Have you been dreaming of traveling to a far-flung destination? Or perhaps you're tinkering with taking the kids on a local weekend away? Whether you're in the market for a vacation or a staycation, head for the LA Times Travel Show (www.LATimes.com/travelshow), which takes place today and tomorrow at the Los Angeles Convention Center (www.lacclink.com) With over one hundred California vacation vendors represented (www.visitcalifornia.com) and nearly one thousand international destinations, the LA Times Travel Show can't be beat for researching and deciding on your next travel destination.
The travel show features a vast array of cultural and travel-based programs, including speakers ranging like travel gurus Arthur Frommer and Rick Steves, and style aficionados Amanda Jones and Booth Moore. Whet your appetite at the Culinary Stage, featuring chefs creating international taste treats before your eyes, or the LA Times Tavel Show Cultural Stage, on which entertainers from around the world will perform (www.LATimes.com/travelshow/schedule). Children can frolic through the LA Times Travel Show Kids World, which includes a or roll across an indoor pond in a human hamster ball (www.thebubblerollers.com).
Splash recommends the following destination booths, which are sure to be hot vacation spots for the next several years.
Ecuador (www.ecuador.travel, booth 921)
While only the size of Nevada, Ecuador is considered one of the seventeen most ecologically diverse planets on earth, Ecuador recently won a top award from National Geographic Traveler Magazine for its efforts to increase sustainable ecotourism. The sheer scale of offerings from this small country boggles the mind: vast sun-swept Pacific beaches, the towering, snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains, the mystique of the Amazonian Rainforest and the wonder of the Galapagos Islands, where centuries ago a British naturalist named Charles Darwin devised a theory of evolution which remains controversial to this day. The idea of a combined trip to the Andes Mountains and the Galapagos Islands has my travel taste buds salivating.
Mexico (www.visitmexico.com, booth 1133)
Mexico's tourism industry recently triumphed over a year of bad press relating to the country's drug cartel violence, and emerged a strong favorite among American travelers. This writer was surprised that, in speaking with nearly a dozen American travel agents who regularly send clients to Mexico, none of them reported a single incident involving an American tourist. Mexico boasts thirty-seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any country in the world. The Mexico Tourism Board (www.visitmexico.com) has mapped out several thematic tours on its website, including the culinary Mole Route and the spirited Wine Route and Tequlia Route.
Travelers to Mexico in 2012 can choose from an array of inventive and timely special tours, including Mundo Maya, a series of cultural, astronomical and archaeological events based on the famous Mayan calendar, and a peninsular swing through to the states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan focused on UNESCO sites and ecological preserves.
Africa Safaris and Luxury Tours
The destination that most captured my attention, however, is one many Americans describe as a top dream trip: An African wildlife safari. I could barely tear myself away from the wildlife videos at Rhino Africa Safaris (www.rhinoafrica.com, booth 1635), Steady Safaris LTD (www.steadysafaris.com, booth 1633) and Serengeti Pride Safaris (www.serengetipridesafaris.com, booth 1641). I spoke at length with Africa expert Dave Herbert, founder of South Africa-based Great Safaris (www.greatsafaris.com), who told me excitedly about how train travel on the continent has grabbed steadily more attention among tourists in recent years. The legendary Blue Train between Cape Town and Johannesburg is billed as "the world's most luxurious train" because of the gold dust smelted into the window glass to reflect the sunlight. Another luxury train runs from Cape Town, South Africa to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in four round-trips weekly, currently running at one hundred percent capacity. And I was surprised to learn that a number of other countries, including Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya and even Uganda have made major infrastructure improvements and are seeing annual double-digit increases in Western tourists that are giving continental mainstay South Africa (www.southafrica.net, booth 1117) a run for its money.
If the above don't pique you're interest, this traveler can attest that any visit to India (www.incredibleindia.com, booth 1325), Thailand (www.tourismthailand.org, booth 1225), Israel (www.goisrael.com, booth 1506) and Jordan (www.visitjordan.com, booth 1619). Keep an eye out here for future in-depth articles about my experiences as an American who lived in these countries, as well as my trips through VietNam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Spain.