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Sunday, 17 August 2008

AFRICA: The Cradle of Humanity


When people think of Africa, they think of the big five safari sightings (lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo, and rhino) or the big five tragedies of the continent (war, genocide, famine, political corruption, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic). But Africa encompasses much more than wildlife and warfare.

Africa is huge. It's four times the size of the United States. It's roughly 5,000 miles long and 4,600 miles wide. Africa makes up 20% of the earth's landmass.

"There's a whole continent beyond the cliché that appeals to luxury travelers and intrepid adventurers alike," says Andy Alpine, co-founder of Specialty Travel Index (SpecialtyTravel.com). "The photo safari is still a big draw, of course--where else in the world can you experience the sight of a lion stalking its prey or the magnificent wildebeest migration across Serengeti's endless plains? You could track wildlife in every country in Africa and still not get tired of it. But there is a rich cache of African experiences that many people don't discover until their second trip to Africa--and some may overlook it altogether."

Specialty Travel Index puts hundreds of African vacations from some of Africa's best outfitters in one easy to navigate web site. Travel agents and travelers can narrow down their choices by country and by type of trip with a couple clicks.

Here's a look at just a few of the dream-of-a-lifetime African travel experiences from different outfitters that can be found at www.specialtytravel.com and the magazine/directory Specialty Travel Index:

Ghana arts & Culture

Ghana is a kaleidoscope of arts. Palace Travel's seven day art and culture tour of Ghana gives collectors and culture buffs a unique and up-close cultural experience. Travelers visit a local casket making shop to see a collection of caskets carved in the shapes of various objects depicting traditional beliefs in life after death (the "Fantasy Coffins" of Teshie Nungua have been featured in National Geographic and galleries worldwide). They take drumming and dancing lessons on Kokrobrite Beach and learn to make fufu, ground nut soup, red red, and palava sauce in a Ghanian cooking workshop. Then its' on to the Ashanti craft villages--Pankrono, where potters create colorful hand-built vessels; Ahwiaa, known for royal stools, walking sticks and fertility dolls; Ntonso where artisans hand-stamp patterns on cotton cloth to make adinkra textiles worn for funerals and other solemn occasions; and Bonwire where the famous Kente cloth is handmade on looms, in a time-honored tradition passed down through generations. If your suitcase isn't stuffed with art by then, it will be after the Kumasi Central Market (also known as Kejetia Market), the largest open-air market in West Africa, where more than 10,000 vendors sell just about everything you could need or want - food, fabric, clothing, furniture, beauty products, and handmade crafts.

PALACE TRAVEL

Diving the Red Sea

The Red Sea, where the desert meets the ocean, is one of the planet's most fascinating natural sea environments. There are about 200 of coral types and over a thousand species of fish, more species than anybody of water its size. Many divers consider the Red Sea is the best diving in the world world. Lotus International's Deep Down in the Red Sea diving tour starts in Cairo and gives divers the chance to explore the Abou Dabab Reefs, Elephinstone Reef, Dolphin Reefs (3 dives with the dolphins), St. Johns, Marsa Alam, and West Abu Dabab. LOTUS INTERNATIONAL TOURS

Photographer's Safaris

There can't be an amateur or professional photographer alive that hasn't fantasized about the capturing a shot of lions cubs playing in the grass, a leopard in a tree, or a line of elephants. A professional photographer leads small (10 or fewer) photo-hungry groups on daily game hunts--at a photographers pace--in open vehicles and bushwalks through private game reserves and Kruger National Park. Photographers will spot game from above on an ultra light flight and take a boat through the world's third largest canyon for hippo and croc shots. In the evening, guests compare shots in the tree house style lodge. AFRICA WILD SAFARIS

