Its New Government Finally Inaugurated, Honduras Tourism Claws Back From Crisis By Discounting

January 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Central America, Honduras, value in travel | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

Back in July 2009, this blog offered a Honduras tourism primer and predicted that the recently erupted political crisis, in which president Manuel Zelaya was deposed, would blow over. A month ago, we pegged Honduras as a hot destination of 2010. Now, seven months after, as the democratically elected administration of Porfirio Lobo takes office and Zelaya departs Honduras for good, the country’s tourism industry is trying to make up for lost time.

It hasn’t been an easy seven months, of course. As its economy shrank, tourism business was especially hard hit, by some estimates contracting by as much as 40 percent. But the situation had calmed down by late ’09; travel alerts issued by the U.S. State Department and other governments were cancelled in December, and net air service and cruise lines visits were reported up even over 2008 levels. Forecasts now see the economy slightly expanding, with tourism mostly recovering lost gains by around July or August.

Even throughout those unsettling months, tourism development was marching on: a new landmark came in November, when Carnival’s 20-acre, $62 million Mahogany Bay cruise terminal in Roatán opened; it’s a two-berth cruise terminal which can accommodate up to 8,000 passengers daily. A multi-beach resort development project is set to break ground this year on Tela Bay. And the funky, diver-popular island of Roatan has been adding resorts, a golf course, cruise facilities, and condos. Many hotels, resorts, and tour operators are busy trying to lure visitors back with even better deals than usual. For example, most hotels near Copan’s stunning Maya ruins and in the lovely colonial town nearby are offering low season rates of less than $100 a night, and sometimes savings of up to 50 percent, through March 30 (normally their high season). Even La Ceiba’s prestigious Lodge at Pico Bonito is offering four nights for the price of three. Roatan resorts are dangling similar discounts, such as Anthony Key Resort’s “second-guest-50-percent-off” deal for 2010 stays.

Bottom line: Helping Honduras regain its footing can also help your wallet.

More info: www.Honduras.com, LetsGoHonduras.com.

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Tripatini Surveys Hot Destinations for 2010

December 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Posted in Africa, Asia, Barbados, British Columbia, Canada, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Central America, Colombia, Croatia, cruising, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Florida, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Mexico, Middle East, Montenegro, New Mexico, Panama, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Suriname, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe | 2 Comments
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by David Paul Appell

It’s that time when the travel-hungry are scouring the media for word of the coming year’s “it” spots. We can play that game too, so, besides popular perennials, here are 29 we see looming larger on twenty-ten’s worldwide vaycaydar:

U.S.A.
For Americans at least, tight times mean Florida will tempt folks sticking closer to home; better deals down south include  Fort Lauderdale and up north the Panhandle. The latter’s now marketed as the “Emerald Coast,” trying to softpedal the “Redneck Riviera” image; comparisons to Sardinia’s glam Costa Smeralda are laughable, but there are some fetching towns, inns, and some interesting attractions — but above all sugary beaches along a stretch including  Destin, Fort Walton, Apalachicola, St. Joe Beach, and Pensacola. Another hotspot due for a boost this year is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is popping the corks for its 400th anniversary (and while you’re out here, add a couple of days to explore some cool nearby towns like Acoma Pueblo and Gallup.

CANADA
The big story this year is inevitably the province of British Columbia, with cool cities Vancouver and Victoria, stunning coastal and mountain scenery, eco/adventure tourism, and swell snow sports. The reason is, of course, is the attention focused on Vancouver and ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, hosting this February’s Winter Olympics.

MEXICO
The so-called Maya Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast stretching southward from Cancun, continues evolving whether big luxury resorts, mass-market all-inclusives, exquisite small inns, or budget digs. Some also see a bump for Mexico City, whose pollution and security issues can be finessed with some common sense and which offers one of the world’s great urban experiences — and what other burg has not just a stunning Aztec pyramid complex (Teotihuacan) on its outskirts but several right in town — one smack in the middle of downtown?

