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Monday, March 29, 2010

Antarctica "A land of extremes"

Antarctica is a land of extremes: it is the coldest and driest continent on Earth and has the highest average elevation. As the fifth largest continent in the world, Antartica is also the most Southern, overlying the "South Pole". Scarcely touched by humans, the frozen land boasts breathtaking scenery, broken by only handful of scientific bases and a "permanent" population of scientists numbering only a few thousand. Visitors to Antarctica generally must brave rough sea crossings aboard ice-strengthened vessels, but those who do are rewarded with amazing scenery and tremendous and unique wildlife.

Although several countries have laid claim to various portions of Antarctica, it is governed by the 1958 Antarctic Treaty, which establishes the continent as a peaceful and cooperative international research zone. There are no cities per se, just some two dozen research stations with a total population ranging from 1000-4000 depending on the time of year. These are maintained for scientific purposes only, and do not provide any official support for tourism. The laws of the nation operating each research station apply there.Private travel to Antarctica generally takes one of three forms: 1) commercial sea voyages with shore visits (by far the most popular), 2) specially mounted land expeditions, or 3) sightseeing by air. Approximately 80 companies belong to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, a membership organization which regulates non-research travel to the region. In the 2005-2006 summer season, an estimated 26,250 people visited Antarctica or the surrounding waters.

Deception Island
Long ago, volcanic pressure on Deception Island resulted in a tremendous eruption that caused the island’s peak to explode. The resulting caldera flooded with seawater, creating the unique landmass that you may visit today. Thousands of Chinstrap Penguins inhabit the volcanic slopes of the island, along with nesting Pintado Petrels and Antarctic Terns.

Nestled among the South Shetland Islands, Deception Island is easily recognized on a map by its horseshoe shape. Its collapsed volcanic caldera is breached at Neptune's Bellows and makes for one of the world's safest natural harbors, despite the volcano's periodic eruptions. Ships enter the relatively calm waters of Port Forster (12km/7.5mi wide) through the caldera's breach that is surrounded by snow-covered hills that reach 580m (1900ft). The island has an interesting history - it was a base for several early exploratory missions - and is still a disputed territory between the Argentineans and the British, however nowadays they seem to get along.

The volcano is still very active and its eruptions have caused evacuations and considerable damage to the stations there (during the 1920-21 whaling season the harbor water boiled and stripped the paint off the ships' hulls). The most recent eruption was in 1991-92.

Part of what brings the tourist ships here is that the volcanic activity thermally heats the waters of Pendulum Cove (so-called because of the British pendulum and magnetism experiments held there last century) and you can take a dip. It's not deep enough for swimming and most tourists don the togs more for the photograph and the story afterwards than for breaststroking. You do have to be careful, however, because if you move even a meter from the warm water you might find your skin blistering from a near-boiling patch or goosebumping from an unheated patch. There are large colonies of chinstrap penguins on the exterior coast, but few marine animals enter the harbor because there are numerous volcanic vents that heat the water to several degrees above the sea surrounding the island.

Paradise Bay
Immense glaciers and a bay filled with icebergs can be expected at Paradise Bay. Often whales and seals can be seen in the water, and penguins on the shores. A picture perfect, and typical Antarctic landing location.

Neko Harbour
Not far from Paradise Bay, Neko Harbour is a popular landing spot for voyages to Antarctica. Gentoo penguins call this place home.

Watch a glacier breaking off into the ocean. To fully appreciate the harbor, you must view it from the top of the mountain. At the top, the sound of the glacier breaking off could be heard like thunder, just like at the beach, but on the mountain you did not have to worry about a large wave coming.

Half Moon Island
One of the most pleasant landings in Antarctica, Half Moon Island has a sizable rookery of chinstrap penguins as well as nesting Antarctic terns and kelp gulls. Whales are often seen patrolling the shores, and this small island offers stunning views of surrounding mountains.

Port Lockroy
Port Lockroy is a natural harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula of the British Antarctic Territory. After its discovery in 1903 by the French Antarctic Expedition it was used for whaling and British military operations during World War II and then continued to operate as a British research station until 1962. Goal was to protect interests in the Southern Ocean. In 1996 Port Lockroy was renovated and is now a museum and Post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. It is designated as Historic Site no. 61 under the Antarctic Treaty and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Antarctica. Proceeds from the small souvenir shop fund the upkeep of the site and other historic sites and monuments in Antarctica.

A major experiment on the island is to test the effect of tourism on penguins. Half the island is open to tourists, while the other half is reserved for penguins. So far, interestingly, the results show that tourism has a slight positive effect on penguins, possibly due to the presence of people being a deterrent to skuas - Antarctic birds that prey on penguin chicks and eggs.
Nearby you can visit a gentoo rookery and also see blue-eyed shags (cormorants) and witness sad reminders of past whaling activities.

The most amazing place for wildlife like king penguins,elephant seals, fur seals, whales etc as well as the place where Shackleton was rescued after his arduous journey in James Caird.

Vinson Massif
Situated in Antarctica, the Vinson Massif is the highest peak of the continent, and one of the Seven Summits. Part of the Sentinel Range of Ellsworth Mountains, Vinson Massif is about 21km long and 13km wide. It is named after Carl G Vinson, a Georgia Congressman who was a major force behind the US Antarctic exploration in the 20th century. The mountain was first climbed in 1966 by the American Alpine Club and the National Science Foundation.

While the climb is not considered that difficult technical, it is considered challenging nonetheless because of the extreme environment, including strong winds and very cold temperatures. Temperatures of -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit are not uncommon.

Getting there:
Mount Vinson is usually accessed via chartered flight from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills, and then another flight to Base Camp on the Branscomb Glacier. The trip from Patriot Hils to Base Camp is approximately 6 hours.

