By Colu Henry, AFAR Ambassador


Raudholar Rocks

I had always yearned to visit Iceland and finally this summer I was able to make the trip. I longed for lava fields and moon-like landscapes and the trip didn’t disappoint. We landed in Reykjavík, the countries capital and largest city, and upon arrival Lindblad Expeditions, whom I was traveling with, whisked us off to a small restaurant situated by the sea to start the day.


The flight to Iceland from New York is a hop, skip, and a jump (or a mere 5 hours), so quick enough to return frequently, but not quite long enough to get a good night’s sleep. Luckily, our first, well-planned stop was to visit the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon was formed in 1976 during an operation at a nearby geothermal plant. It’s said that people began to bathe in the water and apply the mud to their skin and noticed huge improvements to skin disease such as psoriasis. It’s now considered one of the 25 Wonders of the World. I get why.

Blue Lagoon

We soaked in the thermal baths and enjoyed their restorative, warm waters and it nearly kicked my jet-lagged. I highly recommend this plan of action for anyone taking an overnight flight to Iceland; it works. In general, I’m a firm believer that wherever you travel, if you keep your sleeping schedule to rise and set with the sun where you are, by the next day you’ll be nearly back to normal.

With the tour’s generous allotted time to explore, true to my word, and a lover of straying off path, I connected with my friend Margret Eir –  who happens to be famous Icelandic pop star – to take me around town that night. I love exploring new cities on foot; it gives you a real understanding of how a place is laid out and a chance to meet the locals, so we did just that. Margret and I wandered downtown, where immediately I was captivated by the city’s warm people and charming shops. She also took me to her partner JJ’s barber shop, named Common Joes, which in addition to cutting hair, also acts as a visually impressive storefront where he beautifully restores antique furniture and electronics to make them compatible for present day.

Dinner at Messin

Reykjavík’s restaurant scene is also having a moment and Margret took me to a new, very cool and charming restaurant called Messin. The menu, like most places in Iceland (no complaints here), is very fish-driven. Everything is served in copper pots, family-style upon the table. We feasted on shrimp, gravlax and curried cod and sipped on white wine; it was delicious and exactly what I needed. After a few stops at some local bars (a favorite activity on any trip), I was almost on Icelandic time, and finally ready for bed.

Icelandic Horses

The next venture on my journey was the gift of being able to ride Icelandic horses through a lava field. The farm is situated right outside of town. These gentle beings are smaller than regular horses and the loveliest of creatures. After our ride, we headed in town for a beautiful lunch and were then treated to a nature walk just a short drive from town. Our guide brought us up to speed on the incredible eco-system of the country. Did you know that they have no mosquitoes, snakes or really other prey in Iceland?


That evening, after a ferry ride to Viðey Island for dinner with a beautiful music performance by locals, I slept soundly and woke ready for the next piece of our adventure to begin. We were Greenland bound.

Interested in learning more about Colu’s journey? Read more about it on and check out Lindblad Expeditions’ Hot Springs and Icebergs: Iceland to West Greenland tour. 

Colu is a food and lifestyle expert, native New Yorker, and avid home cook. Most recently, she worked as Director of Special Projects at Bon Appetit. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Refinery29, Cherry Bombe, and Wine Enthusiast. Her cookbook Back Pocket Pasta will be released by Clarkson Pottering in February 2017.


This September, the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) marks its annual Travel Together Month with more than 100 exclusive savings on bucket list destinations and experiences around the globe.

Travel Together Month showcases a curated selection of offers from the country’s leading travel companies with dates available through 2019. Offers can be found through September 30, 2017, at, featuring travel to all seven continents with countless “live like a local” and bucket list opportunities.

photo credit Hurtigruten

photo credit Hurtigruten

Exclusives include the following offers:

  • Abercrombie & Kent: Save up to $10,000 per couple on a 2017-2018 Luxury Expedition Cruise to Antarctica. Book Category 1-3 and save up to $5,000 per person on Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands for travel through January 2018.
  • Ritz Tours: Save $500 per couple on the “China Scenic” 12-day tour to experience the natural landscapes in Guilin, archeological sites of Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xi’an, UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Beijing, and the cosmopolitan Shanghai for travel in 2018.
  • Hurtigruten: Save up to $1,000 per couple on cruises to Antarctica, South America, Canada, the US, the Caribbean and Central America for travel from April 4, 2018 to April 3, 2019.
  • Islands in the Sun: Enjoy two bonus nights and all meals on Islands In The Sun’s 8-Day Fiji Romance in Matangi Private Island trip with prices from $2,829 per person for travel until March 31, 2018.
  • go-today: Save $100 per person on Cape Town Escape with Great White Share Encounter. From $1,499 per person after discount using promo SHARK at checkout. Travel available through June 5, 2018.
photo credit Asia Answers

photo credit Asia Answers

Travel agent incentives can be found at Highlights include the following:

