IE Blog

Once they move beyond the first question “Can Americans travel legally to Cuba?” and book their place on one of IE’s people-to-people programs, most travelers still have questions about the ins and outs of traveling to the political hotspot. We polled our travel planners to find out your most frequently asked questions.

Can you use credit cards in Cuba? How do we get Cuban currency?

No credit cards tied to an American bank may be used. Unless you have a foreign bank account that issues you a credit card in Euros or Canadian dollars, you must pay for your purchases, gratuities, bar tabs and hotel extras in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Also note that the same applies to debit cards — not even four- and five-star hotels can accept them for payment. We suggest you bring US Dollars enough to cover anything you might purchase and exchange them in small quantities as needed throughout your tour. Your Expedition Leader will bring you to a currency exchange and help with the process.

Do I need to speak Spanish?

No, no knowledge of Spanish is required as our Expedition Leader and local Cuban guides are all fluent in English and the tour will be conducted in English. 

I'm not interested in an escorted tour...Can IE just book my flight? 

Travel to Cuba for Americans is still highly restricted. For Americans, only licensed travelers (through the Office of Foreign Assets Control) are legally allowed to visit Cuba. Licensed travel is available for people-to-people tours, educational travel for students and other categories of limited scope. By law your flights between Miami and Cuba are only allowed to be arranged by US Government licensed charter service providers operating under very strict regulations. Therefore, you are not able to arrange your own air flight to Cuba to travel with the group.

 

How will we know what is allowed and what is not allowed — for buying or just going through each day?

Traveling in Cuba is a very relaxing and engaging experience – you will be amazed and thrilled for having gone. We offer many resources to help prepare you:

  • Many of our Travel Planners and staff have been to Cuba and are very familiar with the details. If you have questions, never hesitate to call the staff at 800-234-9620.

  • IE sends each guest a detailed pre-departure booklet with all details including passport information, currency, insurance, packing list, which items you may bring back to the U.S. and many more helpful details. 

  • At the welcome reception in our Miami hotel, we meet as a group and your Expedition Leader will walk you through what to expect along with any remaining questions before you board the plane.


 

January 29, 2014

The Art of the Amazon Selfie

International Expeditions' own Emily Harley shares the story behind this photo - taken by another IE employee Charlie Weaver. Charlie and Emily traveled aboard La Estrella Amazonica, our new Amazon riverboat. 

Selfie – (n.) a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. 

Oxford’s word of the year for 2013 means very little in the tiny Peruvian village of Nueva York. But as I would find on my recent Amazon cruise, children and tweens of all ages love taking snaps of themselves – regardless of their country of origin. 

Our small group of travelers had gathered in the three-room home of the village’s mayor, accompanied by a tangle of curious children, eager to hold hands with their visitors. As the mayor and his wife shared about their daily lives and generously answered our questions, the children would peek over the low walls of the home. Their sly giggles drew the cameras of many guests, and all of the kids happily posed and grinned with only one price – show them the picture in the viewfinder once it was done. 

On a whim I handed Sophia my own camera, clumsily miming and stringing together instructions in broken Spanish.  With little encouragement, she was off. Pictures of her parents, friends and sisters. Sophia momentarily relinquished control of the camera to her brother. He wanted to be a teacher or a doctor, but after a few moments, he thought a career in photography might be a good fit. Our guest lecturer for that journey was a professional photographer, and was an immediate hit with these children who had only just discovered this art. 

Her brother engrossed in conversation with other guests, Sophia once more began snapping photos with my camera. 

“Do you want to see yourself in the camera,” I asked. 

An enthusiastic nod was all of the encouragement I needed to bring the art of the selfie to Nueva York! 

As a side note, a friend at the Peruvian NGO and IE partner CONAPAC, passed along to me that it is rare for people in Amazonian villages to have photos. The weather conditions, combined with frequent relocation of villages along the flooding banks of the Upper Amazon Basin, degrade photo paper. 

 

Poison dart frogs may be observed in many of International Expeditions' Neotropical destinations. Our Costa Rica tours and Amazon cruises are two of the best trips to observe these amazing little frogs in their natural environment.

The poison dart frogs are a notorious family of frogs whose skin secretions are extremely toxic. Most of these frogs are very brightly colored and their colors are a reminder to would-be-predators to stay away. These bright colors are called “aposmatic coloration.” These brilliantly colored frogs stand out against their rainforest background colors of greens and browns and the bright coloration serves a benefit to both the frog and would-be-predators. The frog is not eaten and the predator does not ingest a possibly lethal meal. Of interest, one of the most virulent toxins known is the toxin of a poison dart frog, the golden poison dart frog of Western Columbia.  

The basic toxins are alkaloids derived from the frog’s diet. Most species of poison dart frog are fairly small (around an inch in length) and they feed on ants, termites and other small arthropods. The formic acid of ants has a significant role in allowing the alkaloid toxins to develop in the skin. Amazingly, once frogs are brought into captivity and fed a diet of fruit flies, their skin toxins gradually diminish. Future offspring of the captive frogs are metamorphosed into adult frogs without any skin toxins. So, a life in the wild with a totally natural diet is what allows poison dart frogs to attain their skin toxins.

Another interesting behavior of dart frogs is their method of reproduction. Quite unique among frogs is the mating process, egg laying, transport of tadpoles, location of tadpole deposition and the feeding of tadpoles. There are many differences in these behaviors depending upon the species.

 

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

Discover Earth's most storied haven for curious wildlife as you walk in the footsteps of Darwin, snorkel in nutrient-rich Pacific waters, and experience enchanting Galapagos cruises that will forever change your definition of "wildlife interaction" - all under the guidance of International Expeditions' expert naturalist guides. As special treats, IE has added guest lecturer Joan Embery, a wildlife expert who you may know from her appearances on The Tonight Show, and we have added money-saving offers to both of our May departures.

Why Join IE’s Galapagos Voyages in May?

  • Daily hiking, swimming and snorkeling among curious wildlife while enjoying the archipelagos’ most pleasant weather. Average May high is just 82° and the average water temperature 76°.
  • With an open-air bar, hot tub, indoor and outdoor dining areas as well as two sun decks, you enjoy more open-air public space aboard the gracious 32-guest Evolution than aboard any other boat!
  • May is when the waved albatrosses, marine iguanas and land iguanas are nesting, and giant tortoises are laying eggs in the wild.
  • Fantastic savings! Save $500 per person off the May 2 departure or $1,000 per person off the May 30 cruise!  

Heeeeeere’s Joan!

Dedicated animal and environmental advocate Joan Embery (shown above on IE's Amazon RIver cruise) is joining the May 2 departure as a special guest lecturer. Joan has served as a champion of conservation issues, most notably as spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of San Diego and founder of her own non-profit foundation. Joan has made hundreds of TV appearances from PBS’s Nature to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
 

   
Space is limited and all cabins on January-April departures have already filled. Reserve your cabin today at 800-234-9620

Later this year, International Expeditions will welcome a friend and fellow adventurer, Hans Lagerweij, aboard our Amazon River cruise. Hans is the president of IE-sister company Quark Expeditions and a passionate, avid adventure traveler. We sat down with Hans to learn more about why he is looking forward to hosting our May 2, 2014 journey after so many years of exploring polar destinations.

Hans, why is Quark Expeditions working together with IE?
 
Quark Expeditions and International Expeditions have a lot in common: dedication to the highest levels of service, mind-expanding and heart-stirring journeys in which connecting with nature is an essential ingredient, being delivered by the best expedition staff. Together we offer more choices of stunning expeditions to our customers.
 
Why are you going to the Amazon?
 
After years of enjoying the best “cold” nature expeditions, I think it is time for something in a much warmer environment! Joking aside, I am looking forward to experience something completely new. I am also very anxious to experience the La Estrella Amazonica, a brand new ship purposely built by International Expeditions for their Amazon voyages. I hope to learn something new that we could use with Quark Expeditions.
 
Are you looking forward to the trip?
 
Absolutely! Just think about what the Amazon and the Polar Regions have in common: both are unique, important ecosystems for our earth yet both are under threat. Both are pristine environments in which Mother Nature is still in charge. To explore this with the most knowledgeable guides in a comfortable environment – I am sure I am going to enjoy it!

Make plans to join Hans in the Amazon on our May 2 Amazon cruise!

Travel to Cuba impacts everyone differently. International Expeditions’ guest James Blackburn wrote a series of poems about his experiences on our people-to-people Cuba tour. James’ poetry includes stars of Cuba's endemic bird species: the Cuban trogon, the limkin, the Cuban tody and the smooth-billed ani. The piece below chronicles his first day in the country as told through the eyes of a dove.

The Morning Dove
By James Blackburn


Arriving in Camaguey
At the first stop of discovery
Of that created by Fidel and Che.

The morning dove looks over
The old mansion
Converted to duty as a ballet studio.
And while the bird is familiar,
It is already clear
That Cuba will be different.

Rather than billboards and commerce,
We are greeted by a dance troupe,
Illustrating the give and take of love
And the triumph of the arts
In the competition for time and attention
Of a society.

The dove flies away,
Taking with it any remnants
Of familiarity,
Leaving me to discover
That which was wrought
By the revolution
Led by Che and Fidel.


Learn more about Cuba’s endemic birdlife. 

Guests on International Expeditions’ new Bali tours will certainly expect to see famed Komodo dragons during their Indonesia cruise, which includes Komodo National Park. Here are five fun facts that you may not know about the world’s largest living lizard species.

Sight or Bite? Komodo dragons can see objects as far away as 980 feet. And while they do use their keen sense of sight to hunt, they are far more reliant on their sense of smell to hunt. Of course, patience helps too! A Komodo dragon’s prey typically succumbs to the 50 strains of bacteria in its saliva within 24 hours, and the lizards may often follow dying prey for miles.

Leave No Trace. Komodo dragons eat much more efficiently than other large carnivores, eating the bones, hooves and swaths of hide of their prey

Faster Than You Think. Although these lizards grow to approximately 10 feet long and weigh around 155 pounds, they can easily reach speeds of 12 mph. Plus, they’re faster when hunting!

104 Years Old? Although fossils similar to today’s Komodo dragons date back 3.8 million years, the dragons were first recorded by Western scientists just over a century ago in 1910.

King Komodo. After American Museum of Natural History trustee W. Douglas Burden led an expedition to capture dragons in 1926, he returned with 12 preserved specimens and two live lizards. This expedition to Komodo National Park served as the inspiration for the 1933 movie King Kong — Burden was friends with the filmmaker Merian Cooper. If you are ever in New York, be sure to stop by AMNH where you can still view three of his original specimens. 

 

The booming call of a male howler monkey is one of sounds that typify the neotropical forests. From Belize, down through Central America through the Upper Amazon Basin and into Brazil’s Pantanal, there are six species of howler monkey. 


In Belize, the black howler is a resident of lowland broadleaf rainforest as well as semi-deciduous forest. The male black howler is, as its name implies, is very black in color. The black howler has a very long coat of hair with a long prehensile tail that acts as a fifth hand, which is very useful for an arboreal species. 


In Costa Rica, the mantled howler is the common howler species and they can be found over much of the country covered on our Costa Rica tours. They typically are not found above 2,500 meters in elevation. The male mantled howler is black with long rich reddish brown area of hair on its sides. This is the mantle thus giving the name to this very large monkey. 


In the Amazon Basin, the red howler is fairly common and is much more frequently heard than seen. This monkey is highly arboreal and the males are reddish brown in color. Even though they are fairly large, they often appear small when observing them. This is because of the size of the trees where they may be observed. In a large cannon-ball tree, the red howler appears quite small but if close observation is permitted, the red howler is actually a fairly large monkey. Guests on our Amazon River cruises are often treated to a glimpse of these primates during our frequent boat excursions.

In common, all of the howler monkey species have a very loud booming call. The black howler is regarded as having the loudest call in the neotropical forest. This is an amazing statement as there are incredible sounds that can be heard emanating from the forests throughout Central and South America. Birds, like screaming piha and the various parrots and macaws, can make incredibly loud calls. Bamboo rats and potoos also make loud and very unusual calls during the hours of darkness. Howler monkeys still hold the title of the absolute loudest call and like so many other things in natural history, the call has to be heard to appreciate it. 

The feeding preferences for howler monkeys are also quite interesting. Howler monkeys are folivorous, meaning they feed quite extensively on leaves. Leaves are low in nutrients so large quantities must be consumed. In addition, howlers produce copious amounts of saliva to assist them in breaking down leaves prior to swallowing. Any additional help in leaf digestion is important and this is just one adaptation that howlers possess to assist them in their feeding. Young leaves are also more desirable as they are more easily chewed and digested and the young leaves do not contain as much leaf toxin as mature leaves. Many herbivores prefer young leaves and buds over mature leaves for these same reasons.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

A new program in Peru called The National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program has installed more than 1600 solar panels in the impoverished Contumaza province, with plans to install about 12,500 solar (photovoltaic) systems which would serve approximately 500,000 households. The solar panels are free to the communities.

Energy and Mining Minister Jorge Merino said that the program will allow 95% of Peru to have access to electricity by the end of 2016. Currently, approximately 66% of the population has access to electricity.

“This program is aimed at the poorest people, those who lack access to electric lighting and still use oil lamps, spending their own resources to pay for fuels that harm their health,” said Merino.

The Contumaza province is part of Northern Peru’s Cajamarca region, which is best-known for its Moche temples at Trujillo and Chiclayo.

Read more at
http://planetsave.com

 

Our friends at Medjet Assist keep you updated on the latest in safe travel, including the STEP Program which is great for all international travelers!

Before the age of mobile phones and easy email access, international travelers used to register with the U.S. Embassy in each country we would visit. The idea was to let the American Embassy know of your presence in the area just in case there were any problems, either with the traveler or with the country.
 
The old system of registering with embassies or travel registration, as it was also known, has been replaced by the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or “STEP.” The program is free and operated by the United States Department of State as one of the many travel services they offer.
 
Many travelers are aware of the country-specific warnings the government issues, but this program will deliver any appropriate warnings to your email address in real time. Instead of just checking in advance, now travelers can be alerted to problems during their trip.
 
Signing up for the program is easy and travelers can then receive detailed information about their destination country. Travelers also receive any updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts which are essential news updates and warnings provided by the U.S. government about specific destinations. These warnings and alerts can help us avoid problem countries and areas and are essential for international travel.
 
In addition to receiving warnings, the STEP system allows government authorities to contact and assist travelers in emergencies, political violence and natural disasters, should any of them strike. The system can be used to make communication easier with family back home in emergency situations.
 
Once enrolled in the system, travelers can then add and remove individual trips from their personal accounts, so the system always reflects the current, real itinerary. The system should be used by travelers, who can enter their travel itinerary and hotel information, and also Americans living abroad, who can supply their foreign address. The sign-up is done online on the State Department website and takes only minutes. The information collected is protected by government privacy laws and can only be used for travel-related purposes.
 
Register today at https://step.state.gov/step/

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