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R BlockGo Spelunking in Jamaica

For most of us, a vacation to Jamaica conjures up images of sipping fruity drinks poolside and sunbathing along the pristine beaches; kicking back and relaxing with our feet up. However, Jamaica can also be a fantastic vacation destination for the action seeker! Read more »

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R BlockThe New Miami

South Beach has long been synonymous with Miami cool. And while the restaurants and Art Deco hotels on Ocean Drive entice visitors and locals alike, Miami is more than just the SoBe scene. Downtown Miami is thriving, with new residences and bars opening regularly, and further up the beach from the Delano and the like, lies another hotspot. Read more »

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St. Bart’s is unparalleled among Caribbean islands. With no high rise hotels and vast stretches of completely undeveloped land, it’s got a low-key Francophone vibe that has made it the top choice for an elite set of vacationers since the 1950s.

Read more »

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R BlockAn Eye Opener: Columbia’s Coffee Region

 

Nearly everyone is familiar with Juan Valdez, the character created by Colombia’s coffee industry in 1959 to promote bean exports. Fewer people, though, tend to know about the region that inspired the character. The aptly named Coffee Triangle (Cafetero Triangolo) was designated a world heritage sight by UNESCO in June 2011. I had the pleasure of visiting this past August.

 

Nestled in the Central Andes in the heart of Colombia, the Coffee Triangle gives its visitors something completely different from the colonial Caribbean vibe of Cartagena and the frenetic urban sprawl of Bogotá (the two most popular destinations for North American travelers to Colombia). From 18th century “fincas” to modern boutique hotels with amenities to match, this mountainous area is home to a glorious range of seriously one-of-a-kind accommodations. A standout is the “boutique hacienda” property Sazagua. Reflecting the flora of the region with its bamboo décor, each room is equipped with Wifi and a flatscreen TV. The effect of this is a unique expression of eco-sensitive luxury that perfectly captures the essence of Colombia’s burgeoning inland tourism.

 

What to do once there? Of course you should tour a plantation and do a coffee tasting (something that is taken as seriously here as wine tasting in a grape-growing region) but the biggest draw for me was nature. There are many well-appointed golf courses; Colombia is known as something of a golfing destination within Latin America. Or you could go hiking in the Los Nevados Natural Parque, whose highest snow-capped peaks stretch some 5,000 meters above sea level. For those in search of adventure, there’s white water rafting and canopy ziplines. I did the Bosque de Saman, a dizzying course that takes you more than 2,000 meters above a lush canopy of coffee plants (full disclosure: I almost chickened out from going at all, but was cajoled into taking the plunge by the guys running the zipline. I’m happy I caved, though, because even for this terrified-of-heights traveler, it was a beautiful experience.) After upping the adrenaline, you may want to take advantage of the region’s famed natural springs. Los Termales de San Vicente and Santa Rosa are home to spas, natural springs and various accommodations for travelers in search of calming, age-old water cures. Another incredibly relaxing excursion is a visit to the botanical gardens and butterfly preserve, which is home to more than 600 species of plants, 200 of birds and many, many fluttering mariposas.” Horseback rides and four-wheel-drive Jeep excursions are also a popular way to immerse oneself in the region.

 

Even if you’re a tea drinker, there are culinary takeaways that make this mountainous region a delicious experience. Colombia’s indigenous assortment of fruits – and the concordant ubiquity of fresh squeezed juices and “batidos” (milkshakes made with fruit) – is truly impressive. Guayaba, guanábana, pineapple, chirimoya, curuba, níspero, lulo, maracuyo, tomate de árbol (that last one means “tree tomato” and it looks like a tomato but tastes sweet and tart): the list goes on and it was unlike any place I’ve ever been in terms of taste and variety. Plus, the locals know to capitalize on their natural riches: From decadent and colorful breakfasts to thoughtfully prepared dessert, the jewel-toned regional bounty makes constant appearances. Another must-have meal in the Central Andes is their river trout. A specialty of the “estancias and farmhouses of the area, it’s prepared to order and 100 percent representative of the clean flavors of the coffee region.

