Al Arabi Travel Agency


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STAFF REPORT: Cambodia and Koh Samui

One of our travel consultants, Pari, recently took some time to explore Siem Reap and Koh Samui – read below for her thoughts!

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ArabiGuides: Cape Town

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Getting to/around Cape Town

Access to Cape Town is simple. Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Cape Town twice a day, every day.  Other airlines do the route as well but they might not be any cheaper – for this route, it’s usually best to grab the direct Emirates flight (EK772/EK770 outbound, EK773/771 inbound).

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ArabiGuide: Cuba

Cuba is a vibrant, cosmopolitan destination and the Caribbean’s biggest island, located about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. Tourism in Cuba was a massive industry until the 1959 revolution. The island has slowly opened back up and now attracts a wide range of tourists. The market has certainly started to show signs of development with many hotels available in typical tourist regions.

Regions of Cuba

There’s three main parts of Cuba:

  • Western Cuba – home to Havana, Pinar del Rio and Matanzas, this is Cuba’s most-visited area. City life, rolling hills and great scuba diving make this a favoured haunt of the island’s visitors. For ease, we’ll focus on this region predominantly in this guide.
  • Central Cuba – Villa Clara, Cienfeugos, Santi Spiritus
  • Eastern Cuba – Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma

Getting to/around Cuba

Not the easiest destination to reach from Dubai as it really is quite a long trip. You’ll be looking at a MINIMUM of one stop (e.g. Air France such as Dubai-Paris-Havana or Emirates such as Dubai-USA-Cuba) so it can be a little tricky to plan; of course, we’re more than happy to plan it for you! Havana’s main airport is called Jose Marti International Airport and an official taxi from the airport to Havana centre costs 25 CUC (approx. AED91). There’s a new bus service as well which only costs a few cents.

Once you arrive there’s a few different ways to get around the island. Viazul is Cuba’s official bus transport and is probably the best way to get around. The air-conditioned coaches have toilets and run to most popular tourist destinations. There’s train lines too but these are often less reliable than the bus system. Cars can be hired easily and will start at around 65 CUC (around AED240) per day. Finally, local airlines also fly between the cities and this will definitely be the quickest way to do things

When should I go?

The best time to visit Cuba is between December and April. The few months before December can often be home to hurricanes and storms and the humidity during the summer can be pretty tough (though, perhaps not as bad as Dubai!)

What should I do?

Firstly, Havana is a bustling and vibrant city. Stroll along the Malecon and take in the culture, walk around Havana Vieja or see some local music – this exists in every neighbourhood and is a great sight. Visit the music clubs, grab a mojito, hit the beaches and venture out in the the countryside!

Cuba is home to some fantastic beaches and national parks. Viñales National Park is exceptionally beautiful, home to amazing mountains and caves and has very well developed tourist facilities.

But wait, why are there two currencies?

This issue is a little bit complicated and catch people out when they visit Cuba for the first time. Cuba has two different currencies:

  • CUC is the Cuban Convertible Peso. This is the currency that most tourists will be used and should be used for hotels, official taxis, museum entrance, restaurant meals etc. Since March 2011, this has been set at par to the USD for ease of exchange for tourists.
  • CUP is the Cuban Peso. They’re also known as ‘local pesos’ and are used for market transactions and street vendors.

You’re far more likely to use the CUC on a day-to-day basis but it’s worth carrying around some CUP as well.

I’d like to learn things

Havana is home to some fantastic museums. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Cuba (National Museum of Beautiful Arts of Cuba) is particularly highly-rated and is home to stunning displays of Cuban art. Love Hemingway? Make sure you take time to visit Museo Hemingway Finca Vigia – this was formerly the home of Finca Vigia, the colonial home where Ernest Hemingway penned some of his finest works.

Cuba is a great place to visit and is home to a truly diverse range of things to do. Whilst most of the activity lies in Havana, it’s a great experience to get out into the countryside and do some exploring. Do note, visas can be a little bit complicated for Cuba (especially for U.S. citizens) so take the time to properly research this aspect.


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ArabiGuides – Roma!

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ArabiGuide: Rome

Rome is the capital city of Italy and is a major UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gorgeous piazzas, stunning ancient architecture, shopping, and food – Rome has rightly earned its place as one of Europe’s most influential and beautiful capital cities. We’ve put together a very small guide for the ‘Eternal City’ – there’s an incredible amount to do in Rome and there’s no way to do it justice in a blog post!

Getting to Rome

Currently, Emirates and Alitalia fly direct to Rome (Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino). The airport is a little way out of the city. Taxis operate the route for a fixed charge of €48 each way but arguably (for singles/couples) the best way to get to the centre of Rome is the ‘Leonardo Express train. This train operates every 30 minutes and costs €14-15 each way. The train arrives at Roma Termini station which is very, very central.  If you’re in a group then you may find it’s more cost effective to share a taxi. There are also bus services but these tend to be a fair bit slower.

Getting around Rome

Driving in Rome is NOT for the faint-hearted. The traffic can be chaotic and the roads don’t always follow a very logical pattern. A great option is the Roma Pass which allows the holder to use unlimited public transport for €30 as well as giving you 2 free museum entries and further discounts on additional museums and galleries.

Public transport (ATAC) is very decent in Rome – buses and Metro trains run on time, are generally clean and are very cost effective. Tickets must be bought at a ‘Tabacchi, or from an automated machine or a ticket window at the station. Tickets have to be bought before travel.

Walking around Rome is a great option as well – there’s just SO much to see that you can miss a lot by relying on public transport. Be aware, however, that many streets are cobbled so this can make pushchair/wheelchair access a little tricky.

What to see

First and foremost on your list of things to see in Rome should be historical architecture – a given for a city that has 2,500 years of history! There are far, far more things to see than we could possibly write in a blog post but don’t miss out on the Coliseum, the Appian Way, Circus Maximus, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum as well as a huge range of other ancient Roman ruins. These areas are home to some of the finest ancient architecture in the world and should always be seen when you go to Rome.

Rome is also home to a massive range of churches (at least 900) and has an incredible range of architecture, design and feeling. Take note: some churches require a certain dress code. If in doubt, dress modestly when visiting.

Rome is home to an incredible amount of museums. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel are a particular highlight and should not be missed. There’s also Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia (Etruscan art), Galleria Borghese (private collection of the Borghese family) and Galleria Nazionale (all forms of Italian art).

Rome’s narrow streets often open out into piazzas. These squares usually contain social areas, restaurants and fountains and are a fantastic way to spend a few hours. In the modern centre, be sure to visit Fontana di Trevi for possibly the world’s most beautiful fountain. Other great piazzas to visit include, but are not limited to: Piazza Navona, Piazza della Rotonda and Piazza Farnese.

Rome is home to some great parks – the highlight being Villa Borghese. These sprawling, landscaped parks contain a number of gorgeous buildings and museums and spread over an area of approximately 150 acres. Easily one of Rome’s best places to take a picnic.

What to do

Probably the best thing to do in Rome is to just walk around and take in the sights but there’s a range of great activities to suit all tastes. Want to see a very hip Roman neighbourhood? Visit Trastevere for an incredible range of cafes and trattorias. The football fans among us can take in a game at Stadio Olimpico home to A.S. Roma as well as S.S. Lazio. Rome is also home to a wide range of opera and theatre, though, you will need to know Italian to enjoy these to their fullest. TimeOut Rome also has great event listings.

Summer and early autumn are home to great events and festivals including Notta Bianca (White Night) and the Estate Romana Festival (Roman Summer Festival).

Rome is divided into several districts:

  • Modern Centre – hotels, shopping, dining, Via Veneto, Trevi Fountain and Barberini.
  • Old Rome – squares, cathedrals, the Pantheon and dining
  • Vatican – The Papal City State, sights, relics and museums
  • Colosseo – heart of Ancient Rome, Colosseum, Roman forum, the Capitoline
  • North Centre – Villa Borghese, Spanish Steps, elegant neighbourhoods
  • Trastevere – the centre of Rome’s artistic life
  • Aventino-Testaccio – off the beaten path with great food
  • Esquilion-San Giovanni – markets and piazzas
  • Nomentano – vibrant night life

What to eat

Rome is crammed full of great restaurants but do look off the beaten path to find the best cuisine that Rome has to offer. Pizza al Taglio shops (literally ‘pizza by the slice’) make an economical and delicious lunch and don’t miss out of spaghetti carbonara – a true Roman dish.

It sounds obvious, but look for restaurants where Italian people to eat to get the best food (and the best price). Rome does have a few tourist trap restaurants and these, whilst still decent, are not as good as the true Roman experience. The centre of Rome can be very expensive for dining – look outside of the centre.

Where to sleep

It’s not hard to find Rome hotels and there’s a huge range of hotels catering for all tastes and costs. Renting short term apartments is also hugely popular and we’re more than happy to help you arrange this option too.

For reference, Rome’s city council introduced an accommodation tax. This is equivalent to €2 per night per person (up to a 3* hotel) and €3 per night person (for 4/5* hotels). This tax is used to pay for maintenance of Rome’s ruins and can ONLY be paid in cash.

What to be aware of

Pickpocketing can, and does, happen. Tourists should also be aware of certain scams that are often carried out. From wikitravel.org:

A recent scam involves men working near the Spanish Steps, around Piazza Navona, and outside of the Colosseum. They approach you, asking where you are from, and begin to tie bracelets around your wrists. When they are done they will try to charge you upwards of €20 for each bracelet. If anyone makes any attempt to reach for your hand, retract quickly. If you get trapped, you can refuse to pay, but this may not be wise if there are not many people around. Carry small bills or just change, in your wallet, so if you find yourself in cornered to pay for the bracelet, you can convince them that €1 or €2 is all you have.

When taking a taxi, be sure to remember license number written on the car door. In seconds, people have had a taxi bill risen by €10 or even more. When giving money to taxi driver, be careful.

Around tourist sites like the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and the Spanish Steps there are groups mostly of men trying to sell cheap souvenirs. They may also carry roses and say they are giving you a gift because they like you but the minute you take their ‘gift’ they demand money. They are often very insistent and often the only way to get rid of them is to be plain rude. Do the best you can to not take their “gifts” as they will follow you around asking for money. Simply saying “no” or “go away” will get them off your back until the next vendor comes up to you.

Whilst scams and pickpocketing do occur, if you use your common sense then you should be absolutely fine.

 

 

Our fantastic team of leisure consultants are more than able to expertly plan your adventure to Rome. This blog post is definitely not exhaustive and there’s plenty more to discuss regarding Italy’s capital city. Give us a call on 04 343 3929!