Tag Archives: Cancun

Band playing traditional music in Old Havana

CUBA: Endangered species?

People and skyline of La Habana, Cuba, at sunset

If you want to experience this Caribbean island and its culture while both are still authentic, don’t wait for Washington to drop its anachronistic embargo. Go now.

After 54 years, a US embargo designed in part to discourage Americans from traveling to Cuba still clings to life, defiant in the face of logic, failure and common sense.

Still, it seems inevitable that this foreign-policy T-Rex will go the way of all dinosaurs. And when it does, Americans will be able to visit Havana as easily as they now can visit Moscow, Beijing, Tehran or the capital of any other nation whose policies have Washington “throwing shade.”

It’s just a matter of time.

There is a school of thought, however, that says you shouldn’t wait for that. Especially if you want to see Cuba in her most authentic form.

For all our love of travel, we understand that mass-market tourism can have dramatic — and not always positive — impacts on the culture of a nation, on its atmosphere, its “vibe,” if you will.

And ultimately, on its authenticity.

There are still people in Mexico who can tell you what places like Acapulco, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Huatulco or Manzanillo were like before the sprawling resorts, high-rise hotels, upscale restaurants and trendy nightspots swept over the landscape.

It’s all lovely, comfy, glitzy, sexy and fun — but is it real? This is an ongoing discussion, even argument, within the travel industry.

Mass-market tourism has an unfortunate way of turning wonderful destinations, especially the tropical locations with long coastlines, into over-sized cultural theme parks. Disneyland with booze and beach towels.

What’s worse, says this school of thought, is that as the landscape changes under the influence of mass-market tourism, so do the people. As mass-market tourism changes their world, they pour into the service jobs that tourism generates.

In many case, that means putting on a sort of cultural “show” for the masses of tourists. It all feels artificial, less a cultural experience than a mercenary exercise.

And sometimes, as they deal with ever larger numbers of tourists, genuine local warmth and hospitality become casualties.

Mass-market tourism is not a villain. Nobody intends for these things to happen. But happen they do, quite often.

And I’ve met more than a few people anxious to see Cuba before it all happens there.

Some, like JoAnn Bell of the Road Scholar educational travel company, will tell you that it’s already started.

But I promise you, the changes she’s seeing already are only a forestaste of what’s in store.

Now, it’s not as if nobody visits Cuba today because of the embargo. The country has had substantial numbers of visitors from around the world for many years.

But those numbers will pale to insignificance when Washington lifts its embargo against Havana.

American visitors will descend on the island like a human tsunami,a replay of the Oklahoma Land Rush, only with airliners, cruise ships and pleasure boats instead of covered wagons.

Some impacts, like the ones elsewhere that we’ve mentioned above, are easy to anticipate. Others are beyond imagination. All will be profound. Both for better and perhaps worse, pre-embargo Cuba will neither look or feel like post-embargo Cuba.

So if you have any desire to see what Cuba is like before that tsunami arrives, you might want to seriously consider planning a visit in the near future.

If you want to do that legally, there are licensed travel organizations in the United States offering cultural “people-to-people” visits and tours to Cuba.

If you’d rather thumb your nose at the embargo, there are travel outlets in Mexico and Canada that will help you do that, too. And thousands of Americans do that every year.

Either way, if it’s a culturally unspoiled Cuba you want to experience, time may not be on your side. Because the moment the embargo comes down, that Cuba is likely to become an endangered species.

LICENSED CUBA TOUR OPERATORS
Cuba Trips.org
Cuba Explorer
GeoEx
Globus Journeys
IETravel
InsightCuba
Road Scholar

AIRLINES: Southwest going long

Taking advantage of its takeover of AirTran’s old routes, Southwest Airlines becomes an international airline. But one big shoe has yet to drop.

For the last year, Southwest Airlines has called itself the largest domestic airline in the United States. American, United and Delta all may beg to differ, but that’s a different conversation.

What matters this week is that as of Tuesday, Southwest can now call itself, without dispute, an international airline.

Adopting the routes it inherited when it bought AirTran in 2010, Southwest is now flying to the Caribbean, starting with Jamaica, the Bahamas and Aruba. By November, Southwest tails will be seen in the Dominican Republic and three destinations in MexicoMexico City, Cancun and Los Cabos.

So what does this mean for Southwest customers? Not as much as you might expect — at least, not at first.

To begin with, while Southwest is working the Caribbean into its route map, you won’t be able to fly to Caribbean destinations directly from more than a handful of airports that Southwest serves.

So for the time being, that nonstop Southwest flight from Oakland or Phoenix to Nassau remains in the dream stage.

Another point, which this Time magazine article makes, is that Southwest’s entry into the Caribbean air market does not automatically mean cut-rate Caribbean airfares.

