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The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Iceland’s Crystal Caves

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The Ice Tunnel at Langajökull

Ice Caves in Iceland are truly a unique experience, as they appear only in winter. The summer heat carves out dramatic holes and caverns in the glacier. By late autumn, they freeze again into caves of dazzling beauty, so resplendent that they’ve been dubbed “crystal caves.” Since ice is an ever-changing element, ice caves often change from year to year, or disappear altogether. Officially, the season runs from November to March. 

Iceland is known for its breathtaking and photogenic crystal caves. Streaks of black silt tattoo the brilliant cerulean blue of the ice. Only a handful of reputable guides will take you on an adventure of ice and glaciers—ask your agent at Willamette Intl Travel who they recommend. Continue reading

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Travel News: Alaska Airlines’ New Premium Class

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Alaska Airlines’ New Premium Class Section Now Available For Purchase
Upgrades start at $15, starting in January fliers will enjoy a seat with extra legroom and additional perks. The airline will debut its Premium Class section for travel on select routes beginning Jan. 5, 2017, as it continues a significant retrofit of its all-Boeing fleet. You can now purchase seats with up to four more inches of space between rows. In addition to four extra inches of legroom, passengers seated in Premium Class will enjoy early boarding, snacks and complimentary drinks. Alaska Mileage Plan MVP, Gold and Gold 75K members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades into Premium Class at the time of booking, or up to 24 hours in advance of travel, depending on status and the fare purchased. With the addition of Premium Class, Alaska’s most loyal customers who aren’t able to upgrade into First Class will see a significantly increased likelihood of getting a seat with more legroom near the front of the cabin. For more information around upgrades for elites see the Alaska Airlines blog: Treat yourself: Alaska Airlines launches new Premium Class. Initial prices for Premium Class seats range from $15 to $79 in addition to base fares and are based on the length of the flight. Seats in the new section can be purchased at the time of booking through alaskaair.com or Alaska’s mobile apps, during check-in, and at the airport.

Chinese Visa Scanning on the United App

On October 20 United Airlines introduced new functionality in their mobile app that makes travel to China easier than ever. Customers can use their iPhone, iPad or Android device to scan their Chinese visa to complete check-in through the United app. This new functionality delivers a convenient channel to provide visa information during the 24-hour check-in window prior to departure. 

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Icelandair Adds New US Destinations And Extra Flights

Icelandair is to increase its seat capacity by 11.5% next year as it continues to build up its network linking Europe and North America. The carrier is adding two new destinations in the US next year, Philadelphia and Tampa, which will take its number of North American routes up to 18 flying through its Reykjavik hub. Icelandair will begin flying to Philadelphia on May 30, 2017 and the service will initially run as a summer-only route which will operate until September 20, 2017. If it is successful, the route may eventually become year-round. Tampa will be added as a new destination from September 7, 2017, operating twice per week, and will complement the existing Orlando route, which runs five times per week. Both services will operate year-round from next September when there will be a daily service from Iceland to Florida. The airline also serves 26 destinations in Europe including five UK airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Sister carrier Air Iceland also flies from Reykjavik to Aberdeen. 

Ottawa’s Winterlude Festival Set For 2017

In 2017 Canada marks its 150th birthday, with holiday-makers invited to join in the countrywide, year-long celebrations. The main focus for national events will be the capital city Ottawa, where 12 epic months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences will be on offer. The first major ‘National Partner Event’ of the Ottawa 2017 calendar will be a special edition of the annual Winterlude festival, which will wow visitors over three fun-filled weekends, 3 – 20 February. Next years’ will be the 39th edition of Winterlude, when Ottawa will be transformed into an enchanting city of all things snowy and frozen. Organizers are promising a festival that will be bigger and better than ever, with some 600,000 revelers expected to descend on the capital. The bumper sized celebrations will be centered in and around three downtown locations, all of which will be free of charge to the public.

US Preclearance Expanding To Stockholm In 2019

The United States and Sweden signed an agreement on Friday to expand the preclearance to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. There are other airports wishing to join the program from number of countries. The Swedish government said it hopes the increased ease of travel will have positive consequences in making Sweden a more attractive place for international companies to base their headquarters in. The goal of the so-called Preclearance program is to extend security and thwart the arrival of unwelcome visitors before they reach the US but the advantage for all travelers is to clear Customs before getting aboard the plane, and to avoid long lines upon arrival. The airports embarking on the process to join the program include Bogota, Buenos Aires, Edinburgh, Kansai, Milan, Reykjavik, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, and Saint Martin. More than 10 million travelers fly to the U.S. from those airports each year. The program already screens about 18 million travelers per year arriving from 15 airports mostly in Canada, the Caribbean and Ireland.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm at Night

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Filed under Alaska, Canada, Icelandair, News, Sweden

The Icelandic Roadtrip Packing List

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One of the best way to see the Icelandic countryside is to hit the road for a few days. Rent a car straight from the airport and embark on a roadtrip! It’s really the only way to see a country that has only 8 people per square mile. Iceland’s Ring Road will take you across through and around snow-capped mountains, bubbling lava pits and misty glacier fingers. But what to take on the journey? Here’s my packing list for an Icelandic roadtrip:

1. Map and GPS navigator. Though you can’t really get lost around Iceland, it sometimes pays to have a map. They are useful if you need to judge the distance until the next town or gas station. Stay on the roads listed on your map–you can incur a hefty fine if you drive off-road. Only attempt a highland road (marked on the map) if you’re driving a 4-wheeler–these roads are notorious for their rugged terrain, and there’s a high chance you may get stuck with a 2-wheeler.

2. Food. Good food can be scarce in Iceland in all except the main towns, so if you want a snack for the road, be sure to pick up a quickie like food bars, dried meat, and chips before you head out. You can also pick these up at any number of gas stations on the road. Dried fish or fruit make great nibbles in the car.

3. Camera, tripod and binoculars. Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous wherever you look–so be sure to have your camera ready. A DSLR is best to catch the subtle, natural sights, such as the Northern Lights (and we’ve just entered the season!). Tripods and binoculars are handy when viewing waterfalls or birds.

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4. Windproof and fleece jackets. Definitely pack your windbreaker–the wind is often fierce in Iceland, especially on the west coast, and rain or snow is not uncommon! Make sure it’s also a jacket that can get dirty–often your adventures will take you horseback riding or spelunking, so be sure you can watch off the grease and the grime.

5. Hiking boots and socks. The only option for the rugged terrain of Iceland. If you do any sort of off-road hiking to Dettifoss or through the multicolored hills of Landmannalaugar, great shoes are a must. The best shoes are those with good support and are also waterproof.

6. Warm clothes. Iceland is cold year-round, and though there are sunny days here and there, the weather is notoriously unpredictable. Pack your warm gear: thermal leggings, cargo pants, sweaters, balaclava, wool cap–layers layers layers! Icelandic wool is a great investment and can be purchased in Reykjavik.

7. Swimsuit and towel. Icelanders are obsessed with swimming! Families gather here to sit in the hot pots and share the latest gossip. Wild hot pots exist all over the country. If you forget to bring your swimsuit, you can rent a spare at the pool’s front desk–but if you’re out on the road, it’s good to have your own handy!

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Diving In Iceland

Welcome to Iceland! Today we’re returning to the land of fire and ice brought to you by our own foreign correspondent in Iceland, Wailana.

Last summer she joined a fantastic group for an unforgettable experience snorkeling between tectonic plates. Established in 1997, Dive.is offers safe, fun snorkel and dive days not far from Reykjavik and also off the coast of Iceland. The most famous trip is through Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir, a crack in the Earth where you can swim between two continental plates.

If you are a PADI-certified diver, you can join fellow divers on a day dive in the fissure. The tour includes two dives, each of about 30-40 minutes, at a depth of 18 meters. Optional add-ons include an afternoon of spelunking or the Golden Circle.

Otherwise, you can sign up for the snorkel tour. Even in summer, the fissure tends to be quite cold, but you’re fitted with high quality equipment and the best dry suit in the business. You can easily let yourself go, floating through the twisting fissure in pristine waters and the vivacious colors of this underwater realm. The fissure widens into a large lagoon area, where sand collects at the bottom. Wailana recommends keeping your hands laying flat on your back, above the water to be warmed by the sun (if there is any!). End your chilly day with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies.

Looking for something a bit more Advanced? In Akureyri, you can sign up for the dive tour in Strytan and its underwater volcanic cones. Swim in 79C water and feed the local wolf fish. In June, divers can even boil Guillemot eggs at 24 meters depth!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Today is the last day of our “insider’s look” series on Iceland. In case you missed some of the articles, click here to catch up.

Welcome to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula!