 

 

*Not enough of a java boost? Check out fellow GLR writer David Perry’s review of the Presso Espresso Coffee Maker.

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R BlockSeasons Greetings From Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, S.C. is the perfect blending of an intimate historical masterpiece with the luxuries and activities of a metropolitan city. I always enjoy talking to someone who has just visited this impeccable city for the first time; the southern charm, mysterious history, beautiful people and world-class dining and events never fail to blow them away. Read more »

 

It is the cradle of humanity. There’s a little bit of Africa in all of us. And she’s calling us home.

 

From the legendary vistas of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, to the crystalline heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the deep green depths of her equatorial rainforests, “Africa’s landscapes are immensely varied,” says Dennis Pinto, “populated by animals in the thousands and some of the friendliest people you’ll meet anywhere.”

 

The managing director for Micato Safaris, Pinto is part of a 40-year family tradition of creating one-of-a-kind excursions across Africa’s storied landscapes. Named “World’s Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for an eighth time, Micato began in 1966 in Kenya.

 

“My parents, Felix and Jane Pinto, began Micato Safaris because they wanted to share ‘their’ Kenya with travelers,” explains Pinto. “For us though, Micato is more than just a business; it’s a labor of love.”

 

As the world’s premier luxury (and nothing but luxury) safari coordinator, Micato partners with many of the most exclusive properties on the continent – the Serengeti Migration Camp, Kirawira Luxury Tented Camp, and Ngorongoro Crater Lodge among them – to craft a start-to-finish extravaganza of African splendor blended with unmatched service. Groups, limited to 12-14 guests, travel in air-conditioned Mercedes Viannos, leather-upholstered Land Rovers and chartered bush planes to minimize travel time between destinations. Micato even provides each guest with a 24/7 personal concierge to attend to any unforeseen needs, and, adds Pinto, “We employ tribesmen and women as local ambassadors who spend time with travelers, sharing insights about their traditions and day-to-day lives.

 

 

 

“We also have special connections to people who are shaping today’s Africa and can arrange special experiences for our guests depending on their interests,” Pinto continues. “We can arrange for a guest to go on an archeological dig with famed paleontologist Louise Leakey, or have a private audience with Dame Daphne Sheldrick, renowned for her work saving orphaned elephants. We spend significant one-on-one time with travelers, tailoring the perfect safari.”

 

And Micato isn’t above throwing in the odd perk, like the man who found out his Safari Director had arranged a surprise birthday party (favorite ice cream included), or the opera enthusiasts who found one of Cape Town’s leading opera talents at their table during a home-hosted dinner in the city.

 

This is how you become number one for the eighth time.

 

Operating in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Mozambique, Micato recommends visiting in Africa’s dry season, when the herds are most likely on the move: July – October for eastern Africa, April – October for southern regions. With it being the most popular season, and not just for Micato, it is recommended you book well in advance. However, notes Pinto, Africa and Micato provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences year-round.

 

 

 

Africa calls. Her adventures beckon. For as geographer George Kimble said, “The darkest thing about Africa is our ignorance of it.”

 

To book a Micato Safari, visit www.micato.com; or call 1-800-MICATO-1

 

New Orleans Has Risen From the Ashes of Hurricane Katrina Stronger and Better Than Ever

 

I stand inside the darkened confines of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, wondering if the spirit of the dead—and dread—pirate lives on. It’s not hard to imagine the black-haired brigand serving up a mug of ill-gotten gains while threatening to blow off your head in the same breath. Some would shudder at the thought but I embrace it. This is New Orleans after all, a place long synonymous with vice and restless spirits.

 

Many consider New York to be America’s most vibrant city. While few can dispute the Big Apple’s unique energy, New Orleans is in many ways America’s cultural mecca. With a confluence of European, African and Caribbean flavors, New Orleans has a multi-dimensional appeal. Jazz, that most quintessential of American art forms, was invented here. Tennessee Williams penned and set “A Streetcar Named Desire” here. Avery Island, just miles from the center of the city, is the birthplace of Tabasco. Now, five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated many parts of the city, New Orleans has risen again, like the proverbial Phoenix.

