Swimming With Pigs In The Bahamas (GALLERY)


While some little piggies go to market, a lucky bunch calls their home a beautiful beach in the Caribbean. These pictures were taken on a place underwater photographer Eric Cheng says the locals affectionately called “Pig Beach” on Big Major, Exumas, Bahamas. The family of pink and brown pigs pictured above and in the gallery below not only spend their days lying around on white sand beaches and showing off their aquatic skills in the cool waters, but they’ve also become so accustomed to being fed by locals that they’ll swim out to boats to greet people. The pigs are so friendly and cute that they’re fast becoming a tourist attraction on the island. Would you snorkel next to a pig on your next vacation to the Bahamas?

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Give Back While Traveling With These Voluntourism Hotel Packages And Programs

limelight hotel Just because Earth Day has passed doesn’t mean we should stop doing our part. In the spirit of goodwill, these hotels are offering voluntourism packages and programs for guests.

Limelight Hotel
Aspen, Colorado

Throughout the summer, the Limelight Hotel is helping guests get their hands dirty and help the environment. In partnership with the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, guests will be able to do trail work in the beautiful White River National Forest, which spans millions of acres. Volunteer tasks include trail maintenance, trail construction, invasive species removal and more. Hotel guests who participate will receive transportation, a packed lunch and beverages and a complimentary beer in the hotel lounge when they return.

Eight hour day volunteer projects are available, as well as sunset volunteer times from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Rates start at $150 per night during the summer. Call 970-544-6259 or click here to book. Westin St. John Westin St. John Resort and Villas
St. John, U.S.Virgin Islands

The Westin St. John Resort and Villas, a luxurious tropical resort, is offering incentives to guests who volunteer at the nearby Virgin Islands National Park. Volunteers will get a $100 resort credit, as well as transfers to and from the park. Project tasks include maintaining park trails and ruins and cleaning up beaches and coastlines. To sign up, you can click here or show up on Tuesday or Thursday at 8:00 am. Simply present your volunteer voucher at the front desk of the hotel to receive the credit.

Offer available through December 31, 2012. Rates start at $399 per night based, on double occupancy. Call 888-627-7206 or click here to book.

hyatt regency Hyatt Regency Waikki Beach Resort and Spa
Honolulu, Hawaii

The Hyatt Regency Waikki Beach Resort and Spa believes everyone should do their part. To help motivate guests to volunteer, the property is offering a Lokahi Package, or Lokahi Group Meetings, which rewards meeting planners, attendees and the community. The incentive, which also encourages groups to spend time volunteering with local organizations to help team building, raised almost $30,000 in 2009 and 2010 for the Waikiki Community Center. Perks for the meeting planner include double Hyatt Gold Passport bonus points and a complimentary Pohaku Lomi Massage. Attendees will receive free in-room Wi-Fi, 15% off spa treatments, a complimentary lei greeting and a special room rate for five days before and after the meeting. Additionally, community benefits include 5% of profits going to a local nonprofit of the meeting group’s choice and help from volunteers.

Offer valid until December 24, 2012. Packages start at $149 per night. Call 808-237-6200 or click here to book. Use promo code LOKAHI when booking.

ymca rockies YMCA of the Rockies
Estes Park, Colorado

If you’re planning on staying in the Rockies for at least six weeks, YMCA Estes Park Center and YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch offer free room and board for volunteers. Volunteers stay in a range of accommodation types, like cabins, hotel-style lodges and even yurts. There are myriad jobs to choose from, like instructing crafts, leading hikes and maintaining trails. While returning volunteers can stay for short periods of time, new volunteers must commit six weeks from September to mid-May, and 11 weeks from May to August.

Click here to learn more.

loews hotels Loews Coronado Bay Resort
San Diego, California

Through a partnership with the California State Parks and California State Parks Foundation, Loews Coronado Bay Resort is able to offer guests a volunteer vacation at Silver Strand State Beach. Participants will get a tour of the beaches rare coastal habitat and the chance to take part in a restoration project or beach clean-up. The property also includes a 1% donation fee to the project in their room rate, which has helped raise over $300,000 since 2008.

There is no charge to take part in the volunteer vacation, which is offered on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Room rates begin at $159 per night. Call 800-235-6397 or click here to book.

mandarin oriental Mandarin Oriental
Miami, Florida

To help guests have a worthwhile vacation, Mandarin Oriental is offering a community service package that includes a trip to the Everglades, morning volunteer work with park rangers and a tour of the park. Volunteer tasks range from mulching trees, weeding invasive plants and working on recycling projects. Moreover, guests will receive perks like a free hybrid car rental for the day and a 90-minute Thai Herbal Compress Ritual in the spa. For each treatment received, a native tree gets donated to the Everglades.

Package is $2,200 based on three nights, with double occupancy. Call 866-888-6780 or click here to book.

iguanaThe Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands

While the entire Ritz-Carlton Hotel brand participates in a Give Back Getaway program, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman adds a special angle to theirs. The property’s Blue Iguana Recovery Program Giveback Getaway allows guests to join employees in half-day voluntourism projects. Volunteers will work with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment to help save the indigenous and endangered Grand Cayman Blue Iguana. Tasks include feeding the animals, assisting with the shelter and using GPS to help track the iguanas.

