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Canada Travel news and blog articles from The Huffington Post
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    When my fiancée surprised me earlier this month with a trip to Cuba for my birthday, my first thought was "Yes! We're going where the sun shines all year round, and where the most beautiful beaches can be found -- the Caribbean."

    We took a flight from Toronto Pearson to Santa Clara and journeyed across to the off-shore island of Santa Maria. We were in Cuba -- the land of the revolutionary Fidel Castro, a man I grew up learning about from my uncle who was one of the first students from Antigua and Barbuda to study there.

    For the next four days, we ate, drank, partied and enjoyed each other. I was just happy to be with my love and to also get away from the Canadian winter blues, even for a short time.

    tasheka lavann
    Tasheka and her partner sailing in Antigua before coming out as a lesbian.

    On the third day of our trip, my excitement grew as we headed out to a Jeep safari tour. This was our opportunity to see authentic local life, quite honestly something we do on every trip to a new country as young seekers of knowledge and truth.

    The tour turned out to be more than I bargained for. We saw firsthand in areas like Yaguajay and Bamburanao just how hard Cubans work to survive on the little that they have. But we also found the people to be so content and happy, always pointing to the fact that they have free education and free health care.

    The most memorable moment for me came on the last leg of our excursion. We went to a huge farm (owned by the government) where I got a chance to plow the field, pet baby animals and learn more about how Cubans live.

    While there, I overheard one of the tour guides explaining to other tourists that the farmers would probably have to work until they're dead to be able to afford a decent life for their families. And that's as essential as a traditional wooden house with proper windows and doors -- something many of us would take for granted.

    While my thoughts of being back home brought on feelings of happiness, it was also a painful reminder of where my sadness and even my anger at times stem from.

    As I looked around the farm and listened to the realities of Cubans, I found their stories sounding more and more familiar. I closed my eyes and there I was on a farm, except this one was about three hours away (by plane) in the land of my birth -- the southern side of Antigua, where I grew up.

    I remembered my days of helping my grandparents on their farm and then going to the market on Saturdays to sell produce. Looking at the animals took me back to my days of feeding our pigs and walking the donkey with the hope that it wouldn't kick me. (I was legit fearful of that donkey.)

    But then I started to imagine things. Now I was back in my childhood home, picturing my mom bursting through the bedroom door to hug her little Black Pearl with my little niece in tow. I was with my family again in my home, in my community, in my country of birth.

    The more I reflected on the past and imagined being home, the more I found myself wiping away tears from my eyes. Why? Because while my thoughts of being back home brought on feelings of happiness, it was also a painful reminder of where my sadness and even my anger at times stem from.

    I was brought back to reality by the thought of my partner and I going back to my childhood home -- a place that still has homophobic laws and a place where LGBTQ members do not get protection from men and women in uniforms who took an oath to protect every citizen.

    As much as I craved my mother's warm embrace, the smell of the sea and the happy moments that I did share with my partner in our home with our four-legged son, I couldn't help but wonder if my homophobic attackers were still around. And that uncertainty -- coupled with the fact that our love is still considered a crime there -- was my wake-up call.

    Through all my pain of being so close to home, I was reminded of why I left everything behind -- to find happiness in a place that accepts and protects me and the love of my life.

    To any member of the LGBTQ community that might find themselves in this situation, just know that it's OK to miss life in the place you once called home. But never allow that grief to become your daily reality. You've come so far to find the freedom you deserve. Cherish it!

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    It's no secret that I like my gadgets. It is not unusual for me to travel with a laptop, a cell phone and a tablet... even for a beach vacation. The plane is one of my favourite spots to answer email and do some writing, and having the tools I need to do that with me is a no-brainer.

    Or at least it was.

    Rule changes with respect to what you can bring on board some international flights will force a change to my typical electronic hoarding.

    And while it'll be tough for me, I can imagine that parents who are used to simply packing an iPad and some headphones for the kids will be wondering what to do now.

    I get it. I was that parent.

    Tablets and small computers have been a staple on our family air trips since the kids were little. That being said, I do think - no matter where you fall on whether the rules should be in place -- that there are things you can do to make sure an electronics-free flight doesn't result in hair-pulling and screaming (and yes, I'm looking at you dad).

    The fact is: Kids are more resilient than we think.

    Kids of all ages are capable of understanding the limits of a situation. And I believe you can still travel with your kids and have them behave even if they don't have their tablets with them. And no, I'm not suggesting you bribe your fellow passengers. (Read this if you want my opinion on "goody bags" for fellow travellers).

    Here are a few things you can do as a parent to set yourself up for a successful flight.

    1. Explain the situation early: The time to tell them they can't bring their iPad or laptop - especially if they've always done so in the past - isn't the night before the flight. Explain the new rules and brainstorm some options together. Get them involved in thinking through what they can do on the plane and consider a trip to the dollar store to pick up a few things that might work well on board instead.

    2. Do your research: Many flights already have built in entertainment options on board. Others don't. Knowing ahead of time if your plane has in-seat entertainment will go a long way to easing your nerves about the trip.

    3. Pack headphones: Little ears and regular sized earbuds don't mix. Proven fact. They'll keep falling out and you'll spend an entire flight trying to put them back in. Save yourself the headaches and pack two pairs: Small buds for take-off/landing and an over-the-ear option for in-flight. Even if they're only listening to music on the in-flight system you'll be glad you had them.

    4.Use what you've got: Sure, tablets and computers are out but your phone is still a great option in a pinch. Download movies or shows ahead of time and keep both your battery life and memory in mind as you do. Carrying a portable charger along is a great idea as well.

    5. Consider non-electronic entertainment options: Whether it's because you don't have in-flight entertainment or because you've decided to skip the movies they're offering having some cards up your sleeve (literally) can be a great way to pass the time. Cards, mini magnetic game boards for older kids and books or comics (real ones) are great old-school entertainment options. You might be surprised how much you all enjoy slowing things down.

    Your turn: Over at Globetrotting Mama we're sharing our favourite ways to keep the kids entertained on a flight. Join us!

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  • 04/04/17--13:57: A Letter To Mexico
  • Mexico, my darling. Oh how you sway us in your turquoise ocean and hold our hands as we walk your white coral beaches. For the past ten days we ran freely through your dirt roads and danced wildly in your streets as you pulsed our heart to your beat.

    Our minutes were endless but our days were short and so we speak gratitude and stow bags filled with artisanal weaves and mezcal in our rental. The dawn hasn't dawned yet and the neighbourhood cock still chants his kee-kee-ree-kee to joyous squeals of our twenty month old señorita. I pick a jasmine blossom and pin it behind my ear to breath your scent a little while longer, blissfully unaware you're about to take our breath away.

