Tag Archives: Africa

tourist woman on safari in South Africa sitting in jeep with elephant in distance

Here’s Why I Felt Covid-Safe on Safari

As the floodgates of travel reopen and we all learn to negotiate staying safe while away from home—and as European sidewalks and museums are once again crowded with visitors—I want to tell you about the low-risk travel formula I’ve hit upon: an African safari. I’ve spent time in southern Africa twice in the past year (in Botswana and Zimbabwe in 2021, and in Namibia and South Africa in 2022), and on both trips I felt safe and returned home Covid-free. Here’s why:


Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front. South Africa
Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front.
Our enclosed vehicle at Little Kulala in Namibia.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, South Africa.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge.
The dining room at Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The dining room at Earth Lodge.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.

Just about everything happens outdoors.

On a safari, the bulk of your day is spent on game drives—and at most camps, that means being in a vehicle with no sides (and often no top), and plenty of fresh breeze immediately diluting any exhaled virus particles. Vehicle set-up does vary by camp and by destination; this is something worth discussing with an in-the-know travel planner before your trip. The camps I visited in Namibia’s desert, for example, use enclosed vehicles to keep the sand out. I could open the windows and pop up the roof when I wanted fresh air, and I felt comfortable riding inside with my guides after confirming that they’d been vaccinated (more on that below).

Long before Covid, most safari camps and lodges were already designed for outdoor dining. A year ago, every single meal I ate on safari was served al fresco. On my recent trip, camp staff opted to set up indoors on a couple of chilly mornings and rainy evenings. In the few instances where I didn’t feel comfortable enough sitting near a window, they happily moved my family outside—and brought us blankets to stay warm, and even luminaries for ambiance.


Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.  South African safari
Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.
inside a charter flight with pilot and tourist woman South African safari
Charter flights make for close quarters; every one of our pilots was vaccinated.
tourist woman and guide on safari in South Africa
Namibian guide Joas arranged for treatment at a private hospital when his parents got Covid; he’s vaccinated.

Most people in the travel industry are vaccinated.

At the time of my most recent trip, just 30% of South Africa’s population and 15% of Namibia’s population was fully vaccinated. But I asked every person I was in close contact with if they were vaccinated, and the answer was always yes. Some of those in Namibia felt that their job was at risk if they didn’t get vaccinated; at the camps I visited in South Africa, a local clinic had vaccinated the entire staff. Even when a country’s overall vaccination rate is relatively low, uptake among people who work in travel is often much higher.


The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge safari
The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
The bedroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge South Africa
The bedroom
The indoor/outdoor bathroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in South Africa
The indoor/outdoor bathroom

You’re not interacting with lots of people, even when camps are full.

I visited a range of camps and lodges this year, from remote spots with just eight tents to one with 25 stand-alone villas. While each one was busier than the places I visited last year, nowhere ever felt crowded. I could chat with fellow travelers over the breakfast buffet or at the airstrip waiting for a charter flight, but I never found myself in close quarters with strangers. What’s more, there’s a bit less mixing at safari camps these days: Before Covid, the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve where I stayed, on the edge of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, grouped the same guests together for both game drives and meals. Today, those who don’t pay for a private vehicle will likely share one with others, but each group dines separately.

A savvy fixer can speed you through the only place you’ll find crowds: the airports.

Johannesburg Airport was a ghost town a year ago, but things have picked up significantly since then. Luckily, each time I arrived at an airport on my most recent trip, Trusted Travel Expert Cherri Briggs had someone there to meet me. Sure, I’m capable of navigating check-in counters and customs procedures on my own—but having a minder accompany me meant that I got to skip to the front of lines and use security checks reserved for crew and other VIPs. So even though the airports were busy, the time I had to spend in them shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers was minimal.


Photographing Soweto with our photojournalist/guide.
An impromptu drum lesson in Soweto.
Witnessing the devastation of recent flooding on Soweto’s streets.
Visiting a preschool in Soweto. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver
A spontaneous embrace from a food vendor at a Soweto market. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver

I saved my riskiest interactions for the end of the trip.

While the safari was the main purpose for my trip this year, I wanted my ten-year-old son to see a bit of urban Africa as well. We were flying through Johannesburg, so Cherri helped me plan a day-and-a-half in the city. Since city activities were the part of the trip when our exposure to Covid was likely to be highest, we built this into the end of my trip rather than the beginning. On our last day in Africa, a photojournalist-turned-tour-guide took my family to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Satyagraha House (where Gandhi once lived), and the Kliptown neighborhood of Soweto. Cultural exchanges can be tricky, and in Soweto I planned to follow my hosts’ lead in terms of Covid protocols, without disrupting the flow by asking about vaccination status; in practice, that meant going indoors unmasked to visit a preschool, to hear a group of local musicians perform, and to buy some knit hats from a trio of enterprising grannies. Everywhere I went, the welcome seemed warm and genuine, and I’m glad I didn’t have a mask hiding my smile for those brief interactions. (I tested five days after returning home, per CDC guidance, and was negative.)

So that’s why I felt safe on safari—but here’s why I’d go back in a heartbeat:

Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve South Africa
Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
Lions drinking after a kill South African safari
Lions drinking after a kill.
Playful lions south africa safari
Playful lions.
cheetah seen on safari in South Africa
The enormous lungs beneath a cheetah’s prominent chest aid its sprinting abilities.
an elephant seen on safari in South Africa
A thorny breakfast for an elephant.

The wildlife experience is unchanged since Covid.

Few corners of the globe remain unaffected by Covid; the African veld seems to be one such spot (excepting, perhaps, the hand sanitizer that appears beside your sundowners on evening game drives). This was my fifth time on safari, and I saw more animals at Sabi Sabi than I’d seen on any other trip: playful packs of lion cubs running laps around their mothers; elephants munching on shrubbery, seemingly unconcerned by the plant’s inch-long thorns; a barrel-chested cheetah and her offspring that came close enough we could hear them purring; a leopard and the impala kill it had dragged impressively high into a tree; two sturdy rhinos, unaware that their horns would soon be removed to discourage poaching. The wildlife that brings so many to Southern Africa is still there in abundance.


Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience South Africa, WOW Lister Cherri Briggs arranged for a reduced rate at Bush Lodge and Earth Lodge in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Cherri via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.


white woman traveler portrait Botswana Africa Safari with animals in background

Why 2021 Is the Year to Go on Safari

As we dip our toes back into international travel, you might assume you’re better off avoiding a place like Africa: The variants sound scary, after all, and vaccination rates are low. The local medical infrastructure is stretched thin. And 15 hours is an awfully long time to wear a mask on the flight over. You might also assume you can always take a safari next year or the year after instead.

I weighed all those factors myself this past spring—and then decided to go on safari anyway. Why? I am fully vaccinated with a shot that’s proven to be reasonably effective against current variants (so even if I did get Covid, current medical thinking is that I would most likely not need hospitalization). I’d be spending the bulk of my time outdoors, at remote camps where the staff is regularly tested and has little contact with the cities that host the great majority of Africa’s Covid cases. And I could use the same masking and distancing strategies there that have kept me safe for the past year. For me, the benefits far outweighed the risks.

I’m so glad to have taken advantage of this highly unusual opportunity to go on safari now, while the camps aren’t full but the animals are abundant, and before pent-up demand pushes the cost of a safari even higher than it was before Covid. Every single traveler I met during my time in Botswana and Zimbabwe was grateful to have made the same decision, with any anxiety they might have felt beforehand evaporating on that first game drive.

In fact, I returned home convinced that anyone who has a safari on their bucket list should go this year. Here’s why:

You’re outdoors the whole time.

On safari, almost everything you do is outdoors. Meals…
Game drives.
Even the vehicles are open-air.
Baboon behavior is fascinating to watch—and so reminiscent of human interactions.
Botswana's birdlife is varied and numerous; here, a saddle-billed stork takes flight.
This white rhino is a benefactor of Great Plains Conservation's relocation project, which aims to protect the animals from poachers. (That's why its horns have been cut.)
It felt like I had the bush all to myself—and I very nearly did.


Aside from airports and a few van rides, every moment I spent with others during my time in Africa was in the open air—much of it on glorious game drives and breezy boating safaris. I stayed at Duba Plains Camp and Selinda Camp in Botswana, and at the Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe; in each, the main lounge area had a canvas or thatch roof and no walls, allowing for excellent air circulation. Meals were all outdoors too; in Botswana, dinners were even brought to my private deck to get around the country’s ban on public alcohol consumption. (Rest assured, the safari guides are still happy to serve sundowners in the bush to cap off your afternoon game drive.)

There is no crowding of safari vehicles.

Before Covid, many of Africa’s most popular places and experiences were being pushed to their limits. But this year, in places like the Ngorongoro Crater or the Masai Mara—particularly during the Great Migration in August and September—it will be far easier to see the animals without other vehicles invading your view. I even met travelers who got their own private trek to see the gorillas in Rwanda. Such exclusivity would normally cost $15,000 but was theirs for free, simply because not all the permits had been sold the day they trekked.

You can book something at the last minute.

At Victoria Falls, I had this natural wonder of the world nearly all to myself too.
The paths and viewpoints that are usually packed with tourists were almost completely empty. I saw only 10 other people in the hour that I spent there.
I also made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buzz the falls by helicopter!
In any other year, I’d have had to reserve rooms at the small camps I visited at least a year in advance. But everywhere I went there were available rooms. At Selinda Camp in northern Botswana, I arrived by boat.
Common spaces at the camps I visited were all open-air; here is the library at Duba Plains Camp.
My tent at Duba Plains Camp had a plunge pool that overlooked the Okavango Delta.
My "tent" at Selinda Camp had hardwood floors and a copper bathtub.


I’d been captivated by the reviews we’ve received over the past year of safaris planned by WOW Lister Julian Harrison. So once I was fully vaccinated, I enlisted Julian’s help to plan my own trip. After hearing that he’d soon be heading to Botswana himself and could scope out the situation on the ground, I made that my main destination. In any other year, I’d have had to reserve rooms at the small camps I visited at least a year in advance. But everywhere I went, there were empty rooms.

Availability for 2022 is already hard to come by at many safari camps and lodges, since so many 2020 and 2021 bookings have been postponed. Right now may be your only chance to plan a safari and not have to wait years to actually travel. (And with camps eager to attract guests, you may also be able to strike a deal and get an extra night or a helicopter ride for free; that certainly won’t be the case next year.)

The local staff are so happy to see you.

Everyone from safari guides to airport workers told me how grateful they were to see travel picking up again.

Some travelers who are thinking about a safari worry that their presence at a lodge could increase the health risk to local staff, by bringing them into closer contact with coworkers and travelers. Every time I brought this up with the people I encountered during my trip, the response was the same: For them, the ability to earn a living greatly outweighed the risk of getting sick. Everyone from safari guides to airport workers told me how grateful they were to see travel picking up again. Many are supporting not just themselves but also extended family—and bringing the strict health protocols followed in camps back to their local villages.

The animals are not skittish.

