Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Amazing Havana in Cuba....


The Cuban capital Havana is a captivating mix of intriguing history and faded glamour, with a decidedly retro feel. Mark spent a long weekend discovering the charms of the City.

Havana is an extraordinary city that’s packed with interest, and one that makes a great destination for a long weekend with a difference or as part of a wider trip to Cuba. 500 years of history has left the City with an incredible array of buildings from various architectural styles, while the last 50 years or so has changed its character again. Lose yourself in the backstreets of Old Havana, watch the waves crash on the Malecón, Havana’s seafront promenade, and take in the nightlife of Vedado - ideally with a cold mojito in your hand.

A great place to start exploring is at Parque Central, a tree-lined square that marks the start of Old Havana where men sit under the shade of the trees to discuss the latest goings on in the world of baseball, a Cuban obsession. The square is surrounded by a series of historic buildings including the neoclassical Hotel Inglaterra, dating back to 1875, and the Gran Teatro de La Habana, a stunning building that’s home to the Cuban National Ballet. Just to the south is the Capitolio Nacional, the seat of Government until the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and a perfect place for visitors to Havana to appreciate the City’s neoclassical architecture.

From Parque Central walk along Calle Obispo (Bishop Street) in to the heart of Old Havana. The cobbled streets here date back almost 500 years, and this particular street is dotted with historic buildings that are now home to boutique hotels and lively bars. Calle Obispo leads in to Plaza De Armas, one of Havana’s most important and prettiest squares and one that’s been restored in recent years. Any visitor to Havana will notice that many of the City’s historic buildings are crumbling, but an ongoing restoration scheme is breathing new life in to these areas. It’s then a short hop to the Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana, a Havana landmark noted for its unequal towers and fine baroque architecture. Plaza de la Catedral is a great place for a spot of lunch – check out the Restaurant El Patio’s grilled fish and sublime mojitos!

Havana’s diverse history is also reflected in its places to stay, with hotels dating from various eras in the City’s history. Old Havana is dotted with quirky hotels that were formerly merchant’s houses, such as the Hotel Florida on Calle Obispo, a beautiful property centered around an internal courtyard. Perhaps Havana’s most renowned hotel is the Hotel Nacional De Cuba, dating from 1930 and reflecting the era’s Art Deco architecture. The hotel welcomed Hollywood legends in its heyday including Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and today is a great place to soak up the City’s retro atmosphere.

A great way to really experience Havana is to rent a classic American car for an afternoon – you’ll need a driver too as the cars tend to be held together by a wing and a prayer (or at least a piece of rope and a roll of sellotape!) as spare parts haven’t been available for years, but it’s quite an experience. Cruise along the Malecón to the Plaza de la Revolución, the heart of revolutionary Havana that saw Fidel Castro address huge crowds. Today, the square is dominated by the famous Che Guevara image on the side of a government building.

Even in a short trip, Havana’s charms will grab you immediately. Recent reforms have given Havana a new burst of life, and things are changing quickly so visit soon to experience one of the world’s truly unique capitals.

Don’t miss…drinks at the terrace bar at the Hotel Inglaterra – the service can be typically Cuban (slow), but it’s a great spot to watch the world go by.

Don’t miss…dining at a paladar, a local restaurant often housed in private houses, where some of the best food in Cuba is served in an informal setting.

One to avoid…keep an eye out for crumbling buildings, potholed pavements and even badly pitched baseballs when exploring the city, to avoid any unexpected injuries.

We have some fantastic trips to Cuba including magical Havana -

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Thursday, 17 May 2018

Family Safaris.. a truly amazing experience for both young and old!

An African safari may not be the kind of holiday that first springs to mind as a family-friendly option, but a safari can be the perfect trip for a family to share adventures and experiences of a lifetime.

A safari is a holiday with a difference, for both adults and kids alike. Spending time in the national parks and game reserves of Africa is as much an adventure as a holiday, and one that is action-packed and exciting, fun and educational in equal measure. East Africa is one of the best areas for a family safari, with Kenya and Tanzania offering easily accessible game parks that are home to a huge variety of wildlife including the famed ‘Big 5’, plus family-friendly accommodation and good value for money too.

Seeing animals in their natural environment is something that all kids will relish. Standing on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve watching a tower of giraffes on the opposite bank as they majestically stoop down to drink is a magical sight, and then a few minutes later you may be hurtling through the bush in search of lion on the prowl. Next stop is a pod of hippos wallowing in the river, making their extraordinary noise that sounds like playful laughter, belying the fact they’re one of the most dangerous animals you’ll encounter – albeit from a safe distance. After a relaxing afternoon around the camp’s pool, head out with your guide in search of more big game, as this area is home to a huge variety of wildlife including all three big cats as well as elephant, buffalo, zebra, crocodile and a huge variety of birdlife.