THE CARIBBEAN
This winter/spring, more ships come online and cruising is likely to stay strong, thanks to heavy discounting. Beyond the usual suspects, keep your eye on buttoned-down Barbados,  where some resorts and dining spots have been updating of late, and scenic St. Lucia, with luxury properties coming online fairly recently (Jade Mountain, The Landings) or refurbing (Cap Maison); there’s also a movement toward sustainable — and less pricey — town and country tourism. Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos also keeps adding fab resorts without sacrificing its limin’ vibe. Finally, could this be the year for Cuba, when the self-defeating, un-American, yet stubborn travel ban is dropped or relaxed for all U.S. citizens? Hold not thy breath, but anything’s possible, and if it happens, go — unsavory regime notwithstanding, it’s one of the world’s great travel and cultural experiences.

EUROPE
Eastern Europe has been on a major upswing ever since the Berlin Wall fell. But even 20 year later, some destinations are still growing or even just emerging. Examples of the former include Croatia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And lately we’re hearing more about Croatia’s neighbors, Slovenia and Montenegro. Both serve up stunning mountains with eco/adventure, historic cities and towns, and Adriatic seacoast with fine beach resorts. And this year, Montenegro welcomes AmanResorts’ fancy-schmancy Sveti Stefan, on an island of medieval architecture. On the western side of things, Icelands a nice land, with its superb eco/adventure, cool capital Reykjavik, short flight time from Europe and New York City, and some of the most affordable prices in years, thanks to the recent economic meltdown.

CENTRAL AMERICA / SOUTH AMERICA
In Central America, everybody’s jockeying to be “the next Costa Rica” — even El Salvador (who knew?). But watch Honduras; ’09 tourism plummeted due to its political crisis but should be back on track — and hungry — once the new elected government debuts in January. Highlights: Maya ruins, colonial towns, exceptional eco/adventure, world-class diving.  Panama, too, with great rainforest, beaches, one of the hemisphere’s loveliest colonial quarters (Panama City’s Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and barefoot Caribbean isles like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas, home to the autonomous Kuna Indians. In South America, Colombia‘s overall continuing security and economic progress will feed that diverse country’s tourism, especially to another colonial stunner, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and happening capital Bogotá (whose colonial quarter’s also nothing to estornudar at). Rising on the radar is the continent’s smallest and only Dutch-speaking country, Suriname, a multi-culti charmer with a cute, sleepy little capital and some of the hemisphere’s most unspoiled eco offerings.

MIDDLE EAST
With the steam let out of Dubai, look to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, also developing a-plenty yet without sacrificing traditional culture and flavor. On the Mediterranean, with political crisis at bay for now, Lebanon is still rockin’ the casbah — well, at least Beirut is, while the beach resorts, Roman ruins, and even wine country outside the capital provide a lower-key counterpoint. Up on Turkey‘s “Turquise Coast,” meanwhile, a resort town and region called Dalaman is currently hot, for example outstripping Spain’s Majorca as among the Brits; allures include beaches, soft adventure, nightlife, and historic/archaeological sites.

ASIA
The tourism offerings in staid ol’ Singapore are getting something of a 2010 shot in the arm, with the elaborate, Vegas-style casino-resort Marina Bay Sands; the also elaborate Fullerton Heritage Complex crammed with shopping, dining, and lodging; and Sentosa Island’s Resorts World, with a Hard Rock Hotel and a Universal Studios theme park. Another “city-state” (now a semi-autonomous part of China) seeing some new action is Macau, where, again, it’s Vegas-style casinos that’ve been complementing the Portuguese colonial architecture and fueling a local boom. On a less glitzy, more laid-back note, since Sri Lanka ended its civil war last May, more travelers will be returning to its historic towns, Buddhist temples, and breathtaking beaches.

AFRICA
From Kruger Park to Cape Town to the winelands, South Africa is on the upswing again, thanks to interest generated by Hollywood hits like Invictus and District 9, and especially June’s soccer World Cup. Lower on the radar, the story of the year may well be the rebirth of safari tourism in Rwanda, 17 years after its genocide, and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe, despite still being a political and economic basket case.

Panama Celebs Give Navidad the “We Are The World” Treatment

December 25, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in music, Panama | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Navidad de color (A Colorful Christmas) is a simple yet slick, formulaic yet moving singalong from 2008, sponsored by outgoing (as in, leaving office) first lady Vivián Fernández de Torrijos. Singer/songwriter/producer Alfredo Matheus Diez and actor Fernando Carrillo, both Venezuelan, crammed the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in Panama City’s beautiful colonial quarter with several dozen local celebs (Matheus is the dude in the red shirt, BTW). Stars from the music scene naturally predominate — such as Erika Ender, Ricardo and Alberto Gaitán, Iván Barrios, Flex, Sandra Sandóval, and the inevitable Rubén Blades — sprinkled with a few actors and pro jocks. Complete with the obligatory children’s chorus and the more recently obligatory hip-hop riff, it’s uplifting and catchy, the title and refrain referring to the kind of Yule experienced by most Latin Americans — not white, but green and all the other colors of nature. “White Christmas or colorful Christmas, whether it’s cold or warm, you’ve got to open up your heart.” Well, who could argue with that?

Costa Rica Music Group Malpaís Is a Mellow Charmer — Not Unlike the Country Itself

November 14, 2009 at 7:17 am | Posted in Central America, Costa Rica | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Tiny Costa Rica holds a very special place in Latin America — largely literate and completely armyless as well as beautiful and exciting. And Malpaís, a six-dude band named after a remote beach area at the end of the road on the Nicoya Peninsula coast (literally, the word means “badlands”), is an unmistakable product of the Tico culture and ethos, fusing jazz and rock with local musical and folk traditions. “Boceto para esperanza,” from their first album, Uno (2003), is a mellow, charmingly produced pop poem both musically and image-wise, interspersing the band’s set at San José’s Jazz Café with pictures and footage of Costa Rica’s nature and people. The tune, and especially its catchy refrain, evokes a certain wistful nostalgia: “Back when the air held traces of blue, and the backyard could fit all the existing light. Take me where I can sleep, grandmother. If you’re going back, take me there.” Sweet.

Honduras Offers High-Quality, Affordable Travel Thrills

July 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Posted in Central America, Honduras, value in travel | 1 Comment
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by David Paul Appell

Copán, one of the world's great archeological sites

Copán, one of the world's great archeological sites

It’s not often that the tiny Central American country of Honduras steals its way onto the outside world’s front pages. But most of the turmoil surrounding the June 28 ouster of overreaching president Manuel Zelaya seems to be roiling more outside the country than inside, in places like Caracas, Managua, and even Washington DC. Most Hondurans, by contrast, seem relieved by recent events, and it’s been largely business as usual within the country, including its growing tourism industry. In my opinion, this will likely remain the case whatever happens, whether the new government stays in control or there’s a negotiated return for Zelaya.

But I’m not here to talk politics — my brief is more about what Honduras has to offer to the vacationer. And as I discovered firsthand not long ago, while still poor and rough around the edges, this country delivers riches in terms of ecotourism, beaches, and ancient history.

You’ll fly into political capital Tegucigalpa or business capital San Pedro Sula, but unless you desperately need a semblance of a dining and nightlife scene (in which case you should be visiting another country), there’s little point sticking around in either of these rather dumpy burgs.

Many head instead to the Caribbean’s Bay of Islands, where tiny Roatán and even tinier Utila have been moving beyond just the diving and fishing types that used to consider them their golden little secret. Lately, they’ve been attracting ever more sun-, sand-, and surf-seekers not into the overbearing resorts and duty-free shopping malls of the commercialized Caribbean. That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of medium-size resorts, and even several fairly upscale complexes, but by and large that barefoot feel of yore is still alive and well out here.

Meanwhile, over on the coast, the city of La Ceiba serves as the anchor for soft adventure (totally kick-ass river rafting on my last visit) and eco-lodges. Heading north, the Tela coast has been adding some resorts of its own. But its most fascinating feature is without a doubt the villages of the Garinagu (a.k.a. the Garifunas), a unique culture and people born of the intermarriage of Caribs, Arawaks, and African immigrants.

Honduras’ jewel in the crown, though, for me is and will always be majestic Copán, one of the great cities of the Maya civilization dating that had its heyday between the 5th and 9th centuries A.D. Its exotic stelae, statues, ballcourt, and soaring temples conjure up a connection to the distant past that can feel positively mystical. Alongside the ruins you’ll also find a postcard colonial town with sloping cobblestone lanes and charming restaurants and hotels.

Now, much of the above is also on offer elsewhere — for example, Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. But if you’re looking for bargains, you’re more likely to snag them in Honduras. At least outside the grittier cities, it’s pretty safe, the price is right, and the payoff undeniable. So at a time when you might be asking yourself whether you can afford an adventure like this, Honduras is adamantly worth a look.

For more info, check out Tripatini’s Honduras group.

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