Category Archives: Africa

The Garden Route: A Brief Guide

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No, the Garden Route is not a gallery of gently manicured bushes or sculpted sprigs or wrought-iron greenhouses.

South Africa’s Garden Route is a huge stretch of land, rich in natural vegetation, that extends over 200km along the Western Cape.

Within this scenic playground, you might find everything from lagoons, gorges, fragrant plantations, pine plantations, or sandy coves.

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But it’s the local culture that draws the curious traveler to explore the hidden nooks and wild crannies along this remarkable coastline.

For years, chefs, artists, fishermen, and carpenters have been carving out their niches in this area. Explorers are rewarded with curious craft galleries, colorful inns, and woodcutter workshops tucked away in sleepy inlets. Driving along the harbors, you’ll want to stop at the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn, or the green port town of Calitzdorp, or marvel at the aquamarine bays of Knysna.

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Nature-inclined adventurers can hike through ancient forests of Tsitsikamma National Park, or climb onto sea cliffs for faint glimpses of humpback whales or bottlenose dolphins. You can stay next in family bungalows at Wilderness National Park for easy access to the park’s wetlands and lagoons. For a more civilized road trip, Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay are the towns to hit for beachside resorts and package tours.

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How to Get There: The best way to tour the Garden Route is by car. Drive on the N2 main highway, which connects Cape Town with Port Elizabeth.

Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel to book an unforgettable trip to South Africa. Nancy and Christina have both visited recently and would love to share their perspectives of this fascinating region. Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Travel News of the Week: The Country that Ranks #1 in Safety

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Finland ranked as safest country in the world for travel

The World Economic Forum releases the Travel & Tour Tourism Competitiveness Index, which is an in-depth analysis of tourism in countries around the world. One of its most important rankings is the safety of the countries, and Finland has topped the list this year. “[Finland] remains the safest destination globally, despite rising concerns in most [of] Europe, including Finland, regarding terrorism,” the report reads. The report collected data from a total of 136 countries.

Mexico rapidly rising in list of world’s top tourism destinations

A recent report released by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) revealed that Mexico has surpassed Turkey as the eighth most popular tourist destination in the world. According to MexicoNewsDaily.com, Mexico welcomed 35 million visitors last year, including a nine percent increase in foreign tourists arriving in the country. Due to political unrest and security concerns, Turkey only boasted 28.3 million visitors last year. Mexico had dropped in the UNWTO rankings to 15th in 2013 but had climbed all the way back to ninth during 2015 thanks to improved security and a steadily recovering tourism industry. While the country finished eighth for last year, it boasted only 600,000 fewer visitors than the seventh-place United Kingdom. Tourism officials in Mexico believe the country will enter the top five in the UNWTO rankings soon due to the 50 percent increase in visitor numbers since 2012. 

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Tanzania was born 53 years ago yesterday Thursday

Britain and Germany had long been the colonial powers in eastern Africa, and the nation of Tanganyika was no exception. But when British rule came to an end in 1961, Tanganyika peacefully moved into independence with Julius Nyerere as its President. Just offshore on the small island nation of Zanzibar, however, a long-standing Arab dynasty remained in place even after the British gave the country its independence in 1963. Only a month later, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution was underway, and thousands of Arabs and people of Indian descent were either killed or expelled. On April 26th, 1964, the two nations merged to form Tanzania, of which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.

New light show at Disney World

Summer visitors to Orlando’s Disney World will be in for an extra treat this year: a new and improved evening light show at the Magic Kingdom Park, unveiled this week and set for a May 12 debut, just in time for Mother’s Day. “The show will take guests on an emotional journey as favorite Disney characters set out to pursue their dreams, encounter obstacles (and villains!) to ultimately prevail and find their ‘happily ever afters,'” Disney explained. But the most intriguing part of the new show – titled, aptly, “Happily Ever After” – is the advanced use of projection mapping technology, in which the Disney designers craft elaborate lighting schemes projected onto the famous castle’s exterior surfaces, effectively transforming the whole castle’s architecture into a dynamic, multidimensional screen.

Disney World has large gondola system planned

A gondola lift system is in the works for Disney World, with six stations and three lines. The lines will link Hollywood Studios, Epcot, the Caribbean Beach Resort and a lakeside area between the Pop Century and Art of Animation resorts. The system is being developed by a European company, with gondola cabs to hold 10 passengers. This will be an improved version of the Disney Skyway ride that closed in 1999 after an employee was killed in an accident involving a gondola. Disney is releasing very little information about the new operation as yet.

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Dale Chihuly exhibit at NYC Botanical Garden through late October 2017

For those of you who love the works of Dale Chihuly, see

Dale Chihuly exhibit at NY Botanical Garden

Windstar Cruises and James Beard Foundation ‘special chef’ cruises

As part of their partnership, Windstar Cruises and the James Beard Foundation will offer eight sailings this year featuring award-winning chefs from around the country. The announcement was made at a lunch at New York’s Beard House, the Foundation’s headquarters. Windstar’s new corporate executive chef Graeme Cockburn came up with the menu, which included foie gras croquettes, marinated cucumber and burrata and goat cheese truffle lollipops. Serving a meal at the famed Beard House is a milestone for a chef. Each of the sailings in the James Beard Culinary Cruise Collection will feature a demonstration of a signature recipe. There will also be special menu items, culinary shore excursions and market tours. “Other cruise lines have one celebrity chef, but thanks to our partnership with the James Beard Foundation, we have an array of incredible culinary superstars in our ranks,” said John Delaney, president of Windstar Cruises.

