Thursday 31 January 2019

PORTUGAL: Sintra Is Dreadful For Car Traffic, But It Is A Major Luxury Dining And Tourism Destination

Pena National Palace
Sintra is both a town and a municipality in the Estoril Coast region of Portugal. While most tourists will come to visit the town and its spectacular setting, the municipality is much larger.

Sintra is only 28km away from Lisbon, and is primarily known because of the Pena Palace or Palacio de Pena, built in the 19th century in an eclectic style by the Portuguese king-consort Dom Fernando II.

Close by, the Castelo dos Mouros or Moorish Castle is also an important landmark and a popular tourist destination. The town of Sintra itself boasts the medieval Sintra National Palace and several 19th century estates.

Sintra and its surrounding mountains - Serra de Sintra are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a popular destination for day-trippers, and can be easily explored while staying in Lisbon.

Sintra is a city and municipality in the Greater Lisbon region of Portugal, located on the Portuguese Riviera. The population of the municipality in 2011 was 377,835, in an area of 319.23 square kilometres (123.26 sq mi).

Sintra is a major tourist destination in Portugal, famed for its picturesqueness and for its numerous historic palaces and castles. Sintra is also a major luxury dining and tourism destination within the Portuguese Riviera, as well as one of the wealthiest municipalities in the country.

The historic center of the Vila de Sintra is famous for its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, historic estates & villas, gardens, and numerous royal palaces & castles, which resulted in the classification of the town and its historic passage as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sintra is similarly known for its numerous gardens and nature parks, including the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park and the Sintra Mountains. Sintra's most iconic landmarks include the mediaeval Castle of the Moors, the romanticist Pena National Palace and the Portuguese Renaissance Sintra National Palace.

Sintra is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest and most expensive municipalities in both Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula as a whole.

Sintra is one of Portugal's most expensive and sought after real estate markets, famed for its numerous historic villas and luxury estates, and is home to one of the largest foreign expat communities along the Portuguese Riviera.

Sintra is similarly known for its high standards of living, consistently ranking as one of the best places to live in Portugal.

The Sintra Mountains, a granite massif ten kilometres long - considered the Monte da Lua or Mountain of the Moon, or Promontorium Lunae by the strong local tradition of astral cults - emerge abruptly between a vast plain to the north and the northern margin of the Tagus River estuary, winding in a serpentine cordillera towards the Atlantic Ocean and Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of continental Europe.

The Sao Joao platform, along the northern flank of the Sintra Mountains, has altitudes between 100 metres (110 yd) and 150 metres (160 yd), while the southern part of the mountains, the Cascais platform, is lower: sloping from 150 metres (160 yd) to the sea, terminating along the coast, around 30 metres (33 yd) above sea level.

The spectacular relief results from the east-west orientation of the massif's axis, its terminus at the coast, and the nature of igneous rocks, which are resistant to erosion.

The Eruptive Massif of Sintra (MES) is a dome structure, formed by layers of sedimentary rocks - limestones and sandstones from the Upper Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods.

A metamorphosed igneous intrusion resulted in a narrow halo of metamorphic rocks, but also strongly deformed these sedimentary layers causing a vertical exposure. While in the south there are enclosed sedimentary layers, to the north around Praia Grande the massif is steep.

The sedimentary formations, until the beginning of the Upper Cretaceous, are deformed by the intrusion which limits the MES to the end the Cretaceous. Radiometric aging of different rocks from the massif has indicated an age between 80 and 75 million years.

The geodynamic conditions that controlled the formation of the MES - correlated with the development of the Sines and Monchique Eruptive Massifs are associated with the progressive northern expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and the consequent opening of the Bay of Biscay.

The Mediterranean climate, influenced by the Atlantic and characterized by moderate temperatures and wet winters, is typical of continental Portugal. Although the climate in the area of Cabo da Roca is semi-arid, the Sintra Mountains are considered moderately humid.

Precipitation in the mountains is higher than in the surrounding areas. The position of the town in the natural landscape of the Sintra Mountains is influenced by the existence of a micro-climate.

For different reasons the climate here has been moderated by the Sintra Mountains; the fertility of the soils; and its relative proximity to the Tagus estuary the region attracted considerable early settlement. Due to its micro-climate, a huge park has developed full of dense foliage with a rich botanical diversity.

Since 1966, the Sintra Mountains have been affected by fires that have destroyed a major part of the original forest, which has been substituted by acacia and other fast-growing exotic species.

The forested area of the Sintra mountains is about 5,000 hectares (50 km2), of which 26% (1,300 hectares (13 km2)) is maintained by the State through the Direcçao Geral de Florestas-Núcleo Florestal de Sintra.

EuroAtlantic Airways has its head office in Sintra.

Places To Visit In Sintra

- City of Queluz

- City of Agualva-Cacem

- Town of Colares

- Cabo da Roca, westernmost point of the European mainland

Sintra is reached quite easily by car from Lisbon. Leaving town on the A37 motorway to the west you will get to the A16, from where you can follow the signs to Sintra with a travel time from the airport approx. 25 minutes.

Be aware that Sintra itself is dreadful for car traffic, also because of the large number of tourist buses coming into town. Most roads are one-way only, and side streets are extremely narrow and often steep. The best is to park your car in one of the free car parks at the outskirts of town, and walk from there.

Sintra has a direct connection or Linha de Sintra to the Lisbon Oriente railway station, every 20 mins, 45 min travel time, €2.25 each way.

There are also trains between Rossio station and Sintra, leaving every hour taking 40 minutes, and every half an hour with a stop in Agualva taking about 50 minutes in total. The Sintra railway station is located approx. 1 km outside town.

The historic 14km tram route from Praia das Maçãs, mainland Europe's most westerly holiday resort, terminates about 1km from Sintra town centre, at Ribeira de Sintra. The service is operated by restored trams dating from the early 20th century.

The tram runs from Friday to Sunday, starting at 9:20 AM and running every 50 minutes. Travel time is approximately 40 minutes - single ticket €2. The trams are very popular, and therefore can be very crowded, with long waiting times.

Cycling in and around Sintra can be an interesting day out for those who are fit and have some experience. However, the area is very hilly and traffic in and around town is very dense.

Bike Iberia. A Lisbon-based company offering guided and self-guided bicycle tours in Portugal and Spain. One of the rides on offer is a Sintra-Cascais round trip from Lisbon (€85).

Cycling Rentals. Based in Sintra with a fleet of Road, Touring, Mountain and Electric bikes. Private Guided Mountain bike tours from €45 for groups. Local rentals start at €25 a day.

Park E Bike. Guided and self guided E-bike tours and rentals right in the old town of Sintra. E-bike rentals are €28 a day and from €20 a day for multiple day rentals.

You can save yourself a lot of excitement by not taking your car into Sintra. Traffic is dense, especially in the weekends, and most roads are one-way only. It is very easy to get lost in town, and the narrow and steep side streets take quite a bit of nerve to negotiate.

Parking is virtually impossible outside the designated car parks although you will be amazed at the spaces where the Portuguese manage to park their cars.

The town itself is small enough to be easily explored on foot, but in order to get to the Palacio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros, taking the bus is the best option. Bus 434 does a one-way circuit from the train station to the town centre, Castelo dos Mouros and Palacio da Pena.

Tickets are €5 - to be bought from the driver, and you can hop on and off whenever you want. Be aware that the bus can be very crowded, and especially the stretch leading up to the Moorish Castle is very bumpy, with many hairpins.

If you are coming from Lisbon an interesting option is to book with a tour company and they will take you to Sintra and wait outside for you while you visit the attractions.

You can also walk to the Palacio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros. The trek is a rather daunting, steep one-hour climb from the town centre. If you feel fit, though, the beautiful woodlands and the stunning view from the top are generous rewards for your troubles.

There is also a walking trail through the woods to the Castelo dos Mouros that starts above the Sintra town centre at the wooden turnstile on the Rampa do Castelo.

You'd better bring a map (free from tourist information at the train station), or ask for directions as the entrance to this trail is well hidden. Once you have made the journey to the castle, it's only few more minutes walk up the hill on the main road to the Palácio.

The walk to Monserrate from Sintra town centre is also approximately one hour, but is less strenuous. Please note that the Linha Monserrate that picks up passengers in front of the Palácio Nacional de Sintra is only a "sight-seeing" bus, it does not deliver you to Monserrate.

Beach in Azenhas do Mar, Sintra
Be aware that Sintra is one of the major destinations in Portugal for day-trippers. Especially in the weekends during the holiday season, it pays off to plan your visits carefully to avoid the crowds that will be brought to the main attractions by coach.

In the evening, when the day-trippers have gone home, the town is much more agreeable.

Palacio da Pena or Pena Palace. Summer 9:30AM - 8PM; Winter 10AM - 6PM. This is one of the sites in Portugal that you should not miss. The Pena Palace is a truly unique building, that looks like it may have been the inspiration for both Gaudí's creations in Barcelona, as well as for Disneyland.

It was built in the mid-19th century on the site of a former monastery by the Portuguese king-consort Dom Fernando II as a summer palace for the royal family. In doing so, he combined various architectural styles into something that at first glance most resembles a wedding cake - you either love it or hate it.

The park grounds around the palace are equally worth seeing. They are beautifully laid out, with many exotic plants, quaint features and beautiful viewpoints, with a myriad of trails leading through it all.