I wondered if the animals would be more skittish right now, with so few vehicles around in the last year. Clearly they are not—the lions weren't bothered by us at all.
That's a white rhino in the middle of the road.
We watched a lion pup eat its lunch (zebra tartare).
This elephant pulled plants up from the roots, then swished them around in the water to clean off any dirt before eating them.
These oxpeckers are feasting on insects they find in the zebra's coat.
African wild dogs are one of the world's most endangered mammals. My safari guide knew where one pack's den was, so we got to spend more than an hour with them.
The common warthog—so ugly it's cute.
A lone wildebeest at sunset.


I wondered whether, after more than a year without vehicles around, the animals might be shy. They weren’t. I’ve never been as close to African wildlife as I was on this trip. While it was easy to socially distance from the few other guests at my camps, my six-foot bubble was frequently tested by lions, elephants, and even endangered wild dogs. One reason for this? The camps Julian chose for me are located in private concessions, where the animals have never been spooked by erratic, inexperienced drivers or great clusters of vehicles.

You’re keeping the poachers away.

When the world shut down in spring 2020, conservationists worried that poachers would seize the opportunity to get their hands on rhino horns and elephant tusks. The best-run camps developed systems to maintain a presence on their lands—but I also heard stories of interlopers taking up residence at camps that were left empty during the lockdown. As places reopen and game drives become a daily routine once again, the presence of travelers among the animals is essential to driving those poachers away.

The required Covid tests are easy.

tourist and safari guide in Botswana plain with helicopter landing to administer covid test on game drive

Selinda Camp arranged for a nurse to fly to me during my game drive to administer my Covid test.

For the test I needed before my trip, I made an appointment at a local clinic that promised same-day results. A mail-in kit would have been easier, but I wanted to take a single test with a quick enough turnaround time that I could use it for both my overnight layover in Johannesburg, and for entry into Botswana the next day. You can find both in-person and at-home options here.

Botswana also requires a free rapid test on arrival. Julian made sure I was seated in the first row of economy on my flight from Joburg, so that when I arrived at the Maun airport, I was among the first to be tested. About 10 minutes later, I had my negative result and was on my way.

To enter Zimbabwe (and to later get back into the U.S.) I needed a third test, which Julian assured me would be arranged by my camp’s staff. In Botswana, a nurse flies from camp to camp, testing travelers and bringing the swabs back to a lab in Maun. At some camps, that could mean missing a morning game drive while you await the nurse’s arrival—but not at Selinda Camp, where Julian had me stay. Not wanting to diminish their guests’ experience, the managers there have arranged for the helicopter to land at a designated spot deep in the bush. When I headed out on my morning game drive the morning of my test, my safari guide planned the route so that we were having breakfast right where and when the helicopter touched down. A nurse hopped out and took samples from my nose and throat; the results were emailed to my airline the following morning. The test cost $330—but considering what people pay for a WOW-worthy safari, it’s money well spent not to miss a moment with the animals you came all this way to see.

The airports are empty.

tourist woman standing in Johannesburg South Africa airport with no crowds around during pandemic

There were no crowds in the Johannesburg airport.

If you’ve flown domestically this summer, you’ve probably noticed that U.S. airports are a zoo: long check-in lines, big TSA queues, packed gate areas. But at all four African airports I flew through, social distancing was a breeze, with wide-open terminals and more employees than travelers.

Ready to plan your own 2021 trip to Africa?

There are a number of safari specialists whose strengths you can read about on The WOW List; all of those experts are following entry requirements and camp operations closely so that their traveler’s trips are low-hassle. If you’re not sure which one will be the right fit for you, click the black button before for a personalized recommendation.

Ask us for a safari recommendation


Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Southern Africa on your behalf, WOW Lister Julian Harrison arranged for complimentary stays at Duba Plains Camp and Selinda Camp in Botswana, and at Victoria Falls River Lodge in Zimbabwe.


Dispatch from Kenya: What a Safari Looks Like Now

As countries around the world start to reopen to travelers—some even to U.S. residents—we want you to know how travel experiences in those places will differ from before and how to make them as Covid-safe as possible. So, in a new article series, we will be following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

First up: Julian Harrison, an African safari specialist who’s just back from an adventure in Kenya with his son Christian.  Because Julian felt his experience in Kenya was safe and delivered unexpected perks, he will be leading an exclusive, small-group trip back there in December, using his favorites of the camps and lodges he just road-tested. (If you’re interested in joining this trip, contact Julian via his WOW List page to ensure you’re recognized as a VIP. Here’s why.)

Julian Harrison just returned from Kenya, which is open to U.S. travelers.
zebras in Kenya savanna
“The benefit of being in Kenya right now: It’s just big, wide-open natural space without the tourists and the vehicles.”
infinity pool overlooking the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
One of the camps Julian checked out was the Sirikoi Lodge in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where he caught this sunset view over the infinity pool.
The seats at Doha airport were blocked off for social distancing, and passengers were required to wear face masks and shields for boarding and deplaning.
"Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature."
Julian and his son were the only people scheduled on their Air Kenya flight to the Lewa Wildlife conservancy.
Safari lodges, like the ones at Mahali Mzuri Camp, are socially distanced by design, and all camps give guests temperature checks every day.
Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri Camp had a cute take on Covid signage.
Every building in Kenya is required by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside.
“During our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.”

Did you get a Covid test before the trip?

Yes, travelers to Kenya must bring proof of a negative result from a Covid test taken within 96 hours of arrival. We also needed to fill out a health declaration form online and undergo a health screening upon landing.

How did you get to Kenya, and what should we know about the flight?

Christian and I chose to fly over on Qatar Airways via Doha. Their health and safety protocols made us feel very safe:  Every passenger was given a face shield to wear when boarding and disembarking the plane, and the flight attendants wore protective gear over their uniforms with masks and safety glasses. The business-class cabin from JFK to Doha was perfect for social distancing, since it offered individual cabins with doors to shut. The cabins are not foolproof—because the walls don’t go as high as the ceiling—but you’re still not having that direct line of sight with other passengers.  For the most part, everybody stuck to the rules, wearing masks throughout the flight except when drinking or eating.

Did the airports feel safe?

JFK Airport was deserted, with virtually nothing open. In the lounge at JFK, there was no service at all: no food, no drinks being served, nothing. You just had the ability to sit in a comfortable chair (and every other seat was blocked off).

Doha was a little more happening, in terms of shops being open, but all public seating had a banner across every other seat that said “Do not use this seat.” They were good about that throughout, with middle seats blocked everywhere, including on the plane.

How did the health screening go when you landed in Kenya?

We lined up at a lean-to outside the terminal, where they checked our Covid-negative certificate; asked for the QR code we’d been given when we filled out the online health form; and took our temperatures. Once that was done, they let us into the building to go to immigrations and customs.

If you arrive without a QR code, you have to fill out the form and get that code while you wait in line. And if anyone were to show up with no test or a positive test, I assume they would need to go into quarantine. It’s unlikely that someone would have shown up without a test, though, because when we were checking in for the flight in New York, they confirmed our results.

What safety protocols did you find on safari?

Every safari camp and lodge—in fact, every building or structure, such as a supermarket—is bound by law to have hand-washing facilities and sanitizer outside the premises, and you must use them before entering and have a temperature check. And even while you’re staying at a camp, they check your temperature every morning. Safari vehicles are equipped with temperature checks too.

Also the staff and guides all get Covid tests and temperature checks on a regular basis. Meals at camps are taken in separate locations, to avoid being close to others.

How safe did it feel, compared to back home?

I actually felt safer in Kenya than in the U.S.  In the U.S. you can go anywhere as long as you’re wearing a mask, but in Kenya you can’t go unless you’ve washed your hands and had a temperature check.

And the level of infection is extremely low; it’s not huge numbers of people who have died from Covid. I think part of the reason the rate of infection in most African countries has been low is that the governments there are used to this stuff, because of viruses like Ebola. So as soon as Covid reared its head, they went into lockdown. They got on with it as soon as possible, to get rid of it.

Even South Africa, for years and years before Covid, every time you entered the country, you got a thermal scan and they checked your temperature.

Were you able to stay socially distanced on the game drives?  How?

Pretty much all camps have limited the number of people per vehicle, going from six people to four people. And wherever possible, they are giving individual groups their own vehicles, so they’re not with strangers.

All the vehicles I rode in were open-air—and that’s because of the properties I chose. (You usually get closed vehicles at lower-end properties or when you’re doing an overland circuit where you take the vehicle from Nairobi, visit several properties and then go back to Nairobi, because you don’t want to be in an open vehicle when you’re out on the road.)

How does the wildlife now compare to before the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say you’re seeing more wildlife but that you’re seeing it pretty much all to yourself.  Typically, in the Maasai Mara, in a day’s game drive, it’s not unheard of to see 100 vehicles. But right now, you’re not seeing other vehicles. It’s just you and nature.

For instance, in the Maasai Mara, at Mahali Mzuri Camp (owned by Sir Richard Branson), during our spectacular drive through large herds of wildebeest, we encountered only three other safari vehicles all day.

Later in the trip, we did a full day into Tsavo East National Park and did not see one other vehicle the entire day. That is the benefit of being there right now: You’re experiencing those parks like the early pioneers did, before tourism even happened.

What has the pandemic made harder?

Having to get the Covid test ahead of time is harder, I guess. And it’s harder that people are perhaps more nervous to travel because of the unknown. But that’s one of the reasons I went on this trip—to check it out for myself. And I felt pretty comfortable.

The general consensus I hear from travelers is that they are not all that concerned about being in Africa. It’s getting there—the airports and flights—that concerns them. But I think the airlines’ filtration systems are equipped that if everyone wears their masks and does the right thing, it’s pretty safe.

The other concern I hear is: What if I get Covid in Africa? What medical facilities are available? We automatically sign up all our clients for the Amref Flying Doctors service, so if anybody gets sick, we cover them, on top of their own insurance, for getting from a camp to a hospital in Nairobi. And the government has insisted that all the counties in Kenya must have a minimum of 300 safe Covid beds.

What did you learn from your own trip that has helped you build the small-group adventure you’re planning in December?

First and foremost, I learned that it’s a safe country to visit. Nobody can guarantee that somebody’s not going to end up with Covid, but in my opinion, if you do all the right things, I think it’s a low-risk, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel like a pioneer and see these landscapes and animals without tourists.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Ethiopian religious ceremony

WOW Moment: An Extraordinary Church Ceremony in Ethiopia

Robin and Linda Louis, frequent WOW List travelers from Vancouver, had already been to Africa several times. In fact, they had enjoyed a WOW Moment in Namibia only last year. So it was not easy to dream up another WOW Moment for them so soon, this time in Ethiopia.  But dream we did.  Wendy consulted with Cherri Briggs, her Trusted Travel Expert for Africa who was orchestrating the trip, and Cherri managed to pull off a remarkable—and, admittedly, over-the-top—surprise.

Wendy’s WOW Moments are exclusive insider experiences that are added to certain trips arranged via our WOW trip-planning system.  Learn how to get your own WOW Moment here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!  They vary greatly, depending on the location, timing, length, and logistics of a trip.  For instance, a WOW Moment could be a meeting with a noteworthy local, or an unusual family activity, or a special-access tour.

