Photo of Mexico courtesy by Dreamstime. Article by Kaeli Conforti of Budget Travel.
Is Brazil on your bucket list this year? How about Haiti? We've got the inside scoop on some surprising places you should visit this year, where you should proceed with caution, and which spots to re-think visiting this year altogether until political and social situations calm down a bit.
Home to natural wonders like the Amazon, beautiful beaches in Ipanema, and thriving cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is always a great place to visit, especially in 2014. This year, the city of Porto Alegre will play host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup from June 12th thru July 13th, an event that vacation rentals guru HomeAway says has already brought a 41 percent increase in vacation rentals to the country -- check out HomeAway's FIFA World Cup '14 Brazil Guide for more information on things to do and other attractions you shouldn't miss while you're in town for the event. Brazil is also home to some of the world's best Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro -- this year they happen from Feb. 28th thru Mar. 4th -- as well as Sao Paulo, Recife, Olinda, Salvador de Bahia, Florianopolis, and in other party-centric cities like Buzios, Porto de Galinhas, Fortaleza, Porto Seguro, and Iguazu Falls. If you're visiting Rio de Janeiro, don't forget to pay a visit to the spectacular Sugarloaf Mountain Aerial Tram, named by Budget Travel as one of the world's most beautiful cable car rides.
Looking for an unforgettable tropical vacation to a land of beautiful beaches, impressive volcanoes, and rich culture, that's not as crowded and touristy as Costa Rica? Try visiting Nicaragua, an up-and-coming travel destination offering visitors a more authentic Central American experience. This intriguing destination is located less than two hours from Miami, 2.5 hours from Houston, and accessible by direct flights to Managua from major U.S. cities like Miami, Houston, L.A., San Francisco, New York City, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington D.C. Once you arrive, hotels, restaurants, and attractions are super-affordable, beaches are largely unspoiled, and you can try your hand at anything from surfing and snorkeling to zip-line canopy tours and sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano. What's not to love?
United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
There's a lot going on in the U.A.E., from the world's fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi to the expected opening of The Louvre Abu Dhabi in December of 2015 on Saadiyat Island. While this region is typically known for being a glamorous playground for the international rich and famous, the good news is hotels and attractions are actually pretty affordable -- a recent search on Trivago shows hotel rooms in Dubai are available starting at $62 USD a night! A one-day pass for unlimited rides on the Dubai metro and bus system costs less than $4 per person -- you can pay less than $2 per person to take a joyride on the city's popular Line 8 bus, a scenic trip that'll take you from the Gold Souk through Heritage Village, along the beach on Jumeirah Rd, and past the Burj al-Arab and Wild Wadi before ending near Internet City and the Mall of the Emirates. Visit the Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort for less than $1, experience local history and cultue at the Jumeirah Mosque ($2.50), explore one of the oldest Emerati neighborhoods in Bur Dubai and the Bastakiya district with a guide from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultral Understanding ($15), or spend the day at the Dubai Mall Aquarium for from $15 per person. You can also gain free entry into Mushrif Park, home to swimming pools, horseback riding, and camel rides, or treat yourself to a seaside picnic at Jumeirah Public Beach. And that's just in Dubai. The other six Emirates -- Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain are also worth visiting for their rich history and cultural experiences.
Mexico is making quite a comeback in recent months. The basic facts stay the same: tourists and locals alike are sometimes caught in the crossfire of rival drug cartel battles, or can become the victims of "express kidnappings," when they are held captive until either a ransom is paid or money is withdrawn from a bank account -- a scheme similar to the popular "String Trick" in Paris. However, the U.S. Department of State says, "millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day." As of right now, there are no travel advisories in effect for most major tourist areas including Cabo San Lucas and La Paz in southern Baja California, Campeche, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, San Miguel de Allende and Leon in Guanajuato, Acapuco, Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Morelia, Lázaro Cardenas, Riviera Nayarit, Oaxaca, Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, Puerbla, Queretaro, Mazatlan, Villahermosa, Tlaxcala, Merida and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, and in Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum. Basically, if you stick to major tourist areas or cities that are for the most part not border towns, you'll encounter roughly the same amount of crime you can expect in any other major city. The best part: affordable hotels, attractions, family fun, and beaches are up for grabs. The Riviera Maya is a great spot for taking the family on vacation due to the variety of budget-friendly all-inclusive resorts, while the Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit areas offer similar perks on the Pacific side.
Moscow. St. Petersburg. Sochi. Three popular places full of Russian art, history, and culture, and now, Sochi will be playing host to the 2014 Winter Olympics. While the country remains a must-see on most travel bucket lists, visiting Russia nowadays can be an adventure steeped in controversy and bureaucratic red tape -- Russia actually made our list of complicated countries to visit because of the dizzying, time-consuming procedures U.S. citizens must go through to gain a tourist visa. Russia also received some bad press recently when President Vladimir Putin implied gay people were pedophiles when he was trying to assure visitors to the Sochi Olympics that homosexuals in attendance would be safe -- a Washington Post article says Russia's new laws to prohibit "propaganda of nontraditional sexual practices among minors" sparked international concern from those who support equal rights. As of right now the U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel Alert, mainly reminding visitors to the Olympics to remain vigilant during the events and to be aware that such popular games may seem like a nice target for terrorist-related activity, so pay attention to safety updates if you go.
On last year's To Go or Not to Go list, Haiti was designated as a "don't go." This year, we are thrilled to change the country's status to "Go," citing the island nation's recent foray into international tourism that resulted in new flight service to Port-au-Prince from New York City and Fort Lauderdale via JetBlue. Several major international hotel chains have also returned to Haiti -- the Best Western Premier Petion-Ville opened in December 2013, and according to this article by Fox News, the Royal Oasis, owned by Occidental Hotel & Resorts, is also a new addition. Marriott International has also started construction in the Port-au-Prince area and is expected to open a new hotel in 2015. The U.S. Department of State still technically has issued a Travel Warning with regards to travel to Haiti, but states that, "Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Haiti each year, but the poor state of Haiti's emergency response networks should be carefully considered when planning travel," and stresses that travelers should obtain evacuation insurance in case of medical emergency since it may be difficult to access proper medical care in-country. It is also recommended, for safety reasons, that visitors have pre-arranged airport transfers and hotels, or have their hosts meet them directly at the airport, as there were two incidents in 2013 where American tourists were mugged shortly after arriving in Port-au-Prince. The country overall seems to be in the midst of a comeback.
On November 8th, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines as a Category 5 with winds at 147 miles per hour, causing unimaginable damage and devastation to the region. But the people of the Philippines are as resilient as ever -- 10 days after the storm, the country's Department of Tourism issued a statement ensuring travelers that popular destinations like Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, and Bacolod, were still open for business. Visit the out-of-this-world Chocolate Hills in Bohol, see the Banaue Rice Terraces (a 2,000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site), swim among the whale sharks in Donsol, dive at the Tubbataha Reef National Marine in Palawan, check out the nightlife in Manila, or treat yourself to the ultimate beach vacation in Cebu or Boracay. The country's tourism board stresses that their main tourist destinations have remained intact and accessible to visitors despite the storm. If you wish to help with recovery efforts, please consider donating to organizations like the American Red Cross or the Philippine Red Cross. Go, but be aware that some areas, especially the Philippine city of Tacloban, are still recovering from storm damage.
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