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Senior Travel Newsletter: nature, cruise, barging, volunteer vacations.
Senior travel newsletter: nature travel, educational, cultural, volunteer, cruise and barging vacations worldwide.
New stories, August 1, 2014 
TravelWatch: Senior Travel Newsletter.

What's on the Travel News Menu for YOU Today
Senior travel nature vacations, cruise and barging vacations, volunteer vacations worldwide & much more! Would you like to be notified of each bi-monthly issue as it is launched? Click here to add your email to our TravelWatch newsletter notification list. [See our Privacy Policy]

1. Interest in Amazon small-ship cruises is rapidly increasing due to the launch of new ships, new itineraries and new destinations that explore the waterways of Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. See what is available at very affordable prices year round.
2. We report on one global tour operator who takes responsible tourism very seriously, recently instituting a ban on tour activities and entertainments that feature endangered Asian elephants.
3. The Parador accommodations offered all over Spain are a wonderful opportunity for visitors to sleep with this country's extraordinary multi-layered history. We highlight a few of the 94 waiting to welcome you!
4. Do you know the world's 10 smallest countries? Would you like to visit them as a fresh idea for a Travel Bucket List? Check out these countries and a little bit of information about each one. You'll be surprised!
5. August 2014 is the Panama Canal's 100th anniversary. The construction of this international waterway revolutionized ocean travel, but bringing it to completion was a huge challenge.

Before planning your next adventure, you may compare accommodation alternatives with sites such as www.trivago.com or use their data base for further information about your destination and read traveler hotel reviews.

New Africa Theme Page Launched
Travel with a Challenge web magazine is delighted to let readers know about our new Travel Theme page showcasing all Africa-focused feature articles in our permanent collection. Underlining our editorial mandate to present meaningful, adventurous ways to experience destinations, our Africa collection (so far!) includes three volunteer vacation articles, accessible safari travel by wheelchair, a multi-day hike up Mt Kilimanjaro, walking safaris, and tips on photographing African wildlife.
Africa Travel Themes page of articles about travel in Africa, two cheetah cubs.

Why are Amazon Cruises so Popular?
New Itineraries, New Destinations, New Ships Make It So!
Small ship cruise expert AdventureSmith Explorations, www.adventuresmithexplorations.com, reports that sales of its Amazon programs have doubled since 2012. In response, it has added to a dedicated Amazon trips section that showcases its cruise and lodge options in the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. The company has also expanded its inventory of itineraries utilizing purpose-built, small expedition boats in this region.
Peruvian Amazon cruises with AdventureSmith Explorations, Delfin II.
Cruising Peruvian waters along the Amazon River`s main channel, Delfin II is a much sought after vessel.
"Because our experts travel to the Amazon frequently, we have the most up-to-date information so that we can match our clients with the best Amazon cruise for their interests, ability and budget," notes Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations president/founder. In 2012 and again in 2013, he was named to Conde Nast Traveler's Travel Specialists List as THE world's expert on small ship expeditions.

