Best African Train Safaris and the Most Memorable Journeys by Rail

table in the bush in the timbavati

Travelling through Africa by train is a magical way to experience its scenic beauty in comfort. Some of the continent’s historic rail lines have been carefully restored and lovingly maintained for over a century, while a few brand-new high-speed rail lines have begun offering service just recently. Both ends of the spectrum offer a convenient and enjoyable way to travel between major cities and across the more iconic landscapes the continent offers.

Include a journey by rail on your African safari vacation to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can fit well within your travel plans by making your journey as exciting as the destination.

The following are some of Africa’s most notable or famous rail lines to consider booking a ticket on as part of your safari trip.

The Blue Train

The crown jewel of Africa’s historic rail lines, South Africa’s “Blue Train” began service in 1923 as a way to transport luxury businessmen and travellers from steam ship ports in Cape Town to Pretoria.

Each trip covers just under 1,000 miles over the course of 27 hours, including a stop in the either the Karoo town of Matjiesfontein or Kimberly, a historic diamond mining town in the Northern Cape province. Sleeper compartments offer the luxury of a five-star hotel, and tickets to the train include gourmet meals and complimentary drinks genuinely fit for royalty. Indeed, passengers on the Blue Train have included kings, princes, diplomats and celebrities.

All of this luxury comes at a steep price — around $1,600 for a one-way ticket. Those who balk at that fare can instead opt for a journey on the Shosholoza Meyl train, which costs about a tenth as much for a two or four-berth sleeper compartment, although meals in the restaurant car cost extra. The Shosholoza Meyl offers a scenic voyage across South Africa’s Karoo region and the Cape winelands.

Jambo Kenya Deluxe

Once a luxurious rail line, Kenya’s Jambo Kenya Deluxe is now beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, your leisurely journey from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi only costs about $60 for a first-class ticket, which includes a hot breakfast and a three-course dinner.

Those seeking more modern comfort can find it on the Madaraka Express, which just began service this past month. This extremely modern Chinese-built rail line provides high-speed service from Mombasa to Nairobi while crossing through Tsavo National Park, allowing passengers to catch a glimpse at elephants, antelopes and other majestic wildlife along their journey.

Desert Express

The Desert Express in Namibia is a sumptuous rail line offering service for travellers from Namibia’s capital of Windhoek to the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Options for travel range from direct trips to a seven day excursion across Namibia, encompassing a safari in Etosha Park, a yacht cruise in Walvis Bay, game drives and scenic train rides in comfortable cars across the Namib Desert.

Other Well-Known Lines

  • Rovos Rail’s Prince of Africa provides service from Cape Town through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania in a 14 luxury journey.
  • Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) offers two trains, the Kilimanjaro and the Mukuba Express both travelling from New Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The two day journey is slow and not-quite luxurious but perfect for those looking to authentically experience Africa.
  • The Zimbabwe Rail travels between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1950s-era British-built cars that still bear the now-defunct Rhodesia Railway’s “RR” logos.

Include a Train Ride on Your African Safari Vacation

You can explore your options for including a scenic journey by rail on your safari tour when you look at our Africa safari vacation packages now. You can also contact us directly for a custom safari tour package that includes a ride on the rail of your choice along with a curated itinerary of the best activities offered in your preferred area of travel.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Africa’s 4 Deadliest Snakes: How to Avoid Getting Bit

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Africa’s abundant wildlife evolved in some pretty astounding ways to help each species get their lunch without becoming lunch in the process. In the case of Africa’s deadliest snakes, a combination of clever camouflage and potent venom can allow them to play both offense and defense as the situation arises.

Before revealing the most dangerous of these snakes, let’s go ahead and put the idea to rest that they are likely give you a chomp on your African safari trip. All snakes are incredibly shy, more likely to slither away and flee a fight rather than defend themselves with their fangs. Snakes also never strike unless cornered, and only a few in Africa happen to have venom.

By following our tips at the end of this post, you can also reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with these snakes even if you do happen to cross their path.

