‘Tis the season for 2010 travel predictions

As the year comes to a close, it seems everyone is offering up their predictions for 2010 travel trends. Which destinations will be the new hot spots? Will the cost of airfare rise or fall? Will people travel or won’t they? As with every year, some predictions will be spot on. Others will just seem like the same ideas from last year dressed up with new names.

Rick Seany, CEO of FareCompare, centered his predictions around air travel. He says we can expect more a la carte pricing, fuel surcharges, and in-flight advertising. He also says deals will be much harder to find…but we’ve already seen some low fares for the first quarter of 2010, so let’s hope he’s wrong there.

TripAdvisor made predictions all across the board. The listed the destinations they think will grow in 2010, which included spots in Turkey, Mexico, Germany and Scotland, and made predictions about fees and traveler behavior patterns. For example, 22% of travelers expect to be more environmentally conscious about their travels next year.

Nile Guide’s 2010 predictions ranged from where we will go to how we’ll get the information to plan our trips. Having access to information on the go (via travel apps) will play a huge part in how we plan our travels. They also predict the availability of in flight wi-fi will continue to increase.

The Independent got in on the act too, with a travel forecast from Editor-in-Chief of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Julie Kinsman. Kinsman predicts more travelers will mix business with pleasure. That may be true, but do we really have to call it “bleisure?” She says “granny chic” (which may just be “shabby chic” recycled from the late 90’s) will be a popular decor style and that we’ll see more boutique B&Bs, luxury all-inclusives and eco-lux resorts in the coming year.

What are your travel predictions for 2010? Tell us in the comments.

In the Heart of Central America: Planning a wedding or honeymoon in Honduras

Imagine walking down a lush green aisle to a small open-air wooden structure where billowy white curtains frame a view of a valley spread below and blueish mountains in the distance. An intimate group of family and friends has gathered to watch you say your vows on this hilltop and after the ceremony, they’ll join you to celebrate as the sun sets and the lights of the village beneath you and the stars above begin to twinkle in the dark.

That fantasy, and several others, can come true in Honduras. Honduras is overlooked as a destination wedding or honeymoon spot, but the country offers just as many opportunities for romance as its Caribbean and Central American counterparts.

Whether you fancy yourself as a barefoot bride or want to go eco-chic, Honduras has a wedding locale for you. And because all-inclusive “wedding factory” resorts don’t exist here, brides can take comfort in knowing that their special day will indeed be special and private.

Those looking for an adventurous honeymoon in Honduras will find plenty of activities, like zip-lining, diving, horseback riding and white-water rafting here as well. Here are three location options to get you started planning a wedding or honeymoon in Honduras.

Hacienda San Lucas is situated on a hill just outside of the town of Copan Ruin as. From the hotel’s deck chairs, you can see the ruins of Copan and the town below. It’s a long walk from the Hacienda into town, but owner Flavia will arrange for pick up and drop off for guests. You can also hop into a moto-taxi for the $1 ride home.

The Hacienda was a labor of love, and it shows. Flavia was born in Honduras, but moved to Kentucky and lived there for three decades. She eventually returned home and took over the property that had been in her family’s name for a hundred years. It was in a sad state of disrepair, so Flavia set about restoring it piece by piece. As she says, she would sell one cow and have enough money to restore one wall. Another cow sold equaled another wall.

It was a long process, and by the time the renovation was complete, nearly ten years had passed, over 4000 native trees, including cacao and fruit trees, had been planted on the property, solar lighting had been installed in the rooms, and 50% of the employees were local Maya Chorti people, descendants of the indigenous Maya people.

When the resort first opened, it was just two rooms. Now it’s grown to eight rooms spread amongst three buildings. Rates for rooms that are basic but comfortable start at $125 for low season. Rooms don’t have A/C, TV, radios or telephones, but they do have hammocks and there is wi-fi at the main house. There’s also a restaurant where Flavia serves a four-course dinner ($30 per person) made of grown-onsite or locally purchased ingredients. Because she only buys as much as she needs each day, reservations are required.

