Category Archives: Awards

Namibia’s Black Rhinos in the Wild & in Preserves

West African country protects highly threatened species & other wildlife

Namibia-mapSome 15 years ago, my husband, my son, a friend and I ventured to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. After the thrilling climb, we and a local Arusha guide set off to see wildlife. We visited four national parks and preserves and saw many, many elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, zebras, Cape buffalo,  dik-diks, springbok, baboons, hyenas, warthogs and even a handful of hippos at closer range than we could have imagined. In a sense, our most thrilling sighting was in Ngorongoro Crater, where off in the distance, slowly rising from the high tawny grass were two long, dark shapes — identifiable only through strong binoculars or with a very long camera lens. Black rhinos, our guide told us, among the last in the country. We thrilled to see them and mourned what seemed like extinction in the not-too-distant future.

Two black rhinos in Tanzania's Ngorgoro Crater in 1997.
Two black rhinos in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater in 1997. The rhinos are in the center of the picture. The black shapes on the right are something else.

According to Save the Rhino, an international species conservation organization, “At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia; in 1970 there were 70,000; today, there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos  surviving in the wild. Between 1970 and 1992, large-scale poaching  caused a dramatic 96% collapse in numbers of the Critically Endangered  black rhino. 95% of all the rhinos in the world have now been killed.”

The organization believes that there are now 20,165 white rhinos and just 4,880 black rhinos in Africa. According to a chart compiled in late 2010, Namibia is home to some 1,750 of these rare animals, second only to South Africa. In the all of Tanzania, only 113 black rhinos remained. In fact, it boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and is the only country with an expanding population of free-roaming lions. That, to me is a signal to move Namibia way up on my bucket list.

Conservation: It’s the Law

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. After Independence in 1990, visionary conservationists in the field and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism enacted policies that allowed rural communities to benefit from wildlife by forming conservancies.  In 1998, the first four conservancies were registered. Today, 65 registered conservancies embrace one in four rural Namibians. A sense of ownership over wildlife and other resources is encouraging people to use their resources sustainably. Wildlife is now embraced as a complimentary land use method to agriculture and livestock herding. More than 40 percent of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management — national parks and reserves, communal and commercial conservancies, community forests and private nature reserves. Continue reading Namibia’s Black Rhinos in the Wild & in Preserves

Most Ethical Destinations Cited

 Best practices + superb scenic and cultural attractions = ethical travel destinations

EthicalTraveler-logoEthical Traveler’s annual survey of the world’s most ethical tourism destinations highlights 10 countries  in the developing world that have all demonstrated a clear and continuing commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social welfare. They are places you can visit with a clear conscience that you are supporting destinations that exhibit best practices and also offer great scenery and cultural attractions. This year’s 2013 top ethical destinations, in alphabetical order, are Barbados, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Palau, Samoa and Uruguay. 

“This year’s winners are doing a great job showing the world that you can have a successful tourism industry along with sustainability and social justice,” said Ethical Traveler Executive Director Jeff Greenwald. “With the number of international arrivals expected to top the 1 billion mark in 2013, travelers have more power than ever. Every dollar we spend is a statement about which countries and governments we choose to support. By visiting the countries on our list, savvy travelers can have great vacations and promote the values we all share.”

Ethical Traveler used publicly available data to evaluate destinations on a broad spectrum of criteria including ecosystem support, natural and cultural attractions, political rights, press freedom, women’s equality, commitment to LGBT rights, and— the survey’s newest indicator— terrestrial and marine area protection.

Among the three examples of best practices: “Ghana maintains a high degree of freedom of the press, has a stable democracy which just re-elected a pro-environment President; about 15 percent of its territory is environmentally protected in some form. Latvia is well-rated for human rights and press freedom; it was also the most-improved country on the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In Uruguay, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and women’s rights are among the best in the region.”

This year’s report also includes a section recognizing “Destinations of Interest” for the coming year.  While not part of the 10 Best Ethical Destinations, Ethical Traveler encourages potential tourists to peer behind the “media curtain” and explore controversial countries like Burma, Cuba and Namibia that are in the midst of dramatic social changes.”

National Park Hotels Join Historic Hotels Group

Landmark park lodges join prestigious hotel group

Eight national park lodges in the West (specifically in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Zion and Crater Lake National Parks) have joined Historic Hotels of America (HHA), a program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They are all operated by Denver-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts, so perhaps this company made a combined application for them all. I am actually a bit surprised that they haven’t been members of HHA for a long time. Herewith, the class of 2012:

