Matt, Meredith, Ann and Al went to the Ends of the Earth with full crews so they could share their experiences with you. But if their trips have inspired you to do some globe-trotting of your own, you can follow in their footsteps: Mark Orwoll, senior consulting editor of Travel + Leisure magazine, offers tip on how to plan your own vacation to Belize, Iceland, Australia and Mount Kilimanjaro.
There are nonstop flights from Dallas, Houston and Miami to Belize City Airport, where you can rent a car (Budget, National, etc.). From New York, airfare now is just under $600. From Chicago, just under $700.
When to goFrom November to April, the weather is perfect. You’ll probably want to avoid the wet season, from June to October.
Know before you go
No special vaccinations are required, but be sure your routine shots are up-to-date. Malaria is a slight risk. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention suggests travelers take the anti-malarial chloroquine. Or you can choose to use a bug repellent containing DEET, and in the jungle wear lightweight pants and long-sleeved shirts.
There are few public telephones along the highways, so be sure to pack an international phone or rent a cell phone at the airport in Belize City.
What to see and do
You’ll want to stay in Ambergris Caye, a laid-back island just off the coast from Belize City, with a nice selection of hotels. The Victoria House, a luxury resort there and part of the T+L 500, has rates as low as $155 a night and close to the island’s main town, San Pedro, where you’ll find dive operators to take you to the area’s top attractions: the Blue Hole and Shark-Ray Alley.
- The Blue Hole: Experienced divers shouldn’t miss a day trip to the famous Blue Hole, a nearly perfectly round sinkhole that's 1,000 feet in diameter and some 400 feet deep. You can do a day trip for around $250, including breakfast and lunch and scuba equipment.
- Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley Marine Reserve: A little closer to Ambergris Cay is a marine reserve called Hol Chan. Its highlight is a cut through the barrier reef, just 25 yards wide and 30 feet deep. As such it attracts an abundance of sea life traveling from the oceanside to the landside of the reef. That in turn has brought divers to this spot, making it one of the most popular dive sites in Belize. You will see an incredible amount of sea life, including nurse sharks and sting rays. Dive trips from Ambergris Cay cost as little as U.S. $50, including your equipment
Icelandair is offering a great deal now that includes airfare and two nights at a Reykjavik hotel for just $479 per person. Extra hotel nights are only about $50 per person. And Reykjavik is the perfect base for your excursion around this island-nation. Iceland is a year-round destination, but you have more hours of daylight in the summer.
What to see and do
Icelandtouristboard.com has a list of tour operators who can schedule day trips from Reykjavik to all the main attractions of Iceland, but it’s also easy to rent a car and drive yourself. Some top destinations are:
- The Blue Lagoon: One of the top tourist destinations in Iceland, about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is an outdoor pool of geothermal seawater, naturally heated to 100 degrees F, 12 months a year. Bring a bathing suit and spend all day soaking away your cares. About $20 for adults.
- Gullfloss Waterfall: Gullfloss (Golden Waterfall) is one of the most popular attractions in the country, an awe-inspiring waterfall of enormous beauty. There had been plans to use the waterfall as part of a hydroelectric project, which would have required changing the flow of the waterfall and perhaps ruining its scenic beauty forever. However, that move failed, and the waterfall is now preserved in its natural state.
If you really want to go over the top, Butterfield & Robinson offers an eight-day guided tour that starts and ends in the country's capital, Reykjavík, for about $8,000 per person.
Getting thereYou can fly nonstop from L.A. to Sydney on Qantas, United or American for around $3,000. If you don’t mind changing planes, you can take a one-stop flight on Air New Zealand for under $2,000. In the past, Qantas has offered a $999 Aussie Airpass deal, so keep an eye out for air specials in the future.
When to goAustralia is in the Southern Hemisphere, so our winter is their summer. Although you may not want to time your visit to the Outback in the heat of their summer, or go to Manly Beach in the depths of winter, Australia is generally a year-round destination.
Know before you go You should always see your doctor before embarking on a major trip, but most visitors to Australia don’t need any special vaccinations. And a visit to Australia is not an arduous trip, so there aren’t any particular health requirements.
One of the most difficult parts of a trip to Australia is the flight time: 14 1/2 hours on average from L.A.
You can easily plan your own vacation to Australia by booking your airfare and hotels online or with a travel agent. Hotels are pretty affordable, especially now that the U.S. dollar has strengthened against the Australian dollar. If you want to stay by the beach in Sydney, stay at the Ravesis hotel; rooms start at about U.S. $157 a night. If you want to stay in the city, rooms at the Altamont start at about U.S. $78 a night.
What to see and do
- Manly Beach: Surfers love Manly Beach, and so do casual visitors who come to walk along the shore and perhaps have lunch at an outdoor café in Manly’s charming downtown. Also, getting there on a ferry from Sydney’s Circular Quay is one of the prettiest excursions you can make in this part of Australia.
- Penguins on Phillip Island: Phillip Island is just 90 minutes from Melbourne (about a $70 flight from Sydney). The Penguin Parade is the main attraction here, but visitors also spend time birdwatching, hiking, and visiting the koala conservation center. Tickets to the Penguin Parade are about U.S. $12. Or you can get a tour, including your transportation from Melbourne, for around U.S. $50.
- The Outback: A visit to the Outback is going to require a little more planning. You’ll probably want to spend at least four days on an Outback tour, and you’ll want to do it with an established tour operator, of which there are endless numbers. Activities include staying overnight on a working sheep station, seeing kangaroos in their natural habitat, and perhaps the most famous destination in the Outback, visiting Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. Expect to spend somewhere around $200 to $500 per person per day, including your meals, lodgings and activities, for an Outback side trip.
The simplest ways is to fly to Amsterdam and take a nonstop flight from there to Kilimanjaro International Airport on KLM. Airfare from New York, connecting in Amsterdam, is about $1,600.
When to goJanuary, February, July, August and September are among the most popular months to climb Kilimanjaro, when it’s not too cold and the clouds are at a minimum, giving you great views.
Know before you goYou’ll want to see your doctor about your trip four to six weeks before you go so he can assess your vaccination history and current health status with enough time for any inoculations to take effect. The Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccinations for yellow fever, hepatitis (A and B), and typhoid.
One of the most surprising aspects of Kilimanjaro is that it is open to climbers with no mountain climbing equipment or previous experience of scaling such heights. However, Kilimanjaro, at just over 19,000 feet, is the highest mountain that regular tourists can climb. Oxygen levels at the top are less than half of those at sea level. Climbers hike up and down at least 80 kilometers during the climb and return. Altitude sickness is a very distinct possibility. So it’s essential that you be in great shape.
Some people take pre-trek acclimatization walks on nearby Mt. Kenya or Mt. Neru, but you need to have the extra time and pay the extra cost for that. You should choose a trek of at least six to seven days so you can acclimatize as you ascend. The shorter the trek, the less likely you will reach the summit.
There are five common routes to climb Kilimanjaro with varying degrees of difficulty and number of climbing days.
You can only climb Kilimanjaro with a licensed operator and follow established routes. All climbs must be pre-booked, guides and porters need to be organized, you’ll need medical help if you get altitude sickness, so you wouldn’t want to do this on your own even if you could.
You can start your search for tour operators by going to tanzaniatouristboard.com. There are more than 200 licensed operators on Kilimanjaro. You can pay as little as $2,000 or as much as $5,000, depending on the number of days you spend on the trek and how many climbers in your party, but the average price is about $2,500 per person. That includes camping, food, guides, park fees and transportation to and from the base of the mountain.
High-end options: If you have the money, pay the extra cost for a rest day during your trek up the mountain. Also, add on a safari to either the Ngorongoro Crater or Serengeti National Park. It’ll be expensive, though. Expect to spend about $300 or more person per day for a safari. You can find a list of the best operators at travelandleisure.com.
The more affordable way to trek up Kilimanjaro is to go with a larger group (15 people) or to take one of the faster routes up the mountain — but that only increases the chances of getting altitude sickness, which can be fatal.