Zarco, the iguana pictured above, also has an inspirational success story. He was the first male Blue Iguana adopted by the hotel, through their relationship with the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. As an alpha male in the park, he bred with many females, and was successfully released back into his native habitat last year.

The project is available from November through August, for groups as small as two and as large as 15. A fee of $100 per adult, and $50 per child aged 12-15 covers transportation to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, and a donation to the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. Room rates start at $383.20 per night. Click here to book.

volunteerSandals Resorts
Caribbean

To help improve literacy in local children, Sandals Resorts is featuring a Reading Road Trip program. Guests of any Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts or Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts can take part. The program lasts for two hours, and takes volunteers in local Caribbean communities to visit adopted schools in Saint Lucia, Antigua, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos or Jamaica to work with small groups of children on their reading skills.

The cost to participate is $20 for adults, and free for children 8 to 12. This includes round-trip transportation and all supplies. Click here for more information, and click here to book.

Hilton launches “Authentically Local” programs in the Caribbean and Latin America

Can a mega-corporate hospitality chain with 3,750 hotels provide authentic local experiences to travelers? Select Hilton Worldwide hotels are giving it a shot with the just announced “Authentically Local” packages. Available through the end of the year in the Caribbean and Latin America, the packages are aimed at introducing travelers to local cultures and languages through experiences such as dinners featuring local flavors, dance lessons in the local style, destination and tour suggestions hand-picked by locals, and more. There is even the opportunity for hotel guests to choose wearing a “language immersion pin” that identifies them as someone hotel employees will only speak to in the local language.

Options under the new package include tasting conch at the British Colonial Hilton Nassau in the Bahamas, learning rumba at the Hilton Cartagena in Colombia, snorkelling in the clear waters at the Hilton Curaçao off the coast of Venezuela, or touring the Mercado Municipal when staying at the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi in Brazil. The hotel chain also says culture consultants will be avialable at each participating property (full list after the jump) to help guests learn about the most celebrated experiences in the destinations.

So, is Hilton’s new initiative to help travelers partake in authentic experiences when staying at their hotels a way the chain is reaching out to the community, or is it just a marketing ploy? It could go either way, but no matter what it’s nice to see more travelers will be learning about local cultures.PS. For those interested, the “Authentically Local” package is being offered at the following locations: Hilton Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hilton São Paulo Morumbi, Brazil; Hilton Belem, Brazil; Hilton Bogota, Colombia; Hilton Cartagena, Colombia; Hilton Garden Inn Santiago Airport, Chile; Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort; Hilton Mexico City Reforma; Hilton Villahermosa & Conference Center, Mexico; Hilton Garden Inn Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico; Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa; DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Central Pacific – Costa Rica; DoubleTree Cariari by Hilton San Jose, Costa Rica; British Colonial Hilton Nassau, The Bahamas; Hilton Barbados Resort; Hilton Curaçao; Hilton Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.

[Photo: Man selling conch shells in Nassau, Bahamas by Libby Zay]

The world’s most ethical tourism destinations

ethical tourism destinationsEach year, non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of the world’s developing nations, analyzing their progress toward promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and developing a sustainable tourism industry. The study, run by Ethical Traveler’s all-volunteer staff, factors in country scores from databases like Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the World Bank, then dives into actions that governments have taken to improve circumstances within their countries in the previous year.

The top countries are celebrated in Ethical Traveler’s annual list of the Developing World’s Best Ethical Tourism Destinations, with the hope that increased tourism will help those countries continue to improve. “Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change,” they say. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel is a net positive for the planet. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our role as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

This year’s list includes Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau, Serbia, and Uruguay. Explore these countries more in the slideshow below.

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[Flickr image via Lisandro M. Enrique]

Planning a trip to the United States? Get that visa first

Planning a trip to the United StatesProbably one of the most heart-breaking stories we hear is that of travelers who have done their homework, planned their travels well with the exception that they forgot all about a visa that may be required for entry to a country they are visiting. It’s easy enough to check at various websites including the U.S. Department of State’s site that lists worldwide entry requirements. Still, travelers planning a trip to the United States are getting bad news and don’t have a lot of options.

In a text book case of why obtaining a visa before booking travel is important, close-by Bahamian travelers planning to visit the United States for a cruise are having problems.

U.S. Embassy visa officer Kyle Hatcher told the Tribune that while the embassy sympathizes with the cruise ship passengers, it is not a priority at this time.

“I understand what they are going through, but it is the responsibility of the individual to make their appointment well ahead of their trip” said Hatcher.

Last week, the embassy said due to the large number of students attempting to go back to school in the next two months, college students will get first priority when it comes to visas.

“I understand that students need to go to school but just like they are telling me I should have applied early, they need to tell them to do the same.” said one traveler asking “Who is going to give me the money back I spent to go on my cruise?”

Well, nobody is.

Having the required documentation for entry to countries on a cruise itinerary is solidly the responsibility of the passenger and those without it will be denied boarding, if they make it to the embarkation port at all.

“We have made every effort to inform the public to apply as early as possible. We also encouraged people not to book a trip before you get your visa” said Hatcher adding “You can still apply for your visa but you won’t get a date until the end of September.”

Expedited visas are available but only to certain groups of people including applicants with urgent medical treatment needs, those attending the funeral of a close relative, students, exchange visitors, applicants claiming urgent business travel and temporary workers.

Flickr photo by Thomas Claveirole

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