Tuesday 24 January 2012

Adventure Cruising: Into Africa

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gorée Island, Senegal,
is a monument to the West African slave trade.
By Roderick Eime

With our planet “shrinking” at a rapid rate, expedition cruisers are always spinning their globes in search of new and enriching destinations to add to their adventure CVs. Nowadays, the whole Earth is pretty much fair game and with social and political relaxation on the west coast of Africa several cruise operators are setting out to these once dangerous lands. This is in contrast to the continuing difficulties and the threat of piracy on the eastern coast near the ‘Horn of Africa’ disrupting cruise ship schedules.

Once no-go countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola are now safe for western travellers and these mysterious lands are now gently opening their doors to a trickle of adventurous visitors. If early indications are anything to go by, these groundbreaking itineraries will be a hit with most departures booked out in advance. Here are some of the early-adopters:

Zegrahm Expeditions

This respected, 20-year-old company have been slow to make their mark in Australia, but their African itineraries and new local representation may be just what they need to kickstart them in the Aussie market. From Mauritius to Morocco and everything in between, Zegrahm offer one of the most comprehensive African explorations out there, but this cruiser has his eye on April’s “Tracing the West Coast of Africa” exploring Cameroon to Senegal. Stops include Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Zeco (that’s their industry nickname) operate the stalwart Clipper Odyssey, well known in small ship circles. From US$12,980.00 for 18 days.

Contact: www.smallshipadventure.com

Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad's West Coast of Africa is a
staggering itinerary (click to enlarge)
Never shy about forging new paths in uncharted territories, Lindblad have been at the forefront of expedition cruising since the 1960s and their comprehensive South Africa to Morocco odyssey is nothing short of staggering. Their itinerary looks more like a quilter’s blueprint as it weaves along the coast and islands over 37 days aboard the 148-guest National Geographic Explorer. Take local boats on Lake Nokoue to the stilt village of Ganvié and visit Gorée Island, a World Heritage Site that was a hub for the slave trade. Annually in March and April, fares begin at US$28,480.

Contact: www.wildearth-travel.com

G Adventures (formerly GAP)

Not to be outdone, this front-running land and sea adventure operator has announced its first ever sailing program in West Africa aboard the 140-passenger M/S Expedition scheduled for April 2013. There are three adventures passengers can choose from which will encompass more than ten nations. A notable highlight is the opportunity to discover the Bijagos Archipelego off the coast of Guinea-Bissau – a rare experience offered by very few operators.

Contact: www.gadventures.com

This well known operator adds a touch of glamour and luxury to their expeditions aboard the must lauded 132-guest Silver Explorer. Three itineraries are offered in the region ranging from 10 to 18 days, as the vessel sails from Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands to Cape Town. I’m betting there will be several guests staying on for the whole 45 days. Highlights include UNESCO-listed Goree Island, the seldom visited Bijagos Archipelago and a meet-up with the forest-dwelling pygmy people of Cameroon. Heavily booked, you’ll need to get in early for this. From AU$6699 (10 days)

Contact: www.silversea.com

Those prepared to venture outside the mainstream will find a wide variety of low key voyages on vessels of all descriptions. Old hands in the shipping industry tell us that infrastructure is in place at most of the cargo ports (for vessels that need it) and it’s just a matter of making minor modifications for the small passenger numbers.

“Nobody takes the time to go there and try to work closely with these destinations,” says Luis De Carvalho, an independent shipping consultant now working with these ports to help them accept more passengers. “Africa is learning, but it's the responsibility of the cruise industry to help them grow and to support them.”

That may all be about to change.

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