Indeed, Southwest has spent a lot of time and effort moving away from its reputation as an off-beat, low-fare upstart. If you’re not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well, neither am I.

Meanwhile, there’s another, potentially bigger bombshell that Southwest has yet to drop, the one the rest of the airline industry — and a lot of Southwest customers — have anticipated for several years.

That’s the one that sees Southwest flying from the US mainland to Hawaii.

Southwest has edged toward this for a while, acquiring larger (and longer-ranged) versions of the Boeing 737 twin-jet medium-haul airliner, getting FAA certification for over-water flights.

Indeed, the new Caribbean service could be viewed in part as a moneymaking dress rehearsal for Hawaii.

Until then…Bahama Mamas, anyone?

The IBIT Travel Digest 7.7.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

cropped-IMG_2218.jpg

THE PERFECT AIRPORT
As travelers, we complain a lot about airports, usually for good reason.

Too big. Too small. Too crowded. Too much distance between gates. Not enough seats in the departure halls. Not enough electric outlets to charge all our personal electronics.

what you ever thought about what you’d really like to see in an airport — other than the dissolution of the TSA, perhaps — that would make your travels easier and more comfortable?

And if you have thought about that question, what would your answer be?

The folks at Skyscanner, which devotes most of its efforts to letting travelers look up cheap flights online, decided to find out. So they surveyed 10,000 travelers and asked them what amenity they most wanted in an airport.

Of their top three answers, a library was third, sleeping pods were second — and the one most often suggested was…a movie theater.

Did you see that one coming? I sure didn’t.

You can see the rest of the results in this ABC News item here.

What would be the top three amenities in YOUR dream airport? Tell us in a comment!

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BUY A BIKE, SAVE A LIFE
The Japanese know a thing or two about strength, versatility and all-around usefulness of bamboo. So do Africans, who are building bicycle frames with it.

So it only makes sense for Zambia’s bamboo bike makers to sell their bikes in Japan — and with the encouragement of the Japanese, they’re doing it.

The Japanese are getting the newest idea in modern bike construction, using a natural, ancient material with which they’re well familiar. The employees at Zambikes are making enough money to feed themselves and their families.

You can read about it in this story from the Japan Daily Press here.

As regular IBIT readers already know, Africa is getting serious about cycling, and has its own small cottage industry going with the production of bamboo bikes. IBIT would love to see this catch on in the United States.

Bamboo just might be the ideal material for bicycle frames — light, very strong, with the stiffness you need to generate power but able to soak up road shocks. And bamboo is a natural, sustainable material.

What’s not to like?

For more of this topic, see “Africa gets her roll on:”
Part 1
Part 2

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CUTTING IN LINE
There are several reasons I tend to avoid major travel in summer, and one of the biggest is having to queue up in long lines.

You know the drill. At the airport to check in. At the major attractions to get in. At your hotel to check out. Here a line, there a line, everywhere a line stretching out the door or halfway to the horizon.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t take vacations to exercise my patience. And neither, apparently, do the folks at Smarter Travel.

They’ve come up with a handy list of suggestions for how to jump ahead of the lines — ethically.

In some instances, it’s simply a matter of due diligence,i.e., printing out your boarding passes early or signing up for an airline or rental car loyalty program. In most other cases, you literally will have to pay for the privilege.

Either way, it figures to save you a lot of time, and when you travel, saving time is as important as saving money.

Put it another way: You didn’t spend all that money to fly to Paris to stand in line to see the Louvre, did you?

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LUXURY PARIS HOTEL GOES DARK
Travel Weekly is reporting than the Hotel de Crillon in Paris has closed for a two-year renovation.

If you’ve ever seen the inside of this place in the last ten years or so, you may well wonder what on Earth they need to renovate. The Crillon, sitting on the Place de la Concorde across the street from the US Embassy, has been a 5-star hotel virtually from the day it opened its doors.

Still, when you’re hosting people in a building that first went up in 1758, you need to do a few upgrades now and again.

Fear not, however. The Crillon is due to reopen in 2015. If you happen to be in Paris then, stop by and check it out.

And prepare to be impressed.

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AND FINALLY…
If you’re feeling a fear of flying surging (or resurging) within you following yesterday’s crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, a little perspective.

I took my first commercial airline flight in 1964. Had this crash occurred back then, we’d be talking about two survivors, not two deaths.

Commercial airliners are vastly better designed and built now than they were “back in the day.” Airports are far better prepared to handle major emergencies. The first responders have much better equipment and training. And mutual aid in a major incident is not a bureaucratic wrangle, but a foregone conclusion.

All of those elements came into play on behalf of Flight 214.

Okay? Now, smoke this over: Yesterday’s crash was the first fatal incident involving an airliner in the United States in 12 years. We can’t go 12 hours in this country without a fatal car crash. You going to give up driving?

Didn’t think so.

