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African Travel, Inc.’s New President Announces the Era of Voluntourism

August 21st, 2015, by Sherwin Banda

Sherwin Banda is grateful that recent high-profile events have increased awareness about the importance of responsible, sustainable tourism in Africa.

“The allure of Africa is multi-faceted, but so are the challenges facing the continent,” said the South Africa-born hotelier, who was appointed president of African Travel, Inc. earlier this month. “Fortunately, travelers are beginning to recognize and prioritize the importance of supporting long-lasting initiatives, ensuring Africa remains vibrant and diverse for generations to come. This is where safari outfitters like African Travel, Inc. can really make a difference, by offering unique and exciting programs encouraging travelers to actively participate in conservation.” 

Banda, who was born and raised in Cape Town, has spent more than 17 years in the international hospitality industry including various positions in South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He is renowned for his personalized approach to customer care and passionate devotion to all things Africa, particularly in terms of reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Banda’s proven dedication to optimizing resource efficiency fits perfectly with African Travel, Inc.’s mission to protect endangered wildlife, ecosystems, and communities.

“Africa continues to be a must-visit travel destination, but travelers now want to give back to the communities they visit and leave a legacy of their own,” said Banda. “African Travel, Inc. provides numerous ways for guests to invest in Africa’s future by donating their time, expertise, or physical labor to projects in East and Southern Africa. We are heralding the new age of voluntourism.” 

African Travel, Inc., which was recently ranked the #3 top Safari Outfitter in Travel + Leisure’s coveted 2015 World’s Best Awards, supports numerous philanthropic programs and collaborates with the TreadRight Foundation, a not-for-profit organization working to preserve the environment and communities affected by tourism. Other partners include The Amy Foundation, which contributes to community building programs in Cape Town, and WildAid, whose mission is to reduce global consumption of wildlife products and end the illegal wildlife trade. 

“I love that I work for a company where we get to make a difference in the world, but also make our guest’s dreams come true,” said Banda. “For a moment in time, an irrevocable and irreversible moment, we have touched people’s lives in a way that not many industries can claim to. When travelers depart on an African Travel, Inc. itinerary, they are giving back to Africa, but also bringing meaning into their own lives. 

This I know for sure: You can leave Africa, but Africa never leaves you.”

 

Top 10 Sightseeing Experiences in South Africa

March 9th, 2015, by Sherwin Banda

1. City and Regional Tours

Chapman's Peak Drive with Hout Bay in the background
“I would definitely recommend taking a private half-day tour of Johannesburg if you have a layover in Johannesburg or are staying in the city. I enjoyed seeing the sites of downtown Johannesburg, including Constitution Hill, but the highlight of the tour for me was definitely the Apartheid Museum. This moving and provocative experience educated me about the plight of the South Africa people through this tumultuous time in South Africa’s history. I highly recommend anyone the tour to everyone.”

“I really enjoyed our Peninsula Tour that took us to the Cape of Good Hope and included a trip to Boulders Beach. It was thrilling to see the Jackass Penguins up close! Hearing our guide, Mark, comment about the history and culture of the area was enlightening and truly added to my appreciation of the area.”

2. White Shark Projects 
“White Shark Projects (SWSP) has been on my bucket list since I was a child. In this thrilling experience, cage-diving with the world’s most feared marine predator is coupled with sincere educational efforts from experienced marine biologists. We received numerous briefings from the staff, and by the time we reached the dive site I had a basic understanding of shark behavior as well as migration and eating habits. The cage was about 8’ tall, 3’ deep and 12’ wide and fit a total of six divers. I learned that South Africa has an Aquatic Big Five – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins) , and witnessed seven sharks ranging from 12’-16’. I would recommend the morning run, as opposed to the noon trip, as the seas are likely to be calmer at that point. WSP provides wetsuits, booties and a mask – all you need to bring is a bathing suit and your courage!”

 

3. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

Cable-Car-View-onto-CPT_300
“The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is an important experience for Cape Town visitors. Definitely plan on doing it in the morning, as the wind picks up and often the afternoon trip is canceled. Also, try to get there earlier rather than later if you can because the queue gets long very quickly. We arrived about 9:30 a.m. and by the time we got to the Gondola, the line had tripled from the arriving buses.”

4. Robben Island
“Robben Island, located just 11 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, has a long and harsh history as a place of banishment for those deemed to be a threat to the ruling society. Those imprisoned here over the centuries have included Khoikhoi leaders, exiled Muslims from the east, African chiefs opposing Dutch and British imperialism, as well as petty criminals, lepers and the criminally ill. At one point during World War II, it even served as a military base. If you are fascinated by the real history of South Africa – and not just its gorgeous, serene landscapes – this tops the list as a ‘must-see’ experience.”

5. Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum with Antoinette Pieterson Sithole
Hector Pieterson Museum

“The Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot that 12-year-old Hector was shot in June 1975 during the Soweto uprising. Today, the museum is a symbol of resistance to apartheid government’s brutality. I even had the opportunity to meet and speak with Antoinette Pieterson, Hector’s sister, just steps from the famous photograph of her running alongside her brother in the arms of Sam Mzima. Antoinette gave us a stunning recount of the Soweto school children march, the tragic day that changed the course of South African history, and I believe every traveler should take advantage of being able to hear her firsthand account.”

 Photo: Antionette Pieterson and Anais Chavez at the Hector Pieterson Museum

6. School Visits
“I had the honor of visiting a local elementary school in the township of Langa, just outside Cape Town. The children were adorable, so happy to have visitors, and they entertained us with native songs and dances before we joined them on the playground. I was fighting back tears when we left as the children gave us big hugs good-bye and blew kisses as we drove off. This heartwarming opportunity to see Africa in its authenticity allowed me to truly connect with the destination and I plan on visiting again when I return.”

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7. Kruger National Park and Private Game Reserve
“The first time I saw a leopard in the wild was during a game drive in South Africa, and the beautiful cat literally took my breath away. This was during my very first visit to a private reserve, one that lay along Kruger National Park’s western border. We were very lucky. These cats are one not only spectacularly gorgeous, but very difficult to find. Staying at a private game reserve as opposed to sojourning in Kruger National Park certainly has its benefits – and one of them is the ability to find reclusive game.

The other benefits are pretty important too. Within Kruger National Park (South Africa’s version of our Yellowstone), only closed vehicles are permitted to drive on the limited access roads. This is for safety, so when a car is surrounded by a pride of lions, ‘Windows up and doors locked!’ With nearly one million visitors a year, it’s easy to imagine how crowded the park road become. The facilities in Kruger are basic and not well-suited for international visitors.

Loding in a private game reserve, however, permits licensed park rangers to drive off the main roads during day and night game drives in an open (no roof) Range Rover. Walking safaris are allowed and the lodges and camps are superb! By staying in a private game reserve, you have a great opportunity to experience the African bush in an up-close-and-personal way. And like I said before — leopards!:

8. Bo-Kaap

bo-kaap_cape town
“Visiting the colorful Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town definitely belongs on your bucket list, thanks to the richness of blended cultures. On my trip, we walked along the festive streets and ventured into a gorgeous little spice shop. We left, with some new aromatic additions, and went to the home of a local Bo-Kaap woman who instructed us on the art of making samosas – with a great deal of sass and charm, I might add. After cooking up a storm, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. While every traveler might not be so lucky to go home to feast with a local, the charming area is definitely worth experiencing – and I highly recommend buying some spices.”

9. Whale Watching
“Few things in life are as magnificent as spotting a majestic whale and realizing it’s even bigger than you imagined it would be. Every year, from June through November, Southern Right whales migrate from the Antarctic waters into the Indian Ocean – and unlike many other declining African populations, these whales are quite plentiful. They also have a propensity to inhabit shallow waters, close to the shore, so travelers can easily sight these gentle giants from shore. I always highly recommend my clients partake in land-based whale watching during their stay, because it’s much more convenient and much less expensive than sea-based excursions. And let’s be honest – this is an unforgettable experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

10. Wine Tram Tour

 Franshhoek Wine Tour
“I think the Franshhoek Wine Tram tour might have been my favorite experience on the whole trip, and it definitely belongs on any South Africa Top 10 list. This truly fun experience included tram, train and tractor rides with various stops along the way. Our favorite was at the top of the hill on the Red Line at Dieu Donne – we enjoyed fantastic views over the valley, sampled artisanal cheeses that went perfectly with the fabulous wine, and ventured on a nice little stroll down the hill to the next stop. Blue skies, green grass, yellow cheese and (for me) red wine – various hues of the rainbow paired with multi-million dollar views. Most stops offer restaurants, so you can make reservations as you go and plan your evening that way. I tell my guests, I was there! I did that! And I can personally recommend it’s something you’re sure to love as well.”

 

 

Top 10 Culinary Experiences in South Africa

February 4th, 2015, by Sherwin Banda

African Travel, Inc. asked their own safari specialists for their favorite top culinary experiences in South Africa and a below is a list of the top 10.

1. Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge

Earth Lodge Cuisine

Dining in the wine cellar at South Africa’s Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is truly an unforgettable experience. The cool subterranean wine cellar is romantically lit with soft lights and candles, creating an indulgent atmosphere long before the sumptuous meals are even served. Mouth-watering dishes are paired with a collection of more than 6,000 bottles of rare wines; dining at this venue is a must!

2. Stellenbosch

Bites & Sites Classic Cape Cuisine Walk

Established in 1679, Stellenbosch is the second oldest town in South Africa and is arguably one of the loveliest. Taking the “Bites & Sites Classic Cape Cuisine Walk” is a fascinating (and tasty!) introduction to this vibrant university town. Enjoy a tea and rusk tasting, sample a variety of white and red wines from various award-winning estates, savor a trilogy of fragrant Cape dishes, and experience the legendary local sweet treats like koeksister, milktart and malva pudding – all while touring the town’s romantic oak-lined streets and outdoor art exhibitions.

3. Flagship

The Flagship is a celebrated restaurant that was recently taken over by Chef Duncan Doherty. The legacy of late Chef Bruce Robertson lives on in this innovative restaurant, which pairs a signature five-course chef’s table seafood lunch with wine for a superb “piece of culinary theatre.” The establishment is a firm believer in the Slow Food movement, which supports sustainable food by catching only the fish in the morning that they plan on serving for lunch, and their wine pairings are like a piece of heaven on Earth.

4. The Twelve Apostles Hotel

Twelve Apostles Hotel_ delectable platter

The Twelve Apostles Hotel is rightfully recognized as one of South Africa’s top places for wining and dining – and for good reason. The modern French menu is tastefully mixed with South African influences, and the menu is updated regularly. In 2013, the hotel made its debut into the coveted American Express Fine Dining Awards list and more than 95% of the items on the menu are sourced from the Western Cape, following the Hotel’s Responsible and Sustainable Environmental Policies. Don’t miss the amazing Champagne and Oyster breakfast, or their innovative Eggs Benedict. The Twelve Apostles also knows just how to do dessert – check out the delectable platter!

 

 5. Apprentice @ Institute of Culinary Arts

Stellenbosch is also home to the Apprentice @ Institute of Culinary Arts, situated among various other restaurants, art galleries and tourist shops. Owned and managed by the Institute of Culinary Arts chef school, the restaurant is run entirely by culinary students under the guidance of the Head Chef and Managers. All menu items are prepared and everything is made in-house, including melt-in-your-mouth, straight-out-of-the-oven bread baskets.

6. Ferrymans Tavern

Ferrymans Tavern, which opened in 1989, was the first tenant in the V&A Waterfront and it remains ever-popular. It has established a loyal following of regulars over the years, from Cape Town residents and – in many cases – those from much farther away. The establishment offers something for everyone, including an outside beer garden, children’s play area, jungle gym and big screen TV’s for a host of sports fans. The Tavern is bursting with energy, oftentimes with crowds of people dancing to an assortment of local bands.

7. Franschhoek Country House & Villas

Monneaux Restaurant 261

The award-winning Monneaux Restaurant in Franschhoek Country House & Villas is luxury and charm at its best. The restaurant serves an inspired contemporary take on Mediterranean classics, influenced by local cape malay flavors and skillfully blended into signature dishes with compliments from fresh seasonal produce.  Even by the standards set forth by the food and wine capital, Monneaux is exquisite – the restaurant has been voted as one of South Africa’s Top 100 Restaurants for the past six years and was also awarded the acclaimed American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award. 

 8. La Petite Ferme

La Petite FermeBesides the amazing food, the heavenly views of the Franschhoek Valley alone make this a great place to relax and have lunch. La Petite Ferme also has one of the more intimate wineries in the Cape Winelands, crafting its wines using time as its artisan.

 

 9. Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant

Set in the Moreson Winery, Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant is a staff favorite due to its rustic charm and laid-back atmosphere. Gorgeous trees provide a shaded retreat to enjoy the exquisite food, including the best charcuterie in South Africa hands down. Bread baking is available for groups of eight or more, but one of the most exciting events in this establishment is February’s Blessing of the Harvest. Pick your own grapes and make wine the old-fashioned way – with your feet! 

10. The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa Azure Restaurant

Azure-Restaurant-12A

The Twelve Apostles deserves two places on our list due to its phenomenal culinary offerings. In addition to the fabulous food available through its other venues, The Twelve Apostles is home to the award-winning Azure Restaurant and its magical international and indigenous cuisine. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the incredible views are some of the Mother City’s best and it is an overwhelming staff favorite for sundowners and sunsets. Whales can often be spotted in the mornings and afternoons, breaching right off the coast. Azure offers a high-end selection of entrees, including seafood, meats, and local African cuisine. From the delicate fresh oysters to the massive seafood platter, guests’ taste buds are infused by the finest organic ingredients and brilliant flavor combinations.

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