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]

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]

Help Quark Expeditions Select The ‘Polar Big 5’

Quark Expedition is selecting the Polar Big 5Big game hunters once coined the term “Big 5” in reference to the five toughest animals to hunt on foot in Africa. Today, visitors to that continent still keep their eyes peeled for those iconic creatures, although these days they are more likely to shoot them with their cameras. The animals that make up the Big 5 include lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes, which are amongst the most fearsome creatures found on our planet.

As a salute to the African Big 5, adventure travel company Quark Expeditions, which specializes in excursions to the Arctic and Antarctic, has asked us to help them select the “Polar Big 5.” They’ve narrowed down the selection to nine contenders, each of which inhabit the colder regions of the world. The nominees include the king penguin, walrus, polar bear, reindeer, elephant seal, leopard seal, musk ox, humpback whale and albatross. Quark has even set up a page for us to cast our votes to help bestow this honor on the five eventual recipients.

To entice us all into voting, the company is also giving away a ten-day voyage to the Antarctic, a dream destination for many. One lucky person who submits their vote for the Polar Big 5 will be selected to receive a fantastic trip to the bottom of the world that takes place in November 2013. For more details on the prize, click here.

The Polar Big 5 contest runs through November 30 of this year. To enter, simply head over to PolarBig5.com and make your selections. Any entry that doesn’t include the polar bear should be invalidated automatically.

[Photo credit: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia]