Tuesday, 29 July, 2014

 
Published June 21, 2014
Travel
Splendour in the grass
A tourism renaissance in safaris to the African continent is topping the list of must-see places to visit, which also include the Americas and Europe. By Tay Suan Chiang
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GOING GAGA OVER FAUNA
Zimbabwe, Uganda and Ethiopia are fast opening up to global tours and have a well organised tour framework. Go lion-watching in Zimbabwe (above), or get up close to mountain nyalas which are endemic to the Eastern Highlands in Ethiopia. - PHOTOS: WILDERNESS SAFARIS, ASIA TO AFRICA SAFARIS, URBANE NOMADS

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MOVE over, South America. The next big travel destination could well be another big continent - Africa, to be exact - according to travel experts.

"Africa has always enchanted travellers. The untouched nature and variety of wildlife is not found anywhere else in the world," says Caroline Lam, executive director of Quintessentially Travel, a premium lifestyle travel management service. "With people becoming more curious and open to immersing themselves in different cultures, the classic safaris, namely Kenya and Tanzania, are popular. Tourists also flock to South Africa for opulence and other non-safari activities as there are some of the top private luxury safari lodges, charming cities and wine activities."

Africa is a big continent with 54 countries, so knowing which one to visit can be tricky. Victor Dizon, co-founder of safari consultancy firm, Asia to Africa Safaris, recommends Zimbabwe, Uganda and Ethiopia.

"These countries are still relatively undiscovered and unexplored even by intrepid travellers," says Mr Dizon, who has been helping travellers organise safaris for 12 years. "And these places are now undergoing a tourism renaissance in terms of new lodges being built and being easier and friendlier for travellers to visit."

He points out that Zimbabwe has enormous tracts of wilderness filled with a diverse range of African wildlife species, "and comparing it to other African countries, this is probably a country with the best value for money". Getting access to the key wildlife areas is also fast, easy and efficient. "Plus, there is the ease of getting visas on arrival for most Asian citizens, which means less hassle when travelling," he says.

Uganda gets Mr Dizon's vote, because the country offers both gorilla and chimpanzee tracking, and together with the Serengeti, "is the best place to watch Africa's greatest land mammal migration".

Ethiopia may not be an immediate holiday destination that comes to mind, but the country has both culture and wildlife diversity. Some of the most adorned and colourful tribesmen of Africa live in the Omo Valley, and Ethiopia is also home to Aksum, a town rumoured to be the home of the bibilical Ark of the Covenant, which houses the Ten Commandments that God gave the prophet Moses. Wildlife-wise, the Simien Mountains is where the simien fox and the gelada baboon live.

Rufus Tan, a director at Quotient Travelplanner, highly recommends Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania. "Camps in Botswana are small and private, where you will almost never find more than 20 guests at a time," says Mr Tan. "With such a limited disturbance from the outside world, you are guaranteed a pristine wilderness teeming with a fascinating contingent of wild animals.

East Africa, where Kenya and Tanzania are, "is a true nature lover's paradise, as you can get up close and observe the behaviour of wild animals in their natural habitat that has been relatively unchanged for hundreds of years", says Mr Tan.

Another African nation that looks set to be popular is Mozambique, according to Lightfoot Travel. Few people visited the country during its civil war years in the 1980s and 1990s. But over the last decade, a growing number of luxury lodges have opened in the Quirimbas Archipelago in the north and Bazaruto Archipelago in the south.

Exotic outings in Brazil

The country offers travellers lots of beach activities such as diving, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, deserted island picnics and mobile dhow-cruise island camping.

But if you haven't gotten around to visiting South America yet, don't fret. Travel experts say the continent is still fairly popular, thanks to the ongoing World Cup.

Chua Hui Wan, CEO of Zuji Singapore, says Brazil has always been an exotic holiday destination, "but it is one that's on the rise - particularly following the 2014 World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games."

She adds that while the two events are going to be widely popular, the carnival-busy country will keep travellers constantly moving with street parties and music-filled metropolises and friendly people. If you haven't booked your tickets yet for this year, Ms Chua recommends planning for Feb 13 to 18 next year, when the annual carnival in Rio de Janeiro takes place.

Hot on the heels of Brazil's World Cup, there has been increasing interest in Latin America, and Mexico is one of the most accessible countries in this region with incredible links to the United States, according to Lightfoot Travel.

Its managing director Simon Cameron says that Mexico has appeal because of its wonderful diversity - from the surfing beaches of the Pacific Coast and remote kayaking trips from Puerto Vallarta, to its perfectly preserved colonial towns and white sandy beaches in the Yucatan Peninsula - all with opulent and luxurious hotel choices to boot.

When it comes to modes of transport, rail holidays will continue to rise in popularity with travellers in the next half of 2014 and beyond," says Jeremiah Wong, marketing communications manager for Chan Brothers Travel. "Europe will continue to be the shining star with its well-developed rail infrastructure and excellent cross-border connectivity." Some of the firm's popular rail packages are to Southern France, Eastern Europe and Switzerland. "Cross continent rail journeys across Australia are also gaining interest," he says.

Experts say that travellers are not only choosing exotic locales, but also opting for more unusual forms of accommodation. Chai Jia Jih, Airbnb's managing director for South-east Asia and India says that "in the second half of 2014 and early 2015, we expect quirky accommodation types to continue riding high on travellers' agenda, as people increasingly seek out unusual spaces that make accommodation a destination in its own right."

He says that Airbnb is seeing a growing trend of travellers going for unique accommodation listings such as houseboats, cabins, airstreams and even igloos. "As people get more adventurous, it has also led to the rise in demand for authentic local experiences that allow them to truly immerse themselves in the culture and soul of a destination," adds Mr Chai.

Hotels.com's regional director Katherine Cole notes that another gradually emerging trend is the demand for boutique hotels that offer themed accommodation. Travel accommodation is no longer deemed as just a box to rest up for the night, but increasingly an experience in its own right."

And if you are still stumped for places to visit, seeking the opinion of millions of worldwide travellers can't be wrong. TripAdvisor recently unveiled this year's Travellers' Choice Destinations, which honour top travel spots based on millons of reviews and opinions from its users.

The top five destinations are Istanbul, Rome, London, Beijing and Prague. Award-winners are determined using an algorithm that takes into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.

"We have more than 150 million reviews and opinions on the site. Quality and quantity matter, as it reveals the wisdom of the crowds and informs these lists," says Cindy Tan, vice-president of TripAdvisor APAC. "Our global travellers are the tastemakers for uncovering the best places to visit around the world."

taysc@sph.com.sg

@TaySuanChiangBT