With that out of the way, here are some of Africa’s most lethal — and beautiful — serpents:

Boomslang

The boomslang snake is a blue/green tree-dwelling snake found in the jungles of Sub-Saharan Africa with a great name and even better coloration. Its venom is slow-acting but potentially deadly, causing internal bleeding over hours or days if left untreated.

Luckily, boomslang bites are rare because the snake flees quickly from humans.

Cape Cobra

Calling the arid regions of Southern Africa home, the Cape Cobra hunts during the day and is particular fond of weaver bird nests, often stealthily infiltrating them for a raw omelette snack. They also have a tendency to find their way into human settlements in search of mice and small prey.

When threatened, they will sit upright, bear their copper-colored belly scales and fan out their iconic hood. In this position, they will not hesitate to strike in response to sudden movement, but standing still will often give them the chance they need to slink away.

Black Mamba

The black mamba is the most famous of African snakes thanks to the gargantuan dose of venom it delivers and its immense size — up to eight feet long! The snake itself is usually brown rather than black, but when threatened it will bare the black inside of its mouth to frighten away predators.

Unlike other mambas, which tend to live in trees, the black mamba hunts in tall grass along the ground. They avoid humans at all costs, staying far away from settlements and typically fleeing rather than getting defensive.

Puff Adder

Puff adders are responsible for the most snake bites of any venomous species in Africa because of their incredible camouflage and widespread distribution. They will hiss quite loudly when threatened and inhale air to “puff” up their body size and appear larger.

While puff adder bites are common, this viper’s venom is mercifully well-tolerated by humans. Most people seek treatment in the time needed to prevent going into a critical condition, and even untreated cases have an 85 percent survival rate.

Avoiding Snake Bites on an African Safari Trip

Your best bet for avoiding snake bites is to wear tall, thick boots with stiff ankles since most bites occur on ankles. You should also avoid walking in tall grasses since many snakes hide in them and will strike if surprised.

When walking around the bush, keep an eye at ground level and walk firmly to send vibrations that make snakes aware of your presence. Pay close attention to your guide’s advice since they have the knowledge and experience to help you avoid risky interactions.

At your lodging, ensure your doors and windows stay shut. Because camp tents zip up tight, they actually provide better protection than most lodge-style buildings.

If confronted by a snake, react calmly and give them a chance to flee. You can move slowly around the snake if possible, outside of striking range. If you must retreat backwards, do so very slowly.

And remember, even if you do happen to get bit, most snakes in Africa are not venomous. We are quite familiar with the ones that are, so most game reserves and park clinics have an ample supply of antivenom for each snake type on hand! Seek treatment quickly, and your odds of survival are typically near 100 percent.

With all this information, you can appreciate the true beauty and uniqueness of these snakes without getting too up close and personal of a look.

Start planning your African trip — where you may even see a rare snake from the safety of your game drive vehicle — by taking a look at our African safari tour packages today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

7 Small Cats of Africa That Need Your Love, Too

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Africa’s lions, leopards and cheetahs are absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word, but they are not the only fabulous felines the continent has to offer. In fact, there are seven other species of wild cats that can be found during an African safari vacation.

While these kitties may be smaller than their larger counterparts, they are no less beautiful or fascinating. Many of them actually happen to have some fairly astounding abilities, like leaping 10 feet into the air! Read on to learn more about seven small cats of Africa that need your love, too.

Caracal

Caracals are gorgeous, medium-sized wild cats recognizable by the tall black tufts they sport on their ears. They stand about 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh up to 40 pounds.

While caracals may be best known for their wispy ears, they have an even more impressive quality: they are some of the world’s best jumpers. An adult caracal can leap up to 10 feet in the air in order to catch elusive prey like pheasants and other birds. The ancient Egyptians even once tamed caracals to use for hunting.

Spotting a caracal is difficult because they are mostly nocturnal, solitary and shy, but they can potentially be found throughout grasslands in southern and eastern Africa.

Serval

A serval is another medium-sized African cat. This species often looks like a large version of housecat but with longer legs and a stunning spotted coat. In fact, the serval has the longest legs relative to body size of any cat. They typically stand around 20 inches at the shoulder and weigh 30 to 40 pounds.

