Tag Archives: Nepal

Pool at Kura Design Villas Cost Rica

These Trips of a Lifetime Are Better if You Book Last Minute

The most extraordinary trips usually require a fair amount of planning. But there are a few destinations where, right now, even a top-of-the-line trip can be planned on the spur of the moment—and should be. Here’s where and why.

Costa Rica

Honeymooners are steering clear of Costa Rica right now—the best resorts, which are typically full, are running at 60 to 70 percent capacity—and the Zika virus could be to blame. If you’re of a reproductive mindset, sure, it’s wise to stay away (Zika is a major concern only for women who are or hope to soon become pregnant). But if not, now is a great time to visit Costa Rica. This summer, top properties such as Finca Rosa Blanca Resort, Hacienda AltaGracia, Kura Design Villas, Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort, and Lapa Rios Eco Lodge are offering discounts to entice travelers, but Michael believes the biggest value is in the extra-special service that you’re sure to receive when a hotel’s staff has fewer guests to care for: A naturalist might take some extra time to find that elusive bird species with you, a restaurant might surprise you with a private dining experience for free, or the front desk clerk might upgrade you to a suite if one would otherwise sit empty. (These things are certainly likely to happen for WendyPerrin.com travelers who use a recommended expert off of Wendy’s WOW List.)

ecuador with snowy mountain, green meadow, and sheep grazing

Ecuador’s mainland is seeing fewer visitors than usual—which means now is the perfect time to visit. Photo: Southwind Adventures


An April earthquake and fears of Zika virus have scared some travelers away from Ecuador. But the major tourist areas of Quito, Cuenca, and the Galapagos have seen little effect from either scourge: The quake’s area of damage was confined to the coast, and as for Zika, mosquitos don’t live in the Andean highlands and are unlikely to carry the virus in the Galapagos (due to the same strict environmental controls that have made the islands malaria-free). Tom Damon, Trusted Travel Expert for Ecuador, tells us that, while you’re unlikely to find space on a last-minute Galapagos cruise (travelers book these far in advance, and few have cancelled), the mainland is seeing fewer visitors than usual—and there’s so much there to see, from highland haciendas to rainforest ecolodges, craft villages to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ecuador’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and the government will have to do much rebuilding along the coast. This is why Quito’s mayor, Mauricio Rodas, has said: “The best way to help Ecuador is to visit Ecuador.” Go now, and you’ll be greeted by grateful citizens eager to make yours the trip of a lifetime.

Monk and flowers, Nepal.

Monk and Flowers, Nepal. Photo Courtesy Toni Neubauer


“Because of the earthquake in April 2015, tourism is still quite slow in Nepal, so if you have a last-minute desire to see or trek the Himalayas, now is definitely the time to go,” says Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal. Infrastructure, hotels, and trekking routes are all largely functioning as they were before the quake—and you won’t run into hordes of hikers on the most popular trails, as would have happened in the past. Surprisingly, hotel rates have gone up as concrete, food, and other supplies are having to get shipped in from other countries (many farmers missed the planting season last year). But remember that your tourist dollars are desperately needed: “A good portion of the population is still struggling to rebuild. When you come to Nepal, know that you are giving back to the country just by being there,” says Antonia. While summer is the monsoon season, fall is prime for trekking, biking, and festival-going.


It’s not at all unheard of for China to revoke permits that have already been granted to travelers headed to Tibet. “The Chinese government can close travel to Tibet at any time,” says Sanjay Saxena, Trusted Travel Expert for Tibet, “which means that it’s difficult to plan a trip for next year. However, our ears in the tourism ministry forewarn us a few weeks in advance if a closure is expected, so with a last-minute booking I can with great certainty determine whether or not we will be able to get a permit.” The overland journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu, Nepal, is one of Sanjay’s favorite travel experiences, but after last year’s earthquake, this border crossing was closed and all such trips had to be cancelled. Sanjay has just gotten word that it will be reopened in June, making this iconic journey through two Himalayan kingdoms possible once again.


