It’s common to feel like a stranger in a strange land sometimes when traveling. The local language, dress, conduct, and other customs can give you the feeling of not being part of the “in” crowd, like in high school. Fortunately, I did not feel like an outsider at all when I stayed in the beautiful island country of St. Lucia. Instead, I felt like a beloved family member returning home after a long journey abroad.
As soon as I landed at Hewanorra International Airport, an employee warmly greeted me with “Welcome back.” It was my first time in this neck of Caribbean paradise, but this simple greeting set the tone for the rest of my stay.
It was a frenzy of activity at the new Paradisus Palma Real Convention Center in Punta Cana as buyers and sellers walked the trade floor meeting, greeting and deal-making. The most anticipated trade event in the country, DATE or the Dominican Annual Tourist Exchange is organized by the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES) and co-sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the three-day show was the epicenter of action for tour operators, travel agents, wholesalers, hoteliers, airline representatives and government officials from the US, Canada, Europe and South America. “Last year was an extraordinary year,” said Radhames Martinez-Aponte, vice minister of tourism. “Our arrivals grew by 3.6 percent compared to the entire Caribbean, which grew by only one percent.” Last year, the DR welcomed 4.7 million stay over visitors with the US the largest source market with 1.6 million arrivals, followed by Canada with nearly 700,000.
Flat, dry and just seventeen miles north of Venezuela, Aruba is one of the most revisited islands in the Caribbean. Four hours by air from New York and under three from Miami, flights are plenty from all the major gateways and with US pre-clearance at the international airport, getting home is a breeze as the only Customs officer is the one on island. “Fifty percent of our guests have been here before and many come back generation after generation, “said Sjeidy Feliciano, director of public relations for the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA). “Our accessibility to the US is one reason we get so many return guests, as well as our multicultural diversity which appeals to tourists coming from the US, Canada, South America and Europe.”
Sitting outside the hurricane belt (that season officially starts on June 1), the island that marries Dutch charm with American ease is popular with a myriad of travelers from adventure junkies, foodies and beach lovers to relaxation seekers, serious shoppers, casino players and those who can afford to spoil themselves in swanky seaside suites . www.aruba.com
The buzzing Asian city and Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is fueled by the country’s diverse multi-ethnic groups that include a majority of Muslim-Malays, Chinese and Indians. Nicknamed KL for short, in Kuala Lumpur there are a few “must sees” that include not only indoor activities, but also taking in a bit of nature and discovering some of the best food in
According to the folks at the Texas-based tour operating company, Ker & Downey, a first stop in Kuala Lumpur is a ride to the top of the Petronas Towers. The towers are one of Southeast Asia’s most famous iconic landmarks and the tallest twin buildings in the world, rising 88 stories. Visits can be made to the observation deck or from its double decker Skybridge linking the towers, and where you can get great views of both.
If you have the time, check out the Petrosains Science Discovery Center where there are rides, exhibits and even a 3D mini-theatre.
The call is punctual but surprising - monkeys pounding on the window. Not the traditional wake-up call. That comes later.
So begins my Sri Lankan odyssey. I am surprised that this island country south of India -- slightly larger than West Virginia - is home to eight World Heritage Sites, Buddhist holy sites, safaris, a very unique festival, Ceylon tea and hordes of elephants. Nor am I prepared for the heat, humidity, heart-stopping traffic and the cacophony of
The time is 5 a.m. The city of Marrakech, Morocco is breathlessly quiet. Suddenly, chanting begins to resound from a nearby mosque. Within moments it is followed by a chorus of guttural voices, emanating from over 100 minarets. Asleep on a rooftop terrace I am jarred awake by the thunderous Call to Prayer. This is my Moroccan alarm clock.
My family and I are spending several days exploring the markets of Marrakech. From our rooftop terrace we have a sprawling view of the city. The markets form a web of convoluted streets; alleyways thatched in bamboo and hopelessly tangled. From the central plaza, the streets radiate outward in a labyrinth capable of making anyone feel directionally challenged. In the distance loom the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Departing from our rooftop we gravitate towards the plaza. By the time the sun had ascended, monkey-handlers and snake charmers are already welcoming the day. However, the cobras do not appear too charmed, their mouths sewn shut to prevent them from spitting venom. The skirl of shrill pipes is enough to make the most tolerant people insane. I pity the snakes that are subjected to it.
Along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline the temperatures are warm and humid, a sharp contrast to the cooler temperatures you’ll find in its bustling capital city of Nairobi. But it’s this coastline that plays host to a number of destinations not often associated with your typical trip to Kenya (if there is such a thing as a typical trip!)
A surprising escape to the island of Lamu will win bragging rights for your clients among their friends who mainly visit Kenya for Safari. Lamu is easily reachable from the country’s main airports of Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi. All flights land on Manda Island, just across the channel from Lamu.
Blending the hip and the historic, Israel constantly reinvents itself. In Jerusalem, new luxury hotels-including the country’s first Waldorf Astoria-are joining family-friendly attractions like The First Station, a stylish restaurant-and-entertainment complex in a restored Ottoman-era rail station. Along the coast, in and around high-energy Tel Aviv, discover another vintage train station, with hip restaurants and shops, plus the new Ritz-Carlton Herzliya, and trendy boutique hotels nestled in the White City’s 1930s Bauhaus buildings and ancient stone manors.
Southern Africa is home to some of the best safaris, natural wonders and luxury lodges anywhere on the African continent. Here we break down Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, all easily accessible from Johannesburg, and should be on your radar as an alternative for an African holiday. Last year, the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organization general assembly was co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe in their resort towns of Livingstone and Victoria Falls, the first time Southern Africa has hosted the UNWTO, solidifying their dedication to tourism.
Some of the most memorable experiences I have had in China involved food and drink. In X’ian I was wowed by the variety of dumplings at De Fa Chang Restaurant (www.dfc.com.cn). We sampled about 25 different kinds of dumplings (there are over 100 to choose from) in a variety of shapes - think avian species; fillings - potato, chicken, walnut; dough flavors - pumpkin, spinach, chocolate; and cooking methods - steamed, pan-fried, baked. What a treat after visiting the tourist sites! In Beijing I fondly remember our over-the-top royal banquet meal with Chinese American friends, who had relatives in the city. And, I’ll never forget those “finishing tea notes” of Great Leap Brewery’s (www.greatleapbrew ing.com) Yunnan Amber beer - infused for five days in Yunnan’s Dianhong black tea, which I drank in the congenial lobby bar at Beijing’s Orchid Hotel (www.theorchidbeijing.com).