Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We just returned from a wonderfully diverse trip arranged by Tom Damon. We traveled via Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, with a cruise from Ushuaia toward Cape Horn, and plenty of hiking and glacier viewing through the Beagle Channel and Straits of Magellan, followed by five fabulous days/nights hiking in the stunning Torres del Paine national park (Chilean Patagonia), and finally a blissful period for relaxing at the end in the Colchagua Valley (Chile’s Napa Valley equivalent). Tom listened to what our goals for the trip were and implemented them expertly, securing the best rooms in the best lodging in each location. He is very detail oriented and as a result our trip was effectuated nearly flawlessly, which is quite a feat in such remote locations.

Highlights were our stays at Explora Torres del Paine and the all-inclusive recommended by Tom at the incredible Clos Apalta Residences and winery. Rather than leaving us on our own to navigate flights, Tom connected us with the flight consolidator he works with, which was brilliant as for a modest fee, the consolidator monitored changes in our flights (of which there were a number) and covered us on alternates, in a way that saved me the stress of booking and rebooking our air.

Tom is very knowledgeable about the areas of Argentina and Chile we visited (offered us the best lodging options and some excellent restaurant recommendations) and he works with very good quality local providers in each country. Ours was a logistically challenging trip, but Tom organized it so it ran smoothly and was a real pleasure for us. I highly recommend Tom and would use his services again for any travel to South or Central America.

John Strachan | September 25, 2023

My wife, kids (10 and 12 years old) and I had a fantastic trip to Peru, hiking four days on the Inca trail, visiting Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Paracas. Wendy put us in touch Tom Damon, who created a great itinerary, got us lined up with superb guides, and made it so that all went seamlessly.

Everything about the trip was wonderful. We divided it in two parts. First we did the Cusco/Machu Picchu region for about ten days, then we went to the Paracas Desert/coast for about five days. Our thinking, which turned out to be wrong, was that the adults would thrill to the hiking and Inca portion of the trip, and the Paracas portion would be the reward for the kids. In fact, we all enjoyed the whole trip, but the Inca portion was what we will all forever remember.

We did so much and saw so much, that I cannot describe it in great detail, but in general, we were blown away by all that we learned about and saw of the Inca civilization. Their growth and all they accomplished in only a hundred years still has me dumbfounded. Visiting the Sacred Valley, which is in the Cusco region, was a great way to start. We saw a number of Inca ruins, and learned a great deal from our guide Ronny. The Inca architecture, engineering, farming, food storage, religion, social systems, political systems, communication systems, and on and on…. Every bit of it was jaw-dropping and fascinating.

But for me, what heightened the impact was four days hiking and camping on the Inca trail. Akin to taking a Nile cruise to see sights that would otherwise be inaccessible, hiking from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu gave us the chance to see not just individual, hard-to-access sites, but even better, to see the connections between them all and get a sense of how the Incas knit it all together—areas with different climates, environments, agriculture, foods, etc. Walking the centuries-old trail and encountering still-standing aqueducts, temples, waystations, and granaries along the way had a profound impact that I do not think would have hit us had we only hopped from site to site by train or car.

The trail itself was a good challenge but there was never a moment when any of us—kids or adults—thought we’d taken on too much. The kids did great, even up at 14,000ft, laughing and having fun the whole way, even if they won’t admit it. Law requires hikers to have a guide and porters, and our team was superb. It wasn’t glamping by any stretch—the food was good but simple, and we slept on mats on the ground in regular tents—but the porters did all the work. They set up and broke down camp, carried 95% of what needed to be carried, brought us hot beverages in the morning. And then as we huffed and puffed up the trail during the day, they literally ran past us up or down steep inclines (some of them in open-toed sandals!), as if it were a walk in the park.

(The packing list Tom Damon provided was spot-on. We skipped bringing rain pants because we went during the dry season, but all his other recommendations were perfect.)

Aside from the Inca ruins we saw along the way, the natural beauty was almost overwhelming. Every step through the Andes was breathtaking. Any vantage point on the trail whether verdant or dry could almost move you to tears, it was so gorgeous.