Here are options for a few of AdventureSmith's Amazon itineraries and riverboats which access remote tributaries often free of lodges and signs of human life. All rates are per person, double occupancy inclusive of all land excursions with professional guides, meals and more.
Ecuador: The 40-guest Anakonda with wood-paneled and glass exterior is crafted in timeless riverboat style but with the space and comforts sought by modern adventurers. Built in 2013, it is the only luxury ship in this region. It offers three spacious decks with ample room in the lounge, outdoor patio, forward salons and a huge observation deck. Well-appointed staterooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and a large bathroom with massage shower. The suites are even larger with a balcony and Jacuzzi tub. Itineraries of four, five and eight days are from $1,600. Among the highlights is a village-hosted lunch deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world.
Ecuador Amazon cruises with AdventureSmith Explorations, Anakonda.
The Anakonda cruises Ecuador's Rio Napo.
Peru: AdventureSmith Expeditions' cruises in Peru begin and end in Iquitos. Renovated in 2014, the 14-suite Delfin II is one of the most sought-after cruise vessels in Peru, frequently chartered by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic for a unique 10 day expedition Exploring Peru's Pacaya-Samiria Reserve that brings their unique style of intellectual exploration with on-board experts from National Geographic. (See ship photo above.) Other four and five-day cruises from $2,300 are year-round. Throughout the ship is artwork from Peru's leading contemporary artists. A massage room and exercise room both offer wall-to-wall windows for enjoying ever-changing landscapes. Some of the spacious suites can be interconnected to accommodate families.
Luxurious all-suite, 32-guest Aria built in 2011 with Jacuzzi and exercise room offers year-round itineraries of four, five and eight days from $3,315 for the journey into the region defined by three powerful Amazon tributaries: the Marañón, the Ucayali and the Puinahua. Aria's ambiance is that of a first-class jungle lodge, with guests dining on fine china and oversized staterooms that accommodate twin beds converting to California king beds. Executive chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Lima's culinary stars, has created a menu that draws on both Peruvian and European influence. Wine is included with meals, providing the opportunity to experience a range of the finest South American vintages.
Peruvian Amazon cruises with AdventureSmith Explorations, Aria.
Small-ship Aria cruises Peru's Yarapa River.
Brazil: In 2014 AdventureSmith Explorations added the 18-guest Tucano, a motor yacht operating out of Manaus, Brazil. This is the only vessel that explores far into the world's largest Amazon reserve and the only expedition cruise in a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, the Central Amazon Conservation Complex. Five- and eight-day cruises are from $1,800. Venturing far up the Rio Negro immerses guests in abundant wildlife. At Encontra das Aguas guests witness the meeting of the waters two of the world's largest rivers: the light-colored Amazon River and the dark Rio Negro, waters that don't readily mix but flow side by side for many miles.
Brazil Amazon cruises with AdventureSmith Explorations, Tucano.
Tucano cruises Brazil's Rio Negro.
To review all small-ship Amazon cruises, together with cabin descriptions, prices and availability, visit www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/amazon-cruises.
Images courtesy of AdventureSmith Explorations.
International Tour Operator Takes Bold Step for Animal Welfare
Ends Asian Elephant Entertainment Activities in its Itineraries
Respected animal conservation organization, World Animal Protection, www.worldanimalprotection.org, formerly known as WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), recently unveiled extensive research that determines Asian elephant rides and other entertainment activities in several Asian countries cause pain, suffering and injury to these animals. Intrepid Travel, www.intrepidtravel.com, has worked with this animal charity since 2000, and based on the newly-released research findings, the tour operator has decided to end elephant rides and visits to entertainment venues on its trips. The findings come out of a three-year research process to assess the welfare of captive elephants at entertainment venues in Asia.

Asian elephants are highly endangered and tourism demand has led to venues where elephants are forced to do unnatural performances. The research concludes that this causes indisputable pain and suffering to these animals. The report further concludes that the tourism industry has added to the number of elephants being poached from the wild.
Rescued injured Asian elephant in Thailand.
Rescued injured Asian elephant in Thailand. Kat Cayley
According to Intrepid Travel, the change has been popular with its travelers. It is encouraging travelers to seek animal-friendly travel options in order to drive industry change. Learn more about the company's elephant welfare guidelines and see which countries Asian elephants call home.

Over the past 11 years, The Intrepid Foundation, Intrepid Travel's not-for-profit fund, has donated more than $430,000 to animal and wildlife conservancy projects including Friends of the Asian Elephant in Thailand and Animal Care in Egypt.
Asian elephant at rescue center in Asia.
At a rescue center, this elephant gets a little loving encouragement. WSPA
"Responsible travel has been central to how we've run Intrepid for 25 years," says Intrepid Travel co-founder, Geoff Manchester. "Our focus is on educating our clients and teaching local communities about animal welfare and environmental conservation.

"While we once included elephant rides or entertainment venue visits, we're now working with animal rehabilitation and sanctuary facilities. We hope that the increased patronage of our groups to more commendable venues like this will help encourage other tour operators to re-assess their standards as we have done. As an industry we can and should do more to help protect wild animals from cruelty," he concludes.
Asian elephant at an entertainment venue in Asia.
Asian elephant at an entertainment venue. Jane Crouch
Spain's Paradors Offer Exciting Opportunities for Sleeping with History
Unique and authentic are two words that come to mind when describing the Spanish government's paradors, properties usually located in castles, monasteries and palaces across the country, with an average of 60 rooms each. There are 94 properties in total, offering a boutique and personalized experience for guests.
Spanish parador at Santo Estuvo offers sleeping with history.
The parador of Santo Estuvo in the heart of Galicia, is a former monastery set in an area of
outstanding natural beauty.
Spanish parador at Cardona offers sleeping with history.
The parador at Cardona is within a 9th century castle atop a hill overlooking the historic town of Cardona.
The name coming from the Spanish verb, parar, meaning to stop or stay, with no two paradors looking the same or have the same story. Of the 13 UNESCO-recognized cities in Spain, paradors can be found in 11 of them. Indeed, you may find yourself sleeping in a room where kings and queens have slept before you! While each property is historical, the service and amenities are very modern, so guests will enjoy comfortable stays ranging from three- to five-star accommodations and even beyond.
For example, the most recently-opened parador in the town of Lorca, Murcia, sits within the 13th century Castle of Lorca, a meeting point of three cultures (Islamic, Jewish and Christian). While doing excavations there, a perfectly preserved synagogue was discovered where a convent had been built on top. Another example, the parador of Granada, is a small four-star hotel in a 15th century convent which is part of the famous palace of Alhambra. This is Spain's most popular parador and reservations usually have to be made months in advance.
Spanish parador at Leon offers sleeping with history.
On the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, Leon's parador is a living museum of stately rooms dating from the 16th century. There are special rates for pilgrims.
It is exceptional to find a national government that is also a very successful hotelier. In this case, Spain deserves unqualified recognition as a uniquely gifted host. Bookings for all paradors may be made through www.parador.es/en. Note the special Golden Days discounts in all paradors for clients 55 years old or better and special parador discounts along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Northern Spain for people who are walking parts of the Camino as pilgrims. To learn more about the pilgrimage options, see our collection of richly-illustrated articles about experiencing the Camino in different ways.
Spanish parador at Santiago de Compostela offers sleeping with history.
The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela remains the ultimate destination for modern-day pilgrims from around the world. A wonderful parador on the same square is a blend of history, art and tradition, offering special rates for pilgrims.
Images courtesy of Spain's Departamento de Relaciones Institucionales Desarrollo Corporative.
10 Smallest Countries in the World – A New Travel Bucket List?
What's in a name? How many of these ten smallest countries have you heard of? How many can you pinpoint on a map? Some are rarely visited, except by travelers on business or collecting visa stamps. Most are island nations, but the majority are easy to reach. Their wealth varies from nearly the highest per capita GDP in the world to nearly the lowest. For travelers looking for a new bucket list challenge, a chance to visit these 10 countries may be just the ticket. From smallest to largest, we learn something interesting facts and get oriented about each one:
Malta is 10th smallest country in the world, heritage church and festa.
In Malta, the world's 10th smallest country, there are many "festas" throughout the year, often focusing on traditional religious celebrations. Visit Malta
Vatican City (0.44 sq km or 0.17 sq mi)
The Stato della Cittia del Vaticano is the smallest independent state in the world with a resident population of only 800 people. Vatican Palace is the Pope's residence, and the most famous Catholic church in the world, St. Peter's Basilica, is there too. Vatican City and its sites are among the most visited places in the western world.
Monaco (2.02 sq km or .78 sq mi, including some recent land reclamation)
As a sovereign microstate, Monaco was established in 1297 long before the French Riviera became a destination. Beyond being a playground for the fabulously rich and famous and a tax haven, there is plenty to interest a visitor besides the casino. Exploration on foot is facilitated by public lifts and escalators to help overcome steep hills.

Nauru (21 sq km or 8 sq mi)
In the South Pacific Micronesia region is the tiny country of Nauru, formerly known as Pleasant Island. Population is about 9,000. In the 1970s and 80s, it became very rich from massively strip mining phosphate minerals for fertilizer export. Now depleted, the sad legacy is 80% of the land area is devastated.
Monaco is 2nd smallest country in the world, aerial view.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world. You're pretty much looking at it all in this photo!
Monaco Press Centre Photos
Tuvalu (26 sq km or 10 sq mi) Gaining independence in 1978, Tuvalu with a population of 10,000 is mid-way between Hawaii and Australia. In 2010 only 360 tourists visited the country, which is a classic South Pacific destination, known for superb beaches with reefs and palm trees, coral reefs and beautiful lagoons. Lots of room for visitors!
San Marino (61.2 sq km or 23.63 sq mi)
The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is a tiny landlocked enclave in rugged mountains on the northeast side of Italy. It has stood the test of time, having founded its republic in 301, yes, that is 1,713 years ago. Lots of historic churches and museums, a venue for Formula One racing and a vintage car museum with two million tourists visiting annually.

Liechenstein (160 sq km or 62 sq mi)
Here is another mountainous European principality between Switzerland and Austria, totally located in the Alps. It is a very wealthy country with a population of 31,000, a unique fusion of tradition and modernity, and the only country to have more registered companies than citizens.
San Marino is 5th smallest country in the world, heritage fortification.
The historic Fortress Guaita in San Marino once guarded the republic's mountain passes.
Repubblica di San Marino
Marshall Islands (181 sq km or 70 sq mi)
The strategic mid-Pacific Republic of the Marshall Islands gained independence from the United States in 1986, having been occupied earlier by Spain, Germany, and Japan before the U.S which used it as a nuclear test site. Today it has beautiful islands, atolls, pristine waters and lots of sunken WWII ships as a dive attraction.

Saint Kitts and Nevis (261 sq km or 104 sq mi)
It is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas in both area and population. It was among the first islands in the Caribbean to be settled by Europeans though it was first settled 5,000 years earlier by Native Americans. Both islands are volcanic in origin and offer plenty of rainforest as well as fabulous beaches and festivals.
Maldives is 9th smallest country in the world, tiny island resort on coral atoll.
Many tiny islands/atolls in the Maldives have become distinctive resorts like the Baros Maldives Resort and Spa.
Visit Maldives
Maldives (298 sq km or 115 sq miles of land) Located in the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea region, the Maldives may be small but it has a large population of 338,000 spread across 200 inhabited islands (out of 1,192 coral islands). With an average ground level elevation of 1.5 m (4ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet's lowest country but for now the resorts, beaches and waters are exquisite.
Malta (316 sq km or 122 sq mi)
Located between Sicily and Tunisia in the Mediterranean, Malta has proved to be a very successful small country with plenty to do for visitors including an endless number of festivals throughout the year. Its culture and very long history intertwine nicely with unspoiled countryside, caves, cliffs and beaches.

To see all ten microstates in context, Maps of the World has created a fine map.
Reflecting on the Panama Canal's 100th Anniversary
The motivation to build a canal for ships to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was clear, but the financial means and manpower to do so was long in coming. First the French gave it a try in the 1880s with the idea of building a shallow barge canal with no locks crossing the narrow Isthmus. After losing an estimated 26,000 workers to disease and accidents and having run up a bill equivalent to $287 million, the French abandoned the project which in eight years reported completion of only two-fifths of the work. Remnants of the French canal are still visible during transit today.
Panama Canal 100th anniversary, ships passing in the locks.
Roughly 14,000 ships equaling 5% of the world's trade transit through the Panama Canal annually. Cecilia Rodriguez/@cecifoto
Next the Americans got serious about creating such an international waterway that would save military and commercial ships many weeks of extra travel around South America's Cape Horn. Built over a ten-year period from 1904 to 1914, the Panama Canal has been justifiably proclaimed as one of the engineering wonders of the modern world.
Aerial view of Panama Canal locks.
Remnants of French Panama Canal, abandoned in late 1880s.
Above: Today all operations of the Panama Canal are managed by a Hong Kong conglomerate. Cortesia ACP

Right: First attempted in the 1880s by a French company, the project was abandoned after eight years of effort. Remnants of the French canal are still visible during transit.
Alison Gardner
Construction manpower was enormous consisting of more than 5,000 Americans, 11,000 Europeans and 25,000 Caribbean islanders. With plans to use 60 million pounds of dynamite, there were geological concerns about disturbing six identified fault lines and some active volcanoes, not to mention accelerating the daily earthquake count and recurring landslides along the selected route. Four thousand workers died from dynamite accidents alone. With 115 to 120 inches of rain a year, flooding was a constant challenge as were the 18-foot tides in the Pacific versus flat water on the Atlantic side. Despite all odds, the 48-mile-long (77 km) waterway celebrated the transit of its first client on August 14, 1914, two weeks after the start of WWI. With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge, the canal cost $352 million to build, and it came in under budget.
Containership guided by tug through Panama Canal, Panama Canal 100th anniversary.
A planned expansion with an additional set of locks will allow the transit of even larger bulk carriers and cruise ships. Alison Gardner
As anyone who has sailed through the canal on a cruise ship or private yacht will know, there are three sets of locks. A two-step flight at Miraflores and a single flight at Pedro Miguel lift ships from the Pacific up to Gatun Lake; then a triple flight at Gatun lowers them 85 feet to the Atlantic side. It takes a whopping 52 million gallons of water to navigate each vessel through the canal regardless of size.

Owned and managed by the United States until 1999, the country of Panama has been owner of the Canal since that time. We wish the Panama Canal a very happy birthday!

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