  • Lion World Travel: Travel agents earn $100 per person booked on the luxurious “Discover East Africa” tour for travel on April and May 2018 departures.
  • GOGO Vacations: Travel agents have the chance to win a $1,000 gift card on any new GOGO Vacations’ itinerary booked during the month of September. Winners will be announced on October 13, 2017 in the GOGO Vacations’ Travel Agent Insider email.
  • Asia Answers: Travel professionals can earn bonus commission of $50 per person booked on a China vacation lasting seven days or longer for travel through August 31, 2018.
  • Celtic Tours: Enjoy an Italian vacation with the travel agent exclusive of the five-night “Tuscan Villa” independent package with car rental or transfers, net rates from $449 per person for travel by December 15, 2017.
  • Zegrahm Expeditions: Receive a $100 gift card for each new guest booked on “Across the Antarctic Circle: Voyage to the 7th Continent” for the January 22, 2018 and February 4, 2018 departures.
  • CroisiEurope Cruises: Sell three double cabins (or six passengers) on the 11-day safari cruise itinerary and be entered to win an 11-day safari cruise for two people for travel in 2018 based on availability. Prize drawing December 20, 2017.
  • Alexander+Roberts: Earn $50 per person “Booking Bonuses” on all Private Tours, Small Ship Cruises and Small Group Journeys (never more than 16 guests) when clients pay-in-full for travel through April 2019.
photo credit Alexander+Roberts

photo credit Alexander+Roberts

Note: offers can be booked September 1-30, 2017. All travel deals, restrictions and booking instructions can be found at

For further inspirations or to search for dream travel itineraries and destinations, visit




The thought of planning holiday travel is known to strike fear into the hearts of even the most energetic travelers. The tour operator members of USTOA instead believe that the holidays can be an ideal time to bring families and friends closer together and create lasting memories for years to come.

The key is to find a destination that suits everyone, and, more importantly, to plan the trip without hassles and haggling.  So, gift yourself a stress-free holiday vacation with one of the following suggestions from our members:

Zegrahm Expeditions knows that some travelers want to escape the harsh winter weather, but also travel somewhere new. During its Hidden Gems of the Caribbean cruise, travelers will explore the lesser-visited islands of the eastern Caribbean with stops through the Grenadines, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, St. Lucia, Grenada and Grenada. Guests will snorkel and dive among colorful coral reefs, spot endemic birds and hike through various islands throughout the 12-day itinerary. Travelers also can learn from local experts onboard about the history of the islands visited and their struggle for independence from Europe. This idyllic escape is available November 25-December 6, 2018 from $12,980 per person.


Guests on CroisiEurope’s The Season of Advent: Italian Art and Traditions itinerary can spend their holiday season cruising the Amalfi coast soaking in the striking landscapes and villages while learning the history of Christmas markets and nativity scenes. What’s not to love? The trip includes a visit to the Museo di Capodimonte, the museum that houses famous works such as The Flagellation of Christ by Caravaggio and Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Naples, Sicily and the island of Capri are a few of the cities that await guests during this coastal cruise. Departures available November 20 and 27, December 4, 11 and 22, 2017 from $1,749 per person.


For a true escape, travelers can explore the island paradise of Fiji in luxury this Thanksgiving holiday with Down Under Answers’ Raiwasa Fijian Luxury itinerary. Travelers will swim and dive to the Rainbow Reef and enjoy a free cooking class before retiring to a private two-bedroom villa with 180-degree views of Somosomo Strait. Unwind during the holiday trip with a daily 60-minute massage treatment per adult and stunning stargazing opportunities at night. This luxury getaway is available August 1 – November 30, 2017 from $11,899/person based on double occupancy.


For further inspirations or to search for dream travel itineraries and destinations, visit

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.



Whether it’s sharing lunch with a local family in a private home in Beijing, marveling at one of China’s 52 famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or riding the Mag Lev bullet train into the modern metropolis of Shanghai, there are so many ways to experience the vast and varied country of China.


Credit: go-today

Discover just a few reasons why China – 5,000 years “new” – could become your next dream vacation with a selection of itineraries from as many as 70 USTOA tour operator members. Find your own dream vacation to China here.

Marvel at the extraordinary sites showcasing China’s traditions and natural wonders during Adventures by Disney’s 12-day “China Destination” tour. Families can experience the excitement of Disney magic at China’s Disney theme parks, or be awed by some of the panoramic views of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the iconic Great Wall, Terracotta Army Museum, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the incredible Imperial Palace. Departures are available from September 3, 2017 to October 21, 2018 starting at $7,699 per adult/ $7,289 per child.

Explore the serene beauty of China’s Yunnan Province and delve into the fascinating history of Shangri-La on Cox & Kings’ “Yunnan: A Journey to Shangri-La” private excursion. Explorers will discover the Old Town of Dali, cruise on the striking Erhai Lake, follow along the path of the Yangtze River, marvel at the views from Black Dragon Pool, ascend the Tibetan Plateau, and more. This eight-day journey is available throughout 2017 to March 2018 from $4450 per person based on two travelers.

