Browsing Posts tagged India travel

Italy travel Carrara

Sometimes editor types joke about the “three I’s of travel” that grace so many magazine covers: Italy, Ireland, and India. They’re photogenic, look exotic, and have nice luxury hotels with ad money to spend. You’ll rarely find a travel magazine that goes a whole 12 months without one of the three on a cover.

In the current issue of Perceptive Travel, we subbed in Iceland for Ireland. (Don’t worry, you can still find the latter plenty of places on our blog.) Iceland is also photogenic, can look exotic, and has some nice hotels. As usual though, we don’t tick off places you’ve already seen a hundred times before. We like to take the road less traveled. In this case we’re literally on the road with Luke Armstrong as he tries to learn how to drive a stick shift on the fly. In a van. Going across Iceland in the “crazy season.” See Learning to Drive a Dinosaur in Iceland.

We also have a story about Italy, but toss out your expectations because Debi Goodwin is not going to check anything off your bucket list. This place was on hers though: the Italian marble quarries of Carrara.

Old Delhi

We had a story in the past on how the “Incredible India” portrayed in ads and glossy travel stories is like an alternate universe to the Slumdog Millionaire reality that non-luxury travelers see every day. Being sheltered from the grinding poverty is next to impossible if you go for a walk though, as Jim Johnston finds out in Hunger and Privilege: Dinner in Old Delhi.

As always we run down some world music worth listening to, from a globalFEST compilation to classical music with a Turkish twinge, through the ears of Laurence Mitchell.

Susan Griffith reviews three new travel books: one from a legend, one from a shipping industry reporter, and one from…well, you decide.

Need some new travel shoes?

We give away something cool to one of our loyal Perceptive Travel readers each month and last time Jack P. from Florida scored a nice $139 daypack from Granite Gear. In April we’re setting someone from the USA up with a nice $90 pair summer travel shoes: the H2O Escape Bungee Sneaker from Sperry Topsiders.

To win, you could follow PT on Facebook and pay close attention. The better bet is to sign up for the monthly e-mail newsletter.

Argentina travel

Why did you leave me all these pesos instead of dollars?”

Getting ready to travel somewhere for a few weeks or months of independent travel? If you want a great value, put these countries on your short list:





Why these? Not because of their “friendly locals,” “charming towns” or “pristine beaches,” yada yada yada. And not because they’re a hot destination this year. You should go if you like to get a lot more for you money there than you did in the past. If you like traveling well while spending less than you do just existing at home, a plunging exchange rate is a surefire ticket to savings.

Most travelers approach exchange rates backwards. They don’t even think about them until they get to where they’re going, then fret about how everything is more expensive than they expected. It makes a lot more sense to see where your timing will be right and go there. Heck, even if you’re going somewhere expensive this makes sense: the pain of Canada, Japan, or Australia stings about 10% less right now than it did a year or two ago.

Argentina’s Pain, Your Gain

I took Argentina out of the last edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations because high inflation, high import duties, and a slew of nutty economic policies were making it an unfriendly place for tourists. You’ll still face a hefty visa cost before you even exit the airport if you’re American and there’s still a crazy small limit on how much you can take out of an ATM each day. If you arrive with U.S. dollar wads in your pocket though, you are going to tango your way across the land in much better shape than even just a few weeks ago.

That’s because the peso has plunged badly for a whole host of reasons and the government’s injection of $115 million to buy up pesos isn’t helping much. Here’s how Reuters put it:

“The local currency weakened on the black market to 12.15 pesos per U.S. dollar, while the official exchange rate was unchanged at 8 per dollar in thin trading. Last week, the official peso slid nearly 20 percent as investors scrambled to make sense of the new currency regime.”

rupee decline

India’s Rupee in Decline

Two years ago this month, a dollar got you 50 Indian rupees. Today it gets you 62. That’s a 24% increase in what you get for your money. And you could already get a lot.

The government is intervening to try to keep this figure from falling further, mostly by raising interest rates. Who knows how well that will hold or not. But if you’re already planning on going there, happy days are ahead. (If you were going to Nepal, you’ll also get more for your money there, in what’s already probably the cheapest destination in the world. As the Indian rupee goes, so does Nepal’s currency.)