Although they are still shy, you can find servals more easily than caracals. They have a wide-ranging habitat stretching across central Africa and reaching along the east coast all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.

African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat is an incredibly rare and beautiful medium-sized cat that lives almost exclusively in the forests of the Congo, with some subspecies also being found along swathes of the west African coast.

This species is reddish-brown, and about twice the size of a typical domestic cat, weighing up to 35 lbs. Seeing an African golden cat is truly a rare treat that can make safaris in the Congo and East Africa well worth the trip.

African Wildcat

If you spot a creature stalking in the Savannah that looks like it could be a large stray, look a little closer. There is a solid chance that this may actually be an African wildcat, the species that was domesticated to become a common housecat.

True African wildcats have a longer, lankier, and more muscular build compared to a housecat. Their shoulder blades also protrude more noticeably, like a cheetah’s. All have a faint grey tabby pattern.

With a wide range stretching across most of Africa, they are also very common in the wild. And, like most regular cats, they definitely won’t come when you call them!

Black Footed Cat

Black-footed cats are tiny, spotted cats that are found predominantly in arid regions of South Africa. Weighing less than six pounds on average and at a standard size half that of a typical domestic cat, black-footed cats may be the smallest wild cat species in the world.

They typically hunt at night and rest during the day in abandoned burrows dug by animals like aardvarks. Their small size means they must hunt voraciously every night to maintain their energy — an adult black-footed cat may catch as many as 14 small animals a night!

Cats of North Africa

  • The Sand Cat is a small cat adapted to life in the desert, with thick paw pads and large ears used to detect vibrations caused by small prey.
  • The Jungle Cat is rare in Africa, only found near the Nile in Egypt, but found more commonly in the jungles of southern Asia. They live mostly in wetland habitats, hunting with large fangs.

Come Get to Know Africa’s Small Cats on an African Safari Vacation

You can potentially meet Africa’s small cats in person — and ensure they get the spotlight they need to shine alongside their big cousins — when you book an African safari vacation package today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

6 Facts about Lake Malawi Will Make You Go Get Your Snorkel Gear

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Lake Malawi is an incredibly gorgeous place unlike anywhere else on Earth. The stunning lake is home to hundreds of cichlid species, picturesque still waters and a community of friendly locals eager to warmly greet new visitors.

Explaining all that makes Lake Malawi unique and worth visiting on a Malawi safari tour could take a lifetime, so here is a smattering of the six most interesting facts about the lake to encourage to come visit and explore.

1. It’s One of the Biggest Lakes in the World

Lake Malawi is officially the ninth-biggest lake in the world and the third-biggest lake in Africa. At 11,400 square feet of surface, Lake Malawi is large enough to fit the state of Massachusetts within its shores!

The lake can also plunge surprisingly deep, with its deepest point reaching 2,316 feet, or nearly a half mile.

2.  It Has the Highest Number of Fish Species of Any Lake in the World, Including Over 700 Cichlids

Lake Malawi’s biggest celebrities are the colorful cichlid fish that teem near its shores. Biologists estimate that there could be over 700 different cichlid species, and we have only begun to scratch the surface of recording and categorizing all of them.

There are also many other interesting species, including the spotted Mochokidae catfish and the neon-tinged African tetra.

3. It Was Formed Around 2 Million Years Ago From a Rift in the Earth

Lake Malawi sits on the bottom of a massive geological formation known as the East African Rift. This rift was formed when tectonic plate underneath the African continent shifted, changing the flow of rivers and causing many bodies of water to form, including Lake Victoria and the tributaries of the Nile.

4. Its Waters Stay in Stratified Layers That Never Mix

Most lakes have warm and cool waters that churn over the course of the seasons, mixing up oxygen and sediments while causing dynamic changes throughout the year. Instead, Lake Malawi forms layers of water that never change, making it what geologists call a “meromictic lake.”

These distinct and unchanging water layers make Lake Malawi incredibly clear and blue, and they may have also helped drive speciation within the diverse cichlid populations.