Or it could be the surprise that Robin and Linda Louis got in Ethiopia. Eager to find out how it went, we recently spoke with Linda on the phone:

Q: What drew you to Ethiopia?

A: We have been all across North Africa—Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt—as well as Tanzania twice, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa. So I was reading about Ethiopia and Ethiopian culture, and the religious aspects of it really appealed to me as an interesting mix of Old Testament and Catholicism and Pentecostal Christianity. And it turns out Ethiopians are the most devout people I’ve ever seen or met anywhere. And the nicest, friendliest people as well. And there are churches and monasteries everywhere you look. It was really interesting.

ethiopian church ceremony with many priests walking in procession

“There are churches and monasteries everywhere you look. It was really interesting.” Photo: Robin Louis

Q: Walk me through your WOW Moment. What happened?

A: Ethiopian churches are really little, and they’re divided into three sections: one that nobody goes into, one that the priests can go into, and a smaller outer section that some people can go into but often not women. So, during church services, most of the people are outside. In Ethiopia it’s not unusual to see groupings of people outside churches or walking for miles—sometimes on a special feast day—dressed in white, walking to the churches.

On our second or third morning in Lalibela, our guide Elias led us to a village where some women were outdoors, cooking injera (flatbread) for the priests. Elias had me try our hand at cooking. Then we walked up a little hill and came to a church where there were dozens of priests, as well as musicians—particularly drummers—and a young deacon who greeted us. Then the high priest came and asked our names—because the first thing they do in a procession like this is to pray for someone, and then for the people of Ethiopia, and then for the people of the world. The priests and deacons and musicians sang and danced and proceeded around in a circle with their umbrellas, which are often the ones that they hold over the representative of the ark of the covenant. There were a few other people who came along and kind of joined and watched in the background, but this event was not part of a regular service—it was for us!

Q: Were you surprised?

A: We’d visited a lot of churches but hadn’t actually attended a service. So when we first walked over the hill and saw the church, I assumed that we had stumbled on a normal service. But then we realized they had been waiting for us!

What was special is that they brought us into their culture. They made us a part of it, rather than our just watching it. The deacon who had arranged it was able to explain some of what was going on. Being a woman in a lot of these places, you are on the outside, but they made me feel very welcome. The high priest asked our names and blessed us and prayed for us and our family. I’m not particularly religious, but I have to admire people who have beliefs like that and follow them. It was a perfect WOW Moment for me.

ethiopian church ceremony with many priests gathered outside by trees singing

“In Ethiopia it’s not unusual to see groupings of people outside churches or walking for miles—sometimes on a special feast day—dressed in white, walking to the churches.” Photo: Robin Louis

Q: Were there any other favorite Ethiopia trip moments you’d like to share?

A: We did have a cooking lesson with a chef at her school, and that was a lot of fun. I also loved the market in Bahir Dar (where the Blue Nile Falls are). I love these markets—they’re crazy. The people in the market gave us samples, and Elias explained all the different spices and grains and rices, and we could dip our hands in and taste things. There were no other tourists.

We had fabulous food and went to some really interesting local restaurants at night—places where local people would go for the evening for a date. We also visited a couple of families. And once, when we were going into the Semian Mountains, Elias stopped the car near a woman who was cooking injera in front of her house. We got out and chatted with her—through Elias—and learned the whole process. We liked having our guide Elias with us throughout the trip. You can’t do these kinds of things on your own or in a busload.


Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

On every third qualifying trip, Wendy will add to your itinerary a surprise WOW Moment. A WOW Moment is an exclusive insider experience that helps make a trip extraordinary. Each WOW Moment is totally different. They vary depending on a huge range of factors, including the country you’re headed to, the timing of your trip, logistics, availability, and more. You can read a sampling of the more over-the-top WOW Moments (those most conducive to editorial coverage) here. Learn which trips qualify, and how the process works, here: Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

Hippos in river with mouths open Zambia Africa

Ask Wendy: What Type of Camera Should I Take on Safari?


Wendy and Tim,

Any recommendations for what type of camera to take on safari in Zambia? I see that you went last year. I know that Tim has pro stuff, but could you recommend a camera to lug along that doesn’t cost as much as the safari? Thank you, Katherine


Katherine, here’s my husband TIm’s reply:

“Katherine, you are right: The photo gear I brought on our safari in Zambia was indeed professional. Which translates to heavy and expensive. A real commitment to the craft is required.

But our boys (then 13 and 15 years old) each brought one of the newer superzoom compact cameras. These cameras use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to reduce size and expense. They also have amazing zoom lenses that get you up close and personal to the subjects from quite a distance away. They offer a very wide-angle view of the zoom range too, which seems counterintuitive to safari photos. But you’ll be surprised how many times you’ll be almost too close to the animals—especially if you want to show them in their environment.

giraffe jumping in grass on zambia safari in africa

It might seem counterintuitive, but a good safari camera should offer a very wide-angle view so that you can include an animal’s surroundings in the shot. Photo: Charlie Baker

We brought a Panasonic and a Nikon for the boys—and they shot the giraffe and bird photos you see here with them—but I would consider Canon or Sony as well. The cameras range from about $300 to $900. Check out the Panasonic Lumix, Canon PowerShot, Sony Cyber-shot, or Nikon Coolpix. All are very good cameras and would be excellent for general use once you are back home. It’s a very good idea to get them in your hand and give each a test drive to see what best fits you. Is it comfortable to hold? Does the zoom button match up naturally with your fingers? Is it easy to line up your eye with the viewfinder? Does it work with your glasses?

bird on a branch on safari in Zambia Africa

The newer superzoom compact cameras let you get very close-up shots but are not as bulky or expensive as professional gear. This shot was taken by our son Doug, on safari in Zambia. Photo: Doug Baker

The cameras have a battery life of more than 300 photos (much less if you shoot video. And all these cameras will). Many safari lodges are off the grid but have some way to charge camera batteries. So always buy at least one spare battery. Two spares would be even better.
Buy high-capacity memory cards so you don’t run out of space. A 64GB card costs about $30 and can hold thousand of pictures.

Buy it well before you go and practice with it. Go to youth soccer games to capture their movements like a herd of impala. Or go to the zoo and practice with your new camera. That way, you will have worked out the kinks before your trip and will be ready for that bull elephant’s mock (we hope) charge.”


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Wendy’s Best Travel Moments of 2017

The highlights of my travels this year were a combo of the most surprising discoveries, the most worthwhile experiences, and long-anticipated moments that finally came true. These are experiences I wish for you in 2018. If you’d like advice for how to arrange them, I can help you over at Ask Wendy. Wishing you and yours extraordinary travels in 2018!

Zambia Elephant Cafe Wendy feeding elephant

Did you know you can feed and pet elephants in the wild?  We did this at the Elephant Café, an unfenced wildlife sanctuary near Victoria Falls, Zambia, that has replaced elephant rides with gourmet cuisine as a way to earn revenue to support the animals. In this photo, I’ve just told an elephant “Trunk up!” so I can throw grain into his mouth. Check out the video here.

Zambia Chiawa Wendy dancing

For me an African safari isn’t just about viewing wildlife. It’s about meeting people from a totally different culture. When these kids in Zambia welcomed us to their village with songs and dances, of course I joined in and did as the locals do. Yes, I looked like a spazz, but it got a lot of laughs and helped break the ice. See videos from our village visit here.

Zambia Chiawa girl with Frisbee ring

We brought school supplies and toys—including Frisbee rings—to the folks of Chiawa, Zambia. Africa travel specialist Cherri Briggs, the Trusted Travel Expert on my WOW List who arranged our safari, has spearheaded a number of life-changing community projects there. Our time in Chiawa was a highlight of our Africa trip. Here’s why.

Victoria Falls helicopter Doug

Victoria Falls, which is arguably the world’s biggest waterfall, can’t be fully appreciated until you see it from above. It’s like looking back in time because you can see the geological history of the land unfold. Watch video from our helicopter flight here.

Victoria Falls Hotel veranda

This is one of the world’s most enchanting and iconic places to stay: The Victoria Falls Hotel, built by the British in 1904. It transports you back in time to the days of B.O.A.C. Clippers and steamer trunks. You feel like you’re just one step away from Stanley meeting Livingstone.

Victoria Falls Hotel presidential suite2

Tim and I stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel on our first date, eighteen years ago. When we came back this year, married and with children in tow, they upgraded us to the presidential suite. Queen Elizabeth II and Oprah Winfrey slept here too.

Zambia South Luangwa National Park elephants

In our ever-more-crowded world, a safari in Africa increasingly means battling other Land Rovers to jockey for the best position to see the wildlife. But deep in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, we had the animals—and the landscapes—practically all to ourselves. We were certainly the only people watching these elephants cross the river. Just by looking at them, you can gauge the depth of the water, eh?

Zambia pizza lunch in the bush

Bush brunch!  It’s such a surprise when you’re on a game drive, you round a corner in the middle of nowhere, and there’s lunch waiting for you, complete with panoramic view. It’s an even bigger surprise when you get to make your own pizza!   First we rolled out the dough with a rolling pin, then we sprinkled on our choice of toppings. Bush brunch is one of the special touches you get at Bushcamp Company camps. For more on our extraordinary safari, see Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot.

Zambia Zambezi River tiger fish

Tim’s dream was to catch a tiger fish in the Zambezi. I’ve never seen him so happy.

Zambia Chiawa hut laptop

“What kind of drums do they play in your church?” That was one of the best questions we got in Zambia. When this man asked us that question, I pulled out my laptop to show him a video I’d shot—in Bratislava, of all places—of an historic pipe organ filling an ancient church with gorgeous music. This man had never heard a pipe organ before. If you’ve never heard Zambian music before, listen here.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

Recognize this? It’s the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. This was the view from my hotel balcony on an overnight layover in Dubai. Of course Lindsey Wallace, the U.A.E. travel specialist on my WOW List who made our arrangements, knew exactly which hotel and room are best when you’ve got only one night to see as much of Dubai as possible.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab desert oasis

It looks like a movie set, eh? Qasr al Sarab is an oasis fit for a sheikh and dropped in the middle of nowhere in the Abu Dhabi desert, just a few miles from the Saudi border. Many people ask me how to spend a Dubai layover. My answer: Make your layover at least three nights, and spend at least two of them at Qasr al Sarab, which is only a three-hour drive from the Dubai airport. I guarantee it will transport you to another place, time, and frame of mind that you won’t want to leave. We were there in August—of all crazy times for a desert adventure—and, as much as I hate heat, we loved every minute.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab camel caravan

A sunrise camel ride at Qasr al Sarab is the Mercedes of camel rides. The camels are well groomed, and the tack is first-rate: The saddles are extra-comfortable, the handles are easy to grip, and there are step stools to help you on and off.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Me and my new friend.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

Dune bashing at Qasr al Sarab is nothing less than spectacular. If you opt for the “hard drive” (as opposed to a “soft drive”), it’s more thrilling than any roller coaster.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing sunset

This is how your off-roading adventure ends: sunset on the dunes.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

The kids went swimming in the Persian Gulf for the first time. Recognize this hotel?  It’s billed as the world’s most luxurious—and, now that I’ve stayed there, I have to agree. It’s the Burj al Arab, where the kids hit the beach with new friends they made in Dubai.

