All-new South American tours for younger travelers
Contiki, the group tour specialist for travelers ages 18 to 35, just announced its first-ever tours in South America.
Contiki, which has been in business for 50 years and is especially friendly to young solo travelers, has for decades offered hundreds of tours in Europe, Down Under, and North America, and more recently, in Asia as well. Over the years, travelers have asked Contiki for itineraries in South America, but it wasn't until the company's announcement in early May that the concept became a reality.
So far, Contiki has announced six different South American itineraries, which range from 8 to 24 days and visit Peru, Brazil, Argentina, or some combination therein. The first tours will take place starting in November 2011, and reservations are being taken now.
The experience is expected to be similar to Contiki tours elsewhere in the world, with groups of around 20 English-speaking young travelers touring cities, natural wonders, and other historic and cultural sites via private coach bus. Lodging is typically a three-star hotel, though in South America there's also an opportunity to stay in an Amazon rainforest eco-lodge. The 14-day Peru Uncovered tour (from $2,635) also gives guests the choice of either hiking the Inca Trail or riding the train to the famous "lost city" of Machu Picchu.
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What does "ethical travel" mean to you?
In your childhood, traveling is uncomplicated. The biggest dilemma might be whether it's okay to touch a wild turtle's shell at the seashore. But some adults see a more complex world because of their political ideas. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of their travels. In other words, some people ask how can they travel with a clean conscience, putting their money where their heart is? In 1996, travel writer Jeff Greenwald founded Ethical Traveler as a nonprofit group "to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment." Here are some of the group's tips for being an ethical traveler no matter where you go. Some may strike you as provocative and politically biased. Others may seem commonsensical. Never give gifts to children. Too often, children are used by adults to bait tourists into giving money and gifts. Donate instead to adults at local charities and churches. Visit "The World's Best Ethical Destinations." The organization has named 10 developing nations it says are doing the most work to protect the environment, promote human rights, and encourage "social welfare." Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Lithuania, Palau, Poland, and Uruguay made the group's list for 2011. Do you best to respect basic local customs. Skim through a guidebook or talk to a tour guide about the most relevant traditions for a traveler to observe. "Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or refuse a cup of kava in Fiji!" Buy local. Patronize locally-owned inns, restaurants, and shops. The theory here is that locals will gain financially from your visit if you buy directly from them instead of from, say, a foreign-owned chain. You can make your best guess here about how to do this. Small and medium-sized inns and guesthouses are more likely to be owned by locals, who keep profits in the community. Choose your safari carefully. Safaris bring income that encourages the preservation of Africa's wild spaces. But some companies do more to support environmental protection and community development than others. Ask questions before you plunk your money down. Pick your "poverty tour" wisely. Some tour groups go into impoverished neighborhoods. Locals may be offended at the perceived voyeurism. But when locals are in charge and earning income from the tour, it can be ethical, says the group Ethical Traveler. Be sensitive about how visiting a country may favor one political group over another within a country. A UK organization, Tourism Concern, keeps track of many of these issues on its site, from its left-of-center political perspective. But some issues are matters of taste, regardless of political belief. For example, most people would think it's polite to avoid taking sides in political arguments when you're talking with locals overseas. What are your thoughts about so-called "ethical travel"? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 ways to keep your cords tidy and organized in your bag Should the TSA's airport pat-downs be outlawed? Is it cheaper to fly or to drive?
Hotel bathtubs are an endangered species
Remember the hotel bathtub? The sanctuary where you could take a lingering soak after a long day, hands and feet pruning? Well, many hotel chains are replacing bathtubs with larger showers. The reason? Many travelers prefer showers, especially showers that are walk-in, glass-enclosed units with pulsing jets of water. Yet while showers may be great for many business travelers in a rush, what about vacationing families with small children? Or what about mature travelers who want to unwind during their vacation? You have to wonder. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('51615d44-5341-48e7-8df3-d63cdb61ea0d');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) Says USA Today: Holiday Inn has gone from roughly 95 percent of its newly built hotels having tubs a decade ago to only 55 percent of new structures featuring them now. Marriott plans for 75 percent of the chain's rooms to have showers only. What about you? Would you rather have a spacious, fancy shower than a bathtub at your hotel? Please vote in our poll and feel free to speak your mind by posting a comment. Thanks. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Open secret websites for booking hotels You've stayed at bad airport hotels, now stay at a good one Why cruise ships almost never stay in port overnight
We can now travel to Cuba!
