Tag Archives: Madrid

Two travelers at Darling Harbour Pyrmont Bridge in Sydney, Australia

Make the Most of Your Kid Studying Abroad

With more and more students spending a semester studying abroad, we’re seeing more and more families travel to visit them. I’m just back from visiting my son Charlie in Australia, and many of you are arranging ever cooler trips to meet up with your own favorite undergrad, everywhere from Copenhagen to Botswana. So I thought I’d share some hard-earned wisdom:

  • When you reunite with your child in their foreign homebase, they won’t have jet lag, but you will. For our Australia trip, we knew Charlie would run us ragged playing tour guide. That meant we needed to get over jet lag before joining him in Sydney. So we opted to start our trip by recovering from jet lag first, at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. As it turned out, half of the people we met on Lizard Island were parents from the U.S. who had just been in Sydney visiting their student!  (And many wished they’d eased in at Lizard Island first.)
Wendy's son and other people studying at State Library in New South Wales.

Charlie studying in the grand State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Wendy Perrin

    • Consider Thanksgiving or spring break. Of course you’ll want to visit when your college student has free time and doesn’t have exams. But if you’re bringing other children who are on a U.S. school schedule, your best timing during the fall semester is likely to be Thanksgiving, and your best timing during the spring semester is likely to be spring break. Such timing works well in many popular Study Abroad cities, such as Barcelona and Florence: Prices are lower and tourist crowds fewer than in peak season (Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Europe).
    • Make advance reservations. Many college students today have a last-minute lifestyle, which might not work well if you’ve got a group of people. Let your student show you their adopted city through their eyes, but if they’re not accustomed to planning activities and meals for a group, consider using the right local itinerary-planning expert who can cater to the special interests of each family member, optimize your itinerary for the month and days of the week that you’re visiting, and reserve hard-to-get-into restaurants or activities (such as a twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, which Tim and Charlie did, below).
Two travelers climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Charlie and Tim atop Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    • Don’t forget about other nearby countries. The study-abroad kids I know are exploring a different city within their new country almost every weekend. So think about other countries nearby where your student might not travel on their own. I’ve seen parents take a Spain-based student to Morocco, for example, or an Italy-based student to Malta.

There is a vast array of study-abroad programs now, not just for a semester but for January term, “Maymester,” summer, and more. Read on to get ideas for experiences that might resonate with your own family. We’re happy to help you with more ideas if you click the black “Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation” button below.


Spain: “My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona…”

Barcelona - Park Guell, Spain

Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was the easiest, least stressful, most enjoyable trip our family has ever taken. Much of the credit for this goes to Iván. This trip came about because our oldest is spending a semester abroad at the University of Granada. My mom told us about Wendy’s WOW List, and we soon connected with Iván. My wife and I had a one-hour Zoom call with Iván where he asked about our family, what we like to do, where we wanted to go in Spain, and our ‘must-see/do’ list. Within 48 hours, he sent us a detailed itinerary that blew us away. It checked all the boxes we were looking for and then some.

The main cities we visited were Madrid, Granada and Barcelona. Since college, my wife has been fascinated by Gaudi and has always dreamed of seeing his work, so in Barcelona, Iván planned a ‘Gaudi Day,’ so she could get her fill. The day included visits to Park Güell, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia.

Some of our favorite activities during the trip were under-the-radar experiences that Iván set up for us. My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona where she created a tile mosaic of an octopus in the style of Gaudi.

My favorite was the photography workshop we did in Granada. It was run by a couple with a studio and darkroom in one of the cave houses in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada. The workshop focused on wet plate photography, one of the oldest types of photography. They took a photo of our daughters to show us how the process works and then let the kids take and develop a few photos, which are now proudly displayed in our dining room. They were such a lovely couple, and we could have spent many more hours with them. It was truly a special trip.” —Alex Kovac

Read more reviews of Spain trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


New Zealand: “We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub…”

The Hancock family on top of a glacier in New Zealand's South Island.

The Hancock family explored New Zealand’s South Island by helicopter, flying past waterfalls, high alpine lakes, river valleys, and sharp mountain peaks before landing on a glacier.

“Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately, and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had.

We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world, and Jean-Michel and his team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

Read more reviews of New Zealand trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Italy: “Our private boat ride on the Arno was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river…”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

View over the Arno river in Florence. Photo: Shutterstock

“I had Maria plan a special family trip for three family members to spend 11 days in Italy in Oct. I had some specific requests to see some things I had not seen before, as I have lived and worked in Italy 30 years ago. Maria from the outset understood my needs and she crafted an amazing trip from the start (a private transfer from Malpensa to lunch at Villa D Este & on to Bellagio on Lake Como) to finish…High-speed train back to Milan to catch our flight home. Everything was seamless and very special.

All of the hotels were perfect for us, and Maria pulled off the virtually impossible: finding a lovely quiet room overlooking a piazza without crazy noise and in the shadow of important Renaissance architecture. She also mentioned the rooftop pool and bar at the Minerva in Florence, where we had drinks each night in the soft evening light, with gorgeous views of the Duomo.  Her private excursions to the Factory floor of Lamborghini, to lunches at small wineries run by families who have been there for centuries… it was all beyond terrific. Our private boat ride on the Arno at night was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river in the evening. This is the edge Maria offers, access and know-how that only a seasoned specialist can uncover for their clients.