The walk from the palace to the highest point in the Serra de Sintra - Cruz Alta at 528 m will take you less than 30 minutes. Adults €14, under 18 and over 65 €12.50 for full entrance to palace and park.

Castelo dos Mouros or Moorish Castle. Summer 9:30AM - 8PM; Winter 10AM - 6PM. This castle was built in the 10th century by the Moors to defend the town of Sintra. Apparently, when Cascais was under the rule of Sintra, a huge fire would be lit here annually to remind the people of Cascais that the castle was there to protect them.

It was further enlarged after the Christian reconquest in the 12th century. The complex was restored in romantic style by Dom Fernando II. Adults €8, under 18 and over 65 €6.50.

Palacio Nacional or National Palace. 9:30AM - 7PM. The former royal palace of Sintra also has its origins in the Moorish period. After the reconquest, it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family, who extended and embellished the building.

The current palace still looks very much like it must have looked in the 16th century. Noteworthy and visible from a long distance are the two enormous conical chimneys, that have become the hallmark of the town of Sintra. Adults €10, under 18 and over 65 €8.50.

Monserrate - Park and Palace of Monserrate. 9:30AM - 7PM (park closes 8PM). The Monserrate palace is a beautiful 19th century estate, blending Portuguese, Arabian and Indian architectural styles. The estate was bought in 1856 by Francis Cook, an English textile baron, who altered and extended the original neo-Gothic estate, built in 1789.

The surrounding park is a wonderful botanical garden with plant species from all over the world. From Sintra train station, bus 435 the Villa Express, will take you to the main entrance of Monserrate via the palaces of Regaleira and Seteais for a return fare of €4 15-20 minutes travel time. Adults €8, under 18 and over 65 €6.50.

Quinta da Regaleira - Regaleira Palace and Gardens. Summer 10AM - 8PM, Winter 10AM - 5:30PM.

The origins of this place date back to 1697 but it was only in 1892 that Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric capitalist that had made a huge fortune in Brazil, bought the property and hired the Italian architect Luigi Manini to conceive a place that gathered, on the one hand, a sum of artistic currents and, on the other hand, the glorification of national history influenced by mythic and esoteric traditions. A great variety of Masonic symbols is present in Regaleira Palace and Gardens.

An important example is the magnificent Poço Iniciatico or Initiation Well, looking like an upside down tower, where at every 15 steps a plateau is reached, in a total of nine leading to the depths of the earth. Adults €6, under 18 and over 65 €4.

Convento dos Capuchos, 7 kms from Sintra, can only be reached by car or bike or on foot; follow the N375 from Sintra to the west, and turn left after 4km, from there it is signposted. 9:30AM - 8PM. This remote monastery used to be a place of isolation and meditation, housing 12 Capuchin monks.

It was founded in 1560 and was known to be the poorest monastery in the world, where the monks endured extreme hardships in their small cells.

It is noteworthy for its architectural simplicity, its setting in the woodland of the Serra de Sintra, and the extensive use of cork in the interior. Adults €7, under 18 and over 65 €5.50.

Sintra is, unfortunately, very much a tourist trap where it comes to buying things. You will find an ample selection of typical Portuguese souvenirs in town, none of which can be considered very original for the region; similar items can be bought all over the country.

Be aware that the small town has no supermarkets. There are a few small shops where you can buy groceries, but these are relatively expensive.

Sintra is famous for two local foodstuffs, queijadas and travesseiros. Queijadas are small sweet cakes, that are made using fresh cheese instead of butter.

They are actually quite easy to make at home, but when you're there you might as well try some. Travesseiros are rectangular pastries made from fluff pastry and almond paste, and worth a try as well.

Sintra has lots of restaurants, but it may be difficult to choose a good one. The large number of day-trippers has not had a very good influence on the quality of food and service, and prices are generally slightly higher than in other areas of Portugal, though not prohibitive.

Furthermore, places come and go, so it is hard to give an adequate and up-to-date overview.

A Piriquita, Rua Padarias 1/7. Th-Tu 8:30AM - 10PM; We closed. The best place to have travesseiros. It can be busy though. Take-away possible.

Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa, Volta do Duche 12. Tu-Fr 9AM - 6:30PM; Sa-Su 9AM - 7:30PM; Mo closed. A good option for queijadas.

Regional, Travessa do Municipio. Th-Tu 12AM - 4PM and 7-10PM; We closed. On the way from the railway station to town center. It can be crowded, since this place is well known with tourist guides - but the food is good, even when it is not all that typical Portuguese. Mains around €13.

Petiscaria Casa Madalena, Estrada Da Madre Deus, 166, Carrascal de Sintra. Open from 7PM. This place is outside town, in Carrascal de Sintra, some 3km north of town. Cosy place, with good Portuguese cuisine and friendly service according to reviewers.

InComum by Luis Santos, Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa, 22, Sintra. Excellent affordable gourmet food in a cosy restaurant near Sintra City center.

Sintra has very few real bars, most places will serve both food and drinks.

Bar Saloon Cintra, Avenida Movimento Das Forças Armadas 5, Portela de Sintra. This place is not in Sintra itself, but in Portela de Sintra, some 1.5km from town, past the railway station. It has overall good reviews.

There is no lack of options for accommodation in Sintra. Prices given may fluctuate depending on the season.

The Biester Charm House, Estrada da Pena, 24. checkin: 3PM; checkout: 12AM. Mid-range hotel that's located at Estrada Da Pena. It's 30 minutes from Lisbon and 15 minutes from the beach.

There's a lovely garden set at the heart of Sintra's Natural Park that's perfect for relaxing. €150 for a standard double p/p; breakfast included.

Nice Way Sintra Hostel, Rua Sotto Mayor, 22. checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12AM. This hostel offers both dorms and private rooms. It was completely refurbished in 2011, and features a bar, a comfortable living room and garden.

They also offer climbing lessons in the Serra de Sintra. €30 p/p for a standard double, dorms from €16 p/p; breakfast included.

Oh Casa Sintra, Rua Gago Coutinho, 2. Old townhouse located close to the railway station. Reviewers are positive about the romantic house and friendly service, but the rooms seem to be a bit noisy and could use some remodelling. €77 for a standard suite; they also have a 4-bed dormitory at €20 p/p.

Hotel Tivoli Sintra, Praça da República. Located right in the centre of Sintra, with splendid views from the rooms. Reviewers however comment that the interior could do with some remodelling, and that WiFi in the room is expensive. €82 for a standard double room.

Casa Miradouro, Rua Sotto Mayor, 55. Guesthouse with very positive reviews for service, rooms and homemade breakfast, with free use of living room and garden. Located 700m downhill from Sintra town centre. €90 for standard double room, breakfast €10.

Pestana Sintra Golf, Quinta da Beloura Rua Mato da Mina, 19. For those interested in playing golf, this is a good place to stay, for €20 you can use the greens for an afternoon, and use of the swimming pool is included in the price.

The hotel is located quite a long way from town centre though, so you need to bring a car if you want to do some sightseeing. From €93 for a standard room.

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais, Rua Barbosa do Bocage, 10. Located in an 18th century estate, this is a wonderfully romantic place to stay. Very positively reviewed, but it comes at a price tag €230 for a standard double room.

The city of Lisbon is only 28 kms away

The coastal resort of Cascais

The Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais offers many options for walking and cycling, and has a beautiful coastline

Tourism Observer

UGANDA: Uganda Airlines Pilots Go For Training At Bombardier

Uganda Airlines has handed over the first cockpit crew sets to Bombardier for training as the comeback carrier ramps up to a revised June 2019 launch.

The first set of eight pilots has been sent to a training facility in France while the second set which travelled over the weekend will be training at the manufacturer’s site at Mirabel just outside Montreal.

Uganda Airlines will be receiving four examples of the Bombardier CRJ-900 series which will form the core of its regional fleet.

A pair of Aibus’ rejigged A330 dubbed the -800neo expected to arrive towards the end of 2020 have been selected for the initial long haul services.

Twenty four of an eventual complement of 36 pilots have been recruited so far and will undergo training at different levels depending of their current professional status.

Those that already qualified on the CRJ-900 will undertake recurrent training while those rated on different models of the CRJ will be going through a differences course to get rated for the CRJ-900, said a source close to the Uganda Airlines project team.

He added that it is those pilots transitioning from other aircraft types that will undergo the full type rating course that can take up to 28 days before they are qualifies to fly the new type as first officers.

Training for the pilots was supposed to start last November but was held up by delays in concluding employment contracts.

Delays in recruiting key position holders are responsible for a shift from the initial April 2019 launch of commercial operations to June.

Delivery of the first aircraft will go ahead as planned around February 23 followed by others in March, May, July and September.

There have been concerns about delays in locking up a finance deal for the purchases but President Museveni has assured the team that he will make the money available.

AfriExim Bank, the successor of the PTA Bank has offered a loan at a rate of just under six percent but the cabinet has asked the finance ministry to vet cheaper alternative.

Tourism Observer

ETHIOPIA: Ethiopian Added New Gateway And Increased Frequencies To The US

Ethiopia’s flag carrier Ethiopian might have thrown a killer punch to competitors Kenya Airways and Rwandair by shuffling its services to the United States.

