Q I often fly standby. Can you book Nile cruises after arriving in Egypt, or safari lodges in South Africa?

Patty Hilburn

Oakton, Va.

A In the world of last-minute travel, you can book a trip over breakfast and be somewhere exotic by dinnertime. Yet, while flights and hotels can be booked spontaneously, some elements of travel require planning. "You can certainly make a reservation once in [South Africa]," Kenneth Hieber, the South African president of 2Afrika travel agency, said in an e-mail. "I would go knowing who I was going to be communicating with ahead of time and not land up with some fly-by-night operation that might not exist the following morning."

Most major international cities, such as Cairo and Cape Town, have local travel agencies where you can book excursions on the spot. South African Tourism's Web site (www.southafrica.net) has a list of agency-vetted travel companies in about 20 countries, and the Egyptian Tourist Authority (www.egypttourism.org) offers contact info for agents with offices in both the United States and Egypt as well as phone numbers and addresses for cruise lines.

The biggest drawback to booking at your destination is that the tour may be sold out. Safari lodges can house only 10 to 50 visitors, and Nile cruise boats hold from six to 96 guests. Mikal Grinyov, senior booking agent at Fairfax's Key Tours, says that "anything can be booked [in Cairo]" but that you might not get your preferred cabin, cruise line or sailing departure date. Rather than waiting until you've arrived, Grinyov suggests using a U.S. travel agent who can book the cruise days after your arrival, to give you a cushion. If you don't think you can make that date, the agency can reschedule the trip for a minimal fee. If you cancel, though, you'll have to pay the full price.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, an information officer at South African Tourism, says booking a safari lodge locally could be "a lot of hassle." The tour agency may need a day (or more) to secure the reservation and could charge a bloated fee, he says. For reputable South African companies, Hieber suggests Rennies Travel (www.renniestravel.co.za) and Thompsons Tours (www.thompsons.co.za). An alternative is to visit one of the game reserves, such as Kruger National Park, where you see the beasts, then stay overnight in the park or a nearby town. The parks' lodging ranges from forest huts to houseboats and can be booked through South African National Parks (www.sanparks.org) or in the park visitors center.

I have reservations at the Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar in Mexico's Riviera Maya. What damage did Hurricane Emily cause?

Bob Bailey


Hurricane Emily, a Category 4 storm, swept across the Mayan Riviera and Yucatan Peninsula on July 18, thrashing Mexico's southeastern toe with winds of up to 135 mph. The resort areas of Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel lost power and phone service, and many thousands of visitors were relocated to temporary shelters. Within weeks, if not days, though, the region was brushing itself off.

The Riviera Maya Tourism Promotion Board (877-7GO-MAYA, www.rivieramaya.com) said that as of July 25, nearly 75 percent of hotels were open, including all properties in Cancun and Playa del Carmen (Akumal and Puerto Aventuras, which were in the eye of the storm, have been slower to recover). Public utilities also are back up, and the streets are clear of debris -- though you still might spot some uprooted vegetation, hotels with missing roofs or lobbies and oceanfront rooms with shattered windows.

Specifically, a concierge at the Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar, one of four properties that make up the Iberostar Playa Paraiso resort, said damage is slight, with only a few fallen trees. The beach is detritus-free -- it's swept clean daily -- but the ocean is thick with seaweed and jellyfish. The hotel posted a red warning flag, although guests can swim at their own risk. For real-person accounts, Trip Advisor.com, a Web site that posts travelers' unadulterated experiences, offered this July 27 report from a guest: "Well, we were unlucky enough to be at the Del Mar for Hurricane Emily! . . . The damage to the resort was mainly a few trees uprooted, some palapas blown away and a few broken windows."


Rochelle DeBaun of Charlottesville has another suggestion for the reader interested in hotel rooms with adjustable beds (Aug. 7). "How about a stay at the Radisson?" she said in an e-mail. It "recently announced that many of its hotels throughout the United States and Canada have a number of rooms set aside that include an adjustable Sleep Number Bed." For details, check www.radisson.com/sleepnumber.

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