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.

Grace Family Foundation relief work team

Just Back from Nepal: The 5 Things You Need to Know

Sanjay Saxena, founder of Destination Himalaya and a Trusted Travel Expert for Asia on Wendy’s WOW List, is just back from Nepal, where he went right after the April 25 earthquake to help with relief efforts. He’s going back in June, leading a multi-generational family tour. Meanwhile, here’s his report from the field:

  1. Kathmandu, Nepal, is open and ready for travelers

Saxena was relieved to see that the city has not been leveled—as he’d been led to believe by initial media reports. Life is returning to some semblance of normalcy, with shops and restaurants open for business. All of the tourist hotels remain open. Saxena even felt totally safe spending a night on the fifth floor of the Yak & Yeti.

  1. It’s the rural villages that are a disaster.

Eight days after the quake, Saxena delivered 10,000 pounds of rice and chura (a ready-to-eat mixture of rice, lentils, and nuts) to a region five hours outside of Kathmandu that hadn’t yet received any food aid. In these small villages, Saxena discovered, almost all of the houses were destroyed, and those left standing were uninhabitable.

“There is no doubt that Nepal is seeing an overwhelming response from the international community,” says Saxena. “While I walked around Kathmandu and drove in the countryside, I saw the flags of nations from Sri Lanka to the U.S. on supply trucks, temporary housing, and bulldozers. But while the capital city saw a fair amount of quick response, the overall infrastructure in Nepal is completely taxed and outside of medical evacuations, the outlying village areas have seen little to no aid at all.”

Life goes on around the rubble in Nepal

Life goes on around the rubble in Nepal. Photo courtesy Sanjay Saxena.

  1. Here’s where you can and can’t go.

Travelers will not be able to see the World Heritage Sites in Bhaktapur and Patan, as many of these temples and buildings have collapsed. The Shechen Monastery’s main assembly hall suffered some very dramatic cracks, but thankfully the structure held, as hundreds were inside attending a teaching at the time of the quake.

Trekking in the Langtang Himal (a popular area due to its easy access from Kathmandu) will be closed for the near future because of landslides. Trekkers to the Annapurna and Everest regions will certainly see the effects of the earthquake, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to travel there; they’ll still enjoy views of the majestic Himalayan peaks and the company of the wonderful people of Nepal.

Parts of Tibet and India have been affected. Inhabitants of several border towns in Tibet have been evacuated, and the roads closed to all but military relief convoys. Saxena expects the Tibetan Everest Base Camp area to open for travel in the next month, however the overland crossing into Nepal will be closed for the rest of this season, if not longer, due to landslides in the Zangmu gorge. India’s Himalayan border state of Sikkim felt the quake too, but all reports are that no major damage occurred to the infrastructure there.

  1. The quake has shown the true colors of many companies.

Upon arriving in Kathmandu, Saxena received a text message from T-Mobile announcing that all phone calls and data would be free while he was in Nepal. His traveling companions who are customers of other cellular services received no such offer, and several vowed allegiance to T-Mobile as soon as they returned home. Stories abound such as the one of Dolma Dhakhwa, the owner of a small carpet export business, who visited each of his weavers and gave them bags of rice and lentils, plus two months’ advance salary. Less compassionate was the management of Kathmandu’s Hyatt Regency, who forbade locals to sleep on their 35 acres (many Nepalis pitched tents after the first earthquake, doubting the structural integrity of their homes).

Truck-loaded with supplies for Kunchuk Village about 75km NE of Kathmandu

Truck loaded with supplies for Kunchuk Village, about 75km NE of Kathmandu. Photo courtesy Sanjay Saxena.

  1. Nepal needs your help.

Saxena’s travel companion on this trip to Nepal was longtime client Dick Grace of the Grace Family Vineyards Foundation. They focused their efforts on the rural villages and continue to do so now that they’re back home. Along with mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, Destination Himalaya has set up a fund to help rebuild three severely damaged schools in Chyangba. This village of 600 people in the Solukhumbu district is home to most of the Sherpas that Destination Himalaya employs on its Nepal treks, as well as the Sherpas who have summited Everest alongside Breashears.

Saxena and Breashears have pledged to cover all overhead costs themselves and spend 100% of any donations directly on the school rebuilding. Moreover, they intend to design the schools to better withstand earthquakes in the future.

Donations can be sent via the Grace Family Vineyards Foundation and are tax-deductible. Checks should be made out to the Grace Family Vineyards Foundation (write “DH-Nepal Earthquake” in the memo line) and sent to 1210 Rockland Drive, St. Helena CA 94574, or you can donate via credit card on the foundation’s website.

Saxena says it’s important to keep Nepal on your bucket list and show support for the country by traveling there when the time is right again. “Tourism is essential to the economy in Nepal, as it’s the largest employer in the country,” says Saxena. “ I would urge you to keep Nepal on your list of must-see destinations, Having traveled to Nepal numerous times and taken scores of travelers there, the one thing that people always tell me that they remember most is not the dramatic sunrise on Everest or the exquisite details on the Bhaktapur temples, but the wonderful people of this mountain kingdom.

Dudh Kunda (Sacred Milk Lake), Nepal

Nepal Earthquake: News About Traveling in the Region

Tragic news keeps coming in from Nepal. The earthquake’s death toll is now over 5,000, and more than 10,000 have been injured.

Though it’s impossible to plan for natural disasters like this one, there are some helpful precautions travelers can take when journeying to remote regions, and we covered those in an article earlier this week. And while our thoughts are with the immediate relief efforts and the long-term recovery of the region, we also know that many travelers who have trips planned for the future are wondering whether they should cancel or reroute their itineraries.

As always, we recommend the benefits of booking through a knowledgeable and well-connected travel specialist. It’s exactly times like these when you want to work with someone who knows the area intimately, has clout with the locals, has your back, and can provide quick and efficient help in a crisis (whether a natural disaster or a canceled flight).

We’ve turned to our own Trusted Travel Experts who live and work in the region to find out first-hand how travel is affected and what you can expect.

Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China, is based in Beijing and runs WildChina. She reports that “Bhutan has remained completely unaffected structurally by the quake” and reminds travelers that no travel warnings have been issued by the US or UK governments for Bhutan or Tibet. After reaching out to her local regional partners and confirming their safety and well-being, her company has chosen to continue its tours to Tibet and Bhutan, as well as to Lhasa, Yamdrok Lake and Gyantze. However, Tibet’s Everest Base Camp is closed to the public so that it can be used instead for relief missions, and cross-border roads between Tibet and Nepal are also closed.

David Allardice is another of our Trusted Travel Experts for China, and he confirms in a blog post on his company’s website that “Due to the geology of the area Tibet was largely spared and we can confirm that there has been absolutely no impact on Lhasa and its surrounding areas.”

If you were planning a trip to Nepal, Antonia Neubauer, our Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan, asks us to remind readers that Nepal’s largest source of income is tourism. “I would easily see planning a visit in the fall,” she said. “Kathmandu will be cleaned up in part, as much as it ever is. The city always had up to 18 hours of load shedding and water was always an issue, but hotels will have water and electricity. Rural areas and trails will be functional. People should go—a big help to the country.”

Annapurna, Nepal

What To Do in an Emergency: Lessons Travelers Can Learn From the Nepal Earthquake

The earthquake that struck Nepal over the weekend, killing more than 5,000 people and injuring more than 10,000, reminds us that anything can happen anytime anywhere, including in destinations that top many people’s bucket lists. While it’s impossible to be fully prepared when a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or civil unrest disrupts a trip, there are some relatively quick and easy things that a traveler can do to be better prepared for any emergency, especially in remote places:

Before Your Trip

* Enroll in STEP.
Signing up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program makes it easier for the U.S. embassy to send you important information about safety conditions, contact you in an emergency, and help family and friends get in touch with you.

