May 2014 Travel Column

Up and Coming Destinations in Central and South America

As more and more Americans have passport in hand and are exploring destinations further away from home, Travel Leaders recently surveyed its expert agents throughout North America to learn which Central and South American destinations they deemed the top up-and-coming. Those topping this list included Peru, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador and Argentina. 

Peru. The allure of Machu Picchu, a mountaintop community built by the Incas around 1450, is irresistible. The fact that it is somewhat difficult to reach only adds to its mystique and allure for the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who go up the mountain to marvel at the polished stone structures and stunning views. Many of these visitors also discover the beauty of Peru’s colonial cities, including Lima and Cusco; the pristine rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon; and the lovely beaches along the country’s 1,500-mile Pacific coast.

Brazil. At nearly 3.3 million square miles, Brazil is nearly as large as the United States. Each region of this vast country has a unique character, from the sparsely populated Amazon Basin to the cities influenced by waves of European immigrants. There’s a lot of new development in the cities that will host World Cup matches this summer, which will also serve Brazil well when Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. 

Panama. Some visitors come just to see the iconic canal, an engineering marvel that created a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beyond the canal, this slender isthmus link between Central and South America is surprisingly diverse. Dense jungles provide habitat for an amazing variety of wildlife; the warm and humid climate turns cooler in mountain towns like Boquete; and Panama City is a modern capital with a beautifully preserved historic district. 

Ecuador. Ecuador is another small country of incredible diversity. The Pacific coast has wonderful beaches; the central highlands offer the cities of Quito (the entire city is a UNESCO World heritage site) and Banos (a center of adventure tourism); and, just east of the mountains lie the rainforests of the Amazon. The Galapagos Islands, a remote archipelago known for unique and fearless wildlife, are about 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast.

Argentina. Many visitors focus on the city of Buenos Aires and its historic core, including the neighborhoods of La Recoleta and San Telmo. There are wonderful places to explore far beyond the city, too, including the central plains of the Pampas, the high plateau of Patagonia and the Andes along the western border. Then there’s the stunning Iguazu Falls that straddles the border with Brazil, just miles away from Paraguay. Vegetarians won’t go hungry, but Argentina is a fantastic destination for lovers of beef, the mainstay of the country’s diet. 

To make your plans to visit any of these up-and-coming destinations, talk with your travel professional.

Interest in Traveling to Cuba Grows

For close to 50 years, travel to Cuba was completely forbidden for most American travelers. But in 2011, all of that changed with the easing of U.S. regulations that strictly prohibited Americans from traveling to the destination that’s only 90 miles south of the United States.

The U.S. Treasury, which administers the half-century old regulations, loosened those restrictions to allow for what it deems as “People-to-people educational exchanges.” According to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, these exchanges “take place under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes programs to promote people-to-people contact. Under this policy, the license is issued to the organization that is running the people-to-people programs.”

In turn, this has opened the door for private tour operators, such as Globus, to receive licenses from the U.S. Treasury and provide intrepid travelers with the rare opportunity to see this island nation from the perspective of a true educational exchange.  According to a recently conducted poll of 246 Travel Leaders travel agents across the United States, 55.3% indicated that their clients have expressed interest in traveling to Cuba – 11% said that they’ve already booked clients using this unique people-to-people exchange program.

Naturally, travel agents also are clamoring to learn more about Cuba by participating in the people-to-people exchanges. One such Globus Cuba Experience commenced in February when the tour operator escorted 50 Travel Leaders on a journey to Havana and beyond for an extraordinary people-to-people educational exchange.

“As an increasing number of our clients are expressing interest in traveling to Cuba, we want to ensure that our agent owners thoroughly understand the options they can legally offer,” explained Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Franchise Group. “We were very proud to partner with Globus in providing our leading Travel Leaders with this rare opportunity to experience Cuba as few others have.”

Because of the very nature of the people-to-people exchange requirements, the itinerary was devoid of any leisure activity such as beach time. But it included interactive sessions in Havana, Mantanzas and Cardenas with Cuban artisans, baseball players, dancers, musicians and others, all with historic backdrops – and even Cuba’s ubiquitous 1950s automobiles – that participants could see and experience.

Block added, “Through this enriching educational exchange, we hope to foster a greater awareness among our agents for what their clients could potentially expect when visiting Havana and other Cuban destinations that are already popular with visitors from abroad.”