5. Explorer Dr. Livingstone Called It the “Lake of Stars”

Lake Malawi was first discovered by Europeans in 1846 when Portuguese traders stumbled upon it. The famous explorer David Livingstone later charted the Lake’s shores and gave it the nickname of “the Lake of Stars” because of the lanterns upon fishing canoes that twinkled like stars in the night.

The Lake of Stars is now the name of a popular music festival occurring on the shores of Lake Malawi.

6. It Was the Site of the First Naval “Battle” of World War I

Legend has it that a British gunboat patrolling Lake Malawi, the SS Gwendolen, scored the U.K.’s first naval victory of World War I when it captured the German vessel Hermann von Wissmann. In truth, the Gwendolen’s Captain Rhoades made no attempt to sink the Wissman and instead snuck up on the vessel and fired one warning shot.

The crews of both ships were drinking buddies who would frequently partake in parties involving copious amounts of Malawi’s famous local gin. Allegedly, the captain of the Wissmann responded to the warning shot by shouting: “God d***, Rhoades, are you drunk?”

While the Wissmann was never scuttled, scuba divers can still find many shipwrecks within the deep, clear waters of Lake Malawi where cichlids and other fish claim new homes.

Come Explore Lake Malawi on a Malawi Safari Tour!

Boating, canoeing, water-skiing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or just relaxing on the beach with a locally made gin and tonic can all be possible when you visit Lake Malawi as part of your African safari tour package. The lake is also home to African fish eagles, crocodiles, elephants, hippopotamus, monkeys and many other captivating species.

Come see everything the incredible lake and the national park on its southern shores can offer when you book your safari adventure today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

image: Chintheche Inn

What to Expect on a Game Drive During Your African Safari Tour

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When people think of an “African safari tour,” they are typically thinking of game drives. Parks like Kruger and the Maasai Mara are enormous, so riding in a vehicle is one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground without getting exhausted. You can also make sure to see some of the best viewing experiences all in short time.

You are definitely encouraged to try other sorts of activities during your stay, such as a “bush walk” walking safari or a canoeing safari upon a river, but game drives will likely comprise a large portion of your wildlife viewings and give you a chance to become more familiar with a park.

So what can first-timers expect on a game drive? Even though every experience is unique and every lodge will do drives differently, there are plenty of common threads. You can learn about a typical game drive by reading on.

Open Air Vehicles

Most game drive vehicles have an open top for maximum viewing. There are three rows of seats that can accommodate 2-3 people each. These are raised like theatre seats so that each row is taller than the one in front, with the rear row as the tallest. One person may have the option to sit next to the ranger in the front, which will be the lowest seat but one with unobstructed front views.

Usually Two Guides: A Ranger and a Spotter

You will be most likely accompanied by two people on your drive. A ranger drives the vehicle and is responsible for serving as your direct guide, telling you stories and information while answering questions. The second person is a “spotter,” who stays focused on helping you locate wildlife while keeping an eye out for possible threats.

Interacting with your ranger is highly encouraged, but try not to distract the spotter.

Game Lodges Working as a Team

Game drive operators understand that the best way for everyone to enjoy their trip and see as many animals as possible is to work together. They will usually communicate over radio when a significant find is spotted, like a family of elephants, an elusive leopard with a kill or lions sunbathing near the road.

No one wants ten cars crowded around a single lion, though, so guides refer to an implied set of etiquette rules, giving the reporting vehicle the best position while other vehicles try to hang slightly back until the first vehicle departs. You may even find yourself in a sort of “queue” as each vehicle pauses to give everyone a satisfactory photo op.

Stay patient and be respectful of other groups since this system provides the best benefits for everyone!

A Rigid Schedule

Wildlife have certain patterns throughout the day, and one of the times they are most active is in the very early morning. That means for morning drives you will be waking up anywhere from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m.

Even if you are not a morning person, it is still important to drag yourself into the 4×4 to ensure that everyone gets to leave on time and can get the most out of their drive. You can choose to sleep in at your camp instead, but you will likely feel envious if everyone comes back with stories to tell!