Let me take you to Indonesia

Two years ago a buck got you 9,000 rupiah. Today that same greenback will get you around 12,000. For those of you who flunked math class, that’s a 1/3 increase in your purchasing power. Maybe not in a chic Bali resort priced in dollars, but you weren’t planning on doing that anyway, right?

Indonesia was already one of the world’s best bargains, especially as soon as you leave Bali and head anywhere else. Yes, the country is getting wealthier and the middle class is rising fast—thus the horrible traffic jams in Jakarta—but if you stroll in with an ATM card linked to a bank account in a country that uses the US dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, euro, or yen, you’ll be feeling flush. Head to Sumatra and you can check out for months on a couple grand.

Unfortunately, the flight price is going to kill you for any of these if you’re coming from the USA or Canada, so it’s better if you’re already on the move and can get there from somewhere closer. At this time of year it’s hard to find a flight to any of the three for under $1,000, so sometimes you’re better off with a package deal that includes hotels.

Which leads us to the backyard choice:


Mexico, Mexico!

I guess I moved back to Mexico at a good time. The exchange rate hasn’t dipped below 12 to the dollar since I got here this past summer and it just hit a new high of 13.3 when I took money out of the ATM yesterday. That means my “What you can get for a buck or less” list keeps expanding. Here’s a partial list

Two kilos of oranges or bananas, a large beer in a store, 12 ounces of fresh squeezed orange juice, a kilo of fresh tortillas, 2+ local bus rides, a few street tacos, a bootleg DVD, an ice cream cone or fresh fruit popsicle, a tamale, four breakfast buns, four sandwich rolls, y mucho mas,

A cheap meal of the day lunch in the market here is 30 pesos, which is now less than $2.50. A taxi from one side of Guanajuato to the other is less than $3. The average museum admission is $2 or less. As I always say though, those are prices in the real Mexico, not Cancun or Los Cabos.

Check flight prices here and go!

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As we head toward the end of 2013, here’s what’s going on in some of the cheapest places to travel in the world.

Political troubles in Thailand never seem to go away for very long. The Thai prime minister just asked the monarchy to dissolve parliament after weeks of street protests in Bangkok and the whole opposition party resigning en masse to protest the legitimacy of the prime minister. Read more here, but be advised, it’s complicated…

Honduras had an election last month, but the outcome is still up in the air. Officially the ruling party candidate won, but there are plenty of fraud accusations and there have been regular protest marches. A recount is going on now to see if the 37% to 29% victory by Hernandez will hold up. If you’re traveling there, avoid the capital—which is actually a good idea anyway as its one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America.

India just had an election too and it doesn’t bode well for the ruling party for a larger one coming up in May. That might not be the best month to visit as there is a lot of anger in the streets over rising prices and poor infrastructure. This is a great time to visit overall though if you’re coming in with hard currency. Here’s how the exchange rate has gone against the US dollar since this time three years ago:

India travel

The chart looks almost identical for Nepal, where you can now get almost 100 Nepalese rupee for one US dollar. Meanwhile, the world’s oldest Buddhist shrine was discovered in Lumbini, Nepal recently and it suggests Buddha was born 300 years earlier than previously thought, about 600 years before Christ.

Egypt is still a police state, but some travelers report that the country is functioning much better than it was after the Muslim Brotherhood took over. There was some rare good news on the human rights front recently as female protestors that had received long jail sentences were released after an international outcry. Meanwhile, train service between Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan resumed last month, but the country’s deputy chief of the railways has been suspended from traveling out of the country after a crash in Giza killed 30 people.

Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria saw protests every week in November, with police clashing with students demanding political reform and an end to corruption. This is no fringe movement though: polls show more than 2/3 of the people in the country are behind them, leaving the government forces in a tricky minority.


New 7 Wonders Mexico

So I was just at both Chichen Itza and Uxmal in the Yucatan state of Mexico this past weekend and noticed that the price had gone up since last time I was there. There were actually new numbers pasted over the old ones.

Getting into either—the first one of the “new 7 wonders of the world,” the latter a more interesting and authentic experience (in my opinion)—will now cost you 182 pesos. At current exchange rates that’s less than $15. In the big scheme of admission prices to famous tourism sites around the world, you could actually call that a bargain. If you spend the night nearby Chichen Itza and go to the sound and light show, you only pay about $6 and you can still see most of the structures. Without all those Cancun day-trippers and all the vendors.