I can’t thank Wendy enough for linking me up with Maria, we enjoyed every day of our trip and we will certainly reach out to her again to plan some more special moments in other spots in one of my most favorite countries on earth, that I have visited more than 20 times!  Mille Grazie Maria and team!!!  —Mary Munn

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Australia: “A private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!)”

Karri Schildmeyer and her family during their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family on their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour.

“We cannot imagine our trip to Australia going any better than it did, simply because we learned about Wendy Perrin’s company from a dear friend, and their connection to Stuart and Jacki. We spent two weeks visiting our daughter, who was studying abroad in Sydney. Our trip began in Sydney, where we spent the first five days learning about the city, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hugely enjoying a private tour of the Sydney Opera House and our e-bike tour of Manly Beach. Then we ventured outside Brisbane to Lockyer Valley and the quiet, peaceful Spicers Hidden Vale. How fun to chat with the kangaroos outside our cabins! This retreat was perfectly quaint, with incredible views, meals and service.

After three days in the Valley, we flew to Cairns to spend three days at the Niramaya Villas & Spa. This leg of our trip was the most tropical, as we experienced an amazing day on the water snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and an afternoon at Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas was an incredible seaside town with fantastic restaurants and a must-see sunset at the Marina.

We flew back to Sydney for a private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!) and headed stateside after our two-week adventures in beautiful, friendly Australia. This vacation exceeded every expectation and will undoubtedly be remembered in our family as a trip-of-a-lifetime.” —Karri Schildmeyer

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Copenhagen: “We had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us…”

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner's local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cari Bender and her family with their local hosts in Copenhagen.

“We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads helped us plan a lovely vacation where we got to explore all over the area. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs, and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming.

The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us—they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special.” —Cari Bender

Read more reviews of Denmark trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


African safari: “We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife…and have a shared album of over 1,000 pictures…”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

“Thanks to Julian for arranging an absolutely fabulous trip to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Cape Town during March 2024. We had travelers on different itineraries from the USA and needed to connect with my daughter in Gaborone, which complicated our agenda, and they all met up as planned. I appreciated the extra help with arranging an additional tour in Maun while we waited for our last friend. After the tour, we were the first guests at the Great Plains lounge, which just opened that day, while we waited until our departing flight to the Delta. We were met and escorted exactly as expected and did not encounter any snags along the way—relatively amazing, given we were on a total of 14 flights in the two weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed each of the three camps in the Okavango Delta. The accommodations, service, food and animal experiences were so beyond our expectations at all three that we couldn’t pick out our favorite and wished we had another night at least to spend at all of them. We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife—lions, elephants wild dogs and more—and have a shared album of over 1000 pictures :) In Zimbabwe, the Old Drift Lodge was also very nice, and Victoria Falls is spectacular. We had animals close to our tents in each of the camps, which was amazing—elephants, baboons, hippos and others. Each of the camps had great views of wildlife from the tents and common areas.

Our guide in Cape Town, Malcolm, was a wealth of information and really helped to show us the city and surrounding areas with a minimum of delay and made sure we had a good amount of time at each stop. We made full use of the Table Bay Hotel’s amenities, surrounding area and attached mall.” —Lori Kirk

Read more reviews of African safari trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



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Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo

The Wonderful Thing the Pandemic Revealed About Madrid

In Madrid, locals were going about their daily lives as normal—going to work, eating at restaurants, and relaxing in parks.
Madrid Spain Parque Madrid Rio with Pablo
Madrid has beautiful parks. Parque Madrid Rio runs along both sides of the Manzanares River and is criss-crossed by many pedestrian bridges, including Dominique Perrault Architecture's spiraling metal Arganzuel Footbridge.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro formal gardens
Retiro Park is the city's backyard; Wander through formal gardens, run along its paths, chill out in the many shaded quads, or take a boat out on the lake.
Madrid Spain Parque de El Retiro glass house
The Glass Palace in Retiro Park was built in 1887.
Madrid Spain tapas at Casa Lucas
The tapas scene is alive and well. It looks a little different these days (you have to order from your table), but the goal is the same: good food and drink with good friends.
Madrid Spain Valor chocolate and porras
Hardest part of my job: testing out churros and chocolate. This is the offering at Valor, which serves my guide Pablo's favorite chocolate. Note that these fried dough sticks are actually porras, which are thicker than churros and smooth all around.
Madrid Spain San Gines chocolate and churros
These are the churros and chocolate at San Ginés.
front door to San Gines chocolate shop in Madrid
The shop has been serving this treat since 1894, and it usually has long lines of people waiting to give it a try.
Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol outdoor scene
Puerta del Sol is a city-center plaza near lots of shopping and food, but it was relaxed rather than mobbed.
Madrid Spain City Hall
The architecture in Madrid is beautiful. This is the city hall (Palacio de Cibeles), which also holds public events and exhibitions.
Madrid Spain National Library
The National Library of Spain is another stunner.
Don't forget to look up every once in a while as you walk through neighborhoods. The small residential buildings are charming too.
Madrid Spain Prado Museum
The Prado Museum had no line. I walked right up to the counter and bought my ticket to enter at the spur of the moment. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, so you can't see it, but the interior was crowd-free too. Other than in the first gallery when everyone enters, I was alone in many of the rooms.
Madrid Spain local market where I got GF bread
I trekked to a local indoor market after one of my tapas waiters told me about a gluten-free bakery I had to try. I got there first thing in the morning just as it opened.
Madrid Spain Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is usually a touristy square, ringed with not-so-great restaurants and filled with visitors and the hawkers trying to sell them stuff. Even this square was refreshingly empty.
Back at my hotel, the Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá, I had windows that opened to a quiet street below.
Madrid Spain hotel breakfast garden Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
I could eat breakfast in a leafy garden each morning.
Madrid Spain rooftop view from hotel Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá
And get fresh air and great views from the rooftop lounge. From left to right, that's the Teatro Real (Royal Theater), Almudena Cathedral, and the Royal Palace.



