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Readers share their travel plans and recommendations for 2009

Trips and VacationsRentalsCultureNatural Resources

South Africa

I am heading to South Africa to take a 30-hour train ride across the country to the shores of Cape Town. I'm going to see USA Soccer play in the FIFA Confederations Cup, which is held every four years, against Brazil and Italy in June. I'll also be golfing in Sun City and ending the trip with a thrilling shark cage dive.

--Chris Allen, Tarzana, Calif.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge, which recently reopened to tourists, is currently home to almost a million nesting pairs of albatrosses (Layson and black-footed), the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and Laysan ducks. It is also one of the only places in the U.S. that you can see the "golden gooney," or short-tailed albatross. The 5-mile-diameter atoll and its surrounding waters also host incredible marine life, including sea turtles, spinner dolphins, five shark species and more than 260 fish species.

--Wayne Sentman, Boston, Mass.

Vietnam and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I have always had an interest in the region, and I am fascinated by its ancient history and culture. I love to visit new places and have not traveled much in Asia, so this year it's on the list.

--Susanne Hilgefort, Greenwich, Conn.

Pamplona, Spain

I have always wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

--Rey Alton, Houston, Texas

Editor's note: The running of the bulls, also known as the festival of San Fermin, begins each year on July 6, a tradition that dates as far back as the 13th century.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena was one of the jewels of the Spanish empire in the Americas and is a quintessential "diamond in the rough." The colonial walled city and fortress are in excellent condition and were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The city boasts excellent restaurants and hotels and is already frequented by European and Latin American tourists. Spirit Airlines now flies to Cartagena nonstop from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., making it more accessible and affordable. The exchange rate also is quite favorable.

--Benjamin Taylor, Washington, D.C.

Bhutan

Nepal, India and China are Himalayan countries that receive thousands, even millions of visitors a year. Who do you know who's been to Bhutan?

--Terence Lau, Shanghai, China

Editor's note: Bhutan is a small kingdom in the eastern Himalayas. According to visitor information on the country's website, independent travel is not permitted and "tourists . . . must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided, package tour, or custom-designed travel program."

Newcastle upon Tyne, England

I am going to Newcastle upon Tyne. Whether you are into European history, modern science, art, sports or night life, this area of England has it all. I first visited in spring 2008 then went back in the late summer and have plans to return in spring this year. The locals are wonderful, the beach is close and you are only about 50 miles south of Scotland. I also find the "Geordie" dialect a great switch from the posh "Queen's English."

The local Newcastle United Football Club (please, never call it soccer when visiting) is outstanding for sports -- and the intensity of the fans is always palpable. Team colors are black and white for home games at St. James Park (which also offers tours daily if you can't take in a match); stay away from wearing red and white as those are major rival Sunderland colors.

--Judi Tymec, Genoa, Italy

California's deserts

I want to travel to areas near Los Angeles, day or overnight trips, to view and photograph the desert bloom during the winter.

Editor's note: Deserts near Southern California include Death Valley National Park, the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

--Sylvia Fox, Los Angeles, Calif.

Rabbit & Villager Peak, California

I am going to Rabbit and Villager peaks on the southeast end of the Santa Rosa Range in Riverside County. This will be my first camping trip with a group, and we plan on making it a tough one. Our day-hike route will cover 20 miles with a gain of 8,000 feet, a challenge for sure. What makes it special is the change in scenery. The challenging day hikes in the Angeles National Forest are all but covered in snow right now. Getting out to the desert is something I've been waiting for all summer.

--John Quan, San Gabriel, Calif.

Brazil and Argentina

I am going because these countries have incredible color, great music, the soccer tradition and beautiful women.

--Carlo Alberti, Los Angeles, Calif.

Scandinavia and Russia

Having written a business plan for my company to develop mobile marketing services, I want to visit some of the most advanced mobile communications markets including Finland ( Nokia), Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, to research opportunities. I've already visited 30 countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe including South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, France and the U.K. After this trip, I will have a comprehensive view of how consumers use mobile devices worldwide.

--Linda Dorman, Schaumburg, Ill.

Japan

My husband teaches an ancient Japanese martial art and travels to Japan every year for training. My 8-year-old son, following in his father's footsteps, also loves the idea of all things Japanese. I appreciate the fact that its culture is rich in the arts.

We would like to take a cultural immersion that explores Japanese fabric dyeing and painting, possibly explores brush painting and calligraphy, visits ancient castles, tours homes in the country-house style and visits hot spring resorts. Ideally, the tour would have us stay in one or more little villages dedicated to the arts.

--Patricia Tsoiasue, Long Beach, Calif.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I want to go to Buenos Aires, which has football, people and low prices.

--Mauricio Santamaria, San Salvador, El Salvador

Vienna, Austria

The hills of Vienna are alive with music. I want to see the famous wall that was built before World War I and look at Klimt paintings in his hometown.

