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Are you fully vaccinated? Looking for a European country to travel to? Well then you are in luck, my friend. Starting April 6th, you will be able to visit Iceland without having to quarantine or take a Covid Test. Pretty cool news, huh? As long as you have had one of the the approved vaccinations-Pfizer, Moderna, Astra Zeneca or Johnson and Johnson, you are free to enter. Of course, you have to show proof either on paper or electronically. However, I'm not going to fill this space with boring chatter but use the link-the big green box on the side, for more details. Do remember, although Iceland is saying "NEI" to strict entry requirements, travelers returning back to the US still have to adhere to a mandatory covid test prior to returning.
On to the fun stuff. Iceland is as much fun in the summer as it is in the winter. A) It's not a long flight from New York's JFK airport and B) you can do a quick visit over a long weekend. Brace yourself though, it is not a cheap destination. However, there are ways to help cut cost like take the Airport bus instead of private transfers. It's a fraction of the cost and a very common way for tourists to get to their hotel with a stop at the Blue Lagoon if you want. You do lose the luxury of having a private chauffeur take you door to door but so what? You can put the money towards an amazing tour instead. Joining a daily group tour is another cost saving way to see the sites without breaking the bank.
I'm leaving you with a sample itinerary after the pretty pictures. You have to click on More Events to see the last 2 days - the webpage thought I was too long winded to show the whole thing at a go...what can I tell ya? You can make your time as short or as long as you want in this magnificent country and I can guarantee you that with the right expertise, it will leave you awestruck.
Itinerary by Iceland Encounters
Welcome to Iceland! Your flight from N-America arrives in Iceland in the morning. A driver from our car service will meet you at the airpor...
We start the day with a 10:00 AM pick-up from your hotel and a drive to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the loca...
Thorsmork Wilderness Area: Travel via 4x4 vehicle to the wilderness area known as Thorsmork or Thor's Forest on the north side of Eyjafjalla...
South Coast Exploration: After breakfast, we start our adventure along the south coast of Iceland. First we stop at beautiful Seljalandsfoss...
Vatnajökull Glacier: Today we´ll explore the area surrounding Vatnajokull glacier, Europe´s largest ice-cap (and the fourth largest glacier ...
The travel world has been in a constant state of change and restrictions all year. Just as you have some of rules nailed down, new ones pop up just to confuse the heck out of you.
Fret not, here is an updated list of some of the recent mandates for US travelers. I've also added some other info that you may find useful.
If you are traveling internationally, you MUST get either a NAAT or Antigen test to enter the country. The test must be taken within 72 hours prior to your departure. Still need more info? Check out the link on the right for the CDC website.
Many hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico are trying to ease the stress of this new requirement by either providing free covid tests for US travelers or assistance with getting to an approved testing site-which may incur a cost for the traveler.
Traveling domestically? You must now wear a mask in the airport, on the plane, train or bus. No ifs, ands or buts. There is chatter that they may require a negative covid test result for domestic travel as well but that's still being debated.
Covid testing sites are rolling out in major international airports around the country.
Airlines like American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines have a helpful tool in their website that with a few keystrokes, you will be able to find out the travel requirements for the countries that they fly to. Quite nifty and helpful. Since the links for some of them are buried in the site, I thought I'd make it easier for you by adding it to the right side bar. You're welcome.
The US Department of State has given us a useful site, filled with chockful of useful information for all the countries. Need to know if you need a visa to enter? Check. Is there a contact number for the local embassy? Check. Will it tell me about the country's health care system? Check.
If you are traveling this year, continue to check for the latest destination update on the country's government or official tourism board sites.
The normal days of travel have not quite return yet and until it does, be flexible and prepare for unexpected change of plans. Have a little extra padding in your travel budget in case you need to take additional covid tests or have to extend your stay due to an unforeseen quarantine.
Get travel insurance. You don't want to leave the country without it.
In case you were wondering, people with a severe case of the travel bug is starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. They are starting to book trips again and looking forward to packing their bags to get somewhere, any where.
Until next time, keep dreaming about that trip and start planning!
US DEPT. OF STATE
Most people recognize this S.E Asian country through the iconic image of Gardens by the Bay's super trees and the Marina Bay Sands hotel with the "boat" spanning across its 3 buildings, made famous by Crazy Rich Asians movie.
Visitors get a taste of the cultural diversity found here.
This is a modern, cosmopolitan city with old history peppered throughout.
This modern state has rapidly transformed itself from third world to first within 55 years of gaining independence.
Clue #5 (last one).