When we got to Machu Picchu late the fourth day…, what a reward. Everyone has seen pictures, but to pass through the Gateway of the Sun and see the complex surrounded, even dwarfed, by the dramatic topography around it, well, it leaves me without words just thinking about it.

All the hotels in Cusco/Machu Picchu were excellent. We loved every one of them. But the star of the hotels was the Inkaterra Machu Picchu hotel. I’ll never forget that first hot shower, that sumptuous meal, or the comfort of that bed after four days on the trail. (I don’t know what it is, but we’ve found that hotels in Ecuador and Peru have the comfiest beds in the world—even in little $20/night places we’ve stayed in little mountain towns.) This hotel is unique in the village of Machu Picchu—formerly Aguas Calientes—in that it has beautiful, secluded grounds to roam, whereas most other hotels are pretty tightly packed together.

During the whole trip, the staff was 100% there to help and make sure all went well. For example, I would have expected the drivers to simply do their job and drive, but they went the extra step. They knew all the roads and shortcuts, but also made sure we were comfortable, well fed, and had snacks and water. Whenever we stopped and got out, each of our drivers kept an eye on the kids to make sure they didn’t head in the wrong direction or get swarmed by street vendors. If one of the kids got bored or tired, they were there to take the child back to the bus to rest. And all of it with kindness.

All the places Ronny took us for lunch were delicious, and we had the chance to try foods we never had tasted before such as beef heart and alpaca meat—both as delicious as could be. Don’t knock it till you try it! One day for lunch in Cusco, when the kids were beat and we were looking for something casual and easy, Ronny—who is from Cusco—took us off-itinerary to his favorite hole-in-the-wall roasted chicken joint, which was as memorable and tasty as any meal we had.

I could write about that Inca part of the trip for days, and I am all charged up now just thinking about the memories. My mind and heart are overflowing.

At any other time, the rest of our trip would have shined more brightly, but honestly, it pales in comparison with Machu Picchu. We had fun in the desert/beach region of Paracas, and saw some some cool stuff—penguins, flamingos, sea lions, cormorants in the wild—and we ate well (I love tacu-tacu), but hey, we had just hiked the freaking Inca trail! Of this part of the trip, the big highlight was the stunning Huacachina oasis and the roller-coaster-like dune buggy ride around its environs. Big fun.

Big thanks to Wendy and team, our TTE Tom Damon, our guide Ronny, and all the on-the-ground staff who blew our minds.

Tom worked with my wife and I for over a year to organize the best trip possible based on some of our special needs and desires. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and was able to provide extraordinary detail and service during the long planning sessions. Our goal was to go to Patagonia in Chile, without rushing around all over the place, guided privately, and have a pampered feeling with good food and accommodations. He actually listened to our requests and followed through with them! Tom truly excelled in this regard. He set us up to spend the entire trip in or next to Torres del Paine National Park. Our first week was spent in an Awasi villa with an incredible view of the tower side of the Massif. Awasi was a terrific place that proved that it REALLY cares about its clients. My wife and I are wildlife and landscape photographers and Tom arranged for us to have a photographer and nature lover for our private guide for the entire week at Awasi. Awesome. For the second week he set us up in a great room at Explora Salto Chico with an even more stunning view of the Massif — horns side. Explora was just OK but the amazing view made up for some of the negative aspects of the hotel. We will never forget that view! While there was some dysfunction in the airline travel (no fault of Tom’s), Tom was with us all the way making sure we were clear about our options. We have traveled to many places (this was our 4th WOW person trip) and I feel that no one could have done a more efficient job at getting us to a hard place to reach like Patagonia, Chile. Kudos all around to Tom Damon. We would not hesitate to benefit from his expertise again. WOW!

Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile.

Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile. Photo: Barbara Schoenfeld

Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience. He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly. And, I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). We have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon — particularly the smudge where the U.S. Apollo 11 landed.

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