And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Associated Press via Yahoo!
Good news for frequent JetBlue fliers: Your loyalty points will no longer expire.

from Travel Weekly
American Airlines is experimenting with a new boarding procedure: Passengers with no carry-on bags get to board first.

from the Washington Post
Airlines are looking to create custom airfares specifically for you as an individual traveler, based on what the airline knows about you. A good thing or a way to keep you from searching out the best price yourself? Travel consumer advocate Christopher Elliott weighs in. Pay attention.

LAND
from BBC Travel
Five cities around the world where you can live large while spending small. Side-by-side comparisons to similar but pricier cities.

from Budget Travel
How to save money when using your cellphone abroad.

from Budget Travel
The world’s ten most visited cities.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships afloat, will take a month’s leave of the Caribbean next year for a month of cruises in European and Mediterranean waters, including two Atlantic crossings, one in each direction.

FOOD & DRINK
from the Los Angeles Times
All aboard the Jose Cuervo Express. Next stop: Tequila.

from the Los Angeles Times
If you don’t have to rush back to work or school right after Labor Day, consider dropping in on a serious food and wine festival in Hawaii.

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AFRICA
from Travel Weekly
When it comes to natural wonders, there’s more to Rwanda than its famed mountain gorillas.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Kenya sets out to lure tourists from Morocco.

from the Tanzania Daily News via allAfrica.com
In the wake of President Barack Obama’s visit, Tanzanian business figures conclude the country needs more high-end hotels.

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
A once-seedy Philadephia street gets a hipster makeover. Out with the check-cashing joints and adult bookstores. In with the restaurants and gelato shops. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
San Francisco’s best bets for budget lodging. Heavy on hostels, B&B’s and small European-style hotels.

from the Los Angeles Times
Mexico’s beach resort city of Cancun boasts one of the world’s more unusual museums. To visit it, you’ll need a swimsuit and a snorkel.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the New York Times
It happens every summer of the coast of northern China. A massive bloom of algae turns a stretch of beach the size of Connecticut into something that looks like a floating soccer pitch. Floating…and stinking.

from Travel Weekly
A new generation of cruise ships is taking to the Yangtze River — more spacious and with more amenities. But old-timers who remember the river’s towering cliffs before the building of the controversial Three Gorges Dam will tell you it’s just not the same.

from the Washington Post
The resurgence of tourism in Cambodia could hardly have a more symbolic example than this: A tract of land once sown with landmines by the Khmer Rouge is now the site of new luxury resort.

EUROPE
from the New York Times
These days, there are more reasons to visit Northern Ireland than to satisfy your fan-lust for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

from the Toronto Sun
The good news: A medieval tower offering stunning views of Paris opens to the public for the first time. The bad news: The climb up the stairs may take your breath away before the view does.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

the IBIT Travel Digest 12.23.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Tongli, China's ancient Venice | ©IBIT/G. Gross
Tongli, China’s ancient Venice | ©IBIT/G. Gross

UP A LAZY ASIAN RIVER
River cruising has long been a travel staple in Europe and shows little sign of slowing down. But cruise lines and tour companies increasingly are looking to Asia as the Next Big Thing in cruising.

According to USA Today, Viking River Cruises, one of the biggest names in European river cruising, has already announced plans to offer river cruises in Myanmar and Thailand, starting in 2014.

Others aren’t waiting that long. Travel Daily News.Asia is reporting that Travel Indochina is already adding Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Laos to a river cruise itinerary that already includes Vietnam, Cambodia and Yangtze River cruises in China.

With increasing world interest in Asia and growing middle classes in Asian countries with money to spend and a desire to see more of their own homelands, Asian river cruising could be a hot market for years to come.

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PUTTING A STOP TO MOTION SICKNESS
So far, this is one of life’s ailments that has mercifully passed me by. But there are plenty of people who suffer with this — and “suffer” is the operative term.

At the least, it can seriously interfere with your ability to enjoy travel. At its worst, it may prevent you from traveling altogether.

We’ve all had our share of laughs about motion sickness. Even Hollywood films and cartoons have gotten in on the levity. But every time I see the airsickness bag on the airplane or see folks on cruise ships with that little scopolamine patch on their necks, I’m reminded that motion sickness is no joke.

It’s a physical misunderstanding. Your inner ear tells your brain, “We’re moving!” Your eyes are saying, “No, we’re not!” Your stomach wishes they’d both shut the hell up.

There’s no real cure for motion sickness, but there are ways you can deal with this, and the New York Times breaks it all down at length in this article.

Their suggestions may not rid you of this curse, but they might make life a little easier for you, or your kids.

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CHARGED UP
A lot of us travel with a lot of electronic gear — smartphones, iPods, tablets. They make us productive during those long flights, or at least keep us from dying of boredom.

