During these challenging times, it may feel like you’re climbing a proverbial mountain with the summit far from sight. All you want is to getaway – to escape – and thankfully, we’re here to help you do just that.
Tracking the endangered mountain gorilla is undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating encounters with wildlife we can have, but their conservation is still an uphill battle.
The gorilla is just meters away, sitting on a jungle bed picking leaves from a tree and looking directly at you with his big brown – uncannily human – eyes. We share more than 96 percent of our genetic material with these gentle giants, which no longer feels surprising when you find yourself experiencing one of these intimate moments of connection firsthand.
The rich vegetation of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is one of the few places in the world where mountain gorillas can survive. Their numbers were critically low until the formation of the national park in 1991 when conservation efforts began to make headway, largely funded by sustainable tourism initiatives. Since then, gorilla tracking has become amongst the world’s most sought-after encounters with wildlife, allowing local economic growth and a rare conservation win as the gorilla population slowly grows.
There are now 600 mountain gorillas in Bwindi, half of the total population worldwide, with 12 habituated families, which means those gorillas are familiarized with human contact and are safe for tourists to visit.
The success can also be attributed to collaboration between different conservation groups, communities and initiatives, who work in sometimes hostile environments with the mission of protecting these mysterious and beautiful primates.
The UWA manages 10 national parks across Uganda, including Bwindi, and administers the conservation and tourism activities taking place there. Mountain gorillas are threatened by poaching, human contact, disease and habitat loss, and it’s UWA’s responsibility to develop strategies to address these challenges, which includes employing stakeholders and communities that live in the protected areas in order to incentivize them to value and preserve the wildlife there.
To track the gorillas, you must first buy a permit from the UWA, either through your tour operator or direct from their offices in Kampala. Permit numbers are limited – only eight people are allowed to visit each gorilla family per day – and at high season they often sell out.
A veterinary doctor and premier primatologist, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka saw the impact human disease was having on gorilla populations and founded CTPH to tackle community, animal and environmental health with one holistic approach. The NGO now provides health care services and hygiene education to the local community and trains a Human and Gorilla Conflict Resolution Team to safely move primates away from farmland. CTPH is also behind the social enterprise Gorilla Conservation Coffee, buying beans from a cooperative of 500 farmers at higher-than-market prices. The idea is that the more locals who benefit from the gorillas’ ongoing presence, the more tolerant they’ll be when their banana plants are inevitably destroyed and the more actively they’ll participate to protect the species.
CTPH hosts tourists in simple accommodation at their conservation center and organizes gorilla treks led by their own staff, as well as with Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka herself.
Many children in the rural villages of Bwindi were once pulled out of school early so they could learn how to hunt bushmeat and grow up to be poachers, just like their fathers. Now, thanks to a number of initiatives such as the Reformed Poachers Project, there is an alternative. Making use of their experience and knowledge of the forest, former poachers and their adult children are offered alternative employment as porters for tourists who come to Bwindi to track the gorillas. When you depart on your trek, you’ll be offered the opportunity to hire a porter for USD $15. They will clear paths, carry your bags, and help you cross difficult terrain. Many of these young men and women will share a similar story, and the small fee you pay is a way for the benefits of tourism to reach further through the community and stop the cycle of poverty that pushes people into poaching.
The project also trains former poachers and their children in farming, providing tools and education; all they have to do is hand in their hunting gear. The crops, such as coffee, oyster mushrooms and honey, are sold to local schools, restaurants and hotels, and also feed their families. To support the work of the Reformed Poachers Project, look for opportunities to purchase produce or enquire with your tour operator about taking a community tour. Since it began in 2010, the number of snares found has dropped from 800 a year to nearly zero.
To plan your own gorilla tracking experience, contact your travel advisor.
Photo Credit: Conservation Through Public Health
We sat down with Shaun Strydom, Group Sales & Global Concierge Manager at &Beyond, to discuss their Africa tours and how &Beyond is making an impact in African communities.
Q:Tell us a bit about &Beyond and the products and services the company offers.
&Beyond designs personalized high-end tours in 13 countries in Africa, five in Asia and four in South America, offering discerning travelers a rare and exclusive experience of the world.
We own and operate 29 extraordinary lodges and camps in iconic safari, scenic, and island destinations in Africa and South America. This enables us to positively impact more than nine million acres of wildlife land and 1,200 miles of coastline.