    The night is thick with warmth and darkness, the streets deserted as we turn onto the main road chuckling that the police driving along side us doesn't care that the truck in front of us has five people squeezed into the front seat with two more snoring in a hammock in the rear. I buenos dias and smile as we pass and they turn off the path that will ride us through Quintana Roo back to Cancún International Airport.

    We drive and reflect, sad to leave, when my rear-view flashes. My heart drops, I check my speed and think they'll pass, but they don't. I halt to the jungle side of the highway lit by the stars and the moon. The officer walks up and asks for my licencia. I get out, search the trunk, and hand it over. He accuses me of speeding and asks when my flight leaves. 10:30 y lo siento muchísimo, señor. He pauses. I swallow as the jasmine petals wilt and its scent rots. My options aren't options and I can choose to pick up my licencia at 12pm for 2800 pesos at the station OR just this once he could be nice and give me a 50% discount if I pay ahorita. Pero señor. Tenemos un bebe y solo doscientos pesos en efectivo y nada más.

    He glances toward his much kinder looking partner who nods with a slow close of the eye lids implying let's take it, but the officer I'm talking to fanes sympathy and keeps repeating el problemo is that no es para mí. This ain't his first rodeo and after a short negotiation and an explanation on my end that the Canadian dollar banks a miserable exchange rate, we agree on 1000 pesos and a drive to the ATM. At its best the cash will buy his son's school supplies, though it will more likely translate into joyrides celebrating another successful transaction in the life of two small time crooks protected by uniforms of the Policia municipal Tulum.

    The flashing lights guide the way but instead of turning back towards el pueblo they take a right turn onto a gravel road into the jungle. My heart beats in my mouth and we halt in front of a deserted parking lot that holds the eeriness of places meant to be crowded with both bodies and noise. Unfortunately for us this pre dawn AM, there's not a soul in sight. Just dust, a flickering lamppost reserved for psycho thrillers and the dense jungle emitting noises of creatures whose presence you sense but can't see.

    The police officers step out and so does my husband. We don't see an ATM but the officer points toward a string of shacks about 200 meters across the empty lot. Nicolas walks over while I guard our car and our baby. I see Nicolas popping his shoulders into his ears in search of said ATM and then I witness the exchange that makes my veins crunch ice. The officer hands his partner a baton and the little, chunky, silent officer rolls his knuckles around the weapon and crosses the field. My tears taste of boiled ocean and my sobs are now audible. Our Ella screams and while I want to pull her out of her seat to console her, I continue blinking into the darkness that swallowed her father. My thoughts begin racing with images of gushing wounds and single motherhood, but since I can't right this wrong I clench my darling's hand in an attempt to regain control of my fear.

    And then just like that I observe the silhouettes of a swap and my heartbeat recovers from flatlining. Nic is back safe and the transaction is complete. No one got touched, no harm done and other than our bank account and the belief in humanity no one was violated.

    I roll down my window to toss a jasmine blossom into your winds and we race toward the sunrise to climb aboard an airplane that will fly us the hell out of hell. 80 km later we return our car and I feel all the feels recounting the episode to the budget folks, who innocently worked their script to ask if the rental experience was to our liking.

    And then I hear her sob. Her eyes well up and her tears fall hot and heavy. She, the budget supervisor, cannot tame her sadness, her fear and her apologies. Here she sits: A beautiful Mexican Mama whose heart is broken by my account of corruption in the land she calls home. I hug her and hold her and she cries snot, salt and water into the spot on my neck that surly gifts her the gentle perfume of jasmine.

    My darling Mexico, I hurt for you. I hurt that you're being abused by those meant to protect you. I hurt that all your beauty and your kindness and your art and your people exist overshadowed by corruption and I promise you that we will visit again.

    I will have to think twice whether I'll let my daughter play wildly in your winds again, but locking ourselves into one of your all inclusives is not the answer to our continued romance. It is our great privilege to fly home to a country where the police are friends and helpers, but it's also our privilege to live in a system that doesn't drive them into a dawn of corruption. The two officers will wake tomorrow morning and go about their schemes further numbing to the injustice of their existence, one scam and crooked exploitation at a time. My heart breaks for them.

    Mexico, querida I'll love you in spite of the abuse you suffer and I will think of you fondly, hoping to return into your light while dreaming you'll one day free yourself from the vicious darkness that chokes you.

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    As one of the world's favourite beach-based drama's hits the big screen with this spring's hotly anticipated new Baywatch movie, we've revealed some of the most popular sandy beaches around the world. So if you want to hit the beach, be it to explore, soak up the sun, or channel your inner lifeguard, look no further than these beautiful places to stay.

    Venice Beach, Los Angeles, USA

    The iconic Venice Beach -- and in particular the lifeguard station here -- were made famous in the original Baywatch TV series. This popular destination attracts visitors with its quirky charm and character, famous boardwalk and beautiful stretches of sand. The ocean front walk is full of fairground attractions, great eateries and street performers. While in town, make sure to also take a trip to Muscle Beach to catch gymnasts and fitness buffs working out.

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    Just four minutes' walk from the beach and 10 minutes' walk from Venice Boardwalk is the Boutique 444 Venice Beach self-catering apartments. It's the perfect location to explore the area, close to Venice's many restaurants and bars, and it even has a garden and snack bar -- although let's face it, you'll be spending most of the time on the beach.

    Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

    Located on the west coast of Phuket Island, this sandy stretch is a favourite destination for holiday makers on the beautiful and lively island. Boasting excellent snorkelling opportunities, the beach is surrounded by a choice of dining and shopping options -- and for party people, nightlife can be found at the far end of the beach. Visit Karon Beach for great beach walks, relaxation, restaurants and hot weather.

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    Karon Beach Walk Villa is only a five minute walk from the soft white sands of the beach and the perfect way to experience Phuket in luxury. Relax in the private pool or the comforts and modern amenities of your own private villa or get out and about and enjoy the local restaurants, bars and shops, all within two minutes of this stunning property.

    Porto-Vecchio, France

    Set in mesmerising Corsica, Porto-Vecchio has the best of both worlds with a stunning historic old town and history to uncover, set alongside a fashionable modern marina. As well as the white sands lapped by turquoise water, the port town offers plenty to do with places to eat and explore in this charming spot -- if you can be enticed away from the beach.

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    In the heart of the breathtaking Santa Giulia Bay and a mere four minute walk from the beach, the Costa Nera residences, set in gorgeous gardens, offer high end accommodation with private studios and apartments. Perfectly situated for the beach, these contemporary apartments are perfect to relax after a sunny day on the beach.

    Nanwan, Taiwan

    Located in Kenting National Park, this stretch of coast offers breathtaking scenery and 600 meters of soft white powdery sand. The spectacular beach is also perfect for water sport enthusiasts with great surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving. Nanwan is also the perfect locale for nature lovers with spectacular scenery, rolling hills and tons of greenery.

