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Pack everything but your visa

Pack everything but your visa
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First Published: Fri, Mar 25 2011. 07 18 PM IST

Get educated on evolution in Ecuador. Thinkstock
Get educated on evolution in Ecuador. Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Mar 25 2011. 07 18 PM IST
As Bob Dylan nearly said in his mildly trippy song Gotta Serve Somebody: “You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage, you might have drugs at your command, women in a cage, you may be a businessman or some high-degree thief, they may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief... But you still need a visa to go somewhere, buddy.”
In some cases, that slip of paper in your passport is the only aspect of your trip that lies beyond your control. You can use the latest websites to book your flight tickets, you can trawl your social media networks for hotel ideas...and no doubt you have within reach an overpriced guidebook pregnant with ideas for things to see, do and eat. But all that comes to nought if the gruff lady in the severe pantsuit disapproves of your salary slip printout.
Yet all is not lost. The Indian passport isn’t as cool as the British one, which lets its holders travel to more than 160 countries without prior paperwork. But even so, approximately 50 countries and territories all over the world are welcoming enough to let you in visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival. No need to fill in forms or stand in long lines. Just pack your bags, book your rooms and fly.
This doesn’t just eliminate the need for months of preparation, but also lets you plan some spectacular surprise trips for the family, without having to surreptitiously procure their passports and certificates.
Our list includes destinations on every major continent and offers a spectacular array of geographical features, climates and cuisines. Replace that visa with a sense of adventure, and you now have several years’ worth of travelling to look forward to. We pick a few of our favourite visa-free destinations and tell you why they make excellent luxury travel prospects.
ECUADOR
Why: The Galapagos archipelago is arguably the most significant location in contemporary science. The islands are synonymous with Darwin and his theory of evolution. Since the islands are governed by Ecuador, Indian citizens can experience Galapagos without a visa. The islands are remote—around 1,000km from the South American mainland—and the fastest way to reach is to fly in from airports in Quito and Guayaquil on the mainland.
Get educated on evolution in Ecuador. Thinkstock
Once there, book into one of the many luxury yachts for an extended trip around the islands, often accompanied by a scientist who can tell you about the significance of the wildlife you see. Go snorkelling in Urbina Bay, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, and go diving at Wolf Island. Drop into Quito on your way out for some Ecuadorean hospitality complete with cuy—roasted guinea pig—and see if you can fit in a brief excursion to the spectacular Cotopaxi National Park a few hours away.
How:Just land up in Ecuador and you’re allowed to stay for 90 days.
BOLIVIA
Don’t miss Bolivia’s high-altitude charm
Why: One of the highest countries in the world, Bolivia is called the Tibet of South America. La Paz, the highest national capital in the world, is serviced by a handful of top-class hotels, including the all-suite Ritz Apart Hotel. Sights include the surreal Moon Valley, just a short drive away. The country is studded with several beautiful national parks and an ironic juxtaposition of the very high—mountains and valleys—and the very flat—the spectacular Salar De Uyuni salt flats. Even Bolivia’s border with Peru is worth visiting—it’s the gorgeous Lake Titicaca. If the fact that Bolivia has a standing navy without access to any sea doesn’t amuse you enough, you can always retire in relative style to the sole remaining Bolivian ski resort at Chacaltaya, 18 miles (around 29km) from La Paz, where the slopes are high and the snow has a reputation for speed.
How: Visas are issued on arrival and cost about $60 (around Rs2,710) each.
GUATEMALA
Live the hike life in Guatemala
Why: Luxury holidays can’t all be spent doing nothing by the sea. Sometimes a little exercise won’t hurt. Especially if the fruits of your troubles are massive Mayan monuments such as Tikal or El Mirador. When you’re done tomb-raiding, retire to beautiful Lake Atitlan or the beach at Monterrico, before rounding off your trip with a climb up a volcano. While the Mayan ruins are ancient, some of the hotels are resolutely modern with the stars to prove it.
A word of warning before you pack your bags though. Visa regulations tend to change frequently and without warning. This list could become longer or shorter. Do check before you go. Also, most immigration authorities will expect to see proof of hotel reservations, return flights and spending money.
How: No visa required.
FIJI
Why: Some of the best beaches in the world are found on this nation of over 300 islands. For instance, Natadola on Viti Levu island is a beautiful, white sand beach home to the highly rated Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa. For a little less golf and a little more beach, try the award-winning Vatulele resort a short plane trip away.
The resort has 19 private beach huts or bures, each with its own private strip of beach. If you’d prefer land-based activities, go cycling in the mountains around the capital of Suva. The roads are smooth and pass by magical waterfalls.
How: Fly in with sunblock and shorts. Immediately receive a visitor permit to stay for up to four months. Come back whenever.
SEYCHELLES
Seychelles’ great aquamarine. Thinkstock
Why: In Seychelles, the islands are small, numerous and beautiful. The country’s 115 or so islands make up for a land area of only 175 sq. miles. Yet the islands still manage to cram in several five-star resorts, water sports and excellent golf. A short distance from the miniature capital city of Victoria is the St Anne Marine National Park popular with snorkellers for the coral reefs. Praslin, the second largest island, is home to the Vallee de Mai, a prehistoric palm forest that is now a Unesco world heritage site. Also on Praslin is the tournament quality Lemuria Resort golf course. The islands are also popular with wedding and other family groups.
How: Hassle-free, month-long visitor permits when you land. Excellent when the wedding invitee list spirals out of control.
CAPE VERDE
Continental drift in Cape Verde. Robert Macpherson
Why: Africa meets Europe on this charming archipelago off the coast of western Africa. Cape Verde is a peaceful, developing country that is witnessing the beginnings of a boom in tourism (all the more reason to make plans right away). Beaches abound, as do pristine trekking trails. Climb up Mt Fogo, the country’s only active volcano, and hike all over Santo Antao, taking in the canyons and valleys. Later, put your feet up in the town of Mindelo with its excellent natural harbour. If you’d prefer something more strenuous, go for the Mardi Gras festival, when things get fun.
How: Citizens of all countries without a Cape Verdean embassy get visas on arrival. And no, India doesn’t have one yet.
ST KITTS AND NEVIS
Putting out roots in St Kitts and Nevis
Why: Everything you’d expect from a Caribbean holiday. But with a little less madding crowd. The country is split across two islands—Saint Kitts and Nevis—with plenty of resorts, spas and beach bars. Several old plantation houses, such as the Ottley’s Plantation Inn on St Kitts, have now been turned into hotels. For more modern accommodation, the Frigate Bay area has golf courses and condos. There are music festivals in both summer and winter. You’re never too far away from a cricket or football pitch. The islands also have abundant flora and fauna, and Nevis calls itself one of “the last unspoiled places on earth”.
How: Member of the Commonwealth? Still upset about the Games? Walk right in!
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Mar 25 2011. 07 18 PM IST