Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Hot and Happening Spots"

Week 8: El Salvador

"El Salvador"

By Carla Hunt, Recommend Magazine

   "El Salvador may be Central America's smallest country, but it is filled with lots of things to see and do. From the capital, San Salvador, travelers drive just 30 minutes south to Costa del Sol, where you'll find a stretch of beach to call your own, and a world-class surfing waves to share- ISA World Masters Surfing Championships put the spotlight on Punta Roca. Or go north from the capital to the colonial town of Sochitoto with its cobblestone streets and thriving arts scene, then follow the Route of the Flowers that winds through the mountain coffee producing area to charming villages such as Apaneca and Ataco. The Route of the Artisans weaves along the folk art villages of Ilobasco (clay miniatures), San Sebastian (weavings), and La Palma (crafts inspired by the famous artist, Fernando Llort). In a country with 25 volcanoes, there is some unforgettable scenery, as hikers discover within the tropical forests of El Imposible National Park, and antiquity aficionados will thrill when visiting the pre-Colombian site of Joya de Ceren along La Ruta Maya."

Quoted from Recommend magazine August 2012 vol.27 number 11 page S3

"Vogue's Featured Cruise Port"

Kingstown, St. Vincent


   "Kingston is a small Caribbean city that's big on old world charm. As capital of the lush volcanic island of St. Vincent, known to the Caribs as "Hairoun" (Land of the Blessed), Kingstown welcomes tranquility-seekers and adventurers alike. If strolling down cobblestone streets and visiting beautiful old churches is just your speed, you're in luck. However, St. Vincent also offers plenty of opportunities for spotting dolphins, hiking nature trails and swimming in waterfalls."

The One Thing You Don't Want to Miss

"A trip to Kingstown would not be complete without a visit to the St. Vincent Botanical Gardens. Established in 1763, they are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and are home to some of the island's remaining endangered St. Vincent parrots, as well as some very rare indigenous plants and trees. This beautiful 20-acre park serves as a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a city that's constantly abuzz."

Sporting Adventures

"If you're an explorer at heart, climbing the volcano could be the perfect challenge to round out your vacation. But for a less intense workout in equally spectacular surroundings, head out to Buccament Valley for some hiking and bird watching on the Vermont Nature Trails. And keep your eyes peeled for other interesting species of wildlife, like iguanas and armadillos."

Local Flavors

"The best way to get a taste of this authentic Caribbean city is by visiting Kingstown Market where you'll find people from all over selling spices, fruits, flowers and more. From the rich aromas and textures to the colorful personalities, it is truly a unique experience. So be sure to come prepared for lots of photo opportunities!"

Shopping for Bargains

"With only a dozen small blocks to cover, Kingstown is an ideal city for walking around and browsing in shops. Whether you're looking for local crafts to take home as souvenirs or you're in the market for a bigger investment like crystal or bone china, you'll find them - and everything in between - in the "City of Arches."


"The official currency of St. Vincent is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$), however U.S. dollars are widely accepted in most restaurants, shops and hotels. The same is true for credit cards and traveler's checks."

For more information visit

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Hot and Happening Spots"

Week 7: Seeing Africa on Foot and by Canoe

Zambezi River

By Sarah Munoz, Recommend Magazine

   "The seduction of an African escape unfurls in Zambia's southern province and reveals itself in the northern bank of the Zambezi River, where Baines' River Camp- part of the Mantis Collection- is located. This is a colonial-style lodge offering a variety of up-close-and-personal options beyond the traditional game drive, although they also do those, and do them well- there will be plenty of big-game spotting in both the Lower Zambezi National Park and the Chiawa Partnership Park, considered one of Africa's last true wilderness areas, with animals still roaming freely."

   "For starters, there's a canoe safari- navigating the river's waters silently, without the noise of a motor, and gliding up to an antelope, birds' nests, buffalo and other creatures. Braver souls can try a walking safari, exploring the area on foot with a scout from the Zambia Wildlife Authority. With this option, the focus is on smaller animals, tracks and plant life, with travelers discovering everything from colorful insects to medicinal herbs."