On the night I dined by candlelight at Hacienda San Lucas, were were served a salad of cantaloupe and fresh cheese, a velvety cream of corn soup with chipilin flower and macadamia nut powder, and a rich creamy dish of chicken in lorocco (a native flower) sauce, baked in a corn husk and served with avocado and rice. For dessert: Kentucky rum cake. After tasting her delicious food, I could see why Flavia’s cooking retreats at the Hacienda were popular.

Hacienda San Lucas also has one feature that makes it perfect for a destination wedding. Gaia, the Hacienda’s yoga center (where Flavia also runs yoga retreats) is one of the most picture-perfect wedding locales I have ever seen. Perched at the top of a hill overlooking the whole valley of Copan, it feels incredibly intimate, romantic, and natural. As soon as I saw it, I told my husband that I’d found the spot where I’d someday like to renew our vows.

For couples who get married here, the planning couldn’t be easier – Flavia does it all. She’ll decorate Gaia and bring in chairs for guests (unless you want them to sit on pillows on the floor), arrange for flowers, a band, an officiant and a photographer.

Dinner will, of course, be served at the Hacienda restaurant. Afterward, guests can dance under the stars, relax with a view of Copan Ruins, or sit by the fire at the Hacienda’s firepit.

Rent out the whole place for your wedding, or just book a room for the bride and groom and then encourage guests to stay down in town. Flavia will arrange for round trip transportation for your party.

Pre- or post-wedding, spend a few days exploring Copan, venture off to visit an eco-lodge in La Ceiba or relax on the beaches of Roatan.

If getting married barefoot in the sand is more your style, head to Roatan, where resorts like eco-friendly Palmetto Bay Plantation allow you to get married on an empty beach on the shores of the Caribbean.

Divers looking for an intimate ceremony can say “I do” to their scuba sweetheart at Anthony’s Key. The resort will handle all details and offers several ceremony locations to choose from. The honeymoon package includes 7 nights accommodations, all meals, 3 dives per day, 2 night dives, all equipment, dolphin snorkel and open water dolphin dive, wine and flowers on arrival, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing and other excursions for $1789 per person.

La Ceiba
If you prefer a more traditional wedding reception but want a natural setting, try the Lodge at Pico Bonito, named for the mountain that rises over it. Rooms start at around $200 and there are 22 rooms onsite. Set on 400 acres of tropical rain forest, the resort is home to hundreds of species of birds, which you can see on guided hikes around the property. There are two nearby waterfalls for swimming and the resort features a restaurant, pool, butterfly house and serpentarium.

Rooms are wooden huts built on stilts. Clean, with soft beds and ceiling fans, each cabin has its own hammock for lazy afternoons.

The reception space is air conditioned, seats up to 200 guests, and serves dishes like coffee crusted beef medallions from the restaurant.

Spend your honeymoon days zip-lining through the jungle, white-water rafting, and wildlife viewing, or explore the rest of Honduras.

Requirements for getting married in Honduras
Most resorts will help you with the paperwork and provide an officiant for the ceremony. Generally the paperwork is due 14 days before the wedding will take place. You’ll need to provide a certified copy of your birth certificate, a certified copy of your police record and an affidavit of single status, as well as a valid passport.

If you’ve been married before, you’ll need a certified copy of either the divorce decree or your previous spouse’s death certificate. You’ll also need two non-related witnesses, who must have valid passports.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.

Harnessing Honduras: The Eco-lodge

Vacation lodging in Honduras is as varied as its landscape. One can splurge at a five star luxury hotel in the city, share bunks at a hostel in Utila or rent a cabana on the beach in Roatan. Each accommodation offers a different angle of Honduras highlighting a different experience. With the jungle close at hand, however, tourists are afforded a unique experience: they can stay in an eco lodge.

Halfway between living in luxury and roughing it in the jungle, eco lodges are the perfect way to experience the natural beauty of Honduras. Each green property is tailored around the landscape, immersing the visitor in the ecosystem and bonding them with nature.

Obviously this varies from property to property. Some lodges transplant standard, western rooms into the forest with air conditioning, dry wall and luxe amenities. In this sense, the term eco lodge is applied fairly loosely. Other lodges, however, use the bedroom to channel the energy of the lodge, from using aspects from the surrounding environment and culture to building the entire lodge in traditional Honduran architecture.

