Tag Archives: reviews roundup

Colorful houses and boat on a canal in Burano, Venice, Italy

Secrets of Europe: The Spots Most Travelers Miss

While most visitors to Europe head for the big tourist magnets, we encourage you to focus instead on the lesser-known, charming places where you won’t find the tour-bus crowds.  Europe is filled with hidden villages, empty coastlines, and locals-only hangouts—the can’t-miss places that too many uninformed travelers miss. Even in the big cultural capitals, if you arrange your trip through the right sources, you can gain entree to palaces, gardens, galleries, kitchens, and vineyards that are closed to the public but open to you because you know the person with the keys or the clout.

Read the examples below—a compilation that we are continually updating, as new traveler reviews come in—and be surprised by dozens of European experiences you didn’t know about. Here’s how to get your own WOW experience of Europe.

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Idyllic coastline and countryside in Puglia, Italy

View of coastal town Otranto in Puglia, Italy.

View of coastal town Otranto in Puglia, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We’re a family of four, with two adult daughters in their 20s. We had a fantastic experience in this beautiful and authentic part of Italy. We’ve been to the more classic Italian tourist destinations and to multiple Mediterranean spots in other countries, and we strongly recommend a visit to this less explored region near the heel of the Italian boot.

Alison and Elisa really know Puglia! The boutique hotel in Ostuni (Paragon 700) was perfectly located for exploring the northern part of Puglia, where we stayed for four nights. My wife is a relatively discerning interior designer and loved the Paragon 700. While in Ostuni, we went on an e-bike tour of the countryside through the endless olive groves, past numerous trullis, and visited the towns of Locorotondo, Martina Franca, and Alberobello.

On the bike tour, we stopped at a family-run farm, where our girls (and mom and dad!) marveled at the site of a day-old litter of 12 piglets and one-month-old little calves. We experienced mozzarella making, including burrata, and then had an amazing meal—the ultimate farm-to-table experience.

The second part of our Puglia trip was in the south, near Lecce, where we stayed at Masseria Trapana for three nights. Alison and Elisa prepared two experiences for us on this part of the trip which were also fabulous: A private visit to the Duca Carlo Guarini winery, which has been in the same family for nearly 1,000 years—or, 24 generations! The visit to the winery was supposed to last 2 ½ hours, and we were there for more than four hours, including another excellent meal and a tour of the town palace where the adult sons of Don Giovanni (the patriarch who runs the wine business) are building their own winery and wine business.

The day after the winery, we went on a private boat tour of the beautiful coast to see the idyllic Lecce limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and lots of little bays and coves for swimming. Fabrizio, the captain of the Tortuga, did a great job taking care of us, including serving a meal which his mother had prepared. The Tortuga is docked in the port of the ancient town of Otranto. Going in and out of Otranto felt like being in a small, undiscovered St. Tropez.” —Mario and Martha Queiroz

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

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Famous white villages and lesser-known gem in Andalusia, Spain

Aerial evening view of New Bridge over Guadalevin River in Ronda, Andalusia, Spain.

History abounds in Ronda, where a 200-year-old structure earns the name Puente Nuevo, or “New Bridge.” Photo: Shutterstock

Iván planned a fantastic trip for me and two of my children (ages 14 and 20). We started in Seville, a truly beautiful city to which we all hope to return. Our hotel was beautiful, quiet, with wonderful service, and an easy walk to everywhere we wanted to see. We loved our cooking class with Chef Amelia and also enjoyed learning about local tile and pottery styles and trying out these crafts.

Our next stop was Ronda, a city none of us had even heard of. We were thrilled Iván recommended it! Along the way from Seville to Ronda, we got to see the famous white villages and enjoy a gorgeous hike in the area. Ronda is spectacular. The bridge and old city wowed all of us.

Next we moved on to Cádiz, with a stop at a goat farm and mill (where we got to make our own bread) along the way. Our views of the Atlantic from Cádiz were stunning, and we enjoyed walking around town and along the ocean. A highlight of our time in Cádiz was a trip to a bull and horse farm owned by a young woman whose family has a long history in the bullfighting world. We learned a lot, got to see the bulls and Andalusian horses, and enjoyed a lovely lunch with her. Iván set us up with wonderful guides who smoothed the way and translated for us, when needed. We cannot wait to return to explore more of Andalusia!” —Jane Kasey

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

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Rich medieval history in Romania

The view of Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania.

Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania. Photo: Tim Baker

“I traveled to Romania on a last-minute graduation trip with my daughter, Amelia, in August 2023. We have done numerous trips with Wendy’s WOW List agents before and knew that finding an agent through Wendy was the only way to go. Even the destination of our trip was inspired by articles written by Wendy.

Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled. We chose Romania, and Wendy matched us up with Raluca and Ioana. Important to us was connecting with the local people and understanding the country.

Raluca and Ioana set us up with a local guide, Tavi, whose personality matched well with us, which was a good thing since we drove around Romania for 10 days with him. We started in Bucharest, which was great for my daughter to learn what can happen to a country if you vote in a narcissist authoritarian as a leader and to understand what life was like under the latter parts of communist ruling. We had a university history professor give us a tour of an apartment frozen in time from the 1980s under communist rule. We enjoyed wonderful restaurants, an amazing art exhibit, and historical sites in the city.

In Transylvania we enjoyed visiting the Cris Bethlen Castle. It was particularly fun for us since one of our favorite horror movies, The Nun, was shot there. A local man who lives in town jumped in and gave us a detailed tour, including side stories on the actors during the filming. We went on an amazing mountain bike ride (about 20 miles) primarily in the hills and forests with some fun single track as well. The mountain bike guide had helped to build the trails, which will eventually connect a large portion of Transylvania for mountain bike tours.

We saw wonderful fortressed churches and cities throughout our trip, including the beautiful Sighisoara. Always enjoying them without crowds and with a random local who had the keys to let us in the church or describe some interesting tidbit of history through our guide as the interpreter.

We met a local weaver whose family had been doing traditional weaving for generations and who rescued a loom headed for destruction. We enjoyed a visit with a local herbalist whose herb garden was expansive and whose knowledge of remedies was sought out throughout the area. Here we enjoyed a dinner in her home, again understanding her story and her life and sharing ours. We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO site Viscri, supported by King Charles, and enjoyed the views from the fortressed church over the rolling hills.

We moved on to Brasov. Here we had a private tour of Bran Castle and had the opportunity to climb into the highest turret to view the mountain pass that the lookouts would use in centuries past. When we expressed interest in a hike, Tavi took us up a mountainside where he had helped a friend build a cabin. We met one of his friends, a local shepherd, and discussed bears threatening his flock.

Bottom line our visit was filled with unique experiences where we connected with the people of Romania and attempted to understand their stories. Romania is a beautiful, relatively undiscovered country with rich medieval history and more recent history of the rise and fall of communism. It is not as restored as other places in Western Europe, but its beauty, its history, and its people are wonderful to experience. The smaller crowds allow for a much more enjoyable visit than other European countries.”—Theresa Boone

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

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Athens, Santorini, and Greece’s “beautiful little island” of Sifnos

Authentic buildings and clear water beach in Sifnos island in Greece.

Sifnos island in Greece. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently returned from a lovely 10-day trip to Greece, which Jacoline and Evan planned for us. Our first stop was Athens. The private tour of the Parthenon was fabulous, as was the E-bike tour of the city. But equally memorable was the view from our hotel. We were traveling with another couple and Jacoline suggested we share the penthouse suite at the Perianth. What an incredible view of the Parthenon, especially in the evening when it was so beautifully illuminated!

We knew we wanted to visit Athens and Santorini but asked Jacoline to pick a third stop. She hit a home run with her selection of Sifnos, a beautiful little island where we took a fun cooking class and enjoyed a half day on a private skippered boat trip on the wonderfully blue Aegean Sea. The scenery was breathtaking. The small hotel Jacoline selected was lovely. The staff was extremely personable and made us feel very special.” —Debbie Grob

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

START A TRIP TO GREECE

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, an off-the-radar culinary gem in northeastern Italy

Morning seascape of Adriatic sea with the Miramare Castle.

Miramare Castle in Trieste, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer helped us plan a two-week trip to Friuli Venezia Giulia. The area is a melting pot of northern Italian, Austrian and Slovenian cuisines and has great wines (mostly white). Inexplicably, the region doesn’t seem to be on the tourist radar, so of course we decided that this was the place for us!

We had a guided tour on our first full day in Trieste. We learned about the long struggle for control of the city between the Venetian Republic and the Hapsburgs of Austria, and the resulting cosmopolitanism of Trieste. After two days on our own in Trieste, our driver took us to the Collio wine country, with a stop at Miramare Castle on the way.

The accommodation Jennifer suggested to us in the Collio was outstanding—just what we were hoping for! The property was lovely, with a spa and walking paths through the surrounding vineyards. Jennifer helped us with booking and transportation for lunch at a nearby restaurant we had set our hearts on. (Shout out to Stanley Tucci for his Friulian footnote in “Searching for Italy”!) We had our local guide back for a half-day trip to Gorizia, on the Slovenian border. Having discussed our interest in World War I with her, she arranged for us to make a short visit to an Italian war memorial that was nearby. We also spent an amazing day visiting local wine producers and sampling their wares. (Our favorites were Friuliano and Schioppettino!)

