While Africa doesn’t have a lot of airlines serving it from North America, and there aren’t many competitive forces at work to stimulate travel bargains there, our Travel-Expert-in-Residence, Rudy Maxa, has still managed to dig up a deal on getting to S. Africa for a safari.
South African Airways and South African tourism officials have put together two incredible packages to jumpstart business to that country.
--The lower-priced one for $2,000 is aimed at the 20- to 30-year-old market: includes airfare to South Africa from either New York or Atlanta, 8 nights in 3-star hotels, 2 days on safari, two-day tours and some meals.
--But their parents might more appreciate the $3,000 package. You can choose a 12-day tour with emphasis on adventure, African culture, or a more urban tour. You’ll generally spend at least 4 nights in “the bush” in lodges, where meals are included -- all hotels are 4- and 5-star -- all transfers and in-country flights are included, and your airfare to and from either Cape Town or Johannesburg, between Atlanta and New York, is included as well.
If you bought these separately, you’d spend at least $5,000 to $6,000 for the $3,000 tour.
A number of companies, like Destination Southern Africa (www.amasafari.com or 800-203-6724 except between 2 and 6 a.m., Arizona time), offer these tours.
There are also plenty of other companies that offer safaris elsewhere, of course, too. On www.Only-africa-safari.com, 9-day tours were available for $2,000. Another good Web site: http://www.zambezi.co.uk/safari/tours/
But look carefully at what the offer is; look at the specs of the safari packages very closely to make sure you know what you’re getting.
So, what are the best safari countries? Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.
Best time? Our late spring, summer or early fall -- that’s when there’s less water, so you’ll find more animals going to water, and less leafy vegetation, so it’s easier to spot the critters.
Contributor Sean Barlow's travel tips for people interested in music & culture in Africa:
"There are not too many music festivals in Africa along the conventional festival models in Europe or the U.S. But there is music everywhere in Africa! And, when you visit the continent and tell people you are interested in experiencing the local music scene, you will both impress your new friends and put in motion an entrée to the local culture that will get you out of the hotel bubble and "tourist culture" (hotels and cabarets that do not really show the "real deal.")
Two of my favorite musical capitals are Dakar, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali.
Dakar, Senegal: Very active nightlife: Favorite places include Youssou N'Dour's Club Thiossane. Catch his show on weekends, starting around midnight. Another hotspot: Club Sahel when mbalax veteran Thione Seck performs. Be careful in Dakar. There is petty crime in the downtown Place Independence area. Use your common sense: go out to clubs with local people.
Bamako, Mali: Wonderful musical city. Favorite places include Hogon Club for Toumani Diabate's groovin' big band and Djembe Club where the Super Rail Band often performs. Check out Akwaba club. Also suggested are up-country trips to Mopti, Dogon country and Timbuktu. Ask about the masked dances in Dogon country. And, when in Timbuktu, ask about shows by Haira Arby.
Here are some other music capitals:
Ghana: Ghana has a glorious Afropop history as a center of highlife music, which is mostly a thing of the past now. Current "hip-life" pop music is very American-derivative -- and not too interesting to these ears -- but Ghana has a tremendously rich traditional music life. You can find this in both rural and urban settings. Ask around.
Kinshasa, Congo, is another fabled musical city that has seen better days, but there is always music going on there.
Harare, Zimbabwe, used to be an especially fun music town, but current widespread hunger, economic distress and political discord suggest wait on this destination until the situation improves.
Wherever you are in Africa, ask people you meet if there is a wedding, baptism etc. celebration going on that you might participate in. Chances are there will be music and the African tradition of hospitality -- which means you will be welcome.
Music Festivals in Africa:
Festival in the Desert (Mali)
North Sea Jazz Festival (Capetown, South Africa)
St. Louis Jazz Festival (Senegal)
Sacred Music Festival (Morocco)
»As mentioned just after the Sean Barlow program segment...
Info. on annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival
GENERAL POINTERS ON SOCIAL ETIQUETTE and LANGUAGE
Greeting is a highly developed and wonderful tradition in Africa. It's very important to shake the hand of everyone you encounter in a social space, both upon arrival and upon leaving.
