Travel agents are indispensable resources for planning complicated trips, finding out the ins and outs of a destination, saving time, preventing travel headaches and getting the best value. When it comes to traveling across Europe, many people assume that such an adventure is beyond their modest means. However, the legions of college students and others on shoestring budgets that descend on Europe every summer undermine this assumption. If these budget travelers can make Europe affordable, there is no reason you cannot as well. Visiting an affordable country means you will travel insurance enjoy wonderful meals, stay in unique and interesting places, and meet wonderful people you will never forget, all for far less than you would spend at home. In many European locations and elsewhere around the world, however, many hostel rooms have mixed genders sharing a room. If this is a concern, be sure to ask about it. I, as a man traveling alone, have personally never encountered a problem with these arrangements, and I have stayed in hostels throughout Europe, including Rome, London and Amsterdam. Some visitors, however, are surprised at these arrangements.

I split my time between the Hotel Tropical’s Zoo and the larger Bosque da Ciencia, both ranked among the top local attractions. The latter is a rescue and research center set in a park configured as a natural wildlife reserve. The admission was under $3.00. Although I was told the #120 bus went there, having never made the connection after several conflicting directions, I opted for the more costly taxi for the 30 minute ride to the suburbs. When I had just arrived, a fast moving local inhabitant (a small rodent?) dashed across my path before I could whip out my camera. The key attraction near the entrance was a large underwater manatee pool with an observation window below ground. Harder to see were monkeys in the treetops overhead. At ground level, a number of curious rodents crossed my path, including one with bright red ears. For my return, there was a taxi stand outside, a welcome sight after hovering under a covered picnic table while a quick but heavy tropical rain fell. Although the center is technically closed to incoming visitors during lunch, those of us already inside were allowed to stay.

The Hotel Tropical’s zoo, with 22 species, was smaller but fit into the eco-resort’s lush 400 square meters of foliage set on the banks of the Rio Negro. It, too, was a rescue facility certified by the Brazilian government. The resident biologist, Dayse Campista, and her co-worker, Andre, very kindly spent substantial time with me so that I could learn more about the unique rainforest inhabitants. They included an endangered White Bellied Spider Monkey, Nina. A true celebrity she starred as Zuzu in a feature film, Taina 2 an Adventure in the Amazon. As a new mother, Nina very cautiously hid her young baby underneath her paws to protect it from visitors’ intruding eyes. I was delighted when Dayse was able to coax Nina into showing off her new, as yet unnamed, offspring. I was intrigued also by the Collared Peccaries. Like miniature Wild Boars, they reminded me of my time as a German exchange student watching “Hans” and “Sissy”, a full-size version, run around the local castle moat.