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Thursday, September 19 2019 @ 09:06 am EDT

Exotic destinations are the hot ticket for 2007 travel

Travel & Tourism By MACKENZIE CARPENTER for the BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE - So where will it be in 2007? You’ve hiked volcanoes in Nicaragua, browsed in Krakow’s medieval-era markets, dined alfresco in Dubrovnik, and cruised along Turkey’s gorgeous Mediterranean coast, so what in the world is out there that is new and exciting for the adventurous traveler? For Cindy Carbine of Highland Park. Pa., it will be a Caribbean cruise — but not just any cruise. She’s headed to Panama, and will spend a day river kayaking there. And Marsha Berger, of Squirrel Hill, Pa., dreams of exploring Ethiopia’s rock-carved churches, if war doesn’t overtake that country. Whether you’re on a budget or are a luxury-loving pleasure seeker, there are still travel destinations on this shrinking planet that can easily fit under the category of “new,” not to mention “hot.” Frommer’s annual “Top 12” list for this year includes affordable domestic destinations such as Asheville, N.C., nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, and Minneapolis — which has cold winter weather but fabulous architecture, food, and cultural attractions — as well as Panama and Ethiopia. Other travel experts cite Eastern Europe, especially Poland; the exquisite city of Antwerp in Belgium; Buenos Aires, and Argentina’s wine region, Mendoza; Cambodia’s fabled Angkor Wat ruins; Northern Ireland, and on and on. (more)

Libya, with its Roman ruins and the Mamluk architecture of Tripoli, was a hot new destination after the State Department lifted travel restrictions two years ago, but now the North African country is refusing to admit travelers with U.S. passports, so Libya’s on the back burner for now.

Still, you’ll find new ways to see the world — even the predictable cruise ship is offering more diversified shore excursions for every kind of traveler. That’s what Carbine discovered while planning her 12-day trip to Panama, where she’ll be accompanied by her father, her teenage daughter, and assorted siblings, nieces, and nephews on Royal Caribbean’s “Brilliance of the Sea.”

“There was an unbelievable list of excursions we could take,” said Carbine, including an aerial tram ride over the rainforest, fishing, mountain biking, visits to the Panama Canal, and trips to coffee plantations. She chose to kayak down a river, “a very narrow river, where the foliage is very thick and you can see the animal life up close,” she said.

While Carbine will be able to retreat to her cruise ship each night, no such creature comforts awaited Robyn Bates of Regent Square, Pa., during her trip to western China, also known as the Xian-Jiang Province, in July and August. There, she found towering, icy mountain ranges and blistering deserts — at one point temperatures reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit — which “brought to mind the word ‘savage,’ in every way,” she laughed.

But the warm, welcoming peoples of the region, near the legendary Silk Road in northwest China, were so endlessly fascinating she didn’t care.

Others in search of the new and the different — but not the uncomfortable — can find it in otherworldly Dubai, one of the seven “emirates,” or city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates. Faced with the loss of its oil reserves in 10 years, Dubai has busily been remaking itself as a travel and leisure mecca and manmade “paradise,” featuring indoor skiing and outdoor living.

Here are four of the exotic travel destinations showing up on different “hot” lists:

1) Panama. It’s getting increasingly popular as a warm-weather destination, but it’s still something of a bargain: Sherman Travel offers a five-night getaway, including air fare, for $899 (shermanstravel.com/editor—review.php). Seven years after the U.S. government handed the Panama canal back to the Panamanians, and 17 years after dictator Manuel Noriega exited the scene, this country has suddenly become Central America’s newest place to play. It boasts a full complement of beaches, islands, rainforest, indigenous tribes, multi-ethnic culture, and duty-free shopping. Panama City’s skyline is like Miami’s and the city’s multicultural mix is reflected in shops and restaurants, says Norman Vanamee, editor in chief of Sherman’s Travel. You can tour the 90-year-old Panama Canal, still an amazing feat of engineering.

You can explore the country’s Pacific side, with some of the most pristine jungle landscape in the world and Native American tribes who live in remote wilderness villages. Eco-tour groups abound, and one of the largest is called Ancon.

But Vanamee seems most enthusiastic about the Archipielago de San Blas, on Panama’s northeast Caribbean Coast islands, a group of 400 or so islands, many uninhabited, and overseen by the Kuna Indians. “It’s a gorgeous area with spectacular diving and beaches,” he says.