Do not skip Madrid. The Spanish capital is buzzing, and the buzz is building, not just because of the easing of Covid restrictions—e.g., restaurants and bars are open until 1:00 am, and masks are no longer required outdoors as of June 26—but because this underrated, often overlooked city is on the verge of becoming the new It place. In the post-lockdown quiet of no tourists, you can get to know its people and experience its charms like never before.

I visited about a week after Spain opened to U.S. travelers in June, and this is what I learned:

It’s about the people

Madrid doesn’t have an iconic draw, like Barcelona and its Sagrada Familia. Nor does it have an aura around its name, like Paris. “People don’t have a mental image of what to expect, because we don’t have a monument like the Eiffel Tower,” says my local guide, Pablo, as we explore the city. In fact, he tells me, many visitors have admitted to him that they weren’t sure whether they should come to Madrid at all. “They think it’s just the business capital,” he says. “It is less obvious, it is less right in your face, it’s less monumental than other cities. But travelers who spend two or three days here start to see the way people live, and they understand that this is what makes Madrid special.” Even in my short visit, I can see what Pablo means. Madrid is real. Real people live here, doing real things, being their real selves, going about their real lives whether you’re there or not. It doesn’t feel like the tourist magnet that so many other famous European cities can feel like.

This is a remarkable kind of place to drop into as a traveler. In Madrid, it means there’s no barrier to seeing—and joining in—how residents get around and do their thing. They’re on the same streets as you are. And, especially now, there is no feeling of a tourist bubble in Madrid. One reason is that there are very few tourists. Another reason is that Madrid is Madrid. It is a cool city that doesn’t have an attitude about being cool.

“Madrid is very welcoming to people from everywhere, because it’s a city of people from everywhere, like New York,” Pablo explains. “No one is really from here, so it’s welcoming.” I ask him how a visitor might experience that feeling of welcome, especially if they’re only here for a few days. “You could talk to anyone, and no one would ever make you feel like you couldn’t go anywhere because you weren’t rich enough or local enough. Madrileños have a very welcoming and accepting nature.”

It’s about the food

A surge of four- and five-star hotel openings in the past few years has not only elevated the level of accommodations and service in Madrid—such as the brand-new Four Seasons Madrid and the Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques (a 19th-century palace where I stayed)—but it has helped draw attention to the city’s growing world-class culinary scene.

In addition to David Muñoz’s three-Michelin-star DiverXO, Madrid has four more restaurants with two stars, and another 14 that have earned one star. Of course you don’t have to seek out Michelin distinctions to eat well in Madrid—even the most casual tavernas can turn out a stellar tortilla de patatas (try several so that you can join the local debate of onions vs. no onions).

The tapas process has changed due to Covid, though. You’ll no longer have to elbow your way through a mob to reach the bar, nor will you be able to grab skewered snacks yourself (in most places they’re behind a barrier or not even lined up on the bar at all). Instead, for now, you have to sit down at a table (indoor dining is permitted in Spain), scan a QR code for the menu or look for a chalkboard posted on the wall, and order from a waiter. Although some tourists who’ve read guidebooks may be disappointed by the lack of a tapas-bar mosh pit, in my opinion that attitude misses the point of this tradition. Tapas isn’t a contact sport—it’s a lifestyle. It’s about hanging out with friends over good food and drink in your favorite local places.

And such hanging out is happening. Even on a Tuesday night, I ate my way through several tapas bars where groups of friends, and couples young and old, were enjoying small plates and small glasses of beer (order una caña so you don’t get too tipsy). What’s more, there’s a potential bonus to this new way of doing tapas, if you’re open to it. In my case, it was chatting with my waiter, who taught me a few key phrases so that I could order vegetarian tapas more easily, and who also told me about a gluten-free bakery run by his friend that I visited at a neighborhood market the next day (and where I got to chat with the baker too).

The other aspect of tapas crawls that Covid has changed is the hour they start. During the worst of the pandemic, when restrictions mandated that restaurants close early, they started to open earlier too. So, instead of dining at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, people started eating at 8:00 or 8:30. For now, that seems to be sticking. “Three years ago it would have been crazy to hear someone say they wanted to eat that early, but now it’s sensible,” Pablo says with a laugh. “You can eat early, then go for a drink later.”

Just as we want to go to the places that don’t have their usual long lines right now, so do the locals. So, a longtime Madrid resident who normally would not bother to battle the tourist mob at Chocolatería San Ginés (which has been written up in countless guidebooks for its chocolate and churros) is more inclined to revisit such popular spots now. “There were places I thought I’d never again go back to because of the crowds,” Pablo tells me. “But this is the type of thing that we Madrileños are starting to do more—we are taking advantage of this parentheses in history.” And, with that, he insists that I too take advantage of the lack of tourists at San Ginés—but that I must also sample the chocolate at Valor (his favorite) and report back with my opinion. My favorite kind of assignment.

