African game reserves flooded, travelers stranded

game reservesKruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and a UNESCO Biosphere location. This week, the park was closed as massive flooding of the once-in-one-hundred-years magnitude stranding American and Canadian tourists who had to be airlifted out yesterday.

After a swollen river burst its banks and washed-out a bridge. “There wasn’t any other way to get out of the park,” Canadian Linda Freeman, airlifted out of the area told Reuters.

Flooding in southeast Africa this week has killed at least five people, forced thousands to evacuate homes and led to an airlift of about 20 foreign tourists in the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, weather officials said.

All organized game drives have been suspended as more than 1,500 people have been forced to flee their homes with local weather stations reporting a 267mm rainfall (10.5 inches) in one 24 hour period earlier this week, over five times the classification for heavy rain.




Gadling’s Kraig Becker was on safari in Kruger National Park not long ago and tells us:

“In all, I spent six days in Kruger, and was given the chance to explore it both on foot and by vehicle. In those days, I found that it lived up to its billing as one of the top safari destinations in all of Africa. Not only is the wildlife all that you would expect, and more, but the landscapes are breathtaking as well. In my travels within the park boundaries, I saw beautiful rivers, emerald forests, and stunning canyons. The gorgeous scenery was an element I wasn’t expecting, and it helped to further separate Kruger from the Serengeti.” Read more here.

Flickr photo by Sito Wijngaarden

Build your own adventure with the Africa Safari Planner

The Africa Safari Planner is a new tool for travelersThe Africa Safari Planner, a newly launched website from adventure travel company Natural Habit Adventures, gives travelers the ability to create their own custom trips to the African bush. The site, which launched earlier this week, provides options to visit nine different countries, and stay in over 300 unique camps, while encountering some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet.

The process begins by selecting which months you would prefer to travel in, and indicating the number of people in your group. From there, you’ll be presented with options for travel in both Eastern and Southern Africa, in such countries as Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and Namibia. After selecting a starting destination, travelers are then given the choice of several single and multi-country routes for their African adventure, which then prompts the site to suggest possible camps to stay in for each day of the journey. Those camps are broken down into categories based on price, giving the customer the ability to budget accordingly.

That said, there isn’t much that is “budget” about these tours. They definitely fall into the upscale category, and travelers on these custom safaris aren’t exactly roughing it. No matter which camps they choose to visit, they’ll have their own comfortable rooms, complete with large beds and private showers. They’ll also enjoy gourmet meals in spacious dining rooms and access to a host of other amenities while at the lodge. Of course, you don’t go to Africa to hang out at the lodge, and each of the camps offers unique options for viewing the wildlife as well.

If you’re looking for a truly once-in-a-lifetime journey, and don’t mind paying for it, then this is an excellent tool for creating your own custom safari itinerary. There are less expensive alternatives for booking a trip to Africa, but few offer this kind of flexibility and options for travelers.

World’s worst places: Top 10 places you do not want to visit in 2012

Update: Check out the World’s Worst Places of 2013 here

What comes to mind when you think of the world’s worst place? While it is easy to complain about rural Wal-marts, La Guardia, Applebee’s, and any government office with motor vehicle in its title, none of those places escalate the game from nuisance to immediate danger. All of them can be horrible, yes, but a threatened existence they do not pose.

The places on this list are the bad places. Some have run out of hope. Others have fought war for so long it is the new normal. Most are exceptionally dangerous and heartbreaking. And while none of them are fighting for write-ups by travel bloggers or inspiring travel with the NetJet set, some of these locations may someday be on the travel map. After all, it was not long ago that current hot-spots like Cambodia and Croatia would have made such a list.

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world's worst places

10. Harare, Zimbabwe
Recently voted by the Economist as the world’s worst city to live in, Harare is a unique study in failed fiscal policy. The once acceptable city fell into disrepair during Zimbabwe’s severe bouts with hyperinflation and corruption. The troubles began in the early 21st century when Zimbabwe’s inflation rate increased to 112.1%. Sounds terrible right? As it turns out, those were the sunny days. In 2008, the inflation rate peaked at 231,150,000% per annum. In U.S. terms, this means that if you deposited $10,000, it would be worth about 4 thousandths of a U.S. cent in one years time. That sucks. (For the record, 10,000USD = 46.720 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars in 2009.)

