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Archive for October, 2011

Friday’s Friendly Funny

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Calling all travelers! Friendly Planet is licensed to visit Cuba!

Friendly Planet is proud to announce that we have received a coveted license to organize and operate people-to-people educational exchange programs.

A People-to-People license is one given to a travel provider whose purpose is to promote contact with Cuban people through educational exchanges concerning art, music, culture, and a whole host of other topics.

And we’re elated to announce that the Treasury Department granted it to us. We received so much positive feedback that we knew we wanted to offer travel to Cuba in a meaningful way.

So we’re kicking off two brand-new educational programs. Our participant travelers will be able to engage in activities and cultural engagement with the people of Cuba. The best part: These programs will pack a lot of value at an affordable price, just like the rest of our programs.

The five-day Discover Havana program, priced at $1,899, allows Americans to meet local Cubans and interact in direct and open educational exchanges with these Cubans concerning, among other topics, education, art, and U.S. relations. It will all be set in Havana’s vibrant culture and rich history at some of Havana’s most historic and significant locations.

The longer, eight-day Colors of Cuba program, priced at $2,899, offers a more in-depth program of educational exchanges throughout this diverse island nation at many of its most culturally significant sites. Among these are Old Havana; Cienfuegos; and Trinidad, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These programs are a great value, and by my mark, they’re about $300 to $500 less than other Cuba programs out there. You can check out our website for a detailed itinerary on where we’ll be staying, what we’ll be doing, and who we’ll be interacting with, but I’ll give you an overview of what we’ll be doing there.

Our travelers will be able to indulge in Cuba’s art scene, which is so special because it gives them a look into the soul of these people. Meet and interact with local artists and photographers, talk to historians at museums, listen to music, and see art from all over the country. They’ll experience a cultural mix that will show the personal side of Cuba.

And one of the things we’re most excited about is our travelers will be able to interact and exchange ideas with the Cuban people. They’ll have meals with Cuban families, attend events in local neighborhoods, visit local schools and interact with the children, learn about community agriculture, and speak to Cubans who live in urban communities.

Both programs will include round trip airfare from Miami via U.S. government-licensed charter service and letter of authorization, as well as a Cuba entrance visa. Each program includes all land transportation; superior hotel accommodations; all meals; comprehensive programs of educational exchanges organized by Friendly Planet with a professional, English-speaking guide who will facilitate these exchanges; and a Friendly Planet representative who will lead you throughout the program.

Check out the press release we issued about our new programs in Cuba. And if you have any questions about Friendly Planet’s programs to Cuba, you know where to reach me or you can call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Getaway Dossier: Mayan culture and history is twice as nice in Guatemala and Honduras

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Mayan culture. Did you know that the Mayan people built entire structures without the use of any work animals, metal tools, or pulley systems?

Mayan architecture is very interesting to me. I’ve enjoyed spending some of my free time, with what little free time I have, learning more about their traditional ways.

It’s estimated that over half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan people. So for my next Getaway Dossier, I decided to focus on two countries rich in Mayan history: Guatemala and Honduras.

They’re both fantastic places to visit to learn more about Mayan culture and history, as well as experience some of the most beautiful natural sights in Central America.

Weather: Warm and tropical. Since Guatemala and Honduras are located between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, they are warm year-round, but not unbearably hot. For the most part, the climate is moderate, with the lows near 60 degrees and highs near 80 degrees. The rainy season is from May to October. In jungle areas like Tikal, Guatemala, it tends to be more humid than areas like Antigua, Guatemala, where it’s cooler, especially at night. So layers are a great idea when traveling here, especially if you plan on traveling between cities on a given day. Also, a light jacket is a great piece for the cooler nights.

Food: Spanish influences. Pulling from their Spanish and Mayan heritage, some of the food in Guatemala and Honduras is on the spicy side. Most traditional foods contain corn, chiles and beans, as they’re staples in these countries. There’s also a lot of fresh fruit. A favorite dish in Guatemala is tamales. They vary greatly across the country in terms of dough (it could be corn, potatoes, rice), filling (you could find meat, fruits, nuts), and wrapping (usually leaves or husks). Tamales in Guatemala tend to be wrapped in green leaves. Traditionally, tamales are eaten on Saturday, but they can be found any day of the week in most Guatemalan restaurants. Hondurans tend to cook more meat dishes, and they use a lot of coconut in their food. Another favorite meal in Honduras is breakfast. It’s a huge meal, and can have of any or all of the following: eggs, beans, cheese, avocados, sweet fried plantains, tortillas, roasted meat, and Honduran spicy sausages. Most restaurants will offer some of these foods. Or if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, stop at a street vendor. They often sell delicious breakfast tortillas topped with eggs or meat.

Currency: Tip for tips. Guatemala’s currency is the quetzal and Honduras’ currency is the lempira. However, both countries widely accept the U.S. dollar. In Guatemala, tip is usually included on your restaurant bill. If it’s not, it’s customary to leave 10 percent. Banks generally give the best exchange rates on both cash and traveler’s checks, so be sure to exchange your money at a bank. In Honduras, tip will usually be included on restaurant bills as well, and a 15 percent tip is appropriate if it’s not. Bellhops and other hotel workers are usually knowledgeable about the best local restaurants and sight-seeing attractions. Don’t hesitate to ask for pointers on where to visit, and if they were helpful, tips are greatly appreciated.

Landmarks: UNESCO Sites can’t be missed. There are four UNESCO sites in Guatemala and Honduras and travelers shouldn’t miss the rich history that each offers. There’s Antigua in Guatemala, a beautiful city rich with Spanish colonial history. Quirigua, Guatemala is famed for its sandstone monoliths. The Tikal National Park in Guatemala has one of the most complex pyramids in the entire Maya world. In Honduras, Copan is a renowned archaeological site because it has the longest surviving text of the Mayan civilization. Each site has its own special history and visiting each one will give travelers a well-rounded cultural experience.

Culture: History melds with nature. Guatemala and Honduras have beautiful mixes of Mayan heritage and Spanish colonial history. It’s what makes them so special to visit — the culture cannot be matched anywhere else. The bright colors, delicious food, and good music will make you feel at home right away. Guatemala is well known for souvenirs such as worry dolls and masks, and beautiful, colorful fabrics can be bought in the markets. The Mayans had their own weaving techniques, and each village or area has its own distinct design. You’ll see it all around you when visiting these countries, and this culture is refreshing to experience.

Don’t forget: It’s a jungle out there. Because these countries have mostly jungle climates, bring bug spray, sunscreen, and wear layers. It’s also important to know that the water is safe for bathing, but bottled water is readily available almost everywhere for drinking purposes. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to have a sensational experience in these Central American countries.

If reading all this information about beautiful Guatemala and Honduras makes you want to visit, check out our new Best of Guatemala and Honduras tour. The full itinerary is on our website and you can always reach out to me with any questions you might have about these fascinating, historical countries.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Around the horn with the latest savings on Friendly Planet tours

Our new tours are continuing to catch travel editor’s interest. Here are some of the savings they’ve been highlighting lately. If you’re interested in more information about any of these deals, you know where to reach me.

Budget Travel highlights the $300 dollar savings on our Exotic Ecaudor tour.

Frommer’s advises quick booking for our Exotic Borneo & Bangkok tour and features the $300 savings.

If you want to save $600, look for our Taste of Turkey tour near Thanksgiving, according to Valarie D’Elia of Travel with Val
Phil Marty from the Chicago Tribune travel section found our Sensational South America tour to be an “interesting travel deal” with a savings of $300.
Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press made Sensational South America her “Deal of the Week.”
Thanks to all these editors for featuring Friendly Planet tours. 

Friday’s Friendly Funny

The Chicago Tribune highlights great travel deal in ‘A Taste of Turkey’

I’m always happy to offer travelers fantastic tours at great prices, and I know that our Taste of Turkey tour accomplishes both goals. So I was delighted that Mary Forgione, a contributor to the Chicago Tribune‘s Taking Off blog, noted the same thing.

She wrote a great piece featuring our tour that takes travelers through the wonders and history of Turkey.

I also covered Turkey in a new blog series called Getaway Dossier, where I’ve posted some important and interesting facts that travelers will want to have about the destination before they venture abroad.

I hope you’ll check out the Turkey Getaway Dossier and then hop over to see all that Mary said about our Taste of Turkey tour. Thanks for the coverage, Mary!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Getaway Dossier: What to know before you go to Turkey

When we introduced our new Taste of Turkey tour last week, there were a lot of things I wanted to tell travelers about Turkey in our press release. Things like, what types of foods are served there? How should you dress? What should you pack? What’s the climate like?

But there’s only so much you can fit into a press announcement.

So I decided to start a series on the blog called Getaway Dossier. Here, I’ll share the information I’ve learned over the years so you can get to know Friendly Planet’s fascinating destinations before you go.

I’ll cover the great places to eat, landmarks to visit, and all the essentials you shouldn’t forget to take with you.

Since Turkey is top of mind, I’ll start there. Here we go!

Weather: Know the seasons. Turkey has the most temperate weather in the spring (April and May) and the fall (September and October). These months are also the busiest tourist seasons. Spring and fall have the least amount of rain and the most comfortable temperatures. In the winter, travelers can take their pick of numerous winter resorts. This is also when you typically find the best travel deals. The country can be quite warm in the summer and travelers should prepare accordingly with sunblock and sunscreen. Overall, it’s a great destination to travel to year round.

Food: Order a cabbage dolma and a doner kebab. A can’t miss Turkish dish is cabbage dolma. It’s a combination of sauteed rice, pine-nuts, currants, spices, and herbs, all tightly wrapped in translucent cabbage leaves. There’s also baklava and many “muhallebis” (pudding shops) with dozens of different types of milk puddings. But my favorite Turkish dish is doner kebabs. They’re made from rotisserie grilled and sliced lamb meat cooked on vertical spits. The edges are shaved off, and the meat is served on a bed of bread, salad, or pilav rice. When you’re in Turkey, you can’t miss these kebabs. They’re a common meal here, and it’s easy to find them in any metropolitan area.


Currency: Lira or euros? The primary currency is the lira, but many stores will post prices in both lira and euros. As with many countries in Europe, Turkey sometimes includes tip on restaurant bills and other services, so check before tipping extra. However, in upscale restaurants, a good practice is to tip 10 percent additional, even if the tip has already been included on the bill. And speaking of tipping, tip porters three million lira and tip tour guides around five to 10 U.S.D.

Landmarks: It’s a grand time at the Grand Bazaar. One of my favorite places in Turkey is the Grand Bazaar. It has over 4,000 shops on 58 covered streets. Any shopper would get lost in the sea of jewelry, rugs, leather goods, tiles, pipes, painted ceramics, and antiques available here, many of which are handmade. Bartering is customary and a good rule of thumb is to initially offer 25 percent of the price you are willing to pay. Most shop keepers are hardworking, honest people but if you do buy an antique, be sure to obtain an official permit to export it.

Don’t forget: Sneaks and sunscreen. Turkey is rich in history and archaeological sites and much of its ancient architecture and cobblestone streets still stand today. While beautiful to experience, this means some walkways can be tricky to navigate. A good pair of walking sneakers or sandals is important for a pleasant sight-seeing experience. Sunscreen and a hat are also great items to bring along, as you will probably spend a decent amount of your time out and about enjoying the history and culture of the country. These are general guidelines for any destination, but are especially important when visiting a country as full of archaeological history as Turkey.

Culture: Modesty is important. Like many European countries, it’s considered respectful to dress modestly when entering a place of religious worship. Women should cover their shoulders and wear modest-length shorts, and everyone should remove their hats and sunglasses inside. In case you’re wearing summer clothes and decide to visit a place of worship while on the go, most will provide a shawl to cover exposed shoulders and legs.

Turkey is a destination for every lover of architecture and history. The country finds its roots in Greek, Roman, and early Christian history. It’s even the site of an epic WWI battle, the Gallipoli Campaign. You’ll notice how it’s Eastern and Western influences mingle in everything you see. Turkey’s language is based in Latin, so English-speakers will have a general understanding of some street signs. However, the tiles of the buildings have a distinguished Eastern influence.

Our Taste of Turkey tour has seven departures leaving from November until March 2012, so there are a lot of opportunities in the future to see what this historic country has to offer. You can visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team if you have any questions about booking a trip to Turkey.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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