The carrier has added a new gateway to the US, upped frequencies and made changes to other gateways starting with the 2019 summer season.

The airlines says it is optimising its US network to give its clients better connectivity between the US Africa through shorter routes.

Addis has not secured US FAA Category One Certification and as such all flights inbound to the US go through an intermediate airport that is certified.

As a result of the changes, three new flights will be added to the existing daily service to Washington to bring the weekly number of departures to ten.

But unlike the existing services which route through Rome, the additional three flights will go through Abidjan. The Addis Ababa-Abidjan-Washington flights will depart Addis in the morning and arrive in DC in the evening.

The service to Chicago will grow from the current three weekly flights to five; while four of the planned new daily service to New York will go via Lomé to Newark and three via Abidjan to John F. Kennedy.

Ethiopian is also closing the service Los Angeles and replacing with a new service to Houston, Texas that will also operate three times a week via West Africa.

It is believed Ethiopian is trying to tap into the significant African community in Houston as well as the oil gas companies that are likely to be attracted to the only air service between Texas and Africa.

The U.S. is among our most important markets owing to the presence of a large African community and growing business and tourism ties with Africa says Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam.

Our new route structure with additional frequencies to multiple gateways and the opening of new route to Houston are aimed at responding to the market demand and availing best possible connectivity to over 60 African destinations, said Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam.

The restructuring of the US service is also likely to complicate business for Kenya Airways which has a direct tri-weekly service to JFK and Rwandair which also plans to mount flights to New York this year.

With the widest route network in Africa and multiple entry points in the US, Ethiopian is diluting the hub effect of its African competitors.

Ethiopian is now the largest operator out of Africa with more than 119 destinations. Asmara, Manchester, Moscow and Mogadishu are some of its recent additions.

Tourism Observer

SUDAN: Kenya Airways And Qatar Airways Suspend Ticketing In Sudan

Kenya Airways and Qatar Airways suspended ticketing authorities in Sudan as a result of violent protests that have rocked the country since December.

The two airlines cite difficulties in repatriating foreign currency and other trade-related challenges.

Ticketing Authority (TA) is the airline’s authorisation to the International Air Travel Association (IATA) accredited agent to issue tickets on its behalf.

In light of the increasing foreign currency repatriation difficulties experienced, we regret to inform our trade partners that Kenya Airways is obliged to temporarily suspend distribution of Ticketing Authority in the Sudan market, a January 28 notice issued to the Sudan office by Kenya Airways reads in part.

As a result, Kenya Airways will suspend ticketing authority with immediate effect in Sudan. Kenya Airways is working to find a solution for this issue. We will communicate once a favourable solution is achieved, the notice reads.

Qatar Airways also issued a trade advisory notice to the partners in Sudan.

Due to commercial reasons, we regret to inform our trade partners that Qatar Airways will temporarily withdraw ticketing authority in Sudan market with immediate effect till further notice.

The suspension of ticketing authorities by the two airlines is a big setback to the country that is already grappling with a worsening economic situation.

The protests started on December 13 after the prices of bread shot up. At least 29 people have been killed, according the official government figures, while humanitarian agencies put the numbers higher.

The protests started in Ad-Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile State, spreading to Port Sudan, the capital of Red Sea State, and then Atbara where the National Congress Party headquarters was burned down.

Protests have since spread to other cities allover Sudan.

Tourism Observer

UGANDA: Businessman Sudhir Ruparelia To Construct 350 Bedroom Resort In Entebbe

Businessman Sudhir Ruparelia, who is responsible for many landmark Hotels in Kampala city is to put up another in Entebbe.

He has revealed his 2019 plans of a five-star resort in Entebbe.

Sudhir Ruparelia, the Group chairman, shared with selected media, an artist’s impression of what the 5-star project will look like, sending excitement in the market.

Although he remained tight-lipped on the details of the project such as cost, expected date of construction and the actual facilities, the artist’s impression shows there will be a marina, a convention centre and a 3-winged main hotel block, with up to 10 visible floors penthouse suites on the top floor.

The Speke Resort and Convention Centre Entebbe will add to the Ruparelia Group’s hospitality portfolio that includes Speke Resort and Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, Speke Hotel in Kampala, Kabira Country Club Conference and Forest Cottages.

Sudhir is known for world class facilities and the Entebbe hotel, located at Ssese Gateway Beach will not be an exception.

The Ruparelia Group will soon kick start the construction of Ssese Gateway Beach Hotel, a multibillion five-star hotel.

The tourism sector is targeting to hit the four million tourists mark by 2020.

The Ruperalia Group chairman, Mr Sudhir Ruparelia, will in July start the construction of the $100m (Shs366b) establishment that will have hotel rooms, conference and conversion centres at Katinda, on Kampala-Entebbe Road, about 30km from the capital.

The hotel with at least 350 rooms, will be constructed in a period of three years.

Mr Ruparelia explained that the new five-star hotel and other facilities will sit on a 20- acre land and that it will be a state-of-the art in the area to give Ugandans and foreigners a new option in the areas of accommodation, meals and beverages, conferences and meetings.

Our plan is to construct a five-star hotel in Entebbe area to boost the country’s tourism sector and create more jobs for Ugandans. We want to give Ugandans and visitors something new and contribute to national development, Mr Ruparelia said.

The businessman is also completing Kampala Kingdom Hotel, a $10m (Shs36b) facility in Kampala.

State Minister for Tourism, Mr Godfrey Kiwanda said that government welcomes the new development because once completed, the hotel will contribute to the global competitiveness of destination Uganda.

We are receiving this news with a lot of excitement because the hotel will put higher our capacity to host more visitors and making destination Uganda more competitive. Having more of such hotels will put Uganda’s tourism at a higher level in the region, Mr Kiwanda said.

The minister, who said the country needs more hotel rooms to be able to cause the reduction in the cost of accommodation, encouraged the Ruparelia Group to make partnerships with international hotel brands so that its gates will be opened to more visitors.

We also need international brands to set up here and this can be achieved through partnerships. We wish Mr Ruparelia partners with brands like Marriot and Hilton because this comes with more visitors and opportunities, the minister said.

Ms Kelley MacTavish, the founder of All About Uganda, a tourism company that runs the Pearl of Africa Safaris, said such a facility will help Uganda compete with Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa to host top notch international events like award galas.

Once a country like Uganda has more accommodation and convention facilities that meet international standards, then big opportunities will come.

Uganda has always lost out as big award shows on the continent are held in Nairobi, Johannesburg and Nigerian cities, Ms Kelly said.

Uganda Hotel Owners Association (UHOA) welcomed the development too.

Ms Jean Byamugisha, the UHOA executive director, said Uganda currently has about 400,000 hotel rooms irrespective of different classification of hotels and to out-compete other tourism destinations, the country needs to have at least one million rooms spread both major towns.

Mr Sudir acquired the site from Ssese Gateway Beach three years ago and has since fenced it to prepare for construction.

Currently operating as Ssese Gateway Beach, the site has motorised boats for hire. Other hotels owned by Sudhir include Kabira Country Club, Speke Hotel, Speke Apartments, Speke Resort and Conference Centre, Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort, Dolphins Suites, Forest Cottages, and Speke Resort Bujjagali Falls.

Tourism Observer

SOUTH AFRICA: Six Animals Killed By Electrocution In Kruger National Park

Six large animals have died at South Africa's biggest national park after storms toppled a power cable.

A rhino, a giraffe, two lions and two hyenas were electrocuted when the power line came down in Kruger National Park.

The giraffe and rhino died first, and the lions and hyenas were killed by the live wire while trying to eat the carcasses.

Rangers came across the disturbing scene while taking engineers to the site to restore electricity.

Isaac Phaahla, a spokesman for South Africa National Parks (SANParks), said the animals died last Friday in the Skukuza section of the park.

Kruger National Park rangers discovered the animals while accompanying electricians

The animals were electrocuted after heavy rains and strong winds brought down a power line, he said.

At almost 20,000 sq km (7,700 sq miles), the Kruger National Park is the country's largest wildlife reserve.

On Tuesday, a spokesman told reporters the park had reports of four other dead animals in January so far. Two of them have been confirmed as poached, and two of them are under investigation, he said.

Meanwhile, South African lions chewed a poacher, leaving just his head

A suspected big cat poacher was eaten by lions near the Kruger National Park in South Africa, police say.

The animals left little behind, but some body parts were found at a game park near Hoedspruit.

It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions, Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe said.

They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains.

Police have not yet established the victim's identity. A loaded hunting rifle and ammunition were found next to the body.

Lion poaching has been on the rise in Limpopo province in recent years.

The big cats' body parts are sometimes used in traditional medicine, both within Africa and beyond.

Wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation says lion bones and other body parts are increasingly sought-after in South East Asia, where they are sometimes used as a substitute for tiger bones.

In January 2017, three male lions were found poisoned in Limpopo with their paws and heads cut off.

Also, Lions killed in South Africa after escaping Kruger reserve

Three lions which had escaped from a world famous game reserve in South Africa have been killed.

A farmer living near Kruger National Park (KNP) shot dead one of the males when he found all three eating one of his cows, a parks spokeswoman said.

He wounded another and a third ran away.

A search party of rangers decided to put down the wounded lion and the one which had escaped the farmer, Ms Raftopoulos said.