Established in 1991, &Beyond strives to leave our world a better place than we found it through our care of the land, wildlife and people, and through the delivery of extraordinary guest experiences. We have established an intimate relationship with some of the world’s last remaining unspoiled natural places and the communities that surround them. In combination with our highly skilled guides and rangers, this allows us to deliver extraordinary guest experiences that feel profoundly meaningful.
Q:In which African countries does &Beyond offer tailormade tours?
Q:What types of tours does &Beyond offer, and which types of travelers does &Beyond cater to?
Type of Tours:
Type of Travellers:
Q:How is &Beyond making an impact in local African communities?
What lies at the core of &Beyond’s impact achievements is a vision that puts our guests, as well as the land, wildlife and people of Africa, Asia and South America at the very heart of our business.
Simply by traveling with &Beyond on an authentic and customized journey, each guest is supporting our dream to leave this world a better place.
From our greater impact model down to the minute details of our lodge activities, extraordinary guest experiences power our commitment to Care for the Land, Wildlife and People under our custodianship.
Our Vision 2020 was established in 2015 to unite &Beyonders toward our key focus areas of Care for the Land, Wildlife and People. Our subsequent Impact Review documents of 2017, 2018 and 2019 measure and report our progress and learnings against our agreed Vision 2020 goals:
Care of the Land
Care of the Wildlife
Care of the People
Visit www.andbeyond.com/impact for more information
Q:If you had to recommend just one tour to travelers who truly want to make a positive impact on the destination they’re visiting, which tour would you recommend and why?
We recommend &Beyond’s Phinda Impact Journey - South Africa tour where guests can embark on a journey of discovery with this privately guided, 7-day small group, set-departure journey that aims to highlight conservation and community development activities, which underpin the &Beyond ethos of “leaving the world a better place than we found it.”
Q:What makes an &Beyond vacation unique?
Our core ethos of "Care of the Land, Wildlife & People" drives all that we do. When guests travel with us, they make a meaningful contribution to the preservation of our world's cultures and wildlife.
At &Beyond, we are all about tailoring each journey around our guest's specific interests or expectations. Our collection of perfect moments are often exclusive to &Beyond, ensuring a unique adventure.
We are on call 24/7 to assist you throughout your journey. Over 2000 &Beyonders, including guides and ground logistic teams ensures you are in our hands from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave.
The Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust has purchased a three-kilometer buffer area along the northern part of the Kyambura Gorge to protect this region neighboring Queen Elizabeth National Park. Approximately 3,000 indigenous trees have been planted in the buffer area, and Kyambura Lodge guests can plant their own seedling in the tree nursery. A three-hour guided walking tour through the buffer zone offers stunning views, world-class birdwatching, and the chance to spot elephants across the gorge.
Small groups of visitors can join Uganda Wildlife Authority researchers as they track lions fitted with radio collars in the Kasyeni plains as part of the Uganda Carnivore Project. Learning how the lions breed, feed and move across the region helps researchers understand important health factors, like why lion viruses from Tanzania have not made it into the park. Their work also prevents community-wildlife conflict by alerting farmers when lions are close to their livestock.
Founded by the non-profit organization Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) as a gorilla research clinic, this site is now open to visitors. Travelers who want a truly hands-on experience can help examine gorilla stool samples collected from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, while the more squeamish can simply learn about CTPH’s gorilla health monitoring program and initiatives to improve public health in the community through sanitation and family planning resources and education.
Ride 4 A Woman initially started as a bike rental shop with proceeds going to job-training programs for local women. It has evolved into a cultural center where visitors can learn local skills like basket weaving, pedal sewing, cooking or dancing, or buy locally made products in the shop. More than 300 women from local villages now work at the center or are involved in skill development programs there.
This friendly cafe exclusively serves Arabica coffee harvested from farms on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and processed in Kampala. The farmers collective in Bwindi employs former subsistence poachers, minimizing gorilla-community conflict. For every kilo of Gorilla Conservation Coffee beans sold, $1.50 supports Conservation Through Public Health programs. Visitors who don’t have a chance to make it to the café can pick up the coffee beans at the Entebbe Airport Duty Free.
The Planeterra Foundation works with the Maasai Stoves & Solar Project to generate tourism revenue to install clean cookstoves at local homesteads. Led by an all-woman engineer team, travelers visit a Maasai village to help build a stove and see how it improves air quality by removing 90 percent of indoor smoke pollution, which is linked to nearly half of pneumonia deaths among children under five. The revenue generated also pays for women’s training in stove and solar panel installation.
The women who work at this shop near Mount Kilimanjaro are graduates of the Give a Heart to Africa business school, which offers free training to local women studying business management, accounting, and English. Proceeds from the local handicrafts sold at the shop, including beautiful fabrics and beadwork, in turn help fund the school, which trains 30 women every year.