But even if they’re fully charged when we leave for the airport, their batteries may be no match for that 10-hour or 12-hour transcontinental flight. And finding an available electrical outlet in a crowded terminal during an unexpected delay can be…well…challenging.

Which is why the Summit 3000 battery pack caught my attention. As Smarter Travel points out, it’s neither very light or really cheap, but if you need to keep your devices running in places where a plug isn’t handy, you may be glad you have this.

One especially cool feature is that it’s dual-voltage, which means you can use it overseas with no hassle; all you need is a plug adaptor for the country you’re in. And if you travel with electronic gear, odds are you already have some of those.

Still, it isn’t powerful enough to charge a laptop, which leaves my black MacBook feeling neglected and resentful.

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FLYING YOUR FELINE
Traveling with pets is always tricky, especially if the pet is a cat. It’s tough enough on the sensitive little critters, even without having to deal with the TSA — which actually lost one traveler’s cat in New York JFK airport.

There’s nothing we can do about the TSA, but there are things cat owners can do to make travel easier on their beloved felines, and the folks at Smarter Traveler lay out their suggestions in this slideshow.

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AND FINALLY…
If your Boeing and you want to test how well in-flight wifi works aboard your aircraft, what sort of exotic, sophisticated, state-of-the-art testing equipment do you use?

Why, potatoes, of course — 20,000 pounds of potatoes, right on the passenger seats.

And as proof that I’m neither crazy nor making this stuff up, check out this CNN story on Boeing’s wifi tests.

And please, no mashup jokes.

And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Travel Weekly
Don’t look now, but your already miserable experience getting through airport security could get a lot worse two weeks into 2013. It’s all about your driver’s license and an eight-year-old federal law that gone unenforced — until now. IBIT will be exploring this in depth shortly.

from the Washington Post
Spas. Yoga. Luxury food. Fine dining. An international resort? You’ll increasingly find these high-end amenities in the last place you’d look for them — American airports.

from Christopher Elliot
Is the TSA doomed? A respected consumer writer says the powers that be have heard the traveling public’s gripes — and they’re paying attention.

from Smarter Travel
Seven ways to avoid airline baggage fees. SLIDESHOW

LAND
from the New York Times
Have you ever longed to explore ancient historic sites, without having to contend with mobs of tourists? Here are five spots around the world where your wish may come true…for now, anyway.

SEA
from Gadling
Cruise travel is rebounding from a rough year.

from Travel Weekly
Are the Viking River Cruises people building a navy or what? Already with ten new cruise ships on order for next year, they’ve already committed to eight more in 2014. That makes 24 new river cruisers in three years. But given Viking’s interest in Asia (see above), it makes perfect sense.

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AFRICA
from The New Times (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
The national airlines of Kenya and Rwanda hook up in a strategic partnership that eventually could stremaline regional air travel between eastern and central Africa.

from The Point (Gambia) via allAfrica.com
A village on a pristine coastal stretch of the Gambia becomes the anchor point of an ambitious experiment in ecotourism.

from Vanguard (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
A state government in Nigeria wants to turn the site of the country’s first recorded plane crash into a tourist attraction. Uhhh…

AMERICAS
from The Guardian (London UK)
We think of New Orleans mostly as a grown-ups’ playground, but come Christmastime, it becomes a magical place for kids.

from SFGate.com
Good news from Mexico: There’s a hotel building boom underway in Cancun.

from the Washington Post
A foodie’s tour of Peru. SLIDESHOW

from the Sacramento Bee
Hollywood has its stars, but in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert, you’ll get an unrestricted view of the real ones.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from CNNgo
Riding waves of modernization, gentrification and newly made Chinese money, there’s never been a better time to visit Hong Kong. An insider’s look at one of the world’s perpetually energized destinations.

from CCTV (China)
China and Nepal sign a commitment to promote tourism between the two countries.

from the Jakarta Post (Indonesia)
Have you ever poured Thousand Island dressing on your salad and wondered if such a place actually exists? It does. It’s in Indonesia, and the governor of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, would love to see the Thousand Islands region become a tourist attraction.

EUROPE
from the New York Times
Walk through history in the ancient city of Toledo, a city holy to Catholics in Spain. Its religious importance saw it escape multiple wars almost untouched.

from The Guardian (London UK)
How Vienna waltzes through Christmas.

from The Guardian (London UK)
The world’s oldest monument was discovered only about a decade ago. It’s 11,000 years old. And it’s in Turkey.

from the Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette (IL)
For most travelers interested in Europe, Slovenia doesn’t register as a worthwhile destination. And that’s kind of a shame.

the IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 3.21.12

A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media.

Amsterdam canal  houseboat
Canal houseboat in Amsterdam | ©IBIT G. Gross

VIVA MEXICO
For all the negative talk about crime and violence related to its ongoing drug war, Mexico endures as a travel destination.