Evening drives are also common, usually departing around 4:00 p.m. or so. These drives usually see less action at first because the animals are still shrugging off the heat of the afternoon sun, but nocturnal animals begin to stir and get active as the sun goes down. Some lodges offer special night drives, which can come at an added cost but often see active predators and sometimes even a kill.

Plenty of Time for Snacks and Natural Business

Just because you are getting up early does not mean you will have an empty stomach! Game lodges usually provide a light “morning tea” before your drive and a heavy breakfast when you return. You can then enjoy lunch and sleep off the afternoon heat. Evening drives also have “high tea” or “sundowner meals,” which are enjoyed right in the bush.

Drivers also understand that nature calls to us all, so they will take breaks for everyone to relieve themselves in the “bush loo.” Bring your own toilet paper and a sealable, disposable bag so that you can take everything back with you. You may not want it, but the bush definitely doesn’t, either!

Book Your Perfect Lodge for Thrilling Game Drives on Your African Safari Tour

Each lodge and park offers its own set of activities and style of game drives. You can take a look at what options you may have by exploring our available safari vacation packages and then booking your exciting trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Money Saving Tips for a Cheap African Safari Tour

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Many people do not realize just how affordable an African safari vacation can be when you use the right money-saving techniques. With some smarts, know-how and plenty of research, you can significantly reduce the cost of your trip to make it a cheap African safari tour, especially on a per-day basis.

If you are interested in spending less during your trip or finding a way to plan an affordable African safari, you can use the following money-saving tips to reduce the overall cost of your vacation.

Come During the Low Season

In places like South Africa’s Kruger Park, slow times of the year mean not only better accessibility throughout the park but also cheaper prices. Local vendors and businesses change their prices to match the season. Periods of higher demand allow them to charge higher prices, but lulls in the calendar are often accompanied by discounts to lure in more customers.

Take advantage of these times! Winter is a low season in southern and eastern African parks and reserves, for instance. Everything from lodging and airfare to tours, services, goods, food and drink can all receive hefty discounts when you visit from April to October. You can also negotiate cheaper group rates for game drives, lodge stays and other services when these business owners are more motivated to earn a sale.

Keep an Eye Out for Flight Specials, But Watch Out for Remote Airports

Flight prices change nearly every hour, so the time you buy your flight to Africa can make a huge difference in terms of the final price. Set up price alerts on services like Kayak, and look up travel blogs to see if any specials or promotions are coming up soon.

With all that said, pay attention to the hidden costs of your flight, as well. Flying into a more remote town can appear to save you money, but then you must hire a taxi or bus to reach your intended destination, tacking on extra costs. Always try to calculate the final costs of your travel when buying tickets.

Another tip: Johannesburg and Cape Town often have cheap flights to other destinations throughout Africa, so consider buying separate tickets and comparing the price to other connecting flight options.

Shop Around With Lodging and Safari Tours

Many tourists come into African countries not realizing how much cheaper goods and services typically are. They then make the mistake of booking a hotel or game lodge stay at a far higher price than would be normally reasonable.

For that reason, try to find accommodation with a good reputation for quality and safety but also rates closer to what locals would expect to pay. Unless you demand the absolute best luxury, the difference in price will not affect the enjoyment you get out of your trip.

Buy From Locals, and Realize You Can Haggle

Haggling, bartering and negotiation are all common activities at local markets in many African countries. Your best bet on a great price on artisan goods is therefore to buy directly from the artists at markets and to negotiate.

Do not be too shrewd since people are trying to earn a living through their goods, but also recognize that many quoted prices may be trying to take advantage if you are clearly a foreigner.

Use a Safari Company for Cheap Safari Tour Packages

Experienced safari companies know the best places for tours, lodging and dining that provide amazing quality service at an affordable rate. When you book a vacation package through a company like Roho Ya Chui, you can get the best deals on everything, and you are also better-equipped to estimate the whole cost of your trip.