--Catherine S., Los Angeles, Calif.

Jamaica

It's a land of sun, culture, music, food, etc. I am curious about the lifestyle and experiencing the "Jamaican way" to live.

--Rena Grant, San Francisco, Calif.

London

I'm going to London to see the Royal Ballet perform "La Bayadere"!

--Lindsey Brown, Houston, Texas

South Africa

It's our honeymoon, and we want to see South Africa, particularly Cape Town, the wine lands and go on a safari.

--David Gray, Gary, Ind.

Prague

We are going to Prague for our seventh visit in 10 years. Besides being a beautiful city with kind people, it's full of music. We have tickets to eight operas and three ballets for the two-week visit, in beautiful theaters and at prices that are affordable.

We are in the over-70 group, and this is a wonderful city for a special getaway. Mass transportation is excellent, and we rented an apartment in a perfect location at a reasonable rate.

--Wilma Wuest, Camarillo, Calif.

Sea of Cortez, Baja California

The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, is a serene yet active getaway that is great for whale watching, kayaking, snorkeling with dolphins, hiking and warm weather! Also it's nice to just enjoy simple, local cuisine.

--Candice Woodward, Newport Beach, Calif.

Southern Spain and Gibraltar

We'll be flying into Malaga and out of Madrid and plan on visiting Granada, Gibraltar, Seville, Toledo and Madrid. I'm Mexican, and my dad brought me up with tales of the Aztecs and history lessons from the Spanish conquest. Being Mexican doesn't mean any one thing because of the cultural diversity found in Mexico. As a Mexican, one can have Arabic, Spanish, French, African, Anglo or indigenous blood. So I'm kind of following the cookie trail of my possible ethnic mix.

I've been to Mexico. Spain seemed like the logical next step. I'm hoping to find something that resonates with me. I've started with the wine. Also with the euro and airfare getting more affordable, a trip to Europe wouldn't break the bank. I've known several folks who have booked cheap flights since the economic downturn. Recession is a traveler's friend -- if you can afford it.

--Xochitl Doggett, Beaverton, Ore.

Istanbul, Turkey

We are going to Istanbul. We're celebrating New Year's at the cross point of two continents. It's the capital of the former East Roman empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire and the modern Turkish Republic.

--Hakan Aytekin, Riverside, Calif.

United States

In the last few years I have traveled to Ireland, England, France, Italy, Russia, Spain and China as well as multiple cities in the United States.

Last summer, I decided that I would forego travel outside of the U.S. because the people in the U.S. need tourist dollars more. Since then, I have been to Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and St. Louis. I mention Kansas City and St. Louis to suggest that the smaller, middle-of-the-country cities also have great museums, easy transport systems and friendly people. I want to return to Denver; Santa Fe, N.M.; Houston; Cleveland; Minneapolis; Savannah, Ga.; Milwaukee; Omaha; Dallas; Philadelphia; Seattle; Atlanta; Chicago; Boston; and Washington. There are great museums in all these places: The Barnes, Nelson-Atkins and Gardner. There also are many regional treasures.

--Elizabeth Nolan, Coronado, Calif.

Cape Town, South Africa

I am going to Cape Town. I had an experience of a lifetime in South Africa last year, doing a safari in Tanda Tula private game resort. Did the photo safari, saw the big five, changed my life. So now, I want to go back to South Africa and do Cape Town to experience the wineries, beach, etc.

--Eric Lewis, Atlanta, Ga.

Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Morocco

Why not? When I lived in Egypt in 1992 and 1993, I wanted to travel overland to Tunisia to visit friends. Once in Tunisia, I wanted to take the coastal route to Morocco through Algeria but couldn't. The closest I got was a desert outpost on the Tunisian side in the northwest desert.

A couple of friends want to go to Egypt in 2009, so I've been thinking why not take my old trip in reverse and meet up with my friends. I think I may have to do it soon before the world falls into the next global conflagration.

--Jeraldine Neel, Denver

Pismo Beach and the Central Coast of California

Pismo Beach and the Central Coast combine year-round sunny weather and beach lifestyle of Southern California, with the unspoiled and scenic beauty of Northern California. Best of all, the Central Coast is literally halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it an easy drive-to destination for just about anyone in the state.

Pismo Beach captures the essence of the Central Coast, as it's the only true beach town destination between Monterey and Santa Barbara. It's only 10 minutes from San Luis Obispo, which has upscale shops, restaurants and a world famous wine region producing amazing Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. Pismo Beach epitomizes the classic California beach town, complete with a pier, boardwalk, downtown shops and restaurants, etc.

--Roshan Bhakta, Irvine, Calif.