Travel Weekly reports that Carnival Cruises Lines, which has already sunk some $100 million into improvements for Mexican seaports, is looking at investing in two new ones — Calica on the Caribbean coast and Puerto Cortés in Baja California Sur.

No dollar signs yet, but the fact that Carnival would be interested at all says a lot, as does the fact that Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill was down south last week to meet with Mexican president Felipe Calderon and tourism minister Gloria Guevara.

So too does this little tidbit from TW: In a story about how Spring Break travel has picked up in 2012, they point to Student City, an online travel agency that caters to high school and college kids. According to Student City, its top two destinations were Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, both on the Mexican Riviera. Panama City, FL was third.

SUMMER AIRFARES — INTO THE STRATOSPHERE?
That’s definitely how it looks to the folks at USA Today, who checked the situation with aviation and travel experts.

What do you want first, the bad news or the very bad news?

Airliners may not have to pull up to the local gas station to fill their tanks the way you and I do, but when it comes to fuel prices, the oil companies don’t cut the airlines any more slack than they do for us. So whatever causes the cost of a barrel of crude oil to jump hits everyone hard.

Even the airlines’ ability to buy options on jet fuel, a tactic pioneered by Southwest Airlines and copied by many other airlines since, doesn’t help as much as it used to.

Bottom line: Airfare prices already are higher than they were a year ago, and the pain is only going to increase once the summer “high season” arrives. You need to plan accordingly, and the US Today story has a few tips that may help.

VACATION — WHO GETS IT AND WHO DOESN’T
Embedded in a story from CNN Travel about Swiss voters rejecting a proposal for six weeks of paid vacation a year (like their neighbors in Germany) is a survey of 20 countries from Expedia, listing them in order of the amount of vacation time employees receive, how many of those days are actually taken and how many go unused.

France, to no one’s surprise, was at the top. The United States, again no surprise, was near the bottom. What may be unexpected is that nations with some of the strongest economies in Europe, as well as some of the weakest, rank among the highest for vacation days offered and actually used.


And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

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AIR
from the New York Times
The FAA finally decides to consider adding to its list of consumer electronics devices approved for in-flight use.


from eTurboNews
The 2012 London Olympics are only a few months away. Can London’s five airports handle a crush of visitors flying in? The heads of four British airlines seem to have their doubts.

from Travel Weekly
They’re coming to America…or at least trying to. Gol, Brazil’s low-fare airline, wants to fly Boeing 737s from Miami to Sao Paulo, with a stop in Caracas, Venezuela.

from the New York Times
How to avoid the worst seat on the airplane.

from Travel Weekly
There’s First Class, and then there’s this: Etihad, the national flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, is installing chefs to prepare in-flight meals for their First Class passengers.

from Travel Weekly
Remember People Express, the low-fare airline back in the 1980s that bowled people over with some ridiculously cheap fares — while putting them through some even more ridiculous hassles — until Continental swallowed them up? They may be coming back.

from TNOOZ
Have you ever played with Google Flight Search? It’s only been online for six months. Simultaneously shows air routes and airfares across the United States…and now, internationally.

LAND
from Frommer’s Travel
Want to get the feel of a place from a local’s perspective? Take a walking tour. Here’s what you’ll see if you hit the bricks in the Montmartre section of Paris. SLIDESHOW

from Smarter Travel
There are more than 900 World Heritage Sites identified around the globe by the United Nations, all of them worth seeing. The folks at Smarter Travel pick 11 must-sees. See if you agree. SLIDESHOW

from the Los Angeles Times
Ever have trouble with those balky remote controls for the television in your hotel room? Now there’s an app that will let you operate the hotel TV right from your smartphone. Unless, of course, you own a Blackberry.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Is it just me, or is the cruise industry taking a beating this year? Princess Cruises cuts short one Caribbean cruise and cancels two more due to engine troubles aboard Caribbean Princess. Oh well, maybe things will be better next year: Princess is among the cruise lines now accepting bookings for 2013.

from Cruise Critic
A head-to-head comparison of the ten most popular mega-ships and their features — cabins, dining options, entertainment. Which one most appeals to you?

from 
CNN Travel
The inside view of ten of the most popular North American cruise ports. One’s in Alaska, while the rest are scattered around the Caribbean. Avoid the crowds and pick up some local flavor.

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AFRICA
from 
Reuters via Yahoo!
Is Britain trying to block access of Africa’s largest airline to Europe?

from 
Capital FM (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
An innovative attempt to promote tourism to Kenya through music. Plans underway to create a musical stage production on Kenyan cultural attractions, with the country’s different languages as a centerpiece.

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AMERICAS/CARIBBEAN
from BBC Travel
Southern, sleepy, set-in-its-ways Savannah, GA is suddenly becoming a hot zone of sophisticated art, music, dining and shopping.

from the Los Angeles Times
There’s a lot more to Peru than just Machu Picchu, and the LAT’s Chris Reynolds shows you the what and the where in Cuzco.