South African National Parks says the unharmed lion was killed because tasting cattle meat would change its behaviour.

There were also concerns that having already escaped once, the lion would keep trying to leave the park.

The decision is made by vets and rangers with years and years of experience, Ms Raftopoulos said.

Initial reports indicated that four lions had escaped on Sunday, but parks officials have since said that evidence suggests only three escaped.

KNP is one of the biggest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of 7,523 sq miles (19,485 sq km).

It is not yet clear how the lions escaped from the park, which is largely fenced off.

Officials say they were probably driven out by population pressures.

The latest escape comes after five lions broke out of the same park in May. Four of them were caught but the fifth is still unaccounted for.

Tourism Observer

Thursday 24 January 2019

THAILAND: Phi Phi Islands Short Of Drinking Water Caused By Many Tourists

It is only natural to cast a backwards glance at the year that was. For travel, the past 12 months have been dominated by one increasingly pertinent problem: overtourism. From urban honeypots such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Kyoto and beautiful Tung Chung, to tropical hotspots Boracay and Maya Bay, the consequences of unmanaged visits from ever-swelling hordes have become impossible to ignore.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the issue will have abated as the opening bars of Auld Lang Syne usher in the new year.

During the driest period of the year – from November to April – the island is packed with tourists, causing water demand to rise sharply.

Koh Phi Phi Don – the largest of the Phi Phi Islands, which are also home to ill-fated Maya Bay – is in the grip of a drinking water crisis. Of course, too many thirsty tourists are to blame.

Researchers from Kasetsart University found that freshwater sources on the 9.7 sq km island cannot meet demand from the rising number of visitors, particularly during peak season.

Sitang Pilailar, Kasetsart’s lead researcher, said: During the driest period of the year – from November to April – the island is packed with tourists, causing water demand to rise sharply, and meanwhile there’s no rain to refill the two freshwater ponds that are the only sources for piped water on the island.

Consider that these two limited sources are expected to cater to the thousands of tourists occupying the 205 water-guzzling hotels on Koh Phi Phi Don listed on TripAdvisor and it quickly becomes apparent why the island is struggling to cope.

Local government official Phankam Kittithonkul said that although the issue was not new, it had become too big for local residents to resolve on their own, adding that the 170 million baht (US$5.1 million) administration budget for the island, which is allocated by the central government according to population, did not take visitor numbers into account.

There are thought to be between 2,000 and 3,000 permanent residents on Koh Phi Phi Don; presumably, the island’s freshwater sources are sufficient to provide for their much more modest needs.

So, what can be done by you, the travelling sponge? Well, the easy answer is: stay away. Or, if you are concerned about water scarcity and you should be, at our current rate of consumption, two-thirds of the world population could face shortages by 2025, according to the global conservation body WWF.

Choose to stay in properties that recycle greywater and harvest rainwater – they might not sound sexy, but such undertakings help reduce your impact on the environment.

On that note, maybe don’t indulge in that extra-long shower next time you holiday, something many of us are guilty of doing. On its website, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) notes: In most countries, water consumption per guest in hotels vastly exceeds that of the local population. Island nations and tourism destinations are often most at risk of water shortages.

In August, ITP, the self-declared voice for social and environmental responsibility in the hotel industry, published the Destination Water Risk Index, which identifies locations in which water risk is highest, in an effort to raise awareness and encourage the implementation of stewardship strategies such as greywater and rainwater recycling at properties in the worst-affected areas.

According to the list, the 12 locations most at risk of water stress are Beijing, Hangzhou, Qingdao and Xian, in China; New Delhi and Mumbai, in India; Bali, Jakarta and Surabaya, in Indonesia; Manila, in the Philippines; Bangkok, in Thailand; and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

That’s right, all 12 are in Asia, and while the list is angled towards the hospitality industry, it should not be ignored by those of us who depend on that industry when we travel – so almost all of us, in other words.

Tourism Observer

THAILAND: 10 Millionth Chinese Tourist Welcomed In Thailand

The Thai minister of tourism and sports Weerasak Kowsurat (left) welcomes He Weixin, the 10 millionth Chinese visitor to Thailand, on December 19, 2018.
On December 19, the Kingdom of Thailand welcomed the person it identified as the year’s 10 millionth Chinese tourist.

He Weixin, from Yunnan province, disembarked from her Thai Airways flight from Kunming to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, to be welcomed by representatives of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The minister of tourism and sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, said, The welcoming of the 10 millionth Chinese tourist for 2018, for the first time ever for Thailand, reiterates the Thai tourism industry’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the awareness of Thailand as a top tourism destination.

The 10 million mark is a milestone made even more pertinent amid a slowdown of arrivals from the Middle Kingdom following a tragic boat disaster in July, when 47 Chinese died.

Recognising this, Kowsurat added: Thailand will improve the country’s safety and security standards, and improve facilities and access to the emerging secondary provinces to make the country a preferred destination for Chinese tourists.

He received an array of gifts and a limousine transfer to her hotel. If she was asked whether she’d be taking a boat tour during her stay in Thailand, her answer has not been reported.

Tourism Observer

INDONESIA: Check Your Passport For Any Damage Before Traveling To Indonesia

Bali-bound travellers are being refused entry to Indonesia for using damaged passports, as the Indonesian government strictly enforces its immigration laws, demanding "good" condition passports from tourists.

Indonesian immigration authorities have cracked down on tourists travelling with damaged passports in recent months, after the story of a British couple who flew to Bali in October but were denied entry because of a travel document with a missing chunk, their excuse was - the dog tried to eat it

The West Australian, authorities in Indonesia have begun enforcing a US$5,000 fine on airlines that allow travellers with damaged passports to board flights to the Southeast Asian nation and passengers at Perth airport were being turned away because of these tighter restrictions.

Speaking to The West Australian, a passenger whose partner had been refused boarding of a Batik Air flight to Bali was told that 20 tourists had been stopped from travelling to Bali for the same reason in the past month.

An increasing number of tourists have reportedly been refused entry to Bali because their passports were considered "damaged" by Indonesian immigration authorities.

This month The Daily Mail reported that a 16-year-old girl was blocked from entering Bali and forced to spend 11 hours in an airport before she was sent home because of a tear in her passport.

In November, a newlywed couple from UK celebrating their honeymoon with a £4,000 trip to Bali were also reportedly denied access to the island after their dog had chewed the corner of the groom's passport.

But to what extent does a damaged passport normally preclude travel?

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) explains what are the categorisations of damaged passport on their website.

Damaged passports

It is your responsibility to keep your passport intact and in good condition.

Normal wear and tear will not affect its usability, but serious damage to your passport could prevent you from travelling overseas.

Contact with water or other liquids can cause serious damage.

You must not tear or remove pages from your passport.

It is critical that all the details and the photos on the personal data pages are legible and clear, and that there is no evidence of alteration or tampering with any aspect of the booklet.

If you are unsure whether your passport's condition is good enough for travel, you should seek advice from the Passport Information Service on 131 232 or from an Australian diplomatic mission or consulate.

When contacted by SBS Indonesian, Hermanus Dimara, Consul for Information, Social and Culture of the Indonesian Consulate General in Sydney, said that the general rule regarding what constitutes a damaged passport is if the data in the passport cannot be read by the system.

But it's not that simple.

Mr Dimara added that the final decision was made by immigration officers in the field, who check the physical condition of the passport and decide whether the passport holder is allowed to pass through Indonesian immigration.

Are airlines culpable?

In further crackdown, The West Australian reports that Indonesian authorities are imposing heavier restrictions and fines on airlines that carry passengers with damaged passports.

It was reported that Indonesia also fined airlines US$5,000 ($7,131) for each passenger denied entry under the strict rule.

The Head of Public Relations and General Affairs of the Indonesian Directorate General of Immigration, Teodorus Simarmata, gave a statement regarding the issue of damaged passports that had been experienced by Australian citizens headed to Bali.

Responding to the news, here are some related matters.

1. Rejection of the foreigner resulting in airlines paying expenses only applies in the following cases:

A passenger who does not have a travel document;

A passenger who does not have a visa, subject to foreigners who are required to have a visa to enter Indonesia;

A passenger who does not have a legitimate and valid Immigration Document - the validity period of the passport is less than 6 months and/or the visa has expired.

2. As for the rejection of foreigners due to the damaged passport, this does not result in the cost of transportation on the airlines.

3. The imposition of expense is enforced if airlines transport passengers who are included in the criteria mentioned in point 1 above.

4. Rejection of a foreigner's entry, based on the results of examination performed by Immigration officers at the Immigration Checkpoints, is carried out as a form of sovereignty of the country.

We submit this press release to clarify the news that has been circulating in the community.

The Head of Public Relations of the Indonesian Directorate General of Immigration, Sam Fenando explained that immigration officers have the rights to prohibit both Indonesian citizens and foreigners entry, related to damaged passports, because the officers follow the Standard Operation Procedures (SOP).

Mr Fenando urged people to take good care of their passports.

Among the criteria for the damaged passport are tears, ink blurs, water-damage - Therefore you had better keep good care of your passport.

Tourism Observer

VIETNAM: Ha Long Bay Choking With Tourists And Waste

Ha Long Bay’s postcard-perfect karst islets have long attracted travellers to its Unesco-approved seascape. In 2017, the destination, in northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province, welcomed almost 7 million international and domestic visitors, according to website Halong Bay Tourism.

