Holidays: These stunning virtual tours allow you to explore the world from your home

For many people around the world holidays are on hold as countries lock down their borders and ask citizens to stay home in an unprecedented pandemic. However, just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you can’t explore all the beauty that the world has to offer thanks to these incredible virtual travel tours. Who knows, perhaps they will inspire you for your next big adventure in the future.


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Technology experts at Uswitch have been working hard to round up some of the best virtual tours to help those seeking to relax and escape the current climate.

Whether you are looking to immerse yourself deep within nature, get up close and personal with wildlife, or simply just want to experience the calming tides of the ocean, these five virtual tours could be for you.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher are a series of sea cliffs located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare.

Spanning 14 kilometres, these rugged wonders make way for the crystal blue waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Transport yourself to the coastline, imagine the wind in your hair and the soothing tides all thanks to this virtual tour.

Take in the views from Blarney Castle gardens, fly high above O’Brien’s Tower and watch the day turn to twilight.

Visit for the full experience.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska, USA

Thanks to Google Arts and Culture, intrepid explorers can experience a guided tour of one of Alaska’s most beautiful national parks, the Kenai Fjords.

The Kenai Fjords National Park was established in 1980 and covers an area of 669,984 acres on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska.

It is known for its vast expanse of ice fields and glaciers – containing the Harding Ice field, one of the largest ice fields in the United States along with 38 glaciers.

Led by experienced tour guides and showcasing breathtaking imagery, users are shown things many people may never get the chance to witness, and can navigate their way around the park.

Kayak through icebergs, explore deep crevasses and watch a glacier melt before your eyes.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes, Hawaii, USA

As part of Google’s package, explorers can transport themselves to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, located on Hawaii Island.

At the heart of this stunning natural wonder are the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes.

As part of the virtual tour, users will find themselves looking down upon one of the bubbling, active volcanoes, exploring a lava tube, and taking in the awe-inspiring views of the volcanic cliffs.

The tour is guided by a park ranger who grew right beside the national park and has dedicated her life to learning all about the natural environment.

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Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, USA

Nestled in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

This area is home to more than 100 caves, decked out in naturally formed stalactites.

These impressive caverns burrow deep into the earth, with huge underground chambers for visitors to explore.

The virtual tour, led by a park ranger, will take users deep underground and through these incredible caves which remain a mystery even to the experts today.

The tour also boasts stunning desert views, canyons and brings users up close and personal with thousands of bats.


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Dry Tortugas, Florida, USA

Dry Tortugas National Park, just west of Key West Florida, is situated in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by crystal clear cerulean waters. Made up of 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs, the area is home to beaches, the 19th-century Forth Jefferson, and a wealth of wildlife.

Popular amongst divers, aquatic adventurers can dip below the surface and catch a glimpse of the stunning Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship.

This virtual tour is led by a National Park Services Diver who takes users through 99 percent of the park which is hidden beneath the ocean’s surface.

Visit to experience all of the above national park tours.

The National Aquarium, Baltimore

Baltimore’s famous aquarium is home to almost 20,000 animals, from sea life to beautiful birds.

Though the museum has closed its doors in a bid to enforce social distancing, enthusiasts can still sneak-a-peek at some of its finest creatures thanks to this virtual tour.

The non-profit aquarium has an annual attendance of 1.5 million visitors, holds more than 8,300,000 litres of water and is home to more than 17,000 specimens representing over 750 species.

Walk around the aquarium’s exhibits, taking in jellyfish, alligators, and sea turtles, as well as an in-depth look into wildlife native to the Channel Islands and the Amazon River.

Visit to experience the tour.

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Qantas flight diverted to Sydney after baggage handlers test positive

A Qantas flight was forced to make a mid-air U-turn on 31 March after baggage handlers working for the airline tested positive for coronavirus.

Flight QF741 left Sydney at 3.34pm local time, and was due to reach Adelaide at 5.15pm.

However, about an hour into the flight, news broke that six Qantas baggage handlers based in Adelaide had tested positive for Covid-19.

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There were no other Qantas staff available to service incoming flights, reports. This prompted the flight to be diverted back to Sydney, where it landed just after 6pm. 

A number of flights due to depart Adelaide were also cancelled at short notice.

In a statement posted to its Twitter account, Adelaide Airport said: “We have this afternoon been advised of cases of COVID-19 involving Qantas employees working in the baggage handling area away from public areas.

“We are assisting SA Health by notifying other stakeholders who work within the terminal precinct, as well as informing and supporting our own staff.