  • El Tovar, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.  Sometimes described as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian villa (though I don’t quite see that), El Tovar was a Fred Harvey Hotel, designed by architect Charles Whittlesey, built for $250,000 and opened on January 14, 1905.  It sits on the edge of the South Rim.
  • Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon NP.  Legendary  architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed Phantom Ranch, which was built in 1922, for guests on mule rides from the rim to the river. In fact, it is still the only lodging facility  located below the rim. It offers bunk-style      cabins for hikers, mule riders and river rafters — and I can tell you it’s the place to get a cold beer or a frosty lemonade on a hot Arizona day after descending more than a vertical mile to the bottom of the canyon.
  • Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins, Grand Canyon NP.  Also designed by Mary Colter, the Bright Angel Lodge has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1982, which makes joining HHA a 30th anniversary tribute. The hotel is famous for panoramic vistas of the   canyon. The park’s oldest building, the two-room “Red Horse Cabin,” recently  reopened after an extensive refurbishment. It was built in 1890 and moved to the Grand Canyon 22 years later to serve as a  tourist hotel and post office. It was incorporated into Bright Angel Lodge in 1935 by Mary Colter.
  • Lake  Yellowstone Hotel,  Yellowstone NP, Wyoming.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this elegant 1889 structure features a massive sunroom overlooking Yellowstone Lake. It is the park’s grandest hotel.
  • Old  Faithful Inn, Yellowstone NP.  One of the best known of all national park lodges, this massive structure or logs and stone was built in 1903-04  by a partnership of the Yellowstone Park Company and Northern Pacific Railroad has been a National Historic Landmark since 1987. architect Robert Reamer designed it and 40 craftsmen built it — a construction crew that didn’t need to do as much electrical work, plumbing, ADA compliance and other modern requirements. These, of course, have since been met, but without jeopardizing its place on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Crater Lake Lodge,  Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. Originally opened in 1915, Crater Lake Lodge has been  listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1981.  But it lived hard, with harsh winters and seasonal operations. TheNational Park Service closed the deteriorating lodge in 1988, but was  in 1995 after a massive renovation that restored it to its original elegance.
  •  Inn at Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP, California. This gracious inn opened in 1927 with 12 guest rooms that cost $10 per night. Tourism boomed when Death Valley was   designated a national monument in 1933, and another 56 rooms were  eventually added. This Spanish-style hotel lies is the centerpiece of an oasis in the starkly beautiful Death Valley.
  • Zion Lodge,  Zion NP, Utah. Architect Gilbert Stanley designed the originaltwo-story  lodge (now 75 rooms) and 40 cottages for the Union

Best Hotels in (Part of) the West

California-centric Sunset magazine shortchanges the rest of the West

Sunset magazine’s slogan is “Living in the West,”but the publication might consider changing it to “Living in California and Sometimes in Other More Trivial States.” The new October 2011 issue includes a list of what it deems the 25 best hotels in the West, 13 of which are in California. That’s more than half. The most in any other Western state or province is two. The top 25 are geographically divided thusly:

  • California,  13
  • Washington, 2
  • Oregon, 2
  • Idaho, 0
  • Montana, 0
  • Wyoming, 0
  • Colorado, 2
  • Arizona, 2
  • New Mexico, 1
  • Nevada, 1
  • Hawaii, 0
  • Alaska, 0
  • British Columbia, 2
  • Alberta, 0

Is it possible that more than half of the top 25 are in California? That no other state boasts more than two and that five states and one province have none at all? Sunset, surely you know better.

You know and I know that the Golden State is the 800-pound gorilla of the West, but this list is nowhere near balanced. Or objective. Or accurate. Even considering some of the magazine’s own criteria. One is, “Can you see the Golden Gate Bridge?” You can indeed see it spectacularly from the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito in Marin County, but even the view from San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale is of the Bay Bridge. For the rest, this criterion is even more laughable. And in southern California, very little is within an hour’s drive of anything else.

The editors also wrote that “almost every place is within an hour’s drive of a major airport, and most are closer.” Not exactly, folks. In northern California, Napa (Solage Calistoga), Sonoma (Farmhouse Inn), Big Sur (Post Ranch Inn) and Paso Robles (Hotel Cheval) are well over an hour’s drive from San Francisco or Oakland Airports, and Sausalito (Cavallo Point Lodge) might squeeze into that timeframe in a very fast car and not during the rush hour. Might!

Travel Babel Wins SATW Blog Award

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I am honored that this travel blog received the gold award in the 2011 Society of American Travel Writers Western Chapter Writing Awards. The certificate is nice, the check is nice too, but nicest of all are thejudges’ words on  an accompanying sheet: “The key to a successful blog is frequent, consistent updating. This blogger [that would be me!] keeps the copy coming day after day. Entries, such as the one updating Egyptian antiquity tourism in the midst of the country’s revolution, offer a personal note on a breaking story. Others offer tidbits, tips and interesting updates.”

Travel Babel Semi-Finalist for Blog Award

Austin-Lehman Adventures’ announces a drawing for a  trip open only to readers of honored blogs

An E-mail that just landed in my inbox brought good news for me — and maybe for you too. I learned that this blog is a semi-finalist for the first Austin-Lehman Adventures travel blog awards. Here’s what the adventure travel company said:
“Each blog provides the most fascinating, up-to-date content on travel tips, adventure, family travel and the everyday life of a traveler. These blogs are imaginative, fun, original and poignant, reaching to the heart of what traveling is all about–discovery, adventure and finding yourself. Congratulations to these excellent bloggers!”