It’s about the arts

As much as I love all the food and desserts, Madrid’s world-class art scene is worth the visit alone: The Prado is renowned for its collection of Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, and Bosch; the Museo Reina Sofía boasts Picasso’s Guernica along with other masterworks of contemporary art; and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza makes the third “point” of Madrid’s so-called Golden Triangle of art, with its impressive private collection of Western paintings. But there’s so much more: the Biblioteca Nacional de España (which has exhibits of works on paper, like one of illuminated manuscripts that I took in), the Museo de América, and the National Archaeological Museum; plus a slew of smaller galleries and hip cultural centers like the Matadero Madrid, a contemporary-arts hub in a converted slaughterhouse that presents exhibitions, events, and festivals across a wide range of disciplines. And right now is a great time to have these venues to yourself. For instance, there was no line at all to get into the Prado. I was able to walk right up and buy a ticket at the spur of the moment, and although there was an initial congregation of visitors in the first few galleries, I found myself blissfully alone in many of the rooms after that.

Madrid also has a big theater scene that offers Spanish-language versions of popular Broadway musicals and plays, plus a thriving “off Broadway” too. “Theaters were one of the first things to open,” Pablo points out to me, as evidence of how important they are to the lifestyle here. “On a weekend [pre-pandemic], there could be 100 to 140 performances around the city.” Theaters are currently open and operating at limited capacity, and more performances are in the works.

It’s about urban design

Madrid’s art isn’t just inside the buildings. It is the buildings. Take the time to stroll around: Grand palaces and frilly cake-like mansions are everywhere. I recommend a walk along Paseo del Prado toward the elaborate city hall and then down Calle de Alcalá toward Puerta del Sol, where, if you’re so inclined you might stop for a leches merengada ice cream at Palazzo or a cream pastry at La Mallorquina. Even the residential buildings are lined with petite iron-railed balconies that remind me of Paris.

Madrid’s green spaces are just as dramatic. Parque de El Retiro is a sprawling, sculpted green space on the east side, where a crystal palace glitters over a small lake at the top of the hill, and you can take rowboats out on a larger lake nearby. Even on a weekday, the park was alive: I saw a group exercise class, couples of all ages walking hand in hand, plenty of dog owners running their pets, and a surprising number of roller bladers. There are formal gardens and fountains and snack areas, but my favorite features of the park are the many shaded quads, perfect for picnics or just relaxing and reading up on what to do with the rest of your day.

On the west side of the city, there’s Casa de Campo, 16th-century royal hunting grounds that were converted into the city’s largest public park and forest preserve in the 1930s. If the trails, sports fields, and pool don’t provide enough outdoor activity for you, there’s also an amusement park on the grounds.

In between Retiro and Casa de Campo is the Parque Madrid Rio, a more recent addition that transformed the banks of the Manzanares River into a green space for biking, walking, and admiring the many pedestrian bridges that span the small waterway. Don’t miss the super-modern, spiraling-metal Arganzuel Footbridge or the 18th-century Baroque stone Puente de Toledo.

It’s the perfect time

This unusually quiet, post-lockdown moment has created an unexpected side effect: Being in Madrid now, when the city is remarkably free of tourists and when locals are seamlessly getting back to their normal lives, reveals what makes this place awesome. Tourists are going to realize it soon and descend in droves, so get here before it becomes a hot spot.

And give yourself enough days to dive in: Talk to people; stroll the streets; take in as many museums, galleries, theater, and dance performances as you can; and, of course, eat as much as you can too. The right travel fixer can spotlight the coolest experiences, open doors to more Madrileños than you could meet on your own, and connect you with a great local guide. Virginia Irurita, one of Wendy’s recommended travel specialists for Spain, matched me with Pablo, and it was like hanging out with an old friend who totally got me. I might just frame the piece of paper on which he wrote down all his favorite dinner and dessert spots.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could investigate Spain on your behalf, Gran Meliá Palacio de Los Duques provided two nights’ complimentary accommodations, and Virginia Irurita arranged for a half day of private guiding with Pablo.


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pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

The Best Places to Travel in 2020: Where to Go Now and Why

We’ve scoured the globe and selected the most rewarding places in the world to see in 2020. Whether because they’re under-the-radar or up-and-coming, whether because of new cultural attractions, much-anticipated hotel openings, a dining renaissance, or new cruise itineraries, these destinations are in that magical sweet spot: well equipped and ready for discerning travelers, but not yet overrun by tourists. So go on, visit a spot that’s new to you this year, or dig deeper into a place you thought you already knew. Or heck, just find a beautiful beach to tune out and relax on. In our list of Where to Go in 2020, we’ve got inspiration for everyone.

The Amazon: Expand Your Understanding, Support Its Recovery

Aerial view of Anavilhanas National Park Islands, Rio Negro, Brazilian Amazon

The Anavilhanas Archipelago in Brazil’s Amazon is home to wildlife including jaguars and manatees. Photo: Shutterstock

The Amazon’s forest fires have been making headlines for months. Martin Frankenberg, a Brazil specialist on Wendy’s WOW List, wants travelers to understand that they can actually do good for the rainforest by visiting: “The income generated by responsible tourism has the potential to provide an alternative to damaging activities in the region.” Travelers can also visit safely, since “the areas where the fires are burning are quite far from the touristed sections of the rainforest.” They’d be wise to visit soon: “It’s impossible to assure how much this disaster will impact and change the biome. So, the time to experience the forest is now.” Martin and his team are based in Brazil and know how to craft an itinerary that will not only observe the most respect to the Amazon environment but will also help travelers have the most immersive experience.

