Something To Declare: Canada in brief; Caribbean Christmas; Off the rails in Africa; Travellers' Tales Festival

Bargain of the week: Canada in brief

"Toronto Shopping Heaven" is the name of a remarkably good value three-night package offered by Canadian Affair (020-7616 9933; ) from Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow to Canada's biggest city – with a price tag of just £299. The offer is for departures from May 3-6, June 4-7, September 17-20, October 4-7 from Gatwick, including flights on Thomas Cook Airlines and accommodation downtown at the Days Hotel (but not transfers or breakfast). Shopping is not compulsory.

If you want to visit Toronto before then, Air India has some good deals available through for its daily scheduled flights from Heathrow.

While the standard economy fare of £355 is not particularly special, the Executive class fare of £1,297 is significantly cheaper than the opposition; and if you are content to travel west on the daytime flight and return overnight in business, you pay £803 return.

Destination of the week: Caribbean Christmas

After Britain's Arctic week, an alluring option for a warm escape for next Christmas and New Year. If you are able to fly out from Britain on Saturday 18 December and can arrive back early on 4 January next year, then Voyages of Discovery has a fascinating cruise on offer. The company (0845 018 1800; ) is calling at only two islands, at either end of the Caribbean: Cuba and Barbados.

Between leaving Havana and arriving in Bridgetown, the Discovery calls at a sequence of mainland Latin American destinations: Progreso in Mexico (giving access to Mayan cities), Belize City, Puerto Cortés in Honduras, Puerto Limon on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, Cartagena in Colombia and the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo.

The price per person for the most basic cabin is £2,199, including flights, transfers and all tips.

Warning of the week: Off the rails in Africa

"Trains 1 and 2 are life-expired, filth has accumulated for years, bedroom doors often don't lock and lack hinges," reports a contributor in Senegal, West Africa, in the first Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable of the new decade.

The warning continues: "Lights don't work and toilets have no water". On a short trip, these may not be big concerns, but the services in question link the capital, Dakar, with Bamako in Mali and are scheduled to take 21 hours to cover the 750 miles.

In practice, "Never mind what the timetable says, the train will take anywhere from 44 to over 80 hours to make the trip." You might imagine this would play havoc with subsequent departures, but the Overseas Timetable points out that the service runs only "every 8 or 9 days". There is also a tip about sleeping accommodation: "Vendors sell cheap mattresses at Dakar station that may be a good idea to buy, as the mattresses and linen available [on board] haven't been cleaned in years."

Across in the former Belgian colony of Democratic Congo, another correspondent reports a discussion with officials from SNCC, the Congo Railway enterprise: "They said the trains are very dangerous due to the number of derailments; one in four trains derails."

Tip of the week: Travellers' Tales Festival

The weekend of 20-21 Feb sees the travel world converge on London's Royal Geographical Society: writers such as Jan Morris and Fergal Keane will appear. Weekend tickets cost £121; see .

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