When was the last time you went to an airport to hang out and had a family day there? You would if you came to this one. Changi airport hosts family fun events year round. It houses an impressive array of boutiques ranging from affordable to high fashion boutiques, a plethora of restaurants satisfying palettes seeking McDonalds to Michelin star dining, movie theater and even
Are you getting close to the answer?
If you watched the movie Crazy Rich Asians, 99% of the population do not live in sprawling mansions. This is one of the typical heartland towns of Singapore. Comfortable apartment housing for many residents.
One of many fruit stalls selling exotic and not so exotic fruits from near and far. All within a short walking distance in a heartland town.
Just another busy morning at the local wet market. Not a fancy stand but you bet the vegetables are fresh.
Coffeeshop equals beverages and cold scones, you say? Let me introduce you to our style of coffee shop or in colloquial term-Kopitiam. Eating is a national past time and this is where you can get great meals at ridiculously affordable prices.
Did I mention that eating is a national past time? Ambiance matters in this food court as well.
The locals take eating seriously and Singapore has the local culinary culture down to an art form. Who would have thought that you can find Michelin star meals at the open air hawker centers for just a couple of bucks? Put that credit card away, you won't be needing it when you dine here. The hawk
Chinese New Year is coming. Christmas decorations have been replaced, small celebrations are being planned with health safety in mind and towns are getting decked out.
Lanterns and more....
Singapore is becoming a tech savvy country with QR codes used for various purposes such as contact tracing in all public spaces to making contactless payments at the store cashiers. Pretty soon, wallets will be obsolete.
My personal favorite is having this board help me find my car in a parking lot. Here's how it works.
....VOILA! Your car has been located. Not only does it tell you the exact spot that you lost...errrr I mean left the car, it shows you the image of your car to make sure you remember what it looks like. I need to shrink this life saving tool to a portable size. Who doesn't?
Don't let the cityscape fool you. What kind of island would it be if there is no bits of paradise to be found as well?
Hope you enjoyed my version of Singapore. Do drop by some time when the borders are reopen again. Happy New Year and as they say in Singapore, HUAT AH (may you prosper)!
The teardrop shaped country of Sri Lanka, laying on the southern tip of India is often overlooked by globe trotters. Until I got there myself, the only 2 things I knew about Sri Lanka is their Ceylon tea and that my dad’s childhood friend-Uncle Chris’ family originated from there.
When the opportunity for me to visit the country popped up, I couldn’t say no. I have to go and visit their tea plantations and see Uncle Chris’ motherland. I had no idea that I was able to embark on one of the best journeys I’ve ever taken.
After some groveling, I was able to take 9 days off from work. It was important that we made the most of our time while soaking it all in as well. A sit down with the family to get their one item for the bucket list was in order. After all, unhappy travelers make for a dreadful time. The husband wants relaxation. He works hard, he says and he does not want to be schlepping around every day, he cries. The child shrugs and claims that she does not know anything about the country but would like nature or adventure. She works hard, she cries and she also wants to relax, she says. As for me, I had more than one item. I wanted the history, culture, food and relaxation because I work hard….you get the picture.
With everyone’s request in tow, I now have to get planning. I reached out to my travel trade partner in Sri Lanka for some help and using their suggestions, a beautiful itinerary blossomed.
Clutching our passports and well thumbed travel booklet, we boarded our plane for Colombo. Not knowing what to expect, Sri Lanka surprised us at every turn. The country is clean and the people are warm. Oh and the crabs are scrumptious! A visit to The Ministry of Crab was an experience in itself and our taste buds danced with joy.
A private driver is a must and probably the best form of transportation overall. There are no high speed trains and the domestic airline shuttle, Cinnamon Air only offers limited routes. Although the drive can be long but the roads are smooth and we took the opportunity to break the jetlag with much needed naps, recharging before arriving at Point B.
Sri Lanka has religious diversity and you see the deep rooted history at the ancient sites like Dambulla caves. We made the trek up Sigiriya for a birds eye view of the surroundings before moving on to the next stop. After an overnight stay in Kandy (which is suffice), we caught the choo choo train to Ella-which we heard is a must. Mind you, this is an old fashioned slow train and there are no luxury seats to be found. It is as rickety and thrilling as it gets, while swinging your feet out the open carriage doors. The local food vendors hop on to sell the local wares and we sampled the best samosas on this ride. The landscape changed to green lush tea plantations as the train wound up the hill. We made friends with the train engineer and exchanged stories over a bag of warm peanuts.