Start an extraordinary trip to the Amazon

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Brazilian Amazon.

Antarctica: Go now, it could get a lot more crowded soon

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

Antarctica is about to see a lot more ships. Go now before the experience changes. Photo: Abby Suplizio

An unprecedented number of cruise ships destined for Antarctica are being launched. Eight were delivered last year, and almost as many are expected in 2020. The variety of vessels (ranging from 100 to 530 guests and from casual to ultra-luxurious) opens Antarctica up to travelers who might never have considered the journey before, says WOW List expert Ashton Palmer. It also raises questions about how cruise companies will manage the influx of people. “Most ships are members of, and follow the guidelines set, by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators,” says Ashton. “This self-regulated group has guidelines that require no more than 100 passengers are ashore at any given time.” Growth will raise a challenge, though; Ashton predicts ships limiting the number of sites they visit or the number of landings they make each day. “I would recommend people consider visiting sooner rather than later because more ships will mean more competition for landing sites and also potentially more overcrowding.”

Start an extraordinary trip to Antarctica

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises.

Turkey’s Northern Aegean Coast: What the Mediterranean used to be like

dog and cat on charming street in alacati village turkey

Alacati is one of the charming villages to visit when sailing Turkey’s northern Aegean Coast . Photo: Sea Song

“It is still authentic and pristine,” says Karen Fedoko Sefer, a Turkey specialist on the WOW List, “but I do not know how long this will last.” She’s talking about Turkey’s northern Aegean coast, a picturesque stretch of villages, small towns, and historical sites where people are turning their mansions into beautiful boutique hotels, where all of Turkey’s top-notch olive oil and wines are born, where travelers can go hiking and foraging for herbs in the mountains and then cook them with their truly farm-to-table dinner. While much of Europe is seeing worsening tourist crowds, the local people here are trying to preserve this coastline and keep mass tourism out. To experience it respectfully, leave Istanbul and drive along the Marmara Sea. Wind around the Gallipoli Peninsula, to Ayvalik for some olive oil tasting, and then to Junda Island where you can stay in a restored seaside mansion and sail on a private yacht. The next day, take a cooking class in Edremit, where you can pick herbs from the fields for the dinner you’ll prepare. Then it’s on to Urla, for a wine tasting from ancient vines that have been restored and which are now producing world-class pours. A short flight from Izmir will take you back to Istanbul.

Start an extraordinary trip to the Aegean Coast

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Turkey’s Aegean Coast.

South Africa: Safaris are now possible in just one week

Three cheetahs lounging, Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Cheetahs in Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa.

New nonstop flights to the African continent from the United States are a welcome trend for all us exotic-travel lovers who are so time-poor. It started last year when Kenya Airways launched a nonstop between New York’s JFK and Nairobi (see “Kenya: New flights make African safaris easier” in Where To Travel in 2019). This year, there’s even bigger news: United’s introduction of a nonstop route between Newark and Cape Town. It’s been 20 years since there was a nonstop flight from the U.S. to Cape Town, and it will cut flight time down to just 14.5 hours from New York. Travelers no longer need to fritter away valuable vacation hours flying via Europe, or transferring via Johannesburg, in order to access the increasingly exciting food, art, and cultural offerings of Cape Town. Better yet, a safari is now possible even if you’ve got only one week of vacation. You can sample two or three first-rate safari lodges or tented camps, and top that off with a couple of days in Cape Town, all within a 9-day/8-night period (a week plus a weekend). As for the next nonstop to Africa on the horizon, the country to get that will be Morocco. Following Royal Air Maroc’s launch of nonstop service between Miami and Casablanca earlier this year, American Airlines will start flying nonstop from Philadelphia to Casablanca in summer 2020. So both the top and bottom of Africa will soon be that much more accessible. It’s about time.

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Oslo: An architectural boom

exterio rof Munch Museum opening in Oslo 2020

The Munch Museum is opening in Oslo this year, one of several big cultural venues arriving in 2020. Photo: Munch Museum

Art and architecture fans are excited about Oslo this year, thanks to the unveiling of three eye-popping additions to the city’s skyline. “Oslo is getting a makeover,” says Jan Sortland, Wendy’s WOW List specialist for Norway. In the spring (tentatively April), the new Munch Museum will be unveiled. Designed by innovative Spanish architecture firm Estudio Herreros, the building is made from recyclable concrete and steel and will finally give The Scream a permanent home where it can always be on view. The National Museum is also moving into larger digs in 2020. In addition to providing expanded gallery space (conservators will be moving in more than 100,000 pieces before the opening), the sleek gray expanse is focused on creating open and inviting public spaces, including a rooftop terrace, an airy library, and several cultural and performance venues. Oslo’s new National Library will also open in the spring of 2020, opposite the waterfront Opera House. The library will be almost lacy and translucent, with a façade that will glow different colors at night, depending on what activities and events are going on inside. Visitors can of course browse the extensive book collections, but will also be able to take advantage of a movie theater, media workshops, gaming zones, lounges, and a restaurant.