* Rent a satellite phone or satellite messaging device.
“Bringing communications devices with additional batteries is the single most important thing travelers can do and often overlook,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the worldwide provider of emergency medical, security, and crisis response services. When a crisis strikes, cellular networks and electricity often get cut off. You can’t rely on your cell phone, says Richards—and, even if you’ve brought a portable Wi-Fi hot spot with you, it can suffer the same problem as cell phones: limited or no bandwidth. The good news is that satellite communication devices have dropped dramatically in price in recent years. Richards recommends the Iridium GO! satellite text device (an Iridium phone is even better) or Briartek’s Cerberus.

* Book through the right destination specialist.
The Nepal travel specialist on my WOW List of top travel planners, Antonia Neubauer of Myths and Mountains, had guests in Nepal during the quake on Saturday and managed to get them safely onto a Sunday flight to New Delhi. The best destination specialists have access to key people in-country who will take care of you, can contact your relatives back home on your behalf, can intervene on your behalf with your travel insurance provider, etc. If you are on your own in a remote place, it is infinitely more difficult to cope.

* Get a Global Rescue membership.
This is the closest thing I know to ensuring you will be rescued in an emergency.  Since Saturday, when the quake struck, Global Rescue has been providing intelligence to travelers in Nepal and coordinating evacuations to extract people to safety. “Many travel insurance companies really do not do an adequate job with emergency evacuation,” says Neubauer. “Many focus on releases or forms before they will authorize evacuations.”  In fact, some medical evacuation insurance policies do not even cover natural disasters (so it’s important to check before purchasing a policy). But Global Rescue typically performs dozens of helicopter evacuations in the Himalaya alone each year, and it regularly sends critical-care paramedics and special ops personnel around the world to respond to members facing emergencies. A Global Rescue membership also gives you access to the Global Rescue mobile app, which keeps you apprised of local developments.

* Know where the best hospitals are.
Another Asia travel specialist on my WOW List, Sanjay Saxena of Destination Himalaya, points out that it’s important to know which are the best hospitals, not just in the capital city—which could be hours away from where you are when a crisis strikes—but in other cities too. Of course, it’s difficult for an independent traveler to get such information. Saxena has compiled his own list of reliable local hospitals, based on his years of experience working in the region (he’s been working in India since 1977 and in Nepal since 1978)—and that list is always evolving. If you’re not going to book your trip through a stellar destination specialist, it’s even more important to have a Global Rescue membership, or a travel insurance provider, who will know the best hospitals and be willing and able to get you there.

* Pack a medical kit.
Bring a prescription antibiotic and prescription pain reliever that you know work for you, in case you end up needing to be your own doctor. Bring iodine tablets to purify dirty water too, since, in an emergency, bottled water supplies quickly run out. “Water will quickly become one of the most dire issues in Nepal,” warns Saxena.

During Your Trip

* Carry a photocopy of your passport photo page and any visas.
Keep it on your person during the trip, in case the original is back at your hotel (usually the smartest place to keep it) or gets lost in the emergency.

* If you don’t or can’t bring a satellite phone, rent or buy a local mobile phone.
In some countries, including India and China, satellite phones are illegal. Destination Himalaya gives its travelers a local mobile phone pre-programmed with numbers for local staff, hotels, emergency services, etc. “Our in-country and U.S. staff are available 24/7,” says Saxena, “If there is a problem, we typically send a local staff member directly to our clients as soon as we’ve been alerted.”

* Create an emergency contact sheet.
If you plan to rely on your own cell phone, remember that 911 does not work outside the U.S. and Canada. Find out the local emergency numbers for the country you’re in.

* Plot on a paper map where the local embassy, consulate, and best hospitals are. 
In an emergency you won’t want to rely on your smartphone or Google Maps app to get you there; you’ll want to save your battery for calls to loved ones, doctors, etc.