Take a look at the pre-planned safari vacation packages we offer to get an idea of just how affordable your trip can be, or contact us for a custom safari tour package based on your budget and preferred plans.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Game Drive Tips for Your African Safari Trip

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Those looking for ways to make the most of their African safari trip should consider going on a few game drives, one of the best activities for maximizing your time.

If you want to get the best photos during your game drives and increase your chances of seeing Africa’s most famous animals, you can follow these tips that can ensure you have a good time while respecting wildlife and respecting others.

Follow the Most Important Rules: Stay Inside the Vehicle, Keep Quiet and Don’t Feed the Animals

Game drives disrupt the typical experience of wildlife in the bush, but guides and safari tour companies do their best to compromise with nature. By sticking mostly to set paths, taking steps to not stress the animals and keeping interactions to snapping photos, the natural experience can be preserved as much as possible. Most animals even get used to the site and sound of 4x4s.

Uphold your end of the bargain by staying quiet during drives. Do not call out to animals to get their attention, and try to talk softly the entire drive. Definitely do not feed animals, since this can get them sick and encourage them to associate humans with food — not a good connection!

Also, most importantly, keep within the confines of the vehicle at all times. Leaning out or, heaven forbid, exiting the vehicle can stress animals and place you in a very dangerous situation.

Dress in Layers, Wear Sunscreen and Bring Repellant

Game drives can be chilly in the morning and hot in the afternoon sun. Dress in layers so that you can prepare for these temperature changes. Also, wear a brimmed hat and cover yourself in sunscreen to prevent getting burned.

Biting insects are common in many parks, especially during open air drives, so bring along plenty of repellant to reapply during your drive.

Take Along a Guidebook

During your drive, you will probably see a ton of animals you do not recognize but that look interesting. Take along an informative guidebook with photo identification of bush animals so you can know as much as possible about the world around you.

For younger safari-goers, you can print off a checklist of animals so that they can stay engaged and focus on seeing the most interesting species.

Bring Binoculars

Binoculars help you spot far away animals and set up your photos more quickly. Being forced to share binoculars can mean watching a speck by a drinking pool while everyone else sees a lion, so bring a pair for each person to ensure no one misses out.

Wait for the Vehicle to Stop Before Taking Close-Up Photos

The powerful engines in 4x4s tend to vibrate, which leads to blurry pictures if you have your lens zoomed in. Feel free to snap wide angle shots as you drive, but for the best photos wait until the engine is cut off.

Look for More Than Just the Big Five

Everyone wants to see lions, elephants and other famous “big five” animals on their trip, but you should recognize that there are plenty of beautiful species on the African continent, both big and small. Use a guidebook to help you spot birds, tell the difference between antelope-like species and appreciate sights others might miss.

Talk With Your Ranger

Your ranger has gone on hundreds of drives and has likely spent much of their life living in the bush. Feel free to ask them questions or to get them to describe their experiences, especially if you want to know more about a specific animal.

Let Nature and Your Spotter Be Your Eyes

With the tallest necks in the bush, giraffes tend to be amazing lookouts, helping you identify big cats crouched in the grass where you cannot see. Other animals like antelope tend to focus sharply when they see possible dangers. Your spotter guide will also help keep everyone focused either by staring at their target, quietly pointing or informing your ranger.

Tip Your Guides!

Game drive guides earn some wages, but they get much of their income from tips. They also tend to get motivated to do more for groups that tip generously, so if you are particularly keen on seeing something elusive like a leopard, then be a little more giving.

Tip amounts are at your discretion, but R30 to R50 or $8 a person is considered fair. No matter how much you give, be sure to thank your guide since they are providing you a service few others are capable of rendering!

Go on Several Drives to Get a Diverse Experience During Your African Safari Trip

Morning drives are usually the most productive times of day, but afternoon and nighttime drives offer differing experiences. Regardless of when you go, recognize that each drive is a dice roll in that you never know what you will see — or if you will see anything. If you have a disappointing drive one day, do not think that means you will not see more than the average group on your next drive.

You can ensure that you go on as many different drives as possible while enjoying other amazing activities like bush walks and boat rides when you book an African safari tour package and start planning your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui