Diving into the local culture is an important component of WOW trips. After all, the best trips connect you with interesting local people and help you experience their worlds. So we’re sharing some of our readers’ favorite moments—those that have happened during the pandemic, as well as some that took place before—as a reinvigorating reminder of the reasons we travel, and of what’s waiting for us when we can get back out there again.
The following trips were all designed and arranged by destination specialists on Wendy’s WOW List, a group which I’ve road-tested and rigorously vetted (with readers’ help) and which I’m now also monitoring for their Covid-travel readiness. For a personalized trip recommendation so you can start dreaming of your own special moments, talk to us at Ask Wendy.
Trips taken during the pandemic
“When I chatted with friends who have been living in Bangkok for more than 20 years and told them about our experiences, they weren’t even aware of a majority of the places we visited…”
“Dan did an absolutely incredible job of making our December 2021 trip to Thailand unique and unforgettable. As seasoned travelers with a healthy budget, we expect top service and want to be shown places/experiences off the beaten track. Thanks to Dan, we got routes, visited destinations and met locals that blew our minds. I even ended up buying great contemporary art pieces from a little art gallery we visited along the way (something I would not typically do). When I chatted with friends who have been living in Bangkok for more than 20 years and told them about our experiences, they weren’t even aware of a majority of the places we visited. My wife and I can’t stop talking about our incredible time with Dan’s team. Thanks again, Dan, you are the best. And, of course, a big thanks to Wendy and WendyPerrin.com. It will continue to be our go-to site for the best guides around the world.” — Matthaeus Kala
“We were especially touched when he took us to his house to meet his mom…”
“Firstly, we can’t begin to express our gratitude to Boris in crafting such an amazing trip!
We had an absolutely stellar time! Everything he suggested was truly spot on.
To break it down a bit more…
What a gorgeous city! We absolutely loved our time there. Our guide Gustavo was wonderful. He was so nice and funny and truly had a wealth of knowledge. He did a great job telling stories of the city and showing us around. It was great to meet lots of people he knew all over the city too. Really an amazing time with him/because of him. And all of the activities we booked were fantastic too!! We really really loved the cooking class and the day on the boat! But everything was super special. And the hotel Boris found for us was really special too. What a beautiful hotel… amazing room, amazing staff, amazing location, etc. etc.
What a great contrast to the coast. Everyone was very apologetic about how rainy it was, but honestly, coming from LA it was a nice change. Haha. So glad Boris recommended the area! Our guide Sebastian was just as wonderful too. Really truly made us feel welcome and did an amazing job showing us around. His genuine warmth and friendliness was so special and memorable. We had such a great time exploring the area and eating all the amazing food! Even when we couldn’t go on the rafting trip because of the weather, he was so great about finding another activity for us. We were especially touched when he took us to his house to meet his mom. What a great guy! As for activities… we LOVED meeting Pascal and Diego and sharing lunch with them in their little slice of paradise. That will definitely be one of our favorite memories from the trip! And staying at Bambusa was so wonderful. What a cool hotel in the middle of the mountains. Really peaceful and relaxing and comfortable and had great food!
Honestly… we’ve run out of all of the amazing words to describe our experience.
The trip was magical and we are absolutely in love with Colombia. We can’t wait to come back and see Medellin and Bogota and all of the other amazing places!!
Thank you to Boris a million times over for creating such a special trip for us. I don’t want to say it was once in a lifetime, because I know we’ll be back. But suffice to say it’s in the pantheon of absolute favorite trips we’ve been on.” —Anne Leary
“The guided activities were with local Icelanders. There are so many tour companies but supporting local folks was important to me.”
“Chris covered all of the bases for my first visit to Iceland Oct. 28-Nov. 7, 2021 as a solo traveler, from the perspective of COVID safety, comfortable accommodations, ground transportation, guided and self-guided activities, cultural exchanges, historical and educational material, crowd-pleasing food recommendations, a packing list, and 24-hour concierge availability.
I originally planned to go to a three-day music festival in Reykjavík and stay there for another week, but it was cancelled so I decided to drive the Ring Road. At the time of my trip planning, Iceland had over 70% vaccination rate and low infection rates. A majority of my activities were outdoors and the timing of my trip was during the shoulder season, so there weren’t any crowds at popular destinations around the country and social distance was easy to achieve.
Before the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have thought about using a travel service, but I needed local expertise to navigate the ever-changing public health protocols and resources. Chris has over 20 years of immersive insights into all things Iceland, and possesses a deep fondness for the land and people, which resonated with me. Logistically, he made everything easy and straightforward.
I especially valued that Chris sent daily morning road conditions updates, since I circled the entire country on my own. Naturally, I encountered a couple snow storms on the Eastern and Northern regions. One morning, Chris let me know and made arrangements to change my driving route through a toll tunnel passage instead of along the fjord, which was a safer option at the time.
My travels around Iceland wouldn’t have been the same without Chris. First, because he made sure I could safely drive to my next stop every day. Second, I could text him any kind of question and he responded right away, like what to do when my rental car maintenance light turned on in Mývatn or where to find shark meat. Third, the guided activities were with local Icelanders. There are so many tour companies but supporting local folks was important to me. Fourth, he scheduled my appointment for me to get a rapid COVID test in order to return home – super appreciated. Finally, I could send him a photo of the magical things in Iceland, like Goðafoss, and he knew exactly what I was experiencing! For me, as a solo trekker, it was nice to share that with someone who understood. Also, the detailed, printed itinerary, was very useful, and due to a shipping snafu, Chris sent me a souvenir copy.
Chris also had to manage my expectations. I had a very long list of things I wanted to see and do, but doing everything just wasn’t feasible with my dates. He was right.
Not surprising, however, there are several highlights of my trip: the secret hot river soak, glacier hiking, nature baths, waterfall and canyon treks, having the black-sand beaches all to myself, seeing the Northern Lights from a lighthouse cliff in Stykkishólmur, and breaking bread with local Icelanders in their homes. It’s no wonder why I feel like I have to go back for more than just 10 days.
After returning home and sharing photos and videos of my trip to Iceland with family and friends, many have said they now want to go see for themselves. I hope to visit again next year to see and do some things I didn’t get to my first go-round, but also a few things that I want to do again. Chris, thank you for sharing your love of Iceland with me!” —Nicolina Hernandez
“Something we will always treasure is the morning we spent with the owner/chef of a small waterfront pintxos bar learning how to make pintxos.”
“Pablo crafted a wonderful itinerary for my wife and me in the Ribera del Deuro and the Basque Country of Spain. We had guides take us to a couple of wonderful wineries and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Guides also introduced us to the wonderful world of pintxos (tapas) in the Basque Country. Something we will always treasure is the morning we spent with the owner/chef of a small waterfront pintxos bar learning how to make pintxos. We and our guide got to enjoy our creations washed down with a bottle of local txakoli wine outside on the terrace. It was a truly special experience. We have a new appreciation for anchovies!” —Bill Hiatt
“The extraordinary experiences (behind the scenes at the theatre in Moscow, dinner in the home of a lovely young woman in Suzdal, chocolate making class in Estonia) were each phenomenal.”
“Just back from Russia and the Baltic’s … when I saw a three week window open on my calendar recently I made a very last minute decision to go to Russia …Greg and Stella put together a fabulous and interesting itinerary (encouraging me to add Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) expedited my visa application and guided me through all of the covid related hoops going from country to country … when my own covid test results didn’t come through in time for my initial departure, Stella found and set up an appointment for a rapid test 5 minutes from my ATL hotel the morning of departure, thereby saving me a potential delay in leaving for the trip. As for the trip itself, I had a blast. Every single detail was taken care of, the extraordinary experiences (behind the scenes at the theatre in Moscow, dinner in the home of a lovely young woman in Suzdal, theatre tickets, a boat trip in St Petersburg, chocolate making class in Estonia, I can’t remember them all) were each phenomenal. Guides, drivers, covid testing and hotels all perfectly arranged and top notch. Thank you Greg and Stella for a very memorable return to travel after 20 months at home due to covid restrictions (both here and abroad) and to one of the places that has been on my list for a long time. I’ve already got designs on my next trip!”
“Matteo arranged a series of private meetings for us with vineyard owners, chefs, and an olive oil firm. All relationships cultivated over several years and not available to the regular tourist.”
“We had an amazing two week adventure in Sicily planned by Matteo and supported by m. The trip was originally planned for 2020 but had to be rescheduled due to Covid. It was clearly worth the wait. We stayed at four fabulous boutique lodgings in Palermo, Agrigento, Siracusa and Taormina. Each location was ideally situated and served as a hub which allowed us to branch out and fully experience all that Sicily has to offer which is a great deal. Our guides and drivers were superb. Where appropriate we had specialists, i.e.,archeologists and volcanologists, to explain the landscape in terms we could understand. All quite fascinating. Matteo arranged a series of private meetings for us with vineyard owners, chefs, dairy farm proprietors, a yacht skipper and, of course, an olive oil firm. All relationships cultivated over several years and not available to the regular tourist. In all cases we were treated to a fabulous lunch after touring and learning about their respective business. We had the opportunity to meet Matteo along the way and to share some wine and small talk while thanking him for the wonderful itinerary. Our high expectations were exceeded. Highly recommend Marcello and Matteo.” —Joe Rothman
Trips taken before the pandemic
“Cherri and her husband met us and took us to a number of projects they work on: a clinic, a coop farm, girls’ clubs…”
“We just returned from a trip to Zambia planned by Cherri, and I feel as though I’m returning from a dream. Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa Park was wonderful! We fell asleep to the sound of hippos munching on cabbage…in fact, one night our neighbors (the hippos) got a little rowdy with their antics. What a memory! We next traveled to the lower Zambezi. Cherri understood that we were not only interested in a safari but also in understanding life in the area and what is being done to raise up the life of the people living in the lower Zambezi. Cherri and her husband met us and took us to a number of projects they work on: a clinic, a coop farm, girls’ clubs…. It was such a special, meaningful day. Cherri also arranged for a day of fishing on the Zambezi, then enjoying our catch at dinner!” —Deborah Wente
“We had dinner with a Saxon family in Vescri; a trip to an iron mason who made us a trophy horseshoe on his forge; a dinner with a Hungarian herbalist; and a meal with a gypsy family where we could ask any questions we wanted to about their lives in Romania…”
“We were attracted to Romania by the biennial George Enescu Festival of classical music. Raluca secured us tickets and also suggested a week or so in Transylvania and several days in the Danube Delta. We found Transylvania to be much more than Dracula: We had dinner with a Saxon family in Vescri, complete with geese parading by and freshly picked vegetables; a trip to an iron mason who made us a trophy horseshoe on his forge; a dinner with a Hungarian herbalist; and, probably most fascinating, a meal with a gypsy family where we could ask any questions we wanted to about their lives in Romania. In Bucharest, where the Festival was held, our local guide whom Raluca selected for us, Andrei, shared stories about living under Communism and what is currently going on in his country. We visited Ceaucescu’s palatial home, saw the hidden gems of Bucharest, and ate several gourmet meals, including a seven-course meal designed for the Enescu Festival where each course was explained to us personally by the award-winning chef! The Danube Delta was a fascinating surprise. It is the largest wetland in Europe, and our guesthouse was accessible only by boat. We rode privately along canals both wide and narrow, into small inlets and lakes, observing swans, ducks, pelicans, and loons close up, with no one else in sight. Romania is a gem and deserves much more acclaim. We thank Raluca for making our three-week visit spectacular.” —Susan Duncan
“We met with two well-known journalists with whom we could discuss politics: a retired colonel who had designed the fences surrounding Jerusalem, and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community who showed us around Mea Shearim…”