“SA Health has advised that other areas of the terminal, including public areas, are unaffected at this time.

“SA Health has advised any passengers who arrived on flights in the past 24 hours to wipe their baggage and monitor their health.”

Flights out of the airport from 1 April are currently scheduled to operate as normal.

Confirming the incident, the South Australia Health Department said in a statement: “We are currently investigating six cases of COVID-19 in Qantas baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport.

“We are working closely with Qantas to ensure flights are not disrupted and the carousel area is fully cleaned.”

There are currently 337 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state of South Australia, and 4,557 across the entire country.

Australia is already restricting entry for foreigners and is increasingly restricting domestic travel.

Despite this, The Independent was still able to book a last minute Australian cruise with Cunard.

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10 best livestreaming experiences to help make-believe you’re on holiday

Getting quarantine cabin fever? There may be a temporary solution: become an armchair traveller.

Destinations and attractions around the world are wising up to the fact that people would still like to “visit”, even if they can’t physically be there, and have made use of technology accordingly.

Plenty of parks and outdoor spaces have set up webcams that allow you to livestream video at any given moment for a bit of accessible escapism.

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Here are 10 of the best livestreaming experiences that let’s you travel without setting foot outside your lockdown pad.

Go on a virtual city tour

Travel Curious has started running livestreamed tours all over the world. The first one took place on 24 March and saw guide Dennis, a retired NYPD Police officer who worked for several years as a detective with the Manhattan North Tactical Narcotics Team, take viewers for a virtual Mafia Tour of NYC.

This weekend also featured a tour of the ancient cathedral city of St Albans and an Historic Dublin and the Road to Independence tour.

More tours will be announced on the company’s Instagram page, @TravelCuriousTours.

Make like a star in Hollywood

There are a range of live cams around Los Angeles, showcasing iconic views of Hollywood and Vine, Hollywood Blvd and Venice Beach (sadly minus the body builders), all in real-time. There’s also a full virtual tour of LA available at  

Gasp at the Northern Lights

Why not tick-off a bucket list activity while under lockdown? and Polar Bears International are live streaming footage from Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada, for those keen to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. The camera is set up under the aurora oval, considered one of the best places to spot the aurora borealis. The feed is streaming 24 hours a day at

Escape to the Caribbean

The Saint Lucia Tourism Authority is inviting people to escape to Saint Lucia with a social media series that’s airing twice a week on Instagram. There’s everything from a live DJ dance party featuring Reggae, Dancehall and Soca hits, to a cooking class with Saint Lucian chef Shorne Benjamin; from a guided meditation on the beach to a garden guide to herbal plants and remedies. Follow @TravelSaintLucia on Instagram and click the “story” in the top left corner to take part. 

Hit the beach 

San Diego’s historic beachfront Hotel Del Coronado, or “The Del”, is one of the few surviving examples of an American wooden Victorian beach resort. Armchair travellers can watch the waves crashing on the shore and sun beating down on the golden sand via The Del’s live beach cams.

Swim with sharks

Palma Aquarium in Mallorca is offering virtual visitors the chance to discover the Mediterranean’s marine life. Tropical reefs, exotic fish and even sharks will be on display in the aquarium’s live streaming sessions, taking place on Monday to Friday at 10am (UK time). The aquarium is home to more than 8,000 specimens of almost 700 species. 

Get down to some country music

Nashville, the official home of country music, isn’t going to let a global pandemic silence it. The Grand Ole Opry, the famed weekly American country music stage concert founded nearly 95 years ago, paused all shows with a live audience on 16 March, but is still streaming acoustic performances with musicians and minimal crew. Check listings on Facebook and YouTube to catch the next show. 

Elsewhere in Music City, plenty of artists are sharing their talents on social media and live streaming apps. See

Talk to the animals

Various zoos are livestreaming to allow viewers to meet and greet the animals during lockdown. Chester Zoo has been doing live sessions on its Facebook page, including feeding time with the giraffes and pandas; Marwell Zoo has seen a huge surge in people tuning in to watch its live animal webcams featuring flamingos, penguins, giraffes and black and white ruffed lemurs, with viewer numbers hitting 64,000 last week; and the Australian Reptile Park in New South Wales is inviting people on virtual tours to experience feeding time with crocodiles, dingos and koalas.