This sort of economic arrangement allowed Harare to fail. There are not enough printers in Zimbabwe to print enough of its Z100 Billion notes, and when a loaf of bread costs trillions, doom is soon to follow. Unemployment grew to 80% and many services faltered. Today, foreign currencies have been adopted but the damage has been done. Much of Harare is in disrepair, and few foreign companies care to directly invest in the troubled city. That said, it is probably the safest place on this list to visit with flights direct from London on the national carrier – Air Zimbabwe.

world's worst places

9. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
The lone entry from Oceania is the ultra-diverse Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea. PNG is home to over 820 languages – more than any other country in the world. As such, its capital Port Moresby boasts a diverse crew of opportunists and island cultures. It was recently voted by the Economist as the 137th out of 140 places in the livable cities index, making it a tough place to get by.

Rapes, Murders, and HIV are just a few of the daily tragedies that befall this enclave at the edge of the map. Here, even riding in cars is a dangerous activity. Gangs called Raskols are known to rob vehicles transporting foreigners at gunpoint.

Port Moresby is best used as a temporary gateway to nearby dive sites and for flights to PNG’s jungle interior and its solitary treks. Reaching Port Moresby is easy from Australia on PNG’s national carrier Air Niugini.

world's worst places

8. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
37 years ago, Ali and Foreman traded blows in one of boxing’s most historic matches. The match took place in Kinshasa. At the time, the country was known as Zaire, and the future looked hopeful for the mineral-rich nation. But as is common in 20th century African history, corruption at the top derailed the future. The country became a model for African kleptocracy as President Mobutu matched Zaire’s national debt with deposits into his personal bank account in Switzerland – to a tune of 4 billion (1980) U.S. dollars. He was forced to flee in the late nineties.

By 1998, the Congo region was engaged in the Second Congo War – the most deadly military conflict since World War II. In the end, over 5 million perished, and to this day the mineral-rich country has a per capita (nominal) GDP of about $186.

Chinese foreign direct investment has allowed Kinshasa to grow into a more reasonable place over the last decade, though it is not yet ready for its tourist close-up. Violence and political instability still ravage the second most populated city in Africa. It has come a long way from the time of Mr. Kurtz, but the heart of Africa is still an exceptionally complicated place. Just a month ago during the presidential election, thousands fled Kinshasa in anticipation of violence, and tanks rolled in to police the streets.

Tens of thousands of orphaned street children call the slums of Kinshasa home and are also routinely accused of witchcraft by locals. Carjackings are one of the more common types of tourist robbery, especially outside of the city center. And one more thing, photography is illegal.

Reaching Kinshasa is easy from Paris on Air France.

world's worst places

7. Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. While its infrastructure exceeds that of lesser favelas and its view of Rio is truly breathtaking, it is also home to several hundred thousand Brazilians packed onto a steep hillside. It is a playground for modern day little Li’l Zes.

With one of the highest murder rates in the world, Brazil has been cracking down on violence in anticipation of hosting both the Olympics and World Cup. In fact, local authorities have effectively declared war on this slum in an effort to clean it up and push out the drug cartels, and just a few months ago, Rocinha was occupied by the military and police forces. Their aim is to restore government control in the sprawling favela. While progress has no doubt been made, when visiting Rio (which is generally safe), it is wise to avoid favelas unless accompanied by a local guide.

world's worst places

6. Sana’a, Yemen
“Just off the horn of Africa…” is a common statement that generally precedes a story about modern piracy. And just on the other side of the dangerous Gulf of Aden where such piracy goes down is treacherous Yemen – a land frozen in time.

It is a time machine to the modern edge of the Islamic dark ages. On one hand this brings old world Arabian architecture and cultures of antiquity, but on the other, it brings out Islamic fanaticism. It is a place of child brides and a training ground for Al Qaeda. Men walk around freely with weapons per their religious rights, and these weapons range from the ubiquitous Jambiya to battle-worn Kalashnikovs. Sana’a is old, dangerous, and has its share of political unrest. As a westerner, you can keep your travel plans safer by avoiding Yemen.