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ASIA/PACIFIC
from eTurboNews
One unexpected aftershock from Japan’s 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster — a lot more Japanese tourists vacationing in Taiwan.

from BBC Travel
A mini-guide to a mini-country with a lot going on: Singapore.

from the 
Los Angeles Times
A veteran traveler digs through the multiple cultural layers of the Malaysian city of Malacca.

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EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
Berlin has some of the world’s most cutting-edge architecture, and through this self-guided walking tour, you can check out a lot of it.

from The Guardian (London UK)

The three most beautiful words in the English language when joined together: Paris…wine…free. Free wine tastings of some of France’s best bottled offerings through June.

from The Guardian (London UK)
When you’re ready to party hard, head for Spain. A rundown on where and when to go. Who needs sleep, anyway?

from Rick Steves via USA Today
New things to see and do in France and Spain for 2012.

Edited by P.A.Rice

CUBA: The rules

Beach scene, Cuba

If you’re thinking about visiting Cuba now that Delta is launching charter flights there this fall, you have to qualify under the bogus requirements of the US trade embargo. You’ll find them here.

The recent announcement by Delta Air Lines that they’re starting up charter flights to Cuba this fall has got a lot of folks interested and excited — and why not?

Much as I’d love to make a stopover in Toronto or Cancun, to be able to travel directly to Havana without having detour through Canada or Mexico or somewhere else is a wonderful thing.

However, you still have to dance with Washington’s outdated, obsolete and generically nonsensical trade embargo against Cuba, which was designed in part to discourage Americans from visiting the island — and especially from spending money there.

Anyone else in the world can simply book their passage to Havana and go. If you’re an American, you have to be “licensed,” either as an individual or part of a group.

Yes, that’s the term they actually use, “licensed.” Doesn’t that just make you feel special?

Over the years, the rules have been loosened, re-tightened, and most recently under the Obama administration, loosened again. For now, however, this bureaucratic nuisance remains in place. The best and surest way to navigate a path around these rules is to know exactly what they are.

You’ll find them spelled out on this Cuba travel page from the State Department.

To be licensed to visit Cuba, you have to apply to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is part of the Treasury Department.

If navigating the bureacratic maze of federal regulations is your idea of a good time, you could do it on your own, but I don’t recommend that. The better way to go, I think, would be to work through US-based travel outfits that specialize in legal travel to Cuba.

Look for companies that are licensed by the Treasury Department and have a good track record of getting Americans smoothly to Cuba and back. Often, they may offer their own package tours to Cuba that include airfare and lodging.

The downside: They often will require you to be part of a group.

One such outfit is Marazul, the agency through which Delta will shortly be operating its Cuba charter flights.

Others include:

As always, do your homework and check out these outfits thoroughly before you commit yourself or your money.

The day will come when Americans no longer have to bother with this absurdity. Until then, these are the dance steps we have to follow to legally visit a fascinating and beautiful country with whom we are not at war.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
Delta’s new connection: Charter flights to Cuba

the SUNDAY TRAVEL DIGEST

A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Kufurstendamm
Kufurstendamm, Berlin | ©Greg Gross

ROAD TRIPS
Does it sound strange to celebrate a street? That’s what they’re doing all this summer in Berlin, where they’re commemorating the 125th anniversary of Kurfürstendamm.

If you can’t get your English tongue around Kurfürstendamm, just say “Ku’damm” instead. Any Berliner will instantly know what you mean.

The idea of holding a summer-long street party for a street sounds ridiculous — until you see the street. Here’s the tip-off: its dimensions were modeled after the Champs Élysees in Paris.

The Ku’damm is a field of dreams for foodies, shopaholics, and the cutting-edge creative classes. It boasts one of the finest old-school departments store in Europe, if not the world, in the KaDeWe.

Back during the Cold War, when the Berlin Wall was still up, the West Germans didn’t really need to bombard their East German counterparts with a whole lot of clumsily contrived propaganda. Even from the other side of the Wall, East Berliners knew of — and dreamed of — the Ku’damm.

Don’t think a street could be a weapon in psychological warfare? Look at the sterile, austere life on the eastern side of the Wall and then look at the Ku’damm. The contrast was no accident.

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When it comes to travel, almost any excuse will do, and food is as good a reason as any. America offers plenty of reasons to get your tastebuds on and hit the road.

But that road can take you some places you might not expect.

The folks at Budget Travel, for instance, have their own road foodie list of America’s best regions, and the usual suspects are not on it. Pittsburgh? New Mexico? Akers, LA?

Yes, yes and yes. Check out their views in this slideshow, and then start planning your foodie road trip.

After you stop salivating, of course.