The Honduran Champa, like that at the Villas Pico Bonito is an excellent way to experience an eco lodge and immerse yourself in the Honduran jungle. Inside of the massive structure is a mixture of traditional and modern, with two bedrooms, bathrooms and a full outdoor kitchen with bar. Each bedroom is technically exposed to the outdoors, with traditional walls rising partially to the roof and open to the jungle temperature, sounds and bugs. To keep nature out, you sleep under a mosquito net and a ceiling fan.

In this sense, the eco lodge can act quite rustic, but unique features of each properties make them interesting. At the Villas Pico Bonito, for example, a giant infinity pool is below the residential champa, where you can wile you day away drinking pina coladas and surfing the wireless internet. Outside of that, you can walk down to the river, explore the grounds or hike on one of the numerous hiking trails in the Pico Bonito park. Could you get that at your local Holiday Inn?

If the eco lodge sounds like it’s up your alley, there are several options all over Honduras. In La Ceiba, The Villas Pico Bonito, Jungle Lodge and Las Cascadas Lodge are among the excellent choices, where prices range from 40 – 200USD per night.

Keep in mind, however, that an eco lodge is going to be pretty far off the beaten path, secluded and in the jungle. Be prepared to spend some significant time getting into the lodge and dealing with spiders. Rest assured that the time you invest is worth the wait.

Adventures in the Amazon: The Future of Travel in the Amazon

The Amazon River and the jungle that surrounds it, has always been one of those places that holds a certain sway over the imaginations of people the world over. It is a vast and unexplored wilderness that has yet to reveal all of its secrets and mysteries.We’re fascinated with tales of lost jungle tribes that have yet to be contacted by the outside world. We’re entranced by stories of giant anacondas, killer piranhas, and a ecosystem so large and powerful that it effects weather patterns across the globe.

Because of this global fascination with the region, adventure travelers have long made the Amazon one of their “must see” places, but it still remains under the radar for most travelers, even those going to South America. Tourism to the Amazon does not have a major impact on the economy there, with the exception of Manaus, Brazil, and to a lesser extent, Iquitos, Peru.

The Amazon Jungle touches parts of nine countries, most of which still have emerging economies that look to tourism to help spur their growth. As such, these countries are looking at ways to exploit the Amazon to lure in more visitors and enhance their appeal as a travel destination. That starts with building a better travel infrastructure and getting information out about what the Amazon has to offer. One of the biggest reasons there are so few visitors to the rainforest is because of the lack of reliable information and challenges toward planning a trip there.

%Gallery-63881%As we’ve become more aware of global climate change and the impact that man has had on the environment, we’ve come to recognize the importance of the Amazon basin to the Earth’s atmosphere. The jungle continues to be threatened by deforestation, losing an average of more than 14,000 square miles per year, mainly to loggers and farmers.

Fortunately, in the age of ecotourism and sustainable travel, the future of tourism in the Amazon looks bright. The various Amazon countries, eco-lodges, and tour operators now have a better understanding of what it takes to ensure that they not only protect the environments there, but also work more in harmony with them. They offer unique experiences to travelers, giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in an incredibly diverse biosphere like none other on Earth, and they do it while leaving as small of a footprint on the environment as possible.

This commitment to the environment was evident in my own journey through the Amazon, as we were continually reminded to gather our refuse and to make sure we left no trace of our passing. But on our last day of trekking in through the rainforest, my companions and I each planted a tree in the jungle, and took a vow to defend the rainforest. That vow may sound like a grand display for the tourists, but it was very clear that our guides took it seriously and had a deep concern for health of the Amazon as a whole.

One of the key elements of sustainable travel is that some of the money that we spend to visit these remote places goes directly to preserving those places as well. This concept has been highly successful in a number of countries and regions the world over, and it is becoming part of the process in the Amazon as well. As tourism ramps up, our dollars go to employ local guides and their support staff, as well as provide countries with incentive to designate large sections of the Amazon as protected areas, preserving it from deforestation and protecting the flora and fauna there as well.