The tragic thing about Yemen is that it possesses such beautiful sights. It has unbelievable Red Sea beaches, Socotra Island (Similar to the Galapagos and on my own personal travel shortlist), and old forts amid craggy mountains.

Reaching Sana’a, Yemen is possible from Dubai, Doha, London, and Sharjah.

world's worst places

5. West Point, Monrovia, Liberia
Clean water, electricity, basic services – all things we take for granted in the West. In the West Point area of Monrovia, a city named for James Monroe, these are luxuries. West Point, a peninsular slum jutting out into the Atlantic, is home to a special breed of disgusting squalor. Home to 75,000 Monrovians, it is one of Africa’s most notorious and crowded slums. Cholera is at an epidemic level, drug use is rampant, teenage prostitution is a commonality, and toilets are scarce. In fact, since it costs money to use neighborhood toilets, many Monrovians in West Point just crap in the streets or on the beach.

Vice did a great series on Liberia a few years ago. In the series, they meet with with an ex-war leader known as General Butt Naked – the commander of a group of child soldiers called the Butt Naked Brigade. He earned this name by charging into battle wearing only sneakers and his AK-47. Aside from sacrificing humans and partaking in cannibalism, he also regularly communicated with the devil. Today, he is a minister.

Delta flies from Atlanta to Monrovia, Liberia.

world's worst places

4. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Just as turbulence occurs where hot and cold air meet, similarly a point of human turbulence occurs in this nasty city where Mexico meets the United States. Drug violence, government incompetence, and poverty mix to form what has been called the murder capital of the world (this dishonor has since been ceded to Honduras). As drug wars continue to rage, Juarez continues to be a dangerous place. The drug cartels continue to fight for one of the most valuable things in the world – access to the United States narcotics market.

Neighboring El Paso, oddly, has one of the lowest murder rates in the United States. In fact, among major cities, El Paso is tied with Lincoln, Nebraska for having the lowest murder rate in the United States. It is indeed strange to have such a dichotomy separated by a river.

Flying to Juarez from a number of cities is easy, but don’t do it. Go to Cancun and fist pump instead.

world's worst places

3. Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Take one of the most damned places on the planet, knock the hell out of it with an earthquake, and you get the worst of Haiti – Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince is generally a place of ephemeral hope and naked truths, and at its most rotten corner is this heartbreaking slum.

Cite Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere. It is a place where what you see is what you get, and what you see is abject third world poverty. The slum is void of sewers, schools, electricity, or healthcare facilities. It is the kind of place where relief workers are swallowed whole by the earth. In 2007, UN peacekeepers attempted to access the neighborhood and were welcomed with gunfire.

On top of this, many dangerous gang members escaped prison during the earthquake of 2010 and have returned to this crumbling slum. Reach PAP, Haiti from Miami on Insel Air.

world's worst places

2. Kandahar, Afghanistan
Surrounded by gorgeous mountains, it is a tragedy that Kandahar is so awfully dangerous. A one time trading center and strategic foothold, Kandahar is a victim of its perfect location between the world’s of East and West. It has been a point of interest since Alexander the Great stumbled upon it in the 4th century BC. For centuries, traders passed through this city when traveling between Asia and Europe. As result, wars have also passed through and control has changed hands over its centuries of existence, from Mongols to Arabs to Brits and beyond.

Kidnappings, suicide bombings, and other criminal activities have turned it into an absolute monster of a destination. War has a way of creating this sort of general lawlessness. Having a 28% national literacy rate does not help matters.

As a weird footnote, Kandahar has an Armani Hotel, though it is not licensed by Giorgio. Its TGI Fridays, once a bastion of Americana and cheese sticks in Afghanistan, has allegedly been shut down. One can reach Kandahar from Dubai on Ariana Afghan Airlines. During Taliban rule, Osama bin Laden used this airline for Al Qaeda operations including the smuggling of guns, money, and opium. Today, sanctions have been lifted against the troubled national carrier.

world's worst places

1. Mogadishu, Somalia
Still crazy after all these years, “Mog” has perhaps the most terrifying disclaimer (ever) hovering above its entry on wikitravel. It states, “Mogadishu is regarded as the most lawless and dangerous city on Earth and is currently experiencing a major food and refugee crisis. It is not safe for leisure or tourism. If you are planning a visit for international aid work, etc, you will need expert advice and planning.”

