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Bargain of the week

A South American air pass

Until the demise of the leading Venezuelan airline, Viasa, three years ago, Caracas was a major gateway to South America. The Venezuelan capital could recover that position if the Avensa air pass catches on. Each route that the airline flies is given a US dollar price way below the normal fare, from $55 between Caracas and Curacao to $180 for the flight between New York and the Venezuelan capital. An extensive itinerary, starting in Miami and taking in Caracas, Lima, Quito, Bogot, Valencia and Aruba works out at $670 (just over pounds 400). Combined with a cheap flight from the UK to Miami, this could be the ideal solution for anyone wanting to cover the west and north of South America. Three catches: you have to buy a minimum of four flights; you have to use them all within 45 days; and departure taxes, payable locally, could add considerably to the cost. Avensa's London number is 0181-563 9449.

True or false?

Shannon is the gateway to the world

A lot truer than you'd expect. The extended range of modern aircraft means that Shannon has lost its role as an essential refuelling stop on transatlantic flights - at one stage there were 10 flights a week to Havana alone - but it has managed to maintain an impressive array of destinations. Figures for the first quarter of this year show an increase of 25 per cent in passenger numbers, driven by much stronger demand for flights to the US.

To Chicago, for example, you can fly from the airport on Ireland's west coast on no fewer than three airlines: Aer Lingus, Aeroflot and Royal Jordanian. Elsewhere in the Americas, this summer you can reach Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico City and New York. Eastbound, destinations include Amman, Minsk and Moscow.

For travellers from Belfast and Manchester, Shannon is a faster and more convenient gateway to the Americas than travelling via London; from south- east England, intense competition on routes from Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted means that fares are kept low.

Trouble spots

Street robberies

The veteran Rough Guide author Dan Richardson found himself turned over in Melnik, in the Pirin mountains of Bulgaria: "All went according to plan until, on my way back to the hotel after perhaps a little too much liquid comfort, I was jumped on and mugged by a couple of Bulgarians with whom I had been drinking just an hour or so earlier." Sharing a glass or two with the locals is one of the joys of travel - but keep your wits about you.

The latest edition of Wanderlust magazine warns of an outbreak of violent attacks on travellers in the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

The usual trick is to persuade you to follow a new-found "friend" into a side street. Once there, a particularly vicious technique is used to suffocate you momentarily while all your possessions are promptly lifted.

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