Snæfellsnes, a long peninsula jutting out from the western coast of Iceland, is a region steeped in history and geological wonders. Many Icelandic sagas took place in and around the area. The dynamic landscape of Snæfellsnes has also influenced modern literature, most notably Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness and Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.

Light Sand on Dark Lava at Búðir, (c) axelkr, Creative Commons

The region’s unique geology has given rise to spectacular natural wonders, and the jewel of the crown is Snæfellsjökull National Park. Within the park, hikers can explore lava craters, dozens of lava fields, rocky terrain and bird-nested sea cliffs. The eponymous Snæfellsjökull mountain, a statovolcano topped with an ice cap, stretches up 1446 meters (4744 feet). The Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás recounts the detail of a recluse, Bárður, who disappeared into the glacier one day—and guards the mountain still. He is said to have made his first home in the cave of Sönghellir, the “singing cave,” known for its acoustic resonance.

Breiðafjörður, (c) AnSchieber, Creative Commons

Enjoy the local scenery at Breiðafjörður, a fjord separating Snæfellsnes from the looming cliffs of the Westfjords. According to local legend, there are only two things in the world that cannot be counted: the stars in the night sky and the craggy islets in the bay. You can get some great views by walking across the stone causeway to the island of Súgandisey.

Stykkishólmur Church, (c) Kokonis, Creative Commons

Stykkishólmur is known for its wooden warehouses, most dating back 150 years and still in use. The Norska Húsið is worth a peek; built in 1932, the house is now a museum displaying an eclectic collection of local antiques. The Library of Water is also a fascinating stop. This old municipal library features a permanent exhibit by American artist Roni Horn. Twenty-four glass pillars are scattered through the room, each one filled with water from a different glacier around Iceland. Discover more about Icelandic lava flows at the Volcano Museum, which features art and artifacts on the region’s eruptions.

Restaurant at Arnarstapi, (c) mekanoide, Creative Commons

Try the famous hákarl at the on-site museum-farm of Bjarnarhöfn, where you can learn all about the unique practice of fermented shark. Don’t miss the harpooning tools and drying racks. Samples are included with each visit–if you dare

With gorgeous vistas of both land and sea, it’s no surprise that boat tours are popular in Snæfellsnes.  Guides will take you out on their boats and treat you to picture-perfect rides across the bay and to the islands. These rides often include samples of delicious seafood and shellfish. You can even try your hand at sea-angling or whale-watching. Or hop on the Baldur Ferry for a short (1.5 hour) ride to the island of Flatey.

On that note, that concludes our series on Iceland. Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll be inspired to go!

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: West Fjords

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland in early October. Today we continue on the Ring Road to the fabled West Fjords.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

A bit removed from the Ring Road track, I recommend the West Fjords only if you have at least 10 days in Iceland or you’ve been there before. The West Fjords are known for their rugged austerity and countless deep fjords.

Your first stop entering by car or bus will be the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík. The West Fjords have a long history steeped in witchcraft and magic.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

The unofficial capital of the fjords is Ísafjörður, with one of the largest fisheries in Iceland—also the cultural and musical center of the region. You may be lucky enough to be in town during one of the region’s various festivals celebrating skiing, music, sports, and theatre. It’s also home to the annual European Swampsoccer Championships.

There are many other activities to enjoy in the fjords, from learning local fishing, dipping in a natural hot spring, or go on a sailing tour. Travellers can also take the ferry from Stykkisholmur in the summertime to Brjánslækur.

Stop in Súðavík to see the Arctic Fox Center or Bíldudalur and its Sea Monster Museum. Visit Látrabjarg, the famous peninsula that is home to millions of birds: puffins, northern gannets, guillemots, razorbills. Drive to Rauðasandur, a red sand beach that stretches out 10 km.

(c) Yoann Lambert, Creative Commons

Don’t miss Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the northernmost point of Iceland. Hornstrandir is a lonely place. The few settlements and farms have been mostly abandoned for decades, and the few that remain are typically utilized as summer houses by local families. Most travelers visiting the area enjoy the solitude, hiking trails and magnificent cliffs. It’s a great destination for nature lovers—home to about 260 species of flowering plants, arctic foxes, seals, and more than 30 species of birds. The cliff known as the Western Horn is one of the best places to spot seafowl. The area is accessible by boats from Ísafjörður.

(c) rwhgould, Creative Commons

Stay Tuned for Next Time: Snæfellsnes

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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Filed under Europe, Iceland, News, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?