Vinson Massif is located about 1,200km away from the South Pole, near the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Dry Valleys
The Dry Valleys are from north to south Victoria, Wright and Taylor, and they are unusual in as much as no rain has fallen there for at least two million years. They have no ice or snow either because the air is too dry for any to exist (ice-free spaces in the Antarctic are called oases). They are enormous, desolate places covering around 3000 sq. km (1170 sq. mi.) and were first happened upon by Robert Scott in December 1903. He wrote '...we have seen no living thing, not even a moss or a certainly is the valley of the dead; even the great glacier that once pushed through it has withered away'.

Despite their appearance, however, the valleys support some of the most unusual life-forms on the planet. In 1978 American biologists discovered algae, fungi and bacteria growing inside the rocks of the Dry Valleys. These endolithic life-forms grow in air pockets within porous rocks and feed off light, carbon dioxide and moisture that penetrate the rock. The bizarre sculptured rock forms that abound accentuate the otherworldliness of the landscape, and these are called ventifacts, shaped by the ever-present wind that buffs the windward sides to a highly polished gleam. (Scientists believe that the Dry Valleys are the nearest earthly equivalent to the landscape of Mars, and NASA did much research there before launching the Viking mission to Mars.

Hannah Point (Livingston Island)
One of the best wildlife sites in the Antarctic, provides an opportunity to see chinstrap, gentoo, and macaroni penguins; giant petrels, blue-eyed shags, skuas, Wilson’s storm petrels: and possibly the southern elephant seal and Antarctic fur seal.

Hope Bay
Hope Bay lies in the Antarctic Sound often called “Iceberg Alley” providing excellent opportunities to see extraordinary icebergs. View the remains of an expedition hut from a Swedish expedition that wintered here in 1903. The Argentine Esperanza Research Station, Adelie penguins and snowy sheathbills are other highlights.

King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. Russia, China, Korea, Poland, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina have all built research stations here. You may have an opportunity to visit one of these stations, where researchers welcome you with descriptions of their projects and a firsthand look at life in the Antarctic.

King George Island
There are numerous international research stations on this island including the Polish Arctowski Station and the Brazilian Ferraz Station Admiralty Bay. On the western side there are Russian, Chilean, Chinese, Korean, and Uruguayan stations. A visit to one or more stations is often possible with an opportunity to meet the researchers.

Grab your cameras and make for the observation decks as our Captain deftly nudges aside ice floes with the bow of the ship as you transit Lemaire Channel,

The Lemaire Channel
The Lemaire Channel is a spectacular sight with enormous sheer cliffs falling straight into the sea. Affectionately known as "Kodak Gap," this narrow waterway flows between the 3,000-foot peaks of Booth Island and the peninsula. It's only once you're well within it that a way through is visible. Orcas and humpback whales often accompany ships as they make their way through some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. Unfortunately, ice can sometimes obscure the path and ships need to retreat and sail around Booth Island. At the northern end of Lemaire Channel are a pair of tall, rounded and often snow-capped peaks known as Una's Tits that are also popular with holiday snappers. Belgian explorer De Gerlache during his 1898 expedition aboard Belgica first navigated the channel, and, curiously, named it after the Belgian explorer Charles Lemaire, who explored parts of the Congo.

Antarctica Sightseeing flights
A few times a year it is possible to do sightseeing flights over Antarctica. The charter flights depart from Australia, taking 12 hrs or so and spending 3-4 hrs flying low over the ice fields of Antarctica. The flight doesn't land but this is as close as you can get to Antarctica without taking an expensive cruise! There are different price levels of seating.

Getting In
By plane
Aircraft and pilots need to be capable of landing on ice, snow, or gravel runways, as there are no paved runways. Landings are generally restricted to the daylight season (Summer months from October to March). Winter landings have been performed at Williams Field but low temperatures mean that aircraft cannot stay on the ice longer than an hour or so as their skis may freeze to the ice runway. Travel is normally by military aircraft, as part of the cargo. Passengers should anticipate carrying all their own luggage and may need to assist with freight as well.

Major landing fields include:

Williams Field - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
Pegasus Blue-Ice Runway - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
Annual Sea-Ice Runway - Serves McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
Commercial overflights to Antarctica are limited - a handful of operators offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Punta Arenas. These flights typically visit Antarctica and spend several hours flying over the ice. Passengers in most seating classes rotate their position in the row halfway into the flight, to give everyone a window or one-over-from-window seat for half of the time. Rates range from $5199 for first class, to $1399 for partially-obstructed-view economy class, or $899 for non-rotating center-section seats with window access depending on the courtesy of better-seated travelers. Keep in mind that these flights involve substantial risk: a successful search-and-rescue mission would be all but impossible in the event of a crash, which is what happened to one Air New Zealand flight in 1979. Due to a combination of low flying altitude and a navigational error, they hit Mount Erebus on Ross Island and all 257 people aboard were killed.

By cruise ship

Boat is the most common method of visiting the Antarctic. In the Antarctic summer, several companies offer excursions on ice strengthened vessels to Antarctica. Ice strengthened (not quite as tough as icebreakers) boats are preferred since icebreakers are round on the bottom -- a configuration that amplifies the already massive wave action in the Drake passage. The ships typically offer a couple of excursions to the continent (usually the Antarctic peninsula) or Antarctic islands (e.g., Deception Island, Aitcho Island) each day over the course of a week. The views are phenomenal, the penguins are friendly (well, some of them are), and the experience is one that is unparalleled!
When traveling by boat, be aware that smaller ships (typically carrying 50-100 passengers) can go where the big ships can't, getting you up closer to Antarctica's nature and wildlife. Larger vessels (carrying as many as 1200 people) are less prone to rough seas but have more limited landing options. Many vessels include naturalist guided hikes, zodiac excursions and sea kayaking right from the ship, perfect for active, casual travelers.
You'll need warm clothing: boots, hoods, glove, water repellent pants, parka and warm underwear. Most of these items can be bought or hired in Ushuaia, but sometimes - in the high season - it is not always easy to get the right sizes. So bring whatever you can from your own stock.