   "Yet another alternative? An angling expedition- catch and release only- on the Zambezi, famous for the African tiger fish and other species such as bream, Cornish Jack and vundu. Baines' River Camp offers fly-fishing clinics that include four nights at the lodge and an overnight in a tented camp on the eastern boundary of the Lower Zambezi so as to cover more ground. Baines' also offers photo safaris during the year for photographers of all levels, as well as elephant workshops to learn more about the gentle animals."

   "The camp itself offers just eight decked-out suites, each named after a different African explorer and each with views of Africa's fourth longest river. Rates are inclusive of meals, laundry service and standard safari activities."

Quoted from Recommend magazine July 2012 vol.27 number 10 pages 35-36

"Vogue's Featured Cruise Port"

Philipsburg, St. Maarten

Philipsburg, St. Maarten

   "When the Spanish closed their colonial fort on St. Maarten in 1648, a few Dutch and French soldiers hid on the island and decided to share it. Soon after, the Netherlands and France signed a formal agreement to split St. Maarten in half, as it is today. Philipsburg displays its Dutch heritage in its architecture and landscaping. The island offers endless stretches beaches, beautiful landscapes and great shopping."

The One Thing You Don't Want to Miss

"Compete in an actual race on an America's Cup shortened course. Grind a winch, trim a sail or just sit back and enjoy. Professional sailors will give you a quick lesson, then you're off to compete on Stars and Stripes, one of the most famous sailboats in the world."

Other Fun Things to Do

"Rendezvous at one of the newest and trendiest restaurants in French St. Maarten. Explore Orient Bay, the French Riviera of the Caribbean, with over 1 1/2 miles of white-sand beaches.
Admire the delicate nature and dazzling colors of hundreds of butterflies as you tour St. Maarten's popular Butterfly Farm."

Sporting Adventures

"Tour the saltwater lagoons by kayak, and discover egrets, plovers, heron and pelicans.
Discover the undersea world of coral reefs and exotic fish as you take a snorkeling expedition through Shipwreck Cove.
Experience St. Maarten's vibrant history by bicycle."

Shopping for Bargains

"There are about 500 duty-free shops on St. Maarten with prices 25% to 50% below those in the U.S. The selection of jewelry and watches is premier on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. Friendly competition between merchants guarantees excellent prices on emeralds, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, gold and silver. St. Maarten offers a wide selection of fine jewelry and watches from such well-known designers as C2K, Caribbean Hook, Honora, House of Tanzanite, John Atencio, John Hardy, Kabana, Roberto Coin, Starnight, White Diamonds, Alfex, Concord, Faconnable, Gucci, Maurice Lacroix, Michele, Movado, Wenger, La Nouvelle Bague and more. Be sure to try a bottle of St. Maarten's own guavaberry liqueur. The guavaberry is exclusive to this island."

Local Currency 

"In October 2010, the Dutch side of St. Maarten voted for autonomous status separate from the Netherlands. Until that point, the Neterhlands Antilles Guilder (ANG) was the official unit of currency. However, the new official currency has yet to be decided, but U.S. dollards, traveler's checks and credit cards are widely accepted."

For more information visit

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Secrets From A Travel Agent"

Week 6: Tico's Travel Safety Tips

Toucan Symbolizes Monarch

   Travelers are faced with the task of protecting themselves while in a strange environment. Although there is no way to guarantee absolute protection from crime, the experts-law enforcement officials-advise travelers to take a proactive approach to securing their property and ensuring their safety. Precautions can save a vacation...

- Leave valuables at home! Also, be sure to leave a copy of your travel itinerary at home with your family and/or friends.

- Never leave your luggage unattended! Make sure your bags are labeled both in/outside. 

- When traveling by car, keep your doors locked and keep everything in the trunk.

- Familiarize yourself with local laws, customs, and language of where you are visiting. Register in person with the U.S. Embassy and/or Consulate upon arrival.

- Remember when you are at a hotel, make sure the clerk doesn't announce your room number, never open your door to a stranger, and always use room safes or lock boxes provided by the hotel.

- Keep valuables (passport, money, credit cards, etc...) hidden when you're on the move. Place your valuables in a money belt or neck purse, as they are safer than a fanny pack. Remember, to carry these things in two or more separate locations.

- It is recommended to exchange some of your money into local currency, but only convert what you need for a day or two. 

- "Be on guard" for pickpocketers and/or people who "accidentally" bump into you in major tourist areas. Bus, train, and subway stations; markets, and airports are all prime targets for this. In general, avoid walking alone after dark.