Guests on Globus’ “Treasures of China” tour will begin their journey through the city of Beijing to discover stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven. During the 11-day tour, guests also will delight in a colorful assemblage of classical performances in Xi’an, visit Guilin’s local tea farms for a hands-on demonstration of the tea-making process, and explore the sprawling city of Shanghai. Available on select departures in August, September, and October 2017 starting at $2,389 per person.


Credit: go-today

Experience the historical and cultural highlights of both modern day China and its grandeur-filled past on go-today’s six-day “Treasures of China Escorted Tour.” Travelers will visit legendary sites, such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army Museum and be enthralled by China’s unsurpassed art and culture. Available throughout 2017 to January 2018 from $2,099 per person.


Credit: Intrepid Travel

Journey from Beijing to Shanghai during Intrepid Travel’s 12-day “North China Getaway” tour. Guests will travel to Huangshan, also known as Yellow Mountain, and stay in a local guesthouse for two days to explore the mountain. Travelers also will venture into the idyllic Huizhou countryside and explore rural villages on foot or bike. The trip also includes visits to China’s historical landmarks like the Great Wall where guests will stay at a family-run guesthouse. Available throughout 2017 and 2018 from $1,296 per person.

yangtze river gorge

Credit: Mayflower Tours

Travelers can save $300 per couple on Mayflower Tours’ “Best of China and Yangtze River Cruise” itinerary to marvel at some of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cruise along the Yangtze River. During the 12-day Chinese journey, guests can learn a Chinese folk dance and participate in a Chinese culinary lesson. The trip features visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and Xian, and the Forbidden City. Savings available on the September 15, 2018 and October 13, 2018 departures from $2,469 per person.

Float down the famous Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, climb the Great Wall and gaze at the giant Buddha of Leshan on Student Universe’s three-week tour, “Beijing to Hong Kong: Essential China.” Guests will experience cultural and natural highlights including the Terracotta Warriors, a visit to a tea plantation, and enjoy a bike ride through the stunning Yangshuo countryside. Additional bucket-list activities await travelers on this itinerary from $3,399 available through December 2018.

RS5949_Dim Sum

Credit: Trafalgar

Travelers can visit China’s must-see cities like eclectic Beijing, buzzing Shanghai and historic Xi’an and must-do experiences, like cruising down the iconic Huangpu River during Trafalgar’s 17-day “Classic China with Yangtze Cruise and Chengdu” tour. Guests will enjoy insider moments like dashing through the ancient Hutongs by rickshaw and savoring a home-cooked meal at a local family’s home in Beijing. Additionally, guests can join others on a visit to a primary school in Xi’an to get to know students and teachers, and see how their visit supports local education. Available on select departures in September, October 2017 and March-June 2018 starting at $5,475 per person.

Temple of Heaven 09

Credit: Wendy Wu Tours

Join Wendy Wu Tours on a 26-day in-depth adventure during “The Silk Road Explorer” air-inclusive itinerary. Guests will immerse themselves in Chinese history and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Mogao Caves, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and of course the famous Great Wall. Travelers also will have the chance to participate in a traditional dance class at the Temple of Heaven and marvel at Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years at the Mogao Caves. Available from $6,390 per person on select departures between September 4, 2017 and October 8, 2017.

Guests will hike through rice fields and across China’s countryside during Audley Travel’s “Hiking in China” itinerary. Hikers also will take part in a guided trek through the impressive Tiger Leaping Gorge before heading to Zhongdian (Shangri La). Travelers will witness the sunrise over Huanshan, visit the high Tibetan Plateau in Zhongdian (Shangri La), and visit the magnificent Great Wall. This 18-day active journey is available from $7,630 per person in September, October and November 2017.


Credit: Avanti

Avanti’s new “The Great Panda Adventure” takes guests on a 12-day adventure through China with a private tour of Panda Center and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall. Guests can add on the Panda Private Volunteer Experience at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda. During this added experience, participants will spend five hours feeding, cleaning cages and learning about the 20-40 giant and red pandas living there. The panda add-on is available for $375 per person and open to those 12-65 years of age. The 12-day itinerary is available year-round and starts at $2,589 per person/double occupancy (land-only).

UW Century Legend exteriror

Credit: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Join Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s “China, Tibet, and the Yangtze” itinerary to experience the timeless allure of China. Guests will visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Goddess Stream and see Shanghai’s modern landscape of towering skyscrapers. Travelers on this 14-day trip also will explore Beijing via rickshaw and enjoy lunch with a local family and a traditional tea ceremony. Available September and October 2017 from $7,299 and throughout 2018 from $7,099.

