South African Tourism Launches ‘What’s Your Big 5′ Initiative On Tonight’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

South African Tourism launches new effort tonightSouth African Tourism is about to launch their next big promotional initiative here in the U.S. and they’ve enlisted Donald Trump himself to help get it started. The new “What’s Your Big 5?” campaign kicks off during tonight’s episode of “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice” when the seven remaining contestants compete with one another while also bringing the rich travel experience of South Africa home to viewers.

The “What’s Your Big 5?” campaign is designed to give travelers a glimpse of what South Africa has to offer other than its iconic safari experiences. The country features many diverse options that include visiting the incredibly cosmopolitan cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, exploring beautiful wine country and enjoying fine food, art and culture. The active traveler can also surf the cape, hike the Wild Coast and visit some of the best game preserves on the planet. Those looking for a more pampered travel experience will find world-class spas, luxurious hotels and excellent dining options.

Fans of “Celebrity Apprentice” will catch a glimpse of all of this during tonight’s show and then have an option to book their own South African getaway. But they’ll also get the opportunity to win a trip for two to New York City to catch the season finale of the show and mingle with the Donald and the rest of the All-Star cast in a swanky after party on May 19. For more details on how to get entered into this sweepstakes check out the Visit South Africa Facebook page after the show tonight or follow them on Twitter @SouthAfrica.

I’m a huge fan of South Africa as a destination for any kind of traveler. The country is so diverse and easy to enjoy with plenty of unique experiences for anyone. The wildlife is superb of course but there are so many other things to see and do there that it should be on everyone’s “must see” list.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Elephant Attacks Car In South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Damage from an elephant attack in Kruger National ParkMost visitors to South Africa’s Kruger National Park hope that they’ll have a memorable wildlife encounter while exploring the popular game reserve. Earlier this week one couple certainly got their encounter when they were attacked by an elephant, leaving their vehicle completely demolished and landing both of them in the hospital.

The unnamed travelers were said to be of “Chinese origin” with at least one reportedly visiting South Africa from Hong Kong. The couple was reportedly driving through Kruger at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning when they came across an elephant walking in the road. For some unknown reason the elephant became agitated and attacked the vehicle. As you can see in the photo to the right, the animal was able to do quite a bit of damage to the car.

The couple was taken to a nearby hospital where the man is reportedly in critical condition having received multiple rib fractures. The woman that was with him had to be treated for a fractured pelvis as well. Both were later transferred to a hospital in Pretoria.

While visiting Kruger a few years back my travel companions and I came across a rather large and aggressive bull elephant walking down the center of the road. We gave him a wide berth, backing up several times in an attempt to avoid him. He made several moves to charge our vehicle as well and we only got around him when he wandered behind a tree and we were able to gun the engine to get past him. Even then it was quite the close call, as he charged one final time towards the side of our minivan. The image below is one that I shot from inside the vehicle that day.

Kruger is one of the few African national parks that you can actually drive through yourself without the need to hire a safari guide. Of course, I’d always recommend hiring the guide anyway, but if you do self-drive the park, definitely be careful. These two travelers are very lucky to be alive.

A bull elephant inside Kruger National Park

[Photo Credits: Associated Press, Kraig Becker]

5 Countries That Are Great Alternatives To Their Crowded Neighbors

It’s the great hypocrisy in the mind of every traveler that they want to tour a place free from other tourists. Grumbling that a place is overcrowded isn’t without grounds, though. Who hasn’t wanted to pull a Dr. Manhattan on the tour groups that take group photos with every single person’s camera? And boy, what we wouldn’t give to disappear the backpackers pretending to make out with statues of the Buddha.

We can overlook these indignities as necessary evils most of the time. In reality, tourists are going to be present at the big attractions everywhere, and the penalty of avoiding tourists would basically be staying at home permanently.

That being said, for those who just can’t take it anymore, we’ve compiled a list of some less infested options. These five countries offer up similar attractions to their neighbors, but see far fewer visitors to the nooks and crannies, which will make any tourist-weary tourist breathe a little easier.

Montenegro (Crowded Neighbor: Croatia)

Croatia’s attractive coastline is a magnet for tourists. The attendant income from droves of foreigners was one of the reasons Serbs attempted to include it in their “Greater Serbia.” The subsequent Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, and the current crowds milling about Dubrovnik are the spoils of victory. Little Montenegro, which declared independence from Serbia only in 2006, shares the same coastline and a lot of history with its more famous neighbor. The country currently sees far fewer tourists (1.2 million vs. 9.9 million) visiting its excellent beaches, like the superb spits of sand at Sveti Stefan and Petrovac. Nor do many tourists hike and cycle around Montenegro’s untouched forests at Biogradska Gora and Skadar Lake National Parks. Montenegro’s comparative anonymity provides an experience that can’t be matched in Croatia.

Cambodia (Crowded Neighbor: Thailand)

Cambodia’s main attraction, Angkor Wat, certainly doesn’t dwell in obscurity. This single attraction saw over a million visitors last year, which accounts for more than a third of all visitors to the country. Some of Thailand‘s other neighbors, like Laos and Myanmar, can barely achieve those numbers on a national level. However, when it comes to pretenders to Thailand’s tourism throne, Cambodia is the only one in the region that can offer attractions that go tit for tat with Thailand’s best. Beaches? The empty white sands of Koh Rong and Ream National Park beckon, as does the party-centric seaside town of Sihanoukville. Ruins? Cambodia rolls deep; Angkor Wat is backed up by Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer Empire now overgrown in the jungle, and Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkorian temple complex. Interesting capital? Phnom Penh, the “Pearl of Asia,” boasts French colonial architecture and a park-strewn riverfront. Food? A taste of amok trey or lok lak will make you forget all about pad thai.

