Condor Tours and Travel is a 2018 Pinnacle Award Winner!

Pinnacle photoWe are so honored that the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce has acknowledged our passion, hard work, and tailored customer care with the Pinnacle Award! You may find yourself asking, “What is a Pinnacle Award?” Well, here is the inside scoop.pinnacle

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is a business advocacy organization in our community that focuses on business, civic, and political priorities. One of the best ways they support local businesses is by hosting the prestigious Pinnacle Small Business Awards during the Gwinnett Chamber Small Business Summit each year. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce pays tribute to the leading small businesses in our community. There is also a handful of categories that define the nominations and recognition of their awards. This year there were over 1200 applicants 99 finalist in 11 categories. Condor Tours & Travel was a finalist in the 0-5 Employees category against 13 other businesses and was chosen as the top company in this category.

Our agency, Condor Tours & Travel, Inc, began in 1991 selling customized Travel packages in Latin America only. Due to our success we expanded to selling travel worldwide and teaming up with suppliers to offer clients the travel experiences they seek. We now provide ongoing international vacations with customized or set tours and work alongside our clients in every step in designing their perfect getaway. In addition, we remain connected with our clients throughout their entire trip to make sure we can meet or even exceed their expectations. Due to our expertise in Latin America we now also have a wholesale division to help other travel agencies sell custom itineraries to destinations in Central and South America. We also have expanded our services to offer travel protection coverage and airline ticketing along with travel packages so clients have a one stop shop. The staff at Condor also prides itself in its community service from mentoring high school students, supporting local charities like the Giving Girls and national initiatives like the Alzheimer’s Walk to find a cure. The majority owner, Lori Snow, also works tirelessly to raise awareness for drug and alcohol prevention locally and helps with many underserved charities in Latin America with children wanting to improve their chances of success in life.
As a local, woman-owned, small business, we were nominated finalists in 2016 and 2017 before the final voting polls in 2018 where we won the award. This year we were voted in and have been presented the Pinnacle Award for Small Business 0-5 Employees winner! This Pinnacle achievement acknowledges our passionate work, commitment to our staff, clients, and our whole community as we provide excellent business services to our customers. We are so grateful for this honor to be an appreciated part of our business community.

So, are you looking for a perfect dream getaway? We are thrilled to provide you with our award-winning services on your next trip with Condor Tours & Travel!

Patagonia: Fire and Ice at the Bottom of the World

When you think of towering mountain peaks, glaciers, and icy fjords, places that come to mind include the coasts of Norway and British Columbia, or perhaps the Alps in central Europe. However, there is another part of the world that has all these features and more: Chilean Patagonia at the bottom of South America. South America usually brings to mind steamy jungles and the Amazon basin but the southern part of Chile has a much more alpine climate reminiscent of parts of Europe and northwestern North America. In addition to mountains, there are also cosmopolitan cities, spectacular ocean views and the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth! The high deserts of this region host some of the world’s largest astronomical observatories that are located here to take advantage of the clear dry air and excellent viewing conditions.

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A trip to Patagonia is certain to build enough memories to last a lifetime. Your trip to this region will start with your arrival in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Santiago is a sprawling city but with a compact city center and is easily walkable. There are many historic churches and other historic buildings located here, along with trendy restaurants and nightclubs. The experts at Condor Tours & Travel are happy to work with you to plan your stay in Santiago and find just the right neighborhood for you. The city features a variety of tours and entertainment including an innovative dinner show that features Chilean cuisine combined with a journey through Chile’s rich cultural heritage. Chilean cooking includes many seafood dishes and a great selection of Chilean wines. Because of the difference in seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, many of the fresh fruits and vegetables we get here in the United States during our winter months are imported from Chile.

Once you leave Santiago behind, you may want to visit the national park of Torres Del Paine, famed for its spectacular scenery and outdoor sporting opportunities. Kayaking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are all available here. There are numerous mountains, rivers, pampas (high grassy plains), and glaciers just waiting to be explored! The best time of year to visit is in December and January during the Chilean summer, but be advised the park is likely to be crowded and nights will still be cool so you will want to make sure you dress appropriately. The more adventurous among you might want to visit Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. Los Glaciares has more than 350 glaciers whose meltwater tumbles into the icy blue lakes below. Thrill-seekers may want to climb Fitz Roy massif or scale the borders of the Perito Moreno glacier.

North of Santiago lies the famed Atacama Desert, a place so dry that there are regions where it does not rain for years at a time. If you are a person, who enjoys quiet and solitude, the Atacama may be right for you. The desert stretches for hundreds of miles along the southern coast of Chile. Feel free to explore the salt flats, arid valleys, and eroded lava flows of this harsh but beautiful land!