* Follow the right twitter feeds.
Twitter gives you breaking news and can provide potentially life-saving information in an emergency. Follow the U.S. embassy feed in the country you’re visiting (@USEmbassyNepal is distributing advice such as the local phone numbers to call for help), as well as the U.S. State Department’s feed, @travelgov. Such feeds are often the quickest way to find links to the info you’re seeking. The @RedCross and Google’s Crisis Response Team, @GoogleCR, are also worth following, as are the local airport’s feed, which may post updates about airport delays and shutdowns, and the feeds of local hotels, which usually have an emergency action plan and may be offering help or a landline.

* Know that Google offers a person finder.
In natural and humanitarian disasters, Google helps track missing persons.

If You Have a Trip Booked to the Area Soon

* Realize that the geographic area affected is limited.
So often, when a crisis strikes a country, U.S. travelers unnecessarily cancel trips to a huge swath of the world surrounding that country. They avoid regions that have not been affected in the least—which would be like Europeans deciding against a trip to New York because there was an earthquake in San Francisco or a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. The Nepal earthquake is not a reason to cancel a trip to unaffected regions of India or Tibet, says Global Rescue’s Richards. In fact, Saxena of Destination Himalaya is on a plane to Tibet at this very moment. We’ll keep you posted as to what he reports from the ground. He says it’s quite possible that he may even change plans and head to Kathmandu to help efforts there.

Here, our hearts go out to the people of Nepal as they cope with this catastrophe.  “I have traveled many places,” says Neubauer of Myths and Mountains, “but the people of Nepal stand out.  A family in a mud hut with nothing will share their rice with you and give you their mats to sleep on. Sherpas will risk their lives on mountains to save yours. There is a warmth and willingness to take a stranger into their home and heart that exists in few places. Travelers often say they go to Nepal for the mountains, but they return for the people.” Here are some good ways to help those people in their time of need.

The Great Wall of China

Rookie Travel Mistakes to Avoid in Asia

Rookie travel mistakes happen more often than you think. In the excitement of preparing for a long-dreamed about escape or a last-minute getaway, even the savviest of globetrotters can forget the basics. A common one is not thinking about the best time of year (or time of week) to experience a destination; another is failing to allot enough time to visit each point on your itinerary. To be sure you don’t fall into any traps (tourist or otherwise) during your own adventures, we asked our Trusted Travel Experts to weigh in on the most important things to know—and the most common rookie mistakes to avoid—when traveling to China, Japan, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

What would you add? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.


Expecting idyllic white-sand beaches. Bali’s beaches are mostly too rough for swimming (but good for surfing), and the quieter ones have little or no sand. I listen carefully to what every client is looking for in a beach—and tell them if they’re better off in the Caribbean. —Diane Embree, Trusted Travel Expert for Bali

Read Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali


Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan. Photo courtesy Antonia Neubauer.

Not knowing that there is only one east-west road in the entire country, meaning that every tourist (and there are many, despite what anyone else says) who is not trekking is driving back and forth along that same road. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Bhutan and Nepal

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Bhutan


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo courtesy Molly Fergu

One big rookie mistake that travelers make is assuming you’ll ride through the jungle on an elephant and “discover” Angkor Wat! It’s best to be realistic that this is a major international destination and plan accordingly. You can avoid the crowds and have a more special experience if you get an early start and begin at the back entrance to Angkor Wat, or visit lesser-known temples. If you head in unprepared, you’ll be in the middle of packs of tourists and you won’t really get to see anything. —Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to Angkor Wat and Cambodia


Dragonback Rice Terraces, Guangxi, China

Dragonback rice terraces, Guangxi Province. Photo courtesy Lian Lodge.

Seeing only the famous sites, such as the Great Wall and the Terra-cotta Warriors. China has so much to offer, and major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are only a slice of the entire country—and an overdeveloped, crowded, and sprawling one at that. I urge you to spend from five days to a week focusing on a lesser-known province, such as Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, or Guangxi. Visit some smaller villages, enjoy the beauty of terraced rice fields, and get away from the most popular places and the wonderful diversity of the culture will come to life. —Mei Zhang, Trusted Travel Expert for China

Read Mei’s Insider’s Guides to China’s Big Cities and Small Villages, Yunnan Province, and Beijing

Cruising in Asia

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar.

