Culture | Lifestyle | Travel | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominican Republic Wish you were there BWIA has just introduced three new Latin American destinations: Cuba, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. By Michele Agostini | Issue 64 (November/December 2003) 0 Comments The top of the Río Ozama from the top of Santo Domingo's Fortaleza Ozama. Photograph by Larry Luxner The cathedral in the town of Grecia, Costa Rica. Photograph by Larry LuxnerHavana nightlife. Photograph by Leigh Eduardo There are many ways to wish your way somewhere. There’s the “I wish I was anywhere but here” wish. With this wish, you really don’t care where you end up, so long as it’s not “here”, wherever “here” is. Then there’s the “you wish” wish — which means that someone with a light in his eye has stated a great desire to go somewhere absolutely unattainable, like the moon, or back in time, or the deck of Jennifer Lopez’s private yacht. And finally, there’s the perfect travel wish. The one where you’re only a booking away from your destination-stroke-destiny. With this wish, you just have to talk about where you’d really love to go, and why, and somehow you feel better about life and the planet and all that it has to offer. This is the story of the third kind of wish. The kind where the possibilities are truly possible. The great genie of the lamp always offers three wishes, and sure enough, BWIA now offers three thrilling new destinations that I’ve always wished I could visit. Cuba My top 10 reasons to go: 1. To catch a glimpse of the man himself (Fidel Castro, of course) 2. To sample the cigars from the famous tobacco plantations of Pinar del Rio 3. To revel in the music of the International Jazz Festival, every other December 4. To visit the breathtaking Sierra Maestra mountains 5. To go to the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana 6. To see the vaqueros (cowboys) ride the plains of Camaguey province 7. To see the amazing architecture of Habana Viejo 8. To take in the almost untouched ecosystems in the biosphere reserves 9. To visit Ernest Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigia 10. To see if the tourist t-shirt my sister bought for her husband is telling the truth when it says “In Cuba even the chickens dance”. My first stop would be Havana, of course. I’d start with the city’s historic centre — Old Havana, or Habana Viejo — declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. I could take in the Castillo del Morro, with its 20-metre moat, guarded by the dozen cannon known as the Twelve Apostles. Next I’d stroll over to the Plaza de Armas, with its Palace of the Captains-General — now the city’s historical museum — and El Templete, the spot where the first mass was said on the island in 1519. All the while, I’d be serenaded by the musicians in the street, who continue the long-standing tradition that has given the world rhumba, mambo, and son. When I’m ready for a break from the urban, I’d go green. Cuba has 14 national parks, with protected areas covering a third of its land area, and six UNESCO world biosphere reserves. The Montañas de Moa-Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa are the most biologically diverse region in the Caribbean; the Zapata Peninsula south-east of Havana is a bird-watcher’s paradise, with over 170 species recorded. Cuba may be the Caribbean’s biggest island, but it’s home to the world’s smallest mammal, a shrew-like creature called the almiquí; the world’s smallest bird, the famous bee hummingbird, or zunzuncito, barely two and a half inches long; and the Cuban pygmy frog, barely larger than a thumbnail. Of course, I’m not going to miss the Jardines del Rey. These “Cuban keys”, immortalised in Hemingway’s novel Islands in the Stream, boast mangroves, flamingoes, sun-bleached sand, and turquoise waters. With an array of water-sports, these islets host Cuba’s best beach resorts. Personally, I’d like to see Cayo Guellermo, where Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, is still docked on the beach that bears its name. Costa Rica I’m still at the wishing stage, and I haven’t yet booked my ticket, but I’ve already made a list of things to take with me: 1. Waterproof camera, for whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River 2. Binoculars, for bird-watching in Braulio Carillo National Park 3. Hiking boots, for walking around the Irazu crater 4. Spanish dictionary, so I can ask the Ticos how to say “butterfly” in Spanish. I can’t speak for the other 999,999 tourists who visit Costa Rica every year, but I can’t wait to take a canopy tour in Monteverde: you’re hoisted on suspension cables up to the height of the forest canopy, then glide gently through the treetops. The sight, the sensation, would beat any amusement park ride I’ve ever been on. Talk about a land of adventure! Costa Rica boasts six per cent of the world’s plant and animal species. One quarter of its area is protected in national parks, Indian reserves, biological reserves, and wildlife refuges. This is a dream come true for eco-tourists. It offers me a choice of volcanoes — the Irazu and the Poas — both of which are drive-in volcanoes, with craters, lagoons, and moonscape geography. Or I can try something cooler (and less explosive) by immersing myself in the cloud-enshrouded virgin forest of Braulio Carillo National Park — a great place to observe bird-watchers delighting in the trogons and quetzals. I’d also enjoy a visit to the Caura Biological Reserve, with its rainbow-framed rivers and nesting scarlet macaws. Bigger things await me at Ballena National Marine Park. Here I can watch humpback whales on their migration journey, while closer to shore bottlenose dolphins make their appearance. I’d also work up the nerve and try my hand at whitewater rafting — helmet and life jacket are included in this ride. Or I might venture onto any one of the popular beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park. Best of all, I’d get to see five per cent of the world’s butterfly species — las mariposas! From the bustling city centres to verdant forests and arid plains, the delicate winged ones are, I’m told, never far away. Dominican Republic The other night I dreamed I was doing the merengue in a church. I knew immediately that this was a sign I must be one step closer to getting to the Dominican Republic. Why? Well, obviously, because the DR is called the home of the merengue, and boasts some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the hemisphere. This is a land steeped in history, and I’d love to get right into the thick of it. I’d start my sightseeing with a tour of the “firsts”: the ruins of the first stone-built hospital in the Americas, Hospital-Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari, completed in 1552; the Monasterio de San Francisco, the first monastery constructed in this hemisphere, in the first decade of the 16th century; the Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario, the first church constructed in the Americas; and the gothic cathedral of Santa Maria, the first church in the New World to be elevated to cathedral status, in 1542. For my grand “firsts” finale, I could visit the Torre del Homenaje, the oldest military construction in the New World, built in 1503. After feasting my eyes on old architecture, I’d go even further back in time, by visiting the Pomier caves, where I could admire prehistoric wall paintings — plus large numbers of bats! The DR is also becoming a popular bird-watching destination. The cotica parrot (the national bird), the guaraguao (a hawk), and the barrancolí (which nests in a burrow) are a real lure for bird aficionados. Of course, after all those flights of fancy, I’d be off to enjoy the DR’s amazing beaches. The best — like Boca Chica and Juan Dolio — are on the sheltered Caribbean coast. There’s also great scuba diving at the underwater park in La Caleta. And Cabarete is one of the world’s finest windsurfing sites. Finally, if I wanted to experience a real geographical high, I’d make the 3,087-metre climb to the summit of Pico Duarte, the Caribbean’s highest peak. It’s overwhelming to think how much there is to do and see in each of these places — and now that BWIA offers direct flights from Trinidad to Havana, San José, and Santo Domingo, the temptation to be my own genie and make even just one of my three wishes come true is irresistible. Make your own wish, and maybe I’ll see you there!