KopeLion, short for the Korongoro People’s Lion Initiative, works to resolve human-wildlife conflict in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti regions. Guests of &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge can spend half a day with KopeLion conservationists to help check their camera traps and learn about their work to prevent lion hunting and create a “corridor of tolerance” that reconnects divided lion sub-populations.
Shanga is a for-profit social enterprise that offers supportive employment for local people with disabilities while diverting waste from landfills. In 2019, Shanga diverted nearly 150 tonnes of glass waste into their glass-blowing furnace, upcycling it into handmade jewelry and glassware. Located at Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge, Shanga offers tours, workshops, and sign language lessons, as well as a shop.
This small island off the coast of Zanzibar is the first privately managed marine protected area in the world. Completely funded through ecotourism, the island almost exclusively employs Tanzanians, most of them from nearby communities. The island’s research board facilitates scientific projects including monitoring sea grass and the coral reef, and logging sea surface temperature. Visitors stay in thatched-roof bungalows next to the beach and can explore the reefs, forests and mangroves with a ranger.
You’ve booked your safari, and now you’re stuck at the first hurdle: what on earth to pack. Well, here’s a handy list of dos and don’ts for a successfully packed suitcase with both safety and sustainability in mind.
There are over 400 national parks across 50 or more countries in Africa, and the safari experience varies extraordinarily from one to another. The temperature, humidity, exposure, and topography can all affect what you need to pack, as can local culture and customs, or the type of animals you’re hoping to see. Overwhelming? Sure, but this list will provide a great starting point for any trip. And, ultimately, once you’re on the ground watching a pair of lions recover in the shade of an acacia tree after mating, it really won’t matter what shoes you’re wearing.
The small aircraft which service the parks impose tight weight restrictions. If you’re planning a fly-in safari, then use a lightweight duffel to save your available weight for clothes and supplies.
In general, pack practical, lightweight and quick-drying fabrics in natural tones (khaki, beige or tan, but not white). Avoid bright colors, which can deter animals, especially blue which attracts tsetse flies. In some parts of Africa, camouflage clothing is also inadvisable (in Zimbabwe, it’s actually banned). Also, be aware of local religions and customs; in many places, it’s considered inappropriate to reveal too much thigh or midriff.
Your shoes will depend on the terrain. If you’re doing a self-drive safari or have a guide, then comfortable shoes with a decent tread for the occasional game walk will be sufficient. If you’re gorilla tracking in the jungle, you’ll need waterproof hiking boots and a tolerance for mud.
An amazing number of creatures are ready to bite your ankles.
Game drives leave early in the morning and, with peak season during winter, it can get cold.
Cap or hat
These are indispensable to wipe the dust from your face or lens and to keep the sun from your head.
Cotton or linen long-sleeved shirt
Women, this might seem counterintuitive, but if you’re doing any off-the-beaten track travel, chances are you’ll have to squat more often than once to use the toilet and potentially in areas without total privacy – a dress makes this much easier and less exposing. Leave the jumpsuit at home! Also, pack a sports bra for those bumpy roads.
Cut down on plastic-polluting water bottles, and invest in a LifeStraw, a gravity-powered purifier, which removes bacteria, parasites and viruses from any water. With each purchase, a child in need receives safe water for an entire school year.
Quick-drying travel towel
Camera with a telephoto lens
No, the zoom on your phone will not be sufficient for good safari photos. You’ll need a lens with a reach of at least 300mm, otherwise, you may as well put your camera away and enjoy the moment. It’s also advisable to pack spare memory cards, a protective filter for your lens, and a microfiber cloth to wipe dust away.
Headlamp / flashlight
If you’re camping a good flashlight will also help scare the hyenas away when they come prowling around the campfire.
You should keep a safe distance from the wildlife so as not to disturb them in their natural habitat. In the Masai Mara, they impose a 25-meter limit, and with some animals, like rhinos, you’ll be lucky to get that close. A good pair of binoculars will ensure you get the most out of the experience even from afar.
If you’re visiting more than one destination, these are game-changing for unpacking and repacking your bag.
Take the opportunity to put your phone away.
This app offers offline maps of the whole world and good navigation, and, when it comes to much of Africa, they are more comprehensive than Google Maps.
If you’re on a self-drive safari and don’t have a ranger, a thorough local guidebook or app will help you distinguish an impala from a reedbuck.
