Uncovering Southern Africa’s Diversity
By Lisa Loverro
The allure and mystique of Africa draws people in from around the world, most having saved a lifetime just to catch a glimpse of a darting cheetah or the sun going down over the undulating pitch of desert sand dunes. When planning an itinerary to Southern Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana), consider your client’s expectations and how best to meet them, as the options here vary considerably. The terrain within these countries varies from forest and coastline to vast, magnificent deserts. The region has low-lying shores; mountains rich with the world’s largest resources of platinum, gold and diamonds; and it offers the best of the best when it comes to game viewing. Understandably, there is much optimism with tour operators for increased interest in the region despite the economic downturn.
“Travel to Southern Africa is definitely on the upswing and we are recovering steadily from 2009, which was a tough year for the travel industry as well as many other sectors,” declares Product Manager Jeanie Fundora of Cox & Kings USA. “The World Cup has certainly put a spotlight on Southern Africa and has increased our business for that particular period (June 11-July 11, 2010). We are seeing a general upturn in business and we are also experiencing 12 month+ lead times again for the first time in more or less a year.”
Bob Malmberg, president of Malmberg Travel Group, reiterates, “The region is blossoming into a major force in tourism with South Africa setting examples for its neighbors to admire. Hotels and game lodges go well beyond providing accommodations and become destinations in themselves. Perhaps more importantly, agents must understand that this region is a “one shot” destination and it’s almost always understood that the customer has only a single opportunity to experience it.”
Breaking It Down
Botswana: This land-locked country surrounded by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa is primarily flat, with no mountain ranges to speak of. Dominated geographically by the Kalahari Desert, “Botswana is truly heaven on earth,” according to Fundora. “The exclusivity of the safari experience afforded by the private reserves outside of the madness of the National Parks is truly unique.” She credits the government for developing low-impact, low-volume tourism here, stating, “it has paid off in that the ecology of the country and its pristine wildlife areas have not been compromised by tourism.”
There is a multitude of accommodation options to choose from but Camp Kalahari, part of Uncharted Africa’s properties (www.unchartedafrica.com), has been recently refurbished with classic, old-world safari tents and welcomes children of all ages, making it a great family destination. For safari in the Chobe National Park, turn to Extraordinary Journeys (extraordinaryjourneys.net) for an array of lodging and tours, including fishing, game driving and elephant riding. For a truly unique and luxurious trip, send your clients on the new, eco-friendly Zambezi Queen (www.zambeziqueen.com). Tony Stern, owner of this high-end boutique hotel on the river says his vision was to create a contemporary, stylish cruise experience while enabling his guests to view animals from a more intimate perspective while still on the river. “For closer viewing from a few yards away, we use specially designed smaller boats which in no way threatens the animals and allows for observing the wildlife that cannot be viewed from the shore,” says Stern. For more information visit the Botswana Tourist Board at www.botswanatourism.co.bw
Namibia: With the Atlantic Ocean serving as its western border, Namibia has some pretty rough and arid terrain. If your clients seek busy beaches and thrive in a bustling vibe, send them to Cape Town. If they relish peace, serenity and expansive desert landscapes: this is the place. Namibia boasts one of the lowest density populations in the world (2.43 per square kilometer) and contains one of the oldest and most breathtaking deserts in the world. Here in Namibia, it’s all about the dunes.
“Namibia is wonderful in combination with Botswana’s Okavango Delta, offering a Desert to Delta experience and a fabulous way to see how unique and diverse Southern Africa truly is,” states Fundora of Cox & Kings. Their “Desert to Delta” package runs $12,385 per person/double occupancy.
Go2Africa (www.go2africa.com) offers a variety of luxury and mid-range tours throughout the region. Their “Best of Namibia Wing Safari” offers a fly-in safari from the desert dunes to the wildlife in Etosha. For more information visit the Namibia Tourism Board at www.namibiatourism.com.na
Zambia: Sparsely populated and largely uncharted, Zambia is a vast country with game viewing to rival that of its neighboring Botswana. Along with four National Parks, it’s fast becoming one of the new “hot” destinations and it’s only a matter of time before its appeal catches on to the mainstream.
Stanley Safari Lodge (www.stanleysafaris.com), an intimate, secluded seven-chalet lodge located high above Victoria Falls in Zambia, kicked off the 2010 season with an all-inclusive package starting at $370 per person/per night including airport transfers, laundry service, a guided tour of Victoria Falls and a sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi River. To ensure that the standards of the Lodge are kept up to five-star status, the main facility at the Lodge is now undergoing a lift with a new thatched roof and updated maintenance work.
For the adventure junkies, and those who get turned on from close encounters of the Big Five kind, turn your sights to the South Luangwa National Park and Norman Carr Safaris, (www.normancarrsafaris.com). In celebration of their 60 years of safari excellence, they’re offering a unique 10-day walking safari starting at $4,000 per person, sharing. From rustic camps to luxurious tents, clients wander the bush up-close and personal with nature as their guide teaches the tracks, calls and signs of the animals they are tracking. If you are thinking this sounds like a walk in the park, think again; this is full on adventure.
For more information visit the Zambia Tourism Board at www.zambiatourism.com
Zimbabwe: From the Ewanrigg Botanical Garden to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe is a safe, diverse country rich in heritage and adventure. According to Jason Turner, General Manager Tourism of Singita Pamushana Lodge and The Malilangwe Trust, Zimbabwe expects to see a growing interest stem from “improved economic and political stability in the country as well as the FIFA World Cup being hosted in South Africa.” His Singita Pamushana Lodge (www.singita.com) boasts 37 percent repeat business from 2009 as well.
In addition to safari, be sure to have your clients soak in all the spray Victoria Falls has to offer with a two or three day package allowing just enough time to feel the spray, visit a nearby village and enjoy a sundowner on the Zambezi. Lion World Tours (www.lionworldtours.com) offers a two-night Zambia/Zimbabwe tour that does just that.
For more information, visit the Zimbabwe Tourist Office at www.zimbabwetourism.co.zw