Africans really appreciate it when foreign visitors take the time to learn even a few words of the local language. Find out from your tour escorts the words for "hello, how are you?" "How is your family?" "thank you" "good-bye" "no problem!" "too much! (when bargaining) and "beautiful."
In French-speaking African countries, most educated people speak French. Highly advised is to get a basic French phrase book and a language tape to listen to on your flights over.
GIVING AND RECEIVING AND BARGAINING
The Afropop maxim for travel to Africa is: "Go fully loaded. Come back fully loaded."
There is a lot of need in Africa, and you can make an important difference by taking gifts to musicians (guitar picks and strings, blank cassettes, batteries) and general presents
(aspirin, Band-Aids, vitamins, pens, notebooks and color marking pens for kids, skin lubricant and perfume (popular with women), hats and T-shirts of where you come from (popular with everyone)).
You'll want to take back lots of local crafts. The general rule of thumb we use is: 10-2-4. For example, in the bargaining game they'll at least double, and sometimes quadruple, the acceptable price -- you come back with 20% of that. They'll laugh. Don't ever appear to be too attached or desirous of the object. Exude the vibe that walking away from the deal is fine with you -- and then settle on 35% to 50% of the original asking price. You can do your birthday shopping for friends and holiday shopping for the year all for less than a few hundred dollars -- and folks back home will love what you got them from Africa.
Kids in some African countries more and more are begging for handouts, hitting the tourists up for "something for nothing," I call it. This is not healthy. It's better is to give your escort what you've brought for kids: pens, notebooks, fun little toys, and then when you stop at a village en route, have him PUBLICLY hand this to an adult in the community (like a teacher).
It's important to ask permission of the person you want to take a photo of (if you're taking a close up, direct -- this is often not necessary when using a telephoto).
Just ask, "Photo?" with a smile. If they say no, that's that. If they want money to have their picture taken, that's your decision -- usually, a dollar will do. Take twice as much film as you think you'll need (same goes for batteries). I'm a recent convert to digital cameras; one cartridge can take 250 images. You can show them to your new friends right away. You can also delete the so-so ones right away and keep the keepers.
Don't be bashful about asking your fellow travel companions to take your own picture with YOUR camera, so you don't get home with plenty of images of landscapes and others, but few of yourself.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO BRING
The basics: flashlight, toilet paper, knife, candles, canteen, marking pen, battery-powered alarm clock, hat, sunglasses, sun protection, and a fanny pack to carry basics with you at all times (like a flashlight and toilet paper).
WASHING YOUR HANDS BEFORE EATING IS THE BEST WAY TO STAY HEALTHY. Bring those sani-washers or a gel handwash that kills bacteria. Don't eat any uncooked vegetables. Peal all fruits. Drink only bottled water, soda and beer.
Cash is a lot easier to deal with than traveler's checks. Wear a money belt to protect your cash and passport. Only put minimal money in your pockets when walking around. Leave expensive watches and jewelry at home.
Bring clothes you're not too attached to so that you can give them away or trade them.
(T-shirts that say Timbuktu are a BIG hit back home.)
Radio in Mali is everywhere and a lot of fun. Bring a cheap transistor radio and tune in to the local community stations as soon as you hit a town.
Buy the latest local cassettes and give them to your driver to play on the drive. Buy local cassettes to bring back to Afropop fans back home.
There could be long gaps between meals. Bring "power bars" or your favorite protein booster to help keep up your energy.
Bring two sets of photocopies of your essential documents: passport main page, Mali visa, air ticket, traveler checks, and an inoculation document. Give one to your tour escort; keep one in your locked luggage. Leave one with key person back home."
Sean Barlow is the producer of Afropop Worldwide from PRI and Afropop.org on the Web. The Afropop organization also produces Afropop music tours to Mali, Cuba, Madagascar and elsewhere, accompanied by local music stars. To find out more about these tours and to learn more about the countries mentioned above and their leading artists and music styles, or to register for the free weekly Afropop e-Newsletter, visit: www.afropop.org.