With an established track record for being eco-conscious, and an existing plan for utilizing travel as a means for sustaining the environment, it seems that the future of travel to the Amazon is not only bright, but assured to be around for future generations to enjoy as well. The region has a lot of growth potential and while it will continue to be an adventure destination for the foreseeable future, it is becoming more accessible for travelers looking for a more relaxed travel experience as well.

Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE.

Adventures in the Amazon: Ecotourism in the Rainforest

One of the biggest buzzwords in travel in recent years has been “ecotourism”. The term is generally used to describe a type of travel that is designed to minimize the impact on the environments we are visiting and is often used in reference to fragile or seldom visited destinations. It was my experience during my journey through the Amazon that ecotourism wasn’t a buzzword at all, but actually an approach to sharing the environment that has been in practice there for years.

When I arrived in Iquitos at the start of my journey, I was told that tourism was a large part of the economy there, although as I walked the streets and visited the markets in that city, I rarely saw anyone that even remotely resembled a tourist. Leaving the city aboard La Turmalina meant leaving nearly all semblances of tourism behind, something I was a bit surprised to discover.

When I elected to take a river cruise on the Amazon, I suspected it would be much like the cruise I took on the Nile a few years back. On that river, there are literally dozens of ships at every turn, and when you pulled into port, they would line up three abreast. You had to cross through other boats just to go ashore. But in over a week on the Amazon, I saw only one other boat that was carrying tourists, and the river was decidedly uncrowded.

We did see several ecolodges as we moved about. Some were located right on the main channel, within easy reach of the Amazon River itself, while others were tucked away, deeper in the jungle. No matter the location though, they all shared a common theme, respect for the jungle and a sustainable approach to protecting it.

Built in the same style as the huts we saw lining the river, the lodges felt like they fit into the jungle both on an ecological and cultural level. Most of the bungalows were built on stilts and constructed in such a manner as to not endanger the plant life in the region. For instance, trees were not cleared to build these jungle retreats. Instead, they were built around the trees themselves, sometimes literally, with the trunks growing through the floor and continuing up, and out, the roof. It was clear at a glance that these resorts had been built with integration into the jungle environment in mind from the beginning.

Several lodges in the area offer canopy tours as part of their eco-friendly approach. These tours give travelers an opportunity to see the jungle from a whole new perspective, while at the same time protecting the environment. On a canopy tour, visitors to the lodge walk on rope bridges suspended high above the jungle floor and strung between two tall trees, sometimes hundreds of feet apart. The bridges can be forty or more feet in the air, keeping you well above the jungle floor, almost eliminating all impact on the environment.

I had the opportunity to walk one of these canopy tours on the morning after I had camped in the jungle. The bridges I crossed were not unlike something you would see in a B-action movie, swinging back and fourth precariously. Being agile on your feet helped to make things a bit easier, but not all of my traveling companions were comfortable with our little stroll amongst the leaves. Suspended 60 feet above the jungle floor, the bridges did indeed give us a new perspective however, while leaving zero impact on the environment around us. This was the very definition of ecotourism. In all, we crossed eight bridges, each connecting to a wooden platform built around one of the gigantic trees that grew out of the jungle. The last bridge gently angled back down to the surface, returning us to the muddy trail.

The eco-lodges of the Amazon do offer an alternate way to visit the jungle, with a completely different experience from the one that I had. While I spent the better part of a week and half aboard a river boat, cruising up and down the river and exploring its backwaters, a visit to an eco-lodge allows you to relax a bit more, while staying in one place, and still get an authentic rainforest experience. The best part is that at the end of the day you return to a comfortable bed and plenty of amenities.

From my personal experience there was a clear commitment at every turn to protect the environment and ensure that the Amazon stays healthy and strong for future generations to visit and marvel at as well. My traveling companions and I contributed to that effort be each of us planting small trees and giving a little something back to the rainforest, and although it felt like a small gesture at the time, it is also rewarding to think that that little sapling could one day be an integral part of the greatest biosphere on the planet.

Next: The Future of Tourism in the Amazon

Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE.