From Dubai to Guyana
By Ricky Browne
The pandemic is not showing much signs of stopping, but the vaccine will hopefully allow us to return to some level of normalcy – optimistically by the summer in England. So maybe its time to start to dream about where we can travel to as we contemplate freedom after lockdown.
Here’s a list of seven top places to consider – all of them warm – assuming that people want to feel the sun on their faces.
Jamaica is really the quintessential Caribbean island. Its big enough to offer almost everything that the rest of the Caribbean islands has, with a climate that is so diverse that it could be considered the smallest continent in the world. The climates range from semi-arid beaches along the south coast, to tropical rainforest filled with waterfalls to temperate climes in its Blue Mountain range that peak at more than 7,000 feet. And all around is the history of pirates, Admiral Nelson and the Georgian great houses built on the sugar estates during the days of slavery some two centuries ago. You want white sand beaches? Check. You want reggae music? Check. You want to try out spicy Jamaican cuisine, the home of Jerk Chicken and the national dish of ackee and saltfish? Check. Do you want a tour of a rum factory? Check. With flight times of about 9 hours from London, and safe protocols in place to safeguard against Covid-19, Jamaica could be the top place to unwind after the trauma of the pandemic.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is like a futuristic version of an oasis city. Luxury and mystique surrounds the city, with glistening, modern skyscrapers up against the Arabian Sea, you can shop at Chanel in the largest shopping mall in the world one moment or take a camel ride through the sand dunes at another. Oh – its duty-free shopping by the way. And if you want something more traditional you can go into the souks – the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk with it fine-crafted jewellery are two of the most popular. Top quality restaurants from around the world can be found here. Wealth is at every corner. And its also a great place to leave, with Dubai serving as a hum for the rest of Asia or even Africa. About 6 hours from London, Dubai is second only to Israel in the percentage of its population that has received a vaccine.
Cuba is a huge Caribbean island, that is the opposite of Jamaica in many ways, thanks to its socialist political system, the American blockade and its underlying Spanish culture. Both island’s have a connection to Africa through slavery. Both have the same basic climate. Both have very friendly people. But there the similarities virtually end. Although both countries have the same basic ingredients in their cooking, Cuba’s food has none of the spiciness of Jamaican cuisine – influenced more by Spanish cuisine and avoiding hot peppers and most spices. The island is vast, and largely flat, so lacks Jamaica’s mountains. Like Jamaica it has beautiful white sand beaches – maybe even more beautiful. Like Jamaica it has great rum, though perhaps not quite as great (I may be a little biased here). It has beautiful art, much of it modern, with beautiful museums. It has fantastic music, much more complex and lively than reggae – with beautiful dances – salsa, rumba, son. Walk in the colonial streets of Havana and you are bound to see several live bands playing – like walking in a music video for the Buena Vista Social Club. Beautiful architecture, much of it dilapidated and looking like multicoloured wedding cakes melting in the sun. For a couple decades now people have been flocking to Cuba to experience ‘Communism’ and the Cuban revolution before it becomes a part of history. But the system clings on, even after the death of Fidel and the retirement of his brother Raul. Cuba is developing its own vaccine and is about a nine hour flight from London. A combo trip with Jamaica is a great idea!
Croatia is a Mediterranean tourism hot spot. It had almost 20 million tourists visit in 2019, with more than 800,000 of them coming from the UK. This of course plummeted in 2020 to a still-respectful sounding 7.8 million last year, and its lkely to remain low. So while its been said go to Croatia before the crowds get there, that time is well and truly past. But it’s a good idea to go before the crowds get back. Croatia is famed for its crystal clear waters in the Adriatic Sea, its seafood, its beauty and its culture. Oh, and it has wine. Croatia is a two hour flight from London, so really no distance at all, especially compared to the other places on this list.
Anyone who has watched Inspector Montalbano is probably yearning to visit Sicily, which everyone knows was kicked by Italy right into the middle of the Mediterranean sea. With the haunting melody of The Godfather ringing through your head, Sicily has beautiful beaches, beautiful cities and beautiful people, with fantastic Italian cuisine washed down with lush red and white wines. Italy was the first European country to be struck by the pandemic, and hopefully it will emerge from this at around the same time as the UK. Flight times from London to Palermo are about 5.5 hours with one stop.
How about a safari? The animals have had a break from being continuously ogled by thousands of tourists, and may be hungering for a bit of attention this year. So heading for a luxury camp on the Masai Mara to view the Great Annual Migration between June and October could be just the ticket to forget all about the pandemic. And then there is the city that is Nairobi to discover. And if after all that you are still yearning for a beach, Kenya has that too with its white-sand beaches around Mombassa on the Indian Ocean. A flight from London to Nairobi takes about 8.5 hours.
Beirut was once known as the Paris of the East. The country always seems to be on the verge of another civil war, but at the moment all seems calm. With a Mediterranean lifestyle but with an Arabic twist, Lebanon has fantastic cuisine and great beauty. Oh – and its own wine. Swim in the Mediterranean and then go skiing in the mountains on the same day. Add to that great hiking and fantastic Roman ruins – some of the best outside of Italy – and you have the makings of a great break. A flight from London takes about 4.5 hours.
Guyana? I hear you ask. Yes. Guyana. the South American republic is as far as you can get from Dubai and still be on the same planet. If Jamaica and Guyana were Australia, Jamaica would be the civilised bits on the coast, and Guyana would be the outback. It feels vast. Not a great place to go to if you want the blue waters of the Caribbean or mountain treks. But its lush rain forest is unparalleled. It has some excellent river lodges that can only be reached by boat. The river water is fresh and clean, leaving your skin and hair feeling like its been through some intense conditioning. The country is poor, but it culturally very rich. The longest pontoon bridge in the world. The tallest wooden building in the world. The highest single drop falls in the world. People from all over the world have settled there. Drive down the coast and you will see a church, a Hindu temple, a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple, a mosque — as the three religions live side by side. And up the rivers you will meet Arawak Indians completely cut off from the rest of the country. The capital Georgetown has beautiful architecture with mainly wooden buildings, dykes — as a leftover from the Dutch, and is the headquarters for the Caribbean Community. But its so small, that the wealthy take off in their private jets to go to Port-of-Spain in Trinidad for drinks on the weekend. But it won’t keep that backwater-feel forever, as Guyana is on the cusp of becoming a very rich country thanks to the exploitation of its oil reserves. in fact it was expected to have the fastest growth last year — faster than anywhere else on Earth. So if you want to get a feel of what Dubai might have felt like before it discovered its oil-related wealth, then you better go now.
So there it is. Seven top places to visit this year, if we are able. And if not, to visit next year.
Three of these places I’ve been to. Five I haven’t. But I hope to fix that soon.
Surely the end is in sight!