    Photo credit:

    Found in the heart of Nawan of of Hengchun Township,
    San Teodoro, Sardinia, Italy

    This glamourous town is awash with elegant beach bars and clubs, making it a popular holiday destination on the northeast coast of Sardinia. Boasting impressive beaches with pristine white sands and translucent turquoise waters, it's perfect for everyone. For those who can be tempted away from sunbathing there is plenty of activities including sailing, scuba diva and horse trekking.

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    Set higher up in the hills and surrounded by a pretty garden and terrace, at B&B Li Muntigedd you can soak up the magnificent views of the sea. Enjoy the sweet Italian breakfast which is served daily in the garden or make the most of the views on the sun terrace with the barbeque facilities.

    Sanya, China

    Nicknamed the 'Hawaii of China', the golden shores of Sanya is a popular destination for vacation goers. The region is made up of three zones with a bustling city centre and stretches of exquisite beaches including the exclusive Yalong Bay lined with luxurious resorts. Bask in the warm weather, relax on the beautiful beach and enjoy fresh seafood while you visit Sanya.

    Photo credit: Wikipedia

    Only 200 yards from the beach you can find the comfort of Wenxiaoyi lnn Sanya canacoast guest house. The stylish rooms are the perfect base for exploring the local area with many dining options within walking distance and the best of local dishes to sample. Travellers can also chill in the shared lounge area to get to know other travellers.

    Boracay, Philippines

    At only 4.5 miles long, Boracay is a postcard perfect stretch of sand white beaches lined with luxury seafront resorts. It's a secluded getaway perfect for travellers seeking idyllic beaches, picture perfect sunsets and friendly islander locals. This piece of paradise is known not only for its beaches, but also for its water sports and friendly people.

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    Surrounded by a lush hillside overlooking the turquoise ocean, Shangri-La's Boracay Resort and Spa provides a luxurious and secluded hideaway. Boasting a private beachfront, two stunning outdoor pools and spacious guest rooms, travellers are sure to experience the true meaning of Shangri-La. The villas and suites add a touch of first class with a butler service and either a private pool or hot tub. Whether you are seeking adrenaline or tranquillity this resort can cater for all, with a selection of spa treatments or a range of water-sport activities from kayaking, deep sea diving to even a romantic sunset cruise.

    Learn more at

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    A few years back, I found myself in an extraordinary position -- I was going on a dream vacation to France. When I started planning our trip, I became very focused on Paris. How could I not? France, to me, was the Louvre, gorgeous architecture, and wine with every meal.

    As plans began to fall together and reservations secured, a thought dawned on us: since we're going all the way to France, why don't we visit Vimy Ridge?

    Fast forward a few months, and we're boarding a train in Paris, ready to embark on our journey to the Vimy Ridge War Memorial. We were welcomed by what I can only describe as peacefulness; only the sounds of rustling leaves and swaying trees could be heard even though the grounds were full of people. It was the polar opposite, I imagined, of what was going on in that same spot in April 1917, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

    The Monument

    vimy ridge

    We immediately made our way over to the Vimy Ridge Monument. My first impression was that it is gigantic and tremendously stunning. The structure is made of white marble and around its base are the names of the over 11,000 Canadian soldiers killed in France during the First World War whose bodies were never recovered (these men were officially recognized by the Canadian government to be, "missing but presumed dead").

    After spending some time at the monument, we walked towards the underground tunnels, on a path lined beside a forest of very important trees. The ground from which these trees are rooted looked misshapen and unnatural. We later learned those trees were planted by the French after the war to protect and preserve the distorted earth from erosion.

    The point was to keep the scarred earth exactly as it was, to preserve the memory of the war and the men who sacrificed their lives there.

    In 1922, the French government gave Canada the land in and around the memorial grounds, which is now considered Canadian soil.

    As we continued to walk down the path, our eyes swept over signs that warn of unexploded bombs still hidden underground. Once again, we couldn't help but imagine what was happening, in this now serene spot, nearly 100 years ago. There are large craters peppered throughout the grounds, which we discovered were made when Canadian soldiers, hiding in their tunnels (sometimes for days, in the dark), had to blow out an exit so they could pour from the earth and face their fate.

    During the four-day battle at Vimy Ridge, over 3,500 soldiers were fatally injured and 7,000 wounded.

    The Tunnels

    A university student from Ontario was our tour guide, he brought us down into the tunnels and showed us the conditions in which the soldiers lived. As we descended into the belly of the Earth, I felt like I could understand, in a small way, what life there must have been like -- cold, dark, dripping, and miserable. The tunnel walls are made of chalk and there were soldiers' carvings everywhere; sometimes their initials or those of their sweethearts.

    After we emerged back out from the tunnels, we headed over to the cemeteries. Row after row, the names of the men and boys who died there are solemnly displayed. At 30 years old, my husband was already older than a lot of those who died at Vimy Ridge. I couldn't believe how many tombstones revealed soldiers of only 17 and 18 years of age.

    The Cemeteries

    We spent a long time in the various cemeteries -- both of us quiet, walking up and down the rows of tombstones, taking in all the names, ages, and (sometimes) the few details provided, giving us a glimpse of who these men were outside of wartime.

    It was very humbling.

    If you get the opportunity to go, do. You will never regret it.

    By the end of the First World War, more than 170,000 Canadian soldiers were wounded and over 60,000 killed (which came at a time when Canada's entire population was roughly below eight million people).

    As that day drew near an end, the weather turned grey and drizzly. Droplets of water splashed down on us as we waited for a cab to take us back to the train station. It was an unforgettable experience, one that I will always consider myself incredibly lucky to have had.


    When I think back to my trip to France, I realize we did a lot of really special things: we looked out over Paris at night from the Eiffel Tower, walked along the Seine, and saw Marie Antoinette's bedroom. Those were all great, but nothing compares to our trip to Vimy Ridge. If you get the opportunity to go, do. You will never regret it.

    April 9 is National Vimy Ridge Day, and this year marks 100-years since the Battle at Vimy Ridge. Please take a moment to learn more about this important piece of Canadian history.

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    There's nothing boring about the travel industry. New bucket-list destinations are constantly being uncovered and life-changing adventures can be had in nearly every corner of the world. Lower airfares and an unending list of must-visit attractions and locales means tourism boards are fighting harder than ever to lure travellers in during the spring and summer travel seasons.

    welcome in sand
    (Photo: Anyaberkut via Getty Images)

    Local tourism boards are becoming some of the best places to gain insight on destinations from the most knowledgeable people around -- the ones who actually live there.

    These nine tourism board websites are ones that are working hard to encourage you to book a plane ticket before you have time to search elsewhere -- and they're succeeding, too.