Important TSA information regarding transgender passengers

For transgender passengers, this TSA link will take you to important information. www.tsa.gov/transgender-passengers 

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Big new eco theme park in the works for Costa Rica

Discovery Communications, the parent of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, will be loaning its name to a new eco theme park in Costa Rica. The park, which is anticipated to open in 2020 in the province of Guanacaste near Liberia will be owned by Sun Latin America and will license the Discovery name. It is expected to cost $1 billion to develop. Although the park may feature such attractions as Shark Week: The 4D Adventure and Myth Busters: The Hall of Mirrors, according to the Costa Rican Times, the park will focus on biodiversity and conservation and include such activities as scuba diving and rock climbing. Additionally, it will offer a water park, Discovery-branded hotels and a number of eateries. Although details have not yet been released by Discovery Communications, Costa Rica president Luis Guillermo Solis confirmed through his Facebook page that this will be one of Costa Rica’s “largest investments in the last 10 years.”

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Filed under Africa, Disney, Disney World, Europe, Finland, Mexico

A Closer Look: Ithumba Safari Camp in Kenya

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Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

Step into Africa…

Willamette Intl Travel Owners Christina and John frequently guide small groups through Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and last year, Namibia. They make it their business to know the ins and outs of safaris, camps and unique adventures in Africa. They usually take 1-2 trips per year with a small group, and over the years, they’ve accumulated a wealth of insider info on the continent. Considering a trip to Africa in 2017 or even 2018? Give Christina a call at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com for the scoop.

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Ithumba Hills

Wildlife Haven

On the Kenya 2015 trip, Christina stayed at Ithumba Camp with 3 single ladies. They stayed at the original Ithumba Camp—not to be confused with the 5-star, luxury Ithumba Hills Camp. Both camps are located minutes from each other in the same area of Tsavo East National Park, 200 km SE of Nairobi—a 7 hour drive, or a quick 60-minute charter flight from the city. The park is an ideal safari location, spanning an area of 8,036 square miles–that’s larger than Wales! It’s so remote, the only way to get cellphone reception is to climb a huge boulder and stick out your arm. You’ll truly feel at home in this wilderness, with chances to glimpse a variety of wildlife: giraffe, gazelle, lions, dik dik, and buffalo.

A Luxury Safari Camp

Though close in proximity, the two camps serve different styles of traveling.

Ithumba Camp is located on the flatlands, a rustic and stylish property. Sleep under makuti roofs and shower yourself in sounds of nature. The camp offers just four tents, with en-suite bathrooms and outdoor showers from where you can admire the stunning starlight. Water and light are powered by solar panels. An open communal pavilion with a small roof terrace is open daily for meals; here you can find the game-viewing decks.

Ithumba Hills is based at the foot of Ithumba Hill, with views of the Yatta Plateau. Like the original camp, Ithumba Hills offers 4 tents, sleeps up to 8 people—but its rates are higher due to more luxurious facilities. Since the whole camp must be booked regardless of how many people there are, it can book up surprisingly fast, sometimes a year in advance. And when we say luxury, we really mean it—each tent offers a five-star experience, with en-suite bathrooms, huge shower areas and dressing rooms. Their game-viewing decks are located off the tents, and there is a huge infinity pool built into the rocks.

Both camps are fully fenced, as there are many wild elephants in the area. All food and drinks are driven in by your safari guide from Nairobi, though Ithumba provides the chef and two other staff.

Baby Elephants!

What really makes Ithumba shine, however, are the nearby Orphans’ Rehabilitation Units, an orphanage for baby elephants who have lost their parents to poaching or other means. Both Ithumba camps and unit are owned by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The DSWT initiative fights to save elephant lives and their habitats, with their Nairobi Nursery, Saving Habitats in Kibwezi Forest, and these orphan units in Tsavo East. 

Guests can visit the elephant orphans two times a day, meet the calves and chat with their handlers. It’s a special treat to watch baby elephants enjoying milk feeding times and their midday mud-bath.

Join us in September 2017!

Christina will be returning to Ithumba in September 2017. Call her now to start planning your unforgettable trip to Kenya! 503-224-0180 or info@wittravel.com

“I highly recommend Ithumba Safari Camp… after the amazing experience I had last year, I know it’ll be a highlight for you. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be completely surrounded by herds of wild elephants. You also learn what an incredible job Sheldrick Orphanage is doing in attempts to save these beautiful animals.”