- If using an ATM, choose one in a well-lit public area with plenty of people around.

- Beware of purchasing counterfeit products, such as jewelry, clothes, and electronics. Always purchase your products from a legitimate chain store. 

- Carefully assess the risk of recreational activities on the islands. Sports equipment that you rent or buy might not meet U.S. safety standards. Be especially careful when out on excursions.

"Hot and Happening Spots"

Week 6: "Unanticipated Adventure in Curacao"


by Taylor Harker from Recommend magazine

   "The "C" of what's known as the ABC islands-Curacao-Aruba and Bonaire being the A and B, respectively-is a wee island of just 171 sq. miles. But don't let its size fool you-this itty-bitty piece of paradise is packed with authentic culture, distinctive food and a rich history."

   "The island differentiates itself from its Caribbean neighbors in the activities, too. With such a heritage, Willemstad offers less of the jet skiing, parasailing and banana-boating and instead offers a handful of activities that might prove much more interesting to the intrepid traveler."

   "For instance, how many Caribbean islands can you name that offer safari tours? At the Curacao Ostrich Farm, guests can board an open-sided safari vehicle for a tour that'll teach them everything there is to know about ostriches and ostrich farming. Meanwhile, thrill-seekers will jump at the chance of an ostrich ride. The island's historic slave-trade roots come out in the restaurant where an array of African meals, including ostrich burgers and steaks, can be sampled, or in the gift shop, which features a selection of authentic African souvenirs to take home."

   "An even more culturally involving experience can be had at Dinah Veeris' Den Peradara herb garden. You can opt for a self-guided tour of the gardens, learning the medicinal benefits of a variety of plants and trees via posted signs throughout, but for a truly immersive visit, schedule your tour with Dinah herself. Even meal settings in Curacao are an authentic experience. On this less-traveled island, gastronomy is often an open-air affair, in restaurants featuring picnic-style seating and open kitchen layouts. Consider the handwritten and verbal menus a testament to know how fresh the meals will fresh, in fact, that it's not even worth printing the day's featured selections, since they're just bound to change tomorrow."

Quoted from Recommend magazine July 2012 vol.27 number 10 pages 52,54,55

"Vogue's Featured Cruise Port"

Costa Maya, Mexico

Costa Maya, Mexico Jonas Brum

   "Costa Maya, once a trading post for the Mayan Empire, is located in the Mexican Caribbean and is best known for its jungles, beaches, lagoons and Mayan ruins. Recent development and modern port facilities are making Costa Maya the perfect port of call. With so many activities, it will be hard to decide what to do first."

The One Thing You Don't Want to Miss

"Experience the ancient Mayan City of Chacchoben. Largely unexplored until 1999, this Mayan site dates back to 360 A.D. when it played an important role in the distribution of such precious items as wood, jade and exotic birds."

Other Fun Things to Do

"Check out the Mayan Pavilion Park, which has everything: Mayan handicraft centers, swim-up bars, great traditional restaurants, saltwater pools, a 650-seat amphitheater, Mayan art and architecture, amazing water sports and great shopping. For more adventures, explore the many surrounding Mayan cities like Chacchoben, Kohunlich and Dzibanche.
Take a break, relax and soak up the famous Mayan sun at Uvero Beach, complete with beach chairs, bar, restaurant, paddle boats, snorkeling and so much more.
Take an exciting ride on a ATV or Mini Rhino through the jungle. Then relax on the beach with a cold drink while you enjoy the ocean breeze."

Sporting Adventures

"Go snorkeling off the coast of Mexico and see parrot, butterfly and angelfish, and even an occasional glimpse of an eagle ray."

Shopping for Bargains

"Costa Maya offers jewelry stores, beachwear and Mexican specialties such as silver and handicrafts. Great buys are also available on quality designer watches by Maurice Lacroix and Movado. In addition, the port area offers a plaza with shopping, a great saltwater swimming pool and fire entertainment. Our recommended stores offer this port's best selection."

Local Currency

"Mexico's currency is the peso (MXN). The $ sign is used to refer to pesos, so don't be shocked at the price tags. Any prices in U.S. dollars are listed as US$ or USD. Many hotels, restaurants and shops also accept major credit cards, which usually offer you a good exchange rate."

