Car-Free Yosemite

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 16, 2006

Q. We would like to go to Yosemite and not rent a car. Is that possible?

Joanne DePaola, Winchester, Va.

A. California's Yosemite National Park may be the size of Rhode Island, but you won't need a car to explore it from peak to valley. "It is very easy to get around Yosemite without a car," says park ranger Adrienne Freeman. "You can get around by foot, bicycle or bus. And then there's the whole other world of organized tours."

A majority of park-goers bring cars into Yosemite, but of the 3.5 million annual visitors, more than half rely on alternative transportation, including those with autos. The Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (877-98-YARTS, ) runs the park's biggest carpool, commuting between Merced, Calif. (take a train there from the airport), and various points in Yosemite. The transfer costs $20 per person round trip and includes the park admission fee. For a home base, Freeman recommends the centrally located Yosemite Valley, which has a range of lodgings. "Get in the valley and stay in the valley," she says. "You can then reach the outlying areas by doing different tours."

Free shuttles service a sizeable chunk of the park, and visitors can ride the bus, then hike back -- or vice versa. However, some of the other areas, such as Glacier Point, are reachable only by paid tour bus or foot. A full-day tour of Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, for one, costs $60 per adult. Once in the grove, though, you can catch a tram that wends through the sequoias.Your hotel can help arrange tours, or contact Yosemite National Park (209-372-0200, ).

To go completely motorless, hire a horse or mule for a trot through Yosemite Valley, or raft down the Merced River. Finally, with 800 miles of trails, you can walk your hiking socks off.

We plan to visit India's camel fair and are wondering if the tent accommodations are clean and safe? Are reservations necessary?

Justin Estoque, Washington

When the nearly-full November moon rises over Pushkar, the quiet town in India's Rajasthan state transforms into a frenzied fairground, attracting 200,000 people and 50,000 camels, cattle and horses. "It is one of the go-to events for tourists," says Jacquie Burnside, vice president of sales and marketing at Intrepid Travel, which arranges trips to India. "And for locals, it's the biggest trade show of the year."

Pushkar has limited lodging -- just a few mid- to high-range hotels and many budget properties, which India Tourism information officer Pravir Chakravorty says "are safe and good but are like the YMCA or a hostel." (Chakravorty also recommends overnighting in Ajmer, a town a half-hour away that has more options.)

During the fair, rooms at the better properties are scarce, as many are booked a year in advance. The ritziest place to sleep is in a Royal Camp tent, which can cost $300 a night. However, they are sold out for this year's Oct. 2-Nov. 5 event. You can, however, still bunk with Orchard Luxury Tents ( ), whose lavish tents go for $350 a night.

The state's tourism office also erects the RTDC Tourist Village, a congregation of basic-to-deluxe tents, dorms and huts, with communal bathroom facilities. Bookings are tight, but check for details. And though the village and surrounding area are safe, don't leave anything of value behind. For info on India: 800-953-9399, .

Are there companies that go from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport to Le Havre, and from Avignon to Marseilles? We have a lot of bags.

John Burton, Frederick

When it comes to traveling in France, choices beyond public transportation are limited -- unless you have an open wallet. "The whole country is set up for trains, which run so smoothly," says Katherine Johnstone, media relations coordinator of the French Government Tourist Office. "You could take a private car service, but it would be rather costly." Elite Limousines (011-33-1-4720-7020, ), for instance, charges about $850 for the Paris-Le Havre route and about $320 for Avignon to Marseilles. A cab between the two Provence towns is about $250.

If you choose the train, you can send your luggage in advance via Sernam, a French baggage-delivery firm (belonging to SNCF/French National Railroads) that offers door-to-door service (items arrive within 24 hours of pick-up). Buy the baggage transport services at any SNCF station or prearrange pick-up at 011-33-0-825-845-845. Cost is $30 for the first piece and $13 for each additional bag with a maximum of three pieces and one oversize item per person.

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