Finally, all Americans can now travel to Cuba, so long as they go with a licensed tour operator performing "people-to-people" trips. Although the Treasury Department still requires travel to Cuba to be "purposeful," you no longer have to be pursuing a degree program or be a journalist to go there, thanks to policy changes made by the Obama administration earlier this year. The trips are, however, meant to be educational, so you'll follow busy itineraries with meaningful interaction with the locals. In other words, you're not just hanging on the beach in Havana for a week. So far, the Treasury Department has only issued eight companies with people-to-people licenses. One such operator is Insight Cuba, which is offering several trips, including a long weekend in Havana, with 4-star accommodation, all meals, full-day guided activities, and in-country transportation, from $1,695. Each trip is limited to 16 travelers. Other outfitters are also planning people-to-people trips to Cuba, including the Harvard University's Alumni Association, Learning in Retirement, and Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design. According to the The New York Times, there are currently 35 tour operators whose applications are still pending, including the National Geographic Society, the National trust for Historic Preservation, and Collette Vacations. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Should the government ease all restrictions on Cuba travel? Cuba prepares for an end to the travel ban Travel to Cuba: Highlights
The Budget Travel Convert...Reporting from Greece
Hobart Fowlkes, our "Budget Travel Convert," is a high–end jetsetter by trade, budget globetrotter by choice. He reports regularly on the best (and most affordable) experiences and hotels around the world. Today he updates us on a recent trip to Athens and Mykonos where he spent time admiring the Parthenon in Athens and watching the sun set, cocktail in hand, in Mykonos. See photos from my trip to Greece FIRST STOP, ATHENS... I arrived in Athens mid–morning on a nonstop flight from JFK. I had slept the whole way, but nevertheless when I got to my insanely cheap hotel on Euripidou St. in Plaka (the old part of town at the bottom of the Acropolis), I was ready to hit the hay for a few hours. If you haven't been to Athens before, beware—official Athenian taxis will only charge you a flat fare of EUR35 ($50) to the center of town, so do NOT fall for any sneaky tricksters who might try to take you for anything more. I was in Athens for just 24 hours before I headed out to Mykonos. On my one full day in the city, I meandered through the vast park that leads to the giant stone plateau which was once the site of the holiest temples in the Greek world (for the life of me I can't remember the name of the park). From up there you can enjoy amazing panoramic views of Athens all the way to the port of Pireaus and the Aegean Sea. Descending back into the narrow streets of Plaka I made frequent stops for iced cappucino frappés and my favorite Greek invention of yogurt with walnuts and honey! Oh those Greeks can work wonders with honey! Where I stayed: I checked into Hotel Euripides, which is a very bare bones property with 62 rooms—I had air conditioning, a TV, and a little balcony overlooking a restaurant called O Telis that serves only pork chops (more on this in a bit). 79 Euripidou Street, 011/30-210-3212301-2, evripideshotel.gr How much I paid: My double room cost $83 per night. Why I recommend it: The hotel is simple, but the neighborhood it's in is very charming and quaint (filled with cute shops and restaurants). Unfortunately, Euripidou Street, where the hotel is located, is like one big, seedy strip that bisects Plaka. But on a positive note it's covered with the most amazing graffiti I have ever seen! My favorite part of the hotel is the roof terrace, where complimentary breakfast is served daily from 7 to 10AM. The meal consists of the usual continental spread, but all I really needed was a cup of strong coffee and the corner table that has the best view of the Parthenon in town. But back to the restaurant across the street that serves only pork chops. That was definitely a highlight for me. Since they serve only pork chops and have been in business for more than 30 years they have had