To learn more about how you can legally experience Cuba through a people-to-people exchange, contact your travel agent professional.

The Savoy Celebrates 125 Years

Winston Churchill took his cabinet to lunch there. Celebrities, from Noel Coward to The Beatles, have stayed and entertained there. And, a baby elephant once delivered a birthday cake to a millionaire during a “Gondola Party” in the flooded courtyard.

For 125 years – through times of prosperity and hardship, including two World Wars – the Savoy has been one of London’s most prestigious and elegant hotels. Now managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the hotel has continuously maintained its status as one of the world’s finest.

The Savoy was opened in August 1889 by Richard D’Oyly Carte, a theatrical producer who famously brought together dramatist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. Profits from Gilbert and Sullivan’s successful comic operas financed the hotel, which stands right next to Carte’s Savoy Theatre on the Strand, just steps from the River Thames in the Westminster section of London.

The Savoy was the first hotel in Britain lit entirely by electric lights and with lifts powered by electricity. Each lavishly furnished room had its own ensuite bathroom with hot and cold running water – rare luxuries in the 1880s.

The hotel’s first manager, Cesar Ritz (who later founded the Ritz Hotels) and chef Auguste Escoffier set a high standard for quality that continues today. Guests of the hotel’s signature restaurants still enjoy some of Escoffier’s original recipes, such as the peaches and ice cream dessert called Peach Melba.

After operating continuously for more than 100 years, the Savoy closed temporarily in 2007 for a renovation and restoration of its interior and exterior. Three years and £220 million later, the hotel reopened with many of its original features in place and new comforts offered by updated structural and mechanical systems. All of the river-facing rooms are decorated in the English Edwardian style; rooms that look out on the Strand are in Art Deco style. “The Savoy is still the Savoy, only better,” wrote a reviewer in the Daily Telegraph.

For long-time fans and new guests, the famed hotel is offering a 125th anniversary special rate for stays of three nights of more in selected accommodation categories. For the summer months, the hotel is also offering packages that include a cruise on the River Thames – with champagne. And for those who simply want a taste of The Savoy, consider booking a traditional afternoon tea there during your London visit.

To plan your stay at one of the world’s finest and most historic hotels, talk with your travel professional.

Visiting Yosemite National Park                                        

In 1864, in the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln took the time to sign the Yosemite Grant. The grant ceded the scenic Yosemite Valley of the Sierra Nevada, as well as a stand of redwood trees called the Mariposa Grove, to the state of California. It was the first time that land has been set aside specifically for its preservation and enjoyment by the public.

Later expanded and further protected as a National Park, Yosemite is 1,200 square miles of breathtakingly beautiful granite mountains, valleys, waterfalls and groves of giant Sequoias. June 30 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant and the beginning of the park as a national treasure.                                            

Yosemite’s well-known landmarks include El Capitan, an impressive cliff of pale granite that presents a challenge to even the most expert climbers. Half Dome is an imposing granite dome seemingly sliced in half by a giant’s knife.

The park’s higher elevations support beautiful subalpine meadows, often snow-covered in the winter but sprinkled with flowers in warmer weather. The park is also famous for its waterfalls, including Yosemite, Ribbon Falls and Bridalveil Falls. When the snow melts or after a rare summer thunderstorm, visitors can enjoy hundreds of ephemeral, or short-term, waterfalls as well. Yosemite also has three stands of spectacular giant sequoias: the Mariposa, Tuolumne and Merced Groves.

Yosemite’s lodging for visitors ranges from campsites to elegant rooms at The Ahwahnee Hotel. Appealingly rustic lodges offer everything from “tent cabins” (canvas tents with cement or wood floors) to bunk rooms designed to accommodate families. 

The nearest airports include Fresno-Yosemite International, about 90 minutes from the park’s south entrance, and Modesto City-County Airport, about 90 minutes from the west entrance. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco or Reno and catch a motorcoach tour to Yosemite.

While it can be difficult to find parking inside Yosemite, you can park a car in several nearby towns (including Merced, Mariposa, Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes) and hop on a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) shuttle.

There are other wonderful places to explore near Yosemite, including unusual geologic features at Devil’s Postpile National Monument; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks; and the historic gold mining country of Tuolumne County. To plan your visit to Yosemite, talk with your travel professional.

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