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.

New travel philanthropy partnership helps children in Uganada, Africa, through their “$1 for the Future” campaign

uganada africa charity programBeginning this month, Marasa’s Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, Africa, launched their “$1 For the Future” campaign in conjunction with USAID’s Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift Program (USAID-STAR) and the Uganda Community Tourism Association’s Pearls of Uganda Program.

Guests who stay at the Mweya Safari Lodge are invited to donate $1 per day of their stay to help rebuild and construct schools for children. This also includes building murals that reflect the theme of conservation and children being taught the values or protecting wildlife.

Not only does this campaign aim to help children, but also to protect the land in East Africa through conservation and education. The “$1 For the Future” program is an example that highlights the ways that tourism can support sustainable tourism.

African governments doing more to stop poaching of endangered species

poaching, rhinoThis year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.

In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.

Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.

South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.

Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

Top ten most crowded islands in the world

most crowded islands

From an island microslum in Colombia to a haute enclave in central Paris, the ten most crowded islands in the world bear scant similarities in class or culture. In fact, every entry in the top ten comes from a different country. But being islands, each shares the common thread of scarcity – whether it be land, resources, or housing. In general, these islands are prophetical microcosms for an overcrowded earth – finite spaces where self sufficiency governs and demand pierces supply.

With the world’s population racing higher and higher, and the “megacities club” accepting new members yearly, some day the earth could bear the traits of one of these densely packed islands.

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most crowded islands

10. Vasilyevsky Island
Location: St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Population: 202,650
People per square kilometer: 18,592
Size: 10.9 square kilometers
Story: This island located in St. Pete is a collection of 18th and 19th century buildings with some Soviet built apartment blocks lining the Gulf of Finland on the western shore. The communist housing ethos of the twentieth century called for rows and rows of tight apartments, and this historic island in Russia’s second city was not immune to the sprawl. This created the compact quarters of Vasilyevsky island. Famous for its old school stock exchange and giant Rostral columns, the island is popular with tourists.

most crowded islands

9. Lilla Essingen
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Population: 4,647
People per square kilometer: 20,204
Size: .23 square kilometers
Story: This small island in central Stockholm once served as a hub of industry for Stockholm’s industrial operations. The easy boat access allowed for ease of shipping by boat, and the island factories manufactured an array of goods, from massive lamps for lighthouses to vacuum cleaners. Eventually, as the industrial applications became outmoded, the island became home to several apartment towers. Today, the island is crammed full of smiling Swedes living in apartments with (presumably) tasteful modern furniture.

most crowded islands

8. Île Saint-Louis
Location: Paris, France
Population: 2,465
People per square kilometer: 22,409
Size: .11 square kilometers
Story: Perhaps the most stylish island in the world, Île Saint-Louis is a marvel of 17th century urban architecture and planning. Narrow roads and some of the priciest real estate in the world have allowed the island to remain relatively calm, despite its location in central Paris. While Île Saint-Louis is off of the tourist radar for most, this island in the Seine River embodies the classic Parisian spirit, worthy of an afternoon stroll with a perfect sorbet from Berthillon. The island is named for France’s canonized King, Louis IX.

most crowded islands

7. Manhattan
Location: New York, New York
Population: 1,585,873
People per square kilometer: 26,879
Size: 59.47 square kilometers
Story: In 1626, the Lenape Indians sold Manhattan island to the Dutch for a bag of axes, hoes, iron kettles, duffel cloths and other 17th century garb worth about $24 (roughly $1000 in modern value). It is safe to day the island has grown ambitiously from this humble transaction. The center of the financial universe is now home to many – truly a place where the world lives. The island once known as New Amsterdam, and briefly, New Orange, shadows America’s story, both tragic and triumphant.

most crowded islands

6. Salsette Island
Location: Mumbai, India
Population: 13,175,000
People per square kilometer: 30,217
Size: 436 square kilometers
Story: Salsette, an island off the western coast of India, is home to Mumbai and its sprawling suburbs. As a poster boy for “New India,” Mumbai is as dichotomous as it gets, at once the wealthiest city in south Asia and also home to one of the world’s largest slums – the notorious Dharavi. Dharavi is an island within an island, a super-slum with roughly one million people spread out over an area less than a square mile. At the other end of the spectrum, Salsette Island is also home to extreme wealth. The house known as Antilla is a 400,000 square foot giant that towers with some of Mumbai’s tallest buildings. Truly a contrast from the squalor in Dharavi, the private residence houses six people, can accommodate 168 cars, has 9 elevators, and an ice room with snow flurries.


