All posts by Laurence Constable

Laurence started traveling as a child, beginning with summer trips with his family to Lake Temagami in northern Ontario. He has since motorcycled the width of the United States, photographed big game in South Africa, and rafted from the interior of the Yukon Territory to the Alaskan coast. His European experience has taken him around the continent from Paris to Prague, and throughout the British Isles.

Honduras

Honduras FlagMuch like its neighbor to the north, Belize, Honduras has a natural beauty and laid back lifestyle that makes it very appealing to travelers. Unfortunately, its restless political history and underdeveloped infrastructure keep most tourists away. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, which hit in October of 1998, but relief efforts have helped renew the tourist interest in this rough but enticing country. When traveling in Honduras, be aware that street crime is a problem throughout the country. Armed robbery, purse snatching, and pickpockets are on the rise, especially in the larger towns and cities like San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The areas near Tela and Santa Rita de Copán--including the El Rubi waterfall--can be extremely bad with reports of robberies, assaults, and even rapes. When traveling in Honduras, use extreme caution and practice common sense. Traveling in Honduras Honduras MapFlying to any of the bay islands from the major cities is easy. Even flying to the remote areas is getting easier each year. Most larger towns have buses that run from morning until evening. There are trains from San Pedro, Puerto Cortés, and Tela, but they can be slow and unpredictable, so it's best to check schedules often. Launches run between the mainland and the bay islands, but again, schedules vary. You can also take a taxi, but they are not metered so make sure you negotiate a fare before you go anywhere. Rental cars are available and can be a good way to travel if you can deal with dusty roads in the dry season and wet, possibly washed-out roads during the rainy season. Hitch hiking is common in many rural areas where trucks will usually stop and pick you up, but it's best not to do this alone. Honduras is quite affordable. Travelers can get by on as little as US$20-$30 a day, and traveler's on a buget can often do it for much less. Most businesses deal only in lempiras, the country's currency. American dollars are easiest to exchange, though Canadian dollars and pounds stirling can be changed at Lloyd's Bank in Tegucigalpa. Health Risks in Honduras Health risks include cholera, dengue fever, malaria, hepatitis, typhoid, and dysentery. It is advised that you consult a doctor about what shots you may need before traveling to Honduras. Weather in Honduras Weather in Honduras can be unpredictable. From the cool mountains of the interior to the rainy days along the coast, it can vary greatly. Between May and October can be especially rainy in the mountains; it rains almost daily year round on the coast. Honduras Information North / Central AmericaPopulation: 6,249,598 Government: Constitutional democracy Square Miles: 43,870 sq mi (112,492 sq km) Capitol: Tegucigalpa (pop over 1 million) Official Languages: Spanish, Creole English and Indian dialects People: 90% mestizo, 7% Indian Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, plus other Christian sects and indigenous forms of worship Major products/industries: Coffee, bananas, beef, sugar cane, tobacco, forestry