As with any adventurous travel, it’s alway wise to have your basics at hand: antihistamine, Band-Aids, painkillers, rehydration kits, antiseptic, a thermometer (for confirming the severity of a fever), anti-nausea tablets, Imodium, and whatever medications you require. Most importantly, make sure to pack antimalarials and bug spray (30 percent DEET or higher is needed for it to be effective against malaria).
Pack SPF 30 or higher, and buy a brand that’s reef-safe, biodegradable and non-toxic (Suntegrity, All Good, and Thinksport are good options).
If you’re using a “bush toilet” (as they call doing your business while on safari), then you can’t wash your hands, and in these moments, hand sanitizer is your friend. Antibacterial agents like triclosan are toxic for the environment, so choose a brand without the bad stuff.
Dusty conditions can cause irritation to your eyes.
Animals will retreat from smells they don’t recognize, so avoid anything perfumed.
And finally, make sure whatever you bring into the park leaves the park with you!
Tempting dishes from our featured destinations give you a taste of local culture. From succulent roasts to exotic spicy fare and some divine desserts, you’re sure to find plenty of delicious recipes to try at home.
Want to make your palate sing on your next international adventure but without the stress of making it happen on your own? An increasing number of people are turning to their neighbourhood travel advisor to put the pieces together.
Successful travel advisors are like their counterparts in finance, business or sports: each professional leverages expertise to deliver the most value for their clients’ investment of time and money. And current demands for unique culinary experiences provide exceptional opportunities for these experts to use their global connections and deep product expertise to elevate any itinerary. How exactly are these travel professionals ensuring your next trip abroad touches all the right taste buds? Let us count the ways.
If your travel advisor is customizing an itinerary especially for you, complete with all details covered but free from strict wake-up calls or departure times, let restaurant reservations be the thing to dictate when you go where. And they can help make that happen, too. Thanks to insider knowledge and a commitment to offering the best value to clients, travel advisors can ensure memorable dining experiences are part of any itinerary, no matter how hot the ticket. Understanding booking timelines and availability at top restaurants throughout popular locales means that they are helping their clients secure even the most difficult reservations, or at least putting in the time trying so you don’t have to.
A group departure need not begin and end with the scheduled dates and times, especially if your travel advisor should have anything to say about it. There is plenty to enjoy pre- and post-tour in order to further elevate any scheduled travel experience, with the options varying based on your destination – and travel advisors are helping their clients make the most of the opportunities at hand. Setting out on a river cruise in Amsterdam? Why not have your travel advisor recommend and book a beer and cheese experience prior to setting sail? Or, is your organized tour ending in Paris? Try spending a few days exploring a region that your tour didn’t visit – travel advisors know what option will suit their clients best and these expertise are being leveraged at record rates.
Incorporating local dining experiences is in high-demand for travellers today but it’s not always easy to find in destination connections who will jump on the chance to host you for dinner and cocktails in their home. Alas, travel advisors know the best companies with which to work when it comes to setting up clients with immersive dining experiences that not only offer outstanding food and drink, but also provide a true sense of place. Certain tour operators have clients dining with winemakers while exploring vineyards, spending evenings with multiple generations of the same family as they share the history of their property over a hearty meal, or learning how to play an instrument while throwing back a pint and a plate with local musicians.
It’s always a treat to discover your travel advisor has set you up on a tour that visits iconic sites like the Louvre or Vatican after typical closing time, free from other tourists. It's even better to discover when certain after-hours admissions come with some sort of culinary delight, whether hors d’oeuvres, wine or full sit-down dinners. Once again, in-depth product knowledge comes into play as travel advisors get a sense of your interests and connect you with the experience that will best resonate. Perhaps it’s a meal in a crowd-free art gallery with a dining tableset in front of centuries old artwork. Would you prefer a lunchtime picnic in a chateau? Equally possible. People understand now more than ever that their travel advisor is the right person to know in order to make great things happen.
Are you a sucker for French wines? Big on beer? Want to immerse yourself in a new culture with a well-known chef? Whatever your interest, there’s probably a trip made for you – and your travel advisor will be able to best determine exactly what and when that might be. From themed to specially-led crises and tours, the breadth of opportunities for amazing, immersive and memorable travel experiences is astounding – though for the average traveller, can be hard to find. This is why people are leaning on their travel advisors to play matchmaker – and coming home happy because of it.
Each month we’re showcasing our cruise partners to bring you the latest on the cruise line and their ships. With different cruising styles and a variety of ships to choose from, you’ll find these profiles helpful for selecting the cruise that’s right for you.