–Christina

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Ithumba Hills

Photos of previous trips to Kenya:

Related posts on Africa:

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Infographic: 6 Destinations to Spot the Southern Cross in 2017

We at Willamette Intl Travel love tried and true destinations like these! Interested in one (or more) of the places below? Give us a ring! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Antarctica, Australia, Brazil, Europe, Hawaii, New Zealand, South Africa, South Africa

The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Ringing in the New Year

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It’s our last post of the year, and 2016 has been quite a big one!

Thank you to all of our clients whose trips we’ve arranged these year; it was our pleasure to see that you enjoy the vacation you deserve. We hope that you made albums full of memories to treasure your whole lives. Some of our clients this year have been new, some we have serviced for the past 20 years. We take pride in providing the most special and informed travel arrangements for each and every one. Thank you, clients and subscribers to our blog, without you our business would not be possible.

This past year there have been a fair share of changes in the office. We saw long-time staff member Linda Fisher retire. Krista left for Arizona, and Racheal, Lori and Debbie joined us as new agents.

Our Agents embarked on a few trips this year, which we’re so excited to share with you. Christina and John led a group in Namibia. Barb visited the new locks at the Panama Canal. Pam dropped in on the islands of Malta. Nancy sailed with Viking Ocean, and Barb and Racheal with Un-Cruise Adventures to Baja California. Wailana moved to Stockholm, where she continues to work with our social media.

Next year we will celebrate our 40th birthday–quite an accomplishment! Mark the weekend of August 5-6, 2017 on your calendars, we’ll be planning a special Birthday party. We hope to see you there.

For more updates, catch up with us in our newsletter from Fall 2016.

Here’s to 2017 having more Travel in store for everyone!

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Safari in Namibia

Transylvania, the Land Beyond the Forest

The Elephants that Came to Dinner

Napili Kai Beach Resort

Agent Trip Report: Malta

And a flashback from the past: Where to Spot the Southern Cross

See you next year! — From all of us at Willamette Intl Travel

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Safari in Namibia: Feedback from Our Clients

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PLUS Photos from WIT Owner Christina

In August and September, WIT Owners Christina and John escorted a group through the Namibian Desert, with the assistance of Ultimate Safaris. 

Our Clients, Jacques & Evelyne V., wrote a great letter about their adventure with them. We are proud to feature their feedback from the trip here. Read on for the enlightening details: 

“My wife Evelyne and I, Jacques, were on a safari from 27 August to 7 September with Michael and Usko as our drivers, guides and live encyclopedias with the Christina and John Cooper group from Willamette Intl Travel. We are back home in Paris, France now so we would like to take some time to say how much we enjoyed the whole trip.

First of all, we wish to thank Michael and Usko (our drivers and guides) for being such fantastic, wonderful persons. They are both the best drivers we have ever encountered on trips: very safe drivers, courteous, polite, efficient, discrete, always well dressed and made us feel like they were family or old friends which in a way they were for the time we spent with them, nearly twenty hours a day. 

They have eyes like hawks and saw way before any of us what and where to look for wild animals, birds or plants. They always knew where they were going, never got lost and kept their vehicles in tip-top shape and always nice and clean inside and out. We always had cool water to drink from the refrigerators in the cars and if any of us wanted to stop for any reason, all we had to say was ‘stop’ and they did. Sundowners were special moments that we appreciated very much. The lodges, tented camps and hotels were marvelous and so was the quality and presentation of the food served at meal times.

We can only hope for Ultimate Safaris that you will be able to hold on to Michael and Usko so that they will not go to work for another company but could there be such competition to attract these two extraordinary men? We don’t imagine another company in Namibia to be better then Ultimate Safaris. We were extremely impressed from the first to the last days with Christina and John, the staff of Ultimate Safaris, and your wonderful country of Namibia.

Thank you very much, Michael, Usko, and the Ultimate Safaris staff for being such great hosts, you have done a fabulous job to make our trip memorable.

All the best from Evelyne and Jacques.”

Below are a few photos taken by Christina on her iphone — along with her comments — rare glimpses into the deserts of Namibia. 

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Ghostly elephant in Etosha National Park. As you can see, it’s very dry – they’re desperate for a good rainfall, which has not happened for a few years. The elephants rolling in the “white dust” appear ghostly.

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The shrub shows how dry Etosha National Park, and indeed Namibia, is

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This is the type of countryside around Sorris Sorris Lodge, Darmanland, quite amazing rock outcrops

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This is a room at our Sorris Sorris Lodge in Darmanland. Truly amazing architecture and surroundings, amazing accommodation and food. Each course of dinner was served on differently designed china from Portugal.

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We did the balloon ride over the Namib Desert–a gorgeous sight!

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This is in the Namib Desert – golden sand – our guides found the small spider which buries deep into the sand — but I enjoyed the shadows!

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There are the very rare desert elephants in Darmaland — they have adjusted to living with very little water and go deep into the dry river bed. We were very lucky (or perhaps because we had such great guides!) to find them — we were actually surrounded by a herd of about 30.

Read More of Our Posts on Namibia:

Considering a Unique Adventure in Africa? Call us up or schedule an appointment at our office. We have been sending clients to Africa (and guiding them) for years, and would love to share with you all we know about this amazing continent. Let us book the perfect African safari for you! Call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Africa, Europe, Namibia