Go birdwatching

Explore currently offers live web cam feeds of all sorts of critters, including bald eagles in Iowa, courtesy of the Raptor Resource Project. Head from there to the osprey nest at Chesapeake Conservancy; a feed of Great Horned Owls; and even watch exquisite hummingbirds at play. 

Explore Yosemite

Experience this natural wonder in real time by clicking through to its webcams. The views include Yosemite Falls, the view of the Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite Valley, and vistas from the High Sierra captured at 8,000 feet.

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Qantas moves one step closer to offering world’s longest non-stop flight

Pilots working for Qantas have approved the airline’s proposals for operating nonstop flights between London and Sydney.

The Australian carrier plans to use Airbus A350 jets to launch the world’s longest air link in the first half of 2023.

The 19-hour flight would cover 10,573 miles between Heathrow and Kingsford-Smith airport in Sydney – more than 1,000 miles longer than the world’s current longest commercial route, between Singapore and New York.

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That link is temporarily grounded because of the coronavirus crisis. 

The plan to link London and Sydney is part of a wider “Project Sunrise” initiative that could also see a UK-Melbourne link, as well as flights from New York, Paris and Frankfurt to Sydney.

But in February, Qantas warned that it would hire new flight crew for the London-Sydney nonstop if existing pilots did not agree to its working arrangements for the link. These include concessions to cut costs.

At the time, the union representing Qantas pilots warned the new-hire plan could “damage the airline for many years to come”.

Discussions have continued for more than six months, with particular focus on paying the second officers less than at present. These pilots support captains and first officers on longer flights.

The airline said cutting crew costs is “a major contributor to making the Sunrise business case stack up”.

Now, members of the Australian & International Pilots Association (AIPA) have agreed to the Qantas proposals – which also include a planned annual 3 per cent pay rise and extra overtime payments for the ultra-long-haul flights. 

The airline says 85 per cent of pilots approved the deal.

But it may prove academic, as the coronavirus crisis undermines the global aviation industry. 

Qantas has grounded its entire international fleet at least until the end of May.

While the Australian airline had promised a decision on Project Sunrise by the end of March, it will be deferred until the future of aviation is clearer.

Before the grounding, Qantas flew nonstop between London Heathrow and Perth, a distance of 9,009 miles.

One effect of the coronavirus crisis that may work in the airline’s favour: the slump in the price of oil and therefore aviation fuel means that one of the biggest costs of the plan has dropped sharply.

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Coronavirus in Belarus: Is it safe to travel to Belarus? Nation NOT on lockdown

Coronavirus has taken to nearly every country in the world, as the pandemic causes hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of more deaths. Most governments have responded to the crisis with strict measures to prevent further spread, but several governments have drawn harsh criticism for their perceived inaction.

Is it safe to travel to Belarus?

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has instituted few measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Belarus.

Currently, social distancing measures are in place over limited areas, with no lockdown in place, a stark difference to other nearby nations such as Poland.

President Lukashenko and much of the country continue to indulge in Belarus’ thriving sporting scene, and thousands of people continue to attend football matches in the nation.


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Mr Lukashenko was questioned about his response on the weekend while playing ice hockey, and when a reporter asked him whether anything would make him stop, he said “there are no viruses here”.

He said: “Did you see any of them flying around?

“I don’t see them too. This is a fridge.”

President Lukashenko also branded nearby countries’ use of lockdown as “frenzy and psychosis”, and vowed he would only introduce one “when it is really needed”.

The lack of controls make Belarus ripe for spreading infection, but the country has a relatively small total, with 152 cases amongst its nearly 9.5 million-strong population.

Currently, the UK Government has set down strict travel restrictions in line with the lockdown.

They advise against “all but essential travel” anywhere in the world, regardless of the measures they have used against COVID-19.

Government guidance states: “As countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including travel and border restrictions, the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel.

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“Any country or area may restrict travel without notice.

“If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available.

“Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.”

Flights will not operate in the UK for at least another three weeks, as lockdowns continue over most of Europe, the US and Asia.

The restrictions have left potentially millions of Brits stranded abroad, and the Government today announced it would operate flights to return them home.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government had partnered with some of the UK’s biggest airlines to bring people home.

The £75million initiative will see people put on chartered or compensated commercial flights from all over the world.

Airlines which have signed up to help include easyJet, British Airways and Jet2 amongst others.

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Love of Travel in the Time of Coronavirus: Why I Kept Going

“Don’t you ever stay home?”

an orange sunset: Happy traveler waiting for the flight in airport

I get the same question from my mother whenever I tell her I’m traveling that weekend (which is often). She herself is by no means a shut-in, having cruised the Nile on a barge and hiked ancient footpaths in the Andes, but the sheer frequency of my travel is what unnerves her.