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar. Photo courtesy the Cruise Professionals.

A rookie mistake is planning to board the ship the same day you fly into port. You’ve probably booked an Asia cruise because you want to pack a lot of destinations into a single trip—so why waste your time and money spending the first few days of your itinerary jet-lagged? Even if the ship spends the first night in its departure port, arrive a few days early so that you can properly acclimate (and not risk missing the ship due to airline or weather delays; Hong Kong in particular can get fogged in). —Mary Jean Tully, Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises

Read Mary Jean’s Insider’s Guide to Asia Cruises

India: Agra

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India. Courtesy Sanjay Saxena

A rookie mistake is forgetting to buy tickets to the Taj Mahal in advance. Tickets are not sold at the entrance: The ticket office is actually located in the East Gate parking lot about a mile from the monument entrance. Tickets to the Taj may also be purchased at any of the other monuments in Agra—but be sure that the date stamp is for the day that you will be visiting or is an open-ended ticket. —Sanjay Saxena, Trusted Travel Expert for India

Read Sanjay’s Insider’s Guides to Delhi and Agra and the Taj Mahal

India: Rajasthan

Amanbagh, India

Amanbagh, India. Photo courtesy Amanbagh

Travelers to India—and especially to Rajasthan—love to shop for fine jewelry because the prices are so good, but you need to go somewhere reputable, otherwise you may be sold glass instead of diamonds. (One of our favorite shops is the Gem Palace in Jaipur.) —Bertie and Victoria Dyer, Trusted Travel Experts for India

Read Bertie and Victoria’s Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan


Monk and flowers, Nepal.

Monk and Flowers, Nepal. Photo Courtesy Toni Neubauer

Not paying attention to altitude gain when trekking! People like to believe they are immortal and want to rush up mountains, but they need to study the rules for altitude acclimatization and follow them carefully. Altitude sickness is no joke. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Nepal

Sri Lanka

Sunset in Tangalle

Sunset on a beach in Tangalle.

Sri Lanka looks small on a map, but it can take hours to get from place to place, and there are definite no-nos. For instance, don’t try to travel from Kandy to Yala National Park in one day, or from the Cultural Triangle to the beaches of Tangalle, or from Jaffna to Colombo. On the map (and on Google Maps), distances and approximate travel times are misleading. Sri Lanka offers great diversity and looks like you can tick all the boxes in one week—you can’t. If you want to speed things up a little, try flying on certain segments. Two local operators offer scheduled flights around the country: Cinnamon Air and Helitours. —Miguel Cunat, Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka

Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka


Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Visiting Bangkok first. This sprawling metropolis of some 18 million people can be overwhelming, so I don’t recommend it for your first encounter with Thailand. It’s much more enjoyable to recover from jet lag someplace relaxing and traditionally Thai, such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Sukhothai. By traveling upcountry (or to the beach) first, you’ll experience traditional Thai culture, have time to acclimate to the time zone, and appreciate Bangkok much more when you visit it at the end of your trip. —Sandy Ferguson, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Sandy’s Insider’s Guides to Bangkok, Southeast Asia, and Thailand

Uzbekistan and The Silk Road

Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand. Photo courtesy Zulya Rajabova.

Some travelers opt to fly from one Silk Road city to another, and there is a high-speed train from Tashkent to Samarkand, but travel by car is most rewarding. There are many cultural, architectural, and archaeological treasures to find outside the main cities, as well as rural villages to visit, the ancient towns of Jizzakh Province, local bazaars, and amazing photo opportunities. —Zulya Rajabova, Trusted Travel Expert for Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

Read Zulya’s Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan


Do you have tips on avoiding rookie mistakes? Share your advice in the comments.