    The Wyoming Office of Tourism

    Wyoming isn't the most visited states in the U.S. In fact, according to Business Insider, it's not even in the top 20. But that's what makes visiting this wildly adventurous state so exciting. The Wyoming Office of Tourism recently rolled out their "That'sWY" brand campaign, and the emphasis on the state's open-minded people, rugged adventures (from Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Tetons), and opportunities to truly get away from it all, make an chance to visit Wyoming one that's impossible to resist.

    Jamaica Tourist Board

    Photo credit: Chris Parker2012

    You probably don't need much convincing to understand that Jamaica is one of the most naturally beautiful and culture-filled countries in the world. But competition is fierce in the warm, turquoise waters of the Caribbean. One visit to the Jamaica Tourist Board's website, and you'll feel the irie, laidback vibes of the island through your computer screen. This tourism board does an impressive job of explaining how Jamaica's culture, cuisine, music and people are different from all of the other destinations in the Caribbean Sea.

    San Francisco Travel

    San Francisco Travel was founded in 1909, so it goes without saying that this tourism board knows how to lure in travellers. San Francisco Travel, much like the city itself, is constantly adjusting to the latest travel and cultural trends, which means you can find lesser-known neighborhood hotspots, Airbnb rentals, and other modern travel musts without having to search multiple websites.

    Visit Stockholm

    Photo credit: Tommie Hansen

    Stockholm is a tech-savvy city, and it shows through the tourism board's website. Visit Stockholm encourages travellers to experience the best of the city in 2017, from admission-free museums to the most Instagrammed attractions and the top LGBT club scenes. Simple categories like "Eat and Drink" and "See and Do," make it easy to map out your visit while gathering a feel for the city's open-mindedness and international vibe. If you haven't considered visiting the "Capital of Scandinavia" yet, this website will change your mind.

    Aruba Tourism Authority

    It's difficult not to start singing the lyrics to "Kokomo," a song released by the Beach Boys in 1988, when hearing about the Caribbean paradise of Aruba. However, many travellers don't know about the popular honeymoon destination's more culture-filled and adventurous side. Sure, the Aruba Tourism Authority's website showcases the island's world-famous beaches, but it also encourages visitors to embark on day trips, sample the local cuisine, and experience annual festivals, like the upcoming Soul Beach Music Festival. Aruba isn't just for newlyweds, and after browsing the site, this Caribbean hotspot will be on your 2017 travel bucket list.

    Cozumel and Riviera Maya Tourism Board

    Photo credit: truebacarlos

    Spring breakers are heading to Mexico's Riviera Maya and the popular island of Cozumel in droves, but the Cozumel and Riviera Maya Tourism Board website emphasizes that there's more than one time of year to visit. This easy-to-navigate site focuses on unforgettable experiences -- something that travellers are seeking more than ever in 2017. From an unbelievably scenic round of golf to the ultimate romantic dinner and days spent exploring an ancient Mayan World, this tourism board easily convinces travellers to venture south of the border, whether it's spring, summer, fall or winter.

    Tourism Santa Fe

    Santa Fe, N.M., may not be on your bucket list yet, but it will be soon. One visit to the Tourism Santa Fe website, and you'll wonder why you've never booked a ticket to this not-so-faraway destination. This tourism board helps you understand that there's no way to understand the beauty, history and culture of this New Mexican city without seeing it for yourself. However, the site makes it easy to book accommodations, find deals, and plan adventures without having to consult a separate travel agency. In the 2017 travel industry, being different is a good thing, and Tourism Santa Fe does an excellent job of setting its city apart from the rest.

    Niagara Falls Tourism

    Photo credit: nic_r

    As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, Niagara Falls doesn't have a difficult time finding travellers. However, many of those travellers are unaware of all of the other noteworthy attractions, flavours and adventures the area has to offer. The Niagara Falls Tourism website showcases Fallsview Boulevard, the Clifton Hill District and other trendy areas that will encourage travellers to explore the lesser-known, but equally as impressive, parts of this region too.

    This Is Cartagena

    This Is Cartagena is a tourism board that's on top of the latest travel trends, and it shows. The website draws visitors into the city's more local side, with independent city guides, real insiders and carefully-constructed restaurant reviews that will make you want to taste the true flavours of the Colombian city. This Is Cartagena emphasizes the importance of experiencing the authenticity of the city, from local cooking classes to street vendors and tours guided by proud locals. Drop by the website, and you'll be clicking the "Plan Your Perfect Trip" button in minutes.

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    Prince Edward Island is one of Canada's most charming tourist destinations, and a new campaign is hoping to promote the island as a safe space for LGBTQ travellers.

    In March, the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association released a series of six videos on Facebook showing same-sex couples and their families exploring the province — from the historic streets of Charlottetown to beaches on the island's north shore. One video shows a happy couple's wedding, with one of the brides posing for a photo wrapped in a rainbow flag.

    P.E.I. might not be the first destination LGBTQ travellers think of — it lacks Toronto's buzzing nightlife, or Vancouver's massive Pride celebration. But the chair of the P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association says it makes up for big-city thrill with an open and welcoming community.

    "The people featured in the videos are all LGBTQ residents of P.E.I. Some were born here ... others chose to live here which I think speaks to the inclusiveness of the Island," Bill Kendrick told The Huffington Post Canada.

    Kendrick says LGBTQ tourists are looking for the same thing as any traveller: "fresh local food, interesting authentic culture and beautiful beaches."

    "In addition, LGBTQ travellers want to feel comfortable and welcome."

    The P.E.I. Gay Tourism Association not only promotes the island as a destination for LGBTQ travellers, but provides sensitivity training for businesses.

    Tourism P.E.I. is also doing its part, with a list of LGBTQ-friendly businesses on its website and photos of LGBTQ couples in its visitors guide.

    "One can just be one's self in P.E.I. We don't have gay bars here, but we have a gay premier and open-mindedness that surpasses most places in this world," said Derek, one of the P.E.I. residents featured in the videos.

    "Those looking for an exciting nightlife won't find it here, but they will find everything else they want," Kendrick added.

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    MONTREAL — Canada will introduce new legislation this spring that will address the problem of travellers being bumped from flights, the federal government said Monday, as the violent dragging of a passenger off an overbooked flight in the U.S. unleashed anger over the practice.

    A spokesman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau said bumping rules will be included in an air passenger bill of rights that was promised last fall to establish clear, minimum requirements for compensation when flights are oversold or luggage lost.

    Marc Roy declined, however, to say if the legislation would set industry-wide standards or raise compensation to levels offered in the United States or Europe.

    Garneau would not comment directly on the incident aboard a United Airlines flight Sunday in Chicago, where police officers were seen on video grabbing a man from his seat and dragging him down the aisle. He said he did not know whether a passenger in Canada can be forcibly removed from a flight because of overbooking.