Burj al Arab room desk

Check out our room. At the Burj al Arab, this is just your typical guest room. Each room is two stories tall and comes with its own 27-inch Apple computer and printer.

Burj al Arab Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara

To get the full Burj al Arab experience, we dined in the aquarium that is British award-winning chef Nathan Outlaw’s Al Mahara restaurant. We were in awe of both the fish and the prices.

Ski Dubai Mall of the Emirates

I’d been wanting to see this for years. It’s Dubai’s indoor ski resort, inside a massive shopping mall. This is merely the base of the mountain. I was surprised by how much Ski Dubai looks, feels, and even smells like an actual Alpine ski lodge, from its equipment-rental shops to its chalet-style bistros serving fondue.

Morocco boys making bread

Making a staple of local life with their hands is a good way for kids to learn about a country. So we were thrilled when, in Marrakech, the kids learned how to make Moroccan bread from scratch, the centuries-old way.

Morocco communal oven

After rolling and shaping the dough, we carried it down the street to the communal oven where the whole neighborhood takes their bread to be baked. It was way cool.

Morocco desert sandboarding

There’s Doug sandboarding in the Sahara. We spent a magical night at a luxe desert camp in Morocco, just a few miles from Algeria.

Morocco desert camp at night

Here’s the Sahara desert camp where we slept. We even had showers and flush toilets in our tents.

Morocco Fez carpet store aerial view

Carpet shopping has been a colorful way to experience local culture for centuries. But if you end up buying a carpet—or seven—it needs to be because you love it, not because a rug merchant persuades you it’s a wise financial investment. (It probably isn’t.) This was the kids’ first time carpet shopping—in Fez, Morocco—and the store was so theatrical about it, with men in white lab coats serving us tea and rolling out about 100 carpets in quick succession, that we had a blast.

Morocco Fez carpet store Wendy and boys

Voilà! This carpet now lies in our living room. At left is the merchant who put on such a fantastic show. (We set a price limit.)

Grand Velas Riviera Maya beach

This was the moment—at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico—when the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit had just ended. After many long days of conference prep and hard work, we finally got to hit the beach for a Taco and Tequila Tasting.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya bed rice

That’s colored rice! The Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s artistic staff recreated the WP logo on the bed of every Global Travel Summit participant!

Marseille Old Port from atop ferris wheel

I get excited when a formerly gritty, crime-ridden place that people used to avoid transforms itself back into a charming city and culinary magnet. Strolling the streets of Marseille—a stop on this Mediterranean cruise—I was struck by the colors everywhere, from the building façades to the seafood dishes that thousands of people were lunching on outdoors in the early April sunshine. I shot this photo from atop the ferris wheel in the old port.

Kitty Hawk Wright Brothers Memorial

This is the site of the world’s first airplane flight, in 1903. We drove to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, for the kids’ February school break—and let me just say that February was a lovely time in the Outer Banks: The weather was great, the Wright Brothers National Memorial uncrowded. Our dog, Macy, hasn’t been on a plane yet, but she comes on all our road trips.

Hong Kong Ngong Ping cable car

This kitschy souvenir photo is from New Year’s Day 2017. Thanks to time-zone changes and a flight itinerary that took us more than half-way around the world, our January 1 lasted about 40 hours. We boarded our flight home from Sri Lanka shortly after midnight and landed in New York City at about 10pm on the same day. In between was a Hong Kong layover long enough for us to take the Ngong Ping cable car up to the Big Buddha. There are better ways to spend a Hong Kong layover, but after the red-eye from Sri Lanka, the fresh air and the 360-degree views of Hong Kong’s islands and the South China Sea were what the doctor ordered.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.

Victoria Falls in Africa: 7 Do’s and Don’ts to Make Your Trip Extraordinary

A helicopter flight over Victoria Falls can bring the area’s geological history to life.
A helicopter flight over Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall, can bring the area’s geological history to life.
To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.
To see rainbows at the Falls, go in the afternoon.
In dry season you can access Devil’s Pool without being swept to your death.
One advantage of dry season is that you can access Devil’s Pool without being swept to your death.
In dry season you can walk below the waterfall.
Another advantage of dry season is that you can walk below the waterfall. See those tiny hikers?
Around The Falls is rainforest with exotic foliage such as this Strangler Fig tree.
The rainforest around the Falls contains exotic foliage such as this Strangler Fig tree.
Entering the Victoria Falls Hotel is like walking back in time.
Walking into the Victoria Falls Hotel is like walking backward in time.
7. The Victoria Falls Hotel’s Terrace where high tea is served each afternoon.
This is the Victoria Falls Hotel’s Terrace, where high tea is served in the afternoon.
Tim and I think we were in one of the rooms along this corridor when we stayed in the hotel 18 years ago.
Tim and I stayed in one of these rooms the first time we were at the hotel—18 years ago.
This time we ended up in the hotel’s Livingstone Suite.
This time we were upgraded to the hotel’s Livingstone Suite.
The Livingstone Suite’s living room. Queen Elizabeth and Oprah Winfrey have stayed here.
The Livingstone Suite is where royals and celebs (Queen Elizabeth, Oprah Winfrey) have slept.
Yours truly on the balcony of the Livingstone Suite.
Yours truly on the balcony of the Livingstone Suite.
The Hotel’s Buluwayo room.
The Victoria Falls Hotel has room after room filled with history.
The Victoria Falls Hotel’s pool.
The Victoria Falls Hotel’s pool.
We took a jetboat to the Elephant Café.
We took a jetboat up the Zambezi River to the Elephant Café.
And we all shot video.
The kids and I had the same idea at the same time. You can watch the video below.
At the Elephant Café, you can feed and touch elephants.
At the Elephant Café, you can feed and pet elephants. (Watch the video below.)
When you say “Trunk up,” the elephant will raise its trunk so you can feed it by mouth instead.
When you say “Trunk up,” the elephant will raise its trunk so you can feed it by mouth.
At the Elephant Café, they give you bags of pellets to feed the elephants. Doug took a shortcut.
At the Elephant Café, they give you bags of pellets to feed the elephants. This elephant found a shortcut.
At the Elephant Café you’re welcomed with champagne.
The Elephant Café's elegant staff welcome you with champagne.
You eat in a comfy and elegant pavilion overlooking the Zambezi.
Lunch starts with hors d'oeuvres in this comfy and elegant pavilion overlooking the Zambezi. The Café seats a maximum of 24 people.
This was the menu when we ate at the Café.
Our lunch menu at the Elephant Café.
The appetizer: Carrot and Muchingachinga soup
The appetizer: Carrot and Muchingachinga soup
The entrée: Seared rib eye with Mongu rice and Nzembwe
The entrée: Seared rib eye with Mongu rice and Nzembwe
Dessert: Marula ice cream with a Mongongo nut cookie
Dessert: Marula ice cream with a Mongongo nut cookie
Our chefs, Adelina and Aubrey
Our chefs, Adelina and Aubrey
Time for our helicopter flight over the Falls.
Time for our helicopter flight over the Falls. (See the video below.)
Doug got a window seat.
Doug got a window seat.
The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.”
The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.”
The Bushtracks Express train that goes to Victoria Falls Bridge
This is the Bushtracks Express train that goes to Victoria Falls Bridge.
There I am, trying the cab on for size.
Yours truly, trying the cab on for size.
We spent time chatting with the engineer.
We spent time chatting with the engineer.
Charlie learns how to shovel coal.
Charlie learns how to shovel coal.
What a gorgeously restored train.
That's a gorgeously restored train, eh?
Ben Costa is the man who refurbishes the vintage trains that Bushtracks Express uses.
Ben Costa is the man who refurbishes the steam engines that Bushtracks Express uses.
Here we are on our first trip to the Falls, back in 1999.
This was on our first trip to the Falls, 18 years ago, when we first started dating.
And here we are today, with two extra people.
This time we brought two extra people along.


Victoria Falls is a must-see for many travelers to southern Africa. It’s the world’s largest curtain of falling water—a spectacular sight. It’s also the name of the town near the waterfall that offers an array of activities and has seen a lot of touristic development (there’s now a KFC—gasp!—on the shopping strip near the historic Victoria Falls Hotel). It’s also increasingly easy to get to: Located on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, there is an airport on each side of the Falls—Victoria Falls airport on the Zimbabwe side; Livingstone airport on the Zambia side—and both are adding more flights.

But whether to go, and what to do there, depends on the timing of your trip. The month of March, for instance, is when the most water shoots through the Falls, making it as thunderous and heart-pounding as it gets. In March the curtain of falling water is a mile wide. You will get drenched from the spray. By contrast, in October, the driest month, the curtain will instead be a series of trickles with dry stretches in between, and there will be precious little mist to cool you off as you trek in the hot sun from one end of the Falls to the other. What makes things tricky for southern-Africa safarigoers is that the time of year when you will see the most wildlife (September and October, since those are the hottest and driest months, when the most animals are out searching for water) is the opposite of the best time for seeing the Falls (March and April).

My family is just back from Victoria Falls, as we made it the grand finale of our August safari in Zambia.  This was my second trip to Vic Falls—the first was 18 years ago—and now I wanted my kids to see it. I found a lot of new things worth trying, a lot of old things worth doing again, a lot of touristy things we skipped, and lot of cool things we wish we’d had time to do but didn’t. I’ve boiled our findings down to seven key recommendations for you (and be sure to check out our trip photos, above, that illustrate these recommendations) :

1. Tour the waterfall in the afternoon, not the morning.

We did both—so that you don’t have to. Our comparison found that mornings are cooler but more crowded, and you don’t get rainbows. Rainbows come when the sun hits the Falls from a certain angle—and that happens in the early morning only, from about 6:30 to 7:30, and then again in the afternoon. Three nights per month (during the Full Moon period), you can take a Lunar Rainbow tour, when you may see a “moonbow” (rainbows that take place at night).

It’s easy to buy tickets to the Falls (which is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm) and tour the site on your own, but I’m glad we did it with an experienced guide. He enabled us to skip the ticket-buying line, pointed out things we would have missed on our own (e.g., exotic plants in the rainforest around the Falls), and made our experience more educational by answering a ton of questions that the kids threw at him. To see the Falls properly, you need to walk a mile or two, and there are 16 viewing points, so allot about two hours for it with a guide, three hours if you’re doing it on your own. (Wear walking shoes with traction—the ground can get slippery—and carry a plastic bag to protect your camera from the spray.)

2. In drier months, take advantage of thrills that are possible only when the water level is low.

June through October—when the water level is at its lowest—is when it’s possible to try white water rafting . (Rafting starts and ends at a different time each year, depending on rainfall, but August and September are guaranteed; October can be very rough and rocky.) From late August through November you can climb down into the gorge and stand under the Falls, but be warned that it is a seriously tough hike.  Or, if you’re in a death-defying mood, in dry season you can inch your way along the lip of the Falls to Devil’s Pool, a legendary rock pool that sits at the sheer edge of the waterfall. (Check out the photo of Devil’s Pool in the slide show.)  If we’d had an extra day, we would have tried at least one of these activities.

