Take me back

How to find that great San Sebastian festival again, plus tips on getting to Uruguay and crossing the Canadian border.

Published February 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

On a one-night stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last month, we stumbled into a big celebration called the San Sebastian festival. Where can we find out when it will be held in 2001, as well as about other Puerto Rican festivals that might be unfolding around that time?

The San Sebastian Street Fiesta runs in Old San Juan for four days each January, always including the third weekend. In 2001, the dates are Jan. 18-21. It's a festival of music processions, graphic arts, handicraft exhibits and traditional Puerto Rican foods. You can get information on the festival by calling the municipal government office at (787) 721-1476. Be prepared to speak Spanish.

Puerto Rico is rich with such fiestas, and you can find a month-by-month, town-by-town listing of them in a guidebook called "Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico" by Harry S. Pariser.

Among sites that also have festival and other visitor information are Welcome to Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Tourism Company. The company also can be reached at (800) 866-7827 or (305) 445-9112.

A growing number of Web sites can help you locate festivals in Puerto Rico and elsewhere around the world. Few of the general sites live up to their promises -- there are tens of thousands of festivals and it's impossible to keep up with them all. But those that specialize in a country, region or topic -- such as music -- can be very helpful.

One festival finder that offers an unusually large database is What's Going On, which includes a section on San Juan festivals, although the San Sebastian fiesta was not among them when I checked.

For a weeklong visit to Uruguay this summer, can you suggest sources of information?

Uruguay attracts so few tourists from the United States that there aren't many guides on store shelves. However, there are a few, and there are several other sources through which you can find tour companies and travel agencies that have experience there.

Among them:

  • Lonely Planet Publications' guidebook "Argentina, Uruguay & Paraguay -- A Travel Survival Kit," by Wayne Bernhardson and Maria Massolo, has 64 pages in its Uruguay section.

  • The Uruguayan Ministry of Tourism site devotes a section to nature tourism.

  • The Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, phone (202) 331-1313.

  • Another good source is the South American Explorers Club, which offers a quarterly journal and a catalog that contains one of the most complete order lists of books on that part of the world. Annual membership costs $40 per person, $70 per couple. Contact the club at 126 Indian Creek Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850; phone (607) 277-0488. A subscription to the quarterly journal is $22 for nonmembers.

  • The U.S. State Department consular information sheet on Uruguay is available at the Web site or by calling (202) 647-5225.

    For a drive into Canada from the United States, would a copy of my birth certificate be OK or do I need the original, and do I need my voter's registration?

    For entry to Canada (or most other countries requiring such documentation), you'd be better off with an original or embossed certified copy of your birth certificate. While a given border officer might be willing to accept a photocopied document, he or she has wide discretion on whether to wave someone through. If an officer decides to treat you in some other-than-routine manner, the real document will serve you better.

    You should also have an official photo I.D. along -- a driver's license, for instance. Having a voter's registration card is not required, though if you ever ran into someone really questioning your citizenship, it couldn't hurt.

    If you're driving into Canada, don't be surprised if no one asks to see any documentation, including a driver's license. The last time I drove to Montreal via New York state, the only question asked was how long we were going to be there. Still, the increased border scrutiny that arose after December's terrorism arrests makes it more advisable than ever to have your paperwork in order.

    You can find entry requirements for Canada -- or any other country -- by consulting the consular information sheets produced by the U.S. Department of State. They're all at the department's site.

    Here's what the current posting says:

    When entering from the United States, a U.S. passport, or proof of U.S. citizenship and photo I.D., is required. U.S. citizens entering Canada from a third country must have a valid passport. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens entering from the U.S. for a stay up to 180 days. Anyone with a criminal record (including a DWI charge) should contact the Canadian Embassy or nearest Canadian consulate before travel. For further information on entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Canada at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20001, telephone (202) 682-1740, or the Canadian consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Juan or Seattle.

    The Canadian Embassy site says this: No visa is required by Americans to visit Canada. Proof of identity and citizenship or residency is required, passports or birth certificates are preferred. Those bringing children must provide the children's identification (i.e. birth certificate) and a letter of permission from a parent or guardian if the child is traveling with someone who does not have legal custody.

    Revisiting a previous Travel Advisor Q&A:

    A recent column on traveling within Turkey by air brought this advice from a veteran visitor:

    One thing I learned is that it's cheaper to buy your tickets within Turkey than from abroad. I took several flights around Turkey last year and found Turkish Airlines to be delightful. They had real food, even for quick flights, in the form of box lunches with little goodies. No dried peanuts for them.

    Also, I would like to strongly recommend the folks at Argeus Tours, in Urg|p, a wonderful town to stay in while exploring Cappadocia. A wonderful place to stay in Urg|p is the guesthouse Esbelli Evi.

  • By Donald D. Groff

    Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

    MORE FROM Donald D. Groff

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