For more information visit

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Hot and Happening Spots"

Week 5: Seeing Africa by Elephant

Elephant ride-South Africa Tours, Best Safari Tours of South Africa

   "The beauty of the African wilderness is now more easily viewed through a variety of vantage points. The big highlight at Camp Jabulani, a Relais & Chateaux property, is elephant-back safaris within the Kapama Game Reserve in South Africa's Limpopo Province, with each guest being paired with an elephant based on their temperament. Once sitting comfortably atop the pachyderms on high-density foam saddles, you'll get a closer-than-ever view of giraffes and birds and a different vantage point of the bushveld."
   "The one thing that Camp Jabulani has that is clearly unique is the herd of elephants," says managing director Adine Roode. "It truly is a life-changing experience, interacting with the animals in such close proximity-and they truly have magical characters, each and every one of them."
   Guests can also go on a night safari aboard the elephants with the help of battery-powered spotlights, then help put the elephants to bed. You'll also get to play with baby elephants and even a "hug" from them. Besides the thrill of the elephants, one of Camp Jabulani's most enticing aspects is its Pioneer for Change program-a "pay for three nights, stay for four" package that requires guests to work half a day at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, which focuses on the conservation of rare and vulnerable animals, to get the fourth night free. Although all stays include a visit to the center, the volunteer aspect of this program takes up a whole morning. You'll assist in preparing food for and actually feeding cheetahs, vultures, wild dogs, and small cat species. Participants will also be able to visit the Animal Hospital and talk to the Centre's resident vet if they wish. Camp Jabulani, by the way, is named after a baby elephant that was saved by the Centre and became the inspiration for the camp. As Camp Jabulani was created to care for these animals, each visit helps to support and sustain the herd.
   In addition to the elephant-back safaris, a stay here also includes accommodations in the form of an air-conditioned suite, game drives, bush walks, all meals and daily laundry service."

Quoted from Recommend magazine July 2012 vol.27 number 10 pages 34 and 35

Vogue's Featured Cruise Port

Colon, Panama

Colon Panama

   "As the capital of Colon Province on Panama's central Caribbean coast, Colon lies at the very heart of the country's rich history and innovation. This important port  town is less than an hour's drive from Panama's most historical attractions, so it's easy to fit in visits to sites like the Panama railroad, Gatun Locks, and old Spanish fortress Fort San Lorenzo. And of course, crystal blue waters and pure white sand are always a sweet setting for a cruise vacation kick-off."

The One Thing You Don't Want to Miss

"While in Panama, be sure to pay a visit to the impressive Gatun Locks, where you can watch ships and tankers being lifted up 85 feet to the level of Lake Gatun. And bring your camera - you'll want to capture the amazing views that surround this engineering marvel. Also, if you love a good fortress (and who doesn't), you've got to check out Portobelo National Park. This charming bayside village is home to 16th- and 17th-century Spanish forts, ruins and treasure houses."

Sporting Adventures

"Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly… lucky for you, Panama offers amazing opportunities to observe each in their natural habitat. If you're a bird watcher, head to the village of Achiote, where you can attempt to name the hundreds of species that have taken up residence there. Or if you're somewhat of a fish yourself, Isla Grande is a popular spot for diving and surfing. Its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters make it ideal for sunbathing as well!"

Shopping for Bargains

"Two words: Duty Free. Colón is actually the largest duty-free zone in the Americas, so whatever's on your shopping list - you're bound to find it here! Be sure to check out The Colón Free Zone. It consists of 1,600 showrooms for wholesalers and retailers who travel here to purchase consumer goods at cost, but you may find some showrooms that welcome tourists as well. It's worth the trip just to take in the scene."

Get a Taste of Local Flavor

"Although American, French and Spanish cuisine is easy to find around Colón, you don't want to miss out on the hot and spicy local cooking. And remember, you're in a prime spot for fresh seafood, so take advantage. Try a regional specialty like Ceviche, a marinated fish dish. If seafood isn't your thing, order the Empanadas, turnovers filled with meat or cheese."

Local Currency

"The official currency of Panama is the U.S. dollar (USD), known as the Balboa. Many stores and restaurants also accept major credit cards, which usually offer you a good exchange rate."

For more information visit