

There’s no barstool I’d rather drink at than the deckchairs set up beside a Luangwa fire, and no shower as sensually thrilling as the simple bucket hung on the branch of a tree. This isn’t a place for lovers of iPods and spas; it is the earth as it has been for millennia, untouched and unspoilt.
Lisa Grainger

The details
A seven-night safari in South Luangwa, with four nights at Nsefu followed by three nights at Kapani, costs from £2,950 per person. The price includes return international flight, transfers and full-board accommodation throughout. cazenove+loyd (020 7384 2332; www.cazloyd.com).

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

When most people think of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, they think desert. They think dust and barren earth, thirst and deprivation. Me? I think blue, blue skies, the sun turning the grass a deep gold, the acacia trees dotting the landscape, each one topped with a chanting goshawk standing sentinel among its leaves. Up in the sky the raptors whirl; down under the thorn trees the animals seek the shade.

In the Kalahari, you have to mind about the small, the neglected, the unsung – the dung beetle and the snake, the African hare and the jackal. You learn to look out for the springbok, the ostrich and the gemsbok, and you get your thrills at night when you hear the roar of the black-maned Kalahari lion and the howl of the brown hyena, while up in the sky the stars are brighter and more extravagant than anywhere in Europe. It doesn’t take long before you understand why Tom Hardbattle, a British policeman who arrived in what was then Bechuanaland after the war, declared: “Everything I ever wanted I found in the Kalahari.”

It’s scarcely ever visited; the camps are few. I like to go with my own mobile safari guide (Peter Comley through African Explorations), pitching the tents where the fancy takes us. But I also long to do what some gloriously dusty, sun-tanned Swedes I once met at Maun airport had done – they had hired two camper vans, complete with vast fridges and tents that rose up at the press of a button, and driven themselves through that land that’s as beautiful, as pristine, as unpolluted as it’s possible to find. They had had more fun, more adventure than any swanky safari lodge could ever deliver.
Lucia van der Post

The details
Seven nights at the Kalahari Plains Tented Camp costs from £3,995 per person, including return BA flight to Johannesburg, connecting domestic flights, transfers, full board and drinks and all excursions, game drives and activities at the camp; book thorugh Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk).
www.africanexplorations.com can organise a well-priced mobile safari with Peter Comley or, more luxuriously and more expensively, with Roger Dugmore.
www.wilderness-safaris.com has Kalahari Plains Camp in the northern part of the CKGR.

Maasai Mara, Kenya

If, like me, you are a big-cat junkie, there is only one place to go. Come rain or shine, Kenya’s Maasai Mara national reserve always delivers. Here in one day you can photograph a leopard up a tree, look into the amber eyes of a cheetah and come face to face with a whole pride of lions. No wonder the BBC chose it for its Big Cat Diary television series. This is where I saw my first simba, roaring from the top of a termite mound with the morning dew glistening all around him, and where I got to know the Musiara Marsh lions years before the BBC made them known to millions.

For cats and visitors alike, the best time of year begins in July when the migrating wildebeest and zebra herds arrive from the Serengeti in numbers beyond comprehension – the greatest wildlife show on Earth. But in the end what gets you is the intoxicating sense of space and freedom. Driving over its boundless savannahs, you find yourself either gazing up at its wide rolling skylines on which animals – zebra, topi, or perhaps a herd of elephants – are outlined against the blue. Or else you are in the sky itself, on somewhere like Rhino Ridge, looking out over widescreen Africa.

Where to stay? Take your pick from Rekero, Little Governors, Cottars 1920 Camp, Kicheche Bush Camp and Porini Lion Camp.
Brian Jackman

The details
An eight-day itinerary, with three nights at Kicheche Bush Camp in the Mara, would cost from £2,760 per person including return flight from Britain through Audley Travel (01993 838000; www.audleytravel.com).

Link to Article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/safariandwildlifeholidays/7942820/The-10-best-safaris-in-Africa.html

Cuba to require visitors to carry medical insurance

Starting May 1st, 2010, a new Cuban government measure will require all foreigners, and Cubans living abroad, to possess travel insurance with medical cover in order to enter the country.

Cuba’s Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers published the new law in the nations Official Gazette, stating that tourists, and Cuban emigrants must have health insurance before being allowed in the country. Foreign citizens who have temporary residence in Cuba must have medical insurance that covers them for the duration of their stay.

The measure states that only foreign insurance companies that are recognized by Cuba will be allowed to issue the approved insurance plans. Also, there will be sales points at every point of entry into Cuba where travelers can buy insurance from local Cuban insurance entities.

In the published measure, diplomats and members of accredited international organizations will be exempt from this rule, although the measure does not reveal the cost of the mandatory insurance.

The Havana Times has an English translation of the published measure, available here: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=20914

Walking down: 5 tips for avoiding the latest hotel scam

Tripso
by Christopher Elliott
Jack Taras and his friends thought they would be checking in to the Occidental Grand hotel on the Dominican Republic’s postcard-perfect Eastern shore for Spring Break. But when Taras, a 19-year-old sophomore from Providence College, arrived at the resort, he was greeted with the hotel industry’s latest trick: he was walked down.

“They were sent to hotel that wasn’t as nice,” says his father, John Taras. He phoned his son’s online travel agency, Cheaptickets.com, and asked about the downgrade, which lasted the full five nights of Jack’s stay. It deferred to the hotel, which offered an apology and a vague explanation of a “computer mishap” that resulted in an overbooking.

“Walking” is a practice that’s as old as the hotel industry. When a resort is overbooked, it typically sends a guest to a comparable property, covering the cost of transportation, a phone call and accommodations. But somewhere along the way — probably at the start of the current recession — the word “comparable” was conveniently dropped, and hotels quietly began sending guests to lesser properties.

That’s not supposed to happen, according to Joseph McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group. “It’s most often the hotel’s policy that guests are provided accommodations in a facility of equal quality,” he told me. “The last thing that a property wants to happen is to compound the problem by sending the guest to an unacceptable facility.”

But problems are being compounded. That’s the bad news. There’s also some good news: Walking doesn’t happen as often as it did before the economy started going soft. The latest lodging industry forecasts predict more empty rooms in the months ahead, in an historic downturn that a recent PKF Hospitality Research study predicted would be “deeper and last longer” than previously thought. “With lower occupancy rates, I’m sure hotels are not having to walk as many guests,” says Robert Mandelbaum, PKF’s director of research information services.

The Occidental Grand offered Taras a voucher for a two-night stay, which he doesn’t want, and Cheaptickets.com has told him his case is being escalated to a supervisor. I contacted both the resort and the site on Taras’ behalf, but neither has responded.

It’s easy to understand why a hotel would want to walk a guest “down” when it’s overbooked. The property must cover the cost of your room when you’re “walked” and even though it often pays a discounted industry rate, it can save a few bucks by sending you to a lesser property and pocketing the difference.

Question is: what to do when it happens to you? Here are a few tips for guests who have been walked:

Read The Answers