Ethiopia by Helicopter

December 2, 2013

by 

Tropic Air is a small, privately owned business, set up in the early 1990′s with the vision to open up northern Kenya to visitors. Today, Tropic Air is one of Kenya’s best recognized and leading air charter company, operating single engine Cessna aircraft and helicopters, offering trips in Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Extraordinary Journeys is excited to be able to partner with Tropic Air to provide unforgettable trips to Ethiopia and Kenya by helicopter. This trips not only provide stunning scenery and incredible access to remote locations with expert pilot/guides but also offer travelers the chance for  spontaneous and authentic interactions with local communities you meet along the way. To book contact http://www.admastravel.com

Day 1 ~ Addis Ababa

Sheraton Addis

Your expedition begins in the Ethiopian capital – Addis Ababa.  Addis Ababa is the fourth largest city in Africa – a melting pot of cultures and a bizarre combination of past and present – Italian Fascist buildings sit alongside luxurious high rise hotels; priests in medieval robes mix with African bureaucrats and wandering minstrels singing songs that are centuries-old. Around the corner, neon signs light up modern bars and discotheques beat with the latest global hits.

Here you will meet your pilot (one of three who run all of the Ethiopia trips) and your helicopter. Depending on your arrival time, there is plenty to do during the day with options to enjoy a city tour and go to the National Museum, which houses the 3.5 million year-old skeleton of ‘Lucy’ – the oldest hominid ever found. Traditional song houses and local markets can also be visited. The Ristorante Castelli restaurant is a great option for dinner -serving excellent Italian cuisine.

Day 2 & 3 ~ Lalibela via Blue Nile Gorge

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Today you depart for Lalibela, following the Blue Nile Gorge through truly stunning landscapes. In the company of an expert guide, you willvisit some of the famous 12th century rock-hewn churches.

You will arrive in Lalibela mid morning. In the company of a local guide, you will visit some of the famous 12th century rockhewn churches. The city of Lalibela is, together with Axum, one of the two most important holy cities in Ethiopia, due to its famous rock-hewn churches, the largest monolithic rock-hewn buildings in the world. The city and its churches are considered have been declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The city was constructed by King Lalibela of the short ruling Zagwe dynasty after the fall of the Axumite Empire around the 11th century. The churches were carved out of the red granite rock of the Lasta Mountains in only 40 years. Many of the churches are connected with each other by means of narrow underground passages. In the caves and passages and in the churches, priests and monks can be found reading the Holy Bible and praying. Each church has its own unique architectural style and most are decorated with well-preserved paintings. The most elaborate and most famous church is the Bete Giorgis church, in the shape of a perfect Greek cross.

Today, it is not only the physical structures that remain frozen in time, but a place of pilgrimage for many of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.

Overnight at Mountain View Hotel. P1000533

Day 4

This morning you head north enjoying a spectacular flight following the course of the Tekeze River.  The Tekezé River has created one of the world’s deepest canyons – over 2000 feet in places.

In mid-morning you will land in the Simien Mountains. At 4,543 meters (almost 15,000 feet), the Simiens are Ethiopia’s highest range, home to the fascinating Gelada baboon, elusive Ethiopian Wolf and the endemic Walia Ibex. A vehicle will meet you, and you will spend time enjoying the unique life in these remote mountains.

Accommodation for the next 4 nights will be at Gheralta Lodge, your base to explore the Siemen Mountains, the Dankil Depression and Tigray.

Day 5

With a picnic breakfast on board, you embark on a dawn flight to the Simiens. With the sun behind you, the jagged spires and pinnacles are an impressive sight. Lammergerie vultures are found exclusively in mountainous terrain, and we often have great sightings of them soaring overhead. After a picnic breakfast, you will IMG_6562

continue onto the fascinating town of Aksum – famous for Stellae (granite monuments). The ruins of the a ncient city of Aksum mark the heart of a ncient Ethiopia, when the Kingdom of Aksu m was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roma n Empire & Persia. Pilgrims still journey to Aksum and the majority of Ethiopians passionately believe that the Ark of the Covenant resides here. In the afternoon you will explore the Tigray region and some of its incredible rock-hewn churches, believed to date back to the 6th  or 7th Century.

