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Los Angeles, L.A. and City of Angels are all names for this sprawling Southern California megalopolis known for its glamour, its ethnic diversity and its dynamic energy. The largest city in the state of California and the second largest in the United States, Los Angeles is a relatively young city. In 1820, it was a bicultural community of just 650 American and Mexican residents. After the completion of the transcontinental railroads in the 1880s, it began to grow. The old ranches were subdivided; the symbol of the city became the suburban house, set amid the orange groves in a glorious land of sunshine. The real boom came with the mushrooming aeronautics business, and the film and television industries.
L.A.’s colourful melange of shopping malls, palm trees and swimming pools is at once bafflingly strange and startlingly familiar thanks to the celluloid self-image that has spread all over the world. Los Angeles is glitz and glamour, but also rich in artistic creativity as evident in its architecture, from Mission Revival and Art Deco to the latest in post-modern designs. You can see it in paintings and sculptures, and it can be experienced in the performing arts that extend well beyond the city’s international fame for film, television and recorded music. Add fine dining, iconic beaches and countless attractions, and you have found the appeal of this great destination.
Free from smog and jungle-like freeways, San Diego sits gracefully around a beautiful curving bay. Although affluent and conservative, this second largest city in California is also amiable and easygoing. San Diego has a vibrant and active downtown area, and since the late 1970s several blocks of early 20th century architecture have been stylishly renovated, while the sleek modern bank buildings symbolize the city’s growing economic significance on the Pacific Rim.
San Diego is the birthplace of California. Portuguese explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo landed here in 1542; since then, San Diego has been under Spanish, Mexican and after 1846, American rule. The city really took off with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s, but in terms of trade and significance it has long played second fiddle to Los Angeles. However, during World War II the U.S. Navy made San Diego their Pacific Command Center and the military continue to dominate the local economy, along now with tourism.
Within easy reach of the downtown area, encompassing 1,400 acres of cultural, recreational and environmental delights, San Diego’s Balboa Park is a sumptuous place with trees, gardens, traffic-free promenades and a large concentration of Spanish-colonial style buildings. The Hillcrest area is the lively and artsy center of the city, and Old Town San Diego is now a historical park where the city’s Spanish and Mexican history and heritage are most evident. The Gaslamp Quarter, once the heart of frontier San Diego, is today filled with smart streets lined with chic cafés, antique stores, art galleries and gas lamps (powered by electricity). Most of the eastern part of the county is taken up by the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert. Another must-see is the city’s most famous attraction, the San Diego Zoo.
Found at the tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas is where the desert meets the ocean. Although it has received a makeover of modern Americana in recent years, this place is still a world away from everywhere else in Mexico. A trip to Cabo (the San Lucas is optional) will not leave you disappointed. With swaying palm trees, turquoise seas and long ribbons of white sand, this is a resort that ticks every box: great food, great nightlight which equal great times – for some.
Others may prefer to scratch the surface just a bit deeper and travel along the peninsula that is known for its dramatic scenery of desert terrain and rugged coastline marked by many unusual formations. The sweeping views of the bay are simply sensational. A quick turn inward takes you to San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas’ older and more grown up sister. Offering a very much calmer and much more authentic atmosphere, just half an hour along the coast leaves you in its desert terrain, and leaves a very different impression from the lively beachfront bars and cafes of San Lucas. Perhaps one of the most stunning ways to see Cabo though is from the water. With the Arco de Cabo San Lucas featuring highly on many must-see lists, a trip around the bay is a must. The braver among you might also like to indulge their inner adrenalin junkie and swim with whale sharks – a memorable and totally risk-free experience if there ever was one. End your day of sightseeing with a fabulous sunset, a (tequila) sunrise in hand, watching the fishermen come home from their adventures.
Costa Rica’s major Pacific port on the Gulf of Nicoya is renowned for its unspoiled nature and beautiful scenery, and is a convenient departure point for trips into Costa Rica’s interior. Volcanic beaches along the coast give way to verdant jungle and coffee plantations further inland.
Expect incredible morning views as you arrive into the port for Panama City. Tinged with a silver pre-dawn light, the city will metamorphosise into a golden glow as the sun rises above it. And from then on expect one stunning view after another. Very interesting in its own right, Fuerte Amador is obviously overshadowed by its proximity to Panama City.
So should the Miraflores museum of the Canal, which offers a comprehensive and immersive tour of the Canal including a 3-D experience, four exhibition halls, an observation deck, and a surprisingly good restaurant not interest you then there is always the option of lovely Casco Viejo – literally the old quartier of Panama. The grand old colonial houses, cobbled streets, independent boutiques and buzzing street scene make this a must stop on your itinerary. And if you like seafood, you will not want miss the many restaurants and market stalls serving different variations of so-fresh-it’s-still-practically-swimming ceviche. Best eaten like the Panamanians do, with salty crackers and a cold beer on the beach. And if money is no object, a cup of geisha coffee – supposedly the world’s best and definitely the world’s most expensive at $7 a shot is definitely a pick me up! Cool cosmopolitan capital aside, Panama has a skyscraper filled skyline that is worthy of some of its North American counterparts. But if urban utopia is not your scene then fear not, the sandy beaches and lush rainforests are never more than a short cab ride away.
Enter the mighty Panama Canal, one of history’s most ambitious and spectacular stretches of waterway. Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and slicing through the heart of a continent, the canal is a staggering engineering triumph, eliminating the need to traverse the treacherous waters of South America and Cape Horn. Sail one of the world’s great canals to appreciate the true scale of this achievement, as your ship manoeuvres between its vast, gushing locks and huge lakes. View less
The French began construction in 1881, but the costly project was left abandoned and unfinished until the United States finally completed the work in 1914. Following the path of the Panama Railway of 1855, locks raise ships large and small 26 metres up above sea level to the canal’s elevated channel. New locks have recently been added, which allow the canal to accommodate ever bigger ships. Leaving the confinement of the locks, you will enter the canal’s channel, to sail through Panama’s core. Wide lakes are linked by painstakingly chiselled wedges of canal, which slice through the lush scenery. Look out for the Culebra Cut section, the most challenging stretch of the entire route to construct. The Bridge of the Americas is a vast arched landmark, which sweeps across the Pacific Entrance and was completed in 1962. It’s one of several huge bridges that you will sail below on the 51-mile journey, including the much newer Centennial Bridge, and the Atlantic Bridge, which spans the entrance close to Colon.
Get your sunglasses ready, because Cartagena is a riot of colour, charisma and Caribbean charm. The best way of seeing the city is by foot and soaking up the uniquely South American atmosphere. Stroll through the jumble of cobbled streets, step back in time, and enjoy one of the Caribbean’s loveliest destinations. Cartagena was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 as a shining example of an extensive and complete system of military fortifications in South America. The city’s strategic location, on a secluded bay facing the Caribbean Sea, meant that it was an essential stop from Europe to the West Indies during the time of commercial and naval exploration. Vestiges of this time are still to be found on the walls of several of the beautiful buildings lining the streets of the old town. The magnificent city is a walled fortress that stretches for 11 kilometres, dating from 1533 and once played host to Sir Francis Drake, who passed through in 1586 (and set fire to 200 buildings during his visit). Despite its 16th century roots, Cartagena today is a modern and glorious riot of colour. Fuchsia pink bougainvillea tumbles down from turquoise painted balconies, while well-preserved colonial buildings painted in vibrant colours line the streets. Take shelter from the heat and enjoy the sensual atmosphere that is so exclusively Colombian by grabbing a seat in a local bar, ordering a plate of Empanadas and enjoying a Guaro—the colloquial name for aguardiente — the country’s national spirit.
With its heady mix of Creole culture and French sophistication, there is more than a pinch of je ne sais quoi in Fort de France. The capital of Martinique, and by far the biggest city in the whole of the French West Indies, if you are looking for Paris in the Caribbean, you’ll find it in Fort de France.
The island has been under French govern since 1638 when the first governor of Martinique Jacques Dyel du Parquet commissioned a fort (from which the city takes its name) to keep out invaders. Not even an unsuccessful attack by the British in 1720, nor the French Revolution in 1789, has been able to shake the French govern of the island and today the city’s French and Creole heritage are impossible to untangle. The colonial past is everywhere, take a stroll down the narrow streets and enjoy the remarkable architecture of the Schœlcher Library, St. Louis Cathedral and the Old Town Hall. Among the many legacies Dyel du Parquet left on the island is sugarcane. A drive through the tropical forests will not only reward you with trees bending under the weight of papayas, mangoes and bananas, but will also afford superb vistas of the elegant plant swaying in the breeze. The arrival and subsequent export of sugar brought the French bourgeoisie in their droves and many of their mansions are still standing. Josephine de Beauharnais, the Napoleonic Empress of “not tonight” fame, hails from the island and those interested will find her childhood home, La Pagerie in nearby Trois Ilets.
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