Archive for the Category »Africa «

  Spotlight on South Africa: Top Five Things to do with Kids

World leaders and thousands of others mourning the loss of former South African president Nelson Mandela are expected to pack the beloved leaders funeral next week in South Africa.

Dozens from the media will be there also, sending back images of this land of contradictions: Beautiful scenery, yet tremendous poverty among South Africa’s black majority. 26% of it’s people are living on less than $1.25 a day, according to a United Nations survey.

Yet, it is still one of the best travel destinations in the world, and the great thing about tourism, is that it can help lift an area’s economy and benefit the locals.

Yes, South Africa may be intimidating because you probably don’t know as many people who have been, and it is far away if you are living in the United States. You’ll probably want to spend a couple weeks there if you are going that far, and for parents, that means one of two things: You either don’t go because you can’t leave the kids that long, or you bring them.

I say bring them. I am not unaware of the high violent crime and murder rates there… it’s just you have to look at WHERE this is happening. There is large disparity between haves and have nots in South Africa, and most of the crime is happening in the poor townships where travelers shouldn’t go. There is also a high rape statistic, but again – mostly in the poorer areas of town, and few assaults are on tourists. Nonetheless, you should remain vigilant like on any trip.

Here are my Top Five things to do with your children in South Africa:

kruger1) Take a safari. There are dozens of some of the nicest safari lodges in South Africa. Here is a website listing some of them: . What’s also amazing is Kruger National Park. There are safari lodgings there as well, and you can even take self-guided tours to see the wildlife – this park is known for viewing opportunities of the Big Five. It is also one of the best maintained parks in all of Africa.

Cape Town_mainpic2) Cape Town – Gorgeous, natural beauty. Sparkling beaches against the backdrop of Table Mountain. Explore some of the waterfront towns, hike Table Mountain for some incredible views, partake in water sports like sea kayaking. You can even whale watch from the land.  Venture out to Cape Peninsula and see a lighthouse. There are many top notch hotels  and restaurants in Cape Town.

RovosRail_TrainSideView3) Take a luxury train trip on Rovos Rail. It is a wonderful way to see the country, in a luxurious setting. The journeys range from 48 hours, to weeks long – if you bring children, I would suggest a shorter excursion, as it is an adult-like atmosphere on the train, and not many kids can still that long. Older children will be fine – and there is a railroad golf safari that might be worthy checking out if you have golfing children – South Africa boasts some of the world’s best golf resorts, and getting off the train to golf gives kids a chance to walk around and be active.



4) Knysna, on the Garden Route – Knysna is a great town along the Garden Route – a long coastal drive in South Africa that is compared to Pacific Coast Highway in California. Knysna offers family friendly Bollard Beach… an elephant park where kids can hand feed the pachyderms… and gorgeous forests where you can mountain bike. This might require you renting a car – but you might want to look in to a car service so you can enjoy the view and let a driver deal with some of the local drivers who have reputations for being a little crazy on the road.

durban5) Durban: Beach town known for it’s surf. The beaches have nets to protect from sharks. There is also a promenade with shops and cafes and an aquarium. You should also check out Victoria Indian St Market – the area has a large Indian population, and here you can get a taste of this culture and it feels like you’ve stepped into another world. Lastly, you can visit the Umgeni River Bird Park with more than 800 birds, and various shows.

Happy Travels -

  Where to Take Your Kids Before They Move Out.

School is back in session.. life is getting back to routine. My oldest started middle school… so last spring’s 5th grade graduation was a milestone for me: He was leaving the nurturing nest of our sweet elementary school.

Actually, it was compounded by the fact that my youngest graduated kindergarten just the day before… the stark contrast between the 5 year olds and 10 year olds made me realize they grow so fast. So me, being sentimental, started to think that – OMG – the empty nest doesn’t seem too far away. A bit dramatic? Maybe.

Have you thought about what you want your life to be when you are an empty-nester? (That is another blog post!) Or…have you thought about what you want to do with your kids while you still have them at home? Where would you like to take family vacations before they are too busy… or have moved away? You only have so many chances to create indelible travel moments together.

I have thought about this. Everyone is different, but there are some general themes that would make for memorable family get aways.

1) I will start with the most obvious, and probably easiest: Hit the beach. Rent a beach house, plant your toes in the sand, BBQ at sunset, play on the beach, and bring board games. With just simple pleasures, there are many opportunities for bonding time. Hawaii will also work here – there is nothing like getting to an island – can’t recreate that vibe as much as I have tried. Hawaii is the easiest for many reasons: With kids you want things simple, and it is an English speaking, American state…. everything is pretty convenient. Cue the sea breeze please.

2) Brave a World-Class Big City or Two. World class museums, taxis zipping by, wonderful parks. I would put New York City, Paris, London, and Rome on that list. San Francisco too – but it is more laid back.