 

New Orleans’ residents are resilient. They’ve survived numerous fires, floods and other disasters. Battered but not broken, many locals remained after Katrina hit, refusing to abandon their beloved city. While the 9th Ward is still an illustration of third world–style devastation—driving through the area is a solemn and heartbreaking occasion, especially when one considers the preposterous government response to the disaster—other neighborhoods fared much better.

 

Most first-time visitors to New Orleans venture only so far as the historic French Quarter. While the Veux Carré, as it was called during its heyday, is undoubtedly picturesque, with lattice wrought iron balconies and quaint European-styled homes, it would be a travesty to think that’s all New Orleans had to offer. Still, it’s a good starting point from which to explore the city. Stay one night in the French Quarter. Hotel options run from haunted manses such as the antebellum-style Le Pavilion on Canal Street and the ivy-covered Provincial Hotel on lovely Chartres to modern chains such as the exclusive Ritz Carlton Club, Maison Orleans and the 41-story Marriott. Each is unique—Le Pavilion is caught in a time warp, with silent hallways reminiscent of the hotel in The Shining; guests at the Provincial often feel as if they are staying at a friend’s historic mansion; rooms at the Maison Orleans resemble a luxe Parisian apartment and have the largest sunken tubs of any hotel in the city, and the Marriott affords amazing views of the city and the Mississippi River. If partying on Bourbon Street is a must, have a pint at Lafitte’s. America’s oldest bar, it’s at the edge of the Quarter but sans the neon signs and frat boys found further down the famous road.

 

Exploring the city is a must. From Canal Street, take the street car down St. Charles Avenue, or better yet walk, to the Garden District. The narrow streets of the French Quarter give way to wider, tree-lined boulevards replete with antebellum homes, coffee shops, trendy boutiques and po’ boy havens. You won’t find kitschy mask shops or bars hawking frozen hurricanes. It’s quieter than the Quarter but nonetheless just as pretty. Large hotels are replaced with smaller guest houses and beds and breakfasts. Relax at Sully Mansion Bed & Breakfast. It’s quaint and quiet, a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the Quarter.

 

On the other side of the Quarter lies the Faubourg Marigny. Many of the city’s lower middle class inhabitants lived in the area’s charming bungalows. But Hurricane Katrina changed that. Houses were damaged and insurance prices skyrocketed, forcing these same inhabitants to abandon once affordable homes. The area has since become gentrified, with upwardly mobile young artists and professionals taking residence. Still, visitors will enjoy the bars and restaurants on trendy Freeman Street, which on New Years Eve was surprisingly devoid of the high entrance fees, pushy crowds and exorbitant drink prices found elsewhere. Try The Spotted Cat Music Club, DBA or Maison for music and local brews. Take a moment to stop and listen to the young street performers who hone their jazz skills on the curb. Where else can you encounter Grammy-caliber musicians for free?

 

Mardi Gras is just a month away, so now is the time to book a trip if you haven’t already. While the French Quarter embraces the sinful aspects of the  Lenten celebration, that’s not true for all of New Orleans. Depending upon the neighborhood, people of all ages can enjoy Mardi Gras. The Garden District hosts events for the entire family. And the Faubourg Marigny and Algiers, a growing suburb on the other side of the Mississippi, encourage a more traditional, toned down version of carnival. I told you it was multi-dimensional.

 

Shandana A. Durrani

 

HOTELS

 

Hotel Provincial

1024 Rue Chartres

New Orleans, L.A. 70116

504/581-4995

 

Le Pavillion Hotel

833 Poydras Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70112

504/581-3111

 

New Orleans Marriott

555 Canal Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70130

504/581-1000

 

The Ritz Carlton Club, Maison Orleans

Ritz Carlton New Orleans

921 Canal Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70112

504/524-1331

 

Sully Mansion Bed & Breafast

2631 Prytania Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70130

504/891-0457

 

BARS

 

DBA

618 Frenchman Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70116

504/942-3731

 

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop

941 Bourbon Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70116

504/593-9761

 

The Maison

508 Frenchman Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70116

504/289-5648

 

The Spotted Cat Music Club

623 Frenchman Street

New Orleans, L.A. 70116

206/337-3273