Mexico

Mexico FlagCross the Rio Grande heading south and you'll enter the United States' southern neighbor Mexico. Mexico is a land of many contrasts, from the northern desert to the rainforests of Chiapas, and everything in between. This is a country filled with history and culture--one look at the Mayan ruins is testament to that--but it is also rife with isolated beaches, towering volcanoes, and glitzy resorts in places like Acapulco and Cancun. Whatever your passion, you'll likely find it in Mexico. Mexico City is one of the largest urban areas in the world (behind Tokyo and New York), and among the most congested. If ever there was a metropolis that represented the melding of ancient and modern, Mexico City is that place: remnants of colonial Mexico share space with soaring skyscrapers; the Plaza de la Constitución--the city's historical center--is paved with stones looted from the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Mexico City is situated directly on top of that ransacked Aztec capital, which itself was built on an island in a now reclaimed lake. This means that much of modern Mexico City is slowly sinking into the landfill and swamp on which it stands. The Baja Peninsula is characterized by its beautiful beaches, serene harbors, and often dramatic shoreline. Throughout history, Baja epitomized the notion of the "Old West," harboring mercenaries and outlaws. But modern Baja has become a tourist destination for whale watchers, kayakers, sailors, and more. Some historical interests include Loreto, with its Spanish mission history and offshore national park; and Sierra de San Francisco's pre-Columbian rock art. La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur, known for its outstanding beaches, and Sierra de la Laguna is an ecologist's and hiker's paradise. The Yucatán Peninsula is a diverse collection of archaeological sites, colonial cities, tropical rainforest, seaside activities, and energetic nightlife. The region's Mayan ruins include Uxmal and Chichén Itzá. Tourists flock to the white-sand Caribbean beaches at Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún. Traveling in Mexico Mexico MapCitizens of most countries don't require visas to enter Mexico as tourists. However, if you plan to stay longer than 72 hours, or are traveling to certain exempted areas, you must obtain a 180-day Mexican government tourist card (tarjeta de turista), available from embassies or at border crossings for a fee. Because of its size flying is still one of the best ways to get around Mexico. Most flights are reasonably priced, and the alternative of taking a bus can be an uncomfortable ride. If you are going to fly around the country, make sure to check the timetables for your flights as many of the airlines are small carriers that change their schedules often. Buses are another option in Mexico; the system is extensive, but the rides can vary. Some buses are nicely air-conditioned and comfortable, while others are not. If you don't get a "modern" bus you could be in for a long uncomfortable ride. Fortunally most of the major routes have newer facilities. You can rent a car, but it is wise to know some Spanish and have a lot of patience if you do plan on driving yourself. On a note of warning, the massive influx of tourism has introduced some bad elements to Mexico. Crime has risen to critical levels. Rarely a year goes by when you don't hear about some terrible crime inflicted upon tourists in Mexico. This doesn't tell the whole story as petty crimes like pickpocketing are common, but so are rape and assault. Robbery seems to be the worst, and there are few places you can go where you don't have to be cautious: taxis robberies, muggings at ATM machines, and purse snatching are all prevalent. There are also reports of credit card fraud and armed robberies. Most of these are reported in or around Mexico City, but if you are traveling throughout the country, it's best to stay near the main tourist routes. Weather in Mexico Because of its location, Mexico is a nice place to visit year-round. The most pleasant time to visit is between October and May. From May to September tends to be hot and humid, especially in the south, while December through February is much colder inland. Mexico Information North / Central AmericaPopulation: 100,400,000 Government: Federal republic Square Miles: 758,866 sq mi (1,958,200 sq km) Capitol: Mexico City (pop 22 million) Official Languages: Spanish and indigenous languages People: 60% mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian descent) and 30% Amerindian (indígena - including Nahua, Maya, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs, and Tarascos or Purépecha) Religion: 90% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant Major products/industries: Food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism

United Arab Emirates

UAE Flag When the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1971, a group of seven shaikhdoms from the area united to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE has been growing as trading and travel destination, with its mountains, beaches, and deserts, and its welcoming attitude toward Westerners, as well as Easterners. The UAE is known for its dichotomous lifestyle: on the one hand, there are soaring skyscapers with all of the world's biggest banks represented and bustling shopping malls around every corner, on the other hand there's plenty of shopping to be done in traditional Bedouin markets (or souks) and traditional cultural activities such as camel racing--legacies of the days before the boom. But while the UAE is considered one of the safest places to travel in the region, it is advised that you steer clear of political gatherings or demonstrations. Traveling in UAE UAE Map The UAE has the most relaxed entrance regulations in the region, which means a lot less red tape. Because of its one-time ties to the British Empire, Brits and citizens of other Gulf states can enter without visas (though British citizens are restricted to a three-month maximum stay). Americans and other foreign nationals must have a visa to enter the country, which can be obtained through the consulate, or--more efficiently--through your hotel's 15-day, nonrenewable sponsorship program. It's very important to keep in mind that, because of Middle East tensions, anyone with a passport that has ever been stamped in Israel will not be granted entrance to the UAE. If you do go to Israel, request that your stamp be in a separate place, or on a detachable page. In the UAE the car is not only the best way to get around, it's about the only way. There's no bus or plane service between the seven emirates, so the best way to travel any great distance is by taxi or rental car. There are minibuses and other cheaper ways to go, but these usually take up time that could be spent exploring souks, etc. Driving in the UAE can be a bit frightening, but if you drive defensively and stay on the main roads it shouldn't be a problem. Weather in UAE Between November and April tends to be the best time to visit the UAE. The rest of the year can be incredibly hot and uncomfortable, which makes it hard to want to get out and explore, and even during this "cooler" period, you can expect beach weather (though you may not see many people taking in the sun). What to Know Compared to some of its neighbors, traveling in UAE is not cheap. But that doesn't mean you can't get by for under US$50 a day if you don't mind staying in hostels or cheap hotels. As for money, the easiest to change is the U.S. dollar (seconded by the pound stirling) and there are plenty of ATMs to be found. Tips are not generally expected, but are appreciated especially by wait staff, since the gratuity added to nearly every restaurant bill is traditionally absorbed by the restaurant owners, and not distributed among the poorly paid staff. Another thing to keep in mind is that the month-long Ramadan is almost universally observed in the UAE, so if you are traveling there during this holiday don't expect to find places to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset--this policy is strictly adhered to. United Arab Emirates Information Population: 2.3 million Government: Sultanate Square Miles: 32,400 sq mi (83,600 sq km) Capitol: Abu Dhabi (pop est. 500,000) Official Language: Arabic People: Arab (61%), South Asian (22%), Iranian (8%), other expats (9%) Religion: Muslim (96%) Hindu (4%) Major products/industries: Oil, gas, petrochemicals, fishing

Indonesia

Indonesian FlagWhile Indonesia's spectacular beaches, natural resources, and laid-back lifestyle have attracted tourists, missionaries, and businesses for generations, recent political and religiously motivated events make much of the archipelago dangerous for Western tourists. Travelers should exercise reasonable caution in Jakarta and other metropolitan centers in Java and Sumatra. All travel should be avoided in West Timor; Maluku and North Maluku; remote parts of North, East, and Central Kalimantan; North, South and Central Sulawesi; Papua; and Aceh. Still, there is much to do and see in Indonesia. The nation is composed of a vast number of islands, both large and small, making up an archipelago that stretches for thousands of miles. Java is the most developed island in Indonesia. While some of Indonesia's famous pastoral lifestyle continues to exist on Java, it is also home to the country's largest cities, churning out fumes and traffic, wealth and poverty, and the sort of social discord that typically accompanies rapid development.
To find the "paradise" that hordes of Aussie, European, and American tourists talk about so much, check out Bali. The beaches are beautiful, the volcanic hillsides are lush and brimming with life, and time moves slowly. However, particularly during the high tourist seasons, such as the Christmas season, Bali can be overrun with travelers. It becomes evident that much of what is appealing to tourists is itself manufactured by the tourists and a tourist-friendly society. The flip side of this is the island of Lombok. Lombok embodies all of the potential of Bali, in terms of a rich and beautiful environment and pastoral lifestyle. With more to offer than Bali, for those who want to avoid the trappings of a tourist-centric society, Lombok is an appealing alternative. However, the people of Lombok are not nearly as open to tourists, often expressing resentment to those they see as intruding on their quiet lives. Even further removed than Lombok is the island of Sumatra. With its thick forests, meandering rivers, and remote villages, Sumatra is well worth a visit, if only to know that such places still exist. But be wary of the political and religious conflicts, particularly in the northern section of Aceh. Indonesian MapIndonesia is home to elephants, tigers, leopards, and orangutans. Sea turtles are found in the diverse waters around Bali and the world's largest flowers grow in Sumatra. The islands of Papua, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Sumatra have national parks, while other parks protect special areas such as Komodo, home to the famed Komodo dragon. However, massive tracts of rainforest are logged on a constant basis, and the slash and burn method compounds the environmental tumult by pumping soot and particulates into the air, choking populations of people. Traveling in Indonesia The major airports in Indonesia are in Jakarta and Bali, serviced by Australian Airlines among others. A luxury high-speed ferry runs from Penang to Medan, and other slower boats arrive from southern Malaysia and the Riau Islands. The Christmas season is a very popular time to visit Indonesia for Australians and Europeans. The main Indonesian holiday season is the last week of Ramadan.
Visiting Indonesia, particularly outside of the major tourist seasons, can be very affordable. Lodging typically ranges from US$2-$5 at the budget level up to US$20+ at the high end. Meals are between US$1-$2 (budget) to US$5+ (high end). Tipping is generally not necessary with a few exceptions: tour guides often expect a small tip, as do hotel porters; cab drivers expect you to round the fare up. Traveler's checks are the best bet for carrying cash in Indonesia. Credit cards will be accepted by nicer hotels, shops, and restaurants, but there is not universal acceptance. ATMs are available in bigger cities. Visa regulations have varied in recent years, as a tug of war between politics and tourism dollars progresses. As of December 2003, nationals of 20 countries--including Australia, the United States, and some European countries--were able to obtain a visa upon arrival. Citizens of eight other countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, did not require visas. All others needed to obtain visas before arriving. Health risks in Indonesia include Dengue Fever, Giardiasis, Hepatitis, Japanese B Encephalitis, Malaria, Rabies, and Typhoid. Weather in Indonesia For the most hospitable traveling weather, go to Indonesia between May and October. Much of the rest of the year is considered the rainy season, when travel is possible, but may be less comfortable or interrupted in more rural areas. Indonesia's climate is consistently hot. Temperatures climb to about 88°F (31°C) in coastal regions, dropping further inland. Republic of Indonesia Information Population: 234.89 million Government: Republic Area: 1.9 million sq km Capitol: Jakarta (pop 9.3 million) Languages: Indonesian, English, Javanese, Sundanese People: Acehnese, Bataks, Minangkabaus (Sumatra); Javanese, Sundanese (Java); Balinese (Bali); Sasaks (Lombok); and Dani (Irian Jaya/West Papuan); among hundreds of other ethnic and tribal groups Religion: 88% Muslim, 8% Christian, 2% Hindu Major products/industries: Oil, gas, textiles, timber, coffee, rubber, coal, tin, copper, rice, pepper, palm oil

