By Stephen Hartshorne
One of the most striking trends in the travel industry in recent years has been a dramatic increase in the number of women-only tours.
While some tours are run by large companies seeking to take advantage of this trend, the most popular are run by small companies run by and for women with years of experience in the field.
And while many women-only tours focus on conventional sight-seeing, shopping and spas, more and more are adding an greater element of adventure in the jungles of the Amazon or the savannahs of South Africa.
Yolanta Barnes of Sights and Soul Travel has been planning and hosting women-only trips in Europe since 2002, both “classic” tours to places like London or Italy and more “avant-garde” destinations like Poland, Portugal or Croatia.
The Next Step in Travel
Sights and Soul now has a large group of repeat travelers who enjoy the company’s balancing of culture, adventure and luxury, and Barnes says a number of her clients expressed an interest in “taking the next step in travel and adventure.”
“You tend to progress from New York to Europe to Africa,” she says, “although some people say they want to do the more challenging destinations while they’e still fit and leave easier places for later years.”
In 2008 the company added a tour of the Amazon rainforest, and last year they added a tour of South Africa that includes six days at a luxury hotel in Cape Town and five days at a private game reserve in Sabi Sands near Kruger National Park.
Barnes says she was surprised by the response to the South Africa trip.
“Several people had been asking me about Africa for a while, so I decided to give it a try. I had no idea it would be such a hit, but the tour filled up within a couple of months and the 2011 tour [Jan. 30-Feb 9] is already one third full.”
Barnes says the group was able to see the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo) on their first day of game watching near Krueger National Park, and travelers were very enthusiastic about the accomodations and the staff at the Djuma Bush Lodge where they stayed.
“The experience was incredible — not only true adventure, with the Big Five everywhere, but we traveled quite comfortably.”
Adventure of a Lifetime
“The South African trip was an adventure of a lifetime,” says Joan Mangiaracina from California, who has taken S&S tours to Poland, Portugal, Croatia and Brazil. “I’ve enjoyed each one,” she says, “but Africa was on my bucket list and this trip left me wanting more of that continent.”
One of the reasons Sights and Soul has an extensive repeat clientele is planning. Barnes worked with an extensive network of in-country contacts to select the right lodging, dining and attractions.
“Everything was really really well organized,” says Gayle Gow from Oregon. “We saw and did more than I ever imagined we could in that amount of time. It was wonderful.”
The tour begins with six days at a five-star hotel on the waterfront in Cape Town, with side trips to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, Boulder Beach, with its colonies of African penguins, the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and South Africa’s world famous wine country.
Touring Cape Town
Travelers also take the cable car to Table Mountain and take advantage of many shopping and sightseeing opportunities in Cape Town. Cape Town is known as a good place to find bargains on gold items and diamonds.
They also visit the Houses of Parliament, City Hall and the Slave Lodge, now a museum, the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa’s oldest building, the District Six Museum, which documents the injustice and inhumanity of the apartheid era.
There is also a visit to the Malay Quarter, known as the Bo-Kaap, and a diamond-cutting demonstration.
The tour then moves to the Djuma Private Game Reserve, part of the Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park ecosystem, which offers two daily game drives to view the Big Five as well as guided game walks and visits to local villages, where travelers have a chance to learn about local culture and traditions.
After South Africa, there is an optional extension to visit Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, a World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
This extension includes a guided walk along the falls, a traditional African Boma dinner with dancing and drumming and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River viewing hippos, crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.
“We had the [Djuma] Lodge to ourselves,” says Janet Warr of Washington State, “and we were really being catered to. They knew your name. It was like visiting friends and family.”
“I simply loved my trip,” says Deborah Lausier from Florida. “I felt a certain magical feeling just being there in South Africa where the wild animals roamed and the lions roared. The accomodations were comfortable, the food excellent, and the staff delightful.”
“Traveling with a group of women is easy and comfortable,” she says. “There is enough freedom and flexibility to be on your own or to hang out with the others if you’re so inclined. It’s the perfect combination of relaxation and fun.”
For more information, visit the Sights and Soul website.