After our break in the countryside, we moved on to Udine. There we had another guided tour, learning about the tug of war fought over the area for centuries and the remarkable mix of historical influences at play. A highlight was seeing Tiepolo’s amazing ceiling frescoes. From our base in Udine, we visited the lovely town of Cividale del Friuli, with beautiful Lombard art and architecture, and day-tripped to Kobarid in Slovenia to learn about the Italian front in the First World War. So much of what we know about World War I is focused on Belgium and France. Learning about trench warfare in the mountains was fascinating and a highlight of our trip.

We also had a WOW Moment while staying in Udine: We had a private cooking demo in the kitchen with chef Anna Barbina and her mother, who serves as her sommelier. Anna made five traditional dishes for us to sample (with wine served by her mother, of course), then we had lunch in her osteria, AB Osteria Contemporanea, where she serves contemporary twists on traditional cooking. Heavenly! Anna and her mother were delightful and couldn’t have been more gracious.

FVG was full of beautiful scenery and art, brimming over with fascinating history, and the food and wine were simply spectacular. We’ve had many incredible meals in Italy over the years, but we had more standouts on this trip than any other. If food is your religion, you should make your way to FVG.” —Rachel Webber

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

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Italy’s Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore

Couple enjoying a boat ride on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.

Aimee Reed got a perspective on Lake Maggiore that most travelers miss.

“We had the delightful experience of working with Maria for our recent Italy trip to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday. She and her team delivered above and beyond all of our dreams for this amazing and unforgettable vacation. We were very interested in exploring less populated places, rich with history and local cuisine. We wanted a relaxed pace, time on the water, food and wine experiences.

We flew into Milan, were met by our driver, and traveled to Santa Margherita Ligure. Spent four days exploring the Cinque Terre, Portofino, and the surrounding areas. We spent a full day on the sea in a private luxury boat. Expertly guided tours through the five cities of the Cinque Terre and a sunset dinner in Manarola was the icing on the cake! Spectacular views! Every detail and logistic perfectly planned and executed.

We traveled next to Lake Maggiore where we stayed four nights in the exquisite Villa Amnita. Our local guide, Carolyn, who guided us through the Borromean Islands, was absolutely a joy to be with and extremely knowledgeable in the history of the region, the islands. She accompanied us for two half-day tours and tastings. The quality of the private tours was a standout service! Phenomenal guides who are passionate about their work and focused on delivering the most extraordinary experience. We enjoyed private boating excursions on the lake and even ventured into Switzerland for a day.

The final leg of our journey was spent in fabulous Milan shopping, touring the Duomo and admiring Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” We love Italy and are already thinking of our next trip to Florence, Rome and Tuscany!” —Aimee Reed

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

The hidden charms of Croatia, Herzegovina, Montenegro via both land and sea

Aerial view at amazing archipelago in front of town Hvar, Croatia Mediterranean.

Aerial view of the archipelago in Hvar, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, two children (ages 4 and 6) and I just returned from a 2.5-week trip through Croatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro, coordinated by Ala and her fabulous team. The trip was, in a word, perfection—so thoughtfully planned out and orchestrated, with amazing guides, fabulous restaurant recommendations, and superb on-the-ground service. It was the first large international trip we’ve taken with our two kids, and it ended up surpassing all our expectations. My older child kept exclaiming, ‘Mom, Croatia is paradise!’ They’re not wrong.

Ala did a wonderful job of recommending hotels that were family-friendly, given the constraints she was working with (some areas in Croatia really just don’t have true luxury hotels yet like I am used to). One highlight was the Relais & Chateaux property Maslina, on the island of Hvar, which is a true gem—everyone should splurge and stay there. It’s located a 20-minute walk from Stari Grad (there’s a beautiful paved path that winds along the coast), had exceptional food, great rooms with gorgeous views, a truly attentive staff who took care of everything, and two great pools for the kids to enjoy—along with a kids’ club which my two children loved. While on the island we also had an incredible full-day private boat charter to the Pakleni Islands, fully arranged by Ala, and it was magical—we swam in beautiful azure waters, saw fish (it was my older child’s first time donning goggles to ‘snorkel’ and they loved it!); and took in incredible views. Many times, we were one of only a few boats located in our swimming area.

One of the things our family most appreciated about Ala was her ability to pivot on the fly and suggest plans that would work best for our younger children, as we were not sure what would and wouldn’t work for our kids. In Split, for example, Ala put us in a charming hotel right in the historic palace area, but its size and location meant it lacked the amenities my kids like (think pools, beach access, etc.). When I inquired about a good public beach to visit, knowing my kids would want some beach time on this stop, Ala was quick to help us set up an afternoon at Le Meridien outside of town (and coordinate transportation for us as well)—all on an hour’s notice. While not a traditional activity that most would plan—and not something I would have found on my own—it was perfect for my family, as the kids spent the day being fishes and I spent the afternoon reading a book seaside.

As I mentioned above, this was our first large, multi-country trip with our children and we didn’t know exactly what to expect—we were learning as we went. Ala made herself and her team available at all times—via WhatsApp or phone—to pivot and make changes as I requested. And, while I didn’t expect to, I ended up making multiple change requests! We were able to shift tour start times to better align with our schedule once we ended up on-continent, and we added/subtracted items as we realized what worked best for our family.

On our drive to Herzegovina, Ala was happy to flex our schedule on a day’s notice so that we could stop at Kravica waterfall, where one can swim at the base of the falls—something that our two kids really enjoyed! We bought small nets from the vendor at the base of the waterfall and one of my kids ‘caught’ their first fish—a huge moment for them! Our tour guides flexed their schedules to accommodate our children’s interests. In Mostar we ended up attending a Bosnian Street Food festival one evening, complete with a DJ and a bouncy house (something my kids were thrilled about!) because our guide made sure to mention it to us and show us where it was set up—it wasn’t something we ever would have found on our own.

The level of attention to detail and full-service offerings from Ala and team just made this trip such a dream. Our family had the best time and our two children are already asking to go back.” —Kim Segal

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

START A TRIP TO CROATIA, BOSNIA, OR MONTENEGRO

Azores: a quick flight from the east coast for island adventures & a European feel

Lagoa des Sites Cidades on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Photo: Traveler Tony Ford-Hutchinson

“For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas, The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach. We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream. Throughout the trip we had excellent local food and wine, including ultra-fresh seafood and excellent beef (cows outnumber people on the islands). A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Locals-only spots in Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola, Alentejo Region, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

“We wanted to take a family trip for two weeks to Portugal with our two young children, seven and two years old. We asked Goncalo and Joana to plan an authentic, off-the-beaten-path look into the south of Portugal and the Alentejo and Lisbon, and we had a perfect time. Portugal is incredible! And it’s possible to beat the summer crowds.

Everything was planned and executed perfectly from the minute we landed. We loved our day in Sintra and the coast at Azenhas Do Mar with our guide, Luís, and my son loved spending the day with our cooking teacher, Claudia. We loved our apartment at Lumiares in Lisbon and the breakfasts on the rooftop. One of the highlights was our Costa da Caparica beach day at Irmao. We felt like we were one of the only tourists, and it felt like a slice of life for young Lisboans. Joana also got us a reservation at Belcanto, a very special experience for a parents’ night out.

Another highlight of the trip was the people we met and the food at Craveiral Farmhouse. The kids loved to roam on their bikes, and we found our favorite beach and fish shack on the beach on the quiet coastline of Costa Vicentina. We didn’t hear any English at these beaches, and the water and coves were so unique. The most spectacular property we stayed at was Sao Lourenco do Barrocal in the Alentejo. We had such a special time there, with delicious food and hospitality. We are so grateful to Joana for making sure we had large rooms at each of our hotels, giving our family lots of space, and ease of rental car and drivers made everything stress-free. Portugal has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit, and we plan on returning to see more of this beautiful country!” —Gina Schulman

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

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

A “smaller jewel” in Italy’s Lake District

View of the island Isola San Giulio at the Lake Orta in Italy.

Island Isola San Giulio at the Lake Orta in Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We worked with Emanuela to plan our trip from Venice to Verona to the Lake Region. We had planned to go to Lake Como or Lake Garda. After our initial zoom call and emails asking about our particular likes and dislikes and goals for our trip, Emanuela suggested we skip the crowds that are visiting Italy this year and instead go to Lake Orta, a smaller jewel of a lake located just west of Lake Maggiore.

The hotel Emanuela recommended was delightful and our tour guides were outstanding. We could never have planned a trip like this on our own, which included tours of historical interest, culinary interest and hiking. We look forward to working with Wendy’s recommended tour planner for our next trip.” —Mike Brennan

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Hydra, Greece: “An island that we never knew existed but that quickly became our favorite…”

Typical white house with flowers on Hydra Island in a sunny day in Greece.

Typical whitewashed houses on Hydra. Photo: Shutterstock

Jacoline made the most of our short trip and somehow turned every single day into a highlight. I never thought I could say that about a vacation! There were five adults on this trip, and we all had our favorites, which is a credit to her. Jacoline created experiences that we would have never done on our own, like spending time with a wonderful family on their farm, feeding their animals and making Spanakopita as part of a huge feast on their terrace, as well as private wine tours, personal guides to archeological sites, pottery classes, and a private cooking lesson on more amazing Greek food. We loved really getting to meet the people and understanding the culture.

We loved the unique boutique hotels, especially on Hydra, an island that we never knew existed but that quickly became our favorite. We never felt like a ‘tourist’ but more like students in a history class which we found fascinating. We had never heard of this island, but after talking with Jacoline, she booked us in a wonderful mansion-turned-boutique-hotel (Hydrea) that served us breakfast each morning on the terrace overlooking the water/town. Staff was very personable and allowed us to wander the property to look at the historic home. There are no cars or motorcycles, so we enjoyed the peace and quiet, especially after a few days in Athens. If you get a chance, don’t miss this gem!

We left Hydra to spend our last days in Oia (Santorini). Our pace picked back up for a grand finale day, touring vineyards before boarding our own catamaran for a half-day excursion which concluded with chasing the sunset. It was the perfect ending to the perfect vacation!! This was our third trip using Wendy Perrin’s services. We have had great experiences on each trip and they just keep getting better!” —Karrie Evans

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

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Portugal’s unexplored medieval towns

Cobblestone street decorated with green plants.

Cobblestone street in Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Patricia planned a wonderful and varied 9-day itinerary for us. This was our third trip to Portugal, so we wanted to visit places we had previously missed. After Lisbon we drove to Belmonte and explored the medieval towns of east central Portugal, including Sortelha and Trancoso. This is a beautiful, less traveled part of the country where we were often the only tourists walking the narrow, winding streets and eating our bacalhau (cod stew) besides local families in tiny cafes. We stayed in Belmonte’s Pousada and ate one of the best meals of our trip—an unexpected discovery in a fairly isolated location.

Next we spent three days in the Douro Valley where we enjoyed a private cruise down the Douro river and wine tastings at two Quintas. At Bomfim 1896, Goncalo and Patricia surprised us with a WOW Moment dinner accompanied by wines from the adjacent Quinta. Given the choice of ordering a la carte or giving Chef Pedro Lemos free reign to create whatever inspired him, we chose the latter. The evening was so much fun, as the chef and serving staff brought us a sequence of small plates that were as artistic as they were delicious.

We spent the last two days in Porto, which is charming but in mid-March already overrun with tourists. We look forward to working with Goncalo and Patricia on a trip to the Azores.” —Ruby Sinclair

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

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The Mediterranean islands of Malta and Sardinia

The famous arch of Blue Grotto in Malta.

The Arch of Blue Grotto in Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

“The nine-day itinerary Jason created for us to Malta and Sardinia in March was crammed with memorable experiences: entrance to the 4000 BC Hypogeum underground burial complex (tickets difficult to come by); a fascinating visit with a sixth-generation gilder; the tastiest private tour of a food market I’ve ever been on; a walk in the Sardinian countryside to see the island’s wild four-foot-tall horses; and—my favorite—a fabulous multi-course lunch set up just for us on an isolated cliff in Gozo above the crashing waves.

Jason’s ground teams were as interesting as the sights and scenery—our Malta guide, Martin, is a practicing Knight of Malta whose title goes back generations, as well as a professional photographer and former coach of Australia’s Olympic bobsled team (go figure); our driver there, Mario, is a former comptroller and auditor in addition to being an all-around great guy; guide Paola got her start translating for Tony Ryan when he was setting up his Ryanair empire in Sardinia; Marcello, our driver in Sardinia, had recently returned from the Polish border as a volunteer transporting Ukrainian orphans by bus to safety.

And if you ever want to feel like Bill Gates, now is your moment: Thanks to the VIP service Jason arranges at the airport, you wait in a private lounge before being escorted past the frenzied crowds to a town car on the tarmac that drives you to your plane, all before boarding officially begins.” —Priscilla Eakeley

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

START A TRIP TO MALTA

Alta, Norway

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Northern Lights in Alta, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“I first heard about Jan through the Wendy Perrin WOW List. Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list, and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. The hotels were excellent, and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely, and our dinners there were incredible. Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them three out of three nights!

Jan also suggested a visit to the area where the Sami live and herd reindeer. It was the best advice! These indigenous people live the same way their ancestors did, and it was a privilege to spend the day with them. Mathis, a Sami elder, met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain. After that, we snowmobiled back to his home, where he had prepared a delicious lunch of salmon and Arctic char. He generously and patiently answered all our questions and made us feel like welcomed guests. Our day with this incredible gentleman was truly the highlight of our trip, and it is an experience that will not be forgotten.” —Judy Wimpfheimer

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

Lesser-known treasures of Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Jennifer arranged for us to have Veronica as our tour guide while we were in Florence. Veronica was so warm and friendly. She had a fantastic knowledge of the area and was able to explain things in a fun and educational way. A highlight of the trip was a private visit to Palazzo Corsini, where we not only had Veronica’s expertise, but we also had the privilege of Countess Francesca, who grew up and still lives there, conduct the tour. We had such a wonderful afternoon. Another highlight was spending an afternoon visiting with local artisans of Florence. Veronica took us to places which we never would have found on our own.” —Kevin Haney

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

START A TRIP TO FLORENCE

Belfast and Derry in Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway in a beautiful summer day, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock

“When I told Jonathan that I had recently watched the movie Belfast and loved the Netflix series Derry Girls, he suggested traveling off the beaten path to Northern Ireland. That was excellent advice, as we really felt like we were on an exciting adventure, instead of following a more predictable southern itinerary.

We started our magical two weeks in Dublin, then traveled to Belfast and Derry, where we toured The Murals and learned the sad but interesting history of political and religious conflict. Our hotel in Belfast, the Culloden Estate, upgraded us to a fabulous suite and provided us with tickets to the Titanic Belfast museum (fascinating—don’t miss it!).

On to the Donegal region for perhaps the most awesome sights of our trip during our hike up Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe! We stayed at Lough Eske Castle, another lovely hotel where we were treated like royalty.  It truly was a trip of lifetime that would not have been as memorable without the excellent guidance and advice from Jonathan and Katie!” —Karen Davis

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The Lofoten Islands, Norway

Northern lights explosion on snowy mountain range near coastline at Lofoten islands, Norway

Northern Lights in Lofoten Islands, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“When planning our two-week trip to Norway, we had discussed with Jan about cruising vs. driving—and he totally recommended the drive. We are so glad we took his recommendation. We started in Bergen, driving north through the fjords, and had constant awe-inspiring scenery. Jan arranged two different times we would be on the water in a fjord, so we did not miss the feeling of being on a cruise. We spent half a day on a RIB boat—just the two of us and the captain—gliding along the fjord waters.

Then we flew to the Lofoten Islands, where we stayed in a Rorbu in Reine. We had a fun WOW Moment when an excellent halibut dinner was prepared for us in our own room and we were able to enjoy this private time together watching the harbor with a great meal!  Thank you for arranging this!!  A couple of hours later, we stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights—right there on our own porch!!

We travel to see the beauty of the world and explore famous sites, but the best part is always when there are opportunities to meet the people who live there and you have the chance to gain insights into their way of life, culture, interests, and way of seeing the world. We always come home feeling enriched from these experiences. Norway is a beautiful country with incredible people. What a pleasure to have been able to share their country for two weeks!” —Sally Boland

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Private access in Tuscany and Umbria, Italy

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence.

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence. Photo: Brian Dore

“We were a couple of weeks away from travel, with everything paid, when COVID shut everything down. Maria assured us the trip would be waiting for us when we were ready to travel, and she delivered on her promise. Starting in Florence, drivers took us on the scenic route to Montefalco in Umbria, then to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, ending in Rome by way of Pompeii.

All the tours and activities were enjoyable and informative, but a few stand out. We had a WOW Moment surprise in Florence (Thank you, Wendy!) when we were led along back streets to the Torrigiani Gardens, the largest private garden in city limits in Europe. It’s been owned by the same family for centuries. After a tour of the spectacular grounds, the owner took us to the balcony in his residence and visited with us over wine and a huge assortment of antipasti — a wonderful experience.

On our drive to Umbria, we stopped for lunch and a tour at I Balzini, a small family vineyard and winery. Lunch was served on the patio overlooking the vineyards and gorgeous Tuscan scenery. The wines and food were delicious, and we’re looking forward to the arrival of wine we purchased there. Ristorante Bagni Delfino in Sorrento was special for the lovely sunset view on the water as well as excellent food. We ate well with a fun cooking lesson from Chef Andrea at Locanda Rovicciano in Umbria, a food tour in Rome, and one great restaurant after another. The trip was definitely worth the wait. Maria listened to what we wanted on this trip and gave us the trip we hoped for. Highly recommend!” —Elizabeth Marshall

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St. Paul de Vence, Dolceacqua, and other charming villages along the French and Italian Rivieras

Monaco view from tete de chien rock, Provence.

The view from Tête de Chien rock, Monaco. Photo: Philip Haslett

“We wanted to do a road trip around France so we could see as much as we could, while still having a few days in each place to relax. Philip and Evane created a perfect itinerary for us. Philip and Evane advised us on what parts of the trip would be best to drive ourselves vs. which would have lots of traffic or headaches so it would be best to have a driver.

We had a few days in Paris to adjust to the time change before going to Champagne, where they arranged a private visit to Veuve Clicquot. In Lyon, our private guide took us to his family-owned winery in the Beaujolais. Philip and Evane even added the Piedmont region in Italy (since I told them how much my dad loved Italy and us being so close by), filling our time there with lots of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Then we drove to Nice but stayed in smaller St. Paul de Vence with day trips around to see Eze, Monaco, Antibes, and all the spots along the Riviera.

Philip and Evane mapped out some smaller and cool towns that we could stop at while on our drives and provided great lunch restaurant suggestions at each stop. My dad’s favorite was in Dolceacqua, overlooking one of the bridges that Monet painted, while on our way from Fossano to St Paul de Vence. We are beyond thankful to Wendy for putting us in contact with Philip. It was a trip of a lifetime where it never felt like too much time in each destination, but it will always never be enough!” —Devan Ullman

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Salina and other secrets of Sicily

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

The coast of Cefalu, Palermo, in Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

Marcello understood our desire to engage with local people and visit out-of-the way places that most travelers would miss. Trip highlights included hiking Mt. Etna with a vulcanologist, deepening our understanding of this mysterious, mystical mountain that Sicilians refer to as Mother; wine tasting/pairing with a sommelier expert on Mt. Etna wines, who introduced us to the special quality of wines grown in volcanic soil; a visit to the tuna factory on Favignana and the “Impossible Garden”, a dream realized by a determined woman who envisioned a garden in the midst of the rock quarries; shopping the local market with Maurizio, the entertaining and charismatic chef of Macalle in Ortigia, followed by a cooking class and meal, and many ideas to take home; hiking and sailing on the island of Salina, enjoying lunch where Il Postino was filmed, visiting a local caper farm, and enjoying the outstanding wines of the local vineyards; a visit to a water mill which has been grinding wheat into flour since the 1690s, a process that results in flour naturally low in gluten; and visits to many small, beautiful villages, walking and chatting with the men who congregate in the piazzas, enjoying a meal prepared by Annalisa in her home, gaining insight into their traditional way of life over centuries…

I could go on. Marcello and team created a trip of a lifetime for us. We returned home with a deeper understanding of the Sicilian culture, their love and loyalty to family, a well-deserved pride in their diverse and complex history, and their vision, hopes, and dreams for the future of Sicily.” —Cathy and Rob Unruh

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Before- and after-hours access in Paris

Luxemburg Palace and garden full of flowers in Paris.

Luxemburg Palace and Garden, Paris. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was the fifth time we have used Jennifer for a trip. The highlight was the WOW Moment she arranged for us: a tour of some quintessential gardens in Paris with a local guide, David, who provided us with a fun and educational experience and made sure that we enjoyed this WOW experience. Jennifer also arranged an after-hours tour of The Conciergerie, a before-hours visit to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a special tour of the Opera House, and a fine tour of the Pinault Collection at the Bourse de Commerce.

One of the great things about Jennifer and her team is that they check in daily to make sure that you are enjoying the experiences they arranged and to see if they can help you with anything. They also make the entire experience go seamlessly, from having an airport greeter to transportation while you are in the city.” —Kevin Haney

Read more reviews of Paris trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

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Quaint villages of Germany and private access to Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria in a clear sky day.

Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Shutterstock

Claudia provided a highly personalized Germany itinerary that exceeded all expectations. It was flawless. We traversed Germany both in geography and local culture, from Bavaria in the South to Hamburg in the North. We experienced the highs and lows of Germany’s history, from visiting Dachau concentration camps to the revelry of sharing a bier with locals in Munich during Oktoberfest.

We had a Porsche Carrera convertible with detailed maps and itinerary to visit many quaint villages, castles and churches as we drove from the Alps through the Black Forest and north along the Rhine River Valley. We had a private tour of Neuschwanstein where, along with the guide, we were the only three individuals with the keys to the Disney castle. We ate five-star cuisine. We took a ride to the highest point in Germany at Zugspitze. We slept in castles and strolled a university town. We even spent a day biking with locals in Hamburg. So much to see and do and memories made. Very exquisite.” —Wendy Duchene

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Calabria, the “toe” of southern Italy

Sunset over old famous medieval village Stilo in Calabria. View on church and city. Southern Italy. Europe.

Sunset over the medieval village Stilo in Calabria, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip to Calabria, and we had no idea what to expect. Jennifer found really great places to visit—lovely villages, unique architecture, and experiences with local food and people. We spent one day on a sailboat enjoying the stunning coastline from Tropea to Capo Vaticano. We visited a Bergamont Farm and drove to the village of Bova where we took in a panoramic view of the ocean and countryside. We visited gorgeous churches in Tropea and grottoes and caves in Pizzo. On our last day, we thought the place we were staying might be too far a drive to the airport (we had a 6:45am flight), so she found us a perfect B&B, close to the airport but in a beautiful remote area. We had the whole place to ourselves and spent our last day relaxing by the pool—a perfect way to end our trip.” —Cindy Kelly

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Ticino, Bellinzona, Rapperswil, and other secrets of Switzerland

View to Lugano city, Lugano lake and Monte San Salvatore from Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland - Image

Ticino, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina did a fantastic job of listening to our preferences to avoid the usual tourist spots and spend time off the beaten path. The hotels she suggested were exceptional. The views from our rooms at Villa Orselina and Coeur des Alpes were amazing, and we truly enjoyed the mountain-hut experience at Guarda Val. The guides they picked for us were great, particularly Anna in Ticino, who led us on a magical walk through the Bavona Valley; Nikki in Zermatt, who was a delight and took us on a great hike and gave us ideas for our next two days of hiking; and Albert in Zurich, who suggested a side trip to Rapperswil that was very enjoyable.

Nina’s suggestion of a first-class Swiss rail pass was excellent: We used it for boat rides in Ascona, Zurich and Lucerne, a bus ride in Ticino, and side train trips to Bellinzona, Lucerne, and Rapperswil.  Well worth it!  Restaurant suggestions were all excellent, from dinner in the castle in Bellinzona to dinner on the terrace of Sonnmatten in Zermatt. An exceptional trip.” —Gary Reading

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The Camargue, the Luberon, and the Verdon Gorge in Provence

Leafy town square with fountain in a picturesque village in Provence, France

Saignon, Provence. Photo: Shutterstock

“We requested an active trip in Provence, and Philip created the perfect itinerary for my daughter and me: We went horseback riding in the Camargue region, biking in the Luberon, canoeing in the Verdon Gorge. The local guides Philip arranged for us were amazing, ensuring we experienced the unique and out-of-the-way places known only to locals. They were fun, spontaneous, and adaptable. At a moment’s notice, they would take us up a hill to show us a great view, or walk us to the remote and charming village of Lacoste, or take us to get the best crepes at a place that was underground and accessible only if you know it is there. Each restaurant was more fantastic than the last. Incredible food, breathtaking views. A highlight: Le Petit Café in Oppède-le-Vieux. We also had a cooking class in a private home after picking the ingredients at the weekly market and sampling wines in a local vineyard. We could not have been happier.” —Kimberly Byron

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Secrets of Italy’s Amalfi Coast

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had two standout experiences on the Amalfi Coast, thanks to Andrea. One was an entire day seeing the coast by sea. We did not know what to expect when we arrived at the wharf—where there were so many tour boats—and were a little confused when a very large, beautiful yacht pulled up. My husband said, ‘You should have seen your face when they held up a sign with our name on it!’ Captain Beni gave us an experience we will never forget, including a stop for a delicious meal at a restaurant high above the sea and accessible only by boat. A perfect day!

The second amazing experience was when our driver was taking us from Positano to Ravello and we were supposed to have a three-hour stop in the town of Amalfi. It was a gray, drizzly day, so our driver asked us if we would rather go to his friend’s winery. The owner gave us a very personal tour and then joined us for a lunch that his wife had prepared. It was so unexpected and right out of a romance movie.” —Carrie Hadden

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Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

South America WOW Trips: Reviews from our Travelers

For sun in winter, value for money, less jet lag, few tour groups, and an outstanding diversity of landscapes and experiences, it’s hard to beat South America. From celeb-magnet beach towns in Brazil to coffee-region haciendas in Colombia to Amazonian lodges in Ecuador to heli-hiking in Chile to top-value wine regions in Argentina—not to mention the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia—South America doesn’t get old. The following reviews show you what’s possible when you plan your trip with a Trusted Travel Expert for South America. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

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Chile: “We ended up hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, cruising across an Andean lake…”

John Strachan and his family cruising on Lago Todos los Santos with Volcán Osorno in the background, Chile.

John Strachan and family cruising Chile’s Lago Todos los Santos with Volcán Osorno in the background.

“All we told Tom was that we wanted to go to the Atacama Desert and then somewhere else in Chile where there would be fun, outdoor activities for our kids (10 and 12). Animals would be a bonus. And, in deference to the kids, we didn’t want to spend too much time in cities. We ended up hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, cruising across an Andean lake surrounded by volcanoes, and more.

The Atacama Desert deserves top billing. It’s 40,000 square miles (half the size of Kansas) of the driest desert on earth. It’s harsh, and inhospitable, and why would anyone go there? Because it’s flat-out stunning. The geothermal activity has churned up volcanoes, mountains, salt formations, sand dunes, and rainbows of color. We were surrounded by otherworldly beauty and never saw another human. It was unique and dream-like.

From the desert to the rich forests and crystal pools of Chile’s Lake District. The terrain was stunning, the hotel was ideal, and the activities were abundant—lake cruising, paddleboarding, whitewater rafting. Our family fell in love with the region and were only sorry not to have more time. Wendy’s crew hooked us up with Tom, and this is the second great trip he has planned for us. So huge thanks to both Tom and Team Perrin.” —John Strachan

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Brazil: “A day trip on a schooner where we visited several bays and beaches and had lunch at a place that was only accessible by boat…”

Tropical view of Copacabana Beach with city skyline of Rio de Janeiro Brazil aerial view

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Shutterstock

“We booked a two-week trip to Brazil with Paul, and he came through big time. The best tour guide we’ve ever had, Lais, met us at the airport on arrival and transported us to the beautiful Hotel Fasano right on Ipanema Beach. We were able to spend two full days on the beach, where we really got a feel for the local culture.

My wife had wanted to see the dancers at Carnivale, but we didn’t arrive in Rio until it was over. Somehow Lais pulled off a miracle and found a group that was meeting in a public park and recreating their Carnivale performance. It was called a Samba Hangover Dance. We were able to hang out with the locals for a few hours and see the performance up close.

Then we went to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, where we were met by a master craftsman who taught us how to make the best Caipirinhas we had on the entire trip. While in Rio we were able to eat at Garota de Ipanema, the cafe where Vinicius de Moraes originally saw the famous ‘girl from Ipanema’ go by before writing the lyrics to the song. On Paul’s advice, we also went to eat at Aprazivel restaurant in the hills above Rio for a delicious meal in a beautiful restaurant with an amazing view of the city below.

Next, we boarded a plane to Iguassu Falls. We stayed at the Hotel das Cataratas in the national park and only 100 yards from the falls. The hotel is the only one in the park and you often had the viewing areas to yourself. Our guide took us on a tour the next day of both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of these gigantic, 2 ½-mile-wide falls. Seeing them was awe-inspiring, but taking a boat ride under them was exhilarating and an experience not to be missed. At Niagara Falls you get misted when taking the boat ride, but at Iguassu you actually go under the falls. It was safe and great fun.

We ended our trip with a stay in the colonial town of Paraty. We’d seen the big city while in Rio, the jungle in Iguassu, and now a peaceful, historical small town in the center of the country. Our stay at Casa Turquesa was magical. It’s a 9-room inn with a beautiful pool and lovely rooms. We enjoyed navigating the original rocky streets while visiting the shops in town. Paul had arranged a day trip on a schooner where we visited several bays and beaches and had lunch at a place that was only accessible by boat. It was a perfect, relaxing way to end our trip.

A final note about safety. In the United States we’d read traveler warnings and received a notice to beware of dengue fever from our government. Some friends were wary of us going to Brazil. In response I’d like to note that we never felt uncomfortable or unsafe for even a minute during our trip. Are there places in the city of Rio that you shouldn’t visit? Of course, just like in New York City. So don’t go there. Your guides will help you with that. I’ve told friends that Rio is like NYC, but with a better view. Even though we’d taken mosquito repellent to avoid getting dengue fever, we only used it once the whole trip and I never saw a mosquito the whole time.” —Ted Embacher

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

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Colombia: “Warm weather, adventure, culture, food, direct flight, and small, if any, time change…”

Cartagena de Indias/Colombia, 06/05/2020: The vintage colonials facades of San Diego neighborhood in the heart of walled city

The San Diego neighborhood is lined with colorful facades. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had a lot of requirements for our family’s (kids 17 & 19 yrs old) vacation: warm weather, adventure, culture, food!, direct flight, and small, if any, time change because my husband had to leave early due to work commitments. Amazingly, we found all those things on our trip to Colombia, a beautiful, colorful, and culturally and geographically diverse country!

Wendy’s team put us in touch with Boris, who put together a trip that covered all the bases, with stops in Cartagena, Medellin and Bogota. Our activities and guides were top-notch, but there were several highlights, including a private rum, chocolate, and Colombian fruit tasting—what’s not to like?

Our time in Medellin was packed with varied and fascinating experiences ranging from culture to farms. Casa de la Memoria Museum in Medellin is not to be missed, as it details the conflict and history of when the drug cartels plagued the city. These events are so recent that people have first-hand memories. The same is true for Comuna 13, a maze of alleys built into the hillside (like most on Medellin), where the graffiti tells the story of the people and events of the district. The city has undergone an amazing renaissance and is now vibrant and lively. Paragliding over the hills of the city was good fun.

One big surprise was our visit to an orchid farm, which has the largest variety of orchids in the world. The climate in Colombia is perfect for growing these beautiful flowers. We were guided through the greenhouse by one of the scientists, who himself had discovered three types of orchids. I thought our teens would be bored at this stop, but we all loved it!” —Wendy Minocha

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Ecuador & the Galapagos: “A 300-year-old hacienda that seemed like it belonged to a dear family friend…”

A horse eating grass near colonial hacienda

Colonial hacienda near Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock

“We wanted a balance of active adventuring and some much-needed downtime for a spring-break trip as a family and Allie more than delivered! Between a delightful boutique hotel in Quito’s old town, Casa Eden, with proprietors who fussed over our kiddo like their own grandchild, to a 300-year-old hacienda in Otavalo that seemed like it belonged to a dear family friend (with the family’s friendly horses wandering through to say hello to visitors and the chef happily teaching us how to make empanadas or offering samples of freshly made local gelato), we had ample time to relax.

Allie set us up with fantastic drivers/guides throughout Ecuador, with special shout-outs to our guide who took us to see artisanal chocolate being made, to eat bizcochos at a super-local non-touristy spot, and to meet a weaver whose family has made award-winning textiles in the same manner for hundreds of years, as well as set us up with great hiking and exploring by foot and horseback, incredible meals, and a stop at the equator (I was skeptical of the museum but it’s a hidden gem and great for families).

Allie also connected us with a breathtaking week in the Galapagos on the Ocean Spray: There was just one other couple on the boat besides our family, so we had incredible small experiences snorkeling, kayaking, and on some of the smaller islands, where our naturalist, Enrique Silva, really took the time to interact with us and point out things for our kid (who was a first-time snorkeler but by the second day was cruising everywhere thanks to his help). The catamaran was very comfortable and the rooms quite large—but the real highlight was the warmth and kindness of the staff and crew (and the food—which was phenomenal).” —Katherine Sanders

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Chile, Peru, and Bolivia: “We hiked up volcanoes, sat in hot spring pools, rode bikes through slot canyons…”

Milinda Martin on her way up a volcano on Altiplano, Bolivia.

Milinda Martin on her way up a volcano on Bolivia’s Altiplano.

“Just returned from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia! Recently, Wendy has been recommending South America, and I’m so grateful I took advantage of this. Despite the warm temperatures, there were few tourists, which ensured a really authentic experience. Ashton helped me plan an extended trip to all my desired destinations: Torres Del Paine, the Amazon Basin, Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, the Atacama, and the Altiplano of Bolivia.

It was a long journey, but I felt so supported as a single traveler all along the way. In Patagonia, Ashton recommended Patagonia Camp, a fantastic place owned by the Matetic family, of Chilean wine fame. Outstanding guides, excellent excursions, beautiful lakeside yurts, and the most divine food/wine. The camp helped ensure I met other travelers, so meals were always full of conversations.

For the Amazon, I asked for somewhere that didn’t have a ton of tourists, which took the cruises out of Iquitos off the agenda. Instead, Ashton recommended Posada Amazonas, an indigenous cooperative that sits on the Tambopata River in Peru. Here, I was the only guest for the first two days, so fully enjoyed my hikes, boat rides, and village visits that allowed me to see how life is lived in this region. The rooms are open to the rainforest, which made for magical evenings full of sounds. And it did rain on several days, which sounded one thousand times better than any recorded soundscape!

Then it was time for a few cities—Lima, Santiago, and Valparaiso. In Lima, Ashton and Wendy arranged a WOW Moment, which was right up my street: a ceviche lesson, tasting, and tour with Marisol. We went all over the city, sampling different types of ceviche and learning about this rich Peruvian tradition.

My last stop was my favorite part, four days in San Pedro de Atacama, followed by a four-day “travesia” across the Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats. My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture, including participating in the carnival celebrations. We hiked up volcanoes, sat in hot spring pools, rode bikes through slot canyons, and ate all the local dishes. On our final evening in Uyuni, after indulging in a wine/tapas al fresco meal, it started to rain, which meant the salt flats became a mirror of the skies. I spent three days in La Paz on the way home and loved that too. Such fascinating geography and a lively city. Four weeks of amazing journeys in three countries. I could not have asked for more, and was so thrilled with all of Ashton’s recommendations and support.

My favorite aspects of working with one of Wendy’s experts is the ability to customize when/where I’m going, to focus on places that are not overrun with tourists, to meet the local people and see how they live, and to get outside and really feel a part of the stunning landscape. Onwards!” —Milinda Martin

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Colombia: “A fantastically executed visit to a fascinating and diverse country.”

The courtyard of a convent santo ecce homo with beautiful greenery in the center.

The convent of Santo Ecce Homo near Villa de Leyva, Colombia. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife and I traveled to Colombia from January 25 to February 5. Boris planned and executed the trip, and we could not be more pleased. We had four primary destinations: Bogota, Villa de Leyva, the coffee region and Medellín. We skipped Cartagena because we had been there before. We had several unique experiences, my favorite being lunch and a tour of a private collection containing every one of the hundreds of Colombian orchid varieties.

Boris also found wonderful ways to accommodate us when we had different interests—for example, while I was touring a coffee plantation, my wife was with a charming local woman cooking our Colombian lunch at her home. The four hotels chosen were all exceptionally lovely. The three guides we had were among the very best we have had in our travels to over 90 countries. The destination offers a virtually unlimited range of experiences to suit anyone, and Boris clearly is expert at marshaling them. In summary, a fantastically executed visit to a fascinating and diverse country.” —Robert Rosenberg

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

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Peru: “My granddaughter climbed Huayna Picchu, also known as ‘the stairs of death,’ an experience she will never forget…”

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“My granddaughter and I just returned from our latest adventure, this time in Peru. This was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie, our other two experiences being the Galapagos Islands and Santiago/Easter Island, Chile. This trip’s primary objective was the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. We had a great 11 days.

Our base in the Sacred Valley was the Sol y Luna Hotel. Could not have asked for better accommodations. We visited many Inca sites. We also had a day of whitewater rafting. The Urubamba market is open twice a week, so we took the opportunity to shop with the locals. Being the new year, the flowers were aplenty, yellow, a color of note to the Peruvians at New Year. The highlight of the trip was Machu Picchu citadel. Pictures do not do it justice. The vastness of the site in the clouds and the river far below. It was beautiful!

On New Year’s Eve we had good intentions on staying up to ring in the new year, but Allie had other plans, gratefully and thankfully. The next morning we returned very early to the citadel. Allie was able to obtain tickets for Huayna Picchu. Tickets are in a limited number. We were very fortunate, as many people are disappointed when they find out tickets are not available. Allie had procured ours well in advance. My granddaughter climbed Huayna Picchu, also known as ‘the stairs of death,’ an experience she will never forget.

We returned to Cusco for a day, then it was off to the Amazon. Our flight was followed by a 45-minute powered canoe ride to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco lodge and our home for the next three days. We had a riverside cabana on the Madre del Dias River. In the mornings, we could hear howler monkeys and other unknown critters. It was the rainy season, so we had rain and thunderstorms daily. The weather did not hamper our activities, actually the weather was part of the experience. Although we had a twilight boat excursion and jungle canopy walks, our highlight was fishing on Lake Valencia. We went piranha fishing, followed by a shore lunch.

Unfortunately, our time had run out, we had to get back to the States. I said earlier that this was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie, which was my favorite. All were unique, different experiences and introduced us to some great people.” —Jim Stock

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

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Chile: “The terrain was so varied it felt like we had gone to a different planet each day.”

The travelers shot at the Moon Valley Atacama Desert in Chile.

Laurie Richter and friends above Moon Valley, in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“Visiting BOTH Patagonia and the Atacama Desert is an absolute must. The beauty and ruggedness of both places was unsurpassed. They were pristine and there were very few other people or vehicles. And they were so different from each other.

The scenery in Patagonia is breathtaking—newly formed mountains, green glacial lakes, layers upon layers of natural formations. Explora Lodge wasn’t fancy but the location was unsurpassed, and the quality of the guides and excursions available provided something for everyone. We mostly hiked and, with the windy conditions there, even a simple hike was pretty strenuous. Try out the spa and the outside hot tubs.

On to the Vik Chile in wine country, outside of Santiago. Spectacular facility in a beautiful setting with a wonderful winery. The food in the restaurant is spectacular and not to be missed. The winery tour and tasting was a highlight as well.

Then on to the Atacama Desert, which may have been the unexpected highlight for me. Again, wonderful lodging (Nayara Alto Atacama) with terrific service and, again, some of the best food you can imagine. The terrain was so varied it felt like we had gone to a different planet each day. You are at elevation (8,000 at the lodge and up to 14,350 at the geysers) so you need to be prepared for that, but everyone in our group was fine. You do spend a lot of time in the vans, as most of the hikes and sites are 45 minutes to an hour and a half away, but this isn’t Disneyland, and no lodge can be close to everything.

I can’t stress enough that, if you can afford the time and money, make sure to see both Patagonia and the Atacama Desert. Unforgettable.” —Laurie Richter

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Peru: “He networked us to the front of lines for access to everything (including the line for buses up and back from Machu Picchu)…”

Springtime at Machu Picchu Peru

Springtime at Machu Picchu. Photo: Luis Felipa

“We just returned from a fabulous 10-day trip to Peru. Allie helped us find probably the best guide in all of Peru! Our guide, Nick, met us in Cusco and was with our group of four the entire trip. His English was impeccable, and his extensive network of contacts made it seem like he knew EVERYONE in Peru, which became a running joke. However, it became central to the success and ease of our trip, as he networked us to the front of lines for access to everything (including the line for buses up and back from Machu Picchu). To Allie’s credit, she had just returned from a trip to Peru a month before we left, had Nick as a tour guide, and personally selected him to be the guide for our trip, for which we cannot thank her enough!

Allie’s local partners also provided a van and a wonderful driver for the trip, and we felt very safe when driving on the very narrow, twisting roads of the Sacred Valley and the mountains around it, which was not an easy feat! Allie also provided very helpful recommendations for what to bring (ponchos for rain in Machu Picchu which we experienced for an hour our first day) and found walking sticks we could borrow rather than schlepping them with us.

We also had the opportunity to do the full-day experience at MIL, which we would highly recommend! As much as the food there is fabulous, the learning experience by hiking into the hills behind the restaurant with a knowledgeable local guide provided a fabulous addition to better understand the Peruvian culture and food presentation at MIL. It was a highlight of the trip and books up months in advance, so be sure to get reservations online as soon as trip dates are established!” —Julie Olson

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Colombia: “Incredibly varied landscapes…fresh and delicious food everywhere…warm locals willing to share their stories…”

Wax Palm Trees in the Corcora Valley, Colombia

Tracy Reller and her family hiking among wax palm trees near Colombia’s coffee-growing region.

“Colombia is a beautiful country with incredibly varied landscapes, amazing agricultural bounty (mostly done by hand—saw only one tractor the entire time), wonderfully creative, fresh and delicious food everywhere, and warm locals willing to share their stories.

Boris arranged activities that we either wouldn’t have been able to do on our own or wouldn’t have been the same. They turned out to be some of our favorite experiences. For example, we toured two different poor neighborhoods in Medellin with Spanish-speaking neighborhood leaders involved in the graffiti art transforming the neighborhood. It was fascinating to see these communities up close and to hear their stories of the violence and hopes for the future.

Another favorite experience was visiting very different markets used by locals. First, Paloquemao in Bogota—very clean, well organized, items from produce to meats/fish to home goods and flowers, beautifully presented. That was in contrast to the Barzuto market in Cartagena, where we seemed to be the only tourists navigating the dirt floors, tight winding walkways though makeshift stalls, fish and meat sitting in open hot temperatures with a French chef shopping for our cooking lesson (we only bought produce there). It was a sight to see!

Finally, we would not have known about some amazing restaurants we visited for lunch that were not even in our itinerary. One of those restaurants, in Bogota, didn’t even have a sign out front, but our guide knocked and was welcomed in. Our hotels were all wonderful and a welcome respite at the end of every day. Most outstanding were the Four Seasons Casa Medina in Bogota, Hacienda Buenavista in the coffee region, Villa Playa Tayrona, and Casa San Agustin in Cartagena.

Our guides were wonderful and really added to our experience. They were intelligent, interesting and informative. It’s a gift to get to spend time with a local, get to know them and share details about our lives. We gain a better understanding of a country and its people with a guide rather than just crossing tourist sites off a list.” —Tracy Reller

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Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: “Desert, city, jungle, beach, pampas all in one fantastic itinerary…”

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro by Sunset with Full Moon in the Sky

Rio de Janeiro’s skyline at sunset, with the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain in the middle distance. Photo: Shutterstock

“Desert, city, jungle, beach, pampas all in one fantastic itinerary. My husband and I spent a month sampling the wonders of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Paul organized a great itinerary with activities, free days and travel days that went seamlessly. Plus, we had a surprise WOW Moment—an anniversary boat trip to one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil.

