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10 Reasons You Should Visit Greece Now

Mykonos, Greece1Without a doubt, Greece is comprised of some of the most beautiful islands in all of the Mediterranean. There are thousands of gorgeous islands to choose from, spread over just a few hundred miles. This makes Greece the perfect destination for island hopping.

 

Enjoying seafood in Crete2Foodies rejoice! In Greece you’ll find fresh seafood (and we mean fresh!), local produce and fruits, tender oven-roasted lamb, and the original feta cheese. And don’t forget the olive oil, wine and Ouzo!

 

Parthenon, Athens3History comes alive! Greece is the country that gave rise to Western Civilization and the birthplace of democracy, drama, art, science and philosophy. From the Acropolis in Athens, to Knossos Palace in Crete to the site of the first Olympic games in Olympia, Greece is filled with important historical sites and archaeological wonders.

 

Romance on Santorini4Romance is no stranger to Greece. Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or just looking for a romantic getaway, the charming island of Santorini is just one of the many perfect fairy-tale settings.

 

Meteora 5Greece is one of those destinations that truly has something for everyone (it’s also kid friendly). Whether you’re a history buff, adventure seeker, foodie, nature lover, or you’re just looking to soak up some rays on the white sand beaches, Greece is the place for you!

 

Canal D'amour Beach, Corfu6If you’re looking for breathtaking beaches, look no further! Greece has hundreds of diverse beaches to choose from for swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing.

 

Sunset in Santorini7The scenery in Greece is second to none. From lush gardens filled with olive trees, to the picturesque whitewashed villages in Santorini, to the rocky view of Mount Olympus, you’ll put that camera to good use.

 

 

Greek Man with Donkey

8Greek people are some of the friendliest, happiest people you will ever encounter. Despite the hardships the Greeks have faced over the years, they’re still as warm and welcoming as ever.

 

Heraklion market9Right now traveling to Greece is more affordable than ever. Tourism also happens to be one of Greece’s main industries, so you won’t be the only one benefiting if you decide to travel to Greece.

 

Caryatids porch, Acropolis, Athens10If you ask us, Athens is one of the most interesting and unique cities in all of Europe! While it’s one of the world’s oldest cities, it’s also modern and cosmopolitan.

 

Independent Getaway Packages From Friendly Planet

Independent Getaway Packages

What is an independent package?

Friendly Planet Travel is known for creating exciting small group international tours. But perhaps you sometimes prefer to travel on your own, with no itinerary and no schedule? You’re not alone! By popular demand, we’ve put our 30+ years of expertly creating package tour deals to work just as hard for the independent traveler.

With our Getaway packages, you can create your own custom travel experience. Ideal for those who want to explore without structure or limits.

  • Freedom to explore
  • No set itinerary
  • Top-notch hotels
  • Flights from 195 cities
  • Pick your own dates & excursions
  • All for incredible prices!

Taking a selfie in GreeceWhy not just use Expedia?

Lots of other sites let you choose your own travel dates and hotels, but with our carefully curated packages, we’ve done the legwork for you of choosing the best prices and quality. In addition, you’ll also enjoy the same level of personal care and attentive customer service we provide to all of our Friendly Planet travelers.

Whether you’re visiting Paris or Prague, Venice or Vienna (or even Hong Kong), skip the hours spent figuring it all out, and just enjoy all of the exciting things you’ll want to do once you arrive! All you need to do is pick your departure city, travel dates and hotels and we’ll get you the best price possible based on our negotiated rates.

What’s included

Enjoy top-notch hotels, like the Kempinski Bristol in BerlinThese getaways include flights from your selected departure city and hotels, with the ability to add optional tours and excursions.

  • Easy & Flexible
    Skip the hours of research, because we’ve done it for you! Choose your own travel dates, number of nights, and which U.S. city you’d like to fly out of. Our booking engine selects the best flights, hotels and transfers so you can build your own customized package.
  • Great Hotels
    Choose from a collection of quality hotels in each destination that we’ve pre-selected based on location, amenities, service and price. These hotels are conveniently located near tourist sites as well as shopping, restaurants and other attractions. You can even upgrade or change your hotel.
  • Included Flights
    Save with included airfare from the city of your choice from a wide variety of carriers. Tired of the trouble and expense of connecting through a few major cities to join a package? Now you can build your package with flights from your home city and get the best possible rates, with no surprises.
  • Freedom to Roam
    Create your own custom package with no set itinerary, take each day as it comes. No guides or escorts accompany you and there’s no touring schedule, so you you’re free to roam on your own. Or, enrich your stay by adding a variety of optional tours and activities available when you book.
  • Same Amazing Customer Service
    As always, whether you’re traveling on a group tour or an independent getaway, we care about our travelers like they’re our friends. If you ever need help during your trip, we’re just a phone call away, 24 hours a day.

Exploring Venice by gondolaDiscover

See all of the exciting places where you can get away!

Independent Getaway Packages

Want help planning or booking? Call now at 800-555-5765 to talk with a reservations agent. They’ll be happy to help you create the getaway adventure of your dreams.

9 Reasons to Visit Japan

Japan is a country of contrasts. While the society is 98.5% Japanese, it nonetheless encompasses a diversity of subcultures. Japan is home to some of the most densely populated cities in the world, while the great majority of the landscapes remain rural. The culture is quite conservative in many regards, while simultaneously light-hearted in others. Japan’s contrasts and contradictions make it an ideal destination for those looking to have a truly unique travel experience.

Here are 9 reasons to visit Japan:

1. Cities

In many respects, Japanese society is the pinnacle of metropolitanism. From ancient temples to futuristic architecture, Japan offers amazing urban experiences for the curious traveler to behold.

Shibuya Crossing, TokyoMust-see examples include:

  • Kyoto: Japan’s ancient capital, a garden-laden dream boasting some of the country’s most beautiful temples and shrines.
  • Tokyo: Japan’s modern capital, a neon-lit metropolis boasting the world’s tallest tower, the Tokyo Skytree.

2. Landscapes

Cherry blossomsOne of the biggest surprises about Japan may be how rural it is. Almost 75% of the land is covered by mountains and another 13% is devoted to agriculture. Just a short drive or train ride away from Tokyo, you’ll enter a completely different world, with lush mountains, large agricultural fields, and scenic coastal villages.

Some must-see examples include:

  • The Arashiyama bamboo forest: a dense green jungle of towering bamboo trees.
  • The Japanese Alps: a world-class skiing and hiking destination.
  • The Tottori Sand Dunes: massive rippling sand dunes that will make you feel like you’re in a distant desert, not southern Japan.
  • The islands of Okinawa: a tropical break with coral reefs, turquoise water and white sand beaches.
  • Hot Springs (known as “onsen”): Created from water heated naturally under the ground. There are over 3,000 hot springs in Japan. Animal lovers will especially appreciate Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park to see snow monkeys bathe in the steamy natural springs.

3. Animals

Macaques at Jigokudani hotspring in Nagano  Photo by YosemiteFrom the snowy mountains to the tropical beaches, Japan claims a great diversity of habitats for a wide variety of wildlife species. Japan hosts approximately 130 species of mammals (including bears, foxes and wild cats) and 600 species of birds.

Here are some examples of some of the most interesting:

  • The Macaque: a snow monkey that lives further north than any other primate (except for humans).
  • The Wild Tanuki: a kind of racoon dog known for their mischievous nature. Statues of the Tanuki are often placed at temples to bring good luck.
  • The Green Pheasant: a large black and green bird found only in Japan. The green pheasant and the red crowned crane unofficially compete for the title of “Japan’s National Bird”.

4. Temples & Shrines

Kinkaku-ji Temple, KyotoMany important traditions in Japanese culture have grown out of the Shinto and Buddhist religions. Shintoism and Buddhism exist side by side in Japan, and the practices of both faiths are deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.

