Trinidad And Tobago Host Celebrations, Beautiful Beaches

trinidad and tabago

The dual-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just off the north coast of South America, offers a distinct blend of culture, eclectic cuisine and an assortment of eco-adventure activities. Celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom throughout 2012, two special events coming up in November highlight why Trinidad and Tobago is also known as the cultural capital of the Caribbean.

During Diwali, a festival of lights that happens on November 13, small clay lamps are filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil and kept on during the night. Firecrackers drive away evil spirits and everyone wears new clothes.

Diwali is celebrated around the world by a number of cultures and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

The Hosay Festival on November 24, began as a religious festival but is now more of an ethnic pageant.

In Trinidad, Hosay is a chance for artisans to take to the streets with their skills and handiwork prominently displayed, reminding Trinidadians and tourists alike that East Indians and Muslims form a vital part of Trinidad’s cultural fabric.

Trinidad and Tobago feature secluded beaches, quaint villages, private villas and award-winning eco-attractions that include the Main Ridge Rainforest, the oldest protected reserve in the world and the six-time award winner for World’s Leading Ecotourism Destination.

Some of the top beaches in the country are found at Maracas Bay and Blanchisseuse, on Trinidad’s north coast. On Tobago, great beaches include Pigeon Point Beach, considered Tobago’s most beautiful beach. Also called Pigeon Point Heritage Park, the area features excellent beach facilities and beach chair rentals as well as bars and a restaurant.


Trinidad and Tobago also offer a number of adventure opportunities. Hiking, biking, kayaking and cave exploration top the list with something for all ages and abilities. Rainforest hiking trails, limestone caves, hidden waterfalls, cycling through lush island countryside or kayaking past wildlife filled mangrove forests make Trinidad and Tobago a favorite of travelers from around the world.

[Photo Credit: Flickr User TaranRampersad]

10 countries Americans need advance visas to visit

advance visaWe live in an increasingly borderless world and we have access to many countries that were closed (or non-existent) 20 years ago. As reported earlier this week, Americans are especially lucky with access to 169 countries visa free. Still, there are still many countries that Americans need advance visas to visit. Visa applications and processing services can cost several hundreds of dollars and take a lot of time and energy to obtain, so figure in that into your travel planning but don’t let it discourage you from visiting.

Nearly all countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Western Europe, and the Middle East will give you a visa free or for a fee on arrival. See below for our guide to countries you will need to apply for advance visas, along with fees, useful information and links to consular websites.
Asia

  • China: US citizens pay $130 for tourist visas, single- or multiple-entry up to 24 months from date of application. Keep in mind a trip to Hong Kong or Macau counts as an exit from China, so plan on a multiple-entry visa if you’ll be in and out. You’ll need to send your actual passport in for processing and ideally plan 1-2 months in advance of travel.
  • India: Fees from visa contractor Travisa start at $50 and visas can be valid for up to 10 years, but note that you must have a gap of at least 2 months between entries.
  • Vietnam: Single-entry visas start at $70 and multiple-entry visas are valid for up to one year. Another option for Americans is a single-entry visa on arrival, apply online and pay another stamping fee at the airport.
  • North Korea: Not an easy one for Americans as there are no consular relations between the two countries, but it is possible if you go through a specialist travel agency such as New Korea Tours and realize you’ll be visiting only on a highly-restricted and guided group tour. Note that you’ll have to go through China, requiring another visa of course!
  • See also: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan

Eurasia

  • Russia: Russian visa rules are quite strict and complicated, so you’ll need to have a solid itinerary set up before you apply as visas are valid for specific dates and not extendable. You’ll need a sponsorship for your visa, typically provided by your hotel or tour operator for a small fee, and you’ll register your visas once in the country. Fees start at $140 and applications should now be filled out online. Tourist visas are generally only valid for two weeks and even if you are just traveling through Russia, you’ll need a transit visa.
  • Belarus: Similar to Russian rules, a letter of invitation must be provided from an official travel agency in order to get a visa. You also have to show proof of medical insurance and financial means (about $15 USD/day, can be demonstrated with credit cards or paid travel arrangements). Tourist visas start at $140 and $100 for transit visas. Gadling writer Alex Robertson Textor is currently planning a trip, stay tuned for his report next month.
  • Azerbaijan: The country changed its visa policy last year, and now Americans must obtain an advance visa. You’ll need an invitation from an Azerbaijan travel agency, then a tourist visa costs $20 and takes 10 business days to process. Transit visas don’t require an invitation letter but should still be obtained in advance of travel.
  • See also: Turkmenistan

Other

  • Australia: Getting a tourist visa is simple and cheap ($20). Apply online at any point in advance and you’ll be verified at the airport. Valid for as many entries as needed for 12 months from date of application.
  • Brazil: Tourist visas are $140 plus $20 if you apply by mail or through an agency. If you are self-employed or jobless, you’ll need to provide a bank account balance, and all applications should include a copy of your round trip tickets or other travel itinerary.
  • Iran: There’s a current travel warning from the US state department, but Rick Steves is a fan of the country and several reputable travel agencies provide tours for Americans. The US consulate notes that some Americans with visas have been turned away, so your best bet is to visit with a group.
  • See also: Nigeria, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Suriname

The good news for expats, students studying abroad, and other foreigners with residency is that many countries will allow you to apply in a country other than your home country for a visa. For example, I traveled to Russia from Turkey, getting my visa from a travel agency in Istanbul without sending my passport back to the US. Always check the US state department website for the latest visa information and entry requirements.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Thomas Claveirole.

