Since escaping the injustice of the Apartheid system in 1994, the tourism industry in South Africa has boomed. While many are skeptical about a vacation there, expecting only Safaris and extreme poverty, much of South Africa has experienced unprecedented economic growth. Cape Town and Johannesburg for example, two of the most popular destinations, exquisitely balance the rural and traditional African charm of the country with modern dining, shopping and entertainment.
Rose Aiello is the legacy of RA Travel. Now, almost 40 years after starting the company, Ms. Aiello remains the driving force of passion behind the agency’s success. As an ardent lover of travel, Ms. Aiello’s belief in the power of culture spills into every aspect of her personal life and into every corner of the business she loves. Ms. Aiello recently returned from a trip to South Africa and we knew that such a unique and passionate woman would have very interesting insights on such a unique and misjudged country - so we sat down to talk to her about it.
RA: Would you say that you’re in love with SA?
Rose: Naturally. It is such a misjudged country. When people think of it they think of the ghettos of Soweto, however all of that was before Mandela. But it is so much more. The country is full of kind welcoming people, its is being built from the ground up into a beautiful modern place, and somehow they manage to stay true to their roots. The roots of the land, they are modernizing and staying African.
RA: Do you pack anything special when traveling there?
Rose: No, the climate there is like here. You don’t have to pack special things,the weather is always comfortable, even warm at times.
RA: When is the best time to visit there?
Rose: It is important to remember that the seasons are in reverse on the bottom half of the Earth. Winter is from May to August; Spring from September to October; Summer from November to February and Autumn is from March to April - so if you’re looking for summer time travel, you’d have to go during the traditional American winter.
RA: Which hotel would you say is the best to stay at while there?
Rose: I stayed at the Saxon Hotel and I would recommend it to anyone going to South Africa. Right in the middle of Johannesburg it is an exceptional Oasis in the middle of the bustling part of the city. The Villa rooms are lovely, and extremely private. The grounds are lush and green. They also have beautiful sculptures all over the gardens and ground that add a beautiful touch to the property.
RA: For people who think South Africa is just poverty and Safari tours what would say to that person?
Rose: I would say they are right and wrong. South Africa is on the rise, but the tragedies it suffered are still in it’s recent history. Yes, in South Africa there is poverty, but there is poverty in America as well. The poverty is something the Government is working now to fix. In terms of Safari- yes, South africa has a lot of Safari experiences but they are not in anyway something to be diminished. They are extremely beautiful and humbling experiences to be able to see nature in that way. I would also add that the person making this assumption is wrong, because while South Africa has those elements it is, and it still becoming so much more.
RA: What do you have to do or go whenever you’re there?
Rose: Again I would have to say, go on a safari. Nature and the magnificent beast you’re able to see, living naturally and without reservation is an incredibly humbling experience. Many people go their whole lives inside concrete walls, part of concrete cities, or on farms with nothing more dangerous than an angry chicken. South African wildlife is like nothing I’ve ever experienced and it truly reminded my of the beauty of nature.
RA: Tell us about the most memorable thing to happen to you while there?
Rose: We visited a small town outside of Johannesburg and were able to meet and spend time with some of the residents. There were a large number of children playing and running that welcomed us with open hearts, their kindness and innocence touched my heart, and I was a joy spending time with them.
RA: For someone who is thinking of visiting there, what advice would you give?
Rose: Go with an open mind and prepare to be shocked with beauty. I promise, you cannot expect all the wonderful things you will experience when you visit South Africa, but you will not be the same once you have been there.