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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Winter Vacation Destinations by Sutikno Slamet

When your toes turn purple and your eyelashes sprout icicles, you know it's time to head south for the winter. The birds do it, so why shouldn't you? Stop, now, before you break your back from shoveling one more pile of snow, and consider some exotic locales for winter getaways where the only mounds of white you'll being seeing are of the hot, dry, and sandy variety.

Speaking of white, sandy beaches, a trip to Antigua, or its neighboring island Barbuda may be just what you need in order to restore feeling to your toes. Every water sport lover's dream, the Caribbean nation boasts of at least 365 beaches surrounded by clear blue waters with an average temperature of 80 degrees. Trade your snow boots for fins, and snorkel through spectacular coral reefs, maybe even catching a glimpse of the wreck of the merchant ship Andes, which has rested on the bottom of Deep Bay since 1905. If you'd rather not get your feet wet, you can enjoy all that the charming capital St. John's in the northern part of the island of Antigua has to offer. Purchase colorful local artwork while strolling down Market Street or fortify yourself with sweet black pineapple (which isn't really black) and some local rum. Watch a spectacular sunset over English Harbour on the summit of Shirley Heights while tapping your feet to the rhythms of a steel band. If you would prefer to watch birds instead of people, then head north to the tiny island of Barbuda, which has only a single village of 1100 people but is famed for its frigate birds and huge rookery.

If Antigua's cricket-playing and English-speaking ways bring up unpleasant memories of Britain's colonial imperialism, perhaps its time to head to Rio de Janeiro for a little taste of the party-loving legacy of Portuguese imperialism in Brazil, the largest country in South America. Lying on the Bay of Guanabra, the city, which is most well-known for its pre-Lenten festival of wantonness, "Carnaval," also prides itself on 75 miles of coastline. Do words like Ipanema or Copacabana ring a bell? Yep, they're both in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians in the city party hard and pray hard. After dancing all night at a samba club, look into the sky and enjoy the slightly surreal sight a 128 foot, 1,000 ton statue of Christ the Redeemer hovering over the city proudly at the top of Corcovado Peak.

If Rio's religious version of the Statue of Liberty has you feeling faintly guilty for deserting your home country in the midst of winter, perhaps Perth, Australia will provide the English-speaking taste of home (with an exotic flair) that you need. Kick back and ride the waves in the Western Australia's isolated capital, nestled between a blue, blue ocean and a dry, sandy desert. Getting there is half the adventure, consisting of a 4000 km car ride from Sydney or a long and winding train ride on the Indian Pacific. Explore the Swan River and the 400-hectare King's Park in the south, magnificent nineteenth-century buildings constructed using convict labor in the city center, or perhaps travel north to swim with the dolphins at Monkey Mia.

If Perth leaves you feeling a little isolated, perhaps a trip to the modern island city of Singapore, with a population of approximately 4.5 million, will help alleviate your winter doldrums. With not one but four official languages-Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and English-the country offers a delightful blend of ethnic influences. Enjoy a bowl of hot noodles followed by your favorite curry. Buy a sari in Little India on a Sunday evening or sip on herbal tea in Chinatown. Or perhaps enjoy the sights on a cable-car ride to Sentosa Island, the sight of a thrilling amusement park.

If Sentosa Island puts you in mind of childhood yearnings for the Magic Kingdom, perhaps a trip to the sub-tropical Sunshine State may be just the cold remedy you are looking for. The Magic Kingdom isn't the only amusement park in central Florida. Choose from the likes of Universal Studies, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, Sea World, Busch Gardens, or Cypress Gardens, all within a short drive of each other. Florida is all about the tourist industry, and travelers can find some great winter travel deals if they shop around. Wherever you decide to go this winter, don't forget to pack sunscreen, a bathing suit, and your favorite book. Warmth and relaxation wait just a few thousand miles away.

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