Explore the Kalahari

Few parts of Africa can match the mystique of Botswana's Kalahari Desert. Its unique and striking environment, and its vastness and isolation, leaves a lasting impression on all visitors. In addition to exploring its fragile ecosystem, Travelers with Mountain Travel Sobek's Kalahari Desert private adventure can experience the cultural richness of the indigenous San (Bushman) people, who live in complete harmony with their environment. From Jack's Camp, an elegant, traditional East African–style camp (the best in the Kalahari!), you'll explore the saltpans on quad bikes, search for the elusive brown hyena, and take a walk with a Bushman and learn how the San people have survived for centuries in this harshly beautiful environment. MOUNTAIN TRAVEL SOBEK

Tracking Large Game on Foot in Big Five Territory

An environmentally-friendly tented camp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Bateleur Eco Safaris is in the heart of Big 5 territory. Forming a part of the Greater Kruger National Park, all artificial barriers between the reserves have been removed, allowing the wildlife to roam free. Sightings of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino, cheetah, antelope, and 350 bird species are common. Guides conduct daily bush walks, which teach guests to track large game on foot and provide a fascinating insight into animal behavior. To ensure an authentic wildlife experience, Bateleur Eco Safaris exposes guests to a variety of activities such as bushcraft and survival skills, bringing them closer to nature than ever before. BATELEUR ECO SAFARIS

Cradle of Voodoo

The Adventure Center offers a journey of extremes through some of Africa's less-visited countries: Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso. Traveling through three very different nations, travelers experience diverse cultures and traditional religions, amazing natural attractions, unique architectural styles, friendly people and vibrant local music. From the Gulf of Guinea to the remote nomadic lands in the north of Burkina Faso, travelers visit fetish markets and python temples, spend a night in a traditional stilt village, witness fire-dancing and mask ceremonies and explore the vast expanse of the Burkinabe Sahel. Sometimes, they are even granted an audience with King Maiga Belko at Arabinda. Adventure Center

Maasailand Safari

One of National Geographic Traveler's "50 Tours of a Lifetime", this is the chance to explore the African savanna on foot with Maasai warriors, share stories with elders, discuss world issues of common concern, learn about wildlife conservation and animal husbandry, women's issues, rites of passage, and discover the fine arts of beading, traditional healing, music and dance, all from a base of specially built guest bungalows in the Maasai village of Merrushi. WILDLAND ADVENTURES

Birding in Egypt

Egypt is a bridge between continents offering migratory species the perfect route for their annual flights from Europe and Asia. A wide variety of Egyptian habitats ranging from high rugged mountains to desert and tropical style jungle along the Nile basin, give it a unique character plus the diversity needed to attract an extremely wide range of bird life-- over 430 species of birds are found in Egypt. Travel Egypt, in addition to Nile cruises classic Nile Valley tours, operates a tour during the anticipated peak of migrations to afford birders a vacation with the maximum chance to view and photograph the widest variety possible. Birders visit to important antiquity sites and oasis in both upper and lower Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula with its beautiful beaches, incredible undersea life, and bountiful collection of bird life. TRAVEL EGYPT

Spotting Gorilla and Chimps in Uganda

Uganda's longest operating Safari provider (operating since 1959), Kimbla-Mantana African Safaris, combines luxury tent camps with real beds, comfortable furniture, thick rugs, and fully stocked dining and bar tents (this isn't roughing it), with game viewing tin a private fleet of 4x4 Land cruisers. Lake Mburo Camp is set in a beautiful game park that has a wide range of Africa's wildlife; Bwindi Forest Camp is the base for mountain gorilla treks; and Kibale Forest Camp is the forested base for chimpanzee spotting. Kimbla-Mantana African Safaris

These, and many other African experiences (as well as a myriad of special interest and adventure travel adventures), can be found in Specialty Travel Index and on SpecialtyTravel.com

STI is easy to use, on the web site with the "Find Your Adventure" search mechanism indexing tours by both interest/activity (Yacht Charter, Wine Tours,) and destination (Costa Rica, France) and in the magazine using similar choices. Subscriptions to the magazine cost $10 per year (Canada $15; other foreign $25) for two issues: July (Fall/Winter) and January (Spring/Summer). Send orders to: info@specialtytravel.com or order online at www.specialtytravel.com.

Website: www.specialtytravel.com

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