Civil War has raged for decades, and the government controls only a few blocks of the city. It is a base for modern pirates, the backdrop for the true story surrounding Black Hawk Down, and it is said that machine guns are frequently used by drivers to negotiate through car traffic. It is a land without law, a soulless place at the edge of Africa. Much of it bears more resemblance to the last level in an especially difficult video game than to life on Earth. It is more modern warfare than modern world.

Oddly enough, several supermodels were born in Mogadishu including Iman and Yasmin Warsame – a footnote of beauty for an ugly place. Flights to Mog can be booked on Jubba Airways from Jeddah and Dubai. Good luck with that. Seriously though, if you decide to go, be sure to wear a bulletproof vest and hire a small army of Ethiopian soldiers.

New Book celebrates 10 years of the Tour d’Afrique

The Tour d'Afrique celebrates ten yearsThe Tour d’Afrique is a legendary cycling event that runs from Cairo to Cape Town on an annual basis. Covering more than 7500 miles, and requiring four months to complete, the Tour is a popular “bucket list” item for adventure travelers and cyclists the world over. This year, the Tour d’Afrique commemorates its tenth anniversary, and to celebrate, the company behind the epic event has released a fantastic coffee table book entitled 10: Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition.

The book begins with a forward written by Tour founder Henry Gold. A decade ago, when he first pitched the idea of a bike ride across Africa, Gold was met with skepticism to say the least. Many thought that it simply wasn’t possible for an event like this one to exist and he was regularly told he was crazy for even considering it. Ten year later, Gold has turned his idea into a yearly event, and his adventure travel company produces similar cycling tours in a host of other locations across the globe.

10 is filled with stories from the road, as riders share tales, quotes, and anecdotes of their own experiences from the Tour. For some, it was a life altering experience for others an adventure of a lifetime, but no one who has taken part in the journey has come away unchanged. Their words are likely to inspire readers to want to join Tour as well, and even if you haven’t been on a bike in years, you may find yourself dreaming of pedaling under African skies. The book doesn’t try to hide the challenges of the ride, which range from oppressive heat to unexpected downpours, not to mention ever changing road conditions, but the amazing beauty of Africa and the camaraderie that is formed amongst the riders, will have a universal appeal all the same.

If the words of the riders don’t inspire you than perhaps the amazing photographs contained in this book will. 10 is a visual love letter to cycling, adventure travel, and most importantly, Africa itself. The 252 page volume is packed with breathtaking images that have been compiled over the past decade and capture the spirit of the Tour very well. Not only do those photos show the day-to-day experiences of the ride, but they also manage to convey a sense of wonder at the countries and environments that the riders pass through, as well as the people that live there.

If you have a cyclist or adventure traveler on your holiday shopping list, than this book is sure to be a hit. Just be warned, after reading it, they may feel compelled to join the ride themselves. Africa is most definitely calling.

Zimbabwe has mixed success stopping rhino poaching

Zimbabwe, rhino
Zimbabwe has seen an increase in rhino poaching this year, the government newspaper The Herald reports.

At least 23 of the 700 or so black and white rhinos in the country were poached this year, but authorities managed to arrest 37 poachers and horn dealers. Rhino horns are popular for folk medicine, especially in Asia where they fetch high prices. One tactic of the poachers is to poison water holes, which kills not just the rhinos but any animal that drinks there.

More than $4 million is being spent to protect the animals, the government says, including implanting radio transmitters into the horns of 100 rhinos this year.

Zimbabwe isn’t the only country facing this problem. The Huffington Post reports that South Africa is doing more to train park workers on how to investigate incidents of poaching. Several poachers were killed in shootouts with authorities earlier this year, but that didn’t stop 341 South African rhinos from being poached in the first 10 months of the year, more than in all of 2010.

Photo of rhino in Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe, courtesy Susan Adams.