Overnight at Gheralta Lodge.

Day 6

This morning you head for the Danakil Depression – a place of acid lakes, volcanoes and giant salt pans. More than 100 meters (330 feet) below sea level, the Danakil Depression is peppered with colourful sulphurous springs, acid lakes, active volcanoes and giant IMG_6498salt pans. Some of the hottest temperatures known to man are found here in the Danakil Depression. Unlike anything else on this planet, this extraordinary place is located on a geographical fault within the Great Rift Valley, at the Horn of Africa. On route you may catch sight of camel trains belonging to the Afar nomadic people. You will also visit Irta Ale a volcano in a state of continuous eruption since 1967  and the most famous of the Danakil Depression’s volcanoes.

Overnight at Gheralta Lodge.

Day 7

Today you will continue your exploration of the churches of the Tigray region. The amazing rock-hewn churches are perched on top of steep hills, or carved into cliff faces only accessible by narrowDanakil_2foot paths which scale up the edge of the hills. Very little is known about the origin of the 120 year old rock churches or their architectural history. Local tradition attributes most of the churches to the 4th century Aksumite Kings, Abreha and Atsbeha. Inside many of the churches are colourful frescoes – hundreds of years old. The priests who live on these mountains follow a simple life that revolves around the Orthodox Christian calendar.You exploration will be lead by an exception local guide who provides unique access to the churches and their ancient artifacts. Only by helicopter is it possible to see all eight of the regions most famous churches in a day (they are several hours on foot apart from one another).

Overnight at Gheralta LodgeIMG_4665

Day 8

Today you will return to Addis Ababa – the final journey of our adventure follows the western wall of the Great Rift Valley. Spend a night at the Sheraton Hotel before departing the next day.

In addition to this program we also have an 8 day Kenya  by helicopter program and 3 day helicopter program in Northern Kenya which can be built into a longer trip. We also welcome the opportunity to work with you to build your perfect trip!

For more information email admastravel@gmail.com

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Swiss school to build hotel training facility in Rwanda

April 24, 2013

Roches
By Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome,

(eTN) – A regular source from Kigali has sent information that Rwanda’s Workplace Development Authority (WDA) has apparently entered into an agreement with Swiss-based Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, one of the world’s best-reputed hospitality training institutions, to create a training facility, and an attached application hotel, in Kigali. Jerome Gasana, Director General of the WDA, reportedly last week told the media in Kigali that they were planning to establish a campus of Les Roches in Kigali, where Rwandan hospitality students could get a top-quality education before joining the workforce.

According to the source, the project cost was given at around US$20 million, which would include a 60+ bedroom application hotel attached to the campus, though it was not made clear if both partners would share the financial burden or if Les Roches would only come onboard to operate the facility, which would extend their presence to Africa for the first time. The project implementation was given as 24 months, once all permits and licenses have been secured, which would put a potential opening of the hotel school into the mid- to late-2015 timeframe.

Hospitality training has been prioritized by Rwanda, and the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department has over the past two years, undertaken a series of initiatives to train hospitality staff and support programs aimed at improving service quality in the tourism and hospitality sector.

A number of regional tertiary training institutions have in the past scouted Rwanda with the view of opening either a campus or else recruiting Rwandan students for their institutions, a sign that the fast growth of the tourism industry in Rwanda is being backed up by measures to train young Rwandans in the field before starting their careers in the workplace. The opening later this year of the region’s first Marriott Hotel in Kigali has also seen a number of staff taken to sister hotels of the group in the Gulf region, where they are trained to become the backbone of personnel.

Tourism, besides agriculture and increasingly mining, is one of Rwanda’s key economic activities and has over the past years recorded annual double-digit growth, providing foreign investment opportunities, earning the country foreign exchange, opening job opportunities, and improving the image of the country abroad through excellent visitor experience.


Ethiopian Christians celebrate Demera, the discovery of Jesus’ cross

September 27, 2012

By Tinishu Solomon

Millions of Ethiopian Orthodox church members on Wednesday celebrated the  Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross on which Jesus Christ is believed  to have been crucified.

Celebrations began in the afternoon with tens of thousands of followers  gathering at Meskel Square to celebrate the holy day, together with hundreds of  pilgrims, tourists and foreign diplomats.

In Addis Ababa, all roads leading to the city’s famous Meskel Square were  closed for the day to avoid traffic jams.

Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross, one of the main religious  ceremonies of Ethiopia’s most dominant religion, is celebrated colorfully  throughout the country.

More than 100,000 people, including hundreds of priests and deacons  attired in Ethiopia’s traditional plain white clothes, gathered to mark the day  with a grand bonfire ceremony, lit by the leader of the Orthodox  Church.

Demera, also known as Meskel Festival, is also celebrated in remembrance of  Empress Helena, who according to tradition was led to the cross after smoke from  incense she was burning during her prayers drifted towards the direction of  three buried crosses, one of which was the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was  crucified. She gave pieces of the True Cross to all churches, including the  Ethiopian Church, with parts of it said to be in Israel.

The ancient festival, dating back 1,600 years, is celebrated with yellow  Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires as priests, carrying silver Coptic  crosses and flaming torches, dance with their followers around the fires singing  and chanting.

This year, however, marked the first time in 21 years when the celebration  was observed in the absence of the late Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox  Church, Abune Paulos who died in August.

The celebration also marks the end of Ethiopia’s three month long rainy  season. The Horn of Africa country uses its own calendar, which has 13 months,  or Pagume. Like a leap year, Pagume has either 5 or 6 days depending on the  season.

According to Ethiopian tradition, the Meskel cross was reburied on the  mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region after a powerful light  emanating from it stripped naked anyone who approached.

The monastery of Gishen Mariam, one of the country’s main tourist  attractions, has records of the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was  acquired.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more than 50,000 churches and 1,200  monasteries with about 50,000 monks and nuns for an estimated 40 million plus  orthodox Christians, about half of the country’s total population.

Ethiopia is lobbying that the Meskel Festival be granted UNESCO World  Heritage status.

Read the original article on Theafricareport.com : Ethiopian Christians celebrate Demera, the discovery of Jesus’ cross | The Africa Report.com Follow us: @theafricareport on Twitter


Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson: Books Worth Your Time

June 29, 2012

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

By Getachew Teklu

This is a lovely autobiography of one of America’s super chefs, who went from being an Ethiopian orphan, to a Swedish adoptee, to one of the most famous chefs in the US. It traces his life growing up in Sweden, the impact of being black in a predominately white world, and his path to becoming a chef, from cooking school in Sweden through the grueling internships at various restaurants and around the world. He shares his personal joys and struggles, his rise and the life choices he made and regrets, his period as the executive chef of Aquavit-in Minneapolis, and the founding of his new restaurant in Harlem in New York City.

Marcus Samuelsson’s story is inspiring, thought-provoking, and truth seeking. It is an intense but rewarding read, one that examines racial identity, belonging, acceptance, and pursuit of excellence. Portions of the book suffer from dense culinary descriptions that may be inaccessible to readers not so inclined; yet, it is integral to the book’s basis, which begins and ends in the kitchen. A masterpiece! From a child adopted out of Africa-Ethiopia, and growing up in Sweden to one of America’s top chefs, this is the story of the surprising journey Marcus Samuelsson has taken. Chef Marcus Samuelsson has the flavors of many countries in his mind.  There is the Ethiopian spice flavor, used by the birth mother he no longer remembers. There are the herring, pickles, and jams of Sweden, where he grew up with his adopted family, and the roast chicken that was the specialty of his grandmother, who inspired his love of cooking and gave him his first lessons.

The book covers both the good and admirable in his life as well as the parts many of us would prefer to keep under wraps, so it ranges from the strong family that raised him and his strong work ethic. I knew nothing about his life beyond that point and found this memoir to be a fascinating story. He is such a diverse, focused and talented individual. His story of being a famous chef is a true testament to the dedication and extreme hard work that it takes to become an award winning chef. The book was an insightful look into the upscale restaurant world and was written with a no holds barred eloquence. A true story worth your time to read.

I’ve been a Marcus Samuelson fan since his Top Chef Masters appearance, and am always pleased to find him on shows like Chopped, Chopped Champions, and more. I was excited to find he’d written a memoir, and I can honestly say, not one page of this book disappointed me or changed my opinion of him. I’m definitely a fan, and proud of him.

Finally, A James Beard  Award-Winning chef and author of several cookbooks,  Marcus Samuelsson has appeared on Today, Charlie rose, Iron chef, and Top chef masters, where he took first place. In 1995, for his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson becomes the youngest chef ever to receive a three star review from the New York Times. His newest restaurant, Red Rooster, recently opened in Harlem, where he lives with his wife.  He also won the James Beard award, appear on “Top Chef Masters,” and create the Obama’s’ first official state dinner.


Belgium: Small Size. Big Fun. Every Day of the Year

June 21, 2012

There’s just something about Belgium. Maybe it’s the friendly & welcoming people. Maybe it’s the stunning architecture lining the cobblestone streets, or perhaps the choice of over 650 types of beer or the smell of chocolate. No matter what your interests, Belgium has something for everyone: romance, adventure, shopping for antiques as well as the latest trends. Energetic and carefree, the overall mood in Belgium is infectious, summoning visitors to take in the views of the Grand Place in Brussels as their worries fall by the wayside.

Located just 85 minutes from Paris and less than 2 hours from London and Amsterdam by train, the Belgian capital of Brussels encompasses all that Europe has to offer. Belgium is multicultural and multilingual, with English being widely spoken among locals. Visitors can easily hop on a one-hour train ride to take a walk through Liege or stroll through the romantic city of Namur hand-in-hand with a loved one.

The historical city of Brussels is one of the world’s greatest cosmopolitan capitals, and offers 80 museums, seasonal markets, jazz festivals and a bustling night life. This year, as part of the Year of Gastronomy in 2012, Brussels is a food lover’s paradise with its Brusselicious food themed festivities. Visitors to Brussels in 2012 can book a trip on the Tram Experience, 2-hour tram ride through Brussels while enjoying a 3-course meal, or enjoy a Dinner in the Sky at one of four special and historic locations in Brussels. For those who prefer a stationary meal, consider one of eight Themed Dinners ranging from the 150th Anniversary of Les Miserable, written in Brussels, to the Ommegang Pageant. Any way you slice it, you can’t go wrong!

Beyond Brussels is a world of castles, stone-built villages and affordable restaurants that can be visited by coach, train or renting a car. The Year of Gastronomy continues in French-speaking Belgium with food events and behind the scenes visits to local farms, food markets and producers of beer, cheese and meats. Adventurous travelers can explore the countryside as they make their way to the relaxing town of Spa. History buffs should be sure to visit Bastogne and the World War II memorial commemorating the Battle of the Bulge. Wherever your travels may lead, there is sure to be a something for every taste, style and need imaginable. For more info visit www.visitbelgium.com


World’s Best Cities

September 10, 2011

By Travel + Leisure Staff

Paris
 Paris, France

Joanna Van Mulder
A new renaissance is under way in Florence, with the city’s historic center making room for contemporary galleries and chic aperitivo bars. And all that work has paid off: this year, Florence rose to the No. 2 ranking among T+L’s World’s Best Cities.

T+L asked readers to vote in its 16th annual World’s Best survey, rating worldwide cities in categories such as attractions, arts and culture, food, shopping, and value. The result is a global guide to the cities not to miss this year.

Despite the challenging economy, travel is up, with more than 270 million travelers hitting the road this year, according to the Airports Council International. More travel means more insights into what makes a city great — whether it’s efficient transportation, affordable dining, or youthful energy — and how cities compare on a global basis. After all, the thrill of a country is most often reflected in its city life. “Cities absolutely dominate over countryside experiences for travelers,” says T+L A-List super agent Priscilla Alexander of Protravel International. “You won’t have someone going to France and not going to Paris.”

No. 10 Paris

Ah, Paris. Every cobbled lane, every street-side café, every patisserie window seems to have been art-directed by some impossibly savvy set designer. Yet for all that elegance and drama, Paris’ greatest pleasures are arguably its simplest ones: the hum of a neighborhood bistro; the tranquility of a churchyard; the crunch of a perfect baguette. After all, you come to Paris to eat. Indulge serious cheese fantasies at Laurent Dubois, a fromagerie with seemingly endless options.

Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain

Javier Salas

No. 9 Barcelona

Barcelona has long been famous for its art and architecture, with Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Antoni Gaudí all leaving their marks. But this is the first year that the Catalan city has broken into the World’s Best Cities top 10 list. Though diversions like wandering the Gaudí-designed Parc Güell have a timeless appeal, it’s new hot spots like Tickets, from mad-scientist brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià, that are creating the worldwide buzz. Where to stay? At the new Mandarin Oriental, where the Hong Kong hotel group’s legendary service is paired with Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola’s 98 bright, cream-on-white rooms.

Sydney
Sydney, Australia

Mikkel Vang

No. 8 Sydney

Part outsize beach resort, part culture capital, Sydney, the perennial World’s Best City winner Down Under, exemplifies the art of relaxed cosmopolitanism: urbane but not pretentious; cutting-edge but not stressed-out. New restaurants and boutiques are channeling that Aussie energy in some oft-overlooked neighborhoods such as beachside hangout Manly. And an initiative to liven up the side lanes in the trendy Surry Hills and Darlinghurst neighborhoods has led to a slew of lounge bars opening up; try the lychee-infused tequila at Hunky Dory Social Club.

Siem Reap
Siem Reap, Cambodia

iStock

No. 7 Siem Reap

Siem Reap is best known as the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex and other 12th-century Khmer ruins such as Ta Prohm, which remains as archaeologists found it in 1860, with banyan and kapok trees slowly reclaiming its sandstone carvings. But now the city has evolved from a cluster of riverfront villages into a full-fledged destination complete with art galleries, boutique hotels — and a World’s Best Cities designation. Sample the local cuisine at the FCC Angkor, a 31-room Art Deco hotel and restaurant, and drop by McDermott Gallery for black-and-white photographs of Angkor Wat.

Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

Courtesy of Twelve Apostles Hotel

No. 6 Cape Town

Cape Town is sometimes labeled the least African of African cities — which, depending on who’s doing the labeling, is said with enthusiasm or disparagement. But whatever you think of the must-see destination, post-World Cup, the city radiates a palpable cool, and now it’s surged back onto the World’s Best list with a higher score than in 2009 (the last time it appeared). Split your time between urban pursuits (browsing the trendy Neighbourgoods Market and local artists’ galleries) and excursions to see wildlife, sample wines, and stroll the beaches of the Cape of Good Hope reserve.

Istanbul
Istanbul, Turkey

iStock

No. 5 Istanbul

Straddling the Bosporus — and thus the only major city that occupies both Asia and Europe — Istanbul also spans the ancient and modern worlds. The sounds of construction compete with the call of the muezzin, and the skyline, a glittering ribbon of palaces and mosques, is dotted with rooftop nightclubs. One reason the city skyrocketed back onto the World’s Best Cities list after two absent years? The appeal of Istanbul’s latest culinary trend: resurrecting ancient Ottoman recipes, such as garlicky lamb’s trotter served on toast at Asitane and juicy kubbes — dumplings filled with beef and pignoli — at Cercis Murat Konaği, on the city’s Asian side.

New York
New York

David Nicolas

No. 4 New York

For all New York’s bright-lights-big-city grandeur, one can always find a quiet neighborhood. The trick is balancing the city’s outsize spectacle with intimate experiences. The latest neighborhood to pull it off is the Chelsea arts district, between 10th and 11th avenues, most notable for the just-expanded High Line, a landscaped strip of elevated public space. On nearby blocks you’ll find buildings by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and Shigeru Ban, as well as marquee galleries such as Pace and Gagosian. For a picnic lunch, stop into Chelsea Market, a food-court-on-steroids, and savor a piece of the city that’s been voted No. 1 within the U.S. and Canada every year since 2000.

Rome
Rome, Italy

David Cicconi

No. 3 Rome

The Eternal City has ranked in the top 10 cities overall every year for the past decade, all while catapulting itself into the 21st century with a series of starchitect-designed buildings. Emblematic of the bold new look are the Ara Pacis, a travertine-and-glass building by Richard Meier, and Zaha Hadid’s Maxxi (Museum of 21st Century Arts), which debuted in 2010 in the northern Flaminio zone. Even the Colosseum has had a spruce-up, opening its dungeons and third-floor gallery to tours for the first time.

Florence
Florence, Italy

iStock

No. 2 Florence

With a charismatic mayor leading the way, a new generation of tastemakers is injecting a welcome dose of contemporary culture into this much-loved Renaissance city, set amid rolling hills studded with towers and churches. New galleries and aperitivo bars share the compact city center with more than one million works of art — among them Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Factor in high-fashion brands like Gucci and Cavalli, succulent steaks, and the traditional artisan workshops of the Oltrarno, and it’s no wonder that Florence beat out European cities many times its size.

Bangkok
Bangkok, Thailand

Cedric Angeles

No. 1 Bangkok

Frenetic and sultry, this Asian metropolis of 10 million seems like a city on overdrive. High-rises jostle for space; down below, cabs and tuk-tuks inch through the gridlock. But there are moments of calm. At dawn, saffron-robed Buddhist monks collect alms, while women thread the marigold and jasmine garlands that festoon temples and shrines. And when it comes to shopping and food, the city is an endless, and often affordable, bacchanalia. It’s no wonder that Bangkok has nabbed the No. 1 spot overall for two years running — and been listed in the top 10 every year since 2002.


New rules to open more legal U.S. Travel to Cuba

August 20, 2011

(AP) HAVANA — The forbidden fruit of American travel is once again within reach. New rules issued by the Obama administration will allow Americans wide access to communist-led Cuba, already a mecca for tourists from other nations.

Within months or even weeks, thousands of people from Seattle to Sarasota could be shaking their hips in tropical nightclubs and sampling the famous stogies, without having to sneak in through a third country and risk the Treasury Department’s wrath.

“This is travel to Cuba for literally any American,” said Tom Popper, director of Insight Cuba, which took thousands of Americans to Cuba before such programs were put into a deep freeze seven years ago.

But it won’t all be a day at the beach or a night at the bar. U.S. visitors may find themselves tramping through sweltering farms or attending history lectures to justify the trips, which are meant, under U.S. policy, to bring regular Cubans and Americans together.

So-called people-to-people contacts were approved in 1999 under the Clinton administration, but disappeared in 2004 as the Bush administration clamped down what many saw as thinly veiled attempts to evade a ban on tourism that is part of the 49-year-old U.S. embargo.

Some familiar voices on Capitol Hill are already sounding the alarm about the new policy.

“President Obama and the administration continuously say they don’t want more tourism and that’s not what they’re trying to do. But that’s exactly what’s happening,” said Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who was born in Ft. Lauderdale to a prominent Cuban-exile family. He argued that more travel does nothing to promote democracy on the island.

“The only thing it does is provide hard currency for a totalitarian regime,” he said.

Insight Cuba is one of at least a dozen travel groups that have applied for a license to operate on the island since details of the change were issued in April. If permission comes from Washington, it could begin trips in as little as six weeks, Popper said. Based on previous numbers, he believes he could take 5,000 to 7,000 Americans each year.

In the past, people-to-people travel has included jazz tours, where participants meet with musicians during the day and take in jam sessions at night. Art connoisseurs could visit studios, galleries and museums. Architecture aficionados could explore Havana’s stately, but crumbling cityscape.

“Soon Americans can go salsa dancing in Cuba — legally!” trumpeted a recent press release for one would-be tour operator.

“You can go on forever,” said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who represents several groups that have applied for licenses to operate the trips. “The subject matter is virtually limitless.”

Many approved tours will likely be run by museums, university alumni associations and other institutions. They will target wealthy, educated Americans who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a 10-day tour.

Tens of thousands went each year under people-to-people licenses from 2000 to 2003. Anyone is eligible if they go with an authorized group.

Cuban officials say privately they expect as many as 500,000 visitors from the United States annually, though most are expected to be Cuban-Americans visiting relatives under rules relaxed in 2009. That makes travelers from the United States the second biggest group visiting Cuba after Canadians, with Italians and Germans next on the list.

Academic and religious travel from the U.S. is also increasing.

The guidelines published by the U.S. Treasury Department say people-to-people tours must guarantee a “full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction” with Cubans.

But a previous requirement to file itineraries ahead of time is gone, possibly making it difficult to police whether tours will follow the spirit of the law.

“It’s more liberal than in 2000-2003 in a lot of senses,” Popper said.

Still, it’s a far cry from the pre-revolution days when Havana’s mob-controlled nightclubs and casinos were a playground for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Greta Garbo. Back then, cheap ferries and flights from Florida meant tourists could party through the night and leave in the morning without bothering to rent a room.

Academic visits already under way give an idea of what may be allowed.

A recent group of Iowa State University students who came to study sustainable food and development had an itinerary packed with activities like visits to farms, a coffee plantation and an environmental reserve. They also managed to stroll Old Havana on a guided tour, visit an art museum and take in a performance of “Swan Lake” by Cuba’s acclaimed National Ballet.

Agronomy professor Mary Wiedenhoeft said the cultural experiences were key for students to understand Cubans and therefore an integral part of their study.

“We didn’t come here to be on a Caribbean beach; we came to be on farms,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I didn’t even pack a bathing suit.”

When the Bush administration shut down people-to-people visits in 2004, it cited allegations the rules were being abused.

“You had these groups going down and they would miraculously end up in Varadero (a popular beach resort) or at Hemingway’s home, or they’d end up at cigar factories,” said John Kavulich, senior policy adviser to the nonpartisan U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “It wasn’t something that was easy to defend when the State Department made inquiries.”

The Obama administration would almost certainly come under pressure from anti-Castro members of Congress if a rash of Americans start posting Facebook photos of themselves smoking Cohibas and sipping Havana Club on the beach, Kavulich said.

So college kids looking for a bacchanalian spring break should probably stick to standbys like Cancun and Daytona Beach.

U.S. officials vow to weed out frivolous trips.

“If it is simply salsa dancing and mojitos, no. That doesn’t pass the purposeful-travel criteria,” a State Department official involved with the policy said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

If the new travel rules are politically sustainable, they have the potential to be “a big business opportunity,” said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, which offers licensed flights between Miami and Cuba and is expanding in anticipation of a surge of travelers.

“Hopefully (the U.S. government) will be issuing the licenses in a timely way and processing them quickly, and people will be able to begin going down. And we hope we can help them,” Guild said. “It’s a significant change.”


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