One way to learn about these traditions is to explore some of Japan’s (Buddhist) temples and (Shinto) shrines. There are over 100,000 temples and shrines across the country, and they differ wildly in size and design.

Some examples include:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto: this Shinto shrine features 10,000 crimson torii gates donated by business owners and shopkeepers in a bid for financial success.
  • Kinkaku-ji -Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto: this Buddhist temple features the top two floors covered with pure gold leaf.

5. Festivals & Celebrations

Haari Boat Festival in Okinawa © JNTOThousands of festivals are held each year across the country celebrating seasonal changes, the natural world, and the annual harvest. Wherever you are and whenever you go, you’re likely to find a festival happening nearby.

Some examples include:

  • Rice Crop Art Festival in Inakadate Village: locals use different colored varieties of grain to skillfully depict giant images using rice paddies as their canvas.
  • Saporro Snow Festival: at the core of the festival is hundreds of sculptures made from snow and ice.
  • Miyako Odori in Kyoto: this geisha dancing festival translates literally as “Capital City Dances” as Kyoto used to be the capital. In English, the dances are often referred to as “The Cherry Blossom Dances”, because they take place in April when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

6. Kawaii & Anime

KumamonWhile Japan may seem like a serious culture, they also have a soft spot for “cute”.

Kawaii is the word for a Japanese artistic and pop culture style that emphasizes all things “cute” using bright colors and animated mascots.

Anime is a Japanese style of film, TV, and video game animation. There are some magical anime films out there that are so creative that they impress even the serious adult (such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away).

Across the country, animated mascots adorn everything from food products to local monuments and even government agencies. One of the most famous mascots is Kumamon, a cheeky black bear who symbolizes a bullet train line in the city of Kumamoto.

7. Cuisine

Japanese sushi © JNTOJapanese cuisine (known as washoku) is so special that it’s been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and it’s so diverse that it deserves its own blog post. The country offers a wealth of culinary experiences from the finest high-end restaurants to rustic food stalls, bustling seafood markets, and creative local sweets. Soup lovers will want to check out the Shinyokohama Raumen (Ramen) Museum.

8. Rail System

Shinkansen bullet train & Mt. FujiFor more than 50 years, Japan’s impressive network of high-speed moving bullet trains (called shinkansen) has zipped travelers and commuters from one corner of the country to the other. The network is incredibly well-functioning, with no accidents involving the bullet train network, even though trains operate at speeds of over 200 miles per hour. The trains are also known for being on time, rarely having delays of more than 50 seconds per train.

All travelers to Japan should take advantage of this rail system at least once. The Japan Rail Pass makes this an affordable option to quickly get around the country.

9. Hospitality

Mother & daughters in traditional KimonosThe Japanese may seem reserved at first, but soon you’ll find them to be kind, considerate and warm, even to those they don’t know. They are hard-working, meticulous, proud of their cultural history, and always eager to help. In fact, the more you learn about Japanese customs (start with a friendly, respectful bow), the more quickly you’ll be welcomed into this amazing culture.

For a traditional take on Japanese hospitality, stay at a Ryokan (inn). Dating back to the 1600’s, a typical ryokan is constructed using traditional Japanese methods, has a communal entrance hall where guests and owners can sit and talk, and most also feature a communal bathing area using water from hot springs.

Japan is a country of contrasts. From ancient culture to modern innovations, from the cities to the natural lands, and from serious cuisine to cuteness and hospitality, a visit to Japan will almost certainly be an experience of a lifetime.

Japan Tours and Packages with Friendly Planet Travel

 

 

 

6 Things to Know About the New Cuba Travel Rules

 

A new era in travel to Cuba has begun, with revised rules for U.S. citizens in effect as of January 16, 2015. President Obama’s December 2014 announcement regarding easing decades-old restrictions on travel generated huge interest and curiosity—but also some confusion.

In reality, it’s actually been legal for US citizens to visit Cuba since 2011, when new regulations were put into place allowing licensed travel under the proper conditions. Since that announcement, the unprecedented wave of calls and bookings is reflecting a poignant indication of the great interest among Americans in travel to the once-forbidden island.

We’ve reviewed and parsed the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (the “CACR”), so we can provide you, the traveler, a quick summary of the rules. (Updated Sept. 3, 2015.)

1. You’re still not allowed to spend a week lounging on the beach.

But educational travel is fine! In order to go there, you will still need to certify, by signed affidavit, that you’re traveling for one of 12 categories of authorized travel. You’ll need a full time agenda for each day you’re in Cuba focused on that reason, and you won’t find getting a tan at the beach on the list. “People-to-People” cultural exchange tours fit the new rules, and they will continue as usual. A tour company that’s experienced in Cuba travel can help you navigate all the details and make it easy.

2. You can now bring home cigars and rum legally.

Finally, you’ll be able to bring home $100 worth of cigars and/or rum. You’ll also be able to bring home another $300 in other purchases, for a total of $400 in souvenirs. Original art, music and educational materials such as books aren’t subject to the $400 limit, so if you find that amazing original painting (and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do just that), you can buy it and bring it home legally.

3. Eventually, you’ll be able to pay with a credit card.

Now that’s a big deal. Travelers visiting Cuba have been forced to carry cash and exchange dollars for CUC’s, the Cuban currency. Once U.S. banks have set up the infrastructure in Cuba, you’ll be able to use your credit card to pay for incidentals at the hotel or even that amazing painting you want to hang in your living room. This will take some time to implement the new rules, since as of this moment, one small south Florida bank has officially begun working directly with Cuba. But it’ll be a huge convenience once truly implemented.

4. Flying to Cuba is going to get easier.

It will take a little time for the U.S. Department of Transportation to create the procedures and guidelines to make scheduled service from the U.S. possible. For the moment, no U.S. airlines are flying directly to Cuba with regularly scheduled service, although several are looking at the possibilities. JetBlue, through its association with Cuba Travel Service, a charter operator, is already operating flights from New York and Ft. Lauderdale. And United Airlines has announced that it will soon begin service from Newark and Houston direct to Havana. You can still fly to Cuba via Canada, Jamaica or Cancun, but those routes mean more travel time as well as cost. For now, charters, mostly from Miami, remain the least expensive and most convenient way to arrange the trip.

5. Cruises to Cuba are now legal.

It’s hard to believe that not so long ago, the idea of cruising from Miami to Cuba was a dream unfulfilled. Today, there are already several People-to-People cruises available. However, you’re not going to avoid the full-time educational aspect still required of U.S. travelers to Cuba. Whether they originate in Miami, Havana or Jamaica, these cruises all feature a schedule of activities designed to comply with OFAC rules, including on days at sea. One major advantage of these cruises is that they typically circle the island, taking travelers from Havana all the way to Santiago, and points in between, making it possible to see a lot of the island in a as little as a week. One major disadvantage is that these cruises cost a lot, due to the extensive programming and legal requirements involved in operating the educational program. Keep in mind, too, that you’ll be spending your nights aboard your ship, so dinners, while prepared Cuban style, won’t be in any of those awesome, privately-owned “paladars” that are run by a new breed of Cuban entrepreneur and flourishing thanks mainly to U.S. tourists.

6. Travel with a group is the best way to avoid a lot of hassle and keep the cost down.

According to the new rules, you will need a full time program of activities that comply with your signed affidavit of purpose. The best and least expensive way to adhere to these rules is to book into a group tour that has taken all the rules—and your best Cuban experience—into consideration. These groups book into the most appropriate accommodations for American travelers, and they include the experiences that are hard for travelers to arrange on their own. Considering the bureaucracy still associated with Cuba travel (new rules notwithstanding), having a full-time tour manager, in addition to the guide, goes a very long way toward smoothing out all the unexpected wrinkles and ensuring you have way more fun than you’ll ever believe.

While thousands of U.S. travelers have had amazing cultural journeys to Cuba, it’s still not yet ready for prime-time mass tourism. Until there is sufficient infrastructure, and a lot less bureaucracy, it is proving difficult to handle the growing numbers of general tourists that want to visit. For now, until more hotels are built, more guides are trained, and more restaurants are opened, established group tours operated by experienced tour operators with deep local contacts and plenty of guaranteed hotel rooms will remain the best bet for travelers who want to avoid problems and enjoy the authentic Cuba right now—before it changes forever.

Top 15 International Destinations for 2015

Every New Year’s resolution involves three key ingredients — the commitment to better one’s self, the passion to try something new, and the inevitable promise to venture beyond one’s comfort zone — and no one act accomplishes those goals more than international travel.

With 2015 on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to look ahead and seek new ways to discover the vast, wide world, and in the process, make changes for the better. But where should resolved explorers venture to achieve their New Year’s travel resolutions?

Here’s my list of the top 15 travel destinations for 2015, which includes countries that not only deliver unforgettable moments, but offer settings in which minds and hearts open and grow. This list was compiled by examining the growing demands of millennial travelers, new regulatory landscapes, the health of each country’s tourism industry, and the love affair that this writer has had with each of these destinations.

1. Thailand. Thailand saw a significant dip in traffic in 2014 after governmental unrest, but Thailand is sure to come roaring back in 2015, with industry predictions of29 million visitors by year end. These numbers aren’t really surprising, though, as Thailand continues to be one of the most beautiful, spiritual, and welcoming destinations on the planet.

2. Iceland. As more travelers seek authentic experiences which also reflect their worldviews, Iceland has emerged as a top travel destination. The Land of Fire and Iceshowcases the world’s natural beauty at sites like the famous Strokkur geyser, the natural hot springs of the Blue Lagoon, and of course, the contemplative wonders of the Northern Lights, while Reykjavík, the nation’s capital, offers plenty of great restaurants, night spots and northern culture.

3. Cuba. Everyone’s talking about this island just 90 miles from Florida’s coast that has been the forbidden fruit of travel for Americans for more than 50 years. With the recent announcement of the U.S. restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and a general loosening of rules regarding travel, there’s no better time to visit the island nation than 2015, before everything changes. Friendly Planet Travel has been helping travelers visit Cuba legally for the past four years, allowing Americans to gain a deeper understanding of a culture that seems to have been frozen in time. Travelers meet local artists, street-smart entrepreneurs, and everyday Cubans where they live, work and play. For the true explorer, Cuba is one of the most amazing travel experiences possible, and to enjoy the island as it is right now, you better hurry before the country is forever changed by Western influences.

4. Greece. Greece is back, and I couldn’t be happier. After years of a tourism downturn brought on by economic turmoil, visitors are finally returning in droves, ready and eager to experience the beauty, culture, and flavor of this Mediterranean paradise. While Athens is considered the crucible of Western civilization and definitely worth a visit, it’s the islands that lure visitors back again and again. These magnificent islands are every bit as gorgeous, romantic, laid back, and fun as any place you can find on earth. There’s Mykonos for romance, Santorini for breathtaking beaches, Crete for natural wonders, and so much more to discover.

5. Malaysia. A trip to Malaysia is like visiting two worlds at once. Peninsular Malaysia embraces Chinese and Indian influences resulting in richly spiritual, though thoroughly modern nation, while Malaysian Borneo — which is split from West Malaysia by the South China Sea — encompasses the country’s wilder side, with dense, mysterious jungles and ancient cultures living according to tradition. All of this, plus some of the absolute best cuisine on the planet, make Malaysia a 2015 must-see!

6. Croatia. Croatia is the hidden gem of the Mediterranean. Long overshadowed by its famous neighbors, Italy and Greece, it will continue to grow into its own in 2015 and transition into a true Mediterranean hotspot. Turquoise waters, sun-drenched beaches, and hundreds of quaint islands make it the ideal destination for any traveler who seeks leisure at its finest. Some of the most complete Medieval walled cities are found here, along with pristine forest, sparkling lakes, and incredibly friendly, welcoming locals.

7. Dubai. As the United Arab Emirates continues to develop into one of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations, Dubai stands out as the ultimate international getaway for the world’s rich and famous. Yet, travelers don’t have to be international superstars to visit this luxurious city. In fact, Dubai welcomed 5.8 million visitors in the first half of 2014 alone. And no wonder. How many hot desert locations can you name where you can enjoy the beach (we’re talking hot weather) in the morning and then, spend the afternoon skiing at an indoor resort attached to a fabulous designer mall? That’s not the only thrill travelers will discover in Dubai. Try soaring to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to check out a view. Or, how about a visit the Burj Al Arab, among the most luxurious and expensive hotels in the world, where a fleet of 25 Rolls-Royces stand at the ready in the courtyard to chauffer guests about. It’s that kind of place, but you have to see it to believe it.

8. Vietnam. Vietnam has recently been named one of Trip Advisor’s Destinations on the Rise for 2015, with the port city of Da Nang ringing in praises from travelers across the world. But Vietnam has much more to offer than a beautiful coastline. Explore Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon), a city that perfectly unites the energy of a world-class metropolis with the quaint sophistication of a French village. Here, as in all of Vietnam, the preferred mode of transportation is the motorbike, and I’ll bet you’ll find watching the veritable river of traffic negotiating the road among your favorite attractions. Or sail through Ha Long Bay, an inlet with emerald waters and otherworldly limestone cliffs, known as karsts, protruding from the water in random patterns. In addition, Vietnam is foodie heaven. You can eat your way throughout the country, including the street food, enjoying cuisine that is amazingly fresh and delicious.

9. South Africa. The 2014 Ebola scare deterred travelers from visiting Africa, but as the panic has subsided and travelers have realized that South Africa is Ebola-free, tourists are once again eager to get up close and personal with the Big 5 — lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceroses — while on an authentic African safari. South Africa is also one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with a rainbow population, a gay-friendly attitude, townships like Soweto which produced Nelson Mandela, among the world’s greatest leaders, and cities like cosmopolitan Cape Town and historic Johannesburg. And by the way, among the finest wines in the world are found in South Africa, and you won’t have any difficulty finding great food to pair with those great wines, either.

10. Japan. More than 13 million travelers will have visited Japan in 2014, and tourism numbers are only expected to increase next year. Japan is a land built upon ancient traditions, but since its introduction to the Western world, the island nation has adopted an entirely modern persona while maintaining tradition. Travelers can visit the bustling streets of Tokyo — one of the world’s most modern metropolises — and then just as easily hop a high-speed train to explore the ancient pavilions of Kyoto. Some of the most spectacular scenery in the world is found in Japan, and when it comes to color, there’s nothing like the cherry blossoms that bloom in the spring. Japan’s a unique, fascinating cultural destination, and it will continue to grow in popularity in today’s interconnected world.

11. Costa Rica. Costa Rica is finishing up a stellar year for tourism, with some 27 million tourists visiting the country in 2014 alone, and experts are predicting visitor numbers to continue to rise in 2015. And it’s no surprise. Costa Rica is the jewel of Central America, one that boasts incredible ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, cloud forests, mountains, rivers, volcanoes, and coastline on both the Caribbean and Pacific. As a nation, it’s a pioneer in environmental protection, with a huge part of its land mass set aside and protected by law. The people, affectionately known as “Ticos” are amazingly friendly and welcoming, and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist joining them in their enthusiasm for their country. It’s the ultimate destination for those who cherish the purity of nature and are seeking a little adventure along the way.

12. Egypt. It’s been four long years since Egypt has been on our radar as a “must visit” spot, but now that the political situation has stabilized, tourists are returning in ever greater numbers to see the Great Pyramid of Giza, the mythical Sphinx, and King Tut’s tomb, plus other antiquities along the Nile. Egypt is one of those bucket list destinations that everyone plans to visit at least once in a lifetime, and for good reason. The historical and cultural treasures of Egypt are among the most important in human history. The Egyptian people are among the most hospitable in the world, and since Egypt is just starting to recover from a long touristic drought, the prices will never be this good again.

13. China. China is a land where the ancient past perfectly meets the modern present, where the most populous country in the world is rushing to pull its citizens into the 21st century in record speed. Between the glistening skyscrapers of Shanghai, the incredible Terra Cotta Army in Xi’an, and the formidable, imposing Great Wall near Beijing, travelers can experience the best of the old and the new. China is full of contrasts, which makes it such a fascinating destination. You’ll find plenty of sleek, expensive cars sharing the streets with bicycle rickshaws, formal Tiananmen Square, with its huge portrait of Chairman Mao, overlooking People’s Park where citizens practice Tai Chi, learn to play ancient instruments, have an ear cleaning, and enjoy a cup of tea. And there’s so much more to see, do and experience, making China one destination that many travelers visit again and again.

14. Peru. For the third straight year, Peru has been named a top culinary destination by the World Travel Awards, placing it on par with France and Thailand as one of the world’s greatest food nations. Peruvian cuisine takes advantage of the nation’s diverse geography, which consists of jungles, coasts, and mountains, and combines it with European, African, and Asian influences to create unmatched global cuisine. While Machu Picchu is Peru’s initial draw, Peruvian food keeps travelers returning again and again.

15. Australia. Australia has long been one of the world’s most popular destinations, and 2015 will be no different. The nation’s unbeatable nightlife, world-class beaches, and unparalleled natural beauty — from the Great Barrier Reef to the Australian bush — make it a must-visit destination for all worldly travelers. Australia is a long way to travel from the USA, but it’s worth every minute of the journey. And with English as the spoken language, it’s easy to get around, meet friendly folks and participate in life the Aussie way. Why not add it to the 2015 bucket list?

There you have it, the top 15 destinations of 2015. Are you ready to get out there and see the world?

Why Thailand should top your 2015 travel bucket list

Thailand is truly one of the world’s most fascinating countries. Its alluring beaches, tantalizing cuisine, ancient culture, modern cities, and welcoming people make it a must-visit destination, one that all world-travelers should add back onto their bucket lists for 2015.

While Thailand faced its fair share of hardships in 2014, with the nation undergoing a significant governmental transition, 2015 will undoubtedly be the year of Thailand’s reawakening. It’s just as beautiful, tranquil, and spiritual as ever, ready to welcome a new wave of guests to its friendly shores.

But don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself why you need to add Thailand to your international bucket list.

What are you waiting for? With 2015 on the horizon, now’s the time to plan the vacation of a lifetime — one that will not only teach you about the world, but introduce you to your true self.

Happy Holidays!

 

All of us at Friendly Planet wish you and your loved ones the best of holidays. We’re grateful for your friendship and for the opportunity to help you explore our world.

This year, we created dozens of new packages to many exciting new destinations and sent thousands of delighted travelers to exotic corners of the world. And we’ve got big changes in store for 2015: adding lots more destinations, giving you more ways to travel, and providing an even easier, more flexible booking experience. Stay tuned as these changes are unveiled!

But for now, in this season of peace, generosity and goodwill, we invite you to join us in lending a helping hand. If travel has affected your life, consider giving back through one of the excellent organizations below. Still looking for a stocking stuffer for someone special? Make a small charitable gift (as little as $10) or micro-loan in honor of someone you love, and you can instantly print or email a card showing your contribution.

  • Trailblazer Foundation: Through our partner in Cambodia, you can help build wells to bring clean water to poor villagers, distribute water filters and cooking stoves, build schools, protect against malaria, and much more.

  • Doctors Without Borders: Help the heroic health workers on the front lines of worldwide illness, including Ebola, with desperately needed supplies and support.

  • Kiva: Make a micro-loan to hard-working, entrepreneurial people in developing countries. 99% of loans are repaid, and you can withdraw your money or relend it.

  • Mercy Corps: Contribute to disaster relief, medical care, vaccinations, clean water, education, sustainable agriculture, and more in developing nations.

May the coming year bring you many new adventures, discoveries and friendships as we continue those explorations together. With warm holiday wishes and thanks for all you do.

Peggy Goldman
President, Friendly Planet Travel

 

How Does the New Cuba Policy Affect Travel and Tourism?

New opportunities for Cuba travel

We are very excited and enthusiastic about the changes in Cuba policy announced today by President Obama. According to our understanding, there will be some changes forthcoming regarding diplomatic relations, commerce, flow of information and, of course, tourism. The new rules have not yet been announced, but several things are clear. 

  • Without an end to the embargo, we will not be able to hop on a flight and spend a weekend at the beach in Cuba.
  • With new rules that are sure to come in the next weeks, there will be many more opportunities and less restrictions regarding how Americans are able to travel to Cuba.

Regarding the second point, we are truly excited to be able to expand our group tours to Cuba. At present, we’re selling three programs with set departures. In addition, we operate many groups during the year covering a wide spectrum of interests. Among them are photographers, architects, teachers, doctors, lawyers and jurists, family groups and many others.

We are hoping to see more relaxed rules that will permit us to offer a wider variety of programs, including participating in some of Cuba’s unique festivals and events. For example, in addition to the marathon in Cuba that brings a large number of participants to the island from many countries, including the USA, we would like to offer opportunities to participate in the music and film festivals, an annual bike race that is similar to the tour de France, and others.

What will likely change, and what will not

Our travelers prepay all their Cuba services in the USA. However, since it will soon be possible to use credit cards in Cuba, we anticipate that traveling to the island will be much easier for our passengers. At the moment, travelers need to take cash with them, to cover any purchases they want to make. In today’s world, it’s not so common to have to carry cash, and that makes many people uncomfortable. Perhaps, although this is not yet clear, it will finally be possible to bring back some of those Cuban cigars and rum, which today’s traveler can only enjoy on the island.

According to the OFAC notice published this afternoon, Dec. 17, some changes will be made to the regulations. “OFAC expects to issue its regulatory amendments in the coming weeks. None of the announced changes takes effect until the new regulations are issued.”

So, for the moment:

  • We still need to carry cash when we visit Cuba
  • We still need to participate in a licensed program, according to present rules
  • We still have to leave the cigars and rum in Cuba

But if the changes are as sweeping as President Obama suggested in his speech, we at Friendly Planet will be very busy adding hotel rooms and plenty of new travel programs to our menu of offerings.

See the REAL Cuba while you can

One last thought. For anyone who is anxious to see the “real” Cuba, do it now. In time, the island in a time bubble will become something else. And while it will always be a fascinating and wonderful experience to visit Cuba, banking, high speed internet and all the other changes that will take place will make Cuba another country. We expect many people will want to see it before any of those changes occur, and we’re ready to help them do it.

Friendly Planet Travel Cuba Tours and Travel Packages

Top 7 destinations all 20-somethings need to visit

Millennials,

Now’s the time to ditch your desk jobs (at least for a week), and go experience the wonders of travel. There’s no better time than in your twenties to throw caution to the wind and experience the incredible world around you.

But what exotic destinations should you visit? Have no fear. Here’s my list of top destinations for 20-something travelers.

1. Spain

Want to party? Spain’s the place for you. Tapas + discotecas + churros and chocolate = the ultimate Spanish getaway.

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It’s your second chance to save on EVERY Friendly Planet tour!

Our blowout Cyber Monday Sale was a huge success, with travelers booking hundreds of once-in-a-lifetime trips to exotic destinations. Since our sale was such a big hit, we’re giving travelers that missed out on these incredible savings (or want to plan another trip) a second chance to book an unforgettable international getaway! 

During our Second Chance Monday Sale, we’ll be discounting EVERY Friendly Planet Travel package up to $300, allowing travelers to choose from tours to more than 40 counties, spanning Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and more!

(more…)

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