3. Stay at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel.

Built by the British in 1904, it’s one of my favorite grande dame properties in the world, with history in every hallway. Tim and I stayed there 18 years ago, when we first started dating. When the hotel heard we were coming back, this time married with children, they gave us the Livingstone Suite—the three-bedroom suite that Queen Elizabeth and Oprah Winfrey have stayed in. Check out the photos in the slide show!  In my humble opinion the Victoria Falls Hotel is one of those unique travel experiences that is worth every cent, but even if you opt not to splurge on a stay there, at least stop by for a gin and tonic—or, better yet, high tea on the Terrace—and a stroll through the gardens. When you pass by the concierge desk, ask for their leaflet entitled “A Brief History of the Victoria Falls Hotel.”

4. If you love elephants and/or are a foodie, splurge on the Elephant Café.

This elephant sanctuary on the Zambezi River was a trip highlight for my kids—for two reasons: First, we went there by jetboat. Out of a week’s worth of water activities that my kids did on the Zambezi, that jetboat ride up small rapids to the Café was their favorite. Second, where else can you feed and pet elephants?

The elephant family you meet was rescued from drought and culls decades ago; over the years, they’ve been joined by babies born within the herd. These elephants are treated extremely well, roam freely, and have plenty of land for doing so. Because it costs a fortune to keep them well fed and cared for, a year ago the elephants’ caretakers opened the Elephant Café as a new way to earn enough funds to support the elephants. Don’t worry: It’s not some sort of captive show, and elephant riding is no longer allowed. In fact, if you’re concerned about animal cruelty, this is your opportunity to see animals supported the right way.

The Café serves “bush gourmet cuisine” made from hyperlocal Zambezi Valley ingredients that are found and foraged within a 12-mile radius—especially wild nuts, fruits, and leaves that the elephants themselves eat. Founding chef Annabel Hughes, who grew up in Zimbabwe and lives in Livingstone, has trained local chefs who now do the foraging and cooking. (See them, and the delicious meal they created for us, in the slide show).

5. If water levels are high, consider a helicopter flight over the Falls.

The more water in the Falls, the more exciting the helicopter flight will be. The 12-minute ride gives you a perspective—a sense of what’s upriver and what’s downriver—that you won’t get any other way and that brings the area’s geological history to life. In dry season, though, if you’re looking for a way to save money, I’d say the helicopter ride is one of the activities you can skip. The only member of my family who would disagree is Charlie, and that’s because he sat in the front seat and had a superlative view throughout. Should you end up in the middle seat in the back, you may be disappointed. (For a taste of our helicopter flight in dry season, see my video.)

6. If you love vintage trains, consider the Bushtracks Express steam train to Victoria Falls Bridge.

The train chugs from the Victoria Falls Hotel train station to the Victoria Falls Bridge, which was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes and was built in 1905 above the second gorge of the Falls. The Bridge connects the Zim side with the Zam side and represents No Man’s Land between the two countries.

Tim and the kids loved this train ride because they took full advantage of it in a way that few else on our train did. The other travelers, who belonged to a group tour, sat in a plush vintage compartment focused on cocktails and canapés, while Tim and the kids spent much of the ride in the cab, where they chatted with the engineer, fireman, and coal tender, helped shovel coal and stoke the boiler, and learned how to run a steam locomotive. (See the photos in the slide show.) There are currently four Bushtracks Express train rides on offer—two from the Zim side, two from the Zam side. Be warned that if you spend time in the cab the way we did, you could get a little dirty.

If you really love vintage trains, stop by the Bushtracks Express railyard in Livingstone and meet up with Ben Costa, who refurbishes the vintage steam trains used and has encyclopedic knowledge of steam engines.

7. Arrange your visit through a southern Africa travel specialist who has up-to-the-minute info on the logistical ins and outs.

Travel logistics in Victoria Falls can change frequently with no warning, and you can waste a lot of time in lines or coping with snafus. As an example, some activities are on the Zim side, others are on the Zam side, and going back and forth can be a time-consuming hassle, depending on whether you bought the right type of Visa, how many people are in the immigration line ahead of you, and whether your driver has the clout to get you past the line. My hyper-efficient two days in Victoria Falls, and the rest of my Zambia trip, were arranged by Cherri Briggs, one of the safari specialists on my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. Cherri lives part of the year in Zambia, knows every mover and shaker there, and can pull rabbits out of hats; it’s thanks to her that we got into the Elephant Café, met Ben Costa, were upgraded at the Vic Falls Hotel, and much more. If you’re interested in an Africa trip and not sure where or how to start the planning, feel free to reach out to me at Ask Wendy.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Wendy Perrin and young girl from Chiawa School in Zambia

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

For me an African safari isn’t just about game viewing. It’s about meeting new people from a totally different culture. And on any trip abroad with my kids, I want them to meet local children.

So half way through our safari in Zambia, we spent a couple of days in a village in Chiawa district, visiting the school and getting to know the community. At the suggestion of Cherri Briggs, an Africa travel specialist on The WOW List who has spearheaded a number of conservation and community projects in Africa and has turned life around for many people in Chiawa, we brought with us from the U.S. a big bag full of supplies for the school and the teachers, and we gave the students a slide show about our life in the U.S. (our house, our school, our neighborhood) and the children we have met in our travels around the world.

The people of Chiawa could not have been lovelier or more welcoming. My sons Charlie, 15, and Doug, 13, had fun playing volleyball with the kids, pumping water, eating Zambian home cooking with their hands, even going to church. In the videos below, you can watch a group of young girls welcome us with lively dancing, and you can enjoy the glorious songs we heard during the church service. We made a lot of friends—some of whom I’ve already heard from on WhatsApp—and hopefully some of the kids and teachers in Chiawa will visit us in the U.S. someday.

Here are the videos:

First, a 30-second panoramic tour of the village. Charlie and Doug helped out at the water pump. “Water is life” is an expression we heard a lot in Zambia.


The Power Kittens is a girls’ club that is one of the empowerment efforts founded by Cherri Briggs. It’s a club for 20 upstanding girls in Chiawa (approx. 9 to 13 years old) who do good for the community. Watch how they introduce themselves. They sing, “We are Chiawa Kittens….Yes Yes Yes! You need to work hard. Yes, that is our motto. Kitten never fails in life….Our motto is to work hard in life!”


To help break the ice, I tried joining in this dance. I wiggled as fast as I could, eliciting a lot of laughs from the audience. Charlie shot video of it, but I’m not about to share it here!


Once the Power Kittens reach high school, they become Power Cats. Here they are, in their signature blue shirts, beating Charlie and Doug at volleyball.


Listen to the beautiful voices we heard in Chiawa’s Catholic church. The priest, Father Paul Sakala, is a lot of fun—and an avid world traveler who speaks Italian and English as well as three Zambian languages.


In case you can’t get enough of those harmonious voices, here’s one more song for you.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

young elephant blocking the road in Zambia Africa

Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot

If you’re like me, you like to travel to places at that optimal moment when there’s enough touristic infrastructure for a unique adventure with all the creature comforts, but not so much yet that the tourist masses and chain hotels have arrived. Zambia is on the verge of that moment. Which is why I’m there right now, doing reconnaissance for you.

I brought along my advance team—my kids, Charlie (15) and Doug (13), and my husband, Tim. We heard from Cherri Briggs, who is one of the African safari travel specialists on my WOW List and who lives in Zambia part of the year (she has a house on the Zambezi river), that because Zambia is still under the radar, you can enjoy a high-value-for-your-dollar safari there that will have you alone amid sweeping landscapes, just you and the animals, no other Land Rovers or camera-clicking tourists in sight. It sounded like a great August vacation for the family, so Cherri designed an awesome two-week itinerary for us—which we’re now halfway through.

Most people thinking about an African safari choose between the two regions that are best known for it because they’ve been doing it the longest—southern Africa (e.g., South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe) and East Africa (e.g., Kenya, Tanzania). Zambia sits smack in between those two regions and, I’m finding, combines some of the best characteristics of each. I’ll be writing in detail about the pros and cons of Zambia soon—who should go, who shouldn’t, what’s the smartest itinerary, etc.—so stay tuned. In the meantime, here are a few snapshots from Week 1.

Pretty vegetables, eh? The ladies sell these in the village near Mfuwe Lodge. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Kids I met in the village yesterday. They’re 6, 10, 11, and 12. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Like father like son. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa

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Greetings from Chamilandu, a remote 6-guest bush camp in #Zambia. #SouthLuangwa @bushcampcompany

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Zambian roadblock. #SouthLuangwa

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Why we look forward to sundown. It’s when our car turns into a bar. @bushcampcompany

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Sundowners with a view. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa #hippos

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A parade of elephants. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Shower with a view. At Chamilandu Bush Camp, the chalets have three walls. @bushcampcompany #Zambia #southluangwa

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Lunchtime surprise in the bush: Make your own pizzas! @bushcampcompany #zambia

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Can you believe this is in the remote bush? #makeyourownpizza #middleofnowhere #Zambia

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#onthetable #inthebush #Zambia

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Bush brunch. #Zambia

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“Hold still, Doug!”

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You never know what’s around the corner in the bush.

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Inspired to start your own safari vacation?


Browse our Insider’s Guides to Africa’s best safari destinations, and reach out to the rigorously vetted and superbly well-connected safari travel specialists whom I recommend most highly—those on my WOW List. Reach out to them via the links below to be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits.




The Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania

South Africa

East Africa Safaris in Kenya and Tanzania

Africa Cruises

Not sure which location or travel specialist is right for you? Fill out the Ask Wendy form to ask me directly.

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Great Deals on Kenyan Safaris Are Happening Now: Don’t Miss Out

If you’ve been even toying with the idea of taking a safari, now is the time to book it. KLM has just announced a flash sale of airfare to Nairobi, starting today through March 14, for trips taken through May 31. Fares out of several major US cities start as low as $723. Even better news: Those aren’t the only flight deals right now. Dan Saperstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa and South Africa Safaris, reports that British Airways and Swissair are also offering fares right now for less than $800 (he’s even seen a few for less than $700), and that some discounted fares are extending through July and August. “These are all excellent deals,” he says, “as this airfare is usually anywhere from $1,100–$1,500 per person for these airlines (KLM can be upwards of $2,400 at times).”

In addition to the airfare deals, there are two other big discounts that travelers can take advantage of if they head to Kenya in spring:

1. Accommodations: “Pricing for the camps and lodges is also less expensive these months of the year,” Dan explains. “Rates typically go up around June 15th in East Africa, so combined with the airfare, you can see significant savings traveling during these months.”

2. Visas and fees: In an effort to encourage more family travel, Kenya just changed its entry visa policy so that all children under the age of 16 get into the country for free, effective immediately (adults are still $50). In the same vein, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that from July of this year, all park fees will be reduced and that VAT charges will be removed. Dan says, “It may not appear to be a huge difference on a daily basis, but it certainly adds up to a huge savings over the course of one’s safari, especially when traveling with a family.”