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Panama: Under-the-radar tropical islands

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast has all of the turquoise water and none of the hurricanes. Photo: Costa Travel

Thanks to its rapidly expanding airport hub, Frank-Gehry-designed Biomuseo, and improving tourism infrastructure, Panama has been climbing onto people’s radar for the past few years. While most people know the country for its famous canal, WOW List specialist Pierre Gedeon  is hoping travelers will start paying more attention to its lush rainforests, local traditions, ancient forts, outdoor activities and coffee plantations. What’s more, its coastal islands are home to new luxe resorts that immerse travelers in Panama’s natural environment while also protecting it. A 400-acre, private-island resort off the country’s Pacific coast, Isla Palenque has eight thatch-roofed casitas and one villa constructed out of sustainably sourced local materials. Guests can hike through primary rainforest, snorkel through the Chiriqui National Marine Park, learn about the island’s pre-Columbian cultures via anthropological excursions, or soak in the sun on the island’s seven different beaches. Solar-powered Isla Secas, opened in 2019, is another eco-retreat off the Pacific coast; it’s set on a 14-island archipelago with private casitas. Over on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is where sun seekers will find the Red Frog Beach Island Resort. This is a more classic Caribbean-style resort with villas, lofts, and condominiums, but thanks to its location near the equator, it is outside the hurricane zone. From mid-December through the end of April is Panama’s dry season; to spot humpback whales, visit the Pacific Coast between August and October.

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Negev Desert, Israel: Remote relaxation at a beautiful new resort

turquoise infinity pool looking out over the Negev desert at the Six Senses Shahurte

The Six Senses Shaharut will give travelers an oasis of infinity pools in Israel’s Negev Desert. Photo: Six Senses

Carved out of a cliff in the Arava Valley of the Negev Desert, the Six Senses Shaharut is due to open in the spring of 2020. Until now, travelers’ only high-end desert-oasis option was the Beresheet. The Six Senses will be more remote, with only half the number of rooms (60 suites and pool villas). The difference, says Jonathan Rose, Israel specialist on The WOW List, is that the experience will feel more exclusive and will offer the luxe touches that the Six Senses brand is known for, including its signature spa and hammam treatments. Guests can try overnight camel camping, hiking, rock climbing, safaris, and wine tours, or learn about Six Senses’ local sustainability efforts at its Earth Lab.

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Madrid: An old city gets a new spark

Four Seasons Madrid Spain, exterior

In Madrid, the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental will give their shared neighborhood a little boost. Photo: Four Seasons

With the opening of the Four Seasons and the re-opening of Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid will be turning heads again in 2020, says WOW List Spain specialist Virginia Irurita. As she explains: The area around the hotels, Barrio de las Letras and Puerta del Sol, had long been eschewed by Madrileños for being too touristy but is now undergoing a renaissance, with new shops, restaurants, and pedestrian-friendly streets that will encourage mingling between locals and travelers. Small businesses, artisan shops, galleries, and mom-and-pop cafés and restaurants are also opening in the surrounding neighborhoods, raising Madrid’s profile as a destination for those interested in art, design, and gastronomy.

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Taninthari Region, Myanmar: An untouched time capsule—for now

myaw yit pagoda in dawei measured in Mir Ji Dawei,temple of the Dawei area is located on a small island of the Andaman coast. - Image

Visit the Myaw Yit Pagoda in Dawai, a town in Myanmar’s Taninthari region along the Andaman Sea. Photo: Shutterstock

The Taninthari region in the south of Myanmar remains untouched and charming—a place where visitors (who are few and far between) will find quaint fishing villages, spectacular beaches, fishermen who still dive for pearls, and the semi-nomadic Moken peoples, whose ancient culture is based on the sea. Bordering the Andaman Sea and the Tenasserim Hills, the area’s key towns to explore are Dawei, Myeik and Kawthaung. Travelers can also charter a boat and sail the pristine Mergui Archipelago. Why do this now? “The place is changing,” says Toni Neubauer, a Myanmar specialist on The WOW List. “After a two-year suspension, plans are again underway to build Southeast Asia’s largest deep-sea port and a special economic zone in Dawei, the capital of the region.” This quiet coastline could soon be transformed into a major commercial center.

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Matera, Italy: The new Puglia

Matera, Basilicata, Italy: landscape at sunrise of the old town (sassi di Matera), with the ancient cave houses carved into the tufa rock over the deep ravine

Matera’s sassi, ancient cave dwellings, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: Shutterstock

Puglia has been hot for a few years now. It’s the region of Italy located just across from the Amalfi Coast (it’s in the heel of the boot-shaped country) and, thanks to its reputation for friendly people and charming villages, its popularity has skyrocketed. “When you walk around in the small towns it is very easy and fun to interact with the locals and truly feel part of the local community,” says Andrea Grisdale, one of Wendy’s WOW List specialists for Italy. But for those who are ready to explore an even lesser-known gem of Italy, nearby Matera is where they should be headed. And soon. The town, located in the Basilicata region about an hour from Puglia, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Its pride is the sassi, more than a thousand ancient dwellings and churches carved into the natural rock of the town’s steep limestone ravine. The historic grottoes haven’t always been so appreciated, however. After seeing them in 1950, Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi declared the cave homes decrepit and unsanitary and ordered that all residents be cleared out and moved into new housing projects. As a result, the area was abandoned and devolved into a crime-filled slum. Luckily, within ten years locals were already working to save and rehabilitate their unique historic town, and eventually their efforts paid off. In 1993, UNESCO recognized the sassi for their outstanding universal value, and today, the caves have been transformed into hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, and private homes. “Matera is not the easiest place to reach, which is why it has managed to remain relatively unknown,” Andrea says. “When you are driving toward Matera and it finally comes into view, the first thing that most people tell us comes to mind is that it resembles strongly the way Jerusalem is portrayed in so many movies.”

