Report: See Machu Picchu now

http://wapo.st/2rEowcQ?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.b497a1381c25

Add Mexico City to the A-list

Ask people in Mexico City and they invariably tell you it’s the world’s second largest city with 36 million inhabitants, second only to Shanghai’s 42 million. Of course, I have no way of independently verifying this, but a Google search reveals that the population is much lower and Mexico City isn’t second. In any event, the place is huge.

Such a huge city has its share of traffic problems and pollution can get very bad. But on the June weekend when I visited, it was sweater cool and the skies were very blue. Situated in a bowl surrounded by mountains, I can see how the pollution can vary. But its elevation usually makes the climate mild, despite the erroneous mythology to the contrary. Traffic, alas, is definitely a problem. I suggest you don’t drive in Mexico City.

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Be a Space Cadet!

 Huntsville, Ala. is Space City, USA. Houston monitors the astronauts. Huntsville controls all the science in space. It’s an amazing place; definitely worth a visit! For me, I can relive my youth when space flight was new and exciting.

The numerous space engineers and even common folk living around Huntsville can rattle off the names of the various rockets used throughout the program. At the U.S. Space & Rocket Center everyone can see for themselves the progression of sizes and impressive increasing power of successive rockets, even if they don’t know the specific rocket names.

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Zika poo

          The Zika mosquito is worth worrying about. It can cause a terrible human toll. Full disclosure: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contacted me and other travel writers to get the word out about this underappreciated threat.

Zika is a disease that is spread by the bite of a mosquito. If you get the disease, your symptoms may be so mild that you won’t even realize you have it. However, if bitten during pregnancy, the disease can spread to the fetus and cause birth defects. The fetus can be infected even by a mother that has no symptoms. Those with symptoms may experience fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes that last for about a week.

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Swoon at the Blue Lagoon

No visit to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to the nearby Blue Lagoon. In fact, it’s only 20 minutes from the international airport, so a long stopover is all it really takes to see it. Buses run by Reykjavik Expeditions connect the Blue Lagoon to the airport directly.

An entrance to the Blue Lagoon can be purchased with this transport included. Whenever you plan to go, you have to book in advance because the place is constantly sold-out way ahead.

The Icelandic owner of this spot has seen it become so successful that he is expanding, adding capacity and an attached hotel.

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Hot Huntsville

                                                     Early Masonic lodge in Huntsville

Huntsville is hot. No, it’s a super nova! Known as Space City for its marvelous museum focused on the US space program and associated “space camp’ (more in a future article), Huntsville, in far northern Alabama (close to Tennessee), is a great destination for a family vacation.

When Huntsville was designated the site of a convention I attended, my first reaction was “Why Huntsville?” But Huntsville offers a lot. In 1950 the city was tiny, but then it became the center of rocket development for the US. Engineers poured in, and today the city has the highest number of engineers per capita than anywhere in the US. Forbes lists Huntsville in the top 10 smartest communities in the world. These smart people have been very proactive in converting a sleepy Southern town into a fantastic city.

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To Know Cuba, Leave Havana

Most tourists who visit Cuba see either Havana or a nearby tourist beach, and nothing more. While Havana is an interesting, bustling, international city, it does not represent Cuba. And the beaches visited by most tourists are all-inclusive resorts off limits to most Cubans. They serve very mediocre Cuban food with culture delivered in contrived shows.

Back-roading in Cuba isn’t easy if you want to do it like a Cuban might. That is because the buses are crowded and uncomfortable, although very cheap. They accept the local currency, the peso, only. Most visitors to Cuba will never see a peso because Cuba has a second currency for tourists, the Cuban Convertible Currency or CUC.

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Magnificent but Remote Panama Beaches

People often visit Panama but only see Panama City which does not have nice beaches. But leave Panama City and there are very nice beaches tucked away in hard to access places. Many people make a tradeoff of quality for accessibility. Some do it without knowing the options. So here’s the lowdown.

In Panama City itself, two beaches are worth a mention — Veracruz beach and Playa Bonita. Both are on the banks of the Canal and neither are particularly good. About two hours away by fast ferry are the beautiful beaches of Contadora. Still most tourists drive to the beaches around Playa Blanca (about one and one-half hours west of Panama City) because of their all-inclusive hotels. The beaches are not ideal due to strong undercurrents and cold Pacific waters.

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Hot Time in Iceland

With no preconceived notions about Iceland and lured by a cheap flight, I headed to where the summers are short and daylight can last most of the day.

A newbie to international travel? Iceland is an excellent place to start adventuring. With its combination of Danish and Nordic influences, the carefree but enterprising spirit of the Danes and the mild manner of the Norse combine to deliver small town charm in a chic metropolitan capital.

Beginning in 2010, when a volcanic eruption near Reykjavik shut down surrounding air traffic as far away as London for several weeks, people have wanted to see what Iceland is about. Tourism boomed. The infrastructure is excellent. Booking a trip to anywhere you want to go through one of many suppliers at nearly any travel desk is easy. The trips will almost always include pick-up and drop-off wherever you are staying.

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Third World Resort at a Third the Price

 I’m thinking I need to return to Cienfuegos, Cuba. I originally visited as part of a back roads trip to Cuba to experience the country outside Havana and the popular beaches.

I came away impressed with everything about Cienfuegos, and I know it would offer even more on my next trip.

I stayed in a private home, part of the casas particulares network of private places to stay in Cuba. Private enterprise has taken hold. Cubans have learned that they can make a lot more money privately renting rooms in their homes than they can working for the state, the only alternative to private entrepreneurship.

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