Nature's Valley, South Africa

Nature's Valley is a small town on a strip of the most beautiful coastline in all of Southern Africa. Building code stipulates that no houses should be seen from the beach, making sunset strolls on the beach free of civilization entirely possible. For nature lovers, this is a paradise. With more than 150 species of birds, sea otters, whales and dolphins, endless miles of hiking all at your fingertips, it is tough to beat.

--Michael van Dijken, Seattle, Wash.

Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and Guajira Peninsula, Colombia

The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world. Snow caps only 27 miles from a sweltering Caribbean paradise of unspoiled desolate beaches in Tayrona National Park. Nearly every type of climate imaginable can be found in the "center of the world" as it's known by the indigenous inhabitants. Neguanje, Playa Cristal, Concha, Cinto, Cabo, Arecifes, Cañaveral, Buritaca, Palomino are some of the amazing white sandy beaches backed by an intense jungle home of the Kogui Native Indians who have rejected developed civilization and stay true to their traditional ways.

At the foot of the Sierra is the city of Santa Marta, the oldest surviving European city in South America. Here three cultures combine to create a sumptuous blend. If Brazil lacks indigenous heritage and Mexico African heritage, this region of Colombia exposes all three and nowhere is it more vivid than in its music.

Completely different, the Guajira holds myths, legends and music, but of the more melancholic type. Vallenato is the star here, another of Colombia's many folkloric rhythms. The main instrument of the genre is the accordion, with the caja (a type of drum) and guacharaca (a scraping instrument) forming the rhythmic backbone. The town of Villanueva, Guajira, is considered the home of the accordion in South America, which was brought by German immigrants in the early 1800s.

In this small corner of the world is where I want to be in 2009 -- to learn the history, feel the natural variety and climates, envisage the spiritual teachings, dance the deep-rooted rhythms, enthrall myself in magical realism and simply relax in this unknown paradise.

--Jonathan Giraldo, London, England

Centerline of solar eclipse totality

Right around noon on July 27, roughly 150 miles north of the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, a large cruise ship full of astronomy enthusiasts will make every effort to observe the total solar eclipse. I shall be on the vessel, with my spouse. We love eclipses -- they are as good a show as you get on this planet.

--Jack Romanski, Berkeley, Calif.

Colorado

I'm going to take my 7-year-old son skiing.

--Tonya Tucker, Mobile, Ala.

Southern California

I've lived in Southern California my entire life. But whenever I pick up a travel guidebook for the region, I discover some fascinating new place I've never visited or never heard of within a day's drive of home! Since the airlines and the TSA have made air travel into an ordeal, I've taken advantage of the new opportunities to discover all the treasures right in my own backyard that I had overlooked for so long. So in 2009, I plan to just get in my car, hop on the freeway, and I'm off to a world-class adventure! In 2009, I also resolve to do at least some of my exploration using MTA buses and light rail, to reduce some of the stress on myself and on Mother Earth. I recommend that all your readers this year spend one vacation in exploring the innumerable wonders of their own region.

--Ted Marcus, Torrance, Calif.

Greece

To me, seeing Greece from the deck of a yacht -- away from noise, pollution, crowds and a frenetic pace of life -- seems to me the perfect choice! We chose Seapaths as the company because it offers all-inclusive yacht charters around the Greek islands.

I look forward to being able to decide where I want to go and having our own private cook who gets up at dawn to go into the quaint little fishing village whose marina we're docked at -- and brings back yogurt, fresh honey and fruits -- isn't bad either! I'm already dreaming about eating breakfast al fresco on the deck and watching the sun rise over white houses and colorful wooden fishing boats, turning the crystal clear waters of the Med into turquoise and azure blue. I'm already thinking about enjoying the exhilaration of flying over the water, feeling the wind on our faces and taking a turn at the wheel.

After a nap, we'd sail to a new island, exploring the historical and cultural treasures, getting to know the locals and enjoying the "real" Greece, not the tourist traps.

--Cheryl Antier, Toulon, France

Valentine, Nebraska

Last year, my husband and I rented kayaks and took a trip down the Niobrara River in Valentine. It was the best time I've ever had on a vacation and I can't wait to go back. The scenery is fantastic; the river isn't deep, so it's good for a family trip. On weekends, outside the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, it's like a floating beer party. So, if you want a nature trip, start at Cornell Bridge and go on a weekday.

--Susan Skinner, Craig, Neb.

Russia and China

For the last couple of months, Russia has been on the news on a daily basis. It's usually good or bad news depending on what country the reader occupies. This increased my curiosity about what the country, once a superpower, is like. If the Cold War had turned out differently, the U.S. would be where Russia is today and vice versa. I am going on a 15-day trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway beginning in Moscow and stopping in different towns until arriving at my final destination, which will be Beijing. Along the way I hope to photograph daily life.

--Gabriel Morando, Bellflower, Calif.

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