It must also be remembered that cruise operators typically only allow 100 people on land at any one time in order to comply with IAATO agreements. Consequently if you are in a boat with more than 200 people the chances are you will only spend a couple of hours at most per day off ship. Generally the smaller ships will try to ensure 2 different locations per day around Antarctica, although this is of course dependent on the weather and you may expect a 60% success rate on landing people for any given visit.
Companies offering cruises to Antarctica include:

Abercrombie & Kent, USA. Full member of International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) with 20 years of Antarctica operating experience, providing enrichment and educational programs.

Adventure Life. Members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), their small-ship Antarctica expeditions have been featured in ForbesLife and the New York Times.

AdventureSmith Antarctica Cruises. Award winning small ship cruise specialists, they work only with ships carrying 100 passengers or less.
Bark Europa. A square rigged sailing ship offering 22 day trips to Antarctica and other Sub

Antarctic destinations like South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha.

Cheesemans Ecology Safaris. Offers a trip nearly every year that includes three days in the Falklands, a week on South Georgia, and eight days on the Antarctic Peninsula. Their trips are expensive but are some of the best for maximizing onshore time. They have also done Ross Sea trips in past years.

Gap Adventures. Operates trips on their ship: the 'M/S Expedition' The maximum number of passengers is 120 and the there are by lectures by staff and naturalists on board.

Haka Expeditions.Cruises and Air Cruises to Antarctica and South Georgia.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.Members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), their small expedition ships have the highest ice class ranking for cruise ships, and each vessel offers 4-5 cruises to Antarctica between December and March every year, including

Antarctic peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the Weddell Sea.

Journeys International. Provides small ship exploration cruises to the Falkland Islands, South
Georgia, South Shetlands, the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic Circle and the Weddell and Ross Seas.

Lindblad Expeditions. Lindblad pioneered travel to Antarctica in 1966 and offers multiple trips to the Antarctic Peninsula, and longer trips which also include the Falklands and South Georgia aboard the new 148-guest National Geographic Explorer.

Quark Expeditions. Offers everything from month-long semi-circumnavigation trips to week-long explorations of the Antarctic peninsula, on former Russian ice-breakers and expedition ships.

Rockjumper Birding tours, operates out of South Africa and is aimed at those interested in birding.

Geographic Expeditions. GeoEx specializes in small group adventure travel. Tours offer a variety of destinations such as Ross Sea, South Georgia Islands an penguin rookeries.

Most cruise ships depart from the following ports:

Ushuaia in Argentina.
Punta Arenas in Chile.
Bluff in New Zealand.
Hobart in Australia.

By sailboat
About a dozen charter sailboats, many of them members of IAATO, offer three to six week voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula from South America. Most offer "expedition style" trips where guests are invited to help out, although usually no prior sailing experience is required. Yachts take individuals on a "by the bunk" basis and also support private expeditions such as scientific research, mountaineering, kayaking, and film-making. Compared to the more popular cruise ships, a small yacht can be more work and significantly less comfortable, but typically allows more freedom and flexibility. For the right people this can be a far more rewarding experience.

Ocean Expeditions , Sailing yacht ‘Australis’ offers an intimate experience of Antarctica.
Expedition Sail , Sailing yacht ‘SEAL’ is a purpose-built expedition sailboat offering private expeditions, support for research, filming, or climbing projects, and also offers "by the bunk" trips for individuals.

Spirit of Sydney, Australians, Darrel and Cath, own and operate Spirit of Sydney, an expedition support yacht perfectly suited to meet and exceed the requirements of Film Crews, Mountaineers, Skiers and Snowboarders, Sea Kayakers, Dry suit Divers, Scientists, Sailors of all experience levels, Whale Watchers and Adventurers of all kinds. They typically carry kayaks on board, and offer both private charters and group trips for individuals.

Antarctic Stations

Coastal stations include
McMurdo (77 51 S, 166 40 E) (USA)
Palmer (64 42 S, 64 00 W) (USA)
Arctowski (Poland)
St. Kliment Ohridski, (Livingston Island) (62 38 29 S, 60 21 53 W) (Bulgaria)
Port Lockroy (UK)
Baia Terranova (I)
Mawson (67 36 S, 62 52 E) (Australia)
Davis (68 35 S, 77 58 E) (Australia)
Casey (66 17 S, 110 32 E) (Australia)
Aboa (73°03'S, 13°25'W) (Finland)

Get around
Ponies, sledges and dogs, skis, tractors, snow cats (and similar tracked vehicles) and aircraft including helicopters and ski planes have all been used to get around Antarctica. Cruise ships use zodiac boats to ferry tourists from ship to shore in small groups. Bring your own fuel and food, or arrange supplies in advance. You cannot purchase fuel or food on the continent. Cruise ships come fully prepared with landing transport, food, etc. Some (but not all) even provide cold-
weather clothing.

By Tour
Big Five Tours - Offers customized tours to Antarctica.
Quark Expeditions - Antarctica expeditions
Fs Expeditions - Grand Antarctica Expeditions

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Turks and Caicos "A mostly undiscovered tourist destination."

The beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands are situated 575 miles southeast of Miami and 39 miles south east of Mayaguana in the Bahamas. Covering 193 square miles of the Atlantic ocean, Turks and Caicos Islands has one of the longest coral reefs in the world, making it a premier diving destination.

One of the most valuable possessions of the islands are the white sandy beaches, which in total cover 230 miles and are complimented with crystal clear waters. The islands are relatively flat but depending on the island, the terrain can vary from sand dunes to lush green vegetation. There are eight major islands: Salt Cay, Grand Turk, South Caicos, East Caicos, Middle Caicos, North Caicos, Providenciales and West Caicos. The people on the islands are known for their friendliness. East Caicos and West Caicos are uninhabited.

The Tourism industry gives Turks and Caicos its main revenue. In addition to this the islands are also a major offshore financial center. There is a small traditional fishing industry that continues throughout Turks and Caicos. On the islands of Providenciales and Grand Turk you will find International style hotel accommodations, each one has its own unique set up and surroundings. Native dishes are served along with international cuisine, you will find this at most of the restaurants. More casual and serene accommodations can be found on the other islands and smaller cays.

Cockburn Town

Cockburn Town is the administrative capital and the historic and cultural center of the islands. It is strongly reputed to be the landfall island of Columbus during his discovery of the New World in 1442. The town itself is well suited for a walking tour. Duke and Font Streets are lined with historic 18th and 19th century landmarks that reflect the Bermudan style architecture of the salt era. Two of these buildings are now popular inns, another in the governor's residence, other government offices, the public library, churches and private residence and fraternities. At the Turks an Caicos National Museum you will find a central exhibit that tells the story of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere (dated around 1505). It also discloses the rich cultural and natural diversity of the islands. Other historic sites include the Lighthouse, Fire hill and the Hawks Nest Anchorage.

Grand Turk

Grand Turk is the capital of Turks and Caicos and the financial center of the islands. It has the second largest population of around 3,720 people. Grand Turk is one of the main historical points of Turks and Caicos. You will find many old buildings and ruins along with The Turks and Caicos National Museum. Grand Turk's main attraction is diving, with many dive operators and schools it can cater for novice snorkels to experienced divers. The major income for the island is dive orientated tourism. There is an outstanding protected coral reef which has clear and calm waters. There are 6 major accommodations.

Salt Cay

It has the air of a frozen moment, a place where time stands still. Salt Cay was the center of the Bermudan salt industry, the mainstay of the Turks and Caicos economy from the late 1600's until the early 1960's. When the salt industry stopped, the tools fell where they were being used. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Salt cay is a time capsule from the days "when Salt was king." She is a community of 200 hundred souls, surviving on an arid islands with one unarmed policeman and a strong sense of family and order. The island is largely divided into squares controlled by windmills that no longer turn and salinas holding slowly evaporating seawater.

Twelve cars wander her roads, soft beaches border much of her shore line, herons feed in the salinas and others in the marsh land to the south. The distinctively Bermudan style homes, all with dusty but neatly swept dirt yards, set a tone, and possess an undeniable style. The White House, owned by descendants of Bermudan salt rakers, is a landmark and contains the original antique furniture.

Salt Cay also hosts relics of the whaling industry that once existed. The whaling station at Taylor's Hill has long been lying in ruins, visitors to this land in the winter stare in amazement at the gigantic Humpback Whales. The residents are very friendly and are always ready with a bit of conversation. This is old Turks and Caicos, a direct line to a simpler and slower time.

South Caicos

South Caicos is the fishing capital of the islands, and boasts the best natural harbour and several fishing plants, processing most of the nation's seafood harvest of lobster, conch and fish for export and local consumption. Other features of the island include the 18th century Commissioner's House, old salt works, and the Boiling Hole which fed the salt pans that once made South Caicos the islands' largest producer of salt.

East Caicos

East Caicos is an uninhabited island but is large in size being 18 square miles. A majority of the island is inundated by swamps and mangroves, you can find the highest point of the islands here. There is a splendid 17 mile beach on the north coast of the island, this is usually only used by Sea Turtles to lay their eggs because of the large mosquito population. Near Jacksonville in the north west of the island there are a series of caves that used to be used for mining bat guano, and petroglyphs shows early evidence of settlers on the island.

Middle Caicos

Being the largest of the islands Middle Caicos is 48 square miles of natural beauty. There are 3 settlements on the island, Conch Bar, Bambarra and Lorimers and there is a population of 275. The coastline around Middle Caicos is more dramatic than that of the other islands, to the north there are Limestone cliffs with long sandy beaches. The south is dominated by swampland and tidal flats which almost covers half the island. Rain is plentiful on Middle Caicos, which is why the island is so green and ideal for agriculture. Middle Caicos is home to the largest caves in all Turks and Caicos at Conch Bar. There are 2 small but comfortable accommodations.

Mudjin Harbour

Mudjin Harbour, a half-moon cave and a picturesque beach that juts out from the land to link up with an offshore Cay is a most dramatic feature. The huge limestone caves feature stalactites, stalagmites, bats, owls and salt lakes that link up with the sea, and are considered to be one of the most extensive cave systems in the region. There also the remains of huge Lucayan Indian settlements. One site excavated near Armstrong Pond in 1978 contains a Lucayan ball court, unknown elsewhere in the Lucayan islands. Artifacts recovered from the caves suggest that they were used either as shelter or sacred places. Middle Caicos also contains ruins of Loyalist plantations. A Frigate Bird colony resides on a cay Just offshore. A large blue hole just offshore in shallow water features an abundant variety of marine life. The island's Northwest Point is a combination of beautiful inlets, marshes, mangroves and in land ponds which serve as a haven for birdlife.

North Caicos

North Caicos is the lushest of all the islands because of the abundant rainfall. The population of around 1305, mostly farmers live in the settlements of Bottle Creek Village, Whitby, Kew and Sandy Point. Bottle Creek Village boarders a lagoon on the northeast of the island, and is protected from the ocean by a long ribbon of sand. Like Middle and East Caicos, the southern part of the island is dominated by swampland and tidal flats. North Caicos boasts the largest flock of Pink Flamingo in the islands. There is a Crab Farm on Greenich Creek which grow Caribbean King Crab from eggs to adults. You can visit the farm by taking a raft.

A tour of the Crab Farm offers a lesson in a Crab mariculture, marine ecology and an excellent eco-tour. There are Loyalist plantation ruins, the grandest of which is Wades green. Lucayan artifacts were found in the caves near Sandy Point. Cottage Pond at Sandy Point is a large pool of tropical vegetation. There are flocks of Flamingo at Flamingo Pond and mud Hole Pond. You will find ospreys and their nesting sites on the adjacent Three Mary Cays, and a wide variety of other birds on the islands extensive nature reserves and sanctuaries. Iguanas on the nearby East Bays Cays are an outstanding example of the natural diversity of this green island.

West Caicos

Said to have the most beautiful diving spots in Turks and Caicos, West Caicos is a 9 square mile island that is uninhabited. West Caicos is a favourite for Picnics and Dive Operators with sandy coves and beautiful waters. There are no accommodations on West Caicos but the island is visited frequently.

The ruins of Yankee Town, crested by an osprey's nest, its sisal press, railroad and steam engine are evidence of the small civilization that once existed on West Caicos. Lake Catherine is a nature reserve that is home to a variety of bird life. A number of other islands and cays remain in their natural state, without human influence, and serve as protected natural habitats for sea birds, Iguanas, Turtles and other wildlife.


Providenciales, or more commonly known as "Provo", covers an area of 38 miles and is the most developed island in Turks and Caicos. Found on the west side of the islands Provo can offer all modern conveniences, including superb hotels, a casino and a Golf Club. Although Provo is the most mature of the islands, it is still a destination for those who want to escape their busy schedules and relax. There is a population of over 6,000, and Provo has the largest non-native population made up of Haitians, Dominicans, French, Canadians, Germans and Americans. The growing population is mainly due to the completion of the airport in 1984, which is capable of dealing with large planes.

To the north of the island, near Sapodilla Bay, you will find the most beautiful beaches, and also a long coral reef which is rich in aquatic life. Towards the south of the island you will find Chalk Sound, a large lake with striking turquoise water and an array of small cays. The island's commercial port, South Dock, is found east of Sapodilla Bay and has the capability to deal with containerized goods.

The two main and oldest settlements on the island are Bight and Blue Hills, and are built around fresh water supplies. Both locations give a real feeling of Caribbean villages. If you wish to do some shopping, Provo can offer a good range of boutiques at Turtle Cove. Down Town you will find the likes of retail shops, business offices and travel agents.

Getting In


There are three airports handling international traffic to Grand Turk and Provo, but most international flights arrive at Provo. The Provo airport has a tourist info booth in arrivals, a restaurant and not much else. Other islands have local airstrips.

Grand Turk International Airport (GDT; ­946-2233)

Providenciales International Airport (PLS; ­941-5670)

South Caicos International Airport (XSC; ­946-4255)

There are limited flights to elsewhere within the Caribbean from Turks and Caicos; those planning on island-hopping may find themselves backtracking to Florida before delving deeper into the region. The following airlines fly into Turks and Caicos:

American Airlines (1-800-433-7300; Miami, New York

Bahamas Air (941-3136; Nassau

British Airways (1-800-247-9297; London

Delta Airlines (1-800-221-1212; Atlanta

Spirit Air ( Fort Lauderdale

US Airways (1-800-428-4322; Charlotte

Getting Around


TCI Ferry Service (946-5406) is a new ferry operation taking passengers from the Leeward Marina on Providenciales to North Caicos (US$25, $40 round-trip same day), eliminating the need for the expensive and inconvenient flight. There are four departures each way daily.

A ferry runs biweekly trips from Grand Turk to Salt Cay (US$12, round-trip). Contact Salt Cay Charters (231-6663; Whale-watching boat trips with this company cost US$75.

Car & motorcycle

Car, motorcycle & scooter

Taxis get expensive in the long run so renting a car makes sense if you plan to explore Provo or Grand Turk. The local companies are very good, and may be cheaper than the internationals. Rentals are around $80 per day and the cars are generally in good nick; most rental companies offer free drop-off and pickup. A government tax of $15 is levied on car rentals ($8 on scooter rentals). Mandatory insurance costs $15. A minimum age of 25 years may be required.

Driving is on the left-hand side. At roundabouts (traffic circles), remember to circle in a clockwise direction, entering to the left, and give way to traffic already on the roundabout.

Speed limits in the Turks and Caicos are 20mph (around 32km/h) in settlements and 40mph (around 65km/h) on main highways.

Please refer to island destinations for rental companies.


Gas stations are plentiful and usually open from 8am to 7pm. Some close on Sunday. Gasoline costs about US$5.50 per US gallon – luckily most destinations are pretty close. Credit cards are accepted in major settlements. Elsewhere, it’s cash only, please!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Geneva "The Peace Capital and Worldwide Centre for Diplomacy"

With a pleasant setting, green parks, colourful gardens and lakeside promenades, Geneva is considered one of the healthiest places to live in the world. The city sits astride the River Rhône, where it streams into Lake Geneva, and is set against a dramatic backdrop of mountains. At the lake's south shore the Jet d'Eau shoots water 460ft (140m) into the sky from the end of a pier - the city's landmark attraction and Europe's most powerful fountain.

Undoubtedly Switzerland's most cosmopolitan city, Geneva's reputation for religious and political tolerance dates back more than five hundred years. In the 16th century the city spawned the religious teachings of John Calvin, and was where Lenin spent his 'years of recreation'. Little of their Puritanism is left today - stately homes line the banks of the lake, overlooking an armada of luxury yachts. Jewels and designer labels spill out of exclusive boutiques and into chauffer-driven limousines that slide down palatial avenues.

As well as a host of museums and fine galleries, Geneva has a lively cultural calendar. Most notable is the celebration of l'Escalade in December, which involves costumed and torch-lit processions through the town, and the consumption of sickly amounts of chocolate and marzipan.

Geneva is a gateway to Switzerland's luxury ski resorts, an important banking centre and home to thousands of international delegates and diplomats. Among the many international organisations based in the city are the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)

The largest lake in central Europe that is shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to its shores. Attracted by the alpine panorama, quaint wooden chalet villages, vineyard-covered slopes and sailboats skimming across the blue waters, many famous writers, musical composers, actors and poets came to settle and the area has become something of an inspiration to the arts. Situated in the westernmost district of Vaud, the region contains a diversity of attractions and activities, from wine-growing villages and mountain ski resorts, picturesque castles, and magnificent cathedrals, to low-key lakeside resorts, boat cruises, and cosy fireside pots of fondue. Sophisticated shopping and cultural life can be found in the cities of Geneva and Lausanne, with sweeping views across the sparkling lake to the Alps and the distinctive pinnacle of Mont Blanc. Among the vineyards and affluent villas clinging to the slopes lie the lakeside towns of Vevey and Montreux, the pearls of the Swiss Riviera. Scenic winding roads stretch along the shores, and train trips offers outstanding views, while below steamers crisscross the waters of Lake Geneva, offering a variety of ways to experience the splendour of its location.


Picturesquely located on the shores of Lake Geneva, the youthful and energetic city of Lausanne is built above the lake on a sequence of tiers connected by a small metro. The upper or Old Town contains the grand Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame; its turreted towers a well-known symbol of the city. The lower town on the lakeshore was once the small fishing village of Ouchy and is now the prime waterfront area with outdoor dining and cafés, promenades and sporting activities. The gardens around the Quay d'Ouchy are home to the city's foremost attraction, the Olympic Museum, containing a wealth of sporting memories and a collection of unique objects pertaining to the Olympic Games from its beginning until the present. Lausanne relishes its importance as the Olympic World Capital and headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.

Château de Chillon

One of the best-maintained medieval castles in Europe, the 13th century Château de Chillon is the most visited historical building in Switzerland. With its stunning lakeside location near the chic town of Montreux, jutting out into the water and framed by mountains, it is one of the more frequently photographed castles in Europe. An important fortress in the Middle Ages, it was strategically positioned to control the narrow passage between mountains and lake protecting the major north-south route. It was also the favourite summer residence of the Counts of Savoy. Later it served as a state prison. Visitors can tour the dungeons where the castle's most famous prisoner was chained for four years, the priest François Bonivard, a supporter of the Reformation. The fortress became famous when Lord Byron wrote about Bonivard's fate in an inspired poem entitled Prisoner of Chillon. Besides the dungeons, visitors can wander round the towers and courtyards, discover narrow secret passages, and see the grand knight's halls, frescoed chapel, luxurious bedchambers and rooms containing medieval weapons, furniture and paintings.

Jet d'Eau

The tallest fountain in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain. As Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Empire State Building, Geneva has the Jet d'Eau. For a breathtaking and romantic sight, visit at night, when the fountain is lit up.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

One of the most creative and thought provoking museums in Europe, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum brings together sculpture, installation, photography and film to highlight the importance of human rights, the history of conflict in the 20th century and the humanitarian work the Red Cross has done in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in both war and natural disasters. Funded entirely by outside donors, the museum is appropriately situated on the hillside opposite the United Nations, within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A significant stopover on a visit to Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum provides insight into the gross implications of war and the tragedy that surrounds but also the committed work of the volunteers and Red Cross representatives alike. All the exhibits have an English language option.

St Peter's Cathedral

With initial construction commencing in 1160 and lasting nearly a century, St Peter's Cathedral has over the years become a hotchpotch of architectural styles with Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical features. A former Catholic cathedral, St Peter's became a Protestant church in 1536 at the advent of the Reformation and was cleared of its ornate fittings such as altars, statues, paintings and furniture, but the stained glass windows remained. Prominent theologian John Calvin preached at St Peter's Church from 1536 to 1564 and the church soon became the centre of Protestantism. For a breathtaking panoramic view of Geneva and Lac Leman, climb the 157 steps that lead to the summit of the cathedral's north tower.

Temple de Saint-Pierre

Temple de Saint-Pierre, the post-Reformation name of the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, rises on the highest point of Geneva's old town (Vieille Ville: alt. 404 m/1,326ft), occupying the site of a Roman temple and a number of earlier churches of the fourth-fifth C. onwards. This Romanesque church with Gothic elements was built between about 1150 and 1232, with later alterations, particularly to the exterior. The two principal towers, never completed, date from the 13th C.; the metal spire over the crossing was built only in 1895, replacing a tower destroyed by fire in the 15th C. The original west front and doorway were replaced in 1749-56 by a portico of six Corinthian columns - a piece of stylistic nonconformity which does not, however, interfere with the unity of the interior. Extensive restoration of the church was carried out in 1888-98 and in 1974-79.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Opened in 1994, the cutting edge Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art refuses to conform and as museum director Christian Bernard says, the museum 'is not here to present the acceptable face of contemporary art'. With modern works dating from the 1960s to the present day, exhibited in a turn of the century factory, visitors to MAMCO will spend hours marvelling at the range of contemporary art that covers three floors. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art constantly reinvents itself, changing its exhibits and interior construction three times a year. The works of famous Dadaist Marcel Duchamp are on display all year round.

Palais des Nations (United Nations)

Built between 1929 and 1937 to host the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations now houses the United Nations Office at Geneva, which was inaugurated in 1966 after the dissolution of the League of Nations. The biggest United Nations station outside of the headquarters in New York, the office at Geneva provides critical support to the organization. Situated in 45-hectare Ariana Park, the extensive Palais des Nations is bordered by century old trees, and it is not uncommon to see peacocks darting around, the result of a request by the former owner of the land who bequeathed it to the City of Geneva on condition that peacocks may run freely on its grounds. Tours include the council room with frescoes by José Maria Sert and the Assembly Hall. Identity documents are required.

Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market

For quality fresh produce stop in at the Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market on Tuesday and Friday mornings and visit the fruit and vegetable stalls in their attractive outdoor park setting. For antiques, vintage clothing, clocks, paintings, records, books and more head to the Plaine de Plainpalais Flea Market on Wednesday and Saturday, when stalls are piled high with bric a brac, sometimes at Sfr1 a pop and large crowds of residents and tourists comb the many stalls in search of bargains to be had and souvenirs to gather. Established in 1848, the Plaine de Plainpalais quarter was the setting for the Swiss National Exhibition in 1896.

Barbier-Mueller Museum

A comprehensive collection of 7,000 artworks and artefacts from civilizations around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva is the outcome of the articles accumulated by Josef Mueller, whose collection began in 1907 and is now continued to this day by his heirs. Founded in 1977, the museum wanted to preserve and study the sculptures, fabrics and ornaments brought from "primitive" civilizations that were once isolated communities. Lookout for the megalithic monuments from Indonesia, the statues and items of worship from Oceania, pre-Columbian art from the Americas and ancient masks and shields from Africa.

The townscape of Geneva

The townscape of Geneva, though undramatic, is full of variety. On a steep-sided hill on the left bank of the Rhône rises the old town, dominated by the cathedral, with its picturesque old streets, flights of steps, fountains and historic buildings. On the west, south and east it is surrounded by a ring of imposing buildings and broad streets on the line of the old fortifications. The business life of the city is concentrated in the area below the old town to the north and in Saint-Gervais, formerly an outlying suburb. On both sides of the lake are elegant promenades and extensive parks and gardens. In the northern part of the town are the main railroad station, industrial establishments, craft workshops and residential areas. Most of the international organizations have their headquarters still farther north, in spacious park-like grounds. Geneva is the capital of the smallest Swiss canton, the République et Canton de Genève. It is almost entirely surrounded by French territory (free trade zones) and is connected to the rest of Switzerland only by the lake and a narrow corridor along the northwest shore of the lake. It has two small enclaves around Céligny in the canton of Vaud.

Place Neuve

The cultural hub of Geneva, Place Neuve sits just outside the former ramparts and is a great access point for the Old Town, which lies on the other side of the high retaining walls. Home to three of Geneva's regal performance and exhibition halls, the Grand Theatre (opera house), Conservatory of Music and Rath Museum, the Place Neuve is worth visiting to witness the architectural aesthetic of these buildings. In the centre of the square is the emblematic statue of Swiss general Henri Dufour, who was the first person to establish a map of Switzerland and also presided over the First Geneva Convention. The highest mountain in Switzerland, Dufourspitze, is named after him.

Mont Salève

A good road and cableway ascend to Mont Salève, a long limestone ridge south of Geneva, in French territory (good rock-climbing):
16km/10mi to Monnetier, round trip 69km/43mi, maximum gradient 6%.
Leave Geneva by the Route de Florissant and road 42, which runs southeast via the suburb of Villette. 6km/4mi: Veyrier (alt. 422 m/1,385ft) on the French frontier (passport and customs control). Straight ahead is the lower station of a cableway 1,180 m/3,872ft long which runs up in six minutes to a height of 1,143 m/3,750ft on Mont Salève.
Alternatively turn left beyond Veyrier into road 206 and in 3.5km/2mi right into 206A. 7km/4mi: Mornex (572 m/1877ft, a summer holiday resort on the southern slopes of the Petit Salève. Almost opposite the Protestant church is a house in which Richard Wagner lived in 1856.

Grand Salève

1.5km/1mi from the Monnetier lookout a road branches off on the right to the Treize-Arbres inn (1,184 m/3,885ft). Above the inn (1,212 m/3,977ft; orientation table) there is a magnificent view of the Mont Blanc chain, Lake Geneva and the Jura. A footpath leads up (30minutes) to the Crêt de Grange-Tournier (1,308 m/4,292ft), the highest point on the Grand Salève.


There are two alternative routes (each 37km/23mi) to this long ridge in French territory east of Geneva making an attractive round trip of 74km/ 46mi.
Leave Geneva on the Chamonix road. 7km/4mi: Annemasse (alt. 436 m/1,431ft). From here on N 507 to Bonne-sur-Menoge and Pont-de-Fillinges (10.5km/7mi), from which a road to the left climbs (fine views) via Boëge to the Col de Saxel (12.5km/8mi: 945 m/3,101ft); then a road on the left which winds its way uphill, passing through wooded country. 7km/4mi: Grand Chalet (1,400 m/4,593ft), sanatorium. From here it is a 30-minute climb to the Calvaire or Grand Signal, on the summit of the Voirons (1,486 m/4,876ft), with magnificent views (Savoy Alps, Jura, etc.). 8km/5mi: Bons (548 m/1,798ft), on the road from Thonon (N 203); then left along this road via Langin and Saint-Cergues to Annemasse (15km/ 9mi). 7km/4mi to Geneva.

Reformation Monument

Against the wall under the Promenade de la Treille in Geneva can be seen the Reformation Monument (Monument de la Réformation, 1917). In the middle are figures of Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze or Beza and John Knox, and on either side are the statesmen who promoted the cause of the reformed faith and bas-reliefs with scenes from the history of the Calvinist Reformation, while at the ends are memorials to Luther and Zwingli.

Quai de Mont-Blanc

On the north side of Geneva's Lac Léman (the Rive Droite) the Quai de Mont-Blanc extends northeast from the bridge, with a view of the Mont-Blanc chain (particularly fine in the late afternoon in clear weather). At the landing stage in front of the Hôtel Beau Rivage the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (b. 1837) was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898.

Museum of Art and History

Comprising of three sections, the captivating Museum of Art and History explores the passage of western culture and international civilizations with over 7,000 pieces covering archaeology (Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Etruscan), fine arts (paintings from the Renaissance to modern times) and applied arts (found objects from the Middle Ages to the 20th century). One of Geneva's largest museums, the colossal Museum of Art and History was built at the beginning of the 20th century, between 1903 and 1910. When visiting lookout for paintings by legendary artists Van Gogh and Renoir.

Patek Philippe Museum

An exquisite collection of timepieces from the 16th to 19th century is housed in this fascinating museum, home to the prestigious creations of the Geneva-based firm of master watchmakers which was founded in 1839. The intricate details and designs, moving parts and beautiful colours of the collection will provide hours of fascination.