One of the highlights were the safaris that we went on. There are many national parks scattered throughout the country. It’s not the Serengeti but there are large herds of elephants in some parks and leopards in others. Yup, leopards. They are elusive but if you are lucky, you may spot some on the trails. I had no idea that there was so much wildlife here. There are an abundance of peacocks and dare I say, they are like the pigeons of Sri Lanka-only prettier. On the second night of our trip, we stayed at the beautiful Water Garden hotel in Sigiriya. It’s surrounded by natural untouched land. While having dinner outdoors, we heard a strange, loud, ear splitting squawks coming from the bushes. We had no idea what was making that noise but it was quite terrifying as we walk (quite quickly) back to our room in the dark. The next morning as we were having our coffee on the deck, we heard that awful noise again. We looked up and there they were, perching on the tall branches of the trees, 3 majestic peacocks singing their forlorn songs.
I had promised my family relaxation and so we ended our trip with 2 nights by the shores of the Indian Ocean. The warm sand is white, the ocean is blue and the waves are majestic. We sat on the beach reminiscing, fully satisfied that we found what we were seeking for. All I know is, I want to see more and I’ll be back again.
Some places....like women, get lovelier with age and time. Kauai is one of them, being the oldest inhabited Hawai'ian island. She isn't loud and lively like Mau'i, not volatile like Big Island nor modern and bustling like Oahu. Instead, she quietly reveals layers of beauty and hidden secrets with each creased landscape
Seek out beautiful hiking trails on the Napali Coast on the northern part of the island. You will need a permit to camp out for a multi day hike but the view of the coastline is spectacular. Day treks are most popular. Not a fan of heights? If you are visiting in the summer, hop on a boat instead. The water will be calmer at this time and you will be rewarded with a front seat view of the iconic mountains and cliffs. The ocean is a lot rougher in the winter months and boat rides are not recommended during this time.
Waimea Canyon is the Grand Canyon of the Pacific-not to be missed when you visit this beautiful island. This is another good place for avid and novice hikers alike if you prefer not to drive all the way. The ever changing terrain along the drive is worthy of a few snapshots. You will encounter red rocks with cascading little falls as you get to the higher elevation. The various markers showcases the spectacular canyons, valleys, distant waterfalls with a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean . Be sure to wear good sturdy walking shoes as the terrains can be uneven.
End the excursion with a lunch stop at the casual road stand, Shrimp station. The menu is a small but delicious options of, well...shrimps! Hop on over after to Jo Jo's for refreshing shaved ice. Interesting flavors and combinations to choose from-such as the local favorite, Lihing mui (dried sour sweet plum). Give it a try.
Part of the Hawai'ian experience is going off the beaten path and scoping out the lesser known beaches. Mother nature may present you a surprise encounter with the many marine animals that call Hawai'i, home. If you are lucky like I was, you may see an endangered and protected Hawai'ian monk seal basking in the sun. Admire the wildlife from afar and give them their space. I promise you, that shared moment with the animal will still be special.
The best time to hang ten in Hawai'i is usually in the winter. Hanalei Bay will give you that experience but if you are in Kaua'i in the summer, you can still hit decent waves on the south shore. Pick up a board, sign up for classes if you are a beginner or if you know the ropes, then go ahead and dive right in.
The hotel staff or locals are the best people to ask about hidden beaches that are not frequented by tourists.
We now go from the oldest inhabited island to one of the youngest and still growing island of Hawai'i, better known as the Big Island. This island is an explorer's dream come true. Big Island has all but 2 of the climate zones in the world. That's pretty impressive. You can literally be in the arid southern part of the island, trek through a humid forested national park, enjoy warm beach days and also adorn a winter jacket on a visit to Mauna Kea's summit to view the stars in the observatory. It's also the only place in Hawaii that gets snow. Pretty wild!
This island is huge and widespread. So when planning your trip, don't expect to see it all in 3 days.
On the east side of the island is Hilo and they have a cute town and a lovely farmer's market on Wednesdays and Sundays. The main highlight is the Volcanoes National Park. You can take a helicopter from the Hilo airport to get an aerial view of the volcano, old lava flow and hot lava entering the ocean. A visit to the National Park is a must if you have time. Depending on the Volcano Goddess, Pele's mood you may get to witness active lava flows in the evening. Remember, lava activity is inconsistent and unpredictable. Check with the National Park site for up to date lava flow information.
Kona is the most popular part of the Big Island for visitors. It boasts of world class golf courses, better beaches on Big Island and also a larger choice of higher end hotels.
An interesting activity that I would recommend doing is, night snorkeling or diving with manta rays. These sea creatures are large and stealthy swimmers. Watching them glide through the water up close is amazing.
Perhaps being in the ocean is not your thing. Then horseback riding in Waipi'o valley may be more your speed. Waipi'o is lush and rugged with a black sand beach at the base of the valley.