Some travelers are exhausted by travel, and need time in between trips to recover, while others are energized by it. Me? I’m an introvert and like my “alone” time, but when it comes to travel my appetite has few boundaries.

So in the midst of (quite legitimate) concerns about coronavirus, I took a weekend trip to Puerto Vallarta. I spent some time rationalizing: there aren’t many cases in Mexico; the flights and airports aren’t very full; I love fresh Pacific seafood.

Some of my assumptions panned out. The flights weren’t very full, and the atmosphere felt similar to what it did in the fall and winter of 2001: everyone polite and patient in spite of their obviously frayed nerves.

After getting through the rationalization, the next question is one of self-actualization: why? Why do I keep traveling, even when it’s clearly much safer and less stressful to stay home?

RELATED: You can virtually tour these 20 landmarks without leaving your couch

a large building: Most travel plans are on hold for a while during the coronavirus pandemic. To pass the time after working from home with the kids or for a fun digital happy hour with friends, take a vacation without ever leaving your couch. Numerous world-class destinations and man-made marvels offer virtual tours that you can take online while you are social distancing. The other benefit? It’s free.

I wouldn’t argue the “safe” bit, but less stressful? After a couple of posts about my journey, I stopped scrolling through Facebook to find endless jokes about toilet paper and admonishments to supply hoarders. There are opportunities for stress wherever you are—even when you’re sipping Pacifico in the sand—and I wasn’t about to let them creep in.

Sometimes I feel like my urge to keep traveling has a documentary quality. There’s something romantic about the correspondents who rushed into the fires to chronicle them, like Ernest Hemingway commandeering a military Jeep to be the first American civilian into Paris in 1944 to “liberate” the bar at The Ritz Hotel. In Mexico, among tourists from the north, it’s as though everyone is taking pains not to discuss the elephant in the room, and that’s the snapshot I’m after.

For me, the desire to see the world isn’t one of postcard idealism. I want to see what the world looks like when it’s not perfect, too. There was a strange beauty in how we traveled just after 9/11. The additional security checks were frustrating, but travelers saw their value. The uncertainty among travel industry workers about their futures put their more authentic humanity on full display; travelers saw that and responded with understanding.

It’s also interesting how humans have the capacity to think of whatever hurdles stand up during their present as extraordinary. Suddenly COVID-19 facemasks are different from SARS facemasks. Post-9/11 security checks were different from Gulf War security checks. A generation from now, travelers of this period will bear witness when the next generation looks upon their struggle as unprecedented. 

The word “Quarantine” itself dates back to the middle ages when the city-state of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik) imposed a forty-day (Italian: quaranta giorni = forty days) waiting period on arriving ships to ensure their occupants didn’t carry the plague. What strikes me is that even during the Black Death, which wiped out roughly a third of Europe’s population, there were still ships arriving to quarantine.

Even in those days, when there was little relief for an ailment of any kind (contemporary prescriptions overwhelmingly did more harm than good) and everything from a sore leg to a sniffle was potentially fatal, there was still a basic understanding that isolation could put a stop to a pandemic. Even then, they traveled on.

Every generation has its intrepid travelers, and as with most adventures, everyone has their endurance limits. Several of my friends were also traveling at the same time. One returned early from Europe, awakening to news of new travel restrictions to the U.S. One had an abbreviated trip to New Zealand after the country announced entry restrictions and airlines began to cancel flights.

I myself am also about ready to pack it in for a while. The calculus has shifted. Concerns of catching and subsequently transmitting the virus have morphed into acceptance of the eventuality that free movement will be curtailed as borders close in efforts to contain the threat.

I’ve seen the warts-and-all realities I was curious about, and it’s time to retire to the couch (yes, Mom, I do stay home sometimes) with a stack of treasured books and films about travel. Instead of the rush I get at the ink of a customs stamp hitting my passport I’ll be transfixed as Bergman is coaxed onto the silver Air France propliner in Casablanca, or Streep, anxious that her crystal and china aren’t broken on the train across Kenya.

And when the next crisis hits, I’ll probably travel right up until the gates swing shut then, too.

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Relax cancelled holiday refund regulations or holidaymakers will be hit harder, say ABTA

“Catastrophic damage to the UK travel industry, and widespread consumer detriment” – that is the warning from Abta about the effect of the coronavirus crisis on holiday firms.