2) Ethiopia. Frommer’s listed this country as one of its top 12 new destinations for 2007, but Ethiopia’s recent bombing of Islamist forces in Somalia, on its eastern border, creates some uncertainty for travelers. Check with the U.S. State Department before you make plans, but note too that most of the tourist attractions are in the northwest and north-central parts of Ethiopia, away from any hot spots.

Arnie Weissman, editor of Travel Weekly, a travel newsletter, believes the time may be right for tourists to rediscover and explore this country’s circuit of ancient Christian kingdoms. Still, Ethiopia “poses considerable challenges for a mainstream tourist,” he said. There are hot water issues, Internet connectivity is hit or miss, beggars can be bothersome, credit cards are rarely accepted, and ATMs are almost unheard of, except in the lobby of the Sheraton in Addis Ababa.

But there are pluses, too: there’s a new international airport, and hotels at some of the major tourist sites have been modernized.

Then, too, Ethiopia’s attractions rival Egypt’s for color and historical importance.

The biggest plus of all, he said: “It’s not swamped with tourists.”

3) Choquequirao. It translates to “golden cradle” in the Quechua language, but everyone’s calling it the “new Machu Picchu.” This massive archeological site in southern Peru is beginning to attract outsiders, although it requires some physical stamina to get there. Choquequirao Archeological Park is busily creating a tourism program to make it more accessible, but there’s still a two-day hike or horseback ride involved. Occupied by the Inca during the mid-15th century A.D., Choquequirao is located at 10,170 feet on the western slopes of the snow-covered Vilcabamba mountain range, and was once home to nearly 1,000 people.

4) Western China. This is where the legendary Silk Road routes led into Central Asia, India, and Persia. It’s home to 200,000 Uighur people and has one of the world’s largest bazaars, a meeting place for all of Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities.

This region also is known for its ferocious geography — some of the highest mountains in the world and the Taklamakan Desert, which has gone by other names, roughly translated as, “where you go in but you don’t come out.” You can take a camel tour into the desert, but not too far, since its migrating sand dunes have been known to swallow whole bus loads of people. Bates remembers one hot day where “one of my cameras did fry,” she said.

If you go, she says, make it soon, before the indigenous peoples disappear into the maw of modernization. “We really wanted to see a place that is still unaffected by the West,” she said, “but I’m not sure how long that will last.”

If you go...

If you decide to head for this year’s hot — but off-the-beaten-track — spots, here are some tips:

Panama

Flight time from the East Coast of the U.S. is almost seven hours before layover time is factored in. A quick airfare search revealed that flights in mid-February can be booked for about $600 (Thursday-Thursday departures). For general information, go online to www.panamatravel.com

Ethiopia Ethiopian Airlines flies directly to Addis Ababa from Washington, and there are connecting flights with Continental in London. Call 1-800-445-2733; www.flyethiopian.com

Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissman recommends Green Land Tours, which he used for his visit. On the high end, Abercrombie & Kent (800-554-7016, www.abercrombiekent.com) offers nine-day tours, “Ethiopia: An Ancient Dynasty,” for $2,995 to $3,255 a person, double occupancy, not including air fare.

Choquequirao, Peru Traveling to this region of Peru is the same, at least initially, as getting to Machu Picchu, via flights from the U.S. to Lima, and on to the city of Cusco.

But at this point, all similarities end. The trek to Choquequirao is a more physically demanding, rugged, and time-consuming undertaking than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao is still in the beginning phases of development as a tourist destination and the Choquequirao Archeological Park is in the process of creating a tourism program for the area that will make it more accessible to tourists.

For the time being, the trek to Choquequirao begins with a bus or van ride from Cusco to the city of Cachora. From there, travelers are led on a vigorous two-day hike through the Sacred Valley to the archeological site by bilingual guides. Travelers also have the option of making the journey on horseback. Camping equipment and services provided vary depending on the tour operator.

For information about planning a trip to Choquequirao, check out www.choquequiraotravel.com online, or call 1-866-661-PERU (in the United States) or visit www.peru.info.

Western China Intrepid souls might be able to arrange a trip through the Chinese government, but you may prefer using a travel agent. High-end tour operators include Distant Horizons (www.distant-horizons.com/tours/tour8.htm), and Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com/index.cfm?navid=3.8.3.34).

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mackenzie Carpenter is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com.

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