Costa Rica

Costa Rica FlagCosta Rica has long been seen as an "eye of the hurricane"--a peaceful nation situated in the center of an often turbulent region. The rich history and well-preserved and diverse environment attracts tourists from around the globe. From its beautiful beaches to its massive rainforest, teaming with wildlife, the Costa Rican government has long been committed to preserve the country's reputation as a environmentally and user-friendly place to visit. Traveling in Costa Rica Because it's the transportation hub for international visitors, most people spend a couple of day in the capitol city San José for at least a couple of days. Compared to other Central American capitols, San José is more metropolitan and modern, with finer restaurants, nice hotels, shopping malls, a variety of museums, and more. But if you're travelling on a budget, don't let the polish of San José deter you. It's possible to eat, sleep, and enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer, for as low as US$20-$30 a day. If using traveler's checks, stick to U.S. dollars. American cash is the most easily exchanged, but it's recommended you use small, newer bills, as countefeiting is widespread. Restaurants typically add a 10% gratuity to the bill, so tipping here is unnecessary unless the service is exceptional. It's recommended, however, that you tip bell boys, room attendants, and tour guides. Costa Rica MapThe Caribbean coast is home to many of the more popular beaches and most of the protected environmental area in Costa Rica. The wildlife here is plentiful--including the hanging sloth and breeding grounds for green sea turtles--and it's also the most culturally diverse part of the country, with plenty of handicrafts, music, and cultural tours to be had. If you're looking for a little quiter action, head to the Pacific coast, where more remote beaches, parks, and destinations can be found on the Península de Nicoya and elsewhere. One of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica is Playa Sámara, and Montezuma, near the tip of the Península de Nicoya. Weather in Costa Rica The dry season in Costa Rica is between late December and April; the wet season lasts the rest of the year; however, the Caribbean coast tends to be wet year round. As a tropical country, temperatures vary little between seasons, affected most by altitude. San José, at 3772 feet, has a climate that the locals refer to as the "Eternal Spring": lows average 60°F (15°C) and highs average 79°F (26°C). The coasts tend to be much hotter, with the Caribbean from the 70s to the high 80s (°F) day to night. The humidity at lower altitudes can be oppressive. Republic of Costa Rica Information North / Central AmericaPopulation: 3.8 million Government: Democratic Square Miles: 19,929 sq mi (51,100 sq km) Capitol: San José (pop: 340,000) Official Languages: Spanish, Creole English, and Indian dialects People: 96% Spanish descent, 2% African descent, 1% indigenous Indians, 1% Chinese Religion: 85% Roman Catholic, 14% Protestant Major products/industries: Tourism, electronics, coffee, bananas, sugar, food processing, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products

