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August 10, 2017

The A-List is Travel + Leisure's annual selection of the world's best travel agents and destination specialists, as chosen by the editors. Rely on these industry experts to plan the perfect trip to Africa and the Middle East. For more about our methodology and how to apply, read How We Choose the Travel Agents for T+L’s A-List.

Africa

Sandy Cunningham

Raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Cunningham is passionate about African wildlife conservation. She ran safari camps in Kenya before settling in the U.S., so she understands needs and demands on both sides of the business.

Best for: multigenerational families, luxury seekers, couples/honeymooners

Extras: While most safari-goers think of Rwanda just for treks to see gorillas, Cunningham can also arrange bird-watching in Volcanoes National Park and mountain-biking excursions.

Minimum daily spend: $800

888-870-0903; sandy@outsidego.com; outsidego.com

Michael Lorentz

The Cape Town–based CEO of Passage to Africa is best known for his pathbreaking experiences: exploring little-known wildlife reserves in Madagascar and accessing previously unseen tribal ceremonies in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley.

Best for: multigenerational families, couples/honeymooners, adventurers

Extras: Lorentz has relationships with private safari reserve owners across the continent, so he can arrange one-of-a-kind mobile camps on their land. He’s also the cofounder of Safarious.com, a social networking site for eco-minded adventurers, and spends his free time working with organizations like African Parks (african-parks.org) on ongoing conservation efforts.

Minimum daily spend: $1,000

27-82-895-8527; ml@passagetoafrica.com; passagetoafrica.com

Dana Welch

A former lodge manager in Zambia and trekking guide in Nepal, Welch is a go-to advisor for adventure-minded travelers. She partners with a very select group of operators and guides who take travelers on out-of-the-ordinary walking or canoeing safaris.

Best for: adventure travel, couples/honeymooners, multigenerational families

Extras: When some of Welch’s clients recently had to transfer between two camps by bush plane on a Botswana safari, she surprised them with a scenic helicopter trip instead.

Other expertise: Adventure travel

Minimum daily spend: $800

303-563-6225; danaw@travelsociety.com; another​tripofalifetime.com

Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Craig Beal

Attention to detail is in Beal’s professional blood—he has worked in nuclear engineering and as an officer on a submarine—as is Africa. His firm, Travel Beyond, was founded by his South African mother, and he’s intimately familiar with animal migratory patterns and scores of camps.

Best for: luxury seekers, multigenerational families, couples/honeymooners

Extras: When Beal’s clients visit Cape Town, he makes a comprehensive dining plan—and all restaurant reservations—ahead of the trip. He also makes sure to reserve coveted spa slots at lodges that typically only have one or two therapists.

Other expertise: Eastern Africa

Minimum daily spend: $500

952-540-4101; craigb@travelbeyond.com; travelbeyond.com

Eastern and Southern Africa

Dan Achber

While Achber loves working with first-time safari-goers, he’s also adept at helping more experienced travelers venture beyond their comfort zones. He has sent clients to a mobile camp in Botswana and a hard-to-reach national park in Chad, where conservationists have brought elephant herds back from the brink.

Best for: couples/honeymooners, families, multigenerational families

Extras: Achber knows where to send clients so they can see all the drama of the river crossings without the crowds (Lamai Wedge is a favorite).

Minimum daily spend: $800

416-628-1272; dan@trufflepig.com; trufflepig.com

Cherri Briggs

Briggs’s feet-on-the-ground approach—she spends six to nine months every year traveling throughout Africa to scout new itineraries—is a major advantage for clients.

Best for: luxury seekers, family safaris, honeymooners/couples

Extras: Briggs and her husband have founded a handful of community development projects in Zambia, including solar-powered irrigation systems, that her clients often visit.

Other expertise: Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Morocco

Minimum daily spend: $800

970-871-0065; info@exploreinc.com; explore​inc.com

Elizabeth Gordon

If you want a specialized safari experience—a reptile-focused trip through southern Africa, for example—call Gordon, who was born in Kenya and worked for Wilderness Safaris in Namibia. Now in her mid 30s, she’s also particularly in tune with the demands of younger, time-crunched travelers.

Best for: couples/honeymooners, adventurers, families

Extras: In addition to go-to day trips such as the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Gordon can arrange exclusive experiences, such as a visit to Kiambethu Tea Farm, where travelers learn from owner Fiona Vernon how the Kenyan tea industry all began.

Other expertise: nature destinations in South America

Minimum daily spend: $650

212-226-7331; elizabeth@ejafrica.com; extraordinaryjourneys.com

Julian Harrison

Born and raised in South Africa, this former game ranger and co-author of Fodor’s African Safari likes to plan safaris that take the adventure quotient up a notch (canoeing the hippo-filled Zambezi River, say, or gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo). But days always end with sundowners, gourmet meals, and plush accommodations.

Best for: luxury seekers, families, couples/honeymooners

Extras: For a blind client, Harrison handpicked a specialist guide who accompanied her throughout her trip. “He diligently tried to find situations on our game drives that would engage my mother by sound, touch, and smell,” her daughter said.