Many safari lodges and camps offer activities geared up especially for kids, so they can learn about the surrounding area and its wildlife in a fun manner, often with Masai tribesmen sharing their wealth of knowledge. The Mara Intrepids Camp on Kenya’s Masai Mara arranges different programmes of activities for different ages of kids, teaching them about the park, its wildlife and the environment in general. Masai naturalists will show them how to track wildlife from their dung, how plants are used and some basic survival skills in the wild. There’s even an obstacle course so kids can see what the wildlife has to go through!

School summer holidays are probably the best time for a safari in Kenya as the annual migration tends to be in full swing on the Masai Mara, with a few million extra wildebeest, zebra and other grazers making the plains their temporary home as they journey across from the neighbouring Serengeti. While the chances of catching the very moment when huge herds of animals spectacularly attempt to cross the Mara River are limited, visiting the Mara at this time of year leaves most visitors overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and variety of wildlife they see. By the October Half Term the migration tends to be on the move again, so a safari at this time of year should still give you plenty of activity in both Kenya and Tanzania. The annual migration only affects certain animals, and is unique to the Masai Mara and Serengeti, with other game parks unaffected as wildlife tends to be resident in these areas year-round. Christmas and the February Half Term have an emphasis on wildlife activity across the border in Tanzania, and while Easter tends to see more showers, it can be a surprisingly good value time to visit either country.

With a huge amount of wildlife activity year-round, visiting East Africa on a safari holiday at any time of year will be a rewarding, action-packed experience, and one that parents and kids alike will remember forever.

Top Tip…If you’re travelling with younger children arrange to have a vehicle to yourselves, so you can tailor the pace to suit your group. Consider travelling between parks by light aircraft to reduce travel times.

Top Tip …Combining two or three national parks will give you the widest cross section of wildlife, as each park is home to different animals. Take a guidebook or wildlife chart with you, so the kids can tick off the different animals as you go along.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Honeymoons...... something special

As the wedding season approaches, we take a look at some of their most popular destinations for honeymooners.

If your idea of the ultimate romantic honeymoon is to be alone with just the love of your life, then look no further than the Maldives. Hundreds of tiny islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a stunningly beautiful destination where romance comes easily. Lazy days on the beach, beautiful sunsets and understated service are the order of the day here – forget sightseeing and partying! Resorts do vary quite considerably, and as you can’t really leave your island once you’re there its important to get the right one for you. Larger islands tend to offer a range of facilities and more of a village feel, ideal for those who like a little more activity, while some islands are little more than a dot on the horizon, perfect for a real get-away-from-it-all. From the moment you land at the airport, the beauty and romance of the Maldives really does take your breath away.

For a longhaul honeymoon that won’t break the bank – and for a destination that’s fantastic at including extra touches to turn a holiday in to a honeymoon – Thailand is hard to beat. It’s a great value destination anyway and one that’s awash with stylish, quality hotels, but it’s easy to make your budget go a long way in Thailand. Keep an eye out for hotels that will offer complimentary touches such as room upgrades and spa treatments to help celebrate your honeymoon. Thailand excels at world-class hotels where the service is second to none, plus there’s a really good range of hotels that will give you high standards at a great price – pool villas are a bit of a Thai speciality, where your individual villa comes complete with your very own swimming pool, and they can sometimes cost little more than a standard room. With plenty of flight options and competitive hotel prices, Thailand tops the ranks for unbeatable honeymoon value for money, but without compromising on standards.

Many honeymooners look for a holiday that will give them memories of a lifetime, and one of the most popular options for this style of trip is a safari in Africa. Spend a few days exploring the game parks of East or Southern Africa before hitting one of the glorious beaches along the Indian Ocean coastline, hopefully spotting the ‘Big 5’ on the way. Kenya is at its best from July to October when the annual migration is in full swing, when millions of wildebeest, zebra and other animals head to the Masai Mara to create the greatest wildlife show on earth. The East African coastline also boasts some of the world’s best beaches, where recent hotel openings have raised standards too, or perhaps head further afield to the likes of Mauritius or the Seychelles.

A honeymoon is a once in a lifetime holiday, and with so many destinations to choose from, the hardest decision for many couples may be knowing where to start!

Top Tip…if you’re tied to departures dates – perhaps a Sunday evening departure for a Saturday wedding – consider a destination served by multiple airlines to give you flight flexibility. Dubai, the Far East and the Indian Ocean lead the way.

Top Tip…take a copy of your wedding certificate with you, as some hotels will include freebies for honeymooners such as room upgrades but they may ask for proof! Generally, travelling within 6 months of getting married will class as a honeymoon.

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