As for the key question of whether spring is a worthwhile time to take a safari, Dan says “absolutely it is. Rains can occur this time of year, but the ever-changing global weather patterns make it a worthwhile time to visit, as the animals are there to be seen year-round; they certainly don’t go inside if it happens to rain!”

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia

These Four New Lodges Offer a Rare Glimpse of Northern Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Namibia Exclusive
Namibia's Xaudum safari Lodge
Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Namibia safair. Photo: Olwen Evans/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive


A newcomer to the safari scene is making some of Namibia’s wildest country accessible with the opening of four small luxury lodges in remote northern regions. The lodges, designed by architect Greg Scott and constructed of native materials, are surrounded by spectacular scenery—boulder-strewn desert, red sand dunes, soda lakes. Far from conventional tourist routes, they provide rare access to such treasures as a river valley that is home to the endangered black rhino and a national park populated by some 3,000 elephants.

Namibia Exclusive Safaris is the brainchild of Vitor Azevedo, a native Angolan who came to Namibia as a refugee at age 12. Its mission extends beyond wildlife conservation and includes helping pastoralists and small farmers live sustainably on their ancestral lands. The company has developed equitable partnerships with local constituents organized into conservancies, and its programs give visitors a unique glimpse into the lives of people such as the Damaras, pastoralists who speak a click language. The first lodge, Sorris Sorris, opened in August 2015.

Perched atop granite boulders in a rocky desert landscape, Sorris Sorris has only nine guest rooms (like all the lodges), an outdoor pool, and panoramic views of the Ugab River and Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s tallest peak and the site of hundreds of rock paintings. The river’s ecosystem provides habitat for the black rhino, the desert elephant, and the desert-adapted lion. In addition to nature drives, sightseeing here is done by hot-air balloon.

Omatendeka, at the headwaters of the Hoanib River, boasts a 360-degree view of plains and tabletop mountains. Natural springs attract lions, elephants, and the endangered black rhino, as well as zebra, oryx, springbok, giraffe, and eland. Activities include guided nature walks, game drives, and watching the animals at the waterhole outside your bungalow door.

Located inside Khaudum National Park, Xaudum is surrounded by Kalahari sand dunes covered in an acacia forest, habitat for an estimated 3,000 elephants, as well as antelope and the rare wild dog. The nine guest rooms are connected to public areas by raised wooden walkways.

Sheya Shuushona, on the edge of Etosha National Park, overlooks a vast saltpan that changes color with the season, from snow white to pink to turquoise. The pan becomes a lake in the rainy season, attracting flamingos, storks and cranes. The nine guest rooms can accommodate 18 guests at a time.

For more information or help planning a trip, contact Cherri Briggs of Explore, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Samburu woman from northern Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Four Amazing Places in Kenya You Should Know About

Kenya is best known for the Masai Mara and the millions of wildebeest that crisscross its vast plains during the Great Migration, but this diverse country has so much more to offer travelers who love nature and adventure. If you’re contemplating a trip, here are four other amazing destinations you might want to add to your itinerary.

The Northern Frontier

Northern Frontier, Kenya, Africa Photo by Susan Portnoy

Northern Frontier, Kenya, Africa. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The rugged, mountainous Northern Frontier (which I recently visited as the guest of the Kenya Ministry of Tourism and East African Affairs) encompasses the Samburu, Kalama Laikipia, Shaba, and Lewa regions. It has the visual drama of Namibia with its miles of volcanic rock, desert-like terrain and harsh, though stunning landscapes.

Here you’ll find lions, leopards, and elephants and the usual game you might expect, but there’s more, it’s home to the “Northern Special Five,” endemic species you won’t see anywhere else in Kenya such as the oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grévy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, and the adorable gerenuk, a Somali name meaning “the antelope with a giraffe neck.”

Thanks to fewer travelers in the north, you rarely (if ever) share sightings with other vehicles. Animals are a bit shyer than those used to the constant attention in the Mara, but for many this “wilder” north is a refreshing change from areas where game has become so accustomed to humans they’re almost indifferent.

Landscape and wildlife aren’t the only reasons to venture to the Northern Frontier. Dan Saperstein of Hippo Creek Safaris, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, sends many of his guests northward. And he explains that the cultural experiences are different there as well. “The Samburu, Borana, and even Laikipia Maasai, who are all quite distinct from the Maasai found in the south and in Tanzania, have different artwork and customs.” You can arrange for visits to local homes called Manyattas, and according to Saperstein, they’re often less commercial than in the Maasai villages in the south.

Related: East Africa Safaris: Insider’s Guide to Kenya and Tanzania

gerenuk animal in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Only found in northern Kenya, the gerenuk is Somali for “giraffe-necked antelope. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The best time to visit is during Kenya’s winter months, which fall between June and September. “It can be much hotter by the equator in summertime and we tend to avoid it specifically October through March, when it can be brutally hot.”

Lake Nakuru

The flamingos of Lake Nakuru, Kenya

The flamingos of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Photo: Gerry van der Walt

Imagine the glimmer of a shallow blue lake at sunrise dotted by thousands of fluffy pink flamingos. The algae that grows in the warm waters of the Rift Valley’s Lake Nakuru, is a delicacy for the pastel flocks and other species such as pelicans and cormorants.

The number of flamingos varies depending on the water’s depth and food supply, but Gerry Van der Walt, co-founder of Wild Eye, a company that leads photographic safaris in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, says that Nakuru is “a perfect add-on to a safari that includes the bigger parks such as Amboseli National Park, the Masai Mara or Samburu. The diversity—which includes the lake shore and iconic fever tree forests—makes for an amazing photography and wildlife setting.”

buffalo at Lake Nakura Kenya

A buffalo, one of the many other wildlife species found at Lake Nakuru. Photo: Gerry van der Walt

Van der Walt has seen large numbers of flamingos at the lake year round, but for the best viewing he recommends trips in April through June after they breed in Tanzania and migrate north to Kenya.

Amboseli National Park

elephants on plains of Amboseli, Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Elephants traverse the plains of Amboseli. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Elephant lovers, take note. Amboseli National Park near the Tanzania border draws huge herds of elephants that can number 80 members or more for your viewing pleasure. Underground springs, fed by the melting snow off Mount Kilimanjaro, attract elephants and many species of birds to the resulting swamps. They provide cool mud and life-giving water during the dry season, which runs between June and October.

Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris, another of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, recommends Amboseli to clients who are interested in driving safaris through Kenya and Tanzania. “In addition to being able to view some of the largest elephant families in East Africa,” says, Friedman. “Amboseli is close to the Namanga border, making it a perfect two-day addition to an itinerary spanning both countries.”

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as seen from Amboseli, Kenya. Photo by Susan Portnoy

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as seen from Amboseli, Kenya. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

While the elephants are the stars of the park, there’s plenty of other wildlife, and if you’re lucky, weather permitting, you may even get to see the Kili summit peeking through the clouds.

Related: Insider’s Safari Guide: The Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania 

Tsavo West

Shetani lava flow in Tsavo West, Kenya

Shetani lava flow in Tsavo West, Kenya. Photo: Finch Hattons Camp

Southeast of Amboseli is Tsavo West, another Friedman favorite. It first became famous in the late 1800s for the two, man-eating lions that killed a number of construction workers building the Kenya–Uganda railway. Today, without the threat to life and limb, travelers who love to immerse themselves in nature will find plenty to enjoy on game drives and guided walking safaris.

You’ll want to check out the Nile crocodiles and large pods of hippos that frequent Mzima Springs, a crystal clear stream that flows into three large pools connected by rapids. In the top pool, a glass viewing room provides visitors with a fascinating look at the water and its inhabitants below.

Tsavo West, Kenya

The view while driving through Tsavo West, Kenya. Photo: Custom Safaris

The Shetani (meaning devil) lava flow is an undulating black landscape that spans nearly five miles. It’s a marvel of spectacular jagged rocks and caves to explore along the road to Amboseli, and another must-see.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.


Read more from Susan Portnoy at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.

One&Only Cape Town Table Mountain

How to Make a South Africa Trip Extraordinary? Go In Winter

Cape Town shuts down in winter—South African winter, that is. At least, that’s what Capetonians will tell you. The popular tourist months here are in South Africa’s summer (December–February). But the weather remains mild through the winter season of May through August—enough to enjoy a lot of what this city by the sea has to offer. Even better, prices drop during the off-season, so you can find better deals and fewer crowds at popular hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

I’m just back from a winter week in Cape Town and the winelands, and here are the five experiences that most made my trip extraordinary. Any of them can easily be tacked onto a trip either before or after a safari. If your goal is the best trip possible, reach out to one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for South Africa—either Julian Harrison, of Premier Tours, or Dan Saperstein, of Hippo Creek Safaris. (Check out our readers’ reviews of Dan and reviews of Julian, and you’ll understand why we recommend them.)

1. Dine with Cape Town’s culinary stars
In Cape Town, there’s too much food and not enough time. But if you start early, you should be able to manage stuff in a few great meals. For a low-cost breakfast, join the young cool crowd at Jason Bakery for coffee and a house-made croissant or the croissant-meets-donut doughssant, which comes in a different flavor every day. For dinner, take your pick from two notable restaurants at the One&Only Cape Town: the only outpost of Nobu in Africa, and Reuben’s, the second restaurant from Reuben Riffel, one of South Africa’s most famous chefs (he started out in the country’s other food mecca, Franschhoek). At both, you’ll be able to dine for much less than it would cost you in other cosmopolitan cities. At Nobu, a six-course tasting menu with dessert is only $44. At Reuben’s, you can sign up for one of his Wine&Dine events showcasing special menus and local winemakers for about $30.

2. Take pictures with a penguin

boulders beach penguin colony south africa

Boulders Beach penguin colony is a tourist destination, but at the end of May, there were only four people there—including me. Photo: Billie Cohen

Boulders Beach penguin colony is in every guidebook for Cape Town, but it is still so worth visiting. The beach itself is beautiful enough to be worth a visit on its own—blue-green water separated into calm pools by the eponymous boulders. But on top of that you have all those adorable penguins! After paying the very small price of 60 ZAR (about $4.65), you’ll walk down a network of boardwalks leading to the shore, where a colony of about 2,000 endangered African penguins makes their home. Even from the raised platform you’ll be close enough to take great photos, but to get really close, walk down the path to the right of the ticket booth before you actually enter the reserve. Many penguins make their nests against the fence here. Be careful, though: You can get very, very close to these animals through the fence, but you don’t want to touch or try to feed them. Their beaks are razor sharp and they have been known to bite when threatened.