Other expertise: Indian Ocean islands

Minimum daily spend: $350

800-545-1910; julianh@premiertours.com; premiertours.com

Mark Nolting

Thanks to 30 years in the safari industry, Nolting knows lodge owners and safari guides who, in turn, take special care of his clients. He’s happy to customize itineraries to seek specific animals on game drives, such as tracking the elusive shoebill stork in Uganda.

Best for: multigenerational families, adventure, couples/honeymooners

Extras: Nolting’s itineraries are not only detailed but also include extensive biographies on his handpicked safari guides, an often overlooked but enriching part of the experience.

Other expertise: Madagascar and the Seychelles

Minimum daily spend: $600

800-882-9453; safari@africanadventure.com; africanadventure.com

Sunit Sanghrajka

A founding member of Safari Professionals of America, this fourth-generation Kenyan makes a point of introducing travelers to private reserves like the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, in South Africa, and Hoanib, in Namibia, that are known for their wildlife-preservation efforts.

Best for: multigenerational families, couples/honeymooners, luxury seekers

Extras: For a family of foodies, Sanghrajka arranged a cellar dinner at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa that included an exceptionally rare bottle of wine sourced by the Cape Winemakers Guild.

Minimum daily spend: $750

321-622-9371; sunit@alluringafrica.com; alluringafrica.com

Egypt

Malaka Hilton

Hilton, whose father was born in Egypt, has an extensive network of friends and family throughout the country, which translates into insider experiences such as golf at exclusive courses and meals in local homes.

Best for: epicurean travelers, luxury seekers, culture buffs

Extras: For one client, Hilton arranged a dinner for 80 people at the foot of the Pyramids of Giza.

Other expertise: Morocco and the United Arab Emirates

Minimum daily spend: $300

941-951-1801; malaka@admiraltravel.com; admiraltravel.com

Israel

Rachel Epstein

Epstein visits Israel about four times a year, and she’s an invaluable resource whether you’re planning a bucket-list adventure or a spiritual journey. She also keeps clients up-to-date on the country’s current events and political climate.

Best for: faith-based trips, multigenerational families, culture buffs

Extras: While many of Israel’s must-see attractions are historical and religious sites, Epstein makes sure her itineraries show off the country’s contemporary side by including buzzy chef-owned restaurants and new museums.

Other expertise: Spain

Minimum daily spend: None

713-590-8102; rachel.epstein@frosch.com; frosch.com

Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa

Volker Altvater

With rare exceptions, Altvater exclusively books small-scale tented camps that take a holistic approach to wildlife management, habitat conservation, and cultural preservation. He believes these places—and the communities behind them—are the key to saving the animals and preserving the land.

Best for: seasoned safari-goers, luxury seekers, families

Extras: Altvater thoroughly inspects all camps to ensure they’re up to his high standards, checking everything from bed comfort to water temperature and kitchen cleanliness.

Minimum daily spend: $850

800-345-2445, ext. 2213; volker@bigfive.com; bigfive.com

Morocco

Michael Diamond

An industry veteran who launched Cobblestone Private Travel this year, Diamond believes the secret to a fruitful trip is experiential travel. He’s also an unbeatable authority on Morocco’s best hotels and riads.

Best for: culture buffs, families, foodies/epicurean travelers

Extras: Look to Diamond for activities like baking traditional bread in a faran oven with a local family or a designer-led tour to the best artisan stalls in Marrakesh’s medina.

Other expertise: Turkey

Minimum daily spend: $850 per couple

646-586-2493; michael@cobblestoneprivatetravel.com; cobblestone​privatetravel.com

Namibia

Chris Liebenberg

This former Namibian national parks contractor turned travel advisor was the first to curate safari experiences in many parts of the country. He’s intimately familiar with the landscape, wildlife, lodges, and roadways.

Best for: adventurers, multigenerational families, couples/honeymooners

Extras: Ever passionate about conservation, Liebenberg has worked on many projects and can help clients join rhino-antipoaching missions in Etosha National Park and cheetah- and lion-conservation projects in Namibia.

Other expertise: Kenya

Minimum daily spend: None

858-598-5559; chris@piperandheath.com; piperandheath.com

South Africa

Tamsyn Fricker

An Afrikaans speaker who lived in South Africa for years, Fricker taps an extensive network of plugged-in locals to stay up-to-date on restaurants, tours, and urban experiences, while staying abreast of top-notch safari options.

Best for: Couples/honeymooners, multigenerational families, adventurers

Extras: Fricker arms her clients with smart local suggestions, such as cool coffeehouses and less-known gin bars in Cape Town. Clients interested in politics and socioeconomic issues have also met with a member of parliament in Johannesburg.

Other expertise: East Africa

Minimum daily spend: $2,000 per couple

404-414-0549; tamsyn@travelartistryafrica.com; travelartistryafrica.com

United Arab Emirates

Amalia Lazarov

As the U.A.E. has grown more popular with travelers for its culture and cuisine, Lazarov’s clients turn to her for insider expertise and itineraries that include seven-star hotel stays and private high-end shopping.

Best for: business travelers, luxury seekers, culture buffs

Extras: Lazarov is especially skilled at arranging compelling cultural activities—an early morning photography drive or a dinner with local architects—between meetings or other business commitments.

Other expertise: Asia

Minimum daily spend: $350 per group

646-747-9356; amalia@protravelinc.com; pro​travelinc.com

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