The region’s tourism department hopes to receive up to 16 million tourists by the end of next year, and to rake in VND30-40 trillion (US$1.3-1.7 billion) in revenue, it states, on its website.

Taking a major step towards achieving that goal, on December 30, Vietnam opened Van Don International Airport, which considerably cuts travel time to Ha Long Bay for overseas visitors.

What was once an eight-hour round trip from Hanoi is now just over an hour from an airport that, when fully operational, will connect the bay with 35 cities, including Hong Kong, Macau and 10 in mainland China.

The airport was unveiled alongside a new 60km highway, which reduces the drive time between Hanoi and Van Don to two hours and 30 minutes, and an international cruise port capable of simultaneously accommodating two liners with a combined carrying capacity of 8,460 passengers and crew.

If that isn’t a recipe for disastrous overtourism, Destinations Known doesn’t know what is.

As far back as August 2012, travel journalist Mary O’Brien wrote in Australian publication Traveller, the reality behind the picture-postcard views is worrying.

When I visited our boat was surrounded by container vessels, she continued. The beaches near docks and piers are often strewn with rubbish and travel sites have noted complaints from visitors about pollution.

In the years since, similar observations have been made countless times across social-media platforms and on web forums. Tourists complain of being shepherded to the same overcrowded sights – Surprise Cave seems to earn its name more for its hordes and gaudy illuminations than its rock formations – and about the amounts of debris in the sea.

Last summer, volunteers collected 741kg of waste from Coc Cheo and Ang Du beaches, in Ha Long Bay.

And it is not just the visible waste that is a concern. According to English-language online newspaper VietNamNet Bridge, in July last year as much as 80 per cent of local domestic waste water was being released, untreated, into the sea, which does not make an attractive bay.

In the same month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) hired consultants to advise on tourism and waste management at the Unesco site.

Their findings, published on January 5, conclude that rapid increases in visitor numbers and pollution have damaged the reputation of Ha Long Bay, especially in the eyes of foreigners.

Unless the custodians of the destination clean up their act, and quickly, the engine of growth the country is counting on – tourism revenue – risks stalling. Unlike the planes, buses and cruise ships currently bearing down on Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam. The name Hạ Long means descending dragon. Administratively, the bay belongs to Ha Long City, Cam Pha City, and is a part of Van Don District.

The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes. Ha Long Bay is a center of a larger zone which includes Bai Tu Long Bay to the northeast, and Cat Ba Island to the southwest. These larger zones share a similar geological, geographical, geomorphological, climate, and cultural characters.

Ha Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2, including 1,960–2,000 islets, most of which are limestone. The core of the bay has an area of 334 km2 with a high density of 775 islets. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments.

The evolution of the karst in this bay has taken 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate. The geo-diversity of the environment in the area has created biodiversity, including a tropical evergreen biosystem, oceanic and sea shore biosystem.

Ha Long Bay is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic faunal species.

Historical research surveys have shown the presence of prehistoric human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago. The successive ancient cultures are the Soi Nhu culture around 18,000–7000 BC, the Cai Beo culture 7000–5000 BC and the Ha Long culture 5,000–3,500 years ago.

Ha Long Bay also marked important events in the history of Vietnam with many artifacts found in Bai Tho Mountain, Dau Go Cave, Bai Chay.

Tourism Observer

Wednesday 23 January 2019

THAILAND: Thailand Seduces Chinese Tourists With Sticky Rice And Mango

Thailand is going to great lengths to woo Chinese tourists back to its shores after a boat disaster off the coast of Phuket last July left 47 Chinese dead and precipitated a significant drop in arrivals from the Middle Kingdom.

The latest olive branch came in the form of a Guinness World Record-breaking banquet on January 20, to which 10,000 Chinese tourists were invited to feast on dessert made from 5,000 mangoes and 1,500kg of sticky rice.

Titled - We Care About You, the event was presided over by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the man who had stoked ire after the tragedy by telling the media it had been a case of “Chinese doing it to Chinese”, the tour boat in question having been operated by a Chinese company.

The timing of the event, just ahead of the Lunar New Year, was no accident, as Thailand hoped to cash in on one of Asia’s busiest travel weeks of the year.

It’s possible that Gen Prawit believes sincerely that a big banquet with tonnes of the country’s favourite dessert being handed out for free will suffice in assuaging the Chinese tourists’ feelings.

It remains to be seen whether the sticky rice and mango diplomacy will succeed in sending a goodwill message from Gen Prawit to the Chinese tourists he insulted, and whether enough of them will arrive in Thailand soon to boost the national income and sagging economy.

Tourism Observer

INDONESIA: Bali Government To Introduce US$10 Tourist Tax For Preservation Of Environment And Local Culture

Three years after a US$25 visa-on-arrival charge was scrapped for most passport holders, visitors to the Indonesian island of Bali will soon be subject to a US$10 tourist tax, which will go towards the preservation of the environment and local culture.

Bali welcomed 5.7 million international travellers in 2017 and that number is expected to top 6 million for 2018.

Speaking outside the Bali Legislative Council building, the governor of the island, Wayan Koster, said: This will give us better fiscal space to support the development of Bali.

Plastic waste is a major issue, particularly during the wet season, when rain and ocean currents wash waves of rubbish onto the island’s beaches.

Last month, Wayan announced a ban on single-use plastic in Bali, with the intention of reducing marine pollution by 70 per cent within a year.

It is not yet known how the US$10 tax will be collected, although it is expected to be included in the cost of an airline ticket, as with Japan’s newly introduced sayonara tax.

Tourism Observer

Doom Tourism Killing Great Tourist Sites

What do Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Bagan, in Myanmar, and the Kazakh eagle hunters of Mongolia have in common?

They are all recipients of last-chance tourists, travellers keen to experience a place before it disappears or is transformed beyond recognition, the victim of climate change or globalisation.

In 2016, the Journal of Sustainable Tourism published a study titled “Last chance tourism and the Great Barrier Reef”, which found that 69 per cent of visitors to the natural wonder felt a sense of urgency, to see it before the water gets too warm, the corals all bleach and the 2,300km-long ecosystem dies.

The issue with this is the role these tourists play in the reef’s ultimate extinction.

To reach their destination, the visitor will board a fossil-fuelled plane, and seeing as the reef is in a far-flung corner of the globe, that is in most cases going to be a large, long-haul fossil-fuelled plane.

As they sit back to consume instantly forgettable food and films, our environmentally minded traveller is in many cases ignorant of the carbon impact they are making; after all, the airline industry hardly makes a song and dance of how polluting it is.

According to Cathay Pacific’s carbon-emission calculator, an economy-class round trip from Hong Kong to Cairns, the international airport that is closest to the corals, will produce 0.96 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions – about 15 per cent of the average Hongkonger’s annual carbon footprint – which the airline invites passengers to offset for a grand total of HK$22.65 (US$2.9).

Offset or not, any CO2 that ends up in the atmosphere advances the warming of the climate and the ocean, contributing to coral bleaching and the killing of the Great Barrier Reef.

Other tourists want to visit places before everyone else does and the experiences are ruined. The very act of doing so erodes the authenticity the last-chancer so desperately seeks.

It’s the sort of irony Alanis Morissette might sing about, but it has a much more transformative influence than a black fly in your chardonnay or rain on your wedding day.

There are those who argue that last-chance tourism raises public awareness of climate breakdown or overtourism but the difference between understanding the issues and taking action to help remedy them remains wide.

Eke Eijgelaar, a researcher and lecturer at the Breda University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands, said that he didn’t believe the awareness raised outweighed the negative effects tourism can have on increasingly fragile environments.

Last-chance travel also goes by another name, doom tourism. Suddenly, that trip to see Antarctica’s melting glaciers, or the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, which is disappearing under rising seas and will reportedly be uninhabitable by 2050, doesn’t sound quite so appealing, does it?

Tourism Observer

HONG KONG: Authories Order Mira Hotel To Check All Its Windows After Death Of A Tourist

Authorities in Hong Kong have ordered a five-star hotel to inspect all its windows within a month, a day after one of them fell 16 floors and killed a woman.

That came as police broadened their investigation, looking into maintenance records kept by The Mira Hong Kong.

The Buildings Department said on Tuesday it had completed a preliminary investigation at the Tsim Sha Tsui building and found no obvious danger after inspecting some of the windows.

But it issued a statutory investigation order to the 18-storey hotel after it found some rivets – used for fixing hinges and handles onto aluminium windows had begun to oxidise.

The Buildings Department requires the owner of said building to appoint an authorised person to inspect its windows, submit a report and suggestions for remediation works within one month, a department spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for The Mira, a member of Henderson Land Group, confirmed the hotel had received the order, but would not disclose details, citing an ongoing police investigation.

We will comply with instructions from the department and from the police, she said.

Shortly before 10.30am on Monday, a 24-year-old mainland Chinese woman was walking along Nathan Road in the busy shopping district when she was struck by a window that fell from the hotel’s 16th floor.

Falling window death leads to call for more Hong Kong hotel safety checks

The woman, a tourist from Foshan, Guangdong province, died at about noon after being sent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Police arrested a female cleaner, 39, saying the window fell out when she opened it. The cleaner was released on bail early on Tuesday morning and was required to report to police next month.