3. Learn to cook with a local

malay cooking class Cape Town

Our cooking teacher Fadelia was a character. She’s been inviting travelers into her home for years, both as a cook and as a homestay host for students. Photo: Billie Cohen

We learned to make samosas and chili dumplings, Malay chicken curry, roti, and honey-and-spice koeksisters. Photo: Billie Cohen

We learned to make samosas and chili dumplings, Malay chicken curry, roti, and honey-and-spice koeksisters. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Muslim neighborhood of Bo-Kaap is one of Cape Town’s most interesting (and that’s saying a lot in a city of interesting neighborhoods); the Malay here are descended from the slaves imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Lined with brightly painted houses, the enclave is incredibly colorful—and so was our cooking teacher Fadelia, who’s been inviting travelers into her home for years, both as a cook and as a homestay host for students. She will regale you with funny stories about life in Cape Town (and her love life) as you learn the all-important South African skills of folding samosas, deep-frying chili dumplings, and finding room in your belly for one more honey-and-spice koeksister.

Cape Town Tourism can set this up for you—as can Julian Harrison, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, if you book the rest of your trip through him.

4. Explore an entire neighborhood that’s been turned into a museum

cape town street art

Over the years, artist Juma Mkwela has invited dozens of street artists from all over the world to paint murals in the Woodstock neighborhood. Photo: Billie Cohen

cape town street art

Juma leads walking tours through Woodstock, an up-and-coming artists’ neighborhood. He’s expanded the project to Khayelitsha, which you can also tour with him. Photo: Billie Cohen

Street art is one of my favorite ways to get to know a city. In Cape Town, you can take a walking tour of a neighborhood entirely devoted to providing a canvas for this type of work—led by Juma Mkwela, the local artist who started the project.

Mkwela’s muralists come from all over the city and the world, and at this point he’s commissioned more than 50 paintings. During the tour, Juma will show you dozens, sharing stories about the artists and their inspirations—it’s not only a visual education, but a political one as well, as many of the murals reflect the city’s turbulent and complicated past. Meeting Juma is worth the price of admission alone—he’s such an interesting guy. He has recently expanded the mural project into his new neighborhood, Khayelitsha (of which he also leads tours) and launched a youth arts program. The tour cost R200 (about $15.50) and can be booked by emailing Juma Juma.mkwela@gmail.com.

5. Nab a reservation at one of the country’s most popular (and packed) restaurants

in the kitchen of the tasting room franschhoek south africa

Everything served to you during your eight-course meal at the Tasting Room in Franschhoek will be a surprise. Even if you get a kitchen tour, they won’t tell you what they’re making. Photo: Billie Cohen

meal at the tasting room franschhoek south africa

This whimsical dish was called Broccoli, Broccoli, and Broccoli, and it sliced, diced, fried, pureed, and drizzled the vegetable a million ways. It was delicious. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Tasting Room in Franschhoek is an incredibly difficult reservation to score. The small restaurant based at the small boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais is run by award-winning chef Margot Janse, whose team creates a nightly dinner menu that is full of surprises. In fact, no one in the dining room knows what they will be eating—the three-and-a-half hour, eight-course menu is a complete secret, you don’t even get to look at a printed version until after you’ve eaten. The result is extraordinary. There’s a feeling of anticipation that permeates the small room, and you can catch diners openly rubbernecking other tables in an attempt to find some clue as to their own whimsical next course, but Janse has thought of that—no one within your viewing distance will get the same dishes in the same order, and they likely won’t get some of the same dishes at all. Because of the experience and the pedigree, The Tasting Room is frequently fully booked (and an incredible deal at about $100 per person, including wine pairings).

But in South Africa’s winter, seats are easier to come by—and from May through August, Le Quartier Francais offers a special Dine-a-Stay package that includes a night at the hotel, breakfast, and—added in at no extra cost—Tasting Room dinners for two. Be sure to ask to visit the kitchen during your meal so you can meet the magicians at work; few people realize it’s allowed.

Where to Stay:

In Cape Town

One&Only Cape Town afternoon tea

Daily afternoon tea at the One&Only Cape Town is a feast: caramel éclairs, cinnamon macarons, tiramisu, scones with vanilla bean cream and strawberry jam, and so much more. Even better, it’s served with floor-to-ceiling view of Table Mountain. Photo: Billie Cohen

I stayed at the One&Only Cape Town, the luxury brand known for its island and beach resorts. The Cape Town property creates that secluded island feel by curving around a small canal and pointing most of its windows (including the floor-to-ceiling ones in the lobby bar) to Table Mountain, the centerpiece of the city. You’re also within walking distance of the V&A Waterfront area, a pedestrian-friendly enclave of shops, restaurants, and views. The Waterfront area is a bit touristy, but the trade-off is that you can stroll out of your hotel at night and wander around; you won’t need a cab, and it’s very safe.

The One&Only Cape Town is “popular with families, couples, and VIP clients,” notes Dan Saperstein, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for South Africa, adding this money-saving tip: “A lot of rooms face the harbor or Table Mountain, but we are of the opinion that you don’t need to pay for a good view in your room—you’ll see it all day and you’re only in your room at night anyway.”

Another way to save money: Timing. In peak season (December and January), rooms start at about $875 per night, but in low season (April through September) that price drops significantly to about $450. I’m sure you can come up with some great things to do with that extra money.

In Franschhoek

The boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais looks like a secret garden and provides perks to all guests: free Wi-Fi, free minibar, and good-night notes on your bathroom mirror. Photo: Billie Cohen

The boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais looks like a secret garden outside and provides perks to all guests inside: free Wi-Fi, free minibar, and good-night notes on your bathroom mirror. Photo: Billie Cohen

I stayed at Le Quartier Francais, a small blue-and-white boutique hotel that feels like it belongs in Provence instead of South Africa’s wine country. Although, to be fair, all of Franschhoek looks and feels like Provence. The shop-lined village is walkable and adorable, and the nearby wine farms (which LQF will shuttle you to and from) are impressive for their idyllic atmospheres as much as for their vintages. Depending on which room you choose (they’re all designed differently), rates decrease about $40¬–$100 per night in the winter. Check the hotel website for other winter deals, including packages for the town’s annual Bastille Day Festival.

*Disclosure: Both One&Only Cape Town and Le Quartier Francais provided me with free stays. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage by either property, nor was anything promised on ours. 

cecil the lion

Don’t Shoot: Social Media Photos Could Be Helping Poachers Track Animals

Most of us don’t even think about it when we snap a photo on vacation and slap it up on social media. Point, shoot, post—that’s the new normal. But if you’re sharing photos while on safari, you could be inadvertently making it easier for poachers to find and shoot wild animals.

How? GPS. Every photo you take with your phone (and some digital cameras) is embedded with a geo-tag, the GPS location of where the picture was taken. Now imagine the myriad of geo-tagged photos being uploaded to social media and public photo-sharing sites every day and you can see how poachers could use that info to hunt down their prey.

African Travel, Inc. —a fourth-generation safari-planning travel agency that also works to ensure the protection of African communities and wildlife—is trying to raise awareness about this side effect of social media and is asking tourists to disable the geo-tag function on their phones and to keep their posts private.

On its website, African Travel outlines the steps you can take to protect your photos by turning off GPS tagging while on safari:

iPhone: Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. There you can turn off Location Services entirely. Or, if you prefer, you can turn off location services (GPS) for your phone’s camera.

Android: Open the camera app, go to settings, and switch off the GPS tagging option.

Twitter: Geo-tagging will only be turned on in the Twitter phone app if you have done so manually in the settings menu (under Privacy > Location Services). If you are posting from a computer, click on the gear icon in the right corner and then go to Settings to check your privacy settings.

Facebook: Go to the gear icon in the upper right corner to check out your privacy settings. You can dictate who can view your information, posts, and updates. Visit the Timeline and Tagging section to make certain friends can’t post your location by checking you in at some locale or tagging you.

Instagram: Photos are automatically public unless you change your settings. Go to Edit Profile and change your settings so “Photos are Private” is on. Once you’ve made that switch, only friends can view them. To turn off geo-tagging when posting, turn off the Add to Photo Map option.

Pinterest: Click on your profile picture in the upper right hand corner and select Settings to see what the public can view, who can search for you, and what if any social networks you have associated with your account.

You can also share your photos with African Travel by tagging them @WeKnowAfrica.

Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

5 Ways Namibia’s Desert-Adapted Lions Will Awe You

One of many reasons to visit Namibia is its otherworldly Skeleton Coast, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the elusive desert-adapted lions that are unique to this part of the world. I knew little about the cats when I arrived at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp on a recent safari, but I left fascinated by their story. Here are five reasons why these unusual lions should be on everyone’s must-see list.

Desert adaptation is the key to their survival
It’s hard to imagine anything surviving on the Skeleton Coast, the world’s oldest desert, spanning thousands of miles along the western border of Namibia. Between the lack of food and water, sand storms, blinding fog, and drastic changes in temperature from bitter cold to blazing hot, often within the same day, it’s one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet—and the last place I expected to see a pride of lions.

Indigenous to the region, desert-adapted lions are the same species as their counterparts elsewhere in Africa, but over countless generations have evolved to endure what the others cannot. To withstand the arid wasteland, the lions can go without water, deriving what they need from the blood of their prey. Their coats are slightly heavier to protect them from the cold, and they can travel long-distances in search of food.

Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

They were thought to be extinct
The number-one threat to the survival of desert lions is human-lion conflict—namely, villagers who shoot or kill the big cats to protect their livestock. In the early ‘80s, multiple adult lions were shot, and for some time they were thought to be extinct. But the lions prevailed and were later discovered in the mountains to the east. Over the years the population grew, and today there are approximately 150 lions in the region. With such a small number, however, the gene pool can be easily compromised. The loss of only a few breeding adults could potentially tip the scales toward disaster.

nambia desert lions Flip Stander Photo by Susan Portnoy

Dr. Philip “Flip” Stander spends four months at a time alone in the desert in his research vehicle, studying Namibia’s desert lions. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

They have a champion
Spending up to four months at a time alone in the desert in his research vehicle slash home-away-from-home, Dr. Philip “Flip” Stander is the foremost expert on desert-adapted lions and, for 18 years, their proverbal knight in shining armor. The epitome of the stereotypical misanthropic field researcher, Stander sports a rugged beard, deeply tanned skin, and writes his notes on his arms with a Sharpie. He’s devoted his life to studying the cats and to developing tactics that will help the lions and villagers to co-exist. In 1998, he founded Desert Lion Conservation Project, to “collect sound ecological data, address human-lion conflicts, and to develop a conservation strategy.”

Stander believes tourism plays a crucial role in the lions’ future. The cats are a big draw for Namibia and, the more dollars associated with them, the more reason everyone has to keep them alive. The problem is that many of the people in the villages who are forced to live with the lions aren’t seeing the benefits of bearing the burden. Stander hopes that by educating travelers and working with the government and villagers on the ground, he can help bridge the gap.

Five cubs hold the key to the future
Two years ago tragedy struck: One of the few remaining adult male lions was shot. The fate of the population, once again, seemed doomed. But Mother Nature stepped in. At about the same time, three females from the Floodplain pride—a mother and her two daughters—gave birth to five male cubs, an almost unheard-of scenario in the wild. In one fell swoop, a brighter future seemed possible, as long as the lions could stay alive and breed.

Coined the Five Musketeers, they’re a lucky bunch. In the wild, 80% of cubs die before the age of two, and yet all of them have successfully reached that milestone. Soon they will permanently separate from their mothers in search of females with whom they can mate.

