Sorry, ISIS, we’re travelling more than ever. At least that was the scene at the recent New York Times Travel Show held at the Jacob Javits Center over the last weekend of January. It was wall to wall people with vendors talking up cruises, volunteer vacations, wellness holidays, family travel, mountain climbing, rafting, and everything in between. To places all around the state, the country, the globe, and now, Cuba, our long-lost neighbor to the south. One booth featured a passport picture-taking activity complete with make-up artist. Another exhibited a new device that features electrode pads and when placed on painful muscles, pain can be eased or eliminated after hours on a plane, or miles away from your physical therapist. There were contests galore with free vacations, discount cruises; lines formed for spins on one of the many prize wheels awarding more freebies like maps, and luggage tags.
The three-day event was jam packed with workshops on the big stage, intimate lectures in the lower level classrooms, musical performances in the corner, book signings, and travel experts on hand for one-on-one conversations. However, whether it was because the main sponsor of the Travel Show was South African Tourism, or because African safaris are hot right now, the South African pavilion was hopping. Costumed characters wandered the aisles, and exhibitors offered every sort of African adventure in their best khaki brown outfits.
“Africa is fascinating, offering experiences that cannot be had anywhere else in the world,” says Poldi Ridge, spokesperson for the Virginia-based, Adventure to Africa. “People are reaching out for more active and meaningful experiences, not just lying on the beach, so Africa is more on their radar. There’s also the excellent currency exchange and, despite the myths, there are no ‘big scary,’ diseases.” Although there are still some areas that are hard to get to, for the tourist, the tour operators pick up guests at the airport and, says Ridge, are taken care of from that moment on.
That afternoon, the president of the Association for the Promotion of Travel to Africa, Yvette DeVries, presented a talk on “Planning the Perfect African Safari,” and explained that the continent of Africa covers about 5,000 miles from north to south, about 4,600 from east to west, and a whopping 16,000 miles of coastline. So, that begs the topic of her talk: with such a big area to cover, how does one plan a safari? “By knowing what you want to do, and what you want to see,” she says. “Don’t pay for services you don’t use, or for experiences that you’re not interested in.” For example, some safaris include wine tastings, gyms and spa treatments, and some will take guests to Capetown, or a Masai village; some pricey tours will have luxurious accommodations with all the comforts of home and others move your tent from place to place.
If your thing is to visit the gorillas you’ll want to include East Africa, or for the migration of the Wildebeest, that’s in and around the Serengeti; there’s Mt. Kilimanjaro for mountain climbers, and hot air ballooning in Kenya. For those on a romantic getaway, there’s a tour offering a table for two under the stars, and for family groups safari vehicles can take along up to 9 family members. And, with all those miles of coastline, there’s every water sport available, and beaches for sun-worshippers.
For the first timer, Ridge suggests South Africa because “it’s mostly a first world country, English-speaking, with excellent amenities and a good value.” Adventure to Africa also offers women-only safaris for those travelling as a single, who like the company of other women, and wish to eliminate that awkwardness of being without a male companion. (Sorry, that’s still the case.) Some activities include a lesson in creating a Swahili dish, or listening to a lecture on the Leakey’s discoveries that were instrumental in learning about human evolution. Ridge has seen all ages attending their women-only safaris, from those in their 20’s up to 65 and above.
One question that also begs asking is, “what about malaria?” Ridge explains that while there is a game park in South Africa that is malaria-free, the anti-malaria meds are highly recommended along with the usual vaccines. (See a travel clinic or visit the Center for Disease Control for more detailed information on what is required for each part of the continent.)
For details on African safaris, visit Adventure to Africa, South Africa, or The Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff