Tag Archives: outdoors

aerial view of Masada Israel

What the Right Local Fixer Can Do For You in Israel (or Anywhere)

It had been 20 years since my last trip to Israel, and all I remembered were overcrowded sights and frustrating logistics: wall-to-wall tour groups on the Via Dolorosa, endless lines snaking through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hours of rigmarole just trying to rent a car with collision-damage coverage for the areas we wanted to drive in ….

This time my experience of Israel was the polar opposite. That’s because, this time, I had the right local fixer.  As you know, I created my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts specifically to point you to such fixers in locations worldwide.  And so, for my family trip to Israel, I turned to Joe Yudin, the Israel specialist on my WOW List.   As you read below about how Joe saved us from lines and tourist traps, and opened doors that are normally closed to the public, please keep in mind two important things:  First, I wasn’t getting special treatment.  He’s done the same thing for many travelers, as you’ll see by reading Joe’s reviews.  Second, the other destination specialists on The WOW List do the same thing in their different destinations.  Wherever in the world you’re headed, here are eight ways a WOW Lister can make the magic happen:

They are your insurance against bad weather.

Tel Maresha archaeological dig

On a rainy day you can dig up ancient artifacts underground at Tel Maresha. At left, in gray, is archaeologist Asaf Stern of Archaeological Seminars Institute. At right, in red, is Joe Yudin of Touring Israel. Photo: Timothy Baker

I chose to take my family to Israel during the kids’ February school break because February is Israel’s low season. That means fewer crowds and lower prices, but it can also mean the possibility of torrential rains. Although it did rain in Israel while we were there, we never saw one drop, and that’s because Joe has the flexibility and connections to nimbly alter itineraries based on the weather or other surprises. When it was raining in the north, we headed south for sandboarding in the Negev Desert and scuba diving with dolphins in the Red Sea. When the rain was over, we headed north to the green vineyards of the Golan Heights.  Joe can also move things around so that, if it does start to rain where you are, you can either hit the indoor must-sees (say, view the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum, or go to the Ayalon Institute—a secret 1940s ammunition factory, built beneath a kibbutz to fool the authorities at the adjacent British army base, that was pivotal to winning the Independence War in 1948) or you can do below-ground activities (say, explore Hezekiah’s Tunnel beneath the City of David, or dig for artifacts from the Hellenistic period at the archaeological excavation at Tel Maresha, pictured above).


Caesarea sunset israel

When the weather cleared, we hit the ancient Roman port of Caesarea. Photo: Timothy Baker

They put you in the right place on the right day.

Makhtesh Ramon Israel

When we landed in Israel on a Saturday, we headed to Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert.. Adam Sela (on the ground) is a desert expert who led our jeep adventure into the makhtesh.  Here, he photographs my 14-year-old who is finding new ways to combat jet lag. Photo: Timothy Baker

Every country has its holidays when things are closed, as well as its best days for hitting the weekly markets and other events. In Israel it’s important to plan around Shabbat (the Sabbath), from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, since that’s when most places are closed or, even if the doors aren’t physically shut, normal operations take a break. If you arrive in Israel on a Saturday, for instance, you might have trouble checking into your hotel room before dark, especially if your hotel is in Jerusalem. Some travelers arriving on a Saturday opt to hit the beach in Tel Aviv and power through their jet lag with fresh air and a swim. We arrived on a Saturday and headed south to the Negev Desert, combating jet lag with sandboarding and a jeep tour of Makhtesh Ramon. (A makhtesh is a crater-like geological landform that is unique to Israel’s Negev Desert and Egypt’s Sinai Desert.)  On our second Saturday in Israel, we went to Masada (since it’s open on Saturdays) and the Dead Sea. Things get more complicated—in terms of where you should be when—during Easter, Passover, Christmas week, and the many other religious and national holidays in Israel. (When planning your itinerary, remember that Sunday is the start of Israel’s work week.)

Makhtesh Ramon Negev Desert israel

When it was raining elsewhere, we went to Makhtesh Ramon. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you past the crowds and lines.

crowd at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Israel

This is what the tour-group crush in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity looks like—in low season!  Photo: Timothy Baker

Israel is jam-packed with tour groups from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Even low season (January/February) is high season for low-budget group tours. When we arrived at Masada early on a February morning, as one example, there were 50 tour buses in the parking lot and at least 300 people in line for the cable car. (Naturally, Joe took us through a different entrance and to the front of the line.)

One of the most crowded sites in the world is the spot that is recognized as the manger where Jesus was born, deep inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.  Just one of the factors that make a visit tricky is that Bethlehem is in an exclusively Palestinian-controlled part of the West Bank where Israelis can’t go, which means you need a Palestinian guide—but one who can make the traffic and bureaucracy at the border checkpoints disappear.  Most travelers get handed from an Israeli guide on one side of the border to a Palestinian guide on the other, but Joe skips all that by using an Arab Christian guide, Daniel Sahwani, who met us on the Israel side, drove us (in a gleaming new white Mercedes van) into the West Bank, showed us everything we wanted to see in and around Bethlehem, then dropped us off back in Jerusalem’s Old City, all in record time.

You also want a guide with the right connections both outside and inside the Church of the Nativity.  When we got to Bethlehem, Daniel artfully managed to park the van in a small V.I.P. lot right at the front door of the Church. He shepherded us past a very long line comprised of umpteen tour groups (according to Daniel, the line was four hours long and, in high season, it can take all day) to the door and staircase that lead to the underground Grotto that is recognized as Jesus’s birthplace. In the photo above, you can see the mad crush at the door to the Grotto.  You can also see Daniel ahead of me (well, the side of his face), near the door, leading my 14-year-old (light brown hair, olive shirt), to his right, through the mob. Down in the Grotto, Daniel made sure we had enough time to photograph the manger. (You’re officially allowed only about two seconds.) Then he led us into the adjacent Church of St. Catherine, the Catholic chapel where Christmas Eve mass is broadcast to television audiences around the world, and showed us other sights in Bethlehem, including edgy Palestinian street art, before zipping us out of the West Bank and back to Jerusalem, all in just a couple of hours. It was like watching a magic act.

Entering West Bank Area A from Israel

This is the border checkpoint you pass through as you drive into the West Bank’s Area A, where Bethlehem is located. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you to each sight at the best moment.

Western Wall at night Jerusalem Israel

The Western Wall is best experienced on a Friday at sundown. We shot this later, as we were leaving after dark. Photo: Timothy Baker

The Western Wall is at its most interesting on Fridays at sundown, the start of the Sabbath. You’ll see young men in dashing suits and Lubavitcher fedoras, old men in long black robes and Lithuanian fur hats, and all manner of other traditional garb and headgear worn by worshippers’ Eastern European ancestors. You’ll see female soldiers joyously singing and dancing in groups, with machine guns strapped around their bodies. You’ll see and hear multifarious small collections of worshippers holding their own services, singing their own songs and dancing in their own circles. Joe made sure we arrived shortly before sundown (which, depending on the time of year, could be any time between 5:00 pm and 8:15 pm).  Using cameras (or any other electronic devices) during the Sabbath is not smiled upon, so Joe also made sure we got to the Western Wall on another day when we could take photos of our kids doing as the locals do—writing their prayers on small slips of paper, wadding up the paper, and cramming it into a crack in the Wall.


Men praying at the Western Wall Jerusalem Israel

Taking photos at the Western Wall during the Sabbath is frowned upon, so go twice: once to see the scene on Friday at sundown, and another time to take photos like this. Photo: Timothy Baker

They know cool new ways to see old places.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

We soared over Masada and the Judean Desert in this powered paraglider. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whether you’re hiking up to Masada—the 2,000-year-old fortress-palace built by King Herod atop a rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea—or ascending by cable car, you can’t see any of the ancient city till you’re on the mountaintop. Most people explore the fortress only at eye level. But, thanks to Joe’s friend Segev Baram, a flight instructor with a powered paraglider, we got to enjoy aerial views too. We each took a turn soaring over Masada and the sites of ancient Roman camps in the desert, and then over to the Dead Sea Canal, dipping downward until we almost skimmed the surface of the waterway. My 14-year-old says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done.

Segev turns out to be a cinematographer too. Somehow he managed to pilot the machine, working the controls like a marionette, while simultaneously filming our entire ride.  To fly over Masada vicariously with us, check out this three-minute video Segev made and sent to my family.  It’s sababa!  (That means awesome.)


They ensure you taste the best local flavors.

Mahane Yehuda Market dried fruit tea vendor

Our tasting tour of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market included this stall that sells “dried fruit tea.” There’s no tea in it. It’s just diced, sweet, intensely aromatic dried fruit that you mix with hot water. Photo: Timothy Baker

I can meander through foreign food markets all day long, losing myself in the scents and colors. But when time is short and markets huge and labyrinthine, a guide who knows everybody in the market—who knows whose Medjool dates are the plumpest and whose tahini is ground the centuries-old way and where to taste which award-winning cheese—can really enhance your experience. And that’s especially true if you’re in one of those markets on a Thursday or Friday during the pre-Shabbat scramble.  That’s why everybody in my family agrees that two of our trip highlights were our private tasting tours of two of the biggest markets: the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. At Mahane Yehuda, when we couldn’t resist buying edible souvenirs to take home, our guide arranged for our purchases to be delivered to us later, so we wouldn’t have to lug our haul from stall to stall.

Carmel Market etrog medicine man shop Israel

Medicinal fruit juices— including those made from the etrog (that bumpy greenish-yellow fruit she’s holding)—are served at the Etrog Medicine Man shop in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

They reduce airport waits and hassles.

Joe’s travelers get airport VIP service, and here’s what that means:  When we landed at Ben-Gurion on a Saturday morning, we were met at the end of the jetway and led on an alternate path to the immigration area.  We were led to a separate VIP desk, to the side of the immigration lines, where we were handed our stamped cards to get into the country.  We exited the immigration area for the luggage carousel at the same moment that the first people off our flight were arriving to queue up at the end of the already long lines.  Back at the airport on Sunday morning eight days later for our flight home, we were met curbside by another VIP agent who enabled us to bypass the standard check-in lanes and escorted us through security to our gate.  We zipped through without a hiccup.  I estimate that this airport VIP service spared us at least an hour each way standing in lines.

Your passport no longer gets stamped when you enter Israel, by the way. At Immigration you are given a small laminated card with your principle details and a stamp on it.  Don’t lose it, since this card gets you the V.A.T. discount when you check into hotels.

They introduce you to interesting people you’d otherwise never meet.

Here I’m with Sarit Zehavi, a security expert and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces, at Israel’s northern border in the Golan Heights. You’re looking at Syria (beyond that light-colored road). Photo: Joe Yudin

What’s a trip to Israel without hearing varied local perspectives on the geopolitics of the Middle East, the war against terrorism, and other important topics of the day?  So Joe arranged a few of the meetings that he has arranged for so many WOW List travelers, as you can read in their reviews of Joe’s trips.  I’ll give you just a few examples:

Joe told me that if I wanted to understand Israel’s outlook on the Middle East, I needed to go to the Golan Heights, an area of rolling vineyards and army bases on the border with Syria. There we met Sarit Zehavi, an expert on Israel’s security challenges at the northern borders. Zehavi is a 15-year military intelligence officer and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and is also the founder of ALMA, a research and education center focused on the border conflict. She is actually of Syrian heritage (her father grew up in Damascus). She is also a mom whose house sits six miles from the Lebanese border, so she lives with a visceral sense of danger, day in and day out.  Pointing to the Syrian border (see the photo above), she showed us exactly where and how the situation has been changing along it.  A week after we met, Zehavi was headed to Washington, D.C., to address members of Congress and other U.S. leaders at AIPAC. Here’s what she told them.

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert, with my son Doug at Caliber 3. Photo: Timothy Baker

Joe also arranged for us to meet with Eitan Cohen at Caliber 3, a counterterrorism training academy that offers security solutions and intelligence operations to clients around the globe. Cohen is a charismatic and inspiring colonel in the IDF and a security expert who works in elite undercover units. The kids got hands-on training in self-defense strategies, as well as an unforgettable lesson in patriotism and how profound love of country—like Cohen’s for Israel—is what inspires soldiers around the world.

journalist and author Matti Friedman

We met journalist and author Matti Friedman for breakfast at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Photo: Timothy Baker

Of the local journalists Joe offered to connect me with, I chose Matti Friedman, a former Associated Press correspondent who also served in the Israeli army.  Friedman is the author of two award-winning books, The Aleppo Codex and PumpkinFlowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War, and his third book, Spies of No Country—the story of Israel’s first spies in 1948—is coming out in November.  Friedman believes that, because of the way news about the Middle East is framed by Western news media, many travelers are left with a lot of misconceptions about Israel and the situation in the Middle East.  As just one example, people think Jerusalem is dangerous, but last year there were only 27 deaths in Jerusalem caused by acts of violence, compared with 133 in Jacksonville, Florida, and 175 in Indianapolis (cities similar in size to Jerusalem).  Social problems that Americans take for granted—health care, homelessness, gun control—hardly exist in the same way in Israel. For instance, Friedman has four kids and pays only $56 per month for health care for his whole family.  As for his perspective on conflict in the Middle East, the main takeaway was:  Don’t come to Israel with a lot of preconceptions. Or, if you do, meet with Friedman.  2023 UPDATE: Matti Friedman has little availability nowadays. Instead, you can meet with journalists such as Gil Hoffman and Khaled Abu Toameh


cooking class in Jersualem Israel

Chef Tali Friedman taught the boys how to cook an Israeli feast, including apple-filled phyllo pastries, in her kitchen. Photo: Timothy Baker

I went to Israel thinking most of my time would be spent on sites of historical, cultural, and religious significance.  As it turned out, most of my time was spent eating.  Israel’s culinary scene has been exploding, and one of the reasons why is Chef Tali Friedman. She gave us a cooking lesson in The Jerusalem Atelier, her kitchen workshop inside the historic Mahane Yehuda Market, and then we got to eat the feast we had cooked. I’m still dreaming of the best eggplant dish I’ve ever tasted: roasted Baladi eggplant, grilled over an open flame until scorched and smoky, with tahini and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. So simple, yet so flavorful.  We took the recipes home with us, but I’m not so sure I can replicate them without easy access to the superb produce and ingredients in the Market.

Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market Israel

Inbal Baum introduced us to her favorite finds in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

We also had a blast with Inbal Baum, founder of Delicious Israel, who steered us to her favorite stalls and shops in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s largest outdoor food extravaganza. This eliminated haphazard guessing as to the best foods to sample—which in turn eliminated thousands of unnecessary calories—and it also meant no standing in lines:  In each spot, seats and tables magically appeared for us, and then dishes suddenly appeared on them. Come hungry!

Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen in the Golan Heights. Photo: Timothy Baker

When we went to the Golan Heights, we weren’t expecting gourmet dining al fresco, but that’s the surprise that awaited us in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen.  A friend of Joe’s with grandparents from Turkey on one side and Germany on the other, Chef Tal went to culinary school in New York City, and now he zips all over Israel creating gourmet “picnics” in spectacular locations.  You can see photos of what we ate here.

Joe Yudin, the Israel travel specialist on my WOW List

Joe Yudin of Touring Israel at Tel Maresha. Photo: Timothy Baker

And here’s who made it all happen:  Joe Yudin, the Trusted Travel Expert for Israel on my WOW List.  Contact Joe using my questionnaire so he knows Wendy sent you and you get the same caliber of trip that I, and all these other travelers, received.


UPDATE:  This article was written in 2018, based on a trip to Israel in that year, but all of these experiences are still available today in 2023. 

Transparency disclosure: Thanks to a stipend that Joe Yudin received from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism for press, most elements of this trip were complimentary.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, no strings were attached:  There was no request for coverage, nor was any promised.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

tim holding trophy fish in Belize

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

On Wendy’s recent family trip to Belize, while she was road-testing Belize trip-planning specialists and her 14-year-old was learning to scuba dive, her husband, Tim, went fishing. Here’s his story:

“There they are, Mr. Tim!” Richard whispered with excitement. “Do you see them?”


“Just cast hard as you can to one o’clock.”

I reared back with the spinning rod and let my bait fly.  My bait was a small, live crab—with a total weight of about 40 cents’ worth of dimes—that was quickly rejected by the light breeze, as if I were taking a set shot against LeBron.

“Try again, Mr. Tim. Three o’clock this time!”

A Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

Richard Quillan, Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

This time I cast just barely better.  A blink later, I felt titch, titch, TUG!  Wham!  I set the hook!  I set it so hard I’m surprised I didn’t jerk the fish clean out of the water.  The fish pulled hard. Really hard.  It pulled in an arc, first to one side and then a quick turn to the other.  Like a metronome.  Click, click, click.

On its fourth arc, Richard reached in and loosened the drag on the reel.  Zizzzzzzzzzz!  The fish took off on a dead run in front of the boat, taking the line with it as it raced off.

“Mr Tim, tell me if you think it could spool out!”

“Okay, I’m telling you right now!”

I had about a dozen winds left on the reel.  More than 200 yards of 12-pound test line was gone in a flash.  Richard quickly started the 50 HP outboard, and the chase was on.  As we gained on the speeding fish, I was able to quickly recover a sizable amount of line back to the safety of the reel. If the line had come to a halt too abruptly, the fish could have snapped it.  Not only would I not have caught the fish, but I would have left a fish with a hook in its mouth, and—much, much worse—yards and yards of monofilament fishing line floating forever in the shallow flat.  And I would have felt awful about that.

Now that half the line was back on the reel, the give-and-take with the fish began in earnest.  The contest had been all fish, but now I was winning the pull-hard-reel-in-quickly battle.  The tiring fish even got close enough that I could see it.  It looked like a chrome hubcap from a 1960s Cadillac, flashing in the bright sun.  Just when I was ready to take the final pull to the boat, it took off again in full sprint.  Go ahead, I thought.  I have plenty of line restocked, and the boat is paid for until 4 p.m., and I know you are getting tired.

It took a full 20 minutes to get the line close enough to the boat, where Richard could land the fish.  One thing about a permit fish: The tail has a great place to grip.  Think of grabbing an hourglass in the middle.  Once you’ve got it, you’ve really got it!  I gave Richard a two-second lesson in how to use my camera, and he took two photos of me with my trophy.

Then, since fishing in Belize is catch-and-release (which I do anyway), Richard thanked the fish, gave it a kiss, and eased my catch of a lifetime back into the water.  Despite its ordeal, it was off, in a flick of a tail.

Belize fishing guide kissing fish before putting it back in the water

Richard thanks the fish, kisses it, and releases it back into the water.

Richard Quillan, my fishing guide, seemed genuinely as thrilled as I was.  High-fives all around.  Any professional guide wants the customer to be happy.  Which I sure was.  And this was Richard’s 26th birthday.

We reloaded a new crab and went in search of more.

Belize fishing guide looking for crabs for bait on the beach

Catching crabs for fish bait

Belize is world-renowned for its flats fishing.  Square mile after square mile of flats surround much of the country’s coastline and islands.  The water is only a couple of feet deep.

The Permit is one-third of the Grand Slam of Belize fishing: Permit, Bonefish, and Tarpon.  (Unlike baseball, golf, tennis, and breakfasts, it takes only three to make up a Belizean Grand Slam.  Maybe the fourth thing to catch is a sunburn.  And that’s guaranteed.)

The day before, I had hired Richard for a half-day bonefishing trip as a kind of warm-up.  We had caught a couple of small bonefish, but I wasn’t thrilled by their fight.  (I’ve had better battles with bigmouth bass in the lake I go to each summer.)  Initially, for my full-day trip, I wanted to go for 100-plus-pound tarpon—considered by many one of the ultimate sports-fishing trophies—but Richard suggested, based on conditions, that we would have better luck going for permit.

While I enjoy fishing, the sight-casting approach didn’t really appeal to me.  The hardest part was finding the fish.  That’s where a fishing guide earns his value: In addition to a decade of experience, Richard had top-quality sunglasses—made for anglers—that helped him see into the water.  With my regular glasses that darken in the sunlight, I felt like Mr. Magoo.  Only late on the second day could I manage to start seeing the fish that Richard was pointing out to me.

If you want to see into the water, you need a bright, sunny, cloudless day, with not too much breeze chopping up the water surface.  While a sunny day without a breeze is perfect for finding fish, be warned that under those conditions the sun is relentless.  Even with temps in the mid 80s, you are just baking.  These types of fishing boats have zero shade.

a fishing guide in Belize poles the boat into position to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

Poling the boat through the flats to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

When Richard found the fish, we cut the outboard, and he poled us into position to intercept the school.  Schools range from a handful to more than 50 fish.  The fish are extremely shy, and that’s their defense in the shallow water of the flats: shyness, and sheer speed.  Even our movements and voices on deck had to be muted.  A misplaced cast (and there were many!), and the fish would scatter, and we’d need to look again in a new spot.  In five hours of fishing, I landed three permits.  Each was smaller than the last, but I was grateful for them all.

Belize fishing guide with small permit fish

A small permit is jokingly called a “learner permit.”

Back at the dock, word got out, and I was hailed as the man who caught three permits in one day!  Others have gone out and come up empty.  But that’s fishing!

Next trip, bring on the tarpon!

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

Fishing in Belize is year-round, though some months are better than others.  (July, August, and September are best for tarpon, for example.)  My seven-hour day with guide, gear, and boat cost $500; the four-hour half-day cost $375.  I also bought a one-week fishing license online for 50 Belize dollars (US $25).  No one asked to see it, but I always support local fishing management programs.

I wish I had practiced casting at home before paying considerable money to scare away fish.  Besides practicing pre-trip, here’s my hard-earned advice:

• If your main goal in Belize is to fish, choose a hotel close to the flats. T wo hours of my day were taken up just getting from our beachfront hotel to the flats and back again.

• Book a fishing guide in advance to guarantee that one is available on the day(s) you’ll be there.  We arranged for Richard Quillan through our hotel.

• Check the weather report.  Cloudy days make it hard for even the guides to find the fish.  See how flexible the guide’s schedule is.

• Buy or borrow the best sunglasses for fishing you can find.  When sight casting, it helps greatly if you can see into the water to spot the fish.

• On a boat made for casting, there is no shade.  So cover up every part of your body with SPF protective clothing, and slather on the sunscreen.  Even the guides get sunburned.

• Last but not least, always use fill flash for your photos.

tourist fishing in Belize on a casting boat on the turquoise water

Covering up with protective SPF clothing is a must.

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

joggers on promenade of crystal serenity cruise ship

Cruise Trends in 2018: What Your Waistline Has Been Waiting For

One of the best things about chronicling cruise travel over the past 20 years has been watching the industry morph from a sedate and somewhat sedentary form of travel—in which dining times were assigned and bus tours were about the limit of sightseeing—to there’s-a-cruise-for-every-traveler-out-there. Seriously, there really is, no matter if you’re more inclined to chill on a beach in the Caribbean, mix with locals in the Mediterranean, or go mountaineering along the ridges of Antarctica.

Of all the changes that have occurred in cruise travel, the one I love the most is this: Cruises have become one of the most healthy and active ways to travel.

Does that surprise you? Whether they offer ocean-going and family-friendly ships, riverboats, or expedition vessels, cruise lines have worked hard to focus on a balanced approach to travel, and I’m sharing some of my favorite ways they’re doing this, below. But by no means has the industry taken away the fun of indulging on your vacation. Sure, you can take a decadent cruise and return home with the freshman 15 lb. weight gain—but you no longer have to.

New wave dining

acai bowl from AquaSpa Cafe on a Celebrity Cruises cruise ship

The menu items at cruise ship restaurants, like açai bowls at Celebrity’s AquaSpa Café, are getting healthier. Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Cruise lines, from big ships to small, are increasingly focusing on fresh cuisine by adding lots of fruit and vegetable items—at all meals— and creating menus for followers of heart-healthy, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan (and even raw food, at least on one cruise line) regimens. They are also developing menus based on the regions their ships are cruising in, and using local ingredients whenever possible.

Look for: Buffets on cruise lines like Crystal, Viking Ocean, and Holland America make it easy to nosh strategically, with lots of fresh fruits, sushi, and salads. I love Celebrity’s AquaSpa Café not just because it’s good for you, but also because its menus are so delicious (Carnival and Royal Caribbean also have their own takes on spa cafés). At lunch and dinner, Viking Ocean is featuring local menu items inspired by itineraries. And some lines even go beyond—plating a meal to actually help you find a regimen that you can take home with you. Interested? Check out Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Center, which offers courses on healthy cooking, and Seabourn, via its partnership with noted mind-body guru Dr. Andrew Weil, for lessons on inflammatory foods.

Maintaining fitness regimes

cruise ship gym Quantum of the Seas Royal Caribbean

Cruise ships now offer large gyms with up-to-date equipment. Photo: Royal Caribbean

If you’re like a lot of us, you don’t want to wreck all the hard work you’ve done at home to get and stay fit, just because you’ve gone off on vacation for a little while.

Look for: When Viking Ocean Cruises (the line aimed at passengers 55 years of age and up) debuted in 2015, it figured that not so many of its “older” passengers cared about working out. Four ships later, the line has gone back and reconfigured its small gyms to be much larger, a sign that all generations want to maintain some level of fitness while traveling. Indeed, just about every ocean line has a gym with free weights, exercise bikes, TRX Suspension systems, tai chi, boot camp, and more. They offer fitness classes too, in yoga, Pilates, stretching and spinning. You can even book time with personal trainers to develop your own new fitness regimen. Typically, the bigger the ship, the larger the fitness facility; Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum classes of ships have masses of space for all the usual equipment, and then some.

River cruising’s unique fitness challenges and solutions

bicycles Danube AmaWaterways river cruise1

AmaWaterways was the first river cruise line to offer passengers bikes to use in ports. Photo: AmaWaterways

On riverboats, which rarely carry more than 200 passengers, room for fitness is necessarily limited. As a result, companies have gotten a bit more creative about incorporating fitness into the cruise experience. Some, it’s true, have small fitness centers tucked away in a couple of cabins that have been converted for the job, others have tiny pools. But the real success has been creating opportunities to be active either onboard—or in port.

Look for: AmaWaterways, which was the first line to stock bikes onboard that passengers could use for treks in port, has been a river pioneer. It’s teamed up with Backroads, the tour operator that specializes in hiking, walking, and cycling travel, to provide intensive active trips along Europe’s rivers. Many other lines have followed AmaWaterways’s lead, and now stock bikes on board; these include Uniworld and Crystal. On Avalon’s Active Discovery on the Rhine itinerary, you can choose a hiking, cycling, or jogging tour in every port of call. Scenic was the first line to offer electric bikes for use in ports, and Uniworld started the Nordic walking stick craze.

Mind-body matters too

Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV’s Candice Olson designed the Princess Luxury Bed. By 2019 every stateroom in the Princess fleet will have one. Photo: Princess Cruises

Sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV’s Candice Olson designed the Princess Luxury Bed. By 2019 every stateroom in the Princess fleet will have one. Photo: Princess Cruises

Spas have been an integral part of the cruise industry for well more than a decade now. What’s new is that cruise lines are going beyond the facility and its treatments (facials, massages and the like) to incorporate lifestyle activities that help you stay balanced long after your vacation.

Look for: I love AmaWaterways’ new Wellness Program. Offered on select river voyages, the program is meant for travelers who want a pretty active regimen and appreciate the camaraderie that comes with being with like-minded enthusiasts—discussion groups, on topics ranging from eating to relaxation, are also part of the experience. Seabourn’s partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil blends active workouts with experiences that emphasize wellness from physical, social, and spiritual environments. Princess Cruises is betting big that simply getting a good night’s rest is a great path to health; it has unveiled its Princess Luxury Bed across the fleet (I tried it, and it was so great I bought two for home).

And here’s possibly my favorite way to cruise: Being active in ports

sea dream cruise ship offers watersports off the back of the boat in Hvar Croatia

SeaDream cruises offer water sports right off the back of the ship when it’s in a port like Hvar, Croatia. Photo: Sea Dream

Choose your itinerary wisely. If your idea of a great way to explore a port of call is via bicycle, kayak, snorkeling, scuba diving, cross-country skiing, zip-lining, hiking, or sailing, exciting itineraries often focus on regions such as Hawaii, Alaska, Central America, Antarctica, the Mediterranean, French Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos. If you particularly enjoy watersports, look for cruise lines whose ships feature watersports platforms, allowing you to access all the key toys, including WaveRunners, right from the aft of your ship. Lines that excel include SeaDream, Crystal Esprit, Windstar and Ponant.

For more on staying active at sea, see Cruise Critic’s list of the Best Cruises for Fitness and these Tips for Eating Healthy on a Cruise.


Carolyn Spencer Brown is Editor at Large for Cruise Critic, the leading site for cruise reviews and information, as well as the largest forum for cruise fans. She’s been taking cruises for decades and has amassed an extensive and impressive knowledge of the specifics of ships, lines, itineraries, policies, and ports. You can follow Cruise Critic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and also follow Carolyn herself on Instagram (@carolynspencerbrown) and Twitter (@CruiseEditor).


hiking in peru

Hiking and Walking Trips: Should You Go Private or With a Group?

If I had to choose just one way to see the world, it’d be from a hiking trail. But I’m no hearty Appalachian Trail thru-hiker—in fact, I’ve never carried more than a day’s worth of gear on my back, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to splint a broken ankle. And yet, I’ve seen some of the world’s most stunning wilderness areas on foot, from New Zealand’s Milford Track to Europe’s Tour du Mont Blanc, and from Peru’s Sacred Valley to Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. The one thing these trips all had in common? A great guide. Sometimes I’ve joined a group, other times I’ve hired a private guide to take me where I wanted to go. Here’s my advice (based on hundreds of miles’ worth of trail data) on the pros and cons of each:

hiking in Argentine Patagonia

Many of Patagonia’s upscale hotels are all-inclusive, which means you have to hike on their activity schedule as part of a small group—that is, unless you bring your own private guide. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

You should hire a private guide if:

  • You prize ultimate flexibility in each day’s plan. When I traveled in Patagonia with a private guide earlier this year (see Is Patagonia Right for You?), I opted to hike the very same route two days in a row. Why? Because on the first day a trail closure just short of the summit had prevented us from reaching the climax. No group hiking trip would have made that decision, but it was exactly how I wanted to spend my time.
  • You want to set your own pace. If you deviate far from the typical hiking speed in either direction, you’ll appreciate the ability to walk as slowly or as fast as you desire. It’s the smart choice too: Forcing yourself to slow down can be almost as tiring as hiking beyond your means, since it doesn’t allow your body to drop into its normal rhythm. This is also an important factor to consider if you want to stop frequently to take photos, or to search for wildlife.
  • You want to choose exactly which hikes you do. Group trips follow a predetermined route (sometimes with last-minute adjustments, of course, due to weather or other factors). If you book a private guide, you can work with him or her to select the trails that most precisely line up with your ability level and interests.
  • You care a great deal about your accommodations and where you eat. Group hiking trips frequent neither the smallest, most atmospheric hotels, nor the most luxurious, five-star properties. If you want to have control over where you sleep, book a private trip. Similarly, meals on group trips are typically taken together at restaurants predetermined by the guide or tour operator; if you want to eat alone and choose where you dine, you’re also better off going private.
Crossing a stream on the Tour de Mont Blanc hiking trail

A guide carried a blistered hiker piggyback over a stream crossing on our group trip along the Tour de Mont Blanc trail. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

You should join a group hiking trip if:

  • You’re working within a constrained budget. Simply put, private guides are expensive. Amortize that guide’s cost over half a dozen travelers, and the same trip becomes a lot more affordable.
  • You enjoy meeting other travelers. Hiking trips tend to attract groups of friendly people who share a love for the outdoors but arrive there via a variety of backgrounds. I’ve met some fascinating characters on the trail, from the Chinese immigrant who now owns a successful teashop in Washington, D.C., to the Vietnam vet on his first trip to Europe.
  • You need a little motivation. The camaraderie of a band of strangers chugging up a mountain can also help you tackle a challenging hike; if you thrive in the setting of a group exercise class, you’ll also probably perform better on the trail when there are others encouraging you along.
  • You need to please a variety of ability levels. If you hire one private guide, it forces your companions to hike together. Say you’re bringing along your marathoner sister and your slightly-out-of-shape dad: a group trip that operates with two guides, who can spread out along the trail and keep everyone headed in the right direction, is more likely to leave everybody satisfied.

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

A view of Mount Fitz Roy from the trail

Is Patagonia Right for You? The Distances, the Costs, and the Fitness Required

A forest of lenga trees in the foreground, Argentina's Mount Fitz Roy peeking out from the background.
A forest of lenga trees in the foreground, Argentina's Mount Fitz Roy peeking out from the background.
A view of Mount Fitz Roy from the trail
A view of Mount Fitz Roy from the trail.
The Laguna de los Tres Patagonia
The Laguna de los Tres is fed by glaciers on the slopes of Mount Fitz Roy.
an iceberg in Lago Argentino Patagonia
An iceberg dwarfs a sightseeing boat on Lago Argentino.
The approach to Estancia Cristina, via Lago Argentino Patagonia
The approach to Estancia Cristina, via Lago Argentino.
The view of the mountains from Estancia Cristina's dining room Patagonia
The view of the mountains from Estancia Cristina's dining room, in Argentine Patagonia.
lunch dishes at Estancia Cristina in Argentine Patagonia
A bevy of delicious salads are just a taste of the daily lunch spread at Estancia Cristina.
The main entrance to Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, inside Chile's Torres del Paine National Park
The main entrance to Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, inside Chile's Torres del Paine National Park
Patagonia picnic spread
The Patagonia picnic that was hauled ten miles up a trail in a backpack for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, the viewpoint to the Paine Towers was closed—but the other hikers sure looked enviously at our spread.
room at hotel Rio Serrano, just outside Torres del Paine National Park Patagonia
Room with a view at Hotel Rio Serrano, just outside Torres del Paine National Park.
A view of Torres del Paine's lakes from the French Valley
A view of Torres del Paine's crystalline lakes from the French Valley.


I’ve hiked all over the world, from New Zealand’s Milford Track to Kilimanjaro to the Tour de Mont Blanc. When it comes to traversing dirt paths on foot, you might even call me a connoisseur. And so it was no small thing when, on my first day in Patagonia and between forkfuls from a heaping salad, I declared the hike I’d just completed to be the best I’d ever seen.

Twenty-four hours later, I found myself reconsidering. Chowing down on tourist town-quality pizza, I had to admit that that day’s hike now topped my list. Such are the delightful difficulties you’ll suffer through in Patagonia: deciding which trail—each with its own collection of showstopper views toward the sharp granite peaks that are Patagonia’s trademark—is your favorite. There’s a reason that Patagonia ends up on so many greatest-hits travel lists: Rising up from an otherwise scrubby wasteland, these mountains are as beautiful, and as captivating, as any others on the planet.

Putting together the perfect trip to Patagonia on your own can feel overwhelming, though, given the vastness of the region. That’s why I called on Trusted Travel Expert Tom Damon, who crafted an itinerary that included stunning hikes, gaucho-chic lodges, and an introduction to the glaciers that carved this incomparable landscape.

We receive at least a dozen Patagonia trip inquiries at Ask Wendy every month. For those of you considering such an adventure, here are answers and advice:

How much it will cost:

Patagonia, like many far-flung corners of the world, can be surprisingly expensive, particularly when compared with other parts of South America. There are a few reasons for this: First, the region is extremely remote, making it costly to bring in provisions—everything from fuel to food to cleaning supplies. Our picnic lunches, for instance, traveled 75 miles from the town nearest Chile’s national park (many ingredients surely traveled much farther than that, though the caterer made smart use of plums from her own trees, wild-growing rhubarb, and other local produce). Second, the season is short, so businesses that cater to tourists—which are most of them—have to earn a year’s income in just a few months. Third, the population is sparse, so there is high demand for the relatively few local guides who combine the hiking prowess, charisma, and knowledge of local history and geology that are all required to do the job right. There are some certifiably luxurious lodges in Chilean Patagonia, but most command high prices not for their expertly trained staff or high-design rooms (many, in fact, feel downright generic). A five-star hotel in Argentine Patagonia probably wouldn’t earn that rating in the Pyrenees. What you’re paying for is proximity to awe-inspiring mountains. Be prepared to spend $1,000 to $1,250 per day (for two travelers) for a WOW trip.

How many days you’ll need:

Patagonia ignores political boundaries, encompassing the southern portions of both Argentina and Chile. (According to my Chilean guide, he and many of his neighbors feel more kinship toward Argentine Patagonians than they do toward the citizens of northern Chile.) And while the tourist centers of southern Patagonia are just over 100 miles apart as the condor flies, that condor would be swooping over mountains and ice fields; driving between Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park and Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park takes at least five hours, with an additional 30 minutes or more allotted for the border-crossing rigmarole. Transit time to Patagonia from the east coast of the U.S. is a day and a half—two full days from the west coast—and that assumes you don’t want to explore Buenos Aires or Santiago (which you should, if you haven’t been to those cities before). So a two-week trip leaves you just enough time to knock off all of Patagonia’s marquee hikes, with a few days’ cushion should the notoriously fickle weather force you to rejigger your itinerary on the fly.

How fit you’ll need to be:

The most famous trails in southern Patagonia are 8- to 12-mile round-trips that climb gradually at first, then with a short, steep ascent to the base of a granite peak, where a milky turquoise or jade green lake is fed by glacial runoff. I saw everyone from teens in cutoffs and Converse to trekkers with 30-pound packs complete these hikes. Since the peaks above are smooth and nearly vertical, only technical climbers can go any farther. All trails start close to sea level, so you never have to deal with the effects of altitude—unlike famous routes through the Andes, Alps, and Himalayas that leave you gasping for oxygen. Make no mistake, you’ll have wanted to do some training at home, but you needn’t have the lungs of a marathoner or the legs of a power lifter to achieve hiking nirvana.

Why you might want your own mountain guide:

Many of the fanciest hotels in and around Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park operate on an all-inclusive basis, bundling accommodations, meals, and daily activities led by their in-house guides. This means you’re beholden to their schedule, and that you’ll be hiking as part of a small group. (The one exception is the Awasi, which gives each party of travelers its own private guide). If it’s important to you to hike at your own speed, to choose which trail you want to do on any given day, or simply to have privacy, you’ll need to stay somewhere that allows you to bring your own guide. That’s the tack I chose: I divided my time in Chile between the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, where you can hike straight from your door, and the Rio Serrano, which offers a gobsmacking, panoramic view of the mountains from just outside the park’s boundaries. Having my own guide allowed me to move faster than a group could, and to repeat a hike when we hadn’t been able to reach the top due to a trail closure. Economically, it’s a toss-up: Hiring a private guide and staying in four-star properties is roughly equivalent in price to booking an all-inclusive experience at a five-star place.

What else there is to do:

On the Argentine side of southern Patagonia, the town of El Chalten was incorporated just over 30 years ago and has the feel of a place still not sure of its measurements and without a sense of permanence; the streets are wide, but most are dirt and gravel. I came across one house in town made from a shipping container, another from the trailer of a big rig. The most interesting regional history you’ll find on the Argentine side is out at the remote Estancia Cristina—now within the national park and accessible only by boat—where a pair of English pioneers set up a sheep farm in 1914. In their old shearing shed, you can browse their hand-built farming equipment and the ham radio they used to stay connected to the outside world. Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, on the Chilean side, does have a small but good information center with a few panels that talk about the indigenous people who once called this harsh landscape home. Our guide also brought us to some little-known rock art in Torres del Paine National Park, at the end of a trail so seldom used that grass has grown over it. So don’t come to Patagonia looking for culture.

How to pack:

While it’s technically summer when the vast majority of visitors arrive in Patagonia, temperatures rarely crack the 70s, and the weather can turn on a dime, bringing rain (or snow) at just about any time of year. So you’ll need to pack for several seasons’ worth of weather. The region’s wind is infamous; I didn’t fully believe the stories I’d heard until I had to hold a staggered, wide-legged stance just to stay upright through one major gale. (Locals track the weather via a website called Windguru, which shows hour-by-hour changes in wind speed, gusts, and direction.) I chose to travel in March, when the wind is less troublesome than during the height of summer—and the crowds thinner.

Got other questions about Patagonia? Ask me in the comments below.

Disclosure: Tom Damon provided a press rate for this writer’s trip to Patagonia. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage, nor was anything promised. You can read our sponsored travel agreement with Tom here

Gros Morne Western Brook Pond fjord, Newfoundland

8 Gorgeous Canadian National Parks For Your To Do List

Canada is one of the smartest summer vacation ideas for U.S. travelers. It’s close, it’s affordable, it’s not too hot, it’s blissfully uncrowded … and it’s got more than 40 beautiful national parks and reserves. Which are the best ones to focus a trip on?  We asked that very question of our Trusted Travel Experts for Canada. Here are eight parks for your To Do list.

By Land and Sea: Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve british columbia

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia. Photo courtesy Destination BC.

Encompassing forest, beach, ocean, and more than 100 islets along British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, it’s the miles-long stretches of sand and the numerous hikes through the lush rainforest that make Pacific Rim a favorite of Trusted Travel Expert Sheri Doyle. You can get a taste of both environments on short loop hikes from the main parking lot; Sheri also recommends the Nuu-chah-nulth Trail from the Visitors’ Center to Florencia Beach, which gives you some insight into local history as well.

Peaks Aplenty: Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies. Photo: Travel Alberta

Snuggled in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper isn’t undiscovered, but to Sheri it always feels far less busy than the adjacent—and more widely known—Banff National Park. Hiking and wildlife are the draws here; Sheri’s favorite short jaunt is the Path of the Glacier trail to a gorgeous glacial lake in the Mount Edith Cavell area of Jasper.

The Hidden Gem: Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park, Canada. Photo: Parks Canada/C. Siddal

Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Photo: Parks Canada/C. Siddal

Even less crowded than Jasper, but with mountains no less majestic, is nearby Kootenay. The park’s Radium Hot Springs provide a secondary attraction, and the same-named town, just outside Kootenay’s border, has more affordable hotels than you’ll find in Banff.

The Big Kahuna: Banff National Park

sunshine mountain lake banff national park alberta canada

Hiking on Sunshine Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo: Billie Cohen

This is the country’s original national park, set in the dazzlingly picturesque Rocky Mountains. Sure, it can be busy—but Trusted Travel Expert Marc Telio recommends veering off the beaten path and taking the gondola up Sunshine Mountain for a hike far from the crowds. For Mount Norquay’s via ferrata—a series of cables, ladders, and suspension bridges bolted into the side of the mountain—you don’t need any technical know-how, but you will need a healthy dose of confidence.

Picture-Postcard Vistas: Yoho National Park

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park. British Columbia. Photo: Parks Canada/Karin Smith

This British Columbia park’s name comes from the Cree word for awe and wonder. The impression it leaves on contemporary visitors is no less impressive, particularly in late spring at Takakkaw Falls, ones of Canada’s highest and most dramatic waterfalls. Here, Marc loves going for a peaceful paddle on startlingly crystal-clear Emerald Lake.

The World’s Highest Tide: Fundy National Park

beach at low tide in Fundy National Park Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. Photo: Parks Canada/Dale Wilson

When the tide goes out in New Brunswick’s Fundy National Park, it does so decisively: The difference between high and low tide can be as much as 50 feet—the height of a four-story building. Time it right, and you’ll literally be walking on the ocean floor, among crabs, sea snails, and other crustaceans (plus the shorebirds that stop by for a quick bite to eat).

A River Runs Through It: Nahanni National Park Reserve

Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park, Canada

Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park, Northern Territories. Parks Canada/Charles Blyth

Little known to the general populace, this vast and remote reserve in the Northern Territories is world-famous among whitewater rafters and kayakers, who come to paddle the Naha Dehé (the South Nahanni River). It was named among the first class of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Nahanni called “one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America.” Rapids aren’t the only water feature here: Virginia Falls is almost twice the height of Niagara, and Nahanni’s hot springs provide a natural antidote to the sore muscles you’re sure to acquire while hiking and paddling.

The Geological Wonder: Gros Morne National Park

Fjord Boat Tour on Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne National Park Western, Canada. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Fjord boat tour on Western Brook Pond, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

It’s taken Mother Nature millions of years to create the mountains and fjords that have earned Newfoundland’s Gros Morne its UNESCO World Heritage stripes; what you see on the surface today is actually deep ocean crust and the earth’s mantle, pushed up by the geologic process of continental drift. Western Brook Pond was clearly named with characteristic Canadian understatement: This “pond” is actually a spectacular, glacier-carved fjord that occupies an area of nearly nine square miles, with waterfalls cascading 2,000 feet down its cliffs. If you go to Gros Morne, Trusted Travel Expert Jill Curran recommends getting a taste of Newfoundland humor at Anchors Aweigh, a music-and-comedy show in the town of Rocky Harbour.

bear in Banff national park canada

Bear spottings are not uncommon in parts of Banff National Park. Photo: Travel Alberta

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

three sisters formation Goblin Valley State Park Utah

The American West You Don’t Know About, But Should

Year after year, families flock to the American West to show their kids the region’s knockout scenery and rugged-cowboy lifestyle. And so every summer, the Grand Canyon’s viewpoints are choked with visitors, Yellowstone’s roads are jammed by wildlife-induced rubbernecking, and the guest ranches are sold out months in advance.

We’re here with a solution: Six key strategies that will help you avoid the crowds out west. I recently employed these tactics on a 900-mile drive around Utah, discovering breathtaking parts of the state that I hadn’t seen on numerous past trips through it, and having them largely to myself.

Wake up early.

Morning in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Morning in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

The general wisdom is that the national parks are least crowded at sunrise and sunset. But when I stopped at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon National Park at 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday in September, there were hundreds of people swarming the overlooks. By comparison, at 8:30 the following morning I had Inspiration Point almost to myself. The earlier you get up and out the door, the fewer people you’ll see on the roads and the trails. If you follow the typical flow of traffic in a park (most people drive through Bryce from north to south, for example) but start earlier, you’ll stay ahead of the crowds the entire day.

Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sunset in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Seek out state parks.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. Photo: Brook WIlkinson

I uncovered plenty of spots that would easily earn national park status for their natural beauty—if only they didn’t face such stiff competition (Utah already has five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands). Goblin Valley State Park is just such a spot: It has a landscape like nowhere else on earth, with spooky hoodoos shaped like toadstools and witches and alien invaders. These hoodoos (thin spires of rock with curvaceous profiles) are quite different from the ones that have made Bryce Canyon famous: The former have rounded edges, as if they’ve melted into shape, while the latter are more rigidly striated. But even my well-traveled, adventurous Utahn relatives have never been to Goblin Valley. When I visited a few weeks ago to go canyoneering, I ran into fewer than a dozen other people in the park. This part of southern Utah is so remote that the Henry Mountains I could see in the distance were the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states, back in 1872.

Take the road less traveled.

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: National Park Service

The Castle, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo: NPS Photo

Google Maps will tell you that the fastest route from Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon or Zion is via I-70 and Highway 89. What it won’t tell you is that an alternate route, Scenic Byway 12, is one of just 31 designated “All-American Roads” in the United States. The detour adds less than an hour to your route—though we’d campaign for spending a lot more time enjoying the sights along the way. The most spectacular section runs from Tropic to Torrey, with several miles of pavement that cling to the knife-edge of a mountain ridge with gorgeous canyons spilling down on either side dotted with scrubby pines, earning it the moniker “the Hogsback.”

This route will also take you through Capitol Reef National Park (one of the country’s few national parks that you can visit for free, since the highway runs right through it).  There are a number of hikes you can do inside the park, and orchards of peach, apple, cherry, and apricot trees where you can eat your fill for free (or take a to-go bag for a nominal fee left in an honor box). Capitol Reef has a bit more foliage than other parts of this dry desert, and I found the contrast of deep green growth and rose-colored rock to be particularly striking.

Stay a while in smaller towns.

Burr Trail Outpost Boulder Utah

Burr Trail Outpost, Boulder, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

It’s tempting to make a trip out west all about the driving—the distances are vast, the small towns dotted between the geologic wonders seemingly unremarkable. At least, that’s what you’ll think if you arrive in the evening, check into a motel for a night’s sleep, and hit the road again the next morning. But if you make these communities a destination in their own right, spending enough time to scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find they’re as rich in character as the parks are in natural beauty.

Take the tiny town of Boulder, Utah, for example. Blink and you’ll miss it—literally—with just a smattering of commerce along Highway 12 indicating that you’ve reached, and then quickly passed, Boulder. The local population is so small that the elementary school has an enrollment of seven kids (and four teachers, making this parent of a kindergartener envious of all that undivided attention). But if you stop in to the Burr Trail Outpost, you’ll start to understand what makes this town tick: The work of dozens of local artists—pottery, textiles, metalwork, photography, and much more—fills the shelves, indicating the many creative types who have found the area’s beauty a reliable muse, and who now live side-by-side with the Mormon ranchers who settled Boulder. (As for that drip coffee and stale muffin you were expecting out here in nowheresville? Try a butternut squash mango smoothie, a fresh cinnamon roll, or a macchiato instead.) A few doors down is Hell’s Backbone Grill, a nationally acclaimed restaurant run by two female chefs and based on Buddhist values. Most importantly, the food is fresh (from the restaurant’s own farm a few miles away) and darn good, and that is a rarity in these parts. Also in Boulder is the Anasazi State Park Museum, on the grounds of an 11th-century Ancestral Puebloan village, reminding visitors that human history is as vital a marker on the surroundings as the effects of wind and water are on the landscape.

Create your own ranch experience.

Cougar Ridge Lodge, Utah

Cougar Ridge Lodge, Utah. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

If you’re yearning to get your kids comfortable in a saddle but the guest ranches are booked solid during school vacations—or you want a bit more privacy than the typical guest ranches offer, with their group activities and meals—consider the Cougar Ridge Lodge. Though it’s more cowboy estate than working ranch, the property has horse stables and a riding arena for lessons, and the owner can arrange guided horseback trips through the red rock country, as well as ATV tours, winemaking lessons, photography classes, and boating on Lake Powell. Rather than conforming to a dude ranch’s timetable, here the schedule is all your own. Cougar Ridge is enough of a secret that if you book one of the lodge’s four master suites, you’re likely to have the accompanying kitchen, great room, exercise area, and spa area all to yourself; it’s both grand and homey, as if a wealthy aunt who fancied herself a cowgirl had thrown you the keys to her country spread.

Go in fall or spring.

Chances are that you’ll want to hit a few of the west’s iconic spots as well, so we recommend traveling during the shoulder seasons to avoid the height-of-summer masses of tourists. In Utah, that’s October, November, February, and March, when temperatures are mild enough that you can spend the whole day outside (though nights are quite chilly in the high desert, so bring layers), but the crowds have thinned to a trickle in those most famous of places. In places farther north, the season starts later and ends earlier.

Ready to make your way out west? Ask Wendy who the right travel specialist is to plan your trip.

Goblin Valley State Park Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah. Photo: Brook WIlkinson

*Disclosure: Utah’s Department of Tourism provided me with a five-day trip through Utah, free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and the Department of Tourism here.

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.

bicyclists in Piemonte Italy wine country

Six Iconic Wine Regions That Are Made for Bicycling

I thought I knew how to ride a bicycle until I moved to France, where I discovered that you do not need special shoes—any old pair of five-inch heels will do. In France, I learned that helmets are for rugby and that a bike clip is what fastens your skirt to the saddle so your underpants won’t show (where I come from, it’s the thing that attaches your shoe to the pedal so you can pump like a maniac). I learned that wine is an energy drink—something farm hands and dockworkers have known for centuries—and that the best way to tour Burgundy, or almost any wine region, is on two wheels, sampling the local terroir as you go.

Here are some top wine areas for exploring on two wheels.

bicyclists in Piemonte Italy wine country

Piemonte, Italy. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

A magical relationship exists between bicycles and vineyards, a symbiosis that has a lot to do with geography.

“The main thing is that the roads that vintners take to get to their grapes are paved small trails, perfect for biking,” says Tyler Dillon, a travel planner who has put together many vineyard biking trips. “Second, the distances between villages are just right, a comfortable 10 to 15 kilometers [about 6 to 9 miles]. They work well with mealtimes. You can ride for two or three hours in the morning, ending at noon in a small village that’s serving a Michelin-star lunch.”

Wine regions are accessible to cyclists of all skill levels.   

“The gradual changes in elevation that are suitable for growing grapes are also good for cycling. If you haven’t been training you can stay at the lower altitudes.”

The pace is just right.

“There’s also a certain pace of life that’s appealing. You’re immersed in a culture that’s based on seasonality, on a crop and cycles of nature. It’s a slower pace than in a big city, a pace that matches with biking. On a bike you’re forced to slow down and take it all in.”

Traveling on the ground helps you understand what comes out of the ground.

“To understand a bottle of wine you have to understand the region where it’s grown—the rocks, the soil, the humidity in the morning, what time the sun rises. That’s what you want to walk away from on a bike trip. You want to smell the lavender. You can’t do that in a car.”

Where to Plan a Wine Region Bike Trip

bicyclist in Burgundy france wine country

Burgundy, France. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

Tyler names his favorite wine-country destinations for cyclists:

Burgundy: “Not too far from Paris, so you can catch a train there pretty easily. If you get off in Dijon and go south, every town you stop in you’ve seen on a bottle of wine.”

Piedmont, Italy: “A close second to Burgundy, with similar geography but like a big bowl, so instead of going from point A to point B you can do the trip in a circle.”

Rioja: “It feels a little more adventurous than the first two because the climate is more stark and Don Quixote–like. The vineyards spring out of the shale rock and it’s very dramatic.”

Bordeaux: “Great country roads and great food.”

Côte du Rhone: “Dry Mediterranean climate, shaley soil, and a rugged countryside with secluded pockets that feel like no one has been there since the Romans.”

Tuscany: “Hillier than Burgundy or Bordeaux or the Côte du Rhone; it feels like biking through a painting. It’s also quite hot. In hot climates, there’s a little more of a looseness and a celebratory feel in the culture and the wines are more flavorful. The geography is epic, with stunning vistas; when you bike through it you feel like you have a full orchestra behind you.”

To find the right Trusted Travel Expert to help plan your biking vacation, contact Wendy

bicyclists in Bordeaux france vineyards

Bordeaux, France. Photo: Butterfield & Robinson

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.

Beautiful Sunset at Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Now Is the Time to Travel to Sri Lanka. This Is Why.

For decades Sri Lanka was in the news more for a civil war than anything else. The island nation seemed like the last place anyone would want to go for a beach holiday. Even in 2009, when that war was finally over, fewer than 500,000 people visited. But last year more than 1.5 million people flocked to Sri Lanka—an astonishing rise in such a short period of time—and this year it seems to be on every must-visit list.

That sudden turnaround might leave you wondering what other travelers know that you don’t. We tapped Miguel Cunat, our Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka, for intel—and he gave us three reasons why now is the moment to go:

It’s the new Bali. Sri Lanka has gorgeous beaches, magnificent archaeological ruins (many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and a rich culture that celebrates both Buddhist and Hindu traditions with numerous festivals. Tea plantations dot the interior’s hill country, and the island’s national parks are full of leopards, elephants, and incredible bird life.

The infrastructure has improved, so travel is easier. Those acquaintances of yours who went to Sri Lanka five years ago had to put up with a lot of headaches in return for being travel pioneers. Says Miguel, “With peace and the prospect of growth, important investments have taken place; we have better roads, fewer power outages, more hotel rooms, more options for dining in the main cities, and more flights within the country.”

More development is coming, so now is the time to see the island in its natural beauty. Miguel tells us that Sri Lanka’s government is very welcoming of foreign investment. He’s already starting to see “cookie-cutter hotel development,” and he expects that five years from now, a bit of Sri Lanka’s authenticity will be lost to the inevitable forces of globalization, replaced by Singapore-style shopping malls, Chinese and Italian restaurants on Colombo’s streets, and karaoke bars amid the tea shops.

With so many travelers adding Sri Lanka to their wish lists, you’d be wise to start planning your own trip before the hordes descend and transform the island. Even with the increase in tourism, it can be difficult to find high-caliber private guides and on-the-ground services. When tourism explodes fast, it takes a while for supply to catch up, so there is a shortage of savvy travel fixers and hotel staffers who really comprehend and can deliver what sophisticated travelers want. One way to ensure your trip is filled with first-rate services and experiences is to book through a Sri Lanka specialist, We recommend Miguel. He’s so plugged in he knows how to avoid the crowds at top sites like Yala National Park and the Sigiriya rock fortress—and, of course, he knows the most well-connected private guides. Check out his Sri Lanka Insider’s Guide for more details on the local experts he can introduce you to, the best (and worst) times of year to visit, and much more.
Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and reach out to him to get the best possible trip.

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.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler

“In Whistler we’re doing the Via Ferrata,” Wendy announced proudly. Sounds good, I thought. Must be like “doing” Las Ramblas in Barcelona. But with an Italian twist. Never having been to Whistler, I pictured some street lined with cappuccino and gelato shops and small tables for people-watching. “Not exactly,” she said. “Via Ferrata means ‘iron way’ in Italian. You use iron rungs drilled into the rock face to climb a mountain. We’ll be climbing Whistler Mountain.”

Wait. What? Wendy had signed the family up to climb a rock face? The boys would love it, of course—they’d bungee jump from a moving space shuttle if they could. But I had just had total knee replacement surgery six months earlier. And, while I love Wendy, her rock-climbing abilities are minimal. Did we really need to climb Whistler Mountain? A chairlift goes right to the summit. Whose idea was this anyway? “Steve Ogden from Tourism Whistler.”

Please note that if I, and not Steve, had suggested Wendy climb a mountain, my compos mentis would have been called into question and proceedings to institutionalize me started. But Steve from Tourism Whistler had suggested it. And the Via Ferrata is one of the mountain’s best-kept secrets; very few locals have heard of it. So, of course, Wendy was willing to try it. Anything for a story.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

The group ahead of us (at lower left) is dwarfed by the mountain. Photo: Timothy Baker

And so, on a perfect mountain afternoon, we met our guide, Josh Majorossy, at the Whistler Alpine Guides headquarters a little above Whistler Mountain’s Roundhouse Lodge complex (elevation 6,069 feet). I saw a group returning from the morning climb and, trying to glean a little intel, asked how it was. “Brilliant,” they delivered in a British accent. Okay. But is there anything I should know about it? “It was just brilliant.” Thanks.

Josh was an extremely patient and laid-back fellow—a professional mountain guide who does the climb twice a day and has led hundreds of groups. He assured me that my knee would be fine. He assured Wendy that mountain-climbing novices of only average fitness can do this. “If you can climb a ladder, you can climb the mountain.”

After waiver signing (a popular Whistler tourist activity), we each got kitted up with a hard hat and a harness with two lanyards and carabiners, and we had a brief safety chat. Safety rule #1: One of your lanyards and carabiners must be attached to the safety cable at all times. Rule #2: Yell “Rocks!” if any are dislodged. Rule #3: When someone above you yells “Rocks!,” don’t look up. Rule #4: Only one person at a time can be attached to a segment of safety cable; that way, if you stumble and fall, you won’t take out the people below you.

Earlier in the season, when snow is present, you traverse the snow to the spot where the rungs start. In early August, though—when we did it—you hike down and back up again to the trail. The hike down was a simple walk, but the hike up was actually what mountain climbers call “scrambling.”

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Carrying a broken ski pole he found, Doug scrambles through a crack in the rock. Photo: Timothy Baker

Scrambling is climbing and clambering over rocks freestyle, with no set trail. The boys were in boy heaven. I was worried because we weren’t to the beginning of the safety cable just yet. If they fell, other rocks would break their fall.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Wendy is more at home in the canyons of Manhattan than scrambling up a mountain peak. Photo: Timothy Baker

In the distance, we could see the group ahead of us. So we could see where we were expected to go. Up there? Really?

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Charlie stops for a little natural refreshment. Photo: Timothy Baker

At the starting point of the climb came our first gut check. There were several aluminum ladders attached via cables to the mountain and going almost straight up.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Our first gut check. Josh leads the way up the ladder to the start of the trail. Photo: Timothy Baker

Each of us clipped both our lanyards to the first safety cable. We started the climb, leap-frogging one set of lanyards and carabiners over the other every six feet or so past where the cable was anchored.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Doug climbs the first series of rungs. Photo: Timothy Baker

As Dad, I was constantly watching everyone’s lanyards to make sure that the carabiners had properly attached and closed. If one of us were to stumble and fall, we would fall only as far as the next safety-cable anchor.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

A natural ledge makes a perfect place for Charlie to use panorama mode. Photo: Timothy Baker

On several occasions we witnessed natural rock slides: Steamer-trunk-sized boulders, probably loosened by the weight and thawing of the snow and ice, broke off the mountain peak and slid down the snow chute well away from our vertical trail.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Back on the climb. Photo: Timothy Baker

The rungs themselves are not actually iron. They’re steel rebar inserted into holes drilled into the rock and epoxied in place. (“Via Rebar” just doesn’t sound exotic enough for marketing.) The experience is sometimes like climbing a ladder, but sometimes the rungs are at uneven intervals, or are offset, or both. In several spots there were no rungs at all, as there were natural handgrips and footholds in the rock. Josh challenged us to try not to use the rungs if we could use the natural rock (while still attached to the safety line, of course). The boys took the challenge whenever they could. Wendy did not.

There were a couple of tricky sections (called “technical” by real mountain climbers) where a bit of reach was needed to grab the rungs. On the toughest section, it was a little like a game of Twister. (Left foot blue. Right hand blue.) In that section Wendy needed encouragement from Josh (and his climbing rope).

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Mountain guide Josh gives Wendy a little physical encouragement. Photo: Timothy Baker

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

If the toes of Doug’s shoes give out, I’m wearing him. Photo: Timothy Baker

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

From below, we could see the early group on the last section of the climb. Photo: Timothy Baker

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

Wendy uses a natural foothold where there weren’t any rungs. Photo: Timothy Baker

We probably took a little more time than most groups because I didn’t want to unnecessarily stress my knee or my wife. The final “push” to the top of the trail—at 7,160 feet—was straight up. As we cleared the top of the trail, it was a little weird to see all the people who had ridden the chairlift up.

Via Ferrata whistler mountain

The summit. The views were our reward. Photo: Timothy Baker

Typically we are them: mere passengers in our adventure travels. This time, though, we had gotten up there the hard way—and it gave us a sense of accomplishment that is rare. We also felt relief that (1) we were coming back with the same number of (un-mangled) kids we’d started with. (2) I didn’t need to be winched off the mountain because of my knee. (3) None of my cameras had smashed into the rocks. This was Alpine Climbing 101 and a great introduction to a sport I will never take up.

In the end, the Via Ferrata turned out to be a wonderful family experience—and probably yielded our 2015 Christmas card photo. Yes, we had sore muscles, but we were able to soothe them that night with umbrella drinks in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s hot tubs.

From now on, when we hear of a ski or mountain-bike competition at Whistler, we’ll smile to ourselves and think: We conquered that mountain!

Need to know:

Via Ferrata can be found all over the world.

Bring a wide-angle lens and wear your camera strap so that the camera won’t smash against the rocks.

Bring a light jacket or windbreaker. The weather can get a little chilly at the summit, even when it’s warm down in the valley.

Hiking boots are very useful, but 11-year-old Doug had no problems with a harder soled sport shoe.

Long pants are a good idea. They can handle scrapes better than your skin.

Go at your own pace. Take the afternoon trip so you are not worried about holding up another group. You may want to hire a guide for a private tour.

Bring a bottle of water. If the streams are running, empty out the bottle and refill with that delicious water.

We left our sandals and comfortable shoes at the Alpine Guides hut. Nice to get off our boots and put those on after the climb.

Light gloves are suggested. The safety cable can have a few burrs in it, and you may find yourself grabbing it.

Use the bathroom before you start.

Don’t forget to enjoy the magnificent panoramas.

20 Reasons Why You Should Go to Iceland

Wendy’s husband, Tim, here. I’m the one who surprised her with the trip to Iceland last week. In Iceland you can pack a diverse mix of dramatic landscapes—waterfalls, volcanos, geothermal pools, glaciers, geysers, black sand beaches—into just one short trip. Here’s a taste of what we saw in just six days there.

1. You can hike to a platform at the top of Skogafoss waterfall, on Iceland’s southern coast, but the best view is about three quarters of the way up. That’s where Charlie was standing when I shot this photo.

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2. Lupines galore in the foreground of a glacier near Vik, on Iceland’s southern coast

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3. You can walk between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park. The plates pull away from each other 2 centimeters every year. Thus all the volcanic activity in Iceland.

3 Charlie Thingvellir DSC_6416

4. Gullfoss waterfall, one of Europe’s largest, on the Golden Circle loop.

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5. Go ahead and rent a car. The roads are in excellent shape and quiet, the wide-open scenery makes for stress-free driving, and the 90 km speed limit is strictly adhered to. Just be sure to purchase the windscreen/gravel protection insurance. This is Highway 1 on the southern coast.

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6. Located en route from Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon makes for a reinvigorating antidote to jet lag after a long flight. Make sure you try the silica mud mask.

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7. The black sand beach at Dyrholaey, near Vik.

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8. Right off the parking lot for the black sand beach, we got within 20 feet of dozens of puffins nesting on the cliff faces. So there’s no need to spend money on a puffin specialty tour.

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9. One puffin takes flight.

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10. Seljalandsfoss waterfall, on Iceland’s southern coast. This is the waterfall you can actually walk behind.

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11. Wear raingear if you plan to walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall the way Wendy did. You will get drenched.

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12. Here’s Wendy emerging on the other side of Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

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13. That’s Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010, shutting down European airspace for a week.

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14. Inside Thrihnukagigur volcano. If you don’t mind heights, and you’d enjoy riding a window washer’s scaffold up and down the equivalent of a 38-story building, and you don’t think the volcano will erupt while you are down there, then the Inside the Volcano tour is for you. It’s like being in a cathedral of geology.

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15. A collapsed lava tube near Thrihnukagigur volcano

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16. Thingvellir National Park, as viewed from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—a rift where the North American and Eurasian plates meet.

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17. The boys and I hiked back for a closer look at Myrdalsjokull glacier. No fences, no noise, no entry fee, nobody there. We really felt connected with the country.

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18. There’s nothing special about this photo, except that it was 11:36 pm when I shot it through our rental-car dashboard while driving. One reason you can pack so much sightseeing into each day in Iceland (in summertime, at least) is that the days are so long.

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19. The lighthouse in Reykjavik Harbor

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20. Reykjavik, as viewed from the Lutheran church that is Iceland’s tallest building.

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21. And here’s the reason you might not want to visit Iceland: Whale hunting. On a whale watching tour out of Reykjavik, we saw one live whale…and two dead ones. Two Fin whales had just been killed by a whale-hunting ship in the very spot we were headed to. Fin whales are endangered and the second largest mammal, growing up to be 75 feet long. Iceland exports whale meat to Japan.

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Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

5 Ways Namibia’s Desert-Adapted Lions Will Awe You

One of many reasons to visit Namibia is its otherworldly Skeleton Coast, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see the elusive desert-adapted lions that are unique to this part of the world. I knew little about the cats when I arrived at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp on a recent safari, but I left fascinated by their story. Here are five reasons why these unusual lions should be on everyone’s must-see list.

Desert adaptation is the key to their survival
It’s hard to imagine anything surviving on the Skeleton Coast, the world’s oldest desert, spanning thousands of miles along the western border of Namibia. Between the lack of food and water, sand storms, blinding fog, and drastic changes in temperature from bitter cold to blazing hot, often within the same day, it’s one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet—and the last place I expected to see a pride of lions.

Indigenous to the region, desert-adapted lions are the same species as their counterparts elsewhere in Africa, but over countless generations have evolved to endure what the others cannot. To withstand the arid wasteland, the lions can go without water, deriving what they need from the blood of their prey. Their coats are slightly heavier to protect them from the cold, and they can travel long-distances in search of food.

Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

They were thought to be extinct
The number-one threat to the survival of desert lions is human-lion conflict—namely, villagers who shoot or kill the big cats to protect their livestock. In the early ‘80s, multiple adult lions were shot, and for some time they were thought to be extinct. But the lions prevailed and were later discovered in the mountains to the east. Over the years the population grew, and today there are approximately 150 lions in the region. With such a small number, however, the gene pool can be easily compromised. The loss of only a few breeding adults could potentially tip the scales toward disaster.

nambia desert lions Flip Stander Photo by Susan Portnoy

Dr. Philip “Flip” Stander spends four months at a time alone in the desert in his research vehicle, studying Namibia’s desert lions. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

They have a champion
Spending up to four months at a time alone in the desert in his research vehicle slash home-away-from-home, Dr. Philip “Flip” Stander is the foremost expert on desert-adapted lions and, for 18 years, their proverbal knight in shining armor. The epitome of the stereotypical misanthropic field researcher, Stander sports a rugged beard, deeply tanned skin, and writes his notes on his arms with a Sharpie. He’s devoted his life to studying the cats and to developing tactics that will help the lions and villagers to co-exist. In 1998, he founded Desert Lion Conservation Project, to “collect sound ecological data, address human-lion conflicts, and to develop a conservation strategy.”

Stander believes tourism plays a crucial role in the lions’ future. The cats are a big draw for Namibia and, the more dollars associated with them, the more reason everyone has to keep them alive. The problem is that many of the people in the villages who are forced to live with the lions aren’t seeing the benefits of bearing the burden. Stander hopes that by educating travelers and working with the government and villagers on the ground, he can help bridge the gap.

Five cubs hold the key to the future
Two years ago tragedy struck: One of the few remaining adult male lions was shot. The fate of the population, once again, seemed doomed. But Mother Nature stepped in. At about the same time, three females from the Floodplain pride—a mother and her two daughters—gave birth to five male cubs, an almost unheard-of scenario in the wild. In one fell swoop, a brighter future seemed possible, as long as the lions could stay alive and breed.

Coined the Five Musketeers, they’re a lucky bunch. In the wild, 80% of cubs die before the age of two, and yet all of them have successfully reached that milestone. Soon they will permanently separate from their mothers in search of females with whom they can mate.

The Musketeers are collared and monitored very closely by Stander. The information he receives via satellite helps him to track their movements and study their behaviors. He also uses the collars to provide Hoanib with their location so that guests can see them if they’re in range. In return, the camp’s parent company, Wilderness Safaris, helps Stander with funding and logistics. Without Standers’ intel, the lions’ territory is so vast and the terrain so difficult, they would be almost impossible to find.

Namibia's desert-adapted lions Photo by Susan Portnoy

Namibia’s desert-adapted lions; the young ones are collared and monitored by the Desert Lion Conservation Project. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Lions don’t like stand-up comedy
When trying to navigate the delicate balance between humans and lions, it pays to be creative. Take a recent incident where the big cats were detected in the vicinity of a large herd of cattle along the Hoanib Riverbed. Stander knew that tempers would flare and lions could be killed if he didn’t do something to intervene. Physically moving the cats is a last resort, so he used his vehicle’s sound system to broadcast loud music and human voices in hopes of driving the lions out. According to Stander, he blasted, “stand-up comedy shows with female or high-pitched male voices. The latter proved to be particularly annoying to the lions and they moved away from the danger area. (Thanks goes to Bill Connolly & Ben Elton).”

The Five Musketeers will air on the small screen
The Five Musketeers are stars in Namibia; soon they will be celebs around the world. Will and Leanne Steenkamp of Into Nature Productions spent two years battling the desert and working with Stander to film the lions from young cubs to current day. The film, called The Vanishing Kings: Lions of the Namib, looks at their herculean efforts to survive the Skeleton Coast and the lives of their matriarch (of sorts), the majestic Queen. The documentary will air on the Smithsonian channel later this summer.

Disclosure: Susan was a guest of Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp during her visit. While discussion of her journey was expected on her own blog, The Insatiable Traveler, how and what she chose to write was completely at her discretion.


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.


Read more about Susan Portnoy’s trip to Namibia at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.

Mombacho Volcano and Lake Nicaragua

Seven Spectacular Places to Celebrate Earth Day

It’s Earth Day, a day to celebrate the natural world and its beauty. And while the whole world is a worthwhile playground for those with the travel bug, these particular destinations will satisfy the desire to get back to nature—on Earth Day or any day.

Costa Rica

Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park

Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park. Photo by Sergio Pucci/Courtesy Costa Rica Expeditions.

Thrill seekers can have their pick of whitewater rafting, zip-lining and surfing experiences, but Priscilla Jimenez, one of our Costa Rica Trusted Travel Experts likes to highlight the often overlooked San Vito de Java region, in the southwest corner of Costa Rica, which is home to three of the country’s highlights: La Amistad International Park, one of the country’s prime hiking and birding destinations (start your hike at either the Pittier or Alta Mira ranger station); the Wilson Botanical Gardens, with its thousand-plus plant species, part of the Talamanca-Amistad Biosphere Reserve (join a guided walk or use one of the self-guided trail booklets); and finally, Golfo Dulce, a superb place for ocean kayaking, fishing, and spotting dolphins and humpback whales.

Find out more in Priscilla’s Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica’s natural wonders.


Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua

Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua. Courtesy Nica Adventures

Pierre Gédéon, our Trusted Travel Expert for Nicaragua, says the place to experience untouched nature at its best is the Rio Indio Lodge, close to Rio Maíz National Park and the Costa Rican border—at the spot where the San Juan River spills into the Caribbean. Amid your fishing, birding, and hiking, make time for a visit to sleepy San Juan de Nicaragua, founded by the Spanish in 1539. For more of an adrenaline rush, sandboard down the still-active Cerro Negro Volcano or kayak through the islands formed by an ancient eruption of the Mombacho volcano.

Find out more in Pierre’s Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua

The Arctic

Polar bear, Svalbard, Arctic

Polar bear, Sea Ice Svalbard, Arctic. Photo by Shelley Fry.

Our Trusted Travel Expert for small-ship expedition cruises, Ashton Palmer, spent nearly a decade as an expedition leader, guide, naturalist, conservationist, Zodiac driver, bird-watcher, and photographer in the last great wild places: the Arctic, Antarctica, the Amazon, and the South Pacific. The prime time and spot to see polar bears, he says, is mid- to late June on Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago, home to about 3,000 of them in the wild.

Find out more in Ashton’s Insider’s Guide to the Arctic by Land and Sea


Estancia Nibepo Aike, Los Glacieras National Park. Photo courtesy Southwind Adventures.

Estancia Nibepo Aike, Los Glacieras National Park. Photo courtesy Southwind Adventures.

It’s just about winter in Patagonia now, but come October, it’ll be the ideal shoulder season, with fewer tourists and more opportunity to spot elusive wildlife. Tom Damon, our Trusted Travel Expert for Patagonia, says the country is a hiker’s dream, in part because of the low elevations compared to the Andes farther north in Peru. If you only have time for one hike in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, don’t miss the flower-filled route following the Electrico River to its junction with the Blanco. After a gradual uphill hike, have lunch close to where climbers stage their big wall climbs up Fitz Roy. The gem of this day is not descending to town as others do but, rather, venturing up a zigzag trail (1,300 feet higher in elevation) to top out at Laguna de los Tres. It’s a completely still lake that reflects the light and vertical rock of Fitz Roy’s east face, the spire of Poincenot Needle, and the unusually blue Piedras Blancas Glacier.

Read more of Tom’s Insider’s Guide to Patagonia


Elephants in the Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Photo courtesy Linda Friedman.

Elephants in the Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. Photo courtesy Linda Friedman.

A safari reminds us of the world we need to be protecting—and the animals we share it with. On this sprawling continent, you have many options for a memorable safari: elephants in Zambia, gorillas in Uganda, the great wildebeest and zebra migration in Kenya and Tanzania, lions in South Africa, big cats in Botswana, even an Africa cruise to many of these locations. The options are unlimited. Find the right one for you by exploring our Insider’s Guides to a range of African destinations.

Read more of our Insider’s Guides to Africa

New Zealand

Fiordland Lake, helicopter

Fiordland Lake by helicopter. Photograph courtesy of Jean-Michel Jefferson

New Zealand is a year-round adventure mecca, but each season has its advantages. Jean-Michel Jefferson, our Trusted Travel Expert for New Zealand, picks February as the best summer month, with the most reliable dry and warm weather. Temperatures begin dropping slightly in March, which is nice for hikers and cyclists. April and May bring beautiful autumn colors and cooler weather. August is the top month for skiing: New Zealand has some of the finest heli-skiing in the world, and combining this with a tropical island can be fun. To get off the beaten path, don’t miss the South Island’s east coast which has long been overlooked in favor of the enormously popular west coast (which is also beautiful; see Fiordland, pictured). But now the east coast is on the map, led by places like the lovely historic coastal town of Oamaru. Want to see some real New Zealand? This is it. From Oamaru, a drive through the wide-open landscapes of Central Otago is inspiring and well off the normal tourist tracks, and both areas now also have excellent places to stay.

Read more of Jean-Michel’s Insider’s Guide to Active New Zealand

British Columbia, Canada

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve british columbia

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo courtesy Destination BC.

Summer is prime time in British Columbia for kayaking, hiking, fishing, and river rafting, not to mention bear- and whale-watching. Marc Telio, our Trusted Travel Expert for the region, recommends exploring the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which comprises three southern sections of Vancouver Island’s coastline. This area is wild and dramatic, backed by the Vancouver Island Ranges and facing the Pacific Ocean. It has everything from lush rainforest to pristine beaches, with endless hiking trails and excursions for whale watching, bear watching, bird watching, and kayaking. You can also learn about the culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, who have occupied this area for centuries. The park is a lovely full-day drive from Vancouver, a half-day trip from Victoria, or a brief flight from either.

Read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia

What are your favorite destinations for experiencing nature?

elephants locking trunks safari Photo by Susan Portnoy

Safari Packing List: Don’t Leave Home Without These Essentials

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, an African safari is a no-brainer. But wide-ranging temperatures and internal flights with stringent luggage restrictions can make safari packing a real challenge.

Basic requirements include sunscreen, a camera, a good hat, and sporty shoes, of course, but when space and weight are at a premium, what else do you choose and what can you lose? We interviewed our Trusted Travel Experts for Africa to glean the secrets to packing smart for a safari.

lion yawning safari Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

For every safari:

Use a soft, malleable bag with no wheels.
To maximize your options, your best bet is a soft bag that’s flexible enough to squeeze into a tiny storage compartment (wheels are a no-no).
Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris
likes The North Face medium-sized Base Camp Duffel. The Base Camp has internal pockets and can be carried traditionally or as a backpack. Nina Wennersten of Hippo Creek Safaris recommends the L.L. Bean medium-sized Adventure Duffel, what with its super-lightweight fabric weighing a mere 14 ounces.

Count on free laundry.
Flying into the bush means you’ll be on small planes with very little cargo space. Assume you’ll have a limit of 15kg/33lbs per person—camera equipment and carry-on included. The good news: Camps provide free laundry service (though not all of them will launder your undies) so think about packing for a long, adventure weekend—not the full length of your trip—knowing you’ll be able to enjoy clean clothes as needed.

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Cheetah in Kenya. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Stick to neutral tones.
Avoid bright colors that scream “I’m here!” to the animals, and avoid wearing black or dark blue while on game drives, as annoying bugs may think you’re a skinny buffalo.

Think layers
African weather is variable: Evenings and early morning are chilly, but it’s toasty by midday, if not sooner. Layers will keep you prepared for anything. Pants, a T-shirt, a fleece and a light jacket usually suffice outside of the winter months and enable you to peel down as the sun kicks in. Lightweight cargo pants that unzip into shorts are a great way to get two pieces for the price of one. For women, Cherri Briggs of Explore recommends adding a cashmere shawl. It’ll keep you warm when needed, dress up an outfit at dinner, or double as a cover-up at the pool.