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Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands: A beloved resort returns

wooden pier reaches from ocean to shore at th Rosewood Little Dix Bay resort in Virgin Gorda

Rosewood Little Dix Bay will reopen in 2020 after a four-year, multi-million-dollar renovation. Image: Rosewood

In 2017, Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, including Virgin Gorda. The quiet and undeveloped island is back in business, and in March, Rosewood’s esteemed Little Dix Bay resort will unveil its multimillion-dollar renovation. The island is known for the Baths, a natural geological formation that is simply beautiful, but it’s also the perfect home base to island-hop to other spots, like Anegada or Jost Van Dyke. Little Dix Bay is set in 500 acres of natural gardens and, if it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s famed for being the eco resort that conservationist Laurance Rockefeller built as his family retreat more than a half century ago.

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Gascony: France’s unsung food mecca

Summer landscape - view of the countryside close to the village of Lavardens, in the historical province Gascony, the region of Occitanie of southwestern France -

Gascony is a culinary destination that isn’t crowded with tourists yet. Photo: Shutterstock

Foodies should head to Gascony sooner rather than later. This agricultural region in the southwest of France doesn’t boast any celebrity chefs, fancy hotel chains, or corporate wineries—and that is exactly its draw. The rich food, roadside distilleries, lively local market towns, and rolling farmland are the stars of this rural area, which remains slower-paced and less trafficked than the beaten paths of its neighbor Bordeaux. A good way to access Gascony’s culinary (and cultural) nooks and crannies is via the scenic Canal a la Garonne, on a canal barge cruise. Much smaller and homier than river ships (and, in some cases, completely private), barges meander slowly through the countryside, stopping frequently to explore villages, sights, and restaurants. Many of the vessels are owned and operated by locals, an arrangement that enables guests to make meaningful—and delicious—connections.

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Tangalle Sri Lanka ocean view with palm trees

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terror Attacks

The past few years have underscored that we’re living in a world where anything can happen anywhere at any time—at hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, at a country music festival in Las Vegas, on a bridge in London, at a celebration on the French Riviera, at a Christmas market in Berlin, in a theater in Paris, at the airport in Istanbul, at a shrine in Bangkok, in a hotel in Mumbai, at a nightclub in Orlando, at a marathon in Boston, in a skyscraper in Manhattan….

The answer is not to stop traveling, or to avoid huge swaths of the globe out of a misperception that your risk is greater there than anyplace else.  The answer is to keep traveling, to make friends around the world, and to be a thoughtful ambassador for your country.

Of course, while your head may agree with me, your gut may be apprehensive. You may be making travel plans—or trying to—and you can’t help but wonder: If I go, what is the risk that I will get caught in a terror incident? How do I minimize that risk? If I can’t minimize it, how do I get over my fear?

I believe the solution is to put your risk in perspective.  Here’s how:

1. Grasp how minuscule the statistical probability is of getting caught in a terror attack abroad.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2014 was 369; compare that number with the 3,043 killed inside the U.S. by terrorism during the same period.  In terms of street crime and gun violence, most of the U.S. cities we live in are statistically more dangerous than the places we visit abroad.   Your risk of being killed in a car crash (one in 19,000), drowning in your bathtub (one in 800,000), or being killed by lightning (one in 10 million) far exceed your risk of dying from terrorism (one in 20 million).

2. Don’t confuse the probability of a terrorist attack with the probability of becoming the victim of a terrorist attack.  

Is it virtually certain that there will be another terrorist attack in Europe in the next 12 months? Yes. Does that translate into a high degree of risk for the individual traveler to Europe? No.

3. Know where the real dangers lie.

When planning a vacation, we tend to worry more about spectacular risks—whether a terrorist attack or an epidemic of norovirus on a cruise ship—than about boring risks like, say, overexposure to the sun, even though one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.  Remember that the single biggest cause of death for Americans traveling overseas is motor vehicle accidents. (Terrorism is #7, after incidents such as suicide and drowning.)

4. Understand the reasons why your fear of a terrorist attack is out of proportion to the risk.

There are psychological reasons why we are more afraid of terrorist attacks than logic would dictate. We’re more afraid of risks that are new and unfamiliar than of those we’ve lived with for a long time (e.g., heart disease, which accounts for one in every four deaths in America each year).  We’re more afraid of risks that kill us in particularly gruesome ways—say, a plane crash, a shark attack, or the Ebola virus—than in mundane ways. We’re less afraid of risks we feel we have some control over, such as skiing and driving, even if it’s only the illusion of control. (Most people think their driving is safer than it actually is. We’re all one text message away from death on the road.)  We’re more afraid of human-made dangers than of those with natural causes, such as solar radiation or earthquakes. We’re more afraid of risks that are highly publicized, especially on television, and those that involve spectacular events. One incident with multiple deaths has a much greater impact than many incidents each involving a single death. That is one reason why we fear plane crashes more than car crashes (even though the latter are far more likely).

5. Don’t focus so much on unlikely risks that you ignore common risks that are far more likely to hurt you.

Frightened people make dangerous choices. As an example, after 9-11, people chose to drive rather than to fly.  As another example, cruisegoers may be so focused on washing their hands frequently in order to avoid norovirus that they forget to reapply their sunscreen.  Or, here’s a personal example: When I was in Istanbul shortly after 9-11, I opted for a small, locally owned hotel in a quiet part of town far from the U.S. Consulate. I figured a Western chain near the main square, or a hotel next to the Consulate, was more likely to be a terrorist target. But every night I kept having to hail a taxi to that small hotel, and the drivers kept getting lost en route–one even got a flat tire and left me on the side of the road—and it was dark on that inconspicuous street in a quiet part of town. My point is: The miles it took to reach my hotel every night raised my risk more than the likelihood of a terrorist attack at a Western chain near the Consulate would have.

6. Appreciate that what’s bothering you is not risk itself but your uncertainty as to the degree of it.

The problem you face as you try to plan a vacation is that you don’t know what your risk is or how safe one country (or concert venue) is versus another. We try to weigh the risk of one destination over another by looking at the historical record of violent incidents there. What’s tricky right now is that we don’t know how relevant the historical record is. Will the future be different than the past?  We don’t know.  Even when you can’t know the degree of risk, though, you can…

7. Lessen those risks you do have some control over.

You can say to yourself: “What is the likelihood of the situation affecting my trip? Pretty tiny.” And you can lessen those risks you do have some control over.  You can drive very carefully on your way to the airport.


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Royal Palace Madrid Spain

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Sometimes you just can’t avoid an airport layover. When you find yourself facing a long one, use it as an opportunity to add a great day trip to your vacation plans. It’s easier than you think to escape the airport for a few hours and get a taste of the cultural capital in which you’ve landed. In this series, we talk to experts in some of the world’s most popular airport hubs to get their suggestions for how to make the most of your time on the ground. For Madrid, we asked the city mavens at Context Travel to whip up a few itineraries for those passing through.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport: Madrid city center is just 12 kilometers from the airport, so you won’t waste too much time in transit when you could be exploring the city or savoring a delicious Madrileno meal. These are your options for getting out and getting back.

Taxi: A taxi to the city center is your most expensive but arguably the most convenient option. It will cost you 30 euros (about $38), which is a flat rate adopted by all official taxi companies. Count on 20 to 25 minutes of travel time, and more during rush hour.

Metro: You can access the city metro from terminals T2 and T4. It runs about every five minutes, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. It’ll take you about 12 minutes to get to the city center (more if you have to switch to a different line). Single-journey tickets are between 4.5 euros and 5 euros  (about $6), depending on your final destination, and they can be purchased in the metro station (www.metromadrid.es/en).

Bus: Airport bus 200 runs from 6:36 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on the bus, cash only, for 5 euros each way. Expect 40 minutes travel time, making this the slowest method of transport.

What to do with your luggage: Lockers are available to rent, in 24-hour intervals, in terminals 1, 2 and 4. Cost varies by locker size (small 4.22 euros, medium 4.82 euros, large 5.42 euros), and additional lockers are available for suitcases, bicycles, guitars, and other large objects.


If You Have a 7-Hour Layover

Taking into account airport security, baggage claim, travel time from and to the airport, and arriving back at the airport two hours before your next international flight, this option gives you approximately four hours in the city.

First-time visitors to Madrid should plan a stroll through the city center and historical district. Start at Puerta del Sol, the heart of the city, with arteries leading to the various barrios. Admire the square’s large city hall building, then make your way toward the Opera House and the Royal Palace, which you can gaze at over coffee on one of the peaceful terraces just behind the Opera House. Zigzag through the narrow streets to the Plaza Mayor, a regal 17th-century square lined with shops and cafés. If you still have energy, keep walking into the Huertas district and you’ll come to Plaza Santa Ana, where you can enjoy a beer and some basic tapas at one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts, La Cerveceria Alemana (Plaza Santa Ana 6; +34-91-429-7033, www.cerveceriaalemana.com/). If you prefer a guided walk instead, Context Travel offers an introductory historical walking tour in this area, Madrid Through the Centuries, led by a local scholar. Got kids in tow? Context has a special version of this tour just for families.


If You Have a 9-Hour Layover

Madrid is home to some of the best museums in the world. Spend your on-the-ground time surrounded by the creative genius of Velazquez, Titian, and Goya at the Museo del Prado (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23; +34-91-330-2800; www.museodelprado.es/en), or pay homage to Spanish history at Picasso’s monumental tableau Guernica at the Reina Sofia (Calle Santa Isabel, 52; +34-91-774-1000; www.museoreinasofia.es/en), which houses countless other modern masterpieces as well. Afterward meander through nearby 350-acre Buen Retiro Park. Finish your foray with a little window shopping in either the elegant Salamanca district or up-and-coming trendy Chueca before saying adios to Madrid and heading back to the airport.

How about a massage? High-end Spanish spa chain Elysium Travel Spa has an outpost in terminal 4 (+34-91-746-6280). The airport also has VIP Air Lounges, where you can shower (towel, slippers, and shower gel included), eat, watch TV, use Wi-Fi, and flip through newspapers and magazines (prices start at 25 euros). If you didn’t get any sleep on the plane, check out Air Rooms, which can be rented overnight or for three- or six-hour periods during the day (Terminal 4; +34-93-375-8600; www.premium-traveller.com/en).

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.