Tag Archives: south america

uzek women with bowls of yellow figs

Travel Photo Tips: How to Ask People to Take Their Picture

Have you ever fallen in love with an exotic food or crafts market abroad—the people, the treasures, the colors, the smells, the sounds—but you didn’t take photos because you didn’t know how to ask the local merchants for permission?  You’re not alone.  It’s a question that so many of us have grappled with: How can we approach people while we’re traveling and ask to take their photos? How can we better bridge that (potentially awkward) gap?

Even if you’re shy, it’s absolutely doable, as I learned by talking to our own Tim Baker, Wendy’s husband and globetrotting photojournalist. Tim is accustomed to asking people all over the world—such as these ladies at a market in Uzbekistan—if he can photograph them, and he is rarely turned down. Here are Tim’s key tips:

Uzbekistan old woman smiling with gold teeth

Gold teeth are something of a fashion statement in Uzbekistan. Photo: Timothy Baker

  • Indicate why the moment is worth capturing. “First, remember that everyone is different,” says Tim. “Some people love having their picture taken. Others, not so much.” If there’s no language barrier, explain why you feel moved to photograph the moment. Maybe the light is gorgeous, or their blue shirt reflects the blue sky.
  • If you don’t speak the local language, raise a camera halfway, pause, and look at the person. That is a universally understood gesture. “You will definitely be able to tell whether they’re okay with it,” says Tim. With the Uzbek woman above (in the same market), Tim conveyed through gestures why he felt moved to photograph her: He gestured that he admired her gold teeth, and she was proud and happy to be photographed.
  • Work quickly. Have your camera–or phone–ready to go, as Tim did at a roadside stop during a drive through Morocco, below.
Moroccan man dressed in blue and yellow turban stands.

A stranger we met on the side of a road in Morocco. Photo: Timothy Baker

  • As a thank-you, you can offer to share the picture with them.  You can do so via Airdrop— which does not require exchanging contact info—or WhatsApp. Taking someone’s photo can be a way of sparking a friendship.
  • If you have the luxury of time, become a familiar face.  You can introduce yourself to a merchant or a street artist one day, then come back the next to take pictures. That way, you’re a familiar face rather than a random passerby.
  • If they are selling something—art, food—pay them, ahead of time if possible. “It may be their source of income,” says Tim. And you might get a nice remembrance.

Keep in mind too: It’s relatively easy to get pictures of people, and you with them, when you’ve got locals with you who are smoothing the way, as the WOW List travelers below had.

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Morocco: “With Jamal and Majid at our sides, it felt like we were traveling with friends we had known for a lifetime…”

Travelers Craig and Stephanie Smith with their driver and guide having dinner on the rooftop terrace of Essaouira's Salut Maroc, Morocco.

Craig and Stephanie Smith had a farewell dinner on