Public Parks

Public parks cover over one quarter of Geneva providing the populous with a quiet haven of rolling lawns and tree lined walkways. Dotted with many curious sculptures and attractions, there are a few parks worthwhile visiting. Bastion Park houses the 328-foot (100m) Reformation Wall, a monument commemorating the major figures and events of the Protestant Reformation, as well as life size chess boards at the north end of the park. To view the famous flower clock, a symbol of the Swiss watch industry, head to the English Garden close to the water fountain and for outstanding views of Mont Blanc and the lake, Park Moynier is a firm favourite, with the History of Science Museum situated in the centre. Twenty hectares of woodland and hiking trails is what you will find at Batie Woods on the outskirts of the city.


A visit to Aquaparc is a must for families on holiday in Geneva, especially with children. This water park caters to children of all ages and features indoor and outdoor swimming and water adventure rides and slides in a tropical theme. Brave children will love rides such as the Devil's Fall and Morgan's Thrill, while parents can indulge in a massage with thousands of bubbles in the hot tubs.

Forestland is a fantastic place to take the kids for the day to let off some steam. This adventure circuit is equipped for children and adults alike and features fun activities like branch climbing, monkey bridges, forest jumping and there are even inflatable games for younger tots to enjoy.

La Ferme Foraine Bonaventure
A great place to bring the kids, La Ferme Foraine Bonaventure features camps for children aged 6 - 12 years old, as well as offering little tots the opportunity to meet donkeys, lamas, pigs and other farmyard animals. Children will enjoy petting the animals and making new friends here.

Happyland is Switzerland's largest amusement park and a great place for the younger children to enjoy. Kids will love rides such as Splash River, Tropical Track, the Big Swing and Helico Low G. Happyland also features a restaurant where families can refuel before heading out to enjoy more rides.

Night Life

The Old Town is a good starting point for a night out. La Clémence, Place du Bourg-de-Four 20, is extremely popular, particularly in the summer when crowds of all ages enjoy the large terrace. The bar-restaurant at the gilded Bohème, Boulevard Helvétique 36, is a good place to move on to - the mix of Arab and techno music is popular and the atmosphere is relatively relaxed, although trainers are not allowed. The most alternative bars in the city are scattered around Place des Volontaires. Worth mentioning are Alhambar, Rue de la Rôtisserie 10, which has theme nights, and Barrio's Latino, Rue Henri Dunant 6, for its safari décor.


Geneva is not particularly known for its clubs and many people prefer to go to Lausanne. Nevertheless, the intimate White'n Silver (formerly Club 58), Rue des Glacis de Rive 15 (website:, has a bar, dance floor and chic clientele, while smart Platinum, Quai du Seujet 18 (website:, attracts a trendy clientele with its resident DJ and guest performers and themed nights. The club is open seven days a week. Or try the B Club, Place de la Fusterie 12 (see Le Baroque Café below) for a similarly hip atmosphere. The biggest club in Geneva is the new Java Club at the Grand Hotel Kempinski, Quai du Mont-Blanc 19 (website: LA SIP, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10, is a cool, gay friendly venue located in an old factory, and Le Scandale, Rue de Lausanne 24 (website:, is a trendy place to dance the night away.

By foot
The old-town can be easily visited by foot starting anywhere around the tour boat dock on Lake Geneva. Crossing the bridge (Pont du Mont Blanc), you'll get to the English Garden with the famous flower clock and a sculpted bronze water fountain. Then you can cross the street (Quai de General Guisan) and go up the hill (on Place du Port and Rue de la Fontaine) and up the long stairs passage and end up behind Saint Peter's Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, which is Geneva's well-known landmark, you can exit the courtyard and be right in front of Geneva City Hall. From there you can easily walk down to the Bastions Park where you can find the famous Reformation Wall memorial. This park is very quiet and romantic, especially at the beginning of the fall season when the leaves start falling.

By bike
Geneva is a great town to get around in by bicycle. Except for the old-town, the city is fairly flat, and though there are some streets that are dangerous to ride, there is almost always a safe, fast route to your destination. If you want to know the best routes, you should get a copy of the beautifully designed VELO-LOVE plan de ville, which is available at all bike shops in Geneva, or by writing to: or calling (+41) 22 418 42 00.

By bus
Tickets, which cover both trams and buses, must be bought from ticket machines (located at every stop) before boarding the transport.

Tickets cost 2CHF for a short hop (three stops or less, or a one-way crossing of the lake). 3CHF for one hour with unlimited changes on tram, bus, boat, and rail within greater Geneva, 7CHF for a pass valid from 9AM to midnight, and 10CHF for a 24-hour pass valid from the time it is purchased. Holders of the SBB Demi-Tarif/Halbtax card get 20-30% off these prices. The ticket machines do not give change, if you have over paid, keep the ticket and take it to a TPG office (located at the airport, Cornavin railway station and in the middle of the rond-pont de Rive), where the difference will be refunded to you.

Since January 2008, if you stay in a hotel, hostel, or on a camping site, you will get free public transport. Typically, you will receive a Unireso Geneva Transport Card at check-in. It will be authorised for use for the length of your stay and like a ticket one gets in the airport upon arrival it is valid for Geneva and suburbs including the Unireso network. You are supposed to carry your passport or identity card with you at the same time, to ensure validity. The ticket is valid on trains as far as the airport.

By car
If you want to explore the mountainous countryside or go skiing in one of the ski resorts in the Alps, getting a car is a better option. Numerous local and international car rental service providers operate from the airport. They provide customized traveling services to the needs of tourists visiting Geneva.

By train
Regional trains to suburban areas run every half hour during the day and every hour after 8PM. The last train to the eastern terminus, (Coppet), leaves at 12:03AM. Though these "Regios" mostly serve commuters, at least two of their station stops, Versoix and Coppet, have several good restaurants and historic main streets. As with buses and trams, tickets must be bought before boarding the train. If you are only travelling with the canton of Geneva, a bus/tram ticket is valid on the train and vice versa; travelling further afield will cost more.

By Tram
Geneva has an expanding network of super frequent trams. Many lines have their hub at the Cornavin train station, a few others at Place Bel-Air on the old-town side of the river. Tickets which cover both trams and buses must be bought from ticket machines (located at every stop) before boarding the transport.