The travel trade association’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, is demanding government action to ease consumer regulations in favour of the industry.

Millions of holidays in March, April and May have been cancelled because of the worldwide shutdown. Under the Package Travel Regulations, travellers are entitled to a full refund within two weeks.

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Abta is asking for that time limit to be extended to four months, with government backing to protect holidaymakers if their travel firm goes bust. The association also wants a government-backed emergency consumer hardship fund to help fulfil refunds when hotels or airlines cannot or will not hand back money to tour operators.

Many travel businesses are refusing refunds to customers, often claiming incorrectly that the rules have been eased. They insist they are only obliged to provide travel vouchers.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began, there have been no changes to consumer protection. But Mr Tanzer said there must be – as “normally successful travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people are facing bankruptcy”.

The Abta chief executive said: “The global pandemic has put enormous financial strain on tour operators and travel agents, with businesses seeing a collapse in sales while facing immediate repatriation costs and refund demands for cancelled holidays on a scale that is unmanageable. 

“Existing regulations are entirely unsuited to deal with this situation. These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines.

“Without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers within 14 days. Customers with cancelled holidays will face lengthy delays in getting money back if travel firms are forced into bankruptcy.”

Abta has also called on the government to take “strong enforcement action” against airlines that withhold refunds due following the cancellation of flights.

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Flybe administrators deny talks with government about nationalising airline

The administrators for Flybe have denied opening talks with the government about nationalising the failed airline.

Accountancy firm EY told The Independent there are “no discussions” happening on this front after it was widely reported that they had asked the government to contemplate buying the carrier out of insolvency to serve regional routes.

The Telegraph reported that Flybe was discussing the possibility of nationalisation with ministers, “according to industry sources”.

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However, an EY spokesperson said of the claims: “We continue to be open to approaches from all parties in order to realise returns for creditors. 

“At this time, we can confirm that there are no discussions between the Joint Administrators and Government about taking Flybe Limited out of insolvency.”

It comes after airlines and airports in the UK were told there wouldn’t be an industry-wide government bailout amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote to aviation executives last week to say that he would only consider discussing measures to shore-up individual businesses as a “last resort”, and that this would be done on a case-by-case basis rather than applied across the board.

He repeated the package of measures announced on Friday that will be available to all British industries: postponing some rates and tax payments and paying the majority of employed staff members’ wages.

Sunak added that “taxpayer support would only be possible if all commercial avenues have been fully explored, including raising further capital from existing investors”. It followed the news that easyJet, among other airlines, was continuing to pay out dividends to shareholders, to the tune of £171m. The airline’s founder and largest shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, received £60m.

Flybe was an early victim of the world-wide travel slow-down due to coronavirus, and officially ceased trading on 5 March.

Europe’s biggest regional airline was already struggling financially when the crisis hit, having been saved from the brink of insolvency several times prior.

The latest of these included controversial government intervention, with ministers agreeing the carrier could defer paying its air passenger duty until a later date.

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How to explore the world from the comfort of your own home

The Armchair Traveller: Be dazzled by Italy and delve into Paris’s secret maze of tunnels – how to explore the world from the comfort of your home

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The first guidebook from Rough Guides was published about 40 years ago (it covered Greece) but the company has long since had a brilliant website too. Click on it to read, in reverse order, the result of its 2020 readers’ poll into The 20 Most Beautiful Countries In The World.

Fabulous photographs accompany each entry, with Nepal at No 20, followed by Spain, Chile and Argentina. With its fascinating mix of the ancient and modern, Japan makes it into the top ten, and your travel bucket list will get longer as you scroll to the No 1 spot occupied, naturally, by Italy.

As a major tourist destination, France also makes it into the Rough Guides poll but if you think you know its capital, think again. The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast on the BBC Sounds app springs surprises from the start, revealing that the City of Light has a dark side: it’s built on more than 175 miles of tunnels, most of which are supposed to be off-limits.

The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast explores the French city’s tunnels. Pictured is a section of the mostly abandoned belt railway known as La Petite Ceinture

Host Jonathan Glancey speaks to a secretive band of Parisians who search for hidden entrances in train stations, cellars and sewers, and to police officers who patrol the tunnels beneath sensitive sites such as banks and prisons. Along the way Glancey reveals how the network was created and why it’s full of old bones.

Paris, of course, is home to some of the world’s greatest landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower. And if travel lovers want to remind themselves of various gems around the globe, they could order the 1,000-piece World Landmarks puzzle from Ravensburger.