plenty of time to perfect the preparation of said chops. So awesome are their pork chops that Neil Armstrong (YES, the astronaut) ate there once in 1997 and sat in exactly the chair where I sat! How do I know that?? Well, first of all my waiter told me so upon discovering my nationality and seating me at that table. Thinking me to be incredulous, he dug out a folder filled with yellowed newspaper clippings from Athenian dailies in the late 1990's to prove the point. Knowing that the very tush that once wiggled out of the Apollo 11 onto the face of the moon, had actually once warmed the very plastic chair into which was nestled my very own tush was enough to make those already delicious pork chops sublime. O Telis, 86 Evripidou, Koumoundourou Square, Athens, 011/30-210-324-2775, dinner from $15 (including a greek salad, pork chop, and a bottle of water) THEN, ON TO MYKONOS... Next up was Mykonos. With my budget in mind, I opted to travel via ferry boat even though there are regular flights to Mykonos. Just steps from the Hotel Euripides there is a subway that takes you directly to Piraeus where the ferries depart. There are high speed ferries ($172 one way) and there are regular ferries ($100 one way). I chose the high speed ferry on the Aegean Pelagos line. The total trip took about four hours. Ferries.gr Upon arriving in the town of Chora in Mykonos, I was met by a man from the hotel that I had chosen for myself: The Hotel Petasos. That was a good thing too because it's very easy to get lost in Chora (apparently it was deliberately designed as a labyrinth in an effort to confuse and perplex pirates who might invade). Where I stayed: The 18 room Petasos Town hotel in Chora. How much I paid: My room was $139 per night. 011/30-22890-22608, petasos.gr Why I recommend it: Not only is the hotel very clean and charming, it is in a perfect location, just steps from the center of the port of Chora. Petasos Beach, which is the sister property, is located on a beach about a 20 minutes drive in a shuttle bus. It's a bit tonier than the town one, but the good news is that as a guest of the Town hotel you are free to use all of the facilities at the beach property. I could have spent all of my time at the Petasos Beachproperty, but I found myself a lot more comfortable renting a car (EUR30/day) from a nice man about 100 meters up the street from Petasos Town Hotel, just opposite another awesome property called the Rochari Hotel. With a car you are free to explore the island and discover all of the various beaches,each of which has its own unique personality. There is Agrari Beach which is somewhat secluded in a little cove with deep blue water—it's the polar opposite to the very gay and very vibrant Paradise and Super Paradise beaches which you will know you are approaching before you get there by the THMP THMP THMP of the House Music that blasts from the Beach's DJ platform all day long and into the night. My personal favorite is known as Elia Beach. It is a long, sandy beach with beds that you can rent and plenty of space to pitch your towel wherever you want. There is a charming restaurant on one end of the beach for lunch, and generally a veryfriendly mixed crowd of beach goers. There is also a lot of good "beautiful people" watching of which I am particularly fond. Before you go I also recommend that you go for a cocktail at the Hotel Elysium, which is high up on a hill overlooking the port. Hotel Elysium is not at all in the Budget Travel category of hotel, but it is worth it to make the hike up there and pay a fortune for a measly little cocktail just for the opportunity to watch the sun go down over the town. So after a week of sun and relaxation in Mykonos, I sadly boarded my ferry back to Athens to spend one last night in Hotel Euripides. Thankfully, there was time the following morning to enjoy a coffee while gazing at the acropolis before setting off back to the airport, but, sadly, no time for pork chops. Next stop: Florence and Lucca on the way to spend a week in the sun in Torre del Lago, the little known next door neighbor to beach destination, Viareggio, on Tuscany's coast. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL The Budget Travel Convert: Reporting from...Panama Secret Hotels of Greece's Ionian Islands 10 Islands to See Before You Die