You can also find many free things to do in large cities – take advantage of free days at museums, the many free activities in parks from puppet shows to concerts to playgrounds. When I took my kids to Paris, it was unbelievable how long we could sit in a park and watch our kids play on all the play areas so different than anything we have in America, as well as multi-generational pick-up games of soccer that they joined.

3) Sneak in a History Lesson: Everyone would love their children to have a sense of the world, and historic moments. Seeing is believing over just learning in textbooks. Some locations steeped in history make awesome family vacations. Did I mention Rome? I am again. The birthplace of Western civilization, there are many a history lesson to be found here. There are tours about Julius Caesar… and standing relics of ancient Rome like the Forum and Coliseum. Vatican city is important whether you are a practicing Catholic or not  - what a statement it makes about organized religion, and it’s importance to many people. No to mention, the art history lesson there…the Sistine Chapel and the architecture of Basilica di San Pietro.

Also on my list: Greece, Washington DC – tour the capitol and White House, visit the monuments, and if you have time go to Gettysburg, Boston, or London.

4) Lions and Tigers and Bears and Nature. Expose your kids to the good old outdoors, and all the creatures that call  it home. Kids love animals – even teens find them interesting. In Alaska, I met some teens who said Alaska was their best family vacation – believe me, if you’ve been to Alaska, you know how original it is compared to the rest of America. Bear viewing, kayaking with bald eagles, hiking glaciers are all possible in the Last Frontier.

Easier to get to for most, are our national parks. Yellowstone may be one of the best I’ve visited for animal viewing, along with being an incredible geological lab for all! Your kids will love the spouting geysers, bubbling mudpots, and hissing steam vents… Yellowstone has the greatest concentration of thermal features in the country—nearly 10,000 of them.

There is also the Galapagos Islands – home of the blue-footed booby, the Great Barrier Reef for some amazing viewing of marine life, and Africa for an organized safari, which is better for older kids.

5) Lastly – it is a rite of passage for a child to visit a theme park. You only capture that thrill for a short time, so indulge them, no matter how crowded and how bad the food.:)

Some of these trips can be done on a budget. Forgive me if I have missed some other potential trips.

But now, you have time, and hopefully inspiration to plan for next summer… these are trips that will last a lifetime.

  Has American Idol ever influenced your choice of vacation?

I have rediscovered an old song on my ipod. Kris Allen, of American Idol fame, sings some chilling – or inspiring, depending on how you look at it – lyrics in “Live Like We’re Dying”…

…And we’re all staring down the barrel of a gun
So if your life flashed before you,
What would you wish you would’ve done?

Made me think…where do I want to go that I would regret if I never got there?

The first thing that came to mind – and I’m gonna go with that – is an African Safari. That is one experience I’ve never had. I’d love to take the family, and a good camera to shoot the big 5.

(Chiawa Safaris)

But there’s way more to planning a safari then thinking about whom and what to bring. It can be as overwhelming as the trip is rewarding…so I turned to my reliable travel agent friend who kills it every time he plans a journey.

We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away…

Here are John Clifford’s tips on what to consider before booking a safari.

1) Seasons Make All The Difference.

You want to concentrate on wildlife at their greatest concentration and migration patterns.

Southern & East Africa are very different in this regard.

January, for example is ideal for Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda.

Traveling in the Summer? Southern Africa is ideal this time of year and Kenya

is full of migrating wildebeest, an amazing spectacle.

2) Choose Your Destination Based On What Wildlife Interests You

The Migration of wildebeest & zebras is an iconic safari experience which occurs July through September through Tanzania & Kenya.

Gorilla tracking is ideal in March through April and October through November in Rwanda, Uganda & The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Birding is ideal in Southern Africa between November & March.

3) Work With An Expert Safari Outfitter & An Experienced Travel Consultant

An experienced travel consultant is your link between your dreams and the right safari outfitter.

Though the big travel publications rate the best companies, sometimes biggest is not always ideal.

The best companies also partner with top agencies, such as Virtuoso affiliates to offer you

preferred pricing, free upgrades, valuable added amenities and top priority that you can’t obtain by booking directly or on the web.

Some of the best names have strong partnerships only with top agencies such as:

@beyond, Abercrombie & Kent, African Travel Inc, Butterfield & Robinson, Cox & Kings, Micato Safaris, Orient Express, Volcanoes Safaris & others.

My tips: Decide if you want a luxury safari or a more rustic camp. This also may be influenced by your budget – the upper end safari packages can cost $1000 per person per day, and that doesn’t include airfare.

When planning a safari with children, consider South Africa because it has a better infrastructure than most, and has malaria free areas so kids don’t have to take the meds. Namibia also has malaria free areas, but distances between places can be long trips.

On another note…Kudos to my good friend Stuart has always wanted to take his kids on a  ’cross country road trip. He’s checking that off his list this summer.

Yeah, we gotta start
Looking at the hands of the time we’ve been given
If this is all we got and we gotta start thinking
If every second counts on a clock that’s ticking
Gotta live like we’re dying

Carpe Diem.