Definitely rent a car while you are on the island. Trust me, you will need one. Driving from the west to the east side of the island will take at least 3 hours each way.
The South Point is the most southern part of the U.S. There are some big cliffs there and if the conditions are right (calm seas, clear skies, good water visibility), it's a hot spot for cliff jumpers. Trust me when I say that it's not for the faint hearted. It's a 40 foot drop and feels a lot further when you are actually doing the jump. I speak from experience. The good thing is, there is an old ladder that will take you back up to the top or swim around and climb up the boulders get back up. Either way, lots of caution and common sense should be exercised before making the jump. It's most certainly thrilling.
Speaking of black sand beaches....being an active volcanic island, Big Island, hands down has the best ones. Some of them are easy to get to like Punalu'u on the east side and some need a short hike to get access to the stunning black shoreline. Kaimu beach is a personal favorite of mine. Located in Puna-also on the East side, you have to walk over old lava flow for 10 mins to get to the true black sand beach. Another good one is Pohoiki. It is one of the newly formed beach resulting from the recent 2018 eruption.
A common phenomenon that accompanies volcanic land is thermal hot springs. There were a couple of popular ones before the 2018 eruption covered the 2 main ones with lava but there is another to be found by Pohoiki if you are in the area.
Merrie Monarch festival occurs every spring in Hilo, featuring Hawaiian culture and exciting hula competition. It's a week long event and the festivities are mostly free. You do need to get tickets to watch the hula competition.
Need a souvenir to bring home besides a t-shirt? Go to Donkey Balls Chocolate Factory in Kona and tote a few bags of chocolate covered macadamia nuts home. You'll get a few chuckles and hopefully a whole lot of thanks after that. Here's the link if you would like to have a preview of their offerings.
Last but most certainly not the least, Mau'i. There's so much to say about this gorgeous island. Touristy, yes....however, there are so many other special spots that deserves more time than just a drive by or a quick wave.
We know about the long stretch of beach by Ka'anapali, the many luaus, good snorkeling, bustling night life in Lahaina, huge surf worthy waves in the winter and the numerous excursions that you can jam pack into the time that you are there.
I say, take a deep breath and slow your pace. Your experience with Maui will be a lot more enjoyable.
When you are there in the winter, you will be in good company. An impressive dense population of humpback whales migrate to this island and turn the warm waters into a nursery for their newborn calves. Watch these majestic mammals jump out of the water doing an aerial dance from almost every angle of the island. Listen out for their thunderous tail slapping and the little ones mimicking their mothers. It's a sight to be seen.
Venture into the lush Iao Valley. Catch the local kids jumping off foot bridges into the streams below and soak in the greenery in this state park. This was also the site of the historical 1790 Battle of Kepaniwai. The Iao needle served as a look out point for the warriors.
The road to Hana is exactly that. The journey getting to Hana IS the experience and what you see along the drive is what makes the drive worthwhile. If you are looking for the ultimate reveal at the end of the road, you will be disappointed. Don't get me wrong. The town of Hana is lovely, tranquil and is certainly deserving of at least an overnight stay but that should not be the only reason for you to go to Hana.
Start early. Before entering the highway, you may want to load up on gas and snacks at the surf town of Paia.
A word of caution, Hana highway does turn into a one lane road for 2 way traffic. The locals are pros and zip through the hairpin turns like Formula One drivers. The road itself isn't long but with all the curves, expected road courtesy and little stops that should be made along the way, the drive can take between 2.5 hrs to a full day.
Fuller waterfalls are commonplace in the winter and little water falls pepper the roadside along the way. Stop at the Twin Falls farm stand and get a yummy cup of cold, sugar cane drink before walking the trail towards the Twin Falls. Bring a towel and your bathing suit because the waterfall will beckon you to take a dip. The summer months are drier, so the
On the drive, you will be greeted by towering bamboo forests, colorful trunks of the Eucalyptus trees and cliffs dropping right into the ocean. The scenery is breathtaking.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park is almost at the end of the drive. Make a stop there to check out Maui's own black sand beach.
I do recommend staying a night or two in Hana, just to recuperate from the drive before turning around to head back to Maui proper. The main digs in town is the Hana Maui Resort. It's a comfortable, comfortable 4 star accommodation that you can unplug and relax at. There are no tvs and a/c in the room. Although it's not beach front, you can get views of the ocean. They do have a small beach by the bay for the hotel guests about 5 mins drive away.
Lanai is not as well visited as the other Hawaiian islands. It's often paired with Mau'i with quick 30 minutes flight between islands or a 1 hour ferry ride if you prefer. Do look out for the pods of spinner dolphins while on the ferry. You can also catch a flight from the main island of Oahu to Lanai before heading to Maui and vice versa.