most crowded islands

5. Ebeye Island
Location: Marshall Islands
Population: 15,000
People per square kilometer: 41,667
Size: .36 square kilometers
Story: When the United States decided to test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, they chose to do so amongst the atolls of the Marshall Islands. U.S. officials uprooted many residents from Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll to insure that the testing did not directly harm human life. The relocated Marshallese had to move somewhere, and most moved to Ebeye under the assistance of the United States. This forced relocation caused a huge mess, including a severe housing shortage and land owner legality issues that persist today. The combination of factors created an environment of hostility and squalor, creating the slum of the South Pacific.


most crowded islands

4. Malé
Location: The Maldives
Population: 103,693
People per square kilometer: 53,121
Size: 1.952 square kilometers
Story: The Maldives is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations, with 26 atolls and 1,192 islands offering beach perfection. At its center is the capital city – Male. Male is a humbly sized island of just a couple square miles. It is stuffed full of people, hotels, mosques, and office towers that efficiently utilize the scare land resources. While landfills have reclaimed some land from the sea, most progress is made vertically rather than horizontally. The modern downtown island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a stark aberration from the deserted islands that dot most of the Maldives.

most crowded islands

3. Ap Lei Chau
Location: Hong Kong
Population: 86,782
People per square kilometer: 66,755
Size: 1.32 square kilometers
Story: Hong Kong is the land of a thousand towers, clustered most densely on the island of Ap Lei Chau just southwest of Hong Kong Island. Ap Lei Chau served as the settlement for Hong Kong Village, theorized to be the etymological source for the famous larger territory of Hong Kong. Strangely, Ap Lei Chau translates to Duck Tongue Island, said to be named for the island’s shape. It is filled with high rise residences and even a winery.

most crowded islands

2. Migingo Island
Location: Kenya, though Uganda disputes this
Population: 400
People per square kilometer: 100,000
Size: .004 square kilometers
Story: This bantomslum in the middle of Lake Victoria is a fishing village perched precariously on half a sphere of rock. The residents take in large hauls of the Nile Perch – a poster boy for River Monsters that can grow to a comedically large size. Migingo is famous for a decades-old dispute between Kenya and Uganda over the sovereignty of the small island. There is even a facebook page where individuals can “like” declaring the island Kenyan. (The page has twice as many followers as there are residents on Migingo.) Uganda agrees with this claim, most of the time, though the tiny rock island is not the issue – the fishing rights are.

most crowded islands

1. Santa Cruz del Islote
Location: Colombia
Population: 1,247
People per square kilometer: 124,700
Size: .01 square kilometers
Story: The most densely populated island in the world is a microslum off the coast of Colombia. This tropical island is located in the emerald waters of the idyllic Caribbean, though is packed so tight that most activities are done off island. Schooling, football, graveyards, and work all take place away from Santa Cruz del Islote. The island park is the size of a small tennis court, and fresh water must be shipped in by Colombian Navy ships. Santa Cruz del Islote also does not have electricity. What the island favela does have is people, lots of them. To visit the world’s most packed island, hop on a ferry from Tolu, Colombia. The nearby hotel of Punta Faro can arrange tours of the island.

All unattributed images from wikimedia commons

Black Tomato launches Epic Tomato, an ambitious new adventure offshoot


For years Black Tomato has delighted old travel hands with its inventive, bespoke itineraries to various corners of the globe. The company is especially good at showcasing beautiful destinations not yet well-known to most travelers beyond the surrounding region. Among others, Belgrade, the Carpathian foothills, the Kuronian Spit, and Bhutan have all been embraced by the company.

This morning, Black Tomato launched Epic Tomato, which showcases a selection of hardcore adventure experiences to very hard-to-reach places. These adventures are scheduled for lengths of between four to 21 days, and are grouped into five categories: Polar, Desert, Jungle, Mountain, and River. They are all led by serious expert guides, some with SAS (British special service) military backgrounds.

Bolivia’s Apolobamba mountain range, Mali’s Dogon region, the Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea (see above), the Mosquito Coast of Honduras, and East Greenland are just a few of the destinations reached by Epic Tomato tours.

Epic Tomato’s frankly epic experiences don’t come cheap. At the bottom end of the scale, three adventures come in at £5995 ($9660): 14 days in Papua New Guinea’s East New Britain and Duke of York Islands; a 21-day trek in Tibet and Nepal; and eight days in Chilean Patagonia. At the very high end: 12 days on Canada’s Ellesmere Island for £67,495 ($108,720).