“A year ago we booked a small-group tour of Jordan and Lebanon, and I had assumed we would use the travel agency who planned that trip for our own extension to Israel afterward. I worked with that (very reputable) agency for most of the year but could not get them to design the trip I wanted. After months of delays, and sleepless nights because I didn’t feel like they were listening, I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to write to Wendy Perrin.’ And so I did. The very next day I heard from Jonathan, and he understood exactly what I wanted. Within days we had a wonderful week-long adventure planned. First, we spent two nights in the desert at the Hotel Beresheet, in a gorgeous room overlooking the makhtesh. The next two nights we stayed at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem and met with two well-known journalists with whom we could discuss politics: a retired colonel who had designed the fences surrounding Jerusalem (we drove with him as he described the process), and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community who showed us around Mea Shearim. Our last three nights were in Tel Aviv at The Norman Hotel, a wonderful place in a wonderful neighborhood. Jonathan’s restaurant planning was sensational: He provided a curated list of restaurants and made our reservations. He also provided, when I asked, a list of Jordanian restaurants (the other agency had sent me a link to Lonely Planet). This was a lovely trip: intellectually stimulating but at the same time relaxing.” —Salena Kern
“Trip highlights included meeting one of only two living survivors from the Tuol Sleng prison…and a spontaneous invitation from locals to party with their extended family during the Luang Prabang boat festival…”
“I am a very experienced and highly independent traveler who seeks out diving deep into the local culture, history, nature, politics, and food of a country, with an emphasis on ‘off the beaten track.’ From soup to nuts, our WOW List specialist put together precisely the trip to Laos and Cambodia that I had described that I wanted. The hotels were all excellent (winning the most over-the-top ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ prize was the Nam Kat Yorla Pa resort in Oudomxay). The five local guides and drivers were the ‘secret sauce’ for my experience. They all possessed encyclopedic knowledge of the region (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Pakse, Luang Prabang, and Northern Laos) and were friendly, flexible, and attentive. Trip highlights included meeting one of only two living survivors from the Tuol Sleng prison, seeing the endangered fresh-water Irrawaddy dolphins, and a spontaneous invitation from locals to party with their extended family during the Luang Prabang boat festival. This trip checked all the boxes.” —Pam Farmer
“She proved the perfect travel expert to craft an itinerary with special attention to my 5-year-old grandson…”
“When I was planning a three-generation family trip of a lifetime to Africa, Wendy recommended I contact Nina. She proved the perfect travel expert to craft an itinerary with special attention to my 5-year-old grandson. Her recommendation of Kenya, with its colorful and fascinating culture in addition to the wealth of wildlife, proved spot-on. She thoughtfully listened to my interests, as well as always keeping in mind the most appropriate activities for the little one, and our conversations led to a superb itinerary that was exciting for each and every family member. As soon as the airplane door opened, we were whisked through customs, setting the stage for a seamless continuum of travel logistics. The camps Nina recommended all went out of their way to entertain my grandson. At one camp, he got to join the Maasai while they performed their ‘adumu’ (jumping) dance. I will forever carry the memory of him jumping with the Maasai beside the campfire, with the African sunset on the horizon. Finally, thank you for a very special WOW Moment. During one game drive we were thrilled to suddenly come upon a beautifully set table in the bush and full staff on hand to provide us with a fabulous bush breakfast. Thanks to Nina, Dan, and you, Wendy, the trip exceeded our dreams. Asante sana!” —Ann Wilkinson
“…A fantastic job of listening to our preferences to avoid the usual tourist spots and spend time off the beaten path…”
“Nina did a fantastic job of listening to our preferences to avoid the usual tourist spots and spend time off the beaten path. The hotels she suggested were exceptional. The views from our rooms at Villa Orselina and Coeur des Alpes were amazing, and we truly enjoyed the mountain-hut experience at Guarda Val. The guides they picked for us were great, particularly Anna in Ticino, who led us on a magical walk through the Bavona Valley; Nikki in Zermatt, who was a delight and took us on a great hike and gave us ideas for our next two days of hiking; and Albert in Zurich, who suggested a side trip to Rapperswil that was very enjoyable. Nina’s suggestion of a first-class Swiss rail pass was excellent: We used it for boat rides in Ascona, Zurich and Lucerne, a bus ride in Ticino, and side train trips to Bellinzona, Lucerne, and Rapperswil. Well worth it! Restaurant suggestions were all excellent, from dinner in the castle in Bellinzona to dinner on the terrace of Sonnmatten in Zermatt. An exceptional trip.” —Gary Reading
“Our guide was AMAZING and a delight to our three pre-teen/teenage boys. We learned all about her fascinating family…”
“Two things really set our trip to St. Petersburg apart: First, the guide that Greg picked for us, Eugenia, was AMAZING and a delight to our three pre-teen/teenage boys. We learned all about her fascinating family. Eugenia’s grandfather was the official photographer at the Hermitage, and she knows the museum like her own home. We spent seven magical hours there with her, and I’d gladly spend another seven magical days! She also adjusted our plans on the fly so we could fit in the Fabergé Museum and helped us know what to look for in the ballet Giselle before we went. Second, the itinerary was very thoughtful, given our interests. For example, the Peterhof tour included the grottoes (where we went from massive crowds to serenity in seconds!) and Monplaisir Palace but not the crowded main house. For us, this was perfect. Also, the Museum of Political History was fascinating, given our interests, and we understand that it doesn’t get included on many shorter itineraries. The built-in flexibility in the Hermitage day was also ideal. It was an amazing trip!” —Jonathan Marek
“Our visits to local farms, a banana plantation, and a cocoa plantation were memorable…”
“Allie was well informed about the different liveaboard options and itineraries in the Galapagos. She got us booked on our first-choice ship, the Alya, at a far better rate than the published price! She also understood our desire to experience the real culture of Ecuador and arranged wonderful day trips to the countryside and coastal areas near Guayaquil and the mountain communities near Quito. Our visits to local farms, a banana plantation, and a cocoa plantation were memorable. Every day the food was better than the day before, and our accommodations at historic hotels and haciendas were more than expected—especially at La Casona de la Ronda in Quito’s historic old town. Tricia celebrated her birthday on the day we left the Galapagos and arrived in Quito, and both the ship’s and the hotel’s staffs were informed of this and had small complimentary celebrations for her birthday. Such a nice surprise!” —Stephen & Tricia Lincoln
“We had an incredible food tour in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and a private cooking class with a chef who taught us how to prepare the most amazing duck recipes…”
“Jennifer had a great feel for the kind of experience of Paris that my husband and I desired. We had an incredible food tour in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and a private cooking class with a chef who taught us how to prepare the most amazing duck recipes per our request. He also took us food shopping prior to the class; visiting all of the little shops in Paris for bread, cheese, wine, and our duck was a treat! In addition, Jennifer was able to secure some very hard-to-get dinner reservations; we were able to dine everywhere on my wish list. Lastly, thank you, Wendy, for an incredible WOW Moment! Jennifer arranged our surprise WOW Moment at the oldest wine shop in Paris. We were guided to a beautiful shop in a charming neighborhood and into a private room for a wine tasting with a sommelier who said he was opening bottles that he had actually never been able to taste himself before, as they were that rare. He was thrilled with our WOW Moment too!” —Tina Sarafa
“We learned about singing bowls, met with an astrologer, visited temples and stupas and dzongs, watched young monks in school and had a Q&A tea with the principal…”
“Our days in Nepal and Bhutan were filled with very special moments that only someone with Toni’s experience and familiarity could have arranged. We had tea with a Bhutanese expert on Gross National Happiness. We watched monks create a mandala over many hours and then allow us the privilege of immediately destroying it to illustrate impermanence. We raised prayer flags on the hike to Tiger’s Nest and participated in an archery match in a Bhutanese farmhouse. We were personally blessed by the Living Goddess (Patan Kumari) in Nepal, learned about singing bowls, met with an astrologer, visited temples and stupas and dzongs, watched young monks in school and had a Q&A tea with the principal, and flew to Mt. Everest to see the Himalayas up close. And, because Toni founded READ Global, we visited the READ (Rural Education and Development) office managing expansion of library community centers across Nepal and Bhutan. It was a wonderful trip, focused on immersion in both countries’ cultures. We came away educated and fascinated. ” —Donna DeSantis
