The Tripologist: Travel tips and advice

The Ebola outbreak needn't prohibit travel to all African countries.

MY PARTNER AND I ARE PLANNING TO VISIT CUBA AND MEXICO CITY IN JANUARY. COULD YOU SUGGEST A GOOD THREE OR FOUR-STAR HOTEL IN THE CENTRE OF TRINIDAD? OUR TRAVEL AGENT HAS SUGGESTED HOTEL BRISAS, ANCON HOTEL AND IBEROSTAR GRAND HOTEL BUT THEY SEEM TO BE SOME DISTANCE FROM THE CENTRE. HOW EASY IS IT TO GET AROUND FROM THESE HOTELS AND CAN WE TRUST THE CABBIES? IT LOOKS LIKE OUR AGENT IS CHARGING US WAY ABOVE THE INTERNET RATES SO IS IT POSSIBLE TO DEAL DIRECTLY WITH THE HOTEL? IN HAVANA WE'LL BE STAYING AT THE HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA. WOULD YOU SUGGEST HIRING A CAR AND DRIVER TO GET AROUND, AND WHAT WOULD THE DAILY CHARGE BE? COULD YOU ALSO ADVISE WHAT CURRENCY IS BEST TO TAKE TO CUBA?

Y. LATIF, REVESBY

Of the three hotels you mention, Iberostar Grand Hotel would be my pick in Trinidad, the other two get only lukewarm reviews on Tripadvisor (tripadvisor.com.au). The hotel is about 200 metres from the central Plaza Mayor, and the city is not large so there should be no need for taxis.

If you aren't happy with the quoted hotel rate you need to discuss this with your travel agent, bearing in mind that currency transactions with Cuba are not always straightforward.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba is on the waterfront and most visitors rely on taxis to tour the city. Car rental operators in Cuba can supply a hire car with a driver. This will add about CUC100 ($119) aday to the car-hire fee. You could do this more cheaply if you were to simply work out where you want to go and for how long and negotiate the fee with a taxi driver. You could also ask the concierge at your hotel.

Cuba maintains a dual-currency system and as  a tourist you'll be dealing in convertible pesos (CUC). The Australian dollar is not accepted for exchange. US dollars are, but the government hits US dollar transactions with a whopping 10 per cent fee. You're much better off taking cash in the form of euros. Hotels and official restaurants and shops take MasterCard and Visa provided they are not issued by a US bank or financial institution. You should be OK if your cards are issued by an Australian bank. Cuba does have some ATM machines but don't use them, the government imposes a staggering fee on ATM withdrawals. Do not change money in the street.

MOROCCO HAS BEEN TOP OF MY BUCKET LIST AND I'M PLANNING TO GO FOR TWO WEEKS IN JUNE. HOWEVER EVERYONE I'VE SPOKEN TO HAS ASKED ME TO RETHINK DUE TO THE EBOLA CRISIS. I'VE SEARCHED THE WEB AND CHECKED TRAVEL ADVISORIES AND IT APPEARS SAFE. SHOULD I HEED PEOPLE'S ADVICE OR PUT IT DOWN TO MEDIA HYSTERIA? I'VE ALSO BEEN TOLD THAT ONCE I VISIT AFRICA, OTHER COUNTRIES INCLUDING AUSTRALIA WILL MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR ME TO ENTER. CAN YOU SHED SOME LIGHT?

J. LUO, PYRMONT

At the moment there is absolutely nothing to fear. No cases of Ebola have been reported in Morocco. The nearest country where Ebola has been reported is Mali, which registered eight cases, one of them in the western city of Kayes. This is almost 2000 kilometres from Marrakech, which is the closest place in Morocco you're likely to come to Kayes. That's the distance from Sydney to Cairns.

A lot can happen between now and June and you will need to monitor the situation. Be sure to get travel insurance when you book your trip. If it should happen that the Ebola situation changes in Morocco and the Australian government issues a "Do not travel" advisory, you would be entitled to claim a trip cancellation refund from your insurer.

As long as Morocco remains free from Ebola, your visit should have no impact on your subsequent travels. The Australian government has recently introduced a Travel History Card for incoming passengers which asks the countries you have visited in the past 21 days. Travellers who have been in Ebola-affected countries will be asked further questions and may undergo medical tests.

Ebola is not easily transmitted. Even if you were to sit next to someone on an aircraft with Ebola, the chance of catching it are remote. There have been no cases of Ebola being transmitted in this way.

Morocco is a uniquely fascinating destination. There is no reason that the hysteria generated by fear-of-Ebola syndrome should stop you from experiencing it.

MY PARTNER AND I ARE PLANNING A TRIP TO THE UNITED STATES IN JULY FOR ABOUT THREE WEEKS. APART FROM NEW YORK WE WANT TO FOCUS ON THE SOUTH-WEST. IS OUR BEST (MOST ECONOMICAL) OPTION TO FLY TO SEVERAL DIFFERENT CITIES AND EXPLORE EACH FOR A FEW DAYS OR HIRE A CAR IN SAY, TEXAS, AND DRIVE WEST?

R. NOONAN, KENSINGTON

The reason most travellers visit south-western US is the region's natural wonders. The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley are just some of the places that leave words panting for breath and to experience them you need a car. The cities of the region are for the most part staggeringly dull. Unless you have a compelling reason to start your travels in Texas, there are other cities that might be better places to start, such as Denver, Colorado or Albuquerque in New Mexico.

CONVERSATION OVER TO YOU…

THE QUESTION WAS "BRAD PIT OR MADONNA - EVER HAD A CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER DURING YOUR TRAVELS?"

Anne Szczurowski writes "In 1991 my partner and I were travelling in India. At the Red Fort, in Delhi, [we] climbed to the top of the minaret to watch sunset over the city. Another couple had had the same idea. The man looked very familiar. "Ben Kingsley," I whispered to my bloke. "Who?" This was repeated until finally Ben Kingsley came over to settle the argument. And we did have an enjoyable conversation with Ben and his companion as we watched the colours of a fading day give Delhi it's magical quality."

From J. Cain, "In 1988 on an Amazon cruise (wooden boat, 12 people), I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Simon, Carrie Fisher and Paul's 15-year-old son. A jam session with the Peruvian crew and the obligatory photo with Paul Simon made it a memorable experience."

"Not quite, but almost!" writes A. Pritchard.  "On an economy class flight from Seoul to Hong Kong back in the 1980's, I found myself seated alongside the personal assistant to Nana Mouskouri, who was herself comfortably ensconced in the pointy end of the plane! Nevertheless, I enjoyed a very informative couple of hours as she told interesting stories about touring with a much-loved artist."

According to N. Gove, "While staying at a Buddhist Monastery in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, who should turn up but Jimmy Barnes and his family? As ever Jimmy and Jane were very down to earth and friendly. Great kids too."

From The Tripologist's own cupboard,  I once ran into Pierce Brosnan at the bar of the Hotel Bora Bora but I was lugging a huge camera and made myself scarce. He was being James Bond at the time and he might have thought I was paparazzi and worked me over.

Next question: Foreign spa treatments often have slightly weird moments. Anything you'd care to share in a family newspaper?

Send response to tripologist@fairfaxmedia.com.au. The best response will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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Include your name and your suburb or town and send it to tripologist@fairfaxmedia.com.au All published questions will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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