No visit to Patagonia would be complete without a stop in the Chilean Lake District. The Lake District is one of the most bio-diverse and culturally interesting regions of Chile. The area is rich in fish and bird life and ranges from azure lakes to temperate rain forests and active volcanoes. The indigenous Mapuche people still live here in their traditional fishing villages alongside the descendants of German settlers who arrived in the 1850’s! The whole region is a uniquely beautiful, and at the same time, culturally enriching experience.

For those truly interested in something exotic, you might want to consider a trip to the area of Tierra del Fuego and the very southern tip of Argentina and the South American continent. In these remote lands, the climate becomes harsher and wilder and amenities fewer. Mossy forests, craggy mountain peaks and winding fjords dominate in these regions. A visit here is best done during the local summer season as winters are long, cold and dark, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and a truly unique experience. Merely a few hundred miles away across the gray storm tossed southern seas lies the icy fringe of Antarctica. Only a few intrepid souls ever make it this far south!

If your interest is piqued, we encourage you to contact Condor Tours & Travel, Inc. today. Patagonia is a land of contrasts, adventure, and romance. So why not leave behind the mundane and boring everyday world for a while? Rejuvenate yourself with a trip to Chilean Patagonia. You can contact Lori at info@condortoursandtravel.com for more information or visit their web site at www.condortoursandtravel.com.

A South African Safari

When my wife asked me if I wanted to join her on her South Africa Safari trip to Makutsi Resort, I have to admit I wasn’t overly excited about going. Why spend money and sit on a plane for many hours to go and look at animals I can see at the local zoo? I committed to the trip still reluctant about what I was getting myself into, but it didn’t take me long to change my tune!

We left Atlanta with a direct flight to Johannesburg and after an overnight layover we took a short flight to Hoedspruit Airfield. The local airport was an experience in itself. After landing, it seemed we taxied forever to get to what was considered the terminal. We stopped on the runway, took the stairs down to the tarmac, and walked through a small fenced area into what looked like a small house. As we waited, a tractor with a luggage carrier delivered our luggage to the front of the building and everyone grabbed their bags.

We were met by our Makutsi driver, who loaded our luggage into a van, and we started the journey to the lodge. It was about an hour drive, passing through the city and farm areas. The fence companies here must be making millions, because fences were everywhere along the sides of the road, some electrified and some just standard wire fencing. Not sure if they were keeping things in or out! We turned down a bumpy road and were greeted at an attended gate by a very friendly man that let us in. Finally we entered the Makutsi property, at about 5:00pm.

We were taken to the Lapa, an outside bar/wildlife viewing area, where we were greeted by Karen, a very pleasant woman who was always smiling. We went over the rules: no walking about before 7:00am or after 5:30pm, no approaching the animals, etc. WHAT? There are wild animals walking about that you really need to be told not to approach? We were given a map of the surrounding area and were pointed in the direction of our rondavel. As we walked to our home for the week we were taken aback by the trees, flowers, and greenness of the resort. AND YES, the animals you weren’t supposed to approach: impala, warthogs, nyala and monkeys, to name just a few, were all around.

We entered our rondavel – which is a round hut with a grass thatched roof, and found it to be spacious, clean and comfortable. It had a king bed with mosquito netting, two rattan chairs, rattan loveseat, desk, refrigerator, shelf unit, wardrobe, and a full bath with a huge walk in shower. Very rustic looking and appropriate for the location. I wondered how I would survive without cell phone, internet, TV or even a radio – but I found that I did not miss any of them!
We unpacked and got settled and waited for the van to pick us up for dinner. Around 6:45pm the van picked us up in observance of the rule that we not walk about after 5:30pm. We waited in the Lapa with others and at 7:00pm the sound of beating drums was heard around the property, signaling that dinner was about to be served and for us to head towards the dining area.

Dinner at the resort was served at two long tables, where we all sat together, which encouraged guests to share the day’s adventures and pictures. Dinner was an affair with appetizers, main course and dessert. The food was really delicious, and one would guess so, as it is basically a farm to table establishment. No menu to ponder over. You get the menu for the day, and they are very accommodating of special dietary needs. Wine and sodas are extra, and the local wine is wonderful.