Venezuela

Venezuelain FlagVenezuela is a gloriously beautiful country, and with almost 2000 miles of coastline, mountains, and jungle, there is something for everyone. Sites like Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, and Lake Maracaibo, South America's largest lake, ensure that you won't soon forget Venezuela's natural beauty. This is a country of extremes--just check out the giant anaconda for proof; it's the world's longest snake, capable of devouring a 100-pound tapir, or even a human, in a single meal. Traveling in Venezuela Venezuela Venezuela's government is in a state of disarray after the recent ouster, then quick reinstatement, of President Hugo Chavez. The situation in Venezuela continues to be unstable, and growing guerilla violence along the Columbian border only makes things worse. The United States, among other countries, has issued warnings to its nationals who plan to travel in Venezuela: it can be risky, and it's best to contact your embassy for information and use caution if you decide to go. Weather in Venezuela The country's climate is mostly tropical, temperatures range between the low 60's and 90-degree range, depending on where you are. The verano, or summer dry season, lasts from December to April, and the invierno, or winter wet season, is from May through November. The dry season is the best time to travel in Venezuela, especially if you are planning outdoor activities such as hiking or beach activities along the Caribbean coast. Weather in the Amazon rainforest is, as expected, uniformly wet with no distinct seasons. Any excursions into the rainforest or on other major treks demand an experienced guide and familiarity with the environment (not to mention a sharp machete to clear your trail). South America Venezuela Information Population: 24,000,000 (est.1994) Government: Federal Republic Square Miles: 355,700 sq mi (912,050 sq km) Capitol: Caracas (pop 4,608,934) Official Language: Spanish People: 67% mestizo, 21% European descent, 10% African descent, 2% indigenous. Religion: 96% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant Major products/industries: Petroleum, iron ore, cereals, fruit, sugar and coffee Health risks: Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, yellow fever

Belize

Belize FlagCompared with the rest of volatile Central America, Belize is more like the island nations of the eastern Caribbean than it's mainland neighbors. Its laid back way reminds visitors of the way the Caribbean was in the days before the big resorts. With only three major paved highways, traveling through Belize is truly an experience. But those same roads will take you to spectacular Mayan ruins in pristine jungles, secluded and peaceful ecotourist lodges, and some of the best scuba diving in the world. All this is not cheap: hotels are few and far between--and thus, more expensive than in other Central American nations. But this lack of sprawling accommodations makes traveling in Belize like stepping back into a simplier time. If you like an adventurous travel destination, Belize might be just the place for you. Traveling in Belize Belize MapWith few paved roads and no trains, traveling in Belize can be tough. Small airplanes travel from Belize City and other cities and towns throughout the country. Cars can be rented but after heavy rains, travel can be nearly impossible as the roads get washed out. If you are headed to the coast or islands, there are frequent launches to most of these places. Belize can be expensive compared to the rest of Central America. But it is still vastly cheaper than many of the islands of the Caribbean. Midlevel rooms will go for roughly $15-$25 a night; higher-end hotels, however, will not be unreasonably expensive. Meals are quite reasonably priced, and you could get away with staying in Belize for under $30 a day, not including transportation cost. American and Canadian dollars, as well as pounds stirling, are easily exchanged in Belize, and most major credit cards are widely accepted. One important thing to remember, though--ATM machines in Belize will not accept foreign bank cards. Health Risks in Belize Health risks include cholera, dengue fever, malaria, hepatitis, typhoid, and dysentery. It is advised that you consult a doctor about what shots you may need before traveling to Belize. Weather in Belize The best time to travel is from November to May. But if you want to avoid crowds and get cheaper rates you may try July to November; this is hurricane season, but when there are no storms the weather can still be very nice. Belize Information North / Central AmericaPopulation: 249,183 Government: Parliamentary democracy Square Miles: 9087 sq mi (23,300 sq km) Capitol: Belmopan (pop 5000) Official Languages: English, English Creole, Spanish, Maya and Garífuna People: 44% mestizo, 30% Creole, 11% Maya, 7% Garifuna Religion: 60% Catholic, 30% Protestant Major products/industries: Sugar, bananas, fish products, garment production, food processing, timber, tourism, construction

 

Ireland

Irish FlagIreland is more than just the land of Guinness and Shamrocks, it is a land of mythic beauty that is hard to forget. From the ancient Celts to the early European Christians, Vikings, and finally the Normans, Ireland has seen more history than many other places on earth. But the country has emerged from tumultuous past into the modern world as a leader in technology and economic development. The Irish have come a long way over the past few generations, but don't let the new modern ways fool you--you can still expect to find that good old Irish hospitality all over the country. Ireland MapWhile the Republic of Ireland gained its full independence in 1949, the long struggle against England is still alive, as seen daily in Northern Ireland. But despite what happens in the north, the Irish have never lost their spirit. When you travel around the countryside you will quickly learn why so many people believe this is a purely magical place. From the juxtaposition of the ultra-chic with poignant history in Dublin, to the ancient limestone-armored hillsides at The Burren, to the dramatic soaring coastlines and solemn quietude of the western isles, Ireland bears many faces. And every  one of them is fascinating and fun. Traveling in Ireland There are many ways to get to Ireland, depending on where you originate. Major airports are located in Dublin; Shannon; and in Northern Ireland, in Belfast. A number of major cities around the world have flights direct to these cities, and there's plethora of options if flying through England. Also, ferry service runs between England; Scotland; Wales; and even Cherbourg and Le Havre, France, to various cities in Ireland. Most sights in Ireland are not accessible by public transportation, which means that the only way to truly see all of the countryside is by car; however, renting a car can be very expensive, and if you do plan on driving in Ireland remember to stay on the left. There are trains and buses that can get you around the country, but they do not travel to all places and their schedules can vary. If you do plan on traveling around Ireland extensively, it's best to have a good plan before you head out--getting from hear to there is typically not as easy as on continental Europe. Weather in Ireland The weather is best in July and August, when it's warm and the days are long. This is also the most crowded time to visit Ireland. In the winter, weather can be miserable, and the days maddeningly short. This, combined with the fact that a lot of tourist facilities are closed, makes traveling to Ireland in the winter hard on many tourists. If you're looking for fair weather and smaller crowds, it may be wise to go there in June or September. Ireland Information Europe Map Population: 3.9 million Government: Democracy Square Miles: 43,575 sq mi (70,282 sq km) Capitol: Dublin (pop. 1.5 million) Official Language: English, Irish (around 83,000 native speakers) People: Irish Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant in the Republic; 60% Protestant, 40% Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland Major products/industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing, pharmaceuticals, tourism

Bangladesh

Bangladesh FlagAs near to out-of-this-world as only a few habited places on this earth are, Bangladesh challenges the visitor to find fulfillment despite excessive population density, national poverty, and robust environmental extremes. The rewards for those who take on such a challenge, though, are unique and intriguing insights into the rich regional Bengali culture and the current state of South Asian and global society.

One of the younger countries in the world, Bangladesh attained its independence from Pakistan in 1972. Dwarfed and almost engulfed by neighboring India, the country is on the very edge of South Asia, adjacent to Burma (Myanmar) to the east. Bangladesh is situated at the confluence and delta of three great rivers--the Ganges (Padma), Meghna, and Brahmaputra (Jamuna)--that together drain most of the Himalayan snowmelt, and this is the defining geographical feature of the nation.

BangladeshPopulation density is extreme countrywide: more than half the population of the United States lives in a land area smaller than many American states. The gross national product is heavily subsidized with foreign aid, and the average annual income is less than US$200. War with, and independence from, Pakistan in the early 1970's represents the dominant intracontinental political struggle of the past half-century, in which Bengalis established themselves as a distinctive ethnic group. The Cold War passed over the limited economic and military power of the region, but did align Bangladesh as an American aid recipient and potential ally. Honored and nurtured, ancient and venerable prayer stupas and Bodhi trees scattered across the country represent the roots of the thousands-of-years-old Bengali culture. Cultural wealth was at a high point half a millennium ago, when ports on the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers traded wares from the interior of the Indian subcontinent with Africa and beyond. Isolated, crumbling palaces on the Ganges floodplain, and the cazbah walls surrounding urban areas, bear evidence of this prior cultural renaissance. Impacts of later colonization by the British are conspicuous: tea plantations continue to operate, and the colonial-era railway system is still the most dependable form of transport. The modern paradigm of globalization is hard on the indebted nation with its sparse infrastructure and high propensity for natural disasters. Although not a major economy of the world, Bangladeshis contribute heavily to the development of the global petroleum industry and also to United Nations armies. Traveling in Bangladesh Division of the Indian subcontinent 1948-50 established the current ethnic distribution, which, in Bangladesh, is approximately 88% Muslim, 11% Hindu, and 1% Christian. Politically, Bengalis tend to be moderately conservative, and the country does not suffer from ethnic and political tension so common in that region. Consideration of local customs, especially those regarding gender and religious roles, is recommended to those who wish to minimize their travel impact. Although a high percentage of Bengalis know some English, actually communicating in English can only be done reliably in urban areas. The native language is Bangla, which has roots in the region and Arabic. Iconic architecture is a highlight of the capital city--Dhaka--as are the high-density urban amazements such as markets and busy intersections. However, the pollution in any Bangladeshi urban area is powerful and pervasive, and includes trash and garbage as well as open sewers, noise, and vehicle exhaust. Rural Bangladesh lies in seemingly stagnant transition between the 18th and the 21st centuries, a condition that has fallen upon much of the resource-poor postcolonial world. There are few wilderness or natural conservation areas, with the major exception of the Sundarbans in southwestern Bangladesh, where the graceful Bengal Tiger roams among immense coastal forests and mangroves. Rural villages tend to be well kept and productive, and people are inviting and interactive. To sit and have cha, a sweet creamy tea, and make conversation is the essence of traveling in Land of Bengal. Bangladesh visas are valid for six months from the date of issue and are good for stays of one or three months. Health concerns include cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, malaria and meningococcal meningitis. Consult your physician before visiting Bangladesh, and be aware of shots or medication that should be taken in advance of your trip. Weather in Bangladesh Monsoons from the Indian Ocean contribute to annual flooding, and the land area of Bangladesh reduces by about one-third each year from August to October. The best time to visit is from October to February--the cold season , when the weather is drier. Springtime in Bangladesh--roughly around April--can be very uncomfortable, with extreme heat and humidity.

Bangladesh Information

Name: People's Republic of Bangladesh Population: 129 million (est.) Government: Republic Square Miles: 55,598 sq mi (143,998 sq km) Capitol: Dhaka (pop: 8.5 million) Official Language: Bangla, English People: 98% Bengali, 250,000 Bihari, tribals less than 1 million Religion: 88.3% Islam, 10.5% Hindu, 1.2% other Major products/industries: Jute manufacturing, cotton textiles, food processing, steel, fertilizer, rice, jute, tea, wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, beef, milk, poultry

North Sound, Virgin Gorda

These photographs from the North Sound of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands were taken in June 2003