I am travelling to Antigua and thought I'd leave earlier and perhaps spend a few days in Jamaica. Are there some good celebrations and/or festivals on at that time and where would be a good place to stay?
Having given the world reggae, jerk seasoning and the finest rum, Jamaicans have much to celebrate and they certainly do, all through the
year and usually with reggae, jerk and rum.
From exuberant island-wide bashes to local fiestas, Jamaica is home to a large variety of events.
There are jerk festivals, yam festivals, coffee festivals, seafood festivals and, of course, reggae festivals. The Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay in July is the mother of all reggae festivals.
The art of social satire is alive and well in Jamaica at the Little Theatre Movement National Pantomime, which runs from December well into
the New Year.
Don't miss this irreverent song-and-dance revue at the Ward Theatre
in Kingston, which has its origins in British-style theatre but, since 1941, has developed into a uniquely Jamaican tradition.
You should also visit the National Gallery to see the Annual National Exhibition (December to February), which showcases the work of Jamaica's newcomers and old hands. It's the highpoint of the island's arts season.
A homestay would be the nicest way to spend your time in Jamaica. You
can arrange to rent a room in a private home through Countrystyle Community Tours (www.countrystylecommunitytourism.com) or Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (www.stea.net).
Make sure you read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade's (MFAT's) travel advisory for Jamaica at www.safetravel.govt.nz before setting off; Jamaica has high levels of violent crime in certain parts.
Find gem off Rio
I will be in Rio de Janeiro for a conference for three days early next year. I have another four days to do a bit of sightseeing before I leave, but I wanted to get out of the city and perhaps a bit off the
beaten track (if that's possible close to Rio). Where do you suggest I visit? Kurt Bysby
Although not exactly off the beaten track, you could do a lot worse
than jump on a bus and travel the four hours to Paraty ($30), west of Rio.
Set amid jutting peninsulas and secluded beaches, with a backdrop of
steep mountains plunging into an island-studded bay, this town is one of Brazil's real gems.
There is a beautifully preserved 17th-century colonial centre with cobbled streets closed to traffic. It makes a great change from the hustle, bustle and pollution of Rio. It does get busy during the December to February period but this translates into a vibrancy that is truly exciting.
There's also Ouro Preto, a wonderful baroque town with cobbled streets that climb the surrounding precipitous hillsides. The higher parts of the town offer some fantastic views of the surrounds and the 23 churches spread across the hills. There is a lot to see here, including some
outstanding local art. The town is six hours by bus from Rio ($40).
If you want to get away from the tourists, head a little further north to Belo Horizonte, a small city named for its beautiful view of nearby mountains. Belo has great restaurants and markets, concerts and art
museums, as well as a friendly and welcoming nature. It's also six hours by bus from Rio ($40).
Haven for cyclists
My wife and I will be visiting family for a wedding in Wales next northern spring. We are keen cyclists and would like to bring our
bikes over to do some cycling around the south of Wales. Are there good
cycling routes around there?
Wales is a haven for cyclists. Official cycle trails, bicycle-only routes and quiet back roads provide a wonderful perspective on the Welsh landscape. There is also some serious off-roading possible on a plethora of world-class mountain-bike trails.
Bringing your own bike is a great idea, as it will free you to take as many days as you wish exploring southern Wales. Bicycles can be ridden on any track identified as a bridleway on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, but you generally can't cycle on public footpaths.
The best roads for cyclists are the quiet, unnumbered country roads
and lanes between villages. You would be best to perhaps take the train out of Cardiff to start your trip.
VisitWales, the national tourist board, publishes Cycling Wales, an
introduction to the long-distance and regional routes with listings of tour organisers, bike hire outlets and regional publications.
It also produces a map pack and gives details of local routes that can be done over three to seven days. More information can be found at
The Cyclists' Touring Club (www.ctc.org.uk) has information about cycling in the UK (and overseas) and mail order OS maps and books.
Sustrans is a sustainable transport charity that encourages people to walk, cycle and use public transport in order to reduce motor traffic in Wales. Its brainchild is the National Cycle Network (NCN), which comprises 16,100km of track and is coordinated by more than 2000
volunteers who maintain routes in their communities.
There are two main long-distance cycle routes in Wales, with their end
points are on the rail network so you can catch the train back.
One of these routes, Lon Geltaidd, covers 355km from near Chepstow, via
Newport and Swansea to Fishguard on the North Pembrokeshire coast. The route picks up the varied landscape, history and culture of South Wales and includes 21km of car-free cycling through the magnificent Millennium Coastal Park. For more information go to www.sustrans.org.uk.
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