After dinner we took a short walk to the Lapa for after dinner drinks and more socializing. If you preferred, you could be immediately picked up by the van and escorted back to your rondavel. The drivers were careful to walk you to your door for safety. We settled in and I walked outside to star gaze before retiring. Star gazing was encouraged with the warning to leave your door ajar in case you needed to retreat quickly. The night sky was amazing! I had never seen so many stars. It was very quiet as I sat on the porch in the chair. I could hear animals off in the distance, and then I heard something close by. I could not see it because it was too dark, but I could hear it, and it was coming my way. It was the first night and as I didn’t want to get eaten by a lion, I hurriedly excited my chair and came inside for the evening, peering through the window, a little scared. We were tired from the trip and sleep came easy. Our morning safari pick-up was at pre-dawn.

After a restful sleep, the Range Rover picked us up a little before 6am and off we went into the wild. The roads were bumpy, the sun was rising, and the weather was chilly. We traveled along winding trails and spotted impalas and kudus, but we were looking for bigger game. Across the river, which was dry, we had our first sighting of a herd of elephants. There were roughly six to eight elephants eating, and we stopped to watch. It was unnerving how close we were to the herd. Those guys are big, and I would guess no further than 10 to 15 feet away. We spotted some baboons in the trees while we watched the gentle giants go about their day. All the while African go-away birds (grey lourie) screeched letting everyone know that intruders were in the area.

Onward we traveled as the sun rose on the horizon. Spotting animals became a mission – scanning the horizon and brush looking for any movement. I was terrible at this part! We would stop and the guide would point things out, but it always took me awhile to see what he was seeing.

That morning, in just three hours, we came across elephants, impalas, nyalas, baboons, kudu, giraffes, Y-Bills and more. aIMG_7518We headed back to the Lapa and unloaded. Everyone was excited about our first safari and what we had seen. Breakfast was waiting for us outside on the lawn. Long tables were set up with plenty to eat. You could choose from an assortment of fruit, yogurt, breads, cheeses, lunchmeats, cereals, juices, milk, coffees and teas, and eggs to order. The kitchen staff was very friendly and pleasant, and we really enjoyed them.

HippoLater that day we visited Hippo Hide, which is a watering hole a couple of miles away from the resort area that has a viewing station with a covered deck. 0821181556The gamble with the Hippo Hide is that you never know what you might see, other than the hippo, covered with terrapins, sunning himself, who apparently has his own private lake. After arriving, we spotted nyalas and kudus each taking their nervous turns at the watering hole. We heard crashing through the brush and trees and spotted a herd of elephants heading our way. We waited in anticipation as they approached. We spent several minutes in awe, cameras clicking away, watching as they ate and wandered to the water. There must have been six to eight with two babies. It was humbling to watch them drink and spray and frolic in the water. They are amazing creatures and I have to admit, they became my favorites. Returning to the Lapa, we headed back to the rondavel to freshen up for dinner. On a later Hippo Hide visit we spotted giraffes drinking from the pond and a leopard with her baby, actually being run off by the nyala. Who would have thought that could happen?1534829396142

We experienced a safari day to include a morning and afternoon safari, and a day which included a five hour night safari. We also took a day trip to visit Kruger National Park, and another day trip for Blyde Canyon. aIMG_7726It was amazing to walk around Makutsi and see nyalas, kudus, monkeys, and warthogs going about their business as you walked past them. There was one time that elephants passed behind the tennis courts, and giraffes walked beyond the Lapa. Buffalo also frequented the viewing pond at the Lapa.aIMG_7775

The staff was amazing, friendly, and always willing to assist or answer questions. The guides were great as well. These guys know everything from plants, birds, stars, as well as the animals and how they live. How they spot everything they do is still a mystery to me.

I don’t want to bore you with all the details of every day; however, it seemed each day was better than the one before. During our stay, we saw zebras, giraffes, impalas, kudus, waterbucks, hyenas, wildebeests, monkeys, warthogs, hippos, ostrich and some amazing birds, and the sought after BIG 5: leopards, lions, rhinos, buffalo and elephants. Some of our highlights were of a lion and lioness with cubs, out just before dusk. The female walked no further than 10 feet from our vehicle. We spotted a male lion in the brush very close at no more than six feet from us.

I’m pretty sure you could just go on a bird watching safari; there were some amazing birds, from the African Fish-Eagle, White Stork, Cape Glossy Starling, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Guinea Fowls, the Go-Away birds and many more that I’m sure we missed.

The take away for me was that it was a once in a lifetime experience. You will experience how wild animals live in their environment, and how nature’s laws are in full effect for all of them. You are just a bystander watching it all happen. The amazing fact is that the animals don’t seem to worry about the vehicle or who is in it. They will stop and watch you as much as you are watching them. At times it was unnerving how close we were to some of the world’s most deadly predators. If an African Safari seems like the vacation of a lifetime, contact us at Condor Tours and Travel, and let us make this dream a reality for you!