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Speaking of road trips, there are few places in the road better than Northern California for treating you to a movable feast for the eyes and the palate.

Back in prehistoric times, when gasoline was 35 cents a gallon, I used to cruise up and down the Northern California coast — Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Marin County, Santa Rosa, Big Sur, redwood country.

Those gas prices are gone forever, but the beauty of Northern California is still there and still custom-made for a rolling vacation.

Budget Travel has found a package on the Gate 1 Travel site combining air, rental car and seven nights of hotel stays for $789.

If you’re in a position to skip the air part of the package, it’s cheaper still — $549.

Measured in terms of dollars-per-day, it’s almost as good a bargain as — or even better than — a cruise vacation.

Of course, the basic cost can go up depending on which type of vehicle you choose to rent, but it still looks like a pretty good deal — especially when you take into account the amount of wear and tear you’re not putting on your own wheels.

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And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

AIR
from USA Today
File this one under I Should’ve Known: Amid all the talk of surprisingly low summer airfares, US airlines begin raising their baggage fees.

from Der Spiegel (Germany)
The families of those who perished two years ago aboard Air France Flight 447 aren’t convinced that the deadly crash was the result of pilot error. They want all Airbus A330s grounded.

from USA Today
Hopefully not coming soon to an airport near you: Rats On a Plane 2 — The Wrath of Qantas. The Australia-based airline grounds one of its Boeing 767s after five baby rats are found in the medical compartment. Sounds like Mama Rat knew what she was doing, doesn’t it?

from USA Today
New Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks he knows just the thing to improve massive and massively congested O’Hare International Airportslot machines.

LAND
Want to get high…I mean really high? In Toronto, you can now walk around the top of the CN Tower — 1,151 feet tall — on the outside. No handrail. No joke. No acrophobia.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Sorry, San Diego. According to a survey, America’s best beach is in Sarasota, FL.

SEA
from USA Today
The Love Boat is going to make you sweat. Princess Cruise Line plans to offer Zumba classes at sea…for free.

from USA Today
CruiseOne, a kind of Travelocity for cruise lines, is offering free shore excursions if you book a cruise through them. Offer good til June 24.

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AFRICA
from Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand)
Tunisia was the nation whose revolution led the “Arab awakening” still underway in North Africa and the Middle East. Now, they want the tourists to come back.

AMERICAS/CARIBBEAN
from the San Francisco Chronicle
Cancun too cliché and overrun with tourists? Consider Puerto Morelos as a scenic, serene alternative, complete with a taste of the spa life.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the New York Times
In Shanghai, which seems to be rapidly filling up with new high-rise buildings, a couple takes a shuttered old textile factory and turns it into a low-rise, multi-use community market, complete with a rooftop garden and multiple restaurants, with healthy lifestyles as its theme.

from Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand)
The joys and wonders of New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula.

EUROPE
from Der Spiegel International (Germany)
What do you do with a nuclear power plant that was never finished? If you’re Germany, you turn it over to a Dutch developer — who turns it into an amusement park.

from the New York Times
Between May and July, the Russian city of St. Petersburg shakes off its long, dark and grueling winter for days of celebration and culture under skies that seem almost to never darken. They call it White Nights.

from the New York Times
Tacos…in Paris? Oui, biensur!

MÉXICO: Dos golpazos más al turismo

La imágen y más aún, la economía mexicana han recibido dos golpes nuevos esta semana en el sector turístico. Esta vez, el otro lado está impactado también.

Desde sus oficinas en Atlanta, GA, el Centro para el Control y la Prevención de las Enfermedades, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) ha emitido un boletín respecto a la presencia de la “Enfermedad del Legionario“, o Legionnaire’s disease en la isla de Cozumel.

El CDC ha confirmado la existencia de este mal en dos centros turísticos de la ciudad, el Regency Club Vacation Resort y el Wyndham Cozumel Resort & Spa, con una cifra de nueve víctimas entre 2008 y 2010. No habían muertos entre ellos.

Lea el boletín del CDC aquí.

Hay que mencionar que esta enfermedad se encuentra solamente en los dos centros mencionados. No se ha detectado en la ciudad o la isla entera.

La Enfermedad del Legionario es una infección provocada por una bacteria que causa la pulmonía. Esta provocó un pánico temporal en los EE.UU. cuando fué detectada por primera vez en 1976.

En ese año, varios hombres que asistieron a una reunión del grupo fraternal American Legion en un hotel en Philadelphia murieron días o semanas después.

Eventualmente, los médicos descubrieron que aunque el mal fue trasmitido entre sus víctimas por el aire, no fue nada extraordinario, sino fue provocado por una bacteria más o menos típica y podía ser erradicada con antibióticos.

El problema en Cozumel es que hasta el momento, el foco de la infección sigue siendo desconocido. Por eso, el CDC avisa que es muy importante que los viajeros que han visitado recientemente los dos centros turísticos mencionados consulten con sus médicos familiares inmediatamente.

LA NARCO-INFECCIÓN
Mientras tanto, la infección de la narco-violencia ha impactado el puerto de Los Angeles, CA. Según el diario Los Angeles Times, dos barcos cruceros van a abandonar California en el año en curso.

El barco Mariner of the Seas, propiedad de Royal Caribbean, será operado desde Galveston, TX. El crucero Norwegian Sun, propiedad de Norwegian Cruise Lines, esta destinado para Tampa, FL.

Las dos corporaciones rivales están abandonando Los Ángeles por la misma razón, que es la falta de pasajeros para sus vacaciones a la “Riviera Mexicana.” La causa principal es que se cree que “en el otro lado” la percepción que se tiene de México es de un lugar tan peligroso como Irak o Afganistán.

Las noticias de narco violencia en los centros turísticos como Acapulco y Cancún crean una imagen de peligro y temor entre los turistas norteamericanos, no obstante el hecho de que la violencia casi nunca impacta a los turistas de manera directa.

Lea el artículo del diario Los Angeles Times aquí.

La decisión de las dos compañías representa un golpazo económico a las tres Californias y la costa del pacífico mexicano, pues en cualquier puerto donde se encuentren, los barcos cruceros sirven como motores económicos — motores que generan millones de dólares en ventas y mucho empleo. Asimismo, disminuyen las opciones de los viajeros norteamericanos en el oeste del país.

Todo esto es el resultado de un temor poderoso y a veces casi histérico, “en el otro lado“.

Una vez más, la percepción norteamericana triunfa sobre la realidad mexicana, y traerá consecuencias negativas para los dos.

MEXICO: The hits just keep on coming

An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease hits resorts on Mexico’s Gulf coast, while in low bookings prompt cruise lines to abandon the Mexican Riviera. In the travel industry, this is what’s known as a bad day.

You have to wonder how many more beatings Mexico’s battered tourism image can take.

The first salvo comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued a bulletin this week about an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in two resorts on the Mexican island of Cozumel, a popular tourist destination and cruise ship port on the Gulf of Mexico.

The two resorts affected are the Regency Club Vacation Resort and the Wyndham Cozumel Resort & Spa (formerly Reef Club Cozumel).

Legionnaire’s disease is a bacterial infection that triggers pneumonia. It first popped up on our collective radar back in 1976, when men coming back from an American Legion convention at a Philadelphia hotel started coming down with it, and dying.

Not knowing the cause at first, people all over the country were freaking out, fearing that some sort of murderous, invincible superbug had got loose among us.

The panic died down after medical investigators tracked down the culprit, a new and potent but still relatively ordinary strain of bacteria that can be taken down with antibiotics.

Today, Legionnaire’s disease is known as a random annoyance that hits individuals now and then, but rarely causes general outbreaks.

Two things to note here. First, CDC says the outbreak affects only these two resorts on Cozumel, not the island as a whole. So if you’re booked on a cruise that docks at Cozumel later this year, don’t freak. It’s perfectly safe to get off the ship, wander about and enjoy the place.

Secondly, it’s not as if guests at these two resorts have been dropping like moscas. A grand total of nine people from the two resorts have come down with Legionnaire’s disease in the last two years. Not exactly plague numbers.

Still, there’s concern for those two resorts because scientists have yet to track down the source of the bacteria, which spreads from person to person through the air. If you’ve been to either of those resorts in the last two years, talk your doctor.

Immediately.

You can read the entire CDC bulletin here.

Meanwhile, an infection of a different sort, Mexico’s horrific, blood-soaked struggle against that country’s drug cartels, has triggered symptoms in the cruise industry.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines each is pulling one of its ships out of the Port of Los Angeles and sending them elsewhere because markedly fewer people are taking cruises to the Mexican Riviera.

Royal Caribbean is moving its Mariner of the Seas to Galveston, TX, while NCL is transferring the Norwegian Star to Tampa, FL.

Aside from giving West Coast cruise vacationers fewer options, this puts a real dent in the livelihoods of a lot of people, from LA and Long Beach to Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.

You can read the entire LA Times piece here.

This became more or less inevitable as soon as the cartels started taking their bloody turf battles to places like Acapulco and Cancun, even though they seldom come anywhere near tourist zones. When it comes to Mexico in the eyes of tourists, perception often trumps reality.

Seeing the mayor of Cancun arrested on drug trafficking charges last year probably didn’t help.

To us, still clawing our way out of a recession, this is a pain in the neck. To Mexico, it’s closer to a kick in the nads.

Depending on whom you ask, tourism is the third or fourth largest source of revenue for the country, which also happens to be the 13th largest economy in the world.

For a lot of our neighbors to the south, who have done nothing wrong, an already difficult life is about to get harder.