I’m flattered amd honored to be in the company of some of the blogs I most admire. It’s a long list — 125 blogs — but considering how many thousands of  travel sites are floating in the blogosphere, it’s still great recognition. And I thank them.

Enter This Contest
 
Austin-Lehman Adventures has also launched a giveaway for readers of nominated blogs: a $5,000 credit toward a trip for two on the winner’s choice Austin-Lehman Adventure trip to North, Central and South America, Europe, the Pacific Rim or Africa. featuring gourmet dining, multi-sport adventures and nature’s charm at all-inclusive rates. Click here for details and an online entry form.

Elliott.org’s Top 10 Travel Blogs for 2010

An elite list of high-traffic, high-visibility travel blogs

Chris Elliott is an oft-honored travel consumer advocate whose projects include elliottt.org, the go-to site for aggrieved  travelers with problems and complaints they can’t get resolved themselves. He annually puts out a list of the best travel blogs around. In his first couple of years, he made the selections himself — including, I’m still proud to say, this blog. He has refined his process, and this year solicited nominations and let his readers decide on the Top 10 Travel Blogs of 2010.

In announcing the 2010 list today, he wrote, “I polled 954 readers, offering a list of 20 nominees, which were chosen based on their visibility and traffic. Although the initial list was subjective, I included a write-in option. Two of the winners — Johnny Vagabond and Legal Nomads — were write-ins.”  

The list follows, along with my congratulations to all.

1. Gadling
2. Johnny Vagabond
3. Brave New Traveler
4. Airfare Watchdog
5. Consumer Traveler
6. BootsnAll
7. Legal Nomads
8. Everything Everywhere
9. The Middle Seat
10. World Hum

He added, “Next year, I will try to expand the list to include more travel blogs.”  I take that as good news for those of us who are smaller blogfish in an increasingly large blogpond.

Ritz-Carlton, Denver Wins AAA 5 Diamond Honors

Hard-to-attain rating goes to downtown hotel despite an unpromising location

The Ritz-Carlton, Denver, has been honored with Five Diamonds  from AAA, the only hotel in the Mile High City with that top ranking. AAA says that of the 31,000 lodging properties approved, only 1 percent achieve that lofty rating. The association considers Five Diamond properties to be premier establishments that provide the ultimate in quality, service and amenities. The press release says, “The luxury hotel in the heart of downtown boasts the largest guest rooms in Denver, renowned Ritz-Carlton service and sweeping mountain and city views for an inspired setting.”

I’ve dined at Elways right off the lobby and attended functions in its fine meeting rooms but never stayed at the hotel or even seen any of its roooms. Heart of Denver? Not exactly. Inspired setting? Not eactly either. When the hotel was beging built, I used to joke that it could be called the Ritz-Carlton at the Bus Station, because that’s just across the street. It’s closer to the noisy sports bars clustered around Coors Field than to  the Denver Performing Arts Center or trendy LoDo restaurants and galleries. From the beginning, however, I admired the developer’s courage in picking this site — formerly an Embassy Suites — and giving it a complete, utter and total makeover.

No more joking, because five diamonds validate the Ritz-Carlton’s uncompromising management and operations for garnering such a honor in a non-prime location. There are other excellent hotels downtown (the venerable Brown Palace, the stylish Hotel Teatro,  a couple of Hyatts, the Westin at Tabor Center, the light-hearted Hotel Monaco and the super-funky Curtis Hotel), but the Ritz-Carlton, Denver is the only one to garner five stars. It opened in January 2008 with five-star ambitions, and these have been realized. Perhaps this honor will also help sales of the lusury condominiums that are part of the property and share the Ritz-Carlton name but were brought up short by the recession that started just a few months after the ribbon-cutting. All the more reason to admire the honor. 

The hotel is located at 1881 Curtis Street, Denver, Colorado 80202 ; 303-312-3800.  

Travel Babel Makes Another "Top" Blog List

More recognition for this blog — this time, from an air-travel site

Travel Babel has been getting some awesome recognition lately. AirlineTickets, which sounds like a ticket consolidator site but in fact has some neat travel content, has included this blog in its new list of “Top 35 Travel Blogs.” Again, I find my blog in august company, and again I’m thrilled.  The blogger(s) doesn’t/don’t put his/her/their names on the AirlineTicket site, wrote of Travel Babel:

“Though this blogger is based out of Colorado, her blog writing takes you all over the world and offers real world advice for every type of traveler. It was also recently named one of the Top 25 Awesome Travel Blogs on Cheaphotels.net.”

Airline Tickets is actually a blog mostly about airlines and air travel but also some posts about general travel, with illustrated lists of the best this (“Best Airlines to Earn Rewards“) and worst that (“Worst U.S. Airlines“), plus general (air) travel tips and other cool info. I liked the “8 Annoying Types of Travelers.” I think I’ve sat next to them all. AirportParking, its sister site, delivers the kind of info that its name implies.