Q: I’m trying to decide which of safari locations would be the best, to see the most impressive wildlife and scenery, be in a stable and safe environment, and get some cultural immersion. I’m considering South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia and Kenya. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Safari tour operators often package Kenya and Tanzania together, so you get a one-two punch of wildlife. I didn’t find South Africa as rich with animals, though the country’s history and culture are fascinating. I am particularly keen on Namibia, where you can explore the national parks independently. You can also stay at a wildlife sanctuary and volunteer with the animals, including sleeping with baby baboons and taking the aardvark out for a stroll.
The Africa Adventure Company has a great calendar that shows the best times to visit specific countries and which animals you will see. I suggest using this chart as a starting point and then find a tour operator that matches your budget, interests and level of comfort.
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Q: I am going to Southern Italy in May, and I am wondering how long to spend in Sicily. So far, I was planning three days between Taormina and Syracuse. I am wondering whether to rent a car and see the southern towns, such as Ragusa, or move on to Agrigento. Online, I have read mixed views of these places, and many warn to just ignore Palermo. I am wondering whether it is worth seeing these places, or to just move on.
A: I could easily spend a week or longer exploring Sicily. A car is easiest and driving there isn’t too awful. I loved Agrigento and Mazara del Vallo on the southern coast. And I also recommend visiting the town of Cefalu on the north coast. Palermo is a big city and it was not my favorite spot, but the Cathedral of Monreale was worth a visit.
Q: My husband and I are interested in taking a train from Montreal or Toronto to Vancouver, who do you recommend, what agency should we contact to pursue this endeavor? Also, what words of wisdom can you give us when we make the reservations, i.e., type of berth, etc.
A: I would check out VIA Rail, Canada’s version of Amtrak. The company arranges a variety of train trips, including train-hotel packages, all over the country. Speak with a travel agent, who can help you find the best stateroom for your needs. Make sure to ask about the location of the room, as some areas might be noisier (say, near the dining car).
Q: Any advice about airlines within Europe that could get me from Athens to Split, Croatia, inexpensively?
A: I don’t believe there is any nonstop service between the two places, and connecting flights aren’t cheap. Expect to pay at least $300.
Q: I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights and my husband is on board for a trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in 2017. Where to stay, how to get there? Places/things to do before or after? We’re looking at a two-week timeframe, no specific dates.
A: I am going to quote myself, from a piece we did last year on the most frequent questions asked on chat. Hope this helps!
The northern lights appear in the Northern Hemisphere as aurora borealis and the Southern Hemisphere as aurora australis. The colorful spectral shapes burn the brightest in higher-latitude areas close to the poles, such as northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Antarctica. The ideal setting is dark with clear skies and no artificial light pollution, and the optimum times are from late afternoon (5 or 6 p.m.) to early morning (6 a.m.), December through February.
Travel operators in the northern destinations arrange tours of various lengths and prices to see the northern lights. The guides are similar to wildlife trackers and know the best viewing spots. Unfortunately, the lights don’t always show up. To increase your odds, book a tour during high levels of solar activity. To track conditions, download the Aurora Forecast app and check the heavens above.
Q: My husband and I are leaving for Vancouver this week. It will be raining our entire trip. We already are scratching our plans to camp one night in the mountains and to take a helicopter tour of the city. What wonderful things are there to do in Vancouver in the rain? We are pretty adventurous, but I don’t do well being wet and cold all day.
A: Vancouver is Canada’s third rainiest city, so … bring your galoshes.
Some indoor suggestions, care of Lonely Planet: the aquarium, Queen Elizabeth Park’s Bloedel Conservatory, the Museum of Anthropology and the Police Museum.
Q: It’s possible that I may have a free day on an upcoming trip, where the easiest option would be to check my luggage at Charles de Gaulle airport and take the train into Paris for a bit of sightseeing. I found a website that says RER (the rail service) had luggage lockers, but the date was rather old. Do you know if there is still any place to check suitcases at CDG, what with all the recent security issues? Any particular tips on getting into town? I’ve been to Paris before, but not recently.
A: A company called Bagages du Monde stores luggage at CDG in Terminal 2, where you can also catch a train into the city.
Q: We’re looking for ideas of where to go for spring break this year with our teen daughter in mid-April. We’d like to find a location within a six-hour drive from D.C. We’ve been to New York City, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida so we’d like to find a new place. Any suggestions of where to go and what to do?
A: The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill trifecta in North Carolina is a great spring break destination. Lots of attractions, restaurants, college campuses (hint, hint).
For an ocean destination, the Wilmington Beach area of North Carolina – Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure – has the charm of the Outer Banks but with a bit more polish. Take the ferry to Bald Head Island, which does not allow cars – bikes and golf carts only.