Q We plan to drive from South Florida to Key West. But people have told us that criminals lurk along the long stretches of the Overseas Highway waiting for unsuspecting tourists to stop, and then they rob them. Have you heard anything about this?
A This rumor is rooted in reality, but it's off the mark. I wouldn't hesitate to make this beautiful 127-mile drive, which connects the mainland to Florida's islands with stretches of narrow road and 42 bridges.
Some background: In the early- to mid-1990s, there was a series of highly publicized crimes against tourists in South Florida, including nine murders. In one incident, a German woman was pulled out of her rental car just after leaving Miami International Airport and then run over and killed in front of her children.
In 1995, two British tourists were robbed at knife point when they stopped along the Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 85.5. But most of the crimes that occur along the stretch of Route 1 called the Overseas Highway, which starts just south of Florida City and ends in Key West, involve thefts from unattended, unlocked cars, not violent crimes.
According to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, which patrols the areas along the highway, major crimes have been reduced by close to 50 percent in the past 10 years. Florida's overall serious crime rate fell for the 12th straight year in 2003, hitting a 33-year low.
The sheriff's office publishes an information sheet about crime in the Florida Keys available at www.keysso.net. It recommends that travelers who stop along the Overseas Highway "lock your car doors and secure your valuables in the trunk, even if you are getting out for a short time." For general info about the Florida Keys: 800-FLA-KEYS, www.fla-keys.com.
I will be going to Cape Town for business, then I'd like to visit a wildlife park in South Africa. What do you recommend?
Kruger National Park is the best known in South Africa, but it is about 1,200 miles from Cape Town. A closer option would be Addo Elephant Park or Shamwari Game Reserve, which both offer the Big Five -- elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, buffalos -- but since you'd need to fly to Port Elizabeth to get to these parks, I'd opt for Kruger.
Accommodations in Kruger range from camping to luxury lodges, and prices run the gamut, from $15 a night to more than $400. A good resource for finding well-priced lodging is through South African National Parks (fax 011-27-12-426-5500, www.parks-sa.co.za). Private tour companies in South Africa include Go Safari (fax 011-27-11-792-3037, www.gosafari.co.za) and Adventure Village (fax 011-27-21-424-1590, www.adventure-village.co.za). In the United States, try Go2SouthAfrica (800-443-9216, www.go2southafrica.com). Or contact South Africa Tourism (212-730-2929, www.southafrica.net) for a list of fundis, travel agents that specialize in South Africa.
We'd like to go cross-country on the train and then perhaps connect with a tour to spend a few days around Canada's Banff. Any suggestions?
Lila O. Asher
If your goal is to save money, you can assemble your own trip. But the planning will take some time, as you'll have to work with train schedules, connections, transfers, hotel reservations and sightseeing tours.
Buy a 30-day North America Rail Pass, which is good for travel on Amtrak and Via Rail Canada; price is $699 per adult through Oct. 15 and $495 Oct. 16-May 31. Train accommodations cost extra: Expect to pay at least $175 a night for a bedroom. You could take Amtrak's Cardinal or Capitol Limited to Chicago, then the Empire Builder to Seattle. Amtrak will also arrange bus service from Seattle to Vancouver. From Vancouver, take Via Rail Canada's Canadian train to Jasper. Brewster (800-760-6934, www.brewster.ca) offers tours from Jasper to Banff. From Jasper, the Canadian travels to Toronto, where you can connect with Amtrak to New York and then Washington. Info: 800-USA-RAIL, www.amtrak.com; and 888-VIA-RAIL, www.viarail.ca.
If you'd prefer a package that includes meals, a guide, transfers, hotel lodging, train fees, etc., many companies offer cross-country train tours, although most go across Canada. They vary from budget to luxury, and cost anywhere from about $2,100 per person double to more than $5,000 for a week. Choices include America by Rail (888-777-6605, www.americabyrail.net), American Orient Express (800-320-4206, www.americanorientexpress.com), Rail Travel Center (800-458-5394, www.railtvl.com) and John Steel Rail Tours (800-988-5778, www.johnsteel.com).
Send queries by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071).