Luxury Trips takes Winter Parkers on safaris

Winter Park-based Luxury Tours takes locals on extravagant adventures in the heart of Africa.

Winter Park-based Luxury Tours takes locals on extravagant adventures in the heart of Africa.

Tim Freed

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In the diverse continent of Africa, a broad landscape of mountains, savannah plains, rainforests and deserts teems with life. Lions stalk zebras in the grasslands throughout east and South Africa, Silverback gorillas roam the dense jungles in the central part of the continent, and indigenous tribes live off the land as their ancestors have for hundreds of years.

Thousands of miles away in Central Florida, Luxury Trips business owner Sunit Sanghrajka hopes to bring Winter Park residents to the evolving continent; to help them catch a glimpse of a dramatically shifting landscape where wildlife and ancient tribes are under pressure from the encroaching modern world.

Travel + Leisure magazine will recognize Sanghrajka for his knowledge of African tourism this month on its 2013 A-List, a collection of the world’s top travel advisors separated by region.

But the list also shows a trend of growth in African tourism over the past 10 years, Sanghrajka said. Of the 161 entries on the A-List, many of the experts call Africa their specialty.

“At least a quarter of that group has some focus on Africa, which is remarkable because only a decade ago … there were just so many negatives,” Sanghrajka said.

Tourists often have avoided Africa for fear of Malaria and political violence, he said. Only in recent years have those issues begun to subside.

But Zimbabwe native and former tour guide Andre Steynberg noted that Africa deals with issues like anywhere else, and that the real beauty of the continent – the people, the culture and the landscape – shines through.

“There’s something for everyone in Africa,” said Steynberg, now the vice president of sales at Luxury Trips.

Sanghrajka, born and raised in Kenya, quickly fell in love with his country and the continent surrounding it.

In 1993, Sanghrajka went to work in his family’s safari business. That led Sanghrajka in 2005 to start Luxury Trips, the travel agency connected to his other company, Alluring Africa, which lends tourism expertise to travel agencies around the world.

He eventually came to Winter Park in 2008, and opened his Luxury Trips location off of Park Avenue two years later.

“Orlando attracts so many people from so many different parts of the world,” Sanghrajka said. “For a small city, you’ve got a pretty incredibly international base and international focus.”

The wildlife in Africa remains one of the greatest draws for tourism, but many of these animals are dwindling in number, either because of poachers or transmitted diseases.

There are only about 20,000 lions in Africa today, 30,000 less than the amount estimated in the 1990s, according to National Geographic.

“As people become more learned, they realize how rare this opportunity is to see this magnificent animal in its natural habitat,” Sanghrajka said.

Winter Park resident Mary Langley took in the experience in March with her husband, traveling to Zambia, Botswana and Cape Town, South Africa, for three weeks. Langley snapped hundreds of photographs of elephants, giraffes and lions.

“It’s like this is what our creator wanted our earth to be like,” Langley said. “It was very spiritual, because everything was beautiful, pristine and natural.”

The untouched nature of Africa can be seen not only in the wildlife, but in the indigenous people, Sanghrajka said.

Along Lake Eyasi in Tanzania, the Hadzabe tribe practices customs dating back hundreds of years ago, including traditional bow and arrow hunting and the hunter/gatherer system.

Tourists can spend a day within their tribe, encountering a way of life passed on for generations.

“If it was just completely up to me, absolutely every trip that we plan would have that emphasis,” Sanghrajka said.

That’s because of the impending change that African tribes face from the outside world, Sanghrajka said. Growing economies and advances in communication press in on the rural tribes, forcing education upon them and causing their ancient customs to fade away.

Professional photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, who have photographed African tribes since the 1980s, have said tribes are quickly disappearing each time they release a new photo book, which they’ve done four times in the past 10 years.

Almost 100 people have travelled to Africa since Luxury Trips came to Park Avenue, with 90 percent of them coming from the Winter Park area.

Sanghrajka admitted that Africa evolves and changes as time goes on, but said that the free spirit of Africa and the sense of belonging it gives will always remain.

“Africa is one of those destinations where it actually does something to your soul,” Sanghrajka said.

“I think when people go to Africa there’s a sense of belonging, and it’s very hard to describe.”