An old pineapple plantation island transformed into one with 2 luxury Four Seasons hotels, it's a treat for those craving a laid back getaway. Although you can do a day trip to Lanai and rent a 4x4 to get around, it's even better if you can spend a night...or three. Hotel guests can make use of the complimentary shuttle to get to the popular sites.
Since there are no more pineapple plantations there, what is there to do? Cat lovers will be thrilled to know that there is a cat sanctuary on the island. Other highlights include shipwreck beach and the iconic Sweetheart Rock. Golfers will appreciate the 2 prestigious courses on site. Rent an ATV and go off roading in the lunar landscape of Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods). Of course, there are beaches, snorkeling and diving activities as well.
With winter approaching, we can always use a little tropical paradise on our travel list. Perhaps these ideas may plant a seed or at least start a conversation. Hawaii is truly an incredible place to be.
Until you get there, savor the sweet taste of Hawaii in our Recipe page. I've shared the recipe for mmm...mmm...good, Butter Mochi. Enjoy!
Call a travel agent if you need help planning a trip. If you don't have one, contact me.
The state of Hawaii has just reopened it's doors to travelers on October 15th. Some sites, parks and accommodations may still be closed at the time of this publishing. Be sure to check on the websites for updates. There are required travel protocols for visitors to Hawaii. Use the link provided below for more details.
You have been dreaming for the past few months about hopping you on that plane, the cruise or a car that will whisk you to a faraway...or maybe not that distant place that help you forget about the pesky C-virus for a little while. Get away from the regular rigors of life and have an "Ahhhhhhh" moment.
This is the perfect time to think ahead and start planning. But most of us have a lot of questions. What can I expect now that we have a new normal? Where can I go? What do I need to do? The travel world wants you to come back and visit. Most reputable hotels, cruise lines, tour companies and airlines are doing all they can to make sure that you will be comfortable and feel safe.
For starters, some borders are starting to reopen and accepting Americans with no quarantine needed if you are covid negative (hooray!).
Now that you have picked a destination, what can you expect?
Firstly, make sure that the hotel/s that you are interested in has a high level of hygienic and sanitary practices. Some are required to comply to a set of covid cleaning rules before they are allowed to reopen.
If you are using a tour company, check with them to see what are the safety practices that they have in place. It is a lot more comforting to know that the driver picking you up will be wearing a mask the whole time that you are in the car with him or her.
Getting a mandatory covid test done before entering a different country or some US states, is now a norm. However, not all covid tests are created equal. The most commonly accepted test is the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). Some rapid tests and all antibodies tests will not be permitted. So be sure to find out what are the specific documentations and requirements that you need to fulfill before getting on that plane. Also, the time stamp on your covid tests will matter as well. Give yourself ample time to get it done because you do not want to be all packed and ready, only to be turned away at the airport because of an expired test result.
What are the airlines doing right now?
Being stuck in a confined space for X amount of hours isn't that much fun under normal circumstances. With the ongoing pandemic, some airlines are doing their best by blocking out seats to ensure safe distancing between passengers. Some airlines are doing a good job with that and some not so much. All airlines, nonetheless are taking steps to maintain the cleanliness of the cabins and mandating masks for all during the flight.
American Airline, United, Delta and Alaska Airline have also announced that they are permanently removing change fees for domestic flights. American and Alaska have made the decision to include some international flights as well. This is a throw-confetti-in-the-air moment. No more hefty change fees will give travelers a lot more flexibility to make changes if anything unforeseen comes up. There are some small exceptions to the rule if you are booked in basic economy. Just check with the airline or your travel agent if you are not sure.
Your passport! It's taking a longer time to get your passports application processed or renewed right now. Double check to make sure that you have at least 6 months validity from your return date. Do not jump the gun and plan for an impromptu trip if you do not have a valid passport. There's no guarantees that you will get it back before you leave on your trip. I have seen the panic and disappointment of those that were in this situation and it's an annoyance that can be avoided.
Travel Insurance is now more important than ever. Some countries require travelers to have insurance that will cover any medical expenses in the event that they contract covid 19 while on their trip. Not all travel insurance is created equal so, be sure to ask questions and be well informed of what you will be covered for.
The bottom line is, preparation is key. No, it won't be simple like the pre-covid days when you just throw a few clothes, shoes and sunblock in the bag and you are ready to go. Now there are a some additional steps that needs to be taken. The good news is, there will be a wonderful experience ahead of you when you arrive at your destination. Now that you are armed with good information, go ahead and take that first step towards "ahhhhhhh".