Africa continues to grow in popularity as at travel destination, but usually what you see are just safari trips to the usual destinations, city breaks to places like Johannesburg, or treks through the Moroccan desert. But there are other trip options we've found, which offer unique opportunities in Mali, Madagascar, and Togo, along with Kenya, Egypt, and South Africa.
Abenteuere Afrika (tel. 011/264-64-40403; www.abenteuerafrika.com) runs a trip to the island famous for its vanilla beans -- that would be Madagascar -- one with fewer than 350,000 visitors per year. The safari trip starts at $3,060 per person based on double occupancy and is a 12-day excursion with departures from mid-September through the end of November. All accommodations, transfers, meals, excursions, entrance fees, services of English-speaking guides, fuel, and vehicle insurance are covered; your airfare to Antananarivo, however, is not included. Bird and animal lovers in general might enjoy the visit to the Perinet National Park, known for its many lemur species, and visits to the Vakona Reserve and the village of Mananbato, in addition to some time spent in the capital city.
Although the offered by Adventure Center (tel. 800/228-8747; www.adventurecenter.com) has limited availability, it's so unusual that we can't help but mention it anyway. Priced from $3,940, the trip goes through three lesser-traveled nations in West Africa -- Togo, Benin, and Burkina Faso and takes you through voodoo villages, on-boat trips, stilt villages, markets, and more. In terms of accommodations, it varies. Eight of the nights are spent in hotels, five are spent camping, two are in encampments, and one is in a stilt village. Fifteen breakfasts and fourteen lunches and dinners are included and you travel by land cruisers, on a minibus, on boat or, in some cases, on foot. Departure are still available for January 31 and February 21, 2009, priced from $4,110; the November 29 trip, priced from $3,940 and the January 10, 2009 trip, priced from $4,110, are both showing some availability. The rest of the departures are closed. It won't take much to close them either, as the company limits the group to 9-12 people.
Shutterbugs might enjoy the photographers safari offered by Africa Wild Safaris (tel. 239/283-0022; www.africawildsafaris.net), run by photographers Karen and Gregory Sweeney, who, after years of traveling to Africa and taking photographs aren't afraid, as Karen puts it, "to get our guests up early to catch the sunrise and best light (and animal activity)." There are just three excursions planned for next year, priced at $2,250 per person for double occupancy and inclusive of six nights of accommodations in Johannesburg, three meals a day of South African cuisine, two safari/photo opportunity activities daily. Other activities include game drive safaris on private reserves, a safari in Kruger National Park, a tour of the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding center, Big 5 Bushwalk, and short flights to spot elephants, rhino and other animals. You need to cover your own airfare to Johannesburg. The company runs small trips -- there are no more than ten people on any given excursion -- and you'll be transported in an open-air vehicle, so there's no worry about having to take pictures through glass windows. The company also operates these tours during the country's change from autumn to winter, so it's off-season for most travelers, the beginning of dry season (fewer bugs, lower temperatures) and more activity among the animals you'll want to photograph.
Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; www.fittours.com) is offering an extensive, 17-day African tour of Egypt and Kenya. It starts at $3,799 for both land and air but you must book by October 31. It includes roundtrip airfare from New York City or Washington, D.C. (you can add on Boston for $98, Chicago or Atlanta for $170; San Francisco or Los Angeles for $250), all transfers in Egypt and Kenya, 29 meals, four nights in Egypt and seven in Kenya, seven game drives, and your flight from Nairobi to Cairo. The price reflects the November 7 departure, but trips are scheduled from September through December, with the highest prices topping out around $4,999 in late December. The description of the trip also includes useful information on the recommended immunizations you should get before you visit these countries, weather and other geographical considerations. The company has offered this popular trip before, and added an extra day so you're not feeling rushed and room to rest before you fly from Cairo to Nairobi. Bonus: When you're in Egypt, you'll be guided by a genuine English-speaking Egyptologist during your sightseeing.
Palace Travel (tel. 800/683-7731; www.palacetravel.com) is offering some interesting trips to Africa, including the Festival in the Desert, January 5-11, 2009, in Mali. The trip does not include roundtrip international airfare, but it does include your accommodations in Bamako, some of your meals, along with transportation and activities in Timbuktu and Essakane. The festival itself is characterized by camel rides and races, colorful clothing and music, along with traditional games. Other aspects of your trip include three nights of camping in private tents with mats, ground transportation in a 4x4 vehicle, hot meals at the festival, bottled water, tours, and meals as indicated, along with all taxes and admission fees to events and sites. The price, per person, based on double occupancy and four people in a vehicle, is $1,870.
This isn't a deal per se, but a piece of information on a quirky property that we thought we'd pass along. In Zambia you can stay in something called "the Nuthouse," a.k.a. Tongabezi Lodge (tel. 260/99/312766; www.tongabezi.com). It's built high up on top of a cliff with views of the Zambezi River and it's private, beautiful, and is situated in a nut tree. The lodge has private gardens and a plunge pool. High season rates prevail until October 31; low season runs November 1 through May 31. The rates start at $475 for low season and include all your meals, activities, and beverages.