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Las Vegas Travel Guide
Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, Las Vegas was created entirely to entertain and has been described as the world's largest theme park. This psychedelic city of sin is home to over a million people and welcomes 35 million more each year to its lavish hotels and casinos. Visitors today are amazed that only 70 years ago this thriving metropolis was a backwater with less than a thousand inhabitants whose only guests were railway passengers stopping off to stretch their legs on the long journey between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Things started to change in March 1931 when the State of Nevada legalised gambling; one month later the City issued six licenses. Then in 1946, Mafia don Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel opened the sensationally lavish Flamingo Hilton on Highway 91. Las Vegas Boulevard was born and the city would never be the same again.
Soon stars like Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra were making the pilgrimage to what was fast becoming America's premier entertainment centre. In the early days the Mafia dominated the gambling industry but in the 1960s their influence waned and soon all the large hotels and casinos were controlled by big business.
Las Vegas has 18 out of 21 of the largest hotels in the world and walking down 'The Strip' visitors will see the skylines of New York and Paris, discover the canals of Venice and the Pyramids of Egypt and, at Treasure Island, see a full on-sea battle between a Pirate ship and a British Galleon. Despite these excesses, room rates and restaurant bills are the lowest in the western world - all subsidised by gamblers intent on a free holiday.
Although the principal draw card is still gambling, Las Vegas is now marketed as a family destination and there is no shortage of theme parks, shopping malls or golf courses. However, the vast majority of visitors come to gamble and the incredible displays are mostly designed to lure passers-by into the casinos, and once there it's hard to leave; the exits are discreetly hidden.
Las Vegas Transport
Most visits to Las Vegas are confined to the Strip and downtown, so it is not necessary to hire a car as both are easily navigable by foot and there are several forms of transport that can be used. Public transport is limited to buses, but private trolley services, taxicabs, monorail links and free shuttle services, courtesy of the casinos, are also available. Local buses run the length of the Strip and into downtown and operate 24 hours a day with a flat fare including transfers. The old-fashioned Las Vegas Strip Trolley also runs the length of the Strip from 9.30am to 2am, and the Downtown Trolley circles between the Stratosphere and downtown from 7am to 11pm. A state-of-the-art monorail runs above the streets, operating from 7am to 2pm daily between the Sahara Hotel and the MGM Grand. Taxis are plentiful and can be found lined up outside every hotel and casino and at taxi stands. Car hire is popular with visitors although it is best to avoid driving along the Strip as traffic is heavy and there is little parking available. Cars are the most practical way to explore outside Las Vegas, although there are bus tours offered to Hoover Dam. Visitors need a valid driver's license and must be 21 years old; under-25s are usually subject to surcharges. To really fit in, why not consider hiring a limousine? Although not entirely practical, it can be a fun way to feel part of the glitz and glamour and there are several limousine agencies in the city.
United States of America Contacts
United States Tourist Office:
United States Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7499 9000.
United States Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 688 5335.
United States Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6214 5600.
United States Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 431 4000.
United States Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 668 8777.
United States Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 462 6000.
British Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 588 6500.
Canadian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 682 1740.
Australian Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 797 3000.
South African Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 232 4400.
Irish Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 462 3939.
New Zealand Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 328 4800.
Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines and punishment. The age at which you may legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.
Visitors entering the country under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that has a bar code on the photo page. Travellers under the VWP must have passports that include biometrics if they wish to enter the country without a visa, which means that passports must contain unique personal data such as fingerprints or iris details. All passports must contain a digital photo image in order to travel visa-free. All visitors to the USA have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inkless scanner on arrival, including those travelling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Programme. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA, a valid passport is required by immigration authorities. All visitors who do not need a visa, under the US Visa Waiver Programme, need to register online three days before travel. This allows the US government to screen all visitors before travel. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.