Estonia (Crowded Neighbor: Sweden)

Sweden is a huge Scandinavian tourism juggernaut. Estonia? Just a scrappy little Baltic state. What’s the appeal then? A lot, actually. Estonia, like Sweden, is a nature-lover’s paradise. Soomaa National Park, the “land of bogs,” is one of the best canoeing destinations in Europe and is home to wolves, bears, elk and other wildlife. Estonia’s crumpled Baltic coastline contains a mind-boggling number of shallow soft-sand beaches, especially in the summer capital of Pärnu. Estonia’s past is also worth a look. While its Soviet experience is visible in some of the less adventurous architecture, the medieval castles are well preserved and atmospheric. Tallinn, the capital, is flooded with tourists, but island life on Saaremaa is quiet and isolated. Saaremaa boasts a 13th-century castle fortress and other curios like the 100-year-old Angla windmills and a Gothic church bearing symbols of the occult.

Mozambique (Crowded Neighbor: South Africa)

South Africa is head and shoulders above its Sub-Saharan neighbors when it comes to tourist numbers. Its famous game reserves, coastline and unique heritage attract almost 10 million visitors a year. Mozambique can’t match the tourist infrastructure that its neighbor to the south has meticulously erected, but it can offer other competitive attractions. Before its large mammal population was decimated by the civil war, Gorongosa Park was considered to be Africa’s Eden. Efforts to revive the park are underway, and all of Africa’s Big 5, save the rhino, can be seen here. Maputo, the capital, is small and friendly and features Portuguese colonial architecture and an extremely laid-back vibe. Mozambique’s true attraction, though, is its coast, where surfers (of the kite and wind variety) enjoy the unspoiled beaches at Vilanculos and divers explore pristine coral without the crowds at Pemba and Tofo Beach.

Iran (Crowded Neighbor: Turkey)

Turkey sees some 27 million tourists a year and Iran, well … not nearly as many. Official mouthpieces assert some 3 million tourists visited Iran in 2011, though less than 1 percent of those were traveling for nonreligious reasons. Those few tourists had historical sites like Persepolis and Imam Square all to themselves. They experienced Iran’s outstanding natural attractions – lush forests and beaches on the Caspian Sea in the north and deadly deserts and sunny Persian Gulf coastlines in the south – without the crowds that bog down these landscapes in Turkey. Those travelers were also some of the only foreign tourists in Tehran, enjoying its multitude of parks and museums, and were alone again in Yazd, a city of compacted sand reminiscent of Tatooine. Then they joined Iranians on the empty slopes of Dizin, one of the best value-for-money ski resorts in the world, and one of the few spots where Iranians are able to pull back the veil and let loose.

[Photo Credits: Kumukulanui, ecl1ght, (flicts), VilleHoo, F H Mira, Adam Hodge]

Rhino Poachers Killed In South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Rhino poachers seek the animals horn to sell in AsiaAnti-poaching rangers on patrol in South Africa’s Kruger National Park shot and killed three men who were believed to be rhino poachers this past Wednesday. Officials indicated that the rangers were on a routine operation within the park when they came across the men who had reportedly crossed the border from Mozambique. A firefight ensued and the three poachers were fatally wounded.

This incident is only the latest clash between soldiers and poachers in South Africa. As illegal poaching has continued to increase across the country, these types of encounters have become more frequent. Rhino horns remain in high demand for use in traditional medicines throughout Asia and people are increasingly more willing to risk their lives to obtain the valuable commodity.

According to a government report released last week, 188 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa since the start of the year and 135 of those were poached in Kruger alone. The country is home to more than 18,000 white rhinos, which is nearly the entire population that remains in Africa. About 5000 of the more rare black rhino also live in South Africa.

As the value of rhino horns has increased, the level of sophistication shown by poachers has risen as well. Many now employ helicopters to spot the animals from the air and then use high-powered tranquilizer guns to knock them unconscious. With the creature safely asleep, they then land, use a machete or other blade to cut off the horn and are back in the air in a matter of minutes. The speed with which they strike makes it difficult to catch them in the act, which has frustrated South African officials.

With rhino population numbers already dangerously low across Africa, the continued poaching of these animals has become a real concern. If this trend doesn’t change soon, there is a real chance that the creatures could be gone from the continent before the end of the century.

Video: Great White Shark Breaks Into Diver’s Cage

Last week in Gansbaai, South Africa, a man almost became an afternoon snack for a great white shark when the predator forced its way into a protective shark diving cage. A video uploaded by YouTube user Bryan Plummer shows a large shark ignoring the bait put out by tour operators and instead going straight for the main course: diver. After jamming its head into the cage through the viewing portal, the shark thrashed around and then swam away. A few nervous seconds later the divers in the cage popped back up, apparently no worse for wear. The man closest to the action, known only as Roger, had reportedly gotten married the day prior.

Tour operators do not know why the shark would have attacked the cage. Perhaps the shark just wanted to wrestle. One thing is certain: this is a story that Roger will be telling his future kids.