    "I certainly have seen what happened in the case of the United Airlines flight and that is why last November I announced that we would be putting in place what we call a regime of rights for passengers," Garneau said. "We recognize that when a passenger books a ticket, they are entitled to certain rights."

    Passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said the "troubling" video highlights the need for greater consumer protection.

    "Sadly, people realize what bumping actually means only when an incident so extreme happens," he said.

    Lukacs said all airlines should be required to conform to the same compensation limits, with thresholds rising to a maximum of $1,500, in line with the U.S.

    In 2013, Lukacs won a Canadian Transportation Agency case against Air Canada (TSX:AC) over the issue of bumping that required the airline to raise compensation to a maximum of $800 depending on the length of delay.

    marc garneau tax cuts
    Transport Minister Marc Garneau says a passenger bill of rights, to be introduced in Parliament this spring, will include rules on airlines bumping passengers. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

    Passengers are usually only removed forcibly from flights if they are intoxicated or deemed by crew to be a threat. However, Lukacs said airline staff can legally use their power to bar passengers.

    "If for any reason the airline tells you you need to leave, you have to leave," he said. "You don't get a choice, you cannot argue about whether you have to leave or not because it is their aircraft."

    He said airlines overbook flights as a hedge against people not showing up.

    Air Canada said bumping is rare.

    "We appreciate this is inconvenient for customers and we do take a very conservative approach to avoid this situation arising and when it does, we pay significant compensation," spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick wrote in an email.

    WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA) and Air Transat say they don't intentionally overbook flights. WestJet said it can be forced to assign passengers to a later flight if it faces an operational issue such as a mechanical problem or when a plane is replaced with a smaller one.

    Rick Seaney, CEO of U.S.-based, said he's never seen something like what happened on board the United Airlines plane.

    "You should never let somebody board that you're going to toss," he said from Dallas.

    Pre-pay for seat to prevent bumping

    He said airlines typically raise the financial incentive until someone voluntarily agrees to take a later flight.

    The Canadian Transportation Agency said passengers can minimize their chances of being bumped by pre-paying for a selected seat, checking in online up to 24 hours in advance of the flight and arriving at the airport early.

    The agency said it received 55 complaints about overbooking in 2015-16, less than four per cent of all air travel complaints filed.

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    Recently, one of the most talked about events in air travel was the video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight due to overbooking. In the 25 years I have been in the industry I have never seen anything quite like this.

    Although overbooking is a common occurrence among most airlines this case took things to the extreme. The violent removal of the unwilling traveller was recorded by fellow passengers for the world to see. This event has shone a light on overbooking and caused travellers to question what their rights are once they pay for their air ticket.

    airline travel

    Most airlines expect a certain number of no-shows on each flight and routinely overbook flights to maximize capacity. This practice has been taking place since I started in the industry and for monetary reasons I doubt that it is ever going to change.

    What many people don't realize is that airlines have the right to "involuntarily bump" passengers when they need to as long as they compensate the passenger. This is stated in each airlines "tariff" or terms and conditions which is essentially your contract with the airline. Airlines can bump passengers at any point in the travel process -- at check-in, at the gate or once passengers have actually boarded the aircraft like in the United Airlines incident.

    In the U.S. and EU there are Passenger Bills of Rights that clearly state a set minimum amount of monetary compensation that airlines must give to "involuntarily bumped" passengers. In Canada, the amount is left up to the individual airlines. However, the Canadian government is planning to introduce legislation specifically dedicated to airline bumping and it is expected that minimum compensation amounts will be included in that Passenger Bill of Rights. This recent event with United Airlines could help fast track this legislation which would definitely benefit Canadian travellers in the future.

    This entire situation with United Airlines could have been avoided if staff members handled this prior to anyone boarding the aircraft.

    The passengers who are most likely to get bumped are those who have bought the cheapest fares, booked tickets on points or who are last to check in. Essentially there are various reasons you could be selected. To lower your chances of being bumped I recommend that you get a specific seat assignment when you book your flight and that you check-in as early as possible.

    This entire situation with United Airlines could have been avoided if staff members handled this prior to anyone boarding the aircraft. Typically when this is dealt with beforehand the airline will ask for volunteers well before boarding and increase the compensation amount if no one comes forward. Frankly, offering an $800 voucher to already seated passengers was too little, too late.

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    Whether you're tired of taking typical resort vacations or you're looking for something a little different when it comes to how you travel, ecotourism might be just the thing to shake up your vacation routine. Not only will you be experiencing a destination in a whole new way, you'll have the opportunity to positively impact the environment and its plants and animals.

    There are so many options when it comes to volunteering abroad or closer to home, but the travel experts at have done the legwork and sussed out our picks for 10 destinations where you can make a difference.

    Help research global warming in Canada's Mackenzie Mountains
    Image: tuchodi, Mountain camping via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    If you love getting out into nature, you're going to love this chance to work with scientists to discover clues about global warming in the Mackenzie Mountains, a majestic mountain range that runs along the border between Canada's Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The researchers here are working to preserve the area's sensitive environment and learn more about the effects of global warming. You'll help them look for and monitor signs of climate change, take soil and permafrost samples, monitor the health of the tree line and record information on native plant species. When you're not in the field, you'll have a chance to relax at the lodge and attend talks on climate change and the natural history of species in the area.

    Monitor climate change in Joshua Tree National Park in California, U.S.
    Image: Ken Lund, Cap Rock Hike, Joshua Tree National Park via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    Spend some time in one of North America's most popular national parks while at the same time helping scientists monitor climate change and do what they can to preserve the Mojave Desert. As you hike through stunning Joshua Tree National Park in California, you'll be tasked with monitoring desert vegetation and collecting data on various plants; trapping, recording and safely releasing reptiles and amphibians and exploring the area for larger birds and animals alongside scientists. This is a great volunteer opportunity for anyone who loves hiking in the great outdoors and has a passion for environmental conservation.

    Care for wildlife in Hawaii
    Image: Paul Bica, Waipio Valley, Big Island, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    This volunteer opportunity is your chance to have an unforgettable beach vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii while also helping to care for native and exotic wildlife at a local wildlife centre. During your stay, you'll be caring for resident exotic and non-releasable wildlife, working with injured wildlife and returning them to the wild if possible and educating visitors and locals about Hawaii's island ecology and animal behaviour. When you're not working, you'll have the chance to enjoy the island's many beautiful beaches.

    Work at an animal rescue centre in Costa Rica
    Image: Marissa Strniste, Up-Close Sloth via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Volunteer at a private ecological reserve in northern Costa Rica in San Carlos province to help out an animal rescue centre and support wildlife conservation efforts in the area. The rescue centre gives endangered, injured and abandoned animals a home and, whenever possible, releases animals back into the wild. Volunteers have a chance to work with the animals by feeding them and cleaning their living quarters (if you need convincing, you can meet some of the animals here). Volunteers will also help to maintain trails on the reserve, work in the greenhouse and participate in community outreach projects in the area.