According to the force, an autopsy would be carried out on Wednesday. One police source said the damaged window and debris had been taken to a government lab for examination.

He said police investigators would check details of the last inspection of the window involved, and the related maintenance records, with the hotel and the department.

He said officers would also check the hotel’s internal guidelines or rules to find out who was allowed to unlock and open such windows.

Chan Tsz-kit, union organiser of the Catering and Hotel Industries Employees General Union, said the group found the cleaner’s arrest unfair.

An arrest might mean the cleaner bears all the responsibility, which we believe should be weak or even none for this female worker in this incident, said Chan, adding that they would find it more acceptable if the cleaner was asked to help the investigation.

No one would expect a window is broken when trying to open it, Chan said. It is not so appropriate to put all the blame on this female worker.

Tuesday’s inspection order was the latest under a scheme started in 2012. Under the scheme, owners of private buildings aged 10 years or more and with three or more storeys can be served with statutory orders to appoint a qualified person to inspect them and supervise and repairs.

After the first notice is issued, window inspections should be done every five years.

A panel of professional bodies, property management professionals and district council representatives regularly selects buildings inspection according to age, condition and any safety issues.

The department said it had issued inspection orders to 9,800 buildings under the scheme since 2012, of which 90 per cent were already complied with. Repair works were required in 37 per cent of the closed cases.

When the orders first came in, officials set a target of sending them to 5,800 buildings a year. But they revised that down to about 1,000 a year from 2014.

Wong Bay, a surveyor who sits on the selection panel, said it was time to review the scheme six years in, and look at the need to revise the target, and whether there was sufficient manpower in the industry to deal with the cases.

Tourism Observer

HONG KONG: Tourist Killed By Falling Window Fom Mira Hotel

A hotel employee arrested after a window she was cleaning fell onto a busy Hong Kong street and killed a tourist was released on bail Tuesday as investigators try to work out what caused the fatal tragedy.

Police said a 24-year-old female tourist from the Chinese mainland was struck by the window which fell from the 16th floor of the Mira Hotel in the busy Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district on Monday.

She was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to save her. A male friend was also struck by the window but escaped with only light injuries.
Police arrested a hotel cleaner under a law against allowing objects to fall from buildings and endanger or harm the public.

The accident sparked alarm that a window could possibly fall from the outside of a modern hotel building in a city stacked with skyscrapers.

A police spokesperson said that the woman was released on bail Tuesday pending further enquiries and is required to report back in early February.

Local police officer Chan Ka-ying said on Monday that the hotel windows could only be opened by staff with a special key.
We believe that the cleaner tried to open the window, and the window immediately fell after she opened it,she said.

The Mira Hotel made headlines in 2013 when it was chosen by whistleblower Edward Snowden as his bolthole in Hong Kong after he fled the United States carrying a trove of information on government surveillance.

The Mira Hotel vowed to cooperate with authorities.

Tourism Observer

BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA: If You Like Meat, You'll Love Banja Luka, Do Not Talk About Former Yugoslav War Or Kosovo

Banja Luka is a picturesque city in the western part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the administrative capital and the largest city of Republika Srpska, and the second largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Banja Luka or Banjaluka, is the second largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the de facto capital of the Republika Srpska entity.

Traditionally, it has been the centre of the Bosanska Krajina region, located in the northwestern part of the country. According to the 2013 census, Banja Luka has 185,042 inhabitants.

It is home of the University of Banja Luka as well as numerous state and entity institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city lies on the river Vrbas and is well known in the countries of the former Yugoslavia for being full of tree-lined avenues, boulevards, gardens and parks.

Banja Luka covers some 96.2 km2 (37.1 sq mi) of land in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the Vrbas River. The city is located at 44.78°N 17.19°E. Banja Luka's downtown is at 163 m (534.78 ft) above sea level, surrounded by hills.

The source of the Vrbas River is about 90 km (56 mi) to the south. The tributary rivers Suturlija, Crkvena, and Vrbanja flow into the Vrbas at Banja Luka. Banja Luka has also a number of springs close by.

The area around Banja Luka is mostly woodland, although there are mountains a little further from the city. The city itself is built in the Banja Luka valley, which is located at the transition between high and low mountain areas.

The most notable of these mountains are Manjaca (1,214 m), Cemernica (1,338 m), and Tisovac. These are all part of the Dinaric Alps mountain range.

On 26 and 27 October 1969, two devastating earthquakes - 6.0 and 6.4 on the Richter scale damaged many buildings in Banja Luka. Around 20 to 23 people were killed, and over a thousand injured.

A large building called Titanik in the centre of the town was razed to the ground, and the area was later turned into a central public square.

With contributions from all over Yugoslavia, Banja Luka was repaired and rebuilt. That was a period when a large Serb population moved to the city from the surrounding villages, and from more distant areas in Herzegovina.

During the 1990s, the city underwent considerable changes when the Bosnian War broke out. Upon the declaration of Bosnian-Herzegovinian independence and the establishment of the Republika Srpska, Banja Luka became the de facto centre of the entity's politics.

Nearly all of Banja Luka's Croats and Bosniaks were expelled during the war and all of the city's 16 mosques including the Ferhat Pasha Mosque were destroyed. A court ruling resulted in the authorities of Banja Luka having to pay $42 million for the destruction of the mosques.

Later, an estimated 40,000 Serbs from Croat and Bosniak dominated areas of Bosnia, having been exiled from their homes, settled in Banja Luka.

However, the Banja Luka district court later overturned the ruling stating that the claims had exceeded a three-year statute of limitations. The Bosniak community vowed to appeal against the decision.

On 7 May 2001, several thousand Serb nationalists attacked a group of Bosniaks and members of the diplomatic corps attending a ceremony of marking the reconstruction of the historic 16th-century Ferhadija mosque.

There were indications of police collaboration. More than 30 individuals were injured during the attack, and on 26 May, Murat Badic, who had been in a coma after the attack, died from head injuries. Fourteen Bosnian Serb nationalists were jailed for starting the riots.

The 2013 census in Bosnia indicated a population of 185,042, overwhelmingly Serbs. During the war from 1992-95 some 60,000 people, mostly Bosniaks and Croats, left Banja Luka.

Ethnic composition in Banja Luka

- Serbs: 165,750

- Bosniaks: 7,681

- Croats: 5,104

- Others: 6,507

- Total: 185,042

Religious composition in Banja Luka

- Serbian Orthodox Church: 168,985

- Islam: 10,526

- Roman Catholic Church: 4,842

- Agnostic: 412

- Atheist: 855

- Others: 4,422

- Total: 190042

Banja Luka plays an important role on different levels of Bosnia and Herzegovina's government structures. Banja Luka is the centre of the government for the Municipality of Banja Luka.

A number of entity and state institutions are seated in the city. The Republika Srpska Government and the National Assembly are based in Banja Luka.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina State Agencies based in the city include the Indirect Taxation (VAT) Authority, the Deposit Insurance Agency as well as a branch of the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina formerly the National Bank of Republika Srpska.

Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Serbia, the United Kingdom and the United States maintain diplomatic representation through consulates-general in Banja Luka.

In 1981 Banja Luka's GDP per capita was 97% of the Yugoslav average.

Although the city itself was not directly affected by the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, its economy was. In this period Banja Luka fell behind the world in key areas such as technology, resulting in a rather stagnant economy. However, in recent years, the financial services sector has gained in importance in the city.

In 2002, the trading began on the newly established Banja Luka Stock Exchange. The number of companies listed, the trading volume and the number of investors have increased significantly.

A number of big companies such as Telekom Srpske, Rafinerija ulja Modrica, Banjalucka Pivara and Vitaminka are all listed on the exchange and are traded regularly. Investors, apart from those from Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, now include a number of investment funds from the EU, and from Norway, the United States, Japan and China.

A number of financial services regulators, such as the Republika Srpska Securities Commission and the RS Banking Agency are headquartered in Banja Luka.

This, along with the fact that some of the major banks in Bosnia, the Deposit Insurance Agency and the value-added tax (VAT) authority are all based in the city, has helped Banja Luka establish itself as a major financial centre of the country.

The Museum of Republika Srpska inherited the Ethnographic Museum established in 1930, and broadened its setting with collections of archeology, history, art history and nature.

The Museum of Modern Art of Republika Srpska, also called MSURS, the Museum of Contemporary Art, displays exhibitions of both domestic and worldwide artists.

Banja Luka is home to the National Theatre and National Library, both dating from the first half of the 20th century, and of numerous other theatres.

The headquarters of the Archives of Republika Srpska is situated in the building known as Carska kuca or Imperial House, built around 1880. It has been in continuous public use longer than any other structure in Banja Luka.

One of the most famous cultural sites in Banja Luka is the cultural centre of Banski Dvor or Halls of the Ban, built in the 1930s as the residence for the Bans of the Vrbas Banovina.

In the city there are many Cultural Artistic Associations. The oldest is CAA Pelagic founded 1927, one of the oldest institutions of this kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Banja Luka has one major football stadium and several indoor sports halls. The local handball, basketball and football teams bear the traditional name Borac meaning fighter.