Paul took great care of us, including checking us in for our flights and having the hotels print our boarding passes. He made restaurant recommendations and reservations for us. His hotel choices met all the needs we requested. The activities were varied, interesting, enjoyable, and perfect for two people in their 70s.” —Sandra Southwick

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From Peru’s Lake Titicaca to Bolivia’s Salt Flats: “A truly spellbinding experience…”

Salar de Uyuni salt flat during the starry night, Bolivia

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats reveal a vast and bright night sky. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our trip was amazing—from visiting the salt flats to checking out a silver mine, boating on Lake Titicaca, visiting cathedrals and museums, eating delicious foods, and meeting wonderful people.

We were delighted from start to finish with Marisol and Mark’s exceptional advice and service, and a big thank-you to Wendy for the WOW Moment: The unobstructed expanse of the isolated salt flats make star-gazing on the Salar de Uyuni a truly spellbinding experience, as the full breadth and immensity of the night sky can be observed and appreciated with the telescope provided or with the naked eye. Located at altitude with almost no light pollution thanks to a sparse population, the Salar de Uyuni is one of the best places to stargaze in South America.” —Dominique Tran

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Ecuador’s rainforest and the Galapagos Islands: from swimming under waterfalls to snorkeling with sea lions

Peggy Schuemann

The Schuemann Family at Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador. Photo: Peggy Schuemann

“Mashpi Lodge is an amazing destination. The 3.5-hour drive is a bit daunting, but the destination is well worth the travel time. We traveled with our son, his wife, and their three boys, ages 13, 11, and 7. We asked Allie to arrange for a private guide for our family of 7, and she was very happy to set this up. Mashpi is in the cloud forest, which proved to be a wonderful experience for each of us. The lodge is beautiful and fits seamlessly into the area, while providing lovely, spacious rooms and an extremely comfortable experience. The food was outstanding. Anderson, our guide, is a former researcher at Mashpi who changed his focus to guiding several years ago and was knowledgeable about the entire area. Our first hike took us to the Life Center, where we were mesmerized by the bird life, including beautiful toucans and parrots. Our oldest grandson is not fond of butterflies. But Anderson took him aside and gradually introduced him to the butterfly enclosure. When Anderson asked if we would like to hike in a river, we pictured a calm stream. However, we have wonderful memories of hiking in a fast-moving river where our son and his family swam under a waterfall. The highlight was when Anderson decided to venture out our last night during a heavy rain to fulfill our grandson’s dream of seeing a glass frog. At the last minute Anderson located this elusive frog, and everyone got to hold it. We only had two nights at Mashpi, and would perhaps suggest another night, but we were busy every minute and have lasting memories of Anderson and the lodge.

Peggy Schuemann

The Schuemann family hiking in the Galapagos.

Soon we were back in Quito and boarding our flight for the Galapagos. We boarded the Theory, with a capacity of 20 passengers. Traveling with 3 active grandsons, I was a bit apprehensive about this smaller ship. Would our grandsons have enough room to expend their energy? Never fear, the Theory met and surpassed every expectation. Our trip was during spring-break time, and there were three other families on board, two of which were multi-generational, like ours. There were an additional three children, all within our boys’ age range. We saw all of the highlights, blue- and red-footed boobies, frigate birds, marine and land iguanas, and the huge tortoises. We snorkeled with the sea lions as we looked down to see our guides, and the ship captain, swimming behind white-tipped sharks and using their video cameras to take photos. One highlight was when our guide spotted orcas from our panga (zodiac) and we followed them, along with the other pangas, for about half an hour, racing through the blue waters of the Pacific.

Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and just relaxing on the beaches of the Galapagos archipelago filled our days. Again, Allie arranged for Pepe, our private guide, and he made sure we “did it all.” Our son is trained as a chef, and he raved about the delicious food, asking the Theory chef for several recipes. The six children on board quickly befriended one another, and one night declared there would be a “kid’s table” at dinner.

I have used WOW travel planners for Spain, Morocco, Australia, South America, Montana and Wyoming, Norway, and other destinations. All have been very approachable, great listeners, and planned trips for us down to the last detail. Allie did the same for Ecuador, with Mashpi and the Galapagos. Thanks for the memories, Allie!

Peggy Schuemann

Peggy Schuemann enjoys a WOW Moment on her Galapagos cruise.

By the way, since I had used a number of WOW travel planners, we were eligible for a WOW Moment. It was so exciting when the captain invited us to the bridge for a special visit. There were appetizers and a toast. The captain had some props for the children to wear and captain’s gear for the rest of us.” —Peggy Schuemann

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Peru and Machu Picchu: “We didn’t encounter unmanageable crowds anywhere…”

A traditional Peruvian food cooked underground and stones.

Peru’s recent status as a destination for foodies is just the latest chapter in a long culinary tradition dating back to the Incas. Photo: Shutterstock

“From Lima to the Tambopata Reserve in the Amazon, from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, from Cusco to the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, we were spellbound by the warmth of the Peruvians and the beauty and diversity of the terrain and climates throughout the country. We didn’t encounter unmanageable crowds anywhere—in fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the tourism levels, even at Machu Picchu and in Cusco. We are thrilled that we worked with Marisol and her team to plan this fantastic trip.

A definite highlight was our day exploring the ‘real’ Sacred Valley. The time spent with Maria and her family was priceless. From dancing with her parents to walking the Andean hills with her llama, from a spiritual ceremony thanking the gods to plowing the field with bulls, from sharing a lovely lunch made from locally produced ingredients to an in-depth demonstration of their textile artistry, we felt humbled and honored to have been offered a glimpse into their daily lives.

Another highlight was our WOW Moment in Ollantaytambo. On an organic farm, we learned the traditional Inca cooking technique of pachamanca and savored the delicious al fresco lunch while admiring the snow-capped peaks of Mount Veronica. Thank you, Wendy, for a delightful experience!

We are immensely grateful for all that we experienced on this trip and owe a huge ‘thank you’ to Marisol for helping us create such impactful memories.” —Molly O’Neill-Emmi

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Argentina’s Bariloche and Salta regions: “The scenery was unbelievably gorgeous…”

Church in the city of Bariloche. Argentina

The cathedral in Bariloche overlooks Nahuel Huapi, a glacial lake in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Photo: Shutterstock

“We chose Bariloche and the Salta region to see a wide range of landscapes, as well as to have exposure to indigenous culture in the Northwest. We stayed four nights in Bariloche and enjoyed terrific hiking and a variety of lake views. We loved staying at the Aldebaran, away from town and in a beautiful setting. Flying north to Salta for 11 nights, we stayed in four different communities (Purmamarca in Jujuy Province, and Salta, Cachi and Cafayate in Salta Province). Although the trip involved some long drives, the scenery was unbelievably gorgeous and the landscapes totally engaging.

We had a fabulous evening in Salta enjoying a local peña (not a typical tourist show); visited three different weavers (including a very special visit at Tejedores Andinos); indulged in three lunches at different vineyards; had other amazing meals and wines in beautiful settings; and visited three museums that are among the most unique we’ve ever seen. Working with Jordan and Krista is an absolute pleasure: They have fabulous local contacts, and each of our two guides greatly enhanced our understanding of Argentina as well as made certain we were always comfortable and pleased with our activities.” —Rhoda Schulzinger

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Patagonia: From cruising past glaciers to hiking in Torres del Paine

Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park. Photo courtesy Southwind Adventures

The Explora lodge in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park has an enviable location on the shores of Pehoé Lake. Photo: Southwind Adventures

“Our trip to Patagonia was incredible. A couple of days in Buenos Aires was a great way to break up the long travel and a treat to explore an interesting, colorful city with our guide, Claudio. Tom’s suggestion to spend four nights on a small ship exploring the glaciers of the Beagle and Drake channel was spot on. We loved adventures in the zodiacs every day, as well as amazing guides and very good food.

The highlight of the trip was Torres del Paine. The most beautiful place we’ve ever seen. So glad we stayed at Explora, with the best view in the entire park, fabulous guides to take you hiking, and great food and service!” —Carrie Lazarus

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The Galapagos Islands: “It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close…”

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle is one of many creatures you’re almost certain to see in the Galapagos island. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise aboard the Elite. Allie planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible, and none of us wanted to leave.

We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (land-based or boat-based? which of a hundred boats? large or small? monohull or cat? four-day or longer? etc.). She helped us make it perfect.

With Allie’s guidance we chose a small boat (the Elite has a 16-person max). Small boats can be rocky, so she steered us toward a catamaran for more stability, to minimize the risk of seasickness. The water was generally smooth, but on one or two nights with bigger waves, we were very happy to have two hulls, especially while watching how tippy the monohulls were. We didn’t really think about it beforehand, but being aboard a catamaran allowed for a wider beam and more spacious rooms on board.

The reason to go to the Galapagos is the geological and natural history, so I’ll start there. We saw blue-footed boobies, courting frigate birds, gulls, Galapagos hawks (hunting and eating marine iguanas!) and more. We encountered a number of Galapagos tortoises in the wild. In the water, on numerous snorkeling activities, we saw more types of reef fish than I could name, from little gobis and half-inch baby puffers up to tuna. Small sharks skimmed the bottom, oblivious of us. Penguins flashed by, within a few feet, as they hunted, and we actually saw them catching fish. We never sought out sea lions because as soon as we hit the water, they found us, swimming within inches of us in circles and loops, trying to get us to play with them. Pods of sea turtles munched on algae as we floated above, swimming so close to us at times that we actually had to struggle to swim away in order not to contact or disturb them. It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close.

My 12yr old was captivated by being on a boat and got to know Marcello, the captain, and Rey, the first mate. They let him take the wheel a few times. Both were great with the kids aboard. On the zodiac boats that took us from the Elite to the shore, the guys who drove those boats also let our kids take the helm a couple times. The whole crew was super friendly and seemed committed to sharing their beautiful islands and making sure everyone left having had an extraordinary experience. They all had their specific jobs which they took seriously (it was a boat, after all, so it’s all serious at some point), but when they had time, they stepped outside their appointed roles to help guests or to point out interesting things. For example, one of the crew, Francis, snorkeled whenever he could and did a great job enhancing our experience, pointing out hard-to-spot creatures like sea cucumbers or rays camouflaged on the ocean bottom.

One unexpected aspect of the trip was the beauty of the islands. Had we never stepped ashore, the trip would have been memorable just for the gorgeous islands, striking sunsets, impressive vistas, and stunning beaches. I genuinely cannot think of anything that could be improved upon. We badly want to go again, bringing aunts, uncles, and cousins to share this exceptional experience.” —John Strachan

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Patagonia and Chile’s Atacama Desert, including a “private stargazing evening…”

Barbara Schoenfeld and her family on a boat ride on Lago Grey in Patagonia to see the glacier.

Barbara Schoenfeld and her husband enjoying a Christmas Eve cruise on Grey Lake.

Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience.

He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York, and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly.

Barbara Schoenfeld

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

And I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening, hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). Above is the photo he took of us in front of one of his telescopes. Plus we have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon—particularly the smudge where the US Apollo 11 landed.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

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Uruguay and Argentina’s wine country: “Hundreds of wineries to choose from…”

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Cavas Wine Lodge

“This was the second time that I worked with Maita and Santiago, and, once again, the trip was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I started in Mendoza, Argentina, at Cavas Wine Lodge, which is located in a gorgeous vineyard and has gorgeous views from all angles. Santiago arranged for me to go to several wineries, and each was excellent and so much fun! There are hundreds of wineries to choose from, so I was delighted that Santiago found ones that were perfect for me.

Then I flew to Montevideo, Uruguay, and was driven to the absolutely delightful and gorgeous town of José Ignacio. Maita and Santiago had recommended this over Punta del Este, and they were spot on. I never would have found this little town and am now considering buying property there! Santiago arranged very interesting tours to Garzon winery, lunch at Garzon restaurant, where I met Francis Mallman(!), and Pablo Atchugarry’s amazing and beautiful art, as well as the must-see Casapueblo.

Maita and Santiago will listen to your likes and dislikes, and what you want out of the trip, and will then create a bespoke itinerary that you will absolutely love! I am already working on a third trip with them.” —Susan Cunneen

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From Bolivia’s Salt Flats to Chile’s Atacama Desert: hiking, photography, WOW food…

Salar de Uyuni salt flats Bolivia

Bolivia’s mesmerizing Salar de Uyuni.

“We just returned from our amazing adventure in Bolivia and the Atacama Desert. Marisol and Mark created a 14-day adventure that catered to each of our individual interests from hiking, food, tapestries, and photo opportunities. Of course, our trip would not have been as enjoyable without our amazing drivers—who somehow got us to each of our destinations and who spotted and stopped so we could photograph foxes, llamas, vicunas, guanacos, viscacha, flamingos, ducks, Suri alpacas, and was always on the ready to stop for an armadillo.

The reservations Mark made for our lunch and dinners highlighted the Bolivian food culture in La Paz—we especially enjoyed Gustu (WOW!), Ancestral (DELICIOUS!), and Ali Pacha (AMAZING!—and this coming from an ‘anti’ -vegetable’ person!). It was fascinating to learn about traditional indigenous life not only through food, but by visiting the Tarabuco market, visiting master weavers in their homes, and visiting Elizabeth’s (our Sucre guide) hacienda in Candelaria, where we helped to make a traditional countryside lunch (we are looking forward to making the Sunday soup for our families).

We also enjoyed the stunning views of the Uyuni salt flats. We had a delicious lunch alongside a small patch of water with flamingos, hiked a small island, were mesmerized by the reflections on the water at sunset where we enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and some treats, and were awed at seeing the sky full of stars twinkling over the salt flats!” —Peggy Murphy

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Trekking in Patagonia: “I can’t quit showing off my trip photos…”

Patagonia

Traveler Jeannie Mullen in Torres del Paine National Park.

“Since returning from two weeks of trekking in Patagonia, I can’t quit showing off my trip photos! Every time I looked, a National-Geographic-worthy photo leapt into my iPhone.

My goal for this trip was to get in as much trekking as possible—specifically, I wanted to see what my improving fitness level would allow me to do and challenge myself to do more but still get home in one piece. Tom‘s trip suggestions and logistics planning were spot-on, and he was able to secure great private trekking guides in each location of the trip, as I wound my way through Chile and Argentina.

First, Torres del Paine: Oh my goodness, what a location. Scenery, wildlife … it absolutely has it all. Tom suggested that Explora was the most advantageous location to do the sort of trekking that I was interested in, and it was perfection.

My guide for three days, Francisca, was delightful, knowledgeable, and encouraging. On our first half-day trek to view wildlife, we saw everything, including the elusive puma … taking an afternoon nap. We had him all to ourselves for over an hour. On some very long, back-to-back treks over the next two days (Grey Glacier and the French Valley), she and I had some terrific conversations, shared our personal stories, and learned a lot from each other, given our different cultures and generations.

Patagonia

Guanacos (close relatives of llamas) are among the few residents of Patagonia. Photo: Traveler Jeannie Mullen

Crossing the border and entering Argentina, I was seamlessly transferred to another guide and driver, Juan and Beto, who showed me some of Argentina’s most gorgeous terrain. We hiked to the base of Cerro Torre and the very next day to the base of Fitz Roy. I have to confess I had serious doubts that I could do these hikes, but Juan was very encouraging and guided me through … he took my goal seriously … and I had three gorgeous treks in El Chalten (and sore feet) to show for it.

On our way back to Calafate to view the Perito Moreno glacier, Juan and Beto invited me to share the mate (mah-tay) experience with them—a tradition practiced by all the locals: a warm emulsion of (mostly bitter) local herbs. I was so thrilled to be offered the opportunity to experience it the way the locals do (versus ordering it at a restaurant just to say that I had). I’m pretty sure that Juan and Beto got a kick out of watching the “gringa” trying to finish it, which one must do before returning it to the one who prepares it.

On to Ushuaia for a final three days of trekking through Glacier National Park. Ushuaia is not on everyone’s radar screen, unless there is a cruise to Antarctica involved, but it should be. It’s an interesting, evolving place in a very remote part of the world that you don’t really hear that much about. The mountains on Beagle Channel make for some really striking views. On our hikes (through sun, wind, light rain, and even a curious 10 minutes of hail which happened on a clear, sunny day) my guide, Santiago, was very engaging and shared a lot about his country (current economy, government, growth and job opportunities in Ushuaia) and his family.

I leave in just under a month for another hiking trip that Tom planned for me over the upcoming holidays—in Chile’s Lake District. Stay tuned!” —Jeannie Mullen

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Chile’s Wine Country and Valparaiso

Marsha Friedli

Marsha Friedli and husband, Craig, in front of the Moai statue in Vina Del Mar.

“Wendy Perrin and her travel experts knocked it out of the park! We, my husband and I, were finally taking a COVID-delayed cruise around Cape Horn starting in Santiago, Chile. We wanted to spend several pre-cruise days in the Maipo wine region and visit Valparaiso. Wendy put us in touch with Maita’s office, and our major contact was Eva.
In the Maipo wine region, Eva’s hotel recommendation was Casa Real Santa Rita, 2 nights. It was delightfully restful after our long flight and staying here was perfect. Our hostess at the hotel was also our guide and wine steward for the historic property. We had a wonderful afternoon wine tasting on the veranda which overlooked the gardens and pond. We also enjoyed the food and wine pairings that were offered. This is a property to return to again.

In Valparaiso we had a wonderful day enjoying the amazing graffiti that decorates the city. Thanks to Franco, our guide, we had a private showing at an art gallery and were able to see the city and its unusual architecture from 3-4 stories up. Valparaiso is a city of stairs and narrow streets and twists and turns. Fortunately our guide, Franco, knew where to go and when to avoid the crowds on the funiculars. He maximized our limited time visiting. One of my must-see items on this trip was to visit the Moai statue gifted to Chile that is located in Viña del Mar. And we did! We were also able to walk along the beautiful beach and enjoy the art and the people out and about. Franco also had lunch reservations at a lovely castle-looking restaurant that had a tasty menu of Chilean seafood dishes. As an added plus, our table overlooked the harbor. Delightful! In Valparaiso, our hotel, Casa Higueras, was a place you wanted to stay and linger longer. Our room had a wonderful view of the harbor and Pacific Ocean.

Maita’s team made this a great way to start our cruise and gain a better understanding and appreciation for the beautiful country of Chile.” —Marsha Friedli

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