The Musketeers are collared and monitored very closely by Stander. The information he receives via satellite helps him to track their movements and study their behaviors. He also uses the collars to provide Hoanib with their location so that guests can see them if they’re in range. In return, the camp’s parent company, Wilderness Safaris, helps Stander with funding and logistics. Without Standers’ intel, the lions’ territory is so vast and the terrain so difficult, they would be almost impossible to find.

Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

Namibia’s desert-adapted lions; the young ones are collared and monitored by the Desert Lion Conservation Project. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Lions don’t like stand-up comedy
When trying to navigate the delicate balance between humans and lions, it pays to be creative. Take a recent incident where the big cats were detected in the vicinity of a large herd of cattle along the Hoanib Riverbed. Stander knew that tempers would flare and lions could be killed if he didn’t do something to intervene. Physically moving the cats is a last resort, so he used his vehicle’s sound system to broadcast loud music and human voices in hopes of driving the lions out. According to Stander, he blasted, “stand-up comedy shows with female or high-pitched male voices. The latter proved to be particularly annoying to the lions and they moved away from the danger area. (Thanks goes to Bill Connolly & Ben Elton).”

The Five Musketeers will air on the small screen
The Five Musketeers are stars in Namibia; soon they will be celebs around the world. Will and Leanne Steenkamp of Into Nature Productions spent two years battling the desert and working with Stander to film the lions from young cubs to current day. The film, called The Vanishing Kings: Lions of the Namib, looks at their herculean efforts to survive the Skeleton Coast and the lives of their matriarch (of sorts), the majestic Queen. The documentary will air on the Smithsonian channel later this summer.

Disclosure: Susan was a guest of Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp during her visit. While discussion of her journey was expected on her own blog, The Insatiable Traveler, how and what she chose to write was completely at her discretion.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.


Read more about Susan Portnoy’s trip to Namibia at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.

african elephants Photo by Susan Portnoy

Elephant Orphanage to Open in Tanzania

By Anne Daly of Yahoo! Travel

Good news for elephant lovers: An elephant orphanage is set to open in Tanzania, beginning construction on June 1st. 

The orphanage, called Ivory Orphans, is a big milestone for conservationists, whose mission is to save the elephant population in Tanzania, which is now in crisis due to illegal wildlife trade. More and more baby elephants have been forced to roam the wild alone without guidance or protection, as their parents have been killed by illegal elephant poaching for the ivory in their tusks. Many young calves reportedly wait by their dead mothers for days after they have been killed—during which time the babies slowly deteriorate with no mother’s milk to survive.  

Officially approved by the Tanzanian government, along with the Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources, the orphanage will take in the baby elephants and care for them until they are ready to be released back into the wild. It will be both built and operated by the African Wildlife Trust, a Tanzanian non-profit run by volunteers whose main goal is to save the African elephants. The orphanage’s home base will be located on the boundary of Kikoti Safari Camp, and there will be another location in nearby Arusha that will open on an as-needed basis when elephants need medical care. 

 Also from Yahoo! Travel: Overworked Elephant Dies While Carrying Tourists in Vietnam

elephants locking trunks safari photo

Photo by Susan Portnoy, theinsatiabletraveler.com.

 Also from Yahoo! Travel: WATCH: Two Minutes of Adorable Baby Elephant Bath Time

It is also important to note that Tanzania has long had a “no interference with wildlife” policy. In honor of that policy, the orphanage will only help elephants who are already victims of “human interference,” i.e., the illegal slaughtering of elephants. 

Though this is the first elephant orphanage in Tanzania, others, like the David and Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, exist around the world. The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage has more than 130 elephants—and let’s hope that the Ivory Orphans will be just as successful. 

Elephants taking a stroll in Tarangire National Park.

Elephants taking a stroll in Tarangire National Park. (Photo: Ivory Orphans/Facebook)

Also from Yahoo! Travel: WATCH: Get Caught in an Elephant Traffic Jam

If you want to help, the African Wildlife Trust asks that you spread awareness about the orphanage to everyone you know, and donations are more than welcome. You can also help build the orphanage itself. All volunteer laborers can stay at Kikoti Safari Camp. It costs $150 per person, per day, and includes all meals, laundry, and a donation to the orphanage. 

This article originally ran on Yahoo! Travel


Note from Wendy:
A safari can be an extraordinary vacation, but requires a lot of knowledge and know-how from the right travel planner to ensure you have access to the most authentic (and humane) wildlife experiences. My Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa are at the top of the safari game.

Linda Friedman has been on more than 100 safaris and travels to Africa four times a year (she even speaks Swahili). Whether you choose to track gorillas in Rwanda or follow the annual Great Migration in the Masai Mara, Linda will make sure that you optimize your time and resources. Her particular passion is the nomadic traditions of the Maasai; she has been interviewing Maasai elders for more than ten years, and loves to arrange authentic cultural interactions. Read her Insider’s Guide to The Great Migration in Kenya & Tanzania. Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein know that most travelers will only take one safari during their lives and they work tirelessly, drawing on their decades of knowledge and vast network of connections, to ensure that each trip really is the trip of a lifetime. Read Nina and Dan’s Insider’s Guide to East Africa Safaris.

Wendy and Tim at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa

South Africa: A Good Place to Go for a First Date

When I was the host and emcee for South African Tourism’s Ubuntu Awards Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York—an event that celebrates the best of South Africa—it brought back fond memories for me: South Africa is where my husband and I had our first date in 1999.

Tim and I had met a few months earlier—in Germany, where he was living and working as photography director of the newspaper Stars and Stripes. I was based in New York City and had gone to Germany to speak at the paper’s editorial conference. After months of emailing each other from different continents, we wanted to see each other again. But it wasn’t easy: Tim traveled constantly for work, as did I.  In winter of 1999, when he was freezing in the Balkans photographing the Bosnian War and I was headed to sunny Cape Town to speak at a conference, we decided to meet up in South Africa.

Our first date turned into a week-long trip. We spent a glorious day driving around the Cape of Good Hope (#TBT photo above), another in Franschhoek enjoying the wine country, and another in the seaside resort of Hermanus. We chugged across the country in Rovos Rail’s vintage cars and ended up on safari in the Sabi Sand reserve—at one of the first Singita lodges, in a private bungalow with a plunge pool. It was some date.

One wedding and two children later, Tim and I keep trying to get back to South Africa. Someday it will happen. Meanwhile, I can live vicariously via the Ubuntu gala.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

elephants locking trunks safari Photo by Susan Portnoy

Safari Packing List: Don’t Leave Home Without These Essentials

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, an African safari is a no-brainer. But wide-ranging temperatures and internal flights with stringent luggage restrictions can make safari packing a real challenge.

Basic requirements include sunscreen, a camera, a good hat, and sporty shoes, of course, but when space and weight are at a premium, what else do you choose and what can you lose? We interviewed our Trusted Travel Experts for Africa to glean the secrets to packing smart for a safari.

lion yawning safari Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

For every safari:

Use a soft, malleable bag with no wheels.
To maximize your options, your best bet is a soft bag that’s flexible enough to squeeze into a tiny storage compartment (wheels are a no-no).
Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris
likes The North Face medium-sized Base Camp Duffel. The Base Camp has internal pockets and can be carried traditionally or as a backpack. Nina Wennersten of Hippo Creek Safaris recommends the L.L. Bean medium-sized Adventure Duffel, what with its super-lightweight fabric weighing a mere 14 ounces.

Count on free laundry.
Flying into the bush means you’ll be on small planes with very little cargo space. Assume you’ll have a limit of 15kg/33lbs per person—camera equipment and carry-on included. The good news: Camps provide free laundry service (though not all of them will launder your undies) so think about packing for a long, adventure weekend—not the full length of your trip—knowing you’ll be able to enjoy clean clothes as needed.

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Cheetah in Kenya. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Stick to neutral tones.
Avoid bright colors that scream “I’m here!” to the animals, and avoid wearing black or dark blue while on game drives, as annoying bugs may think you’re a skinny buffalo.

Think layers
African weather is variable: Evenings and early morning are chilly, but it’s toasty by midday, if not sooner. Layers will keep you prepared for anything. Pants, a T-shirt, a fleece and a light jacket usually suffice outside of the winter months and enable you to peel down as the sun kicks in. Lightweight cargo pants that unzip into shorts are a great way to get two pieces for the price of one. For women, Cherri Briggs of Explore recommends adding a cashmere shawl. It’ll keep you warm when needed, dress up an outfit at dinner, or double as a cover-up at the pool.

Save space for a power strip and other non-clothing essentials.
Even the most luxurious camps have a limited number of outlets in each guest tent, so our experts suggest adding a travel power strip to your packing list so that you can charge everything you need each night. And don’t forget a universal adapter. It will come in handy no matter where you travel. Bring an ultra-light day pack that you can take with you on game drives to carry an extra camera battery, an extra memory card, a pocket journal, your sunglasses, sunscreen, and the like.

For photography enthusiasts who plan on taking a boatload of photos, a small portable hard drive, like Silicon Power’s Rugged Armor 1TB external drive, is highly recommended.

A herd of hippos in Botswana Photo by Susan Portnoy

A herd of hippos in Botswana. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

For specific locations:

During the rainy season (November–February) “a lightweight rain poncho may come in handy,” says Julian Harrison of Premier Tours. If you’re planning on riding in a mokoro, he also recommends including a waterproof bag to store your electronics. In the Okavango Delta, because travel between camps consists of short, small plane rides, you may wish to include Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Read Julian’s Insider’s Guide to Botswana.

The Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda
Julian recommends bringing silica gel dry packs to put in your camera bags; they will protect your electronic devices from the high humidity. Quick-dry shirts and pants will protect you against the humidity, and a pair of gardening gloves will shield your hands from stinging nettles if you’re trekking gorilla or chimpanzee.

Since plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda to help the country cut down on litter and will be confiscated on arrival, Linda suggests reusable pouches for all the odd and ends you would normally toss into zip-top bags.

Read Linda’s Insider’s Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda.

Photographing Lions in Botswana Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photographing lions in Botswana. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania
Some of the best game viewing is during Africa’s winter months (May–August), but the weather can be very cold at night and in the early morning. Nina packs a warm hat, gloves, and a Uniqlo Ultra Light down jacket. She says, “It’s virtually weightless, takes up little room in a suitcase,” and works great on its own or as another layer for when it’s really chilly.

Read Linda’s Insider’s Guide to Kenya’s Great Migration; and Nina’s Insider’s Guides to South Africa and Kenya and Tanzania.

Namibia and Zambia
If you’re visiting during the hot season (October–February), Cherri warns, “Be prepared for serious heat!” She suggests travelers bring plenty of Rehydrate, an electrolyte replacement drink mix, to keep you happy and healthy while out and about. She also recommends putting Listerine in a spray bottle to repel tsetse flies. If you’re going on a walking safari in South Luangwa, Zambia, Julian suggests adding a pair of gaiters to your packing list to keep ticks from attaching to your socks.

Read Cherri’s Insider’s Guide to Namibia and her Insider’s Guide to Zambia.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.


Read more from Susan Portnoy at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.