The three football teams from Banja Luka are Borac Banja Luka - 2010/2011 season champions of Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina, BSK Banja Luka, and Omladinac Banja Luka - both in the First League of the Republika Srpska, FK Naprijed Banja Luka and FK Vrbas Banja Luka

Borac Banja Luka is the most popular football club in the Republika Srpska. The club has won several major trophies in its history such as trophies as a champion of Mitropa Cup, Yugoslav Cup, Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Cup, First League of the Republika Srpska, Republic Srpska Cup. They have participated in UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

The city has a long tradition of handball. RK Borac Banjaluka was the European Champion in 1976, the European Vice-Champion in 1975 and the winner of the IHF Cup in 1991.

Recently, tennis has taken on a bigger role in the city. The local tennis tournament, Memorijal Trive Vujica, has become professional and has been awarded ATP status in 2001, with the rank of a Challenger. The Banja Luka Challenger takes place in September each year.
In 2005, the European Championships in Rafting were held on the Vrbas river. In 2006, the Davis Cup matches of the Europe/Africa Zone Group III took place in the city. Since 2015, the city hosts the Banjaluka Half-marathon.

Public transportation within Banja Luka is exclusively operated by the bus services. Over thirty bus lines connect downtown with the rest of the city and its suburbs. The oldest bus link in the city is line No 1. Taxis are also readily available.

The expressway E-661 that is locally known as M-16 leads north to Croatia from Banja Luka by way of Gradiska, near the Bosnian/Croatian border.

A wide range of bus services are available to most neighbouring and larger towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to regional and European destinations such as Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, France, Italy, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia.

Banja Luka is the hub of the railway services of Zeljeznice Republike Srpske, comprising one half of the railway network of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Services operate to most northern Bosnian towns, and two modern air-conditioned Talgo trains run to Sarajevo every day.

However, services are relatively slow and infrequent compared with neighbouring countries.

Banja Luka International Airport is located 23 km (14 mi) north of Banja Luka. The airport is served by Air Serbia, which operates flights to Belgrade and summer charters to Antalya, while Ryanair operates flight to Brussels, Memmingen and Stockholm. There is also Banja Luka Zaluzani Airfield, a small airstrip.

Banja Luka has a continental climate, with harsh winters and warm summers. The warmest month of the year is July, with an average temperature of 21.3 C (70 F). The coldest month of the year is January, when temperatures average near freezing at 0.8 C (33 F).

Annual precipitation for Banja Luka is about 988 mm. Banja Luka has an average of 143 rainy days a year. Due to the city's high altitude, it snows in Banja Luka almost every year as well. Strong winds come from the north and northeast.

In Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska the local language is Serbian. In Republika Srpska official languages are also Croatian and Bosnian. Although, these languages are virtually the same.

There are direct bus connections from the main bus station to:

- Bosnia: Sarajevo, Sipovo, Prijedor, Bosansko Gradiska, Bosansko Grahovo, Trebinje, Prijedor, Teslic, Banja Vrucica, Novi Grad, Gornji Graci, Visegrad, Bihac.

- Austria: Vienna, Linz

- Croatia: Zagreb, Makarska, Pula, Split, Zadar, Rijeka

- Denmark: Copenhagen

- France: Paris, Lyon.

- Germany: Cologne, Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Ingolstadt, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, Pforzheim, Stuttgart and Ulm

- Montenegro: Igalo, Podgorica

- Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht.

- Serbia: Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Sombor, Zrenjanin, Nis, Subotica

- Sweden: Stockholm

- Switzerland: Zurich, Luzern

International bus companies driving for instance from Zagreb via Banja Luka to Sarajevo (Croatia Bus) are not allowed to take passengers for a domestic route. You won't be able to buy tickets for these buses, no exceptions made.

Buses to Sarajevo leave from the main bus station approximately four times a day. The journey takes approximately 5 hours, and costs around 31 KM.

Banja Luka International Airport, 23km (14.3 miles) from the city. Flights from Belgrade with Air Serbia five times per week. Connecting flights to other cities in Europe are also offered. There are some charter flights from Gothenburg scheduled for late December and early January.

Ryanair flights are connected by bus to Banja Luka center for 5 euro. Bus to aeroport goes from Stara stanica at 17:00 for flight at 19:50. A taxi to Banja Luka will cost around 40-50KM.

As an alternative you can take a minibus transfer from the old bus staton or stare autobuske, leaving at 13.30. The minibus transfer from the airport to the old bus station leaves daily at 15.30. The journey takes about 20 minutes and cost 10KM.

There is no ATM on the airport. Wireless Internet is free of charge.

The train and bus station is located about 2 km northeast of the center. By summer 2018, the city had connections with: Doboj (6 trains daily, 2h), Zenica and Sarajevo (2 daily, 3.5/5h), Prijedor and Novi Grad (5 daily, 1/2 h), and Bihac (1 daily, 3.5 h).

From March 2017 there are no international trains anymore to/from Zagreb or/from Belgrade.

You can have your bike fixed a la minute at the Bike Servis Shop, in the Ul. Gunduliceva 104 - next to the football stadion. Another bike shop is 5 doors down in the row of buildings.

The tourist office owns fifteen rental bicycles, which are maintained by the above bike shop. Rental: 1 KM/hour, or 15 KM/day.

Rentacar Omega: Ul. 1 Krajiskog Korpusa 58. 60KM per day, 55KM if longer then 3 days, etc.

There are many historic things to see in the city of Banja Luka.

Cathedral of Saint Bonaventure Built in 1887, the 1969 earthquake leveled the church. The Roman Catholic cathedral was built in 1974.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral This Orthodox Christian church was originally built in 1929 is in the city's center. After being destroyed in the 2nd World War, it has been reconstructed in 2004 and it is one of the most beautiful churches in the region.

Banski Dvor or Governor’s Palace in center of the city. Built in 1930's. A concert hall and gallery. This is the main cultural center.

Monastery of Gomionica built before 1536 near Banja Luka. Monastery has the collection of ancient icons from 18th century.

Ferhat-Pasha Mosque or Ferhat-pasina dzamija, also called Ferhadija mosque. This example of Islamic 16th century architecture was built during the time of the Ottoman rule. Built in 1579 it has a central fountain called Shaderwan, stone and iron fence.

It is built in the classical Ottoman style. Ferhadija was listed as a cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1950. Later it was protected by UNESCO until destroyed in 1993 and reconstructed in 2015.

Kastel fortress on the bank of the Vrbas river with history up to Roman ages.

The Trapist monastery, close to Pivara Banjaluka. The monastery is the only trapist monastery in the Western Balkans and it was reopened in 2008. It is known for its home-made wines and cheese. Address: Slatinska 1 on the road to Slatina.

Gospodska street Actually Veselin Maslesa street, is the main street of city with shops, offices and cafes. Recommended time to visit, because of its liveliness, is during day on Saturdays whole day, and between 12h and 14h on workdays. During evenings visit on Fridays and Sundays or each day in the case of nice weather.

Dom Omladine, Đure Danicica 1. The youth centre run by the local youth council, with regular concerts, performances, expo's, workshops, etc.

Banja Luka is a city with the rich night life. The best place for night occasion is Kruna club at the top of merchant building in Gospodska street. Others are Opium in basement of hotel Bosna, cafe Focus in bottom of Gospodska street.

Boom Boom Room, Veselina Maslese 15-17, Gospodska ulica. In a town where folk music is a general trend,Boom Boom Room is the first club in Banja Luka offering unique,world-like atmosphere,playing exclusively DJ electronic music. Located in the very heart of the city,open W-Sa

Demofest klub (DFK), Patre 5 entrance across the street from Kastel. offers a colourfull programme with diverse music, live gigs from various bands, all genres of music except folk, decent afterparties and average drink prices.

Market, Knjasa Milosa, Right next to the bus station. 8-14h. The market, close to the bus- and train station is worth your while.

Seems to be coming straight from the countryside, each day of the week in the morning you can buy everything you need there, from vegetables to hardware to second hand frezers. On Sunday cars are on sale - and an occasional French-plated Mercedes, on Tuesdays livestock.

Take a Dajak tour over the Vrbas from Zeleni, 20 KM/ one person; 25 KM/two persons, 30 KM/three persons, maximum: three persons for one boat

Multipleks Palas (Cinema), Trg Krajina underneath Boska. Cinema Palas with your fair amount of blockbusters and some local movies.

Restoran Slap - Swim, Novoselija. Go to the east shore of the Vrbas, and continue the road all the way south until you come in Novoselija. Restuarant Slap - Waterfall lies next to a small barrage in the Vrbas and it is excellent swimming there on summer days if the water is not too high.

Charitable organization Duga, Kralja Petra I Karadordevica 88, between the Government building and the Tobacco Factory, sharing the yard with a kindergarden. If you are interested in the traditional arts and crafts of the region, Duga can offer fantastic learning opportunities to you.

Contact Duga and arrange a visit where you can watch and learn from local crafts people as they conduct live demonstrations of a wide range of handicrafts including weaving, crocheting, embroidery and knitting. You will be able to have a hands on experience and a chance to learn new skills in the process.

Demofest is festival of alternative music, usually lasting three days, consisting of two different parts: each evening there is a contest of demo bands, with two semifinal nights and the finals, which are held on the third day of the festival, and concerts of bands with more reputation following each part of the contest.

Banjalukanima - Animaton films, October

Kratkofil - Festival of short films in summer

Neofest - Pop music, organised from Dom Omladine

The local currency is the Convertible Mark (KM), which is tied to the Euro at a rate of 1KM to 0.51129E. Convertible Mark coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 1, 2, 5 Marks while banknotes come in 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Marks.

Many establishments especially hotels accept Euros notes only. ATMs are all over the place with MasterCard, Visa and other offshoots being accepted. Credit Cards such as Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club are readily accepted by larger establishments all over the country.

When changing money, it is best to ask for small bills as shops often are hard-pressed for change. Traveler cheques can be readily changed at Raiffeisen and Zagrebacka Banks.

Near the fortress in the center of the city there is a market, where you will be able to find every kind of products. In the main town square there is a big shopping mall, Boska, which has a wide variety of stores.

Also, in the main pedestrian street you will find a lot of renowned stores, from food to clothing designer and sports stores.

It is not compulsory to tip in Banja Luka, though a reward of about 10% for good service in restaurant or bar is always appreciated.

You can get local, handicraft souvenirs for example at the shop of association the Duga. All items there are made of natural materials by traditional technologies, and are decorated with ornaments from original traditional clothing from the area of Dinara.

Their collection contains: ethno souvenirs, decorative products and clothing. Address: Etnoradionica, Duga, Kralja Petra I Karadordevica 88, the same street as the city hall.

All of the handicrafts are produced in an ethical manner and by purchasing them you will help Duga to continue providing aid to all of its beneficiaries and support to other local humanitarian projects.

Nedeljni rucak
If you like meat, you'll love Banja Luka. Meat is a standard for any meal. However, there is still lots of interesting meals you can make do if you are a vegetarian.

Serbs generally eat their largest meal, rucak, in the late afternoon, often as a family, so foreign travelers seeking something approximating a western lunch may have to look a little harder for an establishment serving mid-day meals.

Most popular traditional dishes:

Cevapi - small meat sausages from beef. They are usually served with fresh onions and a bun called Lepina. Cevapi usually come in pointer finger size sausages and are offered by five or ten pieces, although the variety commonly found in Banja Luka or Banjalucki cevap usually consists of quadrangular pieces of meat.

Teletina - is veal, usually served in cutlets. Veal in B&H is not produced by locking calves in a cage to ensure softer meat.

Janjetina - lamb grilled over an open fire.

Musaka - a meat pie made of minced beef, very similar to shepherds pie.

Filovane paprike - fried peppers stuffed with minced meat and spices.

Prsut - air dried ham, similar to Italian proscuitto.

Suho Meso - smoked beef.

Sarma - meat and rice rolled in cabbage or grape leaves.

Ispod Saca - similar to Dutch oven. A metal dish is placed on hot coals, the food is placed in the dish and covered by a lid which is then completely covered in hot coals and left to bake.

Vlasicki Sir - similar to Travnicki cheese. It is a highland cheese from the mountain villages on Vlasic Mountain in central Bosnia.

Mladi Sir - Cottage cheese. It has a soft texture and is unsalted. Often times it is served with a cream sauce on top. It is very healthy.

Kajmak - is analogous to clotted cream in the UK. The top layer of fat skimmed from milk, it is creamy and extremely tasty. Kajmak and Ustipak a doughnut type roll is a wonderful appetizer.

Iz mjeha - sheep milk poured into a specially sewn sheep skin 'bag'. After a time the dry cheese is taken out of the skin container and the result is a strong, dry cheese that resembles real Parmesan.

Restaurants in Banja Luka

Restoran-Bar Mala stanica KRALJA PETRA I KARADORDEVICA bb, Next to the Government building.

Restoran Master. Mexican Food.

Restoran Sirano

Restoran Ognjiste, Josifa Pancica br.2. Ethna Food, Serbian National Food, Ethno Shop.

Restoran Borac, Vidovdanska 53 at Football stadium.

Restoran Lovački Bar, Slatinska 37.

Restoran Obala,Jesenjinova 26 on the River Vrbas.

Kod Muje is by many, the place with best cevapcici in city.

La Pastaria, Bana Milosavljevica 34. 9-12; Sa 10-22; Su 12-20. a moderate selection of pasta and Mexican-inspired dishes, with several salad options as well.

Agi Pasta Away, Aleja Svetog Save 2. 8-22 Mo-Sa. basic pasta dishes with various sauces and accompaniments.

Kazamat in one of the cellars of the old Tvrdjava Kastel, with English menu's, decent wine, several vegetarian alternatives - only part of the Tropic Club-chain. approximately 50 Km for three course meal with drinks. Open daily 11-23h.

Integra Restaurant on the 14th floor of the RTRS building, build by the Integra company for the Integra company, right next to the building of the Vlada or the governemnt of the RS. You might be sitting next to President Dodik signing oil deals with the Russians.

Citadela, in Gospodska street, the main shopping street. On the ground floor a cake and coffee shop, in the basement a traditional restuarant, and on the first floor another. Good quality.

Mala Stanica; the old train station, now right at the foot of the Vlada building. European style, amazing souffles. Kralja Petra I.

Rakia or Rakija is considered to be a national drink. Its alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be a tongue burner, typically 50 to 60%.

Frequently used as a common drink at all celebrations, birthdays, holy holidays, slava the Orthodox christian custom of honoring a patron saint and even funerals. Common flavors are slivovitz, traditionally made from plums and lozova, which is made from grapes.

But, you can also distill from pears, peaches, apricots, apples, figs and cherries. Plum and grape rakia are sometimes mixed with other ingredients, such as herbs, honey, sour cherries and walnuts after distillation.

Nektar pivo is the local beer, brewed in Banja Luka.

Where to stay in Banja Luka

Hotel Cezar Banja Luka, Mladena Stojanovica 123.

Hotel Palace , Karadjordjevica 60.

Hotel Bosna, Karadordevica 97.

Hotel Atina.

Hotel Grand, Suboticka Bed and Breakfast.

Hotel Talija, 9 Srpska Street.

Hotel Vidovic, Ul. Jevrejska.

Elit Motel Dragana.

Hotel Banja Luka, Mladena Stojanovica 123.

Hostel Monaco Dreams, Njegoseva 34. checkin: 12:00; checkout: 11:00. Free internet access, comfortable rooms. Pizzeria next to the hostel. 15 minutes walk to bus station and city center. € 15.

Hostel Banja Luka, Srpskih ustanika 26, 1.5 kilometers from city center, part of a town called Starcevica, very close to Merkator center and almost across Integral gas station. checkout: 2PM. Comfortable ambiance and friendly staff. Restaurant and free Internet. 10.

Hostel Hertz, Milana Rakića 22 in the center of Banja Luka - Borik, next to the Vrbas river. checkout: 2PM. Free internet access, free coffee in the café Hertz, quiet place to rest. €11. Possibility to pitch a tent in their huge back garden.

City Smile Hostel, Skendera Kulenovica 16.

Hostel Zeleni Most (Green bridge), 9. ul. Braca Moraca (On the west side of the Zeleni Most Green Bridge, 500m from the city center. checkin: 24/7. Right across Kod Nane-restaurant 11€/night.

Hostel Centar I, Slavka Rodica 4, 150 meters South-West from Kastel, 100 meters West from Gradski bridge. new, nice big rooms, I was in a huge single with terrace for KM 20 (~ €11 / US$ 13,50), 3 rooms in a floor for 2 WCs and 1 shower. Air conditioning and cable TV in rooms. Staff speak English. from 18 KM (~ € 8,5 US$ 12).

Do not talk about the former Yugoslav war, and do not talk about Kosovo. These are very sensitive matters, and locals can easily get offended without it being intended, and become aggressive.

Fans of the local Borac football team have history of attacking with knives or even machete tourists who wear football shirts of their local team, especially at night. In such cases police would rather detain the attacked, than the attacker.

Apart from that you have nothing to worry about if you use your common sense, there is practically no chance something will happen to you. As soon as you stroll around the city, you will notice how friendly and kind locals are.

Just remember that there are still some unexploded land-mines in the fields across the whole country. So if you are trekking or hiking in the hills nearby, do not go away from the marked pedestrian paths.

Climbing: 24km south of Banja Luka and 5km north of Krupa na Vrbasu is a nice climbing site; the stone bridge Kameni Most. More information you can for example get at Extreme Banja Luka climbing club.

Rafting: At Karanovac, 15 km south on the main road from Banja Luka is rafting club Kanjon from where you can go rafting in the Vrbas canyon. On the Vrbas, together with the Tara near Foca, the world championships of rafting were held in 2009.

Canyoning. Not far from Karanovac is the canyon of the Svrakava river, a small canyon where it is nice to try to climb through. Its a wild spot, it is not being commercially exploited. You can reach the canyon by going on the road towards Knezevo.

After you pass the bridge over the Vrbas to Karanovac, there is a small road going on your left with an indication of Svrakava. That is just before the main road goes uphill into the forest. After that indication there are no others, so you'll have to find it from there on yourself. Its about 3 km further that road.

If you really want to go canyoning, ask a local person to take you to Cvrcka canyon. Around 40 km south-east of town, between Kotor Varos and Knezevo. On hot summer days you can track up to 18km through the canyon wading through the fresh water of the Cvrcka river.

Tourism Observer