Save space for a power strip and other non-clothing essentials.
Even the most luxurious camps have a limited number of outlets in each guest tent, so our experts suggest adding a travel power strip to your packing list so that you can charge everything you need each night. And don’t forget a universal adapter. It will come in handy no matter where you travel. Bring an ultra-light day pack that you can take with you on game drives to carry an extra camera battery, an extra memory card, a pocket journal, your sunglasses, sunscreen, and the like.

For photography enthusiasts who plan on taking a boatload of photos, a small portable hard drive, like Silicon Power’s Rugged Armor 1TB external drive, is highly recommended.

A herd of hippos in Botswana Photo by Susan Portnoy

A herd of hippos in Botswana. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

For specific locations:

During the rainy season (November–February) “a lightweight rain poncho may come in handy,” says Julian Harrison of Premier Tours. If you’re planning on riding in a mokoro, he also recommends including a waterproof bag to store your electronics. In the Okavango Delta, because travel between camps consists of short, small plane rides, you may wish to include Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Read Julian’s Insider’s Guide to Botswana.

The Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda
Julian recommends bringing silica gel dry packs to put in your camera bags; they will protect your electronic devices from the high humidity. Quick-dry shirts and pants will protect you against the humidity, and a pair of gardening gloves will shield your hands from stinging nettles if you’re trekking gorilla or chimpanzee.

Since plastic bags have been banned in Rwanda to help the country cut down on litter and will be confiscated on arrival, Linda suggests reusable pouches for all the odd and ends you would normally toss into zip-top bags.

Read Linda’s Insider’s Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda.

Photographing Lions in Botswana Photo by Susan Portnoy

Photographing lions in Botswana. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania
Some of the best game viewing is during Africa’s winter months (May–August), but the weather can be very cold at night and in the early morning. Nina packs a warm hat, gloves, and a Uniqlo Ultra Light down jacket. She says, “It’s virtually weightless, takes up little room in a suitcase,” and works great on its own or as another layer for when it’s really chilly.

Read Linda’s Insider’s Guide to Kenya’s Great Migration; and Nina’s Insider’s Guides to South Africa and Kenya and Tanzania.

Namibia and Zambia
If you’re visiting during the hot season (October–February), Cherri warns, “Be prepared for serious heat!” She suggests travelers bring plenty of Rehydrate, an electrolyte replacement drink mix, to keep you happy and healthy while out and about. She also recommends putting Listerine in a spray bottle to repel tsetse flies. If you’re going on a walking safari in South Luangwa, Zambia, Julian suggests adding a pair of gaiters to your packing list to keep ticks from attaching to your socks.

Read Cherri’s Insider’s Guide to Namibia and her Insider’s Guide to Zambia.


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.


Read more from Susan Portnoy at her own site, The Insatiable Traveler, and follow her at facebook.com/Insatiabletraveler and @susanportnoy.

Triple Creek Ranch in winter

5 Surprising Reasons to Visit a Guest Ranch in Winter (Instead of Summer)

You might think, “Who on earth would want to go to a ranch in winter? You can’t horseback ride, you can’t fly fish, you can’t hike…” But, actually, guest ranches offer a surprising range of fun activities during the winter, as well as an unexpectedly snug atmosphere—what’s more, there are even a few ways to save some money.

I happen to be at Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana right now, an adults-only resort voted the No. 1 hotel in the world by Travel and Leisure readers this year (and No. 5 by Condé Nast Traveler readers), and thanks to a subzero cold snap, I’m seeing first-hand how fun a winter ranch vacation can be.

1. Winter sports are breathtaking.

Even bundled up in a hat, chaps, and a duster coat, I had a blast horseback riding through the snow.

Even bundled up in a hat, chaps, and a duster coat, I had a blast horseback riding through the snow.

You don’t have to be an extreme skier to get an adrenaline rush from snow sports. Sure, horseback riding is fun during the summer, but sprinkle a few inches of snow over the fields and pine trees of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, where Triple Creek Ranch is located, and it becomes downright magical. The same goes for other activities you might normally associate with warm weather: archery, fishing, trap shooting, wildlife spotting. At TCR, all of these are doable—and definitely worth doing—even in the cold, and they usually come with the added benefit of a thermos of homemade hot chocolate, a personal bonfire where possible (like at the archery range), and a chauffeur to take you back and forth.

Then there are all the pulse-raising sports you can only do in winter: downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and skijoring (a Norwegian sport that’s basically like water skiing but instead of water, you ski on snow, and instead of being pulled by a boat you’re pulled by a horse).

And don’t worry if you didn’t pack enough warm clothes, TCR has a trove of parkas, gloves, earmuffs, boots, hats, and other gear available for anyone to use. I’ve been hoarding hand warmers myself.

2. The indoors can be as much fun as the outdoors.

In the dead of winter, when nothing sounds better than hunkering down with a hearty meal and a bottle of wine, Triple Creek hosts special event weekends for foodies and oenophiles. And the best part? They’re available to all guests at no extra charge.

A cooking class with executive chef Jacob Leatherman, Triple Creek Ranch

A cooking class with executive chef Jacob Leatherman. Photo courtesy Triple Creek Ranch.

For instance, the ranch hosts Cooking School weekends, when executive chef Jacob Leatherman and his sous chef, pastry chef, and sommelier offer daily, hands-on classes. In the past, cooking weekends have included visits from vintners, tastings, and wine-pairing lessons. This is no amateur-hour wine program either: Every year for the past ten, Triple Creek has won Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for its cellar of more than 500 bottles. So even if you miss the vintner weekends, you can sample plenty of impressive bottles throughout your stay—all house wines, spirits and beers are free while you’re here, whether you choose to sip them with your meals (also included) or in front of the fireplace in your cabin, where your wet bar is complimentary too.

And of course, the holidays are their own special events. In addition to festive meals and parties over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, at Triple Creek, you can have your own Christmas tree (real or fake) set up in your cabin. Bring your own ornaments or decorate with the ranch’s stash once you get here.

3. Special stuff is free in the winter.

Most guest ranches offer some type of all-inclusive pricing plan, and (as at Triple Creek) many of your activities will be included in the cost of your stay—but not all. Nevertheless, thanks to seasonal circumstances or special relationships, sometimes activities that would normally cost extra are given away for free. For example, every year during January, guests each get one complimentary dog-sled ride, because the dogs are already in residence training for their races.

Dog sledding at Triple Creek Ranch

Every guest gets a free dog-sledding session during the first few weeks of January. Photo courtesy Triple Creek Ranch.

Off-ranch horse rides are complimentary here in the winter (usually $150 per person), and so are downhill skiing, and guided snowshoeing, fat tire biking and cross-country skiing
excursions. Triple Creek is about a half hour from a hidden ski gem, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, which remains little-known outside of Montana even though it boasts an average of 300 inches of snow per year on its 1,800 acres and 50 runs. TCR guests are entitled to as many complimentary lift tickets as they can handle during their stay, plus equipment and transportation to and from the mountain. Better yet, the staff will bring along hot drinks when they pick you up, and then drop you off at the private hot tub back at your cabin, for your own personal après-ski session.

4. Winter travel can mean seasonal deals.

Be sure to ask about special winter deals wherever you’re booking your guest-ranch vacation: The low season after the holidays can translate to savings, and add-on experiences sometimes bundle activities together at a lower price point. For example, the “Experience Winter” add-on tops off the ranch’s all-inclusive activities with a private guided snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or fat-tire biking tour for two, plus an in-cabin couple’s massage, and hot chocolate and s’mores when you arrive. And as with all stays here, the price includes all meals, all house wines and spirits, many activities and equipment, and (my favorite) chocolate-chip cookies and granola dropped off in your cabin every day.

Pintler cabin (where I'm staying). Photo by Walter Hodges/Courtesy Triple Creek Ranch.

Pintler cabin (where I’m staying). Photo by Walter Hodges/Courtesy Triple Creek Ranch.

5. There might not be anything cozier than a mountain ranch in the snow.

Which brings us to the fireplaces: Fireplaces in your cabin. Fireplaces in the lodge. Fireplaces in the cocktail lounge. Fireplaces everywhere—there’s even a nightly bonfire outside the main lodge, with s’mores.

Don’t feel like sharing? No problem. Every cabin has at least one fireplace (prepped by housekeeping every day), and most cabins also have their own outdoor hot tub on a private deck (a few of the lower-priced cabins share a communal hot tub in a wooded nook, and two ‘honeymoon’ cabins have indoor whirlpools instead). You can even order in a massage—to be enjoyed in front of the fireplace, of course—and all your meals. Seriously, if you were so inclined, you could never step foot outside your winter ranch hideaway, and you’d still have a great vacation.

View from a hot tub at Triple Creek Ranch

View from a hot tub at Triple Creek Ranch

Contact Wendy to find the right Trusted Travel Expert to plan your trip out west.

*Disclosure: Triple Creek Ranch provided me with a three-night stay free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Triple Creek Ranch’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Triple Creek Ranch here.

skiing Pyrenees

My Most Romantic Trip Ever Was a Total Surprise

My most romantic trip ever came as a total surprise. One evening when the kids were toddlers and we were living in midtown Manhattan, the doorbell rang and there stood two unexpected visitors from California: Tim’s sister Linda and brother-in-law Ken. Tim had arranged for them to watch the kids for five nights so he could whisk me away on a surprise Valentine’s Day trip. He handed me an already packed suitcase, and we were off to J.F.K.

Thus began our first trip alone together since the kids were born. I didn’t have a clue where we were headed. In fact, when we landed in Amsterdam for our connecting flight and the Immigration officer asked me what my final destination was, I had to answer, “I have no idea!” His reply: “Are you being kidnapped?” Me: “Sort of.”

Even when I learned that our connecting flight was to Barcelona, I still couldn’t guess our final destination. It couldn’t be Barcelona, since Tim and I had already been there together; I knew he would choose a place where neither of us had ever been, so we could discover it together for the first time.

At the Barcelona airport we picked up a rental car and drove north until I finally figured out where we must be headed:  Andorra.  Yes, Europe’s sixth smallest nation—the one between Spain and France.  Since the month was February, and we were in the Pyrenees, clearly we would be hitting the ski slopes.

Now, when I say that this was my most romantic trip ever, don’t misunderstand: Andorra itself is hardly romantic. It’s not the dreamy, charming European principality you probably envision. It’s got more than its fair share of ugly buildings, traffic (there’s only one road in and out of the country), and discount stores (it’s a tax-haven shopping mecca for European deal seekers). It’s definitely not Spain, and it’s certainly not France, and even after several days there, I’m still not sure what it is. It’s an unusual place. But investigating unusual places is what Tim and I like to do, and we were thrilled to be able to do it the way we used to, B.K. (Before Kids). Plus the sky was blue, the skiing was great, and the Mephisto shoes were 40 percent off.

So you can get a feel for Andorra, here’s my photo album:

Andorra 2

Entering Andorra from Spain

Andorra 3

Surprisingly empty slopes

Andorra 4

The locals speak Catalan

Andorra 5

Lift tickets cost about $60/day.

Andorra 6

A traditional pitcher called a porron

Andorra 8

The most charming town we found: Ordino

Andorra 9


Andorra 10

Checking out a hotel: the Santa Barbara de la Vall d’Ordino

Andorra 11

Caldea: an indoor thermal spa on steroids

Andorra 12

Caldea: the best nightlife we found

Andorra 13

Driving from Andorra into France