    Protect bottlenose dolphins in Croatia
    Photo credit: Talia Cohen

    The small village of Zambratija, Croatia, will be your base as you volunteer with bottlenose dolphin conservation on the Adriatic Sea where the bottlenose dolphin population has declined by approximately 50 percent in the last five decades. Your volunteer efforts will include dolphin observation and tracking as well as entering and analyzing data from field work. You'll learn how to distinguish between dolphin species and have the chance to attend morning talks about NGO efforts to protect marine mammals and ecology. During your stay, there will also be at least one organized group trip to a nearby national park.

    Conserve great white sharks in South Africa
    Image: Travelbag Ltd, Great White Shark in South Africa via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    Travel to South Africa to the Great White Shark capital of the world to work alongside marine biologists in their conservation efforts. This volunteer opportunity takes you to the beautiful area of Gansbaai, just two hours outside of Cape Town, where you'll be doing a number of interesting things to help out, including educating cage divers about sharks and ongoing conservation methods, tracking sharks, collecting data about various marine species in the area, working with local children in education and beach clean-up and even getting up close and personal with a few Great Whites while cage diving.

    For more top picks of travel adventures where you can also give back to the environment, go here.

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    Eastern white cedars (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    Canada is rich in forest habitats, with many unique forests in each province. More than half of our country is covered in forests, and Canada is home to almost 10 per cent of the world's forests. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is dedicated to preserving forests coast-to-coast, from the boreal forest in Newfoundland to the majestic coastal forests of Vancouver Island. We've chosen ten of our forest properties that are publicly accessible for you to explore.

    1. British Columbia's coastal Douglas-fir forests

    Mt. Tzouhalem, British Columbia (Photo by Mike Szaszik)

    Chase Woods Nature Preserve is a 100-acre (40-hectare) property located on Mt. Tzouhalem in British Columbia's Cowichan Valley. Dominated by trees clinging to dramatic cliffs rising above Cowichan Bay, Chase Woods is well-loved and travelled by locals and hikers. This old-growth forest includes centuries-old Douglas-fir and arbutus, and pockets of rare Garry oak meadow. Bats and peregrine falcon nest in the cliffs and caves on this special preserve.

    2. Alberta's majestic Crowsnest Pass

    Crowsnest Pass, Alberta (Photo by NCC)

    The remote Crowsnest Pass in Alberta is storied for mining, being an important railway connection through the Rockies, and the disastrous Frank Slide, where the town of Frank was lost in a massive rockslide in 1903. The Crowsnest Pass is also home to an ecologically diverse Interior Douglas-fir forest, where wide-ranging carnivores, elk and deer can call home. Included in this forest is NCC's Lusicich Estate property, where visitors who are willing to venture off the beaten path will be rewarded with a close-up experience of the Phillipps Pass, which transverses through the area and along the Crowsnest Lake, and a look at some of the province's majestic Douglas firs.

    3. Saskatchewan's West Parklands Natural Area - Maymont 5

    Maymont 5, Saskatchewan (Photo by Don Dabbs)

    On the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, just south of the town of Maymont, Saskatchewan, is a 136-acre (55-hectare) property called Maymont 5. Many rare or endangered species make their home here, including lake sturgeon that plies the waters of the river this property hugs.

    This area is a part of West Parklands Natural Area in Saskatchewan, which forms the southern transition to the boreal forest, a type specific to Canada's Prairies.

    Visitors to Maymont 5 will find a collection of waterfowl, grassland birds and mammals - but no marked trails. You can start your journey just south of the Maymont Bridge at the barbed-wire fence entrance and walk east across the property, crossing through narrow bands of aspen forest and dry grassland knolls before climbing the fence line to the height of land to watch the waters of the river flow by.

    4. Manitoba's Elk Glen

    Elk Glen, Manitoba (Photo by NCC)

    Elk Glen is a 1,596 acre (645 hectares) property which is right next to the southern boundary of Riding Mountain National Park in western Manitoba. The north of the property consists of mixed-wood forest, transitioning into aspen and oak forests to the south. The olive-sided flycatcher, Canada warbler, bear, moose and elk all make their home here.

    Before heading out to Elk Glen, please contact the Manitoba Region at 1-866-683-6934 to obtain prior permission and coordinate your visit.

    5. Ontario's Happy Valley Forest

    Happy Valley Forest, Ontario (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    The Happy Valley Forest is a 2,850 acre (1,154 hectare) forest located in King Township north of Toronto. It is one of the largest remaining intact deciduous forest tracts on the ecologically significant Oak Ridges Moraine, and supports more than 110 bird species and a number of species at risk, including endangered plants and salamanders.

    Happy Valley is a shining example of the upland sugar maple and beech forests native to this area. Its old-growth features take visitors back to a time before the first loggers began cutting the forest giants of southern Ontario.

    6. Quebec's Green Mountains Nature Reserve

    Mount Foster, Green Mountains, Quebec (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    Quebec's Eastern Townships give Montrealers a chance to enjoy nature an hour away. NCC's Green Mountains Nature Reserve is the largest privately held Quebec conservation area; a stunning 17,300 acres (7,001 hectares) of pure, untouched wilderness. This forested area provides habitat for 20 at-risk plant species, birds of prey such as owls and hawks, and various mammals including bears, bobcats and moose. The forest boasts deciduous birches, beeches, ash and maple at lower elevations, which are stunning to view in the fall, and mixed-wood forests of fir, spruce and birch at higher elevations.

    7. New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy - Musquash Estuary

    Musquash Estuary, New Brunswick (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    The Musquash Estuary is the Bay of Fundy's last fully-functioning estuary. An estuary is a transitional space between rivers and coasts, where high levels of nutrients make estuaries one of the most biologically productive environments in the world. The massive area -4,233 acres (1,713 hectares) - covered by the Musquash Estuary is home to six important habitats from the Bay of Fundy region, including coastal forests. The NCC has established and maintains two hiking trails which give visitors an immersive experience in this ecologically diverse area.

    8. Nova Scotia's Gaff Point

    Gaff Point, Nova Scotia (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    If you're looking for a coastal hike on Nova Scotia's South Shore, Gaff Point near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia will reward you with thrilling views of the ocean. The trail starts on a white sand beach, meanders and climbs through a rugged and windswept conifer forest, and opens up to heaths and grasslands overlooking the shore below. Whales, seals and a variety of birds are just some of the wildlife you'll see on a hike to Gaff Point. A seven-kilometre hiking trail is accessible off Hirtle Beach.

    9. Prince Edward Island's Boughton Island

    Boughton Island, Prince Edward Island (Photo By Mike Dembeck)

    Boughton Island
    is PEI's third-largest island and has been completely uninhabited since World War II. Wildlife diversity has bloomed on Boughton, and locals often take day trips to Boughton to try to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles, great blue herons, and the endangered nesting piping plover. Its diverse habitats include six kilometres of pristine shoreline and spruce forests, which you can enjoy with walks through old roads constructed before the island's limited settlements and lobster cannery were abandoned.

    10. Newfoundland: Boreal forest and the Salmonier River

    Salmonier River, Newfoundland (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

    The Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland is home to North America's most easterly forest. The forest consists primarily of stands of balsam fir, with white and yellow birch interspersed. This unique forest habitat also has a high diversity of lichens, believed to be unmatched when compared to the boreal forests of the rest of Canada. Many of these species are uncommon, declining, or at risk worldwide, such as the endangered Atlantic population of boreal felt lichen.

    This post originally appeared in the Globe and Mail and on NCC's blog, Land Lines.

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    In a week of insane news about how airlines treat their passengers, it's nice to be reminded that forceful "re-accommodation" and bumping a 10-year-old from an oversold flight are the exceptions and not the rule.

    Joel VanderHoek, a businessman from Lynden, Wash., shared an open letter he wrote to WestJet after a flight on Saturday from Calgary to Abbotsford, B.C.

    "There was a medical incident, and the way it was handled deserves commendation," he wrote in a Facebook post.

    VanderHoek went on to describe how quickly the WestJet crew worked with a nurse who was onboard and a volunteer translator to help care for a male passenger who passed out.

    westjet passenger letterRead Joel VanderHoek's full Facebook letter

    "It was beautiful to see strangers come together as humanity to help one another," he wrote.

    "They were so organized, caring, respectful and attentive," VanderHoek said about the flight attendants, who kept the patient's sister updated on the situation.

    While medical emergencies on planes do happen on a regular basis, Westjet's staff response was particularly welcome to witness, noted VanderHoek.

    "In an Easter week of particularly unpleasant news about airline treatment of customers, I commend you for a culture of kindness and care. It was evident before the medical incident but was made especially clear tonight. Thank you."

    Earlier this month, WestJet was named the top airline in Canada, by travel site TripAdvisor, and placed in the top five low-cost airlines in North America sub-category.

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    There's not much that can match the raw beauty of Mother Earth. And, every spring, you can count on her to paint the world breathtaking shades of pink and white. Known as sakura in Japanese, the cherry blossom is a symbol of renewal and hope. And while Japan might be world renowned for this beautiful bud, cherry blossom trees can be found all over in the world. With spring officially sprung, we have uncovered a few of the best places to experience these gorgeous blooms.

    Osaka, Japan

    Osaka is one of Japan's best cities for cherry blossom viewing, with Kema Sakuranomiya Park being the city's most popular location. The park features nearly 5,000 cherry trees lining the Okawa River for several kilometers. You can enjoy the breathtaking view of the cherry blossoms from a riverside promenade, open lawn areas or from a ship cruising the river.

    Where to stay: Situated right along the Okawa River, the Imperial Hotel Osaka is a short 12-minute walk to Kema Sakuranomiya Park. The chic décor and relaxing ambience provide an ideal oasis after a long day traversing the city. With six restaurants on site offering a range of cuisine types, guests can dine in traditional style without ever having to leave the property.

    Toronto, Canada
    (Photo: Flickr)

    Each Spring, visitors flock to Toronto's High Park to admire the city's only cherry blossoms location. While Sakura trees are known for their beauty, they are also known for their short blooming periods. Visitors are well advised to stay updated on the progress of the blooms as they usually only last about a week, making timing of your visit essential.

    Where to stay: In the heart of Downtown Toronto, the Delta Hotels by Mariott Toronto is the perfect place to stay to experience the hustle and bustle of Toronto city life. With countless restaurants, stores and activities just steps away, you will not run out of things to do and places to go quickly. This property is located near Toronto's subway and streetcar lines, both of which can bring you within a short walk of High Park's Bloor street entrance.

    Kyoto, Japan
    (Photo: Flickr)

    Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto and is best known for its huge weeping cherry trees. During peak blossom season, the cherry trees are illuminated at night so that people can enjoy them both night and day. Kyoto also has the magical and romantic Philosopher's Path, a walking path from Ginkaku-ji Temple to the Wakaoji-jinja Shrine, lined with cherry blossoms on both sides. The cherry blossom petals floating on the water add to an already visually stunning walk.

    Where to stay: The Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo is located less than one mile away from Maruyama Park. Each guest room is equipped with sophisticated décor and air conditioning for your comfort. The on-site restaurant allows guest to savour native delicacies prepared with local and fresh ingredients for breakfast.

    Vancouver, Canada

    (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

    As winter begins to fade and spring arrives, Vancouverites and visitors to the city can't miss seeing the beautiful 40,000 cherry blossoms that Vancouver hosts. Each year there are multiple events for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival including Bike the Blossoms, Tree Talks and Walks, Plein-Air Blossom Painting and the Cherry Jam Downtown. The city has an array of parks and activities that help admirers take in the cherry trees' seasonal blossoming.

    Where to stay: The Wedgewood Hotel and Spa is a luxury, boutique hotel that offers a tranquil place to relax after partaking in any of the Cherry Blossom Festival activities. Guests can enjoy a full-service spa and sauna, as well as fine dining at Bacchus, a luxurious on-site lounge and restaurant. Robson Street, Vancouver's most popular shopping area with numerous restaurants alongside stores, is right around the corner from the hotel.

    Kumamoto, Japan

    (Photo: Pixabay)

    Built in the early 17th century by Kato Klyomasa, the Kumamoto Castle is one of the three most famous castles in Japan. The Kumamoto Castle is the most popular spot in the city for cherry blossom viewing, with nearly 1,000 cherry trees that add an air of elegance to the property. From the square in front of the castle tower and the front of Naga-bei you can view the three different varieties of cherry trees that the castle houses.

    Where to stay: The modern guest rooms at the Dormy Inn Kumamoto provide visitors with a great place to unwind after a busy day. Only 2,625 feet from the Kumamoto Castle, this hotel also offers a free shuttle to Kumamoto Station to help get you around the city with ease.

    New York, USA
    (Photo: Flickr)

    New York City's famous Central Park is home to two species of cherry blossom trees: the Yoshino cherry tree and the Kwanzan cherry tree. Each year locals and tourists gather in the park to watch the blooming cherry blossoms take bloom. Some of the most popular places to view these trees are at the Bethesda Terrace, the Loeb Boathouse, Conservatory Water and at the edge of the Great Lawn.

    Where to stay: When in New York, one should always travel in style. At Langham Place, guests receive celebrity treatment with world-class service. The central midtown location of the hotel allows you to walk right onto Fifth Avenue for some of the best shopping in the world. From there, Central Park is just a quick walk or cab ride.

    Sapporo, Japan

    (Photo: TheSmartLocal)

    Since Sapporo is in the northernmost part of Japan, it is the last place to become warm which means that cherry blossoms do not begin to bloom until late April into May. There are seven places in Sapporo that are great for cherry blossom viewing, however Toda Memorial Park is said to be the best. With a total of 8,000 cherry blossom trees, the view is incomparable to other places, though the park requires a vehicle to get to. Another option is Odori Park which is easily accessible and has a breathtaking view of the cherry blossoms.

    Where to stay: The Ibis Styles Sapporo is the perfect getaway when visiting Sapporo. The hotel's central location in the heart of Sapporo makes it an ideal basecamp for visitors looking to explore the city. A complimentary breakfast buffet featuring local ingredients is included.

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    NEW YORK — Google Earth is getting a revival, as the 3-D mapping service reorients itself to become more of a tool for adventure and exploration.

    A central feature in the new Google Earth is Voyager. Google has partnered with such groups as the BBC and NASA to add video clips, photos and text narratives to three-dimensional representations of particular locations.

    The Jane Goodall Institute, for instance, lets you journey to spots in Tanzania that inspired its founding chimpanzee expert. You can also get overlays of chimpanzee ranges and compare imagery from 2005 and 2014 to see the effects of forest restoration efforts.

    The producers of "Sesame Street'' show off Muppets from co-productions around the world; the map shows where the Muppets live and offer stories about the region and its culture.

    Separately, a new "I'm Feeling Lucky'' feature takes you to a location selected at random. Google Earth is highlighting some 20,000 lesser-known destinations — the kinds of places locals might frequent or know about, such as the Indonesian island of Bunaken, part of a national marine park.

    Google Earth used to be the place to go to for satellite views and 3-D images stitched together from aerial fly-bys. A software download was required, limiting its use. Google Maps has incorporated many of those features, making Google Earth even less necessary.

    google earth
    People look at a Google Earth map on a screen as Google Earth unveils the revamped version of the application on Tuesday. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty)

    Tuesday's update is about giving you a reason to use Google Earth again. Google says that while Maps is about getting you to a destination, Earth is about immersing you there, or "getting lost.''

    With the update, Google Earth now works on Google's Chrome browsers for desktops. It still requires an app for phones and tablets because of the heavy graphics involved; Google is rolling out updates for Android, but there's no Google Earth app for iPhones or iPads yet.

    Some older features will still require a software download on desktops. That includes maps of Mars and the moon through a partnership with NASA.

    Google also announced an update to a virtual-reality version of Google Earth. It now works with Facebook's Oculus Rift, not just the HTC Vive. But it won't work with cheaper, phone-based VR systems, such as Google's Daydream and Samsung's Gear VR.

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    The opportunity to interact with wild animals can be one of the most rewarding and memorable travel experiences, however, any time humans and wild animals come together there is also potential for danger, harm and abuse. Responsible travellers need to be informed.

    The reality is, animal suffering, cruelty and abuse is a massive global problem, and it's one that needs to be addressed. The good news is, as one of the largest sectors in the world -- supporting 28 million jobs and generating 9.8 per cent of global GDP -- the travel and tourism sector is a massive planetary force with the desire and ability to steer conversations, shape thinking, and drive momentous change in how we treat animals.


    Naturally, Canadians who are passionate about experiencing the rest of the planet are also likely going to be passionate about protecting it. Which is why, when it comes to animal-related travel experiences, it's so important that Canadian travellers think about the choices they make and use their buying power to generate good.

    Take elephant-related travel experiences, for example. Huge, highly intelligent and extremely social, elephants are undeniably one of the most unforgettable animals to see up close. Which is why millions of people around the world -- on safaris, in zoos, at temples, in sanctuaries -- choose to make elephant-related experiences a part of their travel plans every year.

    However, what many don't realize is the potential harm they are causing by supporting attractions that abuse elephants, primarily because they don't realize just how many attractions are engaged in abuse.

    tourist elephant
    (Photo: Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images)

    There are a number of elephant experiences that appear harmless, but are in fact traumatic and even painful for elephants, so it's vital that conscientious travellers make themselves aware of what to look for when they travel to ensure that the experiences they seek out are rewarding for themselves, as well as the animals involved.

    One thing Canadians should keep in mind as they seek out any animal-friendly travel experience is how they live naturally in the wild, because, if the attraction or experience is having the animal do things they wouldn't naturally do in the wild, then they've been forced against their will into doing it.

    For instance, in the wild, elephants would never let you climb on top of them, nor would they perform for you. In order to train an elephant to do these unnatural acts, they first need to be broken, a process as brutal as its name would suggest. The goal is to take these highly social and emotional animals and crush their spirit. Breaking an elephant involves starvation, the infliction of pain through use of bullhooks and whips, and slowly, over time, wearing them down to the point that they will perform or let people mount them out of fear of being tortured again.

    Responsible travellers can also look for tell-tale signs that indicate a pattern of abuse.

    Because of this, riding an elephant, painting an elephant, or watching elephants perform should always be avoided, with no exceptions.

    Beyond the activities themselves though, responsible travellers can also look for tell-tale signs that indicate a pattern of abuse. The TreadRight Foundation bases its Animal Welfare Policy, a program by which our travel brand partners vet and assess animal related activities to ensure they make responsible choices when selecting attractions and experiences for their trips, on the Five Freedoms, a compact of rights for animals under human control. The Five Freedoms serve as a valuable guide in helping Canadians revaluate any animal related experiences, whether it's swimming with dolphins, taking photographs with tigers (hint: don't!) or encountering polar bears.

    The Five Freedoms assert that animals under human control should have freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.


    Of course, travellers can't always be prepared with a ready-made checklist or the ability to do all the necessary background research for whatever animal-related experiences they might come upon as they travel. After all, unexpected encounters are part of what makes travel so great. So how can Canadians avoid supporting animal abuse on the go? One way would be to travel with organizations that have animal welfare policies in place.

    By doing a little research online before booking your trip can easily find out which travel and tour companies have made ensuring animal welfare a priority, which have aligned themselves with animal protection organizations, or have animal health and safety measures in place so that you know when you travel with them, they've put in the leg work on their part to provide you with peace-of-mind. In doing so, you'll also be encouraging all travel and tourism companies to work towards providing only animal-friendly experiences on their trips.

    Above all else though, educating yourself and making your travel choices accordingly is the key for responsible travellers who want to join the movement to harness the power of travel to help put an end to animal abuse.

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