How does this compare to other “new 7 wonders?”

Entrance fee Machu PIcchu Peru

Well let’s look at Machu Picchu, the other major historic site from a grand civilization in Latin America. This transaction gets more complicated each year, with the site taking its cues from the U.S. airline industry. The base rate is around $46 now, paid in advance when reserving, but you’ll pay more to climb an adjoining mountain or visit the museum.

Across the ocean to Asia, Ankor Wat in Cambodia is a better deal, though you could argue it’s capable of hosting a lot more visitors each day than fragile Machu Picchu perched on a mountain. Admission is $20 for one day, $40 for three days, or $60 for a week. Considering how extensive the Angkor complex is and how many sites there are to see, it’s worth going for more time and $40 is a bargain for a place so stupendous.

Angkor Cambodia

To put Angkor in perspective, it’s about the same price for one day as the Colosseum in Rome. I don’t think you’ll want to spend eight hours there…

The Taj Mahal costs Indians next to nothing, but foreigners brave the touts of Agra to get to the entrance gate and pay 750 rupees. Due to a falling rupee though, that’s currently only about $12. A lot in Indian terms, but still a screaming bargain on the international tourism stage.

SePetra admission price Jordaneing the Great Wall of China in the most popular section will set you back about $20 if you take the cable car both ways. Less in other sections.

Which brings us to the most expensive site: Petra. I’ve talked before about how a one-day visit to Petra can end up costing more than Disney World. It’s also out of whack compared to the other sites on this list. Or really any site I can think of on the planet if you remove transportation costs. A one-day pass starts at $70 and goes up substantially if you add on a second and third day. They really sucker-punch the visitors who don’t spend the night though, penalizing them to the point where it’s $127. No, that’s not a typo! Anyone coming on a tour from Israel or a Red Sea cruise ship is paying that amount for a few hours in the ruins.

Jordan is a good travel value—but not this part. The experience is not as good as it used to be either, with part of that admission including a mandatory horse ride that’s just silly for able-bodied people who want to arrive on their own two feet.

How much is it to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio? Who cares. It should have never made the list.

Beyond the 7 new wonders, what sites have you found to be a bargain or a terrible value?


The tram to Taksim Square – on a normal day.

As we’ve seen in Turkey this week, a place that’s relatively calm, peaceful, and stable one week can see all hell break loose the next.

So how do you decide if you should change your travel plans or just adjust them to avoid the trouble spots? How do you answer the question, Should I stay or should I go now? The key is to figure out how localized the problem is and how easily it can be avoided.

Is this for real?

Usually you have to ask yourself two questions: “How bad is it really?” and “How widespread is the problem?”

I shouldn’t have to tell you that American TV news is downright horrible. You’ve got four 24-hour news networks (and a few others from abroad) all trying to beat each other out in the ratings by being louder, more sensationalist, and more “of the moment” than the rest. It’s a clown in a business suit: entertainment packaged as news.

By it’s very nature, 24-hour TV news is focused on the story of the day, the more outrageous and powerful the better. What’s going to make you tune in and keep watching? Usually disasters, tragedies, and violence. So if there are protests in the street somewhere, that’s going to be at the top of the hour. If a pretty young woman gets raped in some scary foreign country like India, that’s next. (If she gets raped in the USA, of course, that’s not news unless it’s part of a long-term abduction or something really horrific happens.)

Istanbul travel danger

Taksim Square in Istanbul lately. (Flickr photo by Will Cowan)

Anger in the Streets

We’ve seen a lot of riots in the streets every year I can remember, going back to when I was a little kid and my parents had the one hour of news on. They’ll still be happening long after I’m dead. Things reach a boiling point, angry people organize, and there are clashes between protesters and police. Sometimes it’s a revolution and the government goes down. Other times there’s either a nasty crackdown or some kind of negotiated settlement. Or it just plays itself out and fizzles.

For travelers, if it’s localized in one place, as it mostly was in Bangkok a few years ago and in Egypt after that, then you don’t have much to worry about. Away from the epicenter, life goes on as usual.

Other times the upheaval is part of a nationwide explosion of anger or desire for change, the kinds of protests that bring down the iron curtain or turn a country we formerly got along with into one that paints giant Death to America murals everywhere. That’s if they succeed. If they don’t you get a violent tit-for-tat or just violent oppression. The first gives us Syria, the second may be what we get in Turkey if things continue on the present course. Neither is a good outcome if you’re there.

Current news verdict: Yellow alert. If I were in Turkey now, as I was just a month ago, as a backpacker I’d either get out or head somewhere mellow, far away from the big cities. It could get worse before it gets better. The power-grabbing prime minister is not known for compromise and is saying plans to pave paradise and put up a shopping mall will move forward. That was the spark (well, and strict new alcohol rules) that started the whole powder keg…

A High-profile Crime Against a Tourist

The news media loves nothing better than a pretty young woman who has been a crime victim in a scary foreign land. It makes for good films, good books, and yes, good cable news stories. That narrative taps into so many emotional triggers the producers probably get downright giddy when this comes down the newswires.

Recently a woman was raped by three Indian men in a popular area for backpackers between Vashist and Manali while hitchhiking. Alone. In the wee hours after midnight. That’s not a bright thing to do many places on this planet, but India’s not getting any slack since this is on top of a string of other similar high-profile incidents. Still, if this happened in the USA though, where there are some 200,000 reported incidents a year, nobody would have heard about it. Especially if she were not traveling.

Tourism was reportedly already down by 1/3 among women before this happened, so it’s going to add insult to injury. Any woman who’s been groped for weeks on end in India will probably say, “Good, they deserve it.”

I’d say it’s part of a much larger issue of religious sexual oppression that exists across huge swaths of the world. Are there any quick fixes for that? I doubt it. But they can try.

Current news verdict: It’s your call. India has always been a tough place for any woman to travel. I stayed in a hostel with a woman that had been raped two days before when I was first there, and this was 18 years ago. Things haven’t gotten much better. The risk is real, but millions of women have traveled India alone without more than annoyance and frustration. As a BBC story on this case says (italics mine), “Reported cases of sexual assault are on the rise in India, although foreign tourists are rarely targeted.”

travel plans spoiled

Budapest this week. (Flickr photo by Jonk)

Natural Disasters

Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York City, tornadoes in the midwest USA, and now serious floods in Central Europe. One act of God can ruin your whole trip—especially if the fine print on your travel insurance says they don’t cover “acts of God” (true verbage sometimes) or “natural disasters.”

The floods hitting Europe right now are serious business and they are having an impact on the following popular tourist destinations: Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Plus a bunch of cities in Germany along the Rhine. River cruise boats are docked, with all those passengers up the high creek.

Sometimes the news is overblown: a tornado often only hits a small specific area. It sucks if you’re there, but fine a mile away. Floodwaters are relatively easy to track on a map. Hurricanes are a different story, as are earthquakes and tsunamis nobody saw coming.

Travel verdict: Take your financial lumps and get out. Unless you want to stick around and help. Nobody has time to take care of the tourists, so you’ll need to become a volunteer.

Crime Waves (and War Zones)

There’s seldom any such thing as a crime wave. It’s usually been rising for years, but suddenly people wake up when it makes the news.

Then those viewers have veerrrrryy long memories. It was two decades ago when Mexico City taxicab abductions last happened regularly. More than a decade since Medellin wasn’t safe to walk around at night. Croatia hasn’t been at war since 1995.

In some places though, the violence is a very real threat. The key is knowing where that threat comes from. Guatemala City and Caracas are not places you want to go partying at night if you have a choice. Same for the two main cities in Honduras. Or the border towns/cities in Mexico. But does this mean you shouldn’t go to see the ruins of Tikal, Uxmal, or Copan? Of course not—one has little to do with the other, just as Santa Fe’s homicide rate has nothing to do with the one in New Orleans.

Travel verdict: get the real story. Most crime stories are overblown, but some are not. You only know by doing some real research. You won’t find me spending the night in Tegucigalpa, Ciudad Juarez, or northern Nigeria anytime soon. Go an hour or two away, however, and it’s a different story. Crime is local—where you live and where you’re going.