Collette - Yangtze River

Credit: Collette

Guests on Collette’s “Wonders of China and the Yangtze River” program will discover China’s food, natural beauty and historic landmarks in addition to a ride on the Mag Lev bullet train reaching speeds of more than 260 miles per hour. Other trip highlights include a traditional tea ceremony, lunch with a local family in their Hutong home, and a lesson from a Chinese calligraphy master. The 16 to 19-day tour is available on select departure dates throughout 2017 and 2018 from $2,649 per person.


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

I’ve often found that when you mention visiting Cuba to someone, it’s undoubtedly the case that you will be asked about a combination of the following things – communism, cigars, rum, music, and classic cars.  It’s not without good reason that these are common topics, but the diversity of this unique Caribbean island avails so much for adventurous souls looking for new paths to explore.

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-44 - resize

My time traveling to Cuba with smarTours began at the heart of the country’s biggest city – Havana. Greeted by a local guide and expert on the history of the surrounding architecture in Old Havana, we walked cobblestone streets and learned about the Spanish influence on the colonial-era buildings. I was fascinated by the information being shared, yet I couldn’t help but be distracted as I watched locals navigating their morning. A young couple walked by drinking café cubanos, carrying a newspaper and briefcase. A group of construction workers hauled materials in a wheelbarrow for a restoration project. An old man swept in the park. Each little vignette revealed a more intimate reflection about what daily life as a Cuban could look like. Capturing these moments in my photographs became a theme of how I enjoyed my travel experience.

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-39 - resize

The next step in the journey with my travel companions brought us from Havana to the city of Sancti Spíritus, one of the oldest settlements in Cuba and the capitol of the Sancti Spíritus province. We arrived at our hotel to find it perfectly positioned on the edge of Parque Serafín Sánchez, the central park of the city and a meeting place for visitors and locals alike. Late into the evening children gleefully chased one another around a fountain positioned in the middle of the park. Nearby speakers pulsed familiar songs as karaoke patrons did their best to sing along and entertain the on looking crowd. The recent addition of Wi-Fi to the location has made it a popular spot for people to connect for a moment to search the Internet or communicate with loved ones. The pleasant warm breeze paired with a delicious Cuba Libre made for a relaxing time of reflection and people watching.

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-76 - resize

Rich in cultural history, Cuba is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of those, we had the pleasure of visiting Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguëy, and Trinidad. A town that thrived in the boom of the sugar cane industry, Trinidad sits adjacent to the Valley de los Ingenios and is now known for producing tobacco. Breathtakingly preserved, I found myself transcendently returning to a time when the sugar trade drove life in the colonial town. The Afro-Cuban influence can be felt and experienced through art, music, and dance in Trinidad at Palenque de los Congos Reales. The performance center exhibits centuries old traditional folklore performed to the steady beat of conga drums. Volunteers keep these stories alive while working other jobs in different fields.

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-106 - resize

It’s without question that one of my favorite moments during my time in Cuba was visiting the home and studio of Bernardo Valeriano Casanova Fuentes – ceramic artist based in Camagüey. He spoke only a few words, instead allowing his son to share his story, as he attentively formed piece after piece at his workbench and potter’s wheel. In a matter of ten minutes, Bernardo produced a diverse collection of artifacts from single slab of clay. His property was modest, well lived in, and beautiful. It wasn’t flashy or showy, but encapsulated the sustainable life he has found doing what his loves everyday.

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-141 - resize

Schuyler_Cuba_AFAR_USTOA-144 - resize

Cuba has something to offer to all kinds of visitors – classic car enthusiasts, cigar aficionados, history buffs. More than anything, I found for myself that the daily life of the Cuban people was the most intriguing and beautiful facet to my visit.


Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on, the USTOA blog and check out check out smarTour’s The Best of Cuba tour.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.

By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

I was eighteen when I began working at a locally owned café in the suburbs of Seattle. The modest eatery was the byproduct of two passionate foodies – Angela and Miriam. The latter, a Cuban immigrant, ran the day-to-day operations of the shop. Memories of my midday shifts are peppered with “Cuban” sandwiches and masterfully crafted cortaditos, pre-sweetened espresso shots topped with a small pour of steamed milk. I vividly recall listening to Buena Vista Social Club on repeat and asking Miriam what the musicians were singing about. Her reply – “Home.”

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

It was moments like these that gave rise to my fascination with Cuban culture. (And, the reason I said “yes” to the invitation to visit Cuba with smarTours).

When arriving in Havana, it is immediately apparent that you are in one of the most unique places in all of Latin America. Pristinely kept vintage automobiles navigate the streets, often taxiing visitors and locals alike from destination to destination. Brilliantly colored colonial buildings line the city plazas, seemingly untouched from their construction. Large billboards proclaiming “Viva la Revolución!” are painted with portraits of revolutionary Che Guevera and other political imagery and can be seen driving on the highway.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

There are few places or things, if any, which feel “modern” in the entire country. It’s this resourcefulness that has come to characterize so much of the world’s perspective of what Cuba is like.

Visiting Cuba in the off-season (summer) made for an especially pleasant trip to someone who likes to avoid crowds at all costs while traveling. Instead of having to maneuver through throngs of tourists at Almacenes de San José, the famous open-air craft market at the port of Havana, it’s the vendors selling their goods that will enliven your shopping experience. Here you can find every kind of leather good, carved wooden cigar holder, or piece of art you could desire. A portrait of American author Ernest Hemingway stamped on handmade paper caught my attention and was mine for the price of 3 CUCS, the Cuban convertible peso.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Hemingway’s stories served as additional inspiration for me to visit the largest island in the Caribbean. A man smitten by the sea, Cuba’s unspoiled waters housed game fish that would become the key character in his most famous novella – The Old Man and the Sea. Finca Vigiía – Ernest Hemingway’s home in the San Francisco de Paula ward of Havana – can be visited on nice days when the humidity doesn’t force the meticulously maintained home to be closed. The Finca is a snapshot into the author’s life. Original furniture and books remain largely unmoved; busts of animals from Hemingway’s expeditions adorn the naturally lit dining room. A nearby unnamed bar serves the most delicious cocktail in country: Coctel Vigía – a perfect blend of freshly pressed Guarapo (sugar cane, pineapple, and lemon juice) and Havana Club 7 Anos Rum garnished with sliced lime and a pineapple wedge.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Life came full circle when I had the pleasure of seeing members of the Buena Vista Social Club perform at Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro. For nearly two hours, a whole cast of performers sang songs about romance, working the sugar cane fields, and the many towns and villages across Cuba. With a cortadito in hand, I finally began to understand why “home” was so special.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on and check out smarTour’s The Best of Cuba tour.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


When you think of South Africa, safaris and exotic wildlife come to mind, but our members are encouraging travelers to explore six additional reasons to travel to the fascinating destination of South Africa. Africa’s southernmost country offers holidaymakers a diverse selection of experiences within a close proximity, stunning natural beauty, a temperate year-round climate, welcoming local people, a strong current economic value for American tourists, and an unexpected culinary and wine scene.


Credit: Austin Adventures

Here is just a sample of itineraries from USTOA member tour operators to explore these aspects.

Swain Destinations’ Swain’s Southern Africa itinerary explores the country’s many natural wonders. Guests will enjoy a Cape Peninsula tour, a trip to Victoria Falls, and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. Adventure seekers can white water raft on the Zambezi River and spot the Big Five at Sabi Sands. Tours of South Africa’s most famous cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg also are included in this 12-day trip. Available on select travel dates through December, 19, 2017 from $3,725 per person.


 Credit: Swain Destinations

Ascend to the top of Tabletop Mountain by cable car then hike back down while on the lookout for South African wildlife during Austin Adventures’ Southern Africa – Cape Town to Kruger itinerary. Then guests can bike through the historic town of Stellenbosch stopping for a wine tasting at nearby wine estates. Whale watching, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s maximum-security prison cell, Cape Town’s Green Market Square, and kayaking to Boulder Beach’s colony of African Penguins round out this diverse trip through South Africa. The 11-day itinerary is available year-round from $8,498 per person.

South Africa Tours - Wine Tasting (2)

 Credit: Austin Adventures

Guests on smarTours’ Cape Town & Safari Express can save $500 per person on a nine-day South African vacation. An abundance of free time in Cape Town allows travelers to explore the vibrant city at their own pace. Options include beaches, shopping, taking a cable car to the top of Tabletop Mountain, and a boat ride across Table Bay to Robben Island. Then guests will go on an unforgettable game drive in Kruger National Park to spot the Big Five and other African wildlife. Savings of $500 per person available on the following departures: October 28, 2017, March 3, March 10 and March 24, 2018.

Travel with a purpose on Collette’s South Africa Impact Tour to Make a Difference itinerary. The nine-day tour gives back to the Knysna Community through a selection of volunteer opportunities in the community and in a local school. Guests also will participate in a Hippo Roller delivery helping make water more accessible to a remote South African village. The trip also includes a cable car ride to the top of Tabletop Mountain, sample of the flavor of the region during a wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and learn the local beat with a lesson on the djembe drums. Available September 1-9, 2017 from $1,349 per person.

Adventurous travelers can swim with a great white shark during go-today’s Cape Town Escape with Great White Shark Encounter. The six-day itinerary is centered around the daring encounter and allows for ample free time to explore the vibrant city of Cape Town. Available July – August 2017 from $$1299 per person after $100 per person discount with promo code SUMMER.


Credit: go-today

Tauck’s South Africa: An Elegant Adventure 12-day itinerary through South Africa is a Tauck Earth Journey offered in partnership with the nature documentary filmmakers at BBC Earth. During the tour guests will visit Boulders Beach to meet Africa’s indigenous penguins, hear a presentation by a gemologist in Johannesburg discussing the region’s role as one of the world’s leading source of diamonds, enjoy a wine-tasting dinner in the Cape Winelands, and more. This adventure is available year-round from $7,090 per person based on double occupancy.

Guests looking to experience South Africa’s culinary delights can join Abercrombie & Kent’s South Africa: The Royal Portfolio Edition. The 12-day itinerary includes foraging for mussels with the Birkenhead House’s executive chef in preparation for your four-course gourmet dinner, a vertical tasting of South Africa’s premier Pinot Noirs and a private blending experience. Travelers also will visit a local family-run butchery and sample their traditional dried meat and of course spot the Big Five at Royal Malewane on Thornybush Private Game Reserve and much more. Available September 22-October 3, 2017 from $13,495 per person based on double occupancy.

Discover South Africa’s Winelands region, tour the country’s most vibrant cities, and enjoy a full day Peninsula Tour during Goway Travel’s Secrets of the Cape itinerary. Scenic highlights on this trip include Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, and Robben Island. Guests also will participate in a full day safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. This 10-day trip is available on departure dates June October 31, 2017. Travelers can save $2,000 per couple on select dates.

Feel the power of Victoria Falls, experience the classic luxury of Rovos Rail, and marvel at three UNESCO World Heritage Sites while on AHI Travel’s Southern Africa – Luxury Safaris, Rovos Rail and Cape Town itinerary. Guests also will have the opportunity for morning and afternoon game drives at Thornybush Nature Reserve, Chobe National Park and Hwange National Park. Now until July 25, 2017, guests can save $500 per person on various 2018 depatures from January-March 2018 and September-October 2018. Available from $6,745 per person including the discount.

South Africa Tours - AHI Travel

 Credit: AHI Travel

Join SITA World Tours on its Affordable South Africa In-depth tour to discover South African favorites like an open-vehicle game drive at the Greater Kruger Park, city tours of Cape Town and Johannesburg, and the famous Cape Peninsula. During the itinerary guests also will feel the energy of the “Rainbow Nation” as they take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain then drive by the Malay Quarter, city center, Company Gardens and Castle of Good Hope. Travelers can book by August 31, 2017 and save $200 per couple. Departure dates available June 28 – December 19, 2017. Prices from $3,175 per person based on double occupancy.


 Credit: SITA World Tours

Adventures by Disney’s 10-day South Africa Destination package. This African adventure gives families a chance to take a three-day safari through the Kapama Game Reserve, hike in the Featherbed Nature Reserve, and more. Guests also can meet the African penguins at the Cape of Good Hope. Departure dates are available from October 7, 2017 to Dec. 22, 2018. Prices start at $7,099 per adult and $6,719 per child.

South Africa Tours - Adventure by Disney

 Credit: Adventures by Disney

Marvel at South Africa’s natural wonders on Globus’ 12-day Splendors of South Africa & Victoria Falls itinerary. Table Mountain, Cape Point Nature Reserve, and Victoria Falls are some of the stunning sites that await guests during this trip. Guests also will visit Bo-Kaap, an area founded by former slaves to learn more about their culture and visit Johannesburg’s unforgettable Apartheid Museum and more. Available January 7 and February 11, 2018. Visit for pricing information.

Monograms’ South African Sojourn brings travelers on an adventure to some of South Africa’s most iconic sites. Guests will stay in a lodge on a private game reserve while heading out multiple times in search of Africa’s Big Five. Additionally, guests will visit the beautiful Cape Point Nature Reserve home to Cape Point, the southwesternmost point on the continent and Boudlers Beach to see a colony of African penguins. Available for daily departures from October to December 2017 excluding September from $2,399 per person.

CroisiEurope America’s new ship, African Dream, will be inaugurated December 2017 and will offer a nine-day journey on its Southern Africa: Travel to the Ends of the Earth itinerary. The land, cruise and safari trip will feature land and water safaris, and the opportunity to hear a local storyteller as they entrance guests with the legends of the region. Travelers also will enjoy a traditional dinner under the African skies on Impalila Island. This trip starts at $6,319 per person and is available in December 2017 and various dates throughout 2018.

Inspiration awaits guests on African Travel Inc.’s In the Footsteps of Mandela itinerary. The eight-day journey through the vibrant “Rainbow Nation” takes travelers through the history of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa with a collection of moving encounters with the people and places he touched. While exploring Nelson Mandela’s legacy, guests also will see the award-winning museum at Liliesleaf, once a secret nerve center of the liberation movement, along with the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The trip will end with a safari in Kruger Private Reserve. This itinerary is available from $3,095 per person with departure dates throughout 2017.

Shamwari Game Reserve Guest Experience

 Credit: African Travel

Worldwide Traveler is taking guests on a culinary trip through South Africa on its Wine and Dine in South Africa itinerary. Foodies will enjoy a Cape Malay Cooking Safari before heading to the Winelands Region where they will taste wine from local farms Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Guests also will take a Franschhoek Wine Tram Tour and includes visits to Table Mountain, Robben Island and Kruger National Park. The 13-day adventure is available through December 31, 2017, this culinary trip starts at $1,419 per person land only.

Swim with great white sharks off the South African coast for a bucket list worthy experience during Great Value Vacations’ Coastal Adventure: Shark Cage Diving & Safari. Offering a wide variety of excursions during the 12-night itinerary, guests will visit wineries, stroll through the streets of Cape Town, whale watch and do a shark cage diving tour and safari. This mix of South Africa’s best land and sea activities is available from $3,963 per person for various departure dates throughout 2017.

cape vinyards

 Credit: Great Value Vacations

Cox & Kings, The Americas offers guests a chance to experience the luxurious side of South Africa on its Southern Africa: Winelands, Safari & Falls private journey. Explore Cape Town, set between two oceans and stunning mountains, before setting out on a game drive in Kruger National Park. Guests also will enjoy a private tour of Victoria Falls and a thrilling helicopter flight along the Zambezi River and over the cascades. Guests can save $1,000 per couple on this itinerary for bookings made September 1 – 30, 2017 with travel completed by March 31, 2018. Prices from $7,345 per couple land only.

South Africa Tours - Cox & Kings

 Credit: Cox & Kings, The Americas

Travelers can soak in the natural beauty of South Africa’s most iconic sites during Ritz Tours’ South Africa Highlights & Safari Experience. Guests will enjoy the splendor of Table Mountain, panoramic views of Cape Town and the country’s dramatic coastline. A trip to the Entabeni Private Nature Reserve will showcase the conservatory’s multitude of landscapes including grassy plains, wetlands and ravines. The trip will conclude with a trip to Johannesburg to learn about the city’s history at sites like the Apartheid Museum or Constitution Hill and the Old Fort Prison Complex. This nine-day trip starts at $1,900 per person and is available on departure dates through the end of 2017.

South Africa Tours - Ritz Tours


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

By: Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) recognizes the power of giving back, learning from different cultures and using travel as a tool for transformation. USTOA is proud to be a Strategic Association Partner of Tourism Cares, a non-profit organization that works to protect and restore attractions and destinations around the world. Last year, hundreds of industry professionals gathered to restore, refurbish and replant at four national parks throughout the country. This year, Tourism Cares will be spearheading urban renewal projects to revive tourist sites in Oakland, CA, Detroit, MI, Providence, RI and Toronto, ON.

Similarly, many of our Tour Operator members offer cultural immersion programs for travelers that allow them to participate in community-driven efforts as well as different kinds of transformational travel experiences.

The ME to WE Foundation, a charitable organization, works with a number of USTOA tour operator members including Uniworld River Cruises, Lion World Travel, and Insight Vacations to help travelers leave a positive footprint and give back with their purchase.

Transformational Travel- India

Credit: Insight Vacations

Uniworld River Cruises offers guests the chance to travel with a purpose during its ME to WE India Pre-Trip Extension. Travelers will work alongside local families in the Rajasthan region on a community development project in partnership with WE Charity. The extension also includes a guided walk through the Aravalli Mountain Range and daily yoga sessions. This five-day extension is available on Uniworld’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges 13-day river cruise on various dates throughout January, February, March, September, October, November and December 2017 and 2018. Prices range from $2,075 – $2,850 per person for the pre-tip extension only.

Transformational Travel - Uniworld

 Credit: Uniworld River Cruises

During the ME to WE Volunteer Adventure to Kenya, Lion World Travel and ME to WE offer travelers a chance to make a difference in the Maasai Mara community. Participants will help build a new school with the area’s indigenous people and join the women of the Maasai and Kispigis communities to learn the craft of beading. This tradition is passed down through generations, empowering them to earn a sustainable income and provide for their families. Additionally, ME to WE donates 50% of its net profits to WE Charity, meaning every trip contributes to international development efforts in the community guests visit. Available year-round and can be booked as an extension to another Lion World Travel itinerary in east Africa or as a custom trip. Prices from $2195 per adult.

Transformational Travel- Kenya

 Credit: Lion World Travel

Insight Vacations and ME to WE partner to take travelers on a transformational journey to India is the ME to WE Volunteer Adventure to India extension to Insight’s Imperial Rajasthan itinerary. Guests will dive deeper into the rural culture of Rajasthan during the four-day excursion as they work with a local community in Udaipur on a development project like laying the bricks for a school or digging a new clean water system, try your hand at age-old traditional crafts like tie-dying and block printing and much more. Travelers also will explore the Aravalli Mountain Range and participate in local sightseeing excursions. Available year-round from $1,375 per adult.

India (1)

 Credit: Insight Vacations

Transformational travel can take many different forms, and our Tour Operator members provide guests with truly immersive local experiences that enhance a trip with deeper insights in cultures and customs. For example, during Trafalgar’s Secrets of Myanmar trip travelers take part in a traditional lamp lighting ceremony at the Shwedagon Pagoda, and get to know three generations of family members over a home-cooked meal in Bagan. Guests also can participate in a hands-on cooking class using vegetables they gather for a traditional lunch. Available May 31 – June 10, September 27 – October 7, November 29 – December 9, December 20 – 30 2017 starting from $3,150 per person.

Trafalgar - Transformational Travel

Credit: Trafalgar

Guests of Tauck’s Essence of Japan itinerary will go beyond learning about Japanese history and culture and will join in as they learn how to make sushi, and attend workshops on Japanese flower arranging, ceramics and glass-blowing. The trip also includes a traditional tea ceremony, a sumo wrestling demonstration and a sake tasting. The 13-day immersion into traditional Japanese culture starts at $9,990 per person based on double occupancy, plus airfare. Available in May, June, August, September, October, and November 2017.

Transformational Travel

Credit: Tauck

Visit a local farming village in rural Hoi An to learn traditional farming techniques or go paddling in bamboo basket boats on Wendy Wu Tours’ Vietnam & Cambodia 21-Day Discovery Tour. Guests looking to open their minds to new skills also will get the chance to learn how to make a fishing net before staying in a local homestay in Ben Tre. This itinerary starts at $5,090 per person (air-inclusive) and is available in September, October and November 2017 and throughout 2018.

Adventure meets education on Quark Expeditions’ Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the seventh Continent itinerary. Guests will explore the Antarctic Peninsula and learn about its environment and wildlife from on-board lecturers and specialists. Camping, kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing and more is available in Antarctica during this trip to the southern tip of the world. Discover the seventh continent from November 2017 to March 2018 from $5,595, with up to 25% discount on select voyages.

Travelers can put a spring in their step during Brendan Vacations’ The Irish Experience itinerary as they traverse north and south through Ireland. Educational and interactive, guests will learn the history of Belfast from a local Cabbie before visiting the Cliffs of Moher, and the UNESCO World Heritage site at the Giant’s Causeway. A city tour of Dublin and a scenic drive along the Ring of Kerry also await guests on this 11-day trip. Available July 26 and 30, August 13, September 24 and 25, October 1, 8 and 15, 2017 from $2,150 USD per person.


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

By Intrepid Travel



There is a certain allure to Colombia that is undeniable. Its rough past paired with the vibrant nightlife of Medellin, graffiti lined streets of Bogota and romantic colonial vibes of Cartegena have placed Colombia on everyone`s must-see list for 2017. But one destination that is often overlooked (and shouldn`t be) is Colombia`s Cocora Valley. Nestled away in the Eje Cafetero region – a coffee growing region, this natural cloud forest is home to the world`s tallest wax palm trees reaching 60m (196 ft.) tall, offers hours of hiking trails and is an entry point for travelers looking to explore the Los Nevados National Natural Park.


Just a quick jeep ride outside of the picturesque town of Salento, the Cocora Valley is an increasingly popular paradise for travelers looking to escape the bigger cities and explore the rolling hills of the Colombian Andes. Boasting altitudes between 1,800 to 2,400 meters (5,900 – 7,874 ft.), the main hiking loop can take up to 6 hours and will guide you through the cloud forest to some of the best vantage points in the Valley. The combination of the scenery and altitude in this protected area is sure to take your breath away. It is best to start your days early and prepare for rain and muddy trails as the climate here can be quite temperamental.


After a few short hours on the trail you`ll arrive at Acaime, an unexpected highlight of the hike. Featuring a small estate, this hummingbird sanctuary makes the perfect place to break during your day and grab a snack – the hot chocolate and cheese here is a delicious treat and come highly recommended. Hummingbirds are difficult to snap a perfect photo of because of their impressive speed, so put your camera down and just enjoy the views before continuing onwards.


After trekking a few more hours along the narrow trails, balancing carefully across river crossings and wooden suspension bridges and climbing the steepest section of the hike, you`ll reach the best views the valley has to offer. The lush green rolling mountains are dotted with hundreds of spindly wax palms for as far as the eye can see. The clouds sit heavy in the air and roll in as they please, adding an element of mystery to this already dramatic landscape. Take your time walking back to the entry gates, this is the only place in the world you can find views like this so enjoy them for as long as you can.


You can escape to the Cocora Valley on Intrepid Travel`s 9-day Café Colombia tour.


About Intrepid Travel

We’ve been running small group adventures for over 25 years, so we’ve got a fair few travel tales to share. Likes: exploring, getting lost, eating, drinking, hiking, driving, flying, sailing, dancing, meeting new people, getting outside of our comfort zone. Dislikes: staying still for too long.