The world’s top ten most desolate countries

most desolate


According to a Harvard study
, the earth’s population will hit seven billion humans in a few months. Earlier this summer, Gadling labs profiled the effects of increasing populations on finite land resources by showcasing the world’s most crowded islands. The earth is, in its own way, an island, and 21st century humanity will be presented with the challenge of adapting to rising population levels and static resources.

While countries like India have wrestled with the conundrum of feeding and housing booming population levels in Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the countries on this list bear no similarities to the billion strong Indian subcontinent. These countries are the ones with open space – lots of it. Countries like Greenland and Mongolia may someday be utilized for their vast expanses of open terrain, but today they are simply great places to go when you have tired of other human beings.

So while this extraordinarily hot summer may have included elbowing your way through thronged midtown Manhattan in 100 degree heat or hesitantly inhaling the stink rising off the sweaty crowd at Bonnaroo, this list is intended to take you way away from the crowds. From riding a horse through the empty steppes of Mongolia to exploring the glacial highlands of Iceland, each of these countries offers exercises in sweet sweet solitude. None of these countries have more than ten people per square mile.

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most desolate

10 Mauritania
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 3,069,000
Population density: 8.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Nouakchott International Airport
Primer: Mauritania is a sand swept country offering desolation and one of the lowest GDPs on the African continent. Even the well-traveled must consult an atlas to correctly place the country on their mental map. Heavily mined in the east with empty beaches in the West, the country is one of the least visited locations on the planet. Credit cards are not readily acceptable, rain is scarce, and desert covers over half of this one time French occupation. Throw in strained African/Arab relations and you get a very challenging country to visit.

most desolate

9 Suriname
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 491,989
Population density: 7.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: The Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport
Primer: Suriname is a whisper of a nation on South America‘s north-Atlantic coast. Most Surinamese call the coastal region home, and the interior of the country is an impenetrable rain-forest, inhabited by toucans, parrots, monkeys, deer, and the elusive cock-of-the-rock. 60% of Suriname residents speak Dutch with the rest speaking a collection of fourteen other languages, including Sranan Tongo – a creole dialect. Most tourists come to Suriname for the Amazonian rain-forest, though the northern beaches are surprisingly good — and empty.

most desolate

8 Iceland
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Population: 318,452
Population density: 7.5 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Keflavík International Airport
Primer: When multinational aluminum producer Alcoa decided to build a smelting plant in Iceland, they encountered an extraordinary problem. The Icelandic government required Alcoa to pay specialists to inspect and survey the proposed building site for elves, gnomes, trolls, and fairies – so called “hidden people.” The situation strained Alcoa’s management because paying specialists to search for “hidden people” seemed to be a bit of a boondoggle, especially from a shareholder point of view. But, Alcoa paid for the service. The intricate search process took six months. This is the type of place Iceland is – unique and folkloric, awkwardly straddling the modern and ancient worlds.

Iceland’s geographical diversity spans a wide range. From the fires of active volcanoes to glacial carved fjords, Iceland’s landscape provides a full suite of awe-inspiring natural features.

most desolate

7 Australia
Location: South Indian and Pacific Oceans
Population: 22,672,063
Population density: 7.3 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kingsford Smith Airport
Primer: Australia truly needs no introduction. Its inclusion on this list stems from the vast open quarter that consumes much of its central and western landmass. Roughly 80% of Australians live in the eastern states, and while Australia is one of the world’s largest countries geographically, the country’s entire population equals that of the Bangkok metropolitan area. This human sparseness is evident to those that venture into the country’s vast interior. As one of the most visited countries in the world, Australia boasts both open space and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Also: koala bears.

most desolate

6 Namibia
Location: Southern Africa
Population: 2,108,655
Population density: 6.6 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport
Primer: Namibia is home to an abandoned German mining town, the world’s oldest desert, lots of big cats, and an underground lake thought to be the largest on earth. The dunes of the 80 million year old Namib desert rise off of the desert floor like mountains, and cheetahs prowl the nation’s back-country, competing with lions and leopards for bush snacks. Throw in penguins, a 50 ton meteorite, and Ovambo tribesmen that oddly cling to the Lutheran religion, and it is easy to appreciate Namibia’s diverse offerings.

most desolate

5 French Guiana (France)
Location: Northeast South America
Population: 217,000
People per square mile: 6.2 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Cayenne – Rochambeau Airport
Primer: French Guiana is a throwback to the era of European imperialism. An overseas region of France, the country is the last South American country still considered to be part of Europe. It is almost entirely unsettled wilderness, and one of the most notorious prisons in the world was once located just offshore. The foreboding-sounding Devil’s Island housed a number of prisoners, including Clement Duval and Alfred Dreyfuss. Today, half of the population lives in the capital city of Cayenne, and many also live in the unlikely space-town of Kourou. The city of Kourou is the launch site for European Space Agency satellites. Space-related business accounts for 25% of French Guiana’s GDP and has been a boost to the local economy since Charles de Gaulle opened the space-travel base in 1964.

most desolate

4 Western Sahara
Location: Northwest Africa
Population: 513,000
People per square mile: 5 per square mile
Primary Airport: Hassan I Airport
Primer: Western Sahara, a disputed region in northern Africa, is perhaps the epitome of desolation. With a long coastline lacking credible beaches, a heavily mined military zone, and the topography of a vast arid desert, it is a moonish destination for sure. The temperatures soar during the day and plummet at night. Independent travel is commonly restricted in the region. Literacy is thought to be below 50%. Not exactly selling points, but for those with a taste for sandy adventure, a hatred of tourist hordes, or an interest in political conflict, Western Sahara may just be the country for you.

most desolate

3 Mongolia
Location: Central Asia
Population: 2,754,685
People per square mile: 4.56 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (Chinggis Khaan is the Mongolian name for Genghis Khan)
Primer: Mongolia is twice the size of Texas, but with less than three million humans and over sixty million heads of livestock. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is an old kingdom of master horseman and nomadic tribes. The mongols first appear in written history as barbarians who invaded China and prompted the construction of the Great Wall. Today, Mongolians are a welcoming bunch, and the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is stationary – it used to move three times per year.

most desolate

2 Falkland Islands (U.K)
Location:
South Atlantic Ocean
Population: 3,140
People per square mile: .65 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: RAF Mount Pleasant
Primer: With 2,400 people and 700,000 sheep, the Falkland Islands boast a rather robust sheep to human ratio. A storied past includes the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, as well as a series of various European occupations. Today, the sleepy chain of 200 islands is visited by expedition cruisers en route to Antarctica. The visitors to the remote island chain are able to observe five different species of penguin, as well as seals, whales, and a rare indigenous bird of prey – the Striated Caracara.

most desolate

1 Greenland (Denmark)
Location: North Atlantic
Population: 56,615
People per square mile: .069 humans per square mile
Primary Airport: Kangerlussuaq Airport
Primer: The Greenland misnomer hearkens back to the age of Erik the Red – a viking known for his issues with Norse law. Having been exiled from both Norway and Iceland, Erik came upon this hulking breast of an island further west. To entice future visitors, he coined the island Greenland, and it stuck. Many Nordic settlers moved to Greenland at his urging, probably stumped by its misleading name – 85% of Greenland is covered by a thick sheet of ice. Allegedly, the southern coastal region is actually very green, especially in the summer months. Last year, Gadling labs sent an explorer to the island to comment on its greenness. His findings? It is, in fact, quite green.

While the national dish of boiled seal meat may fail to conjure up a sudden urge to visit the Arctic island, the glacial cut fjords, polar bears, and colorful houses make visiting Greenland an extraordinary experience.

top flickr image via Atli Harðarson

The many languages of Suriname

If you’ve been following any of the recent language controversy in Philadelphia, you begin to see that a country’s language is a constantly evolving mix of the cultures, customs and the people who use it. Here at home, this interplay is at often work between our country’s de facto official language, English, and an increasingly populous minority of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Now imagine this same language debate among as many as ten languages, and you begin to get a picture of the small South American nation of Suriname as featured in this article.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America. Due to the country’s colonial heritage, the official language is Dutch. But continuous waves of immigrants have left a unique mark on the country’s language culture. This includes a recent influx Brazilians, who speak mostly Portuguese, a small population of Chinese-speakers from the Far East and Indonesian residents of Suriname who speak Javanese. Add to this mix a local language called Sranan Tongo, a dialect passed down from West Africa by many of the former colony’s African slaves, and local indigenous languages like Arawak and Carib. AND, on top of all this, politicians in Suriname are urging the government to adopt English or Spanish as the new national language, hoping to create closer ties to with neighboring countries. Sound confusing? I’m with you.

It remains to be seen how this complicated language issue will play out in Suriname, but it raises some interesting questions. What factors should determine a country’s official language? The U.S. for instance, will always speak English, but what concessions, if any, should be made as our country becomes increasingly multi-lingual? Should we base our decision on economic circumstances? Political? Cultural? It seems to me it’s some combination of the three. What do you think?

[Via the New York Times]