“One of the biggest highlights of this trip was helping cook Paan’s family dinner at her house. Her family was nothing short of amazing in welcoming us…”
“My husband and I had the trip of a lifetime that was perfectly planned and executed by Sandy and his team. We visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia for two weeks. The planning alone with the number of internal flights, hotel and guides was flawless. Sandy gave us so much planning material on each country before the trip so we were well versed in all three countries. Luang Prabang was nothing short of delightful, and Paan was a fantastic guide and host. The Mekong cruise to her village and to the Buddha caves was stunning. One of the biggest highlights of this trip was helping cook Paan’s family dinner at her house. Her family was nothing short of amazing in welcoming us—the food was delicious and the rice whiskey was fantastic. The dinner really got interesting after that! Paan was so kind and generous and gave us two embroidered small weaves for our anniversary. We really liked Cambodia too. Our great guide through Angkor Wat kept us away from all the tourists, and his knowledge was astonishing. Both my husband and I went to the monastery on the hill before sunrise with the monks and Khana. We had a private blessing from the monks and a breakfast outside the temple as the sun was rising. An unforgettable experience.” —Sandy and Art Collins
“My husband is passionate about plants, so Jonathan arranged an excellent private tour for him in the Burren…”
“Our priorities in Ireland were a two-hour hike each day (which meant more countryside than cities) and to be based at each hotel for at least three to four days and make day trips. Jonathan planned a wonderful trip. My husband is passionate about plants, so Jonathan arranged an excellent private tour for him in the Burren. We both loved a private demonstration of sheep herding with border collies. The hotels were top-notch, especially Ballynahinch Castle, in Connemara, and Gregans Castle, in the Burren. But most important for us was Will, our driver-guide, who was very knowledgeable and extremely flexible, so that our itinerary was revised several times as we thought of additional things we wanted to do. We had a fabulous trip to Inisheer, one of the smaller, less touristy Aran Islands. We hiked to our heart’s content, then had lunch on picnic tables in front of a house where a woman was cooking lobsters and crab claws in her kitchen. We visited a donkey sanctuary after I fell in love in with two rescue donkeys that the owner of Gregans Castle had from that sanctuary. And we had edifying conversations with Will about everything under the sun.” —Muki Fairchild
“Since my son is a guitar enthusiast, Pablo arranged for a Spanish guitar lesson and also got him into a special Flamenco show…”
“I used Pablo to arrange a celebration trip to Spain—Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid—for my son and his wife for their 2nd wedding anniversary. One of their interests was to try different exclusive restaurants and wineries, and Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants. He arranged tours of boutique-style wineries, including a special wine-tour bike ride in Barcelona. Since my son is a guitar enthusiast, Pablo arranged for a Spanish guitar lesson and also got him into a special Flamenco show. Pablo had the ability to secure unique, private, and culturally enriching activities, allowing my son and daughter-in-law to experience Spanish cuisine and culture in a way that I am sure would not have been possible otherwise.” —Jeffrey Bernfield
“Scott obtained tickets for an evening baseball game of the home-town favorite Tokyo Giants vs. the Hanshin Tigers, and also arranged a visit to a Sumo stable…”
“Scott arranged every precise detail of our two weeks in Japan; so that we enjoyed a unique trip filled with cultural insights and experiences of day-to-day life. In Tokyo we visited the food market, rode the subways, explored department stores, and went to sporting events. Scott obtained tickets for an evening baseball game of the home-town favorite Tokyo Giants vs. the Hanshin Tigers, and also arranged a visit to a Sumo stable, where we saw the wrestlers up close as they practiced. In Kyoto we met privately with a monk who showed us meditation techniques in a Buddhist Temple, and we toured ceramics studios with a well-known expert in the field. But what made this trip most special was our private English-speaking guide, whom Scott hand-picked for us. She was the most experienced and professional guide we have ever had, and we saw Japan through her lovely, smiling eyes!” —Kathy Drew
We’re Here to Help
Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes.