Bushtracks Expeditions Lets You Build Your Own Safari From Scratch

Bushtracks Expeditions offers fully customizable safarisFor more than 20 years Bushtracks Expeditions has been helping travelers visit Africa to experience the classic safari to its fullest. After two decades in the business, it is safe to say that they’ve learned a few things about organizing an unforgettable excursion into the remote corners of the continent. Now, they’ve taken all of that knowledge and experience and placed it online in a new tool that makes it a breeze to customize every element of your own personal safari, which they’ll then organize to your exact specifications.

This new online tool launched recently on the Bushtracks website where travelers are free to join any one of the company’s existing itineraries or completely build their own from scratch. That process can be as easy or as complex as you’d like, as the website gives you the option of starting with one of the preexisting safari options and simply tweaking it to fit your needs or you can begin with a completely blank slate and build the entire schedule into a dream excursion that will create memories to last a lifetime. And for those who don’t like to make too many tough travel decisions, there is even a safari wizard that asks you several easy questions then provides recommendations based on your answers.Of these, the tool that will be the most intriguing to experienced travelers will certainly be the “Build A Trip” option. This tool gives you full control over your entire African adventure, starting with the dates you are planning on traveling and the number of people in your party. From there, you’ll select your arrival destination from such cities as Cape Town, Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi and Windhoeck, amongst others. Once you decide where it is you would most like to begin your safari, you’ll then be presented with day-by-day options for the lodges that you would like to stay at and the activities that you would most like to do while you are there. Accommodations range in price but are all very comfortable with some high-end luxury options available as well. Some of the activities that you can choose from include such options as game drives through local wildlife preserves, trekking excursions, cultural experiences, visits to the spa and so on. You’ll fill up each day of your personal itinerary with all of the things that you’d like to do and Bushtracks will take care of organizing those events for you.

If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to have complete control over every aspect of your trip, then you’ll certainly enjoy the level of customization available here. Not only will you be able to build your perfect safari experience, but the expert guides at Bushtracks will do all of the work of putting the trip together. This kind of tool provides the best of both worlds, giving you the chance to design your own optimal experience while still getting full service from a well-respected travel company that has a reputation for delivering top tier service.

Video: 2 Weeks In Rwanda

“Rwanda, our beautiful and dear country / Adorned of hills, lakes and volcanoes / Motherland, would be always filled of happiness…”

These first three lines of the Rwandan national anthem are epitomized in this video created by Missouri based video production company Mammoth Media. This past summer, they were invited by the Rwandan tourist department to spend two weeks capturing video that would encapsulate the breathtaking nature of the country. Ultimately, the group aimed to collect footage to be shown in the country’s airports and welcome centers.

According to the video’s description on Vimeo, the tourist department ultimately decided, “to omit most of the footage showing people, poverty and real life.” The video you see above is a re-edited version to include that footage and it is beyond breathtaking. I had personally never thought about traveling to Rwanda before watching this video, if only from a lack of knowledge. But now I have an appetite to see those hills, the green savannah, the rare birds and those gorillas in the mist.

Serena Hotels: Opulence amidst squalor and bloodshed

Anyone for a game of badminton and a round of emerald-hunting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley? Or perhaps you fancy a beach resort on the shores of Lake Kivu, just minutes from the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The March/April issue of Foreign Policy features an interesting story and photo gallery on the luxury Serena hotel chain, which they dub the “Ritz Carlton of Failed States.” The chain, which originated in Africa in the 70s, operates luxury hotels in a variety of dodgy places, including Pakistan, Kabul, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Mozambique and others. The Serena hotels are operated by an economic development fund founded by the Aga Khan, a spiritual leader for Shia Ismaili Muslims.

FP reports the Kabul Serena (see photo above), which has been attacked three times has rooms that start at $356 per night. The chain has been criticized for partnering with the Assad regime in Syria on the development of hotels in Damascus and Aleppo, but Aga Khan told FP that the company’s involvement in conflict zones brings “an investment seal of approval” that helps attract more foreign investment. The hotels also create jobs in countries with high unemployment.

But is there something unseemly about a luxury hotel which features “holistic health and wellness services,” a pastry shop, swimming pool, a “mind, body and spirit spa,” and other amenities in an impoverished, failed state like Afghanistan? FP’s slideshow juxtaposes scenes of opulence at the Serena hotels with images of children sorting through trash, smoldering buildings, and tin roof shacks.

One can certainly quibble with the high prices and unnecessary luxuries of these hotels, but the notion that aid workers, journalists, government officials, and businessmen should stay in slum-like conditions while traveling to conflict states is far-fetched. The reality is that many of these people are stuck in very primitive, dangerous conditions, sometimes for weeks, months or even years, and only get to repair to places like the Serena hotels for well-deserved R & R’s.

I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a Medicins Sans Frontieres volunteer who spent the last six months treating sick children in the Congo a long weekend at the luxury Serena resort in Rwanda. That said, a case can be made that holing foreigners up in luxury hotels allows them to exist in a fairytale bubble, where they are insulated from what’s going on in the country at large. What do you think?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012

Ten big travel adventures for 2012A new year always brings new possibilities, particularly in the realm of travel. With 2012 now officially underway, it is time to start plotting our adventures for the year ahead. This year, rather than share yet another top ten list of adventure travel destinations, we thought it would be fun to recommend some highly specific adventures instead. These are unique journeys that will take you to the very ends of the Earth and deliver a travel experience that simply can’t be easily found elsewhere.

Visit Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most breathtakingly scenic destinations in all of North America, and well worth a visit any time of the year. But in the heart of winter, it takes on a whole new level of beauty and wonder. With fewer than 100,000 visitors during the colder months, the park offers plenty of solitude as well, making it the perfect winter wonderland for those looking for a true wilderness adventure in the snow. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife spotting are amongst the best activities, and Austin Lehman Adventures offers fantastic itineraries that provide all of that and much more.

Explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta By Canoe
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, which is formed when waters from the Okavango River empty into the flat-lands near the base of the Kalahari Desert. The result is a fertile piece of swampland that attracts all manner of African wildlife, including elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, and much more. The best way to explore that expanse of wetlands is in a traditional dugout canoe, which puts you in very close proximity with those amazing animals. National Geographic Expeditions has a unique itinerary that allows travelers to do just that, while learning to track game with the famed Kalahari Bushmen and wander the Makgadikgadi salt flats on horseback. This is truly an amazing, once in a lifetime, journey to the very heart of Africa.

Cycle The Silk Road
Stretching across Europe and Asia, the Silk Road was once one of the most important trading routes in the entire world. Today it serves as the dramatic and historic backdrop for one of the longest, and most epic, annual cycling trips that any adventure traveler could ever ask for. The Silk Route Tour, which is designed by the team behind the amazing Tour d’Afrique, stretches from Shanghai to Istanbul, covering a distance of more than 7450 miles and requiring 129 days to complete. This year’s route takes riders into Iran for the first time and will test their legs on Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, which rises above 15,000 feet. Don’t have time to commit to the full tour? Then ride any combination of the individual legs instead.Ten big travel adventures for 2012Climb A Himalayan Peak
Standing 23,494 feet in height, Pumori is a Himalayan peak that often serves as a tune-up climb for mountaineers hoping to move on to bigger challenges such as Everest. Located in the Khumbu Region of Nepal, Pumori also happens to be a great challenge for those who want to experience a major alpine expedition in the most spectacular mountain chain on the planet. Peak Freaks, one of the top Himalayan guide services in world, offers an excellent, fully featured, 34-day climb up the mountains South Ridge, which requires no high altitude experience, although some technical skills with crampons and ice axes are a must.

Go Gorilla Spotting in Rwanda
The mountain gorilla is one of the most elusive and endangered animals on the planet, and because of this, their remote habitats have been designated as nature preserves and sanctuaries throughout Africa. One of the best places to spot them is in Rwanda, where adventure travel and eco-tourism have helped directly fund the preservation of these gentle creatures. Visitors to the Virunga Volcanoes National Park must hike for miles through dense forests just to catch a glimpse of the gorillas, but those who have made the journey report that it is a magical experience unlike any other. Adventure travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent can help make that experience a reality for wildlife lovers who want a very personal encounter with these amazing primates.

Trek The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan
In the remote northeast corner of Afghanistan there is a narrow strip of land known as the Wakhan Corridor. The region once served as a buffer zone between the British and Russian Empires, but today it is a wilderness that rarely sees outside visitors. Trekking through that valley is akin to stepping back in time, as there are few modern amenities to be found. What is in abundance however are scenic mountain vistas, tiny villages populated by local herdsman, and rugged trekking routes that are amongst the most remote on the planet. Few travel companies organize expeditions to the region, although Wild Frontiers out of the U.K. does have plans to lead two excursions – one 20 days in length, the other 30 – into the Corridor this year.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012Hike and Bike Easter Island
Speaking of remote destinations, they don’t come much more remote than Easter Island. Famous for the mysterious moai statues that proliferate the landscape, the South Pacific island is an intriguing mix of history and outdoor adventure. For those looking to visit the place for themselves, G Adventures offers an affordable option that features full and half-day cycling excursions and day hikes to visit some of the more famous locations where the stone faces that Easter Island is known for are in abundance.

Dive The Maldives
For more than 45 years, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI, has been teaching travelers how to scuba dive. But the organization also offers a host of diving trips to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. For example, the PADI itinerary to the Maldives take divers on a cruise through the beautiful island nation, where the waters offer visibility in excess of 100 feet and encounters with sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and scores of other marine animals.

Experience Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Mongolia’s Gobi Desert has long held an undeniable allure to the adventure traveler, and what better way to take in its wonders than by traveling overland through those remote landscapes. Intrepid Travel has a new itinerary for 2012 that sends travelers on a three-week long odyssey over towering sand dunes, past ancient ruins, and through lush, open steppe lands. Accommodations range from traditional Mongolian Yurts to rugged bush camps. This is the ultimate road trip through a part of the world that few outsiders are lucky enough to ever see.

Ski To The South Pole
If you’re a well heeled adventure traveler looking for the ultimate escape, a last degree journey to the South Pole may just be fit the bill. The expedition begins in Antarctica at 89°S and covers the final 60 miles to the Pole on cross country skis. It isn’t an easy journey however, as you’ll be pulling your food and gear behind you in a sled, while battling fierce winds, subzero temperatures, and occasional whiteout conditions. If this sounds like your particular brand of suffering, than Adventure Consultants has a 17-day itinerary that you’ll probably love. Just don’t let the sticker shock scare you.

Good luck in your 2012 adventures, where ever they may take you.

[Photo credits: Pumori - Philip Ling; Easter Island - Aurbina both via WikiMedia]