Online retailers expect to sell a year’s-worth of jigsaws in a month as simple pleasures come back to the fore. This one includes nearly 100 cleverly hidden sights, including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids of Egypt, Rio’s epic Christ the Redeemer and Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Meanwhile, maps of the world jump off the page amid scarcely believable stories of political incompetence in Prisoners Of Geography: Our World Explained In 12 Simple Maps, by Tim Marshall.

He races across the globe, bringing whole regions to life and showing why so many national borders have proved to be disastrous mistakes. It’s lightly told, with chapters headings such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

And if you are home-schooling or compiling a family quiz, the book is a great way to catch up on geography and 20th Century history.

Film fans can fall in love with the Italian island of Pantelleria, pictured, in A Bigger Splash

If audiobooks are more your thing actress Julie Harris brings a very well-travelled Englishwoman to life as she reads West With The Night. It’s the memoir of Beryl Markham, who in 1936 became the first person to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic from east to west. A genuine modesty pervades Beryl’s story as she roams the globe in the early days of air travel.

Film fans can fall in love with the sun-kissed but little-known Italian island of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.

In real life, the tiny volcanic island is where celebrities including Madonna, Sting and Giorgio Armani go on holiday.

This drama is an adult affair, with the stars behaving badly around the villa’s pool, but the scenes of slow-dancing in warm piazzas, alfresco meals by the water and a stunning, candle-lit restaurant in the hills are the stuff of holiday dreams.

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Four people dead and hundreds of Britons ‘stranded’ on cruise ship

More than 200 British people are aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Panama on which four passengers have died.

The MS Zaandam, a Holland America Line vessel, has been sailing north from Chile with 1,243 passengers and 586 crew on board. She is currently about 10 miles south of Panama City, according to the tracking service, Cruise Mapper.

The voyage was due to finish in San Antonio in Chile a week ago. But all ports along the coast of South America have refused permission for the ship to dock and disembark passengers.

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More than 140 people on board are suffering from “flu-like symptoms,” and at least two of them are reported to have tested positive for coronavirus.

Vanessa Lucas, from Stafford, tweeted: “My in-laws are stuck on the Zaandam cruise ship with four dead from Covid-19. We are extremely concerned and worried about them.”

Reuters is reporting that a ship’s officer made an on-board announcement on Friday that one passenger had died “several days” earlier followed by two deaths on Thursday and another in the early hours of Friday.

Deaths from natural causes are not unusual on cruise ships, because of the older age profile of passengers. But for four to pass away within a few days is very rare.

The cruise line’s original intention was to pass through the Panama Canal on Friday and reach Fort Lauderdale in Florida by Monday.

But the Panamanian authorities have so far refused to allow Zaandam to transit the canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In a bid to secure permission, Holland America Line dispatched another cruise ship, MS Rotterdam, with crew only on board.

Passengers who are not displaying symptoms that could be coronavirus are being transferred from one ship to another.

Rotterdam will then seek permission to transit the Panama Canal and proceed to Fort Lauderdale – though there is concern in that city over whether the ship should be allowed to dock.

Zaandam is expected to sail northwest along the Pacific Coast to San Diego, where there is a big US naval base as well as cruise facilities.

The Independent has been told that a “secret” call was made by Zaandam at Guayaquil in Ecuador to take on essential supplies, but this report has not been independently substantiated.

No passengers have been allowed ashore since they left Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile three weeks ago.

Fort Lauderdale is also the destination for Coral Princess, whose passengers were refused permission to disembark at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

She is currently about 50 miles north of Fortaleza on the northeast coast of Brazil, making for Barbados. The ship will be calling at the island’s capital, Bridgetown, on the evening of Tuesday, 31 March for essential supplies.

A Princess Cruises statement said: “During the short time at the port, extra provisions will be brought onboard to keep all guests comfortable during the onward journey.”

Coral Princess is believed to have over 400 British passengers on board. There have been calls for UK citizens to be allowed to disembark in Barbados and be flown home on government-organised flights.

Debbie Betts tweeted the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab to demand action: “Come on FCO, you’re still sending flights to Peru and South Africa to bring English nationals home – what about sending a plane to Barbados to meet this ship and bring the Brits home?”

But Princess Cruises said: “No guests or crew will be permitted to disembark during this time.”

A lockdown and overnight curfew begins today in Barbados and will continue until 14 April. 

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