BOOK REVIEWS - Ulysses Travel Guides
Ulysses Travel Guides to:
Writers: Pascale Couture and Benoit Prieur
Writers: Marc Rigole and Claude-Victor Langlois
Publisher: Ulysses Travel Publications, Montreal, Canada
Both these Ulysses guides live up to the company slogan, "Travel better...enjoy more." They focus on being as many things to as many people as possible within 250 or 300 pages. They're crammed with information and advice to help you maximize your enjoyment of the destinations and to avoid pitfalls, particularly if you like touring around on your own. Their easy-to-follow formula of ratings and symbols helps you quickly identify your areas of interest. Each book provides background on the destination's history, flora and fauna and so on; practical information about driving around, safety, using the telephone systems and more.
I chose these two books because I have been to the Dominican Republic, but never to Panamá, and I wanted to compare how I felt after reading both. I was equally impressed. Provinces in each country are covered in their own chapters, describing activities, restaurants and places to see and stay. Glossy photos and modest pencil sketches are interspersed with maps and descriptions of carnivals, museums, beaches and architecture among other features. The books even come with a basic Spanish glossary of words; meanings of place names; descriptions of the money system; and advice for meeting various challenges.
To illustrate the depth of the information in these guides, I've taken a couple of highlights from each that caught my attention.
One of best features of the Dominican Republic is its palm-filled beaches. Tall, short and broad palms grow right in the sand, and do an excellent job of keeping the beaches cool and protected. This book contains a great little summary of palm trees to help you identify the different types you'll see when you're there.
The book also gives a detailed description of my favorite spot on the entire island: Altos de Chavón. An enchanting reconstruction of a 14th-century Italian town, complete with amphitheatre, this town serves as an artists' community. Built entirely of stone, it is home to shops, a charming church and other buildings, as well as shaded walkways and hideaways where you can read a book all day long. Some of the neighboring resorts shuttle their visitors to and from this town at no charge.
For me, Panamá's two main attractions, other than the weather, are its history and ecology. This guide gives a brief history of the Panama canal, complete with dates, statistics and interesting facts, such as a bio of the canal's builder, Philippe Jean Bunau-Varilla. I was also fascinated to read the history of La Peregrina, the largest pearl ever discovered. Having passed through many royal hands, that gem is now owned by actress Elizabeth Taylor.
While each provincial section describes beaches, parks and outdoor activities, the book also devotes a chapter to the outdoors. Panama has an extraordinary variety of plant and animal life in its parks, and hiking, biking and horseback riding are ideal for unearthing those natural wonders. With 900 species of birds, it's also one of the world's best bird-watching spots. The safest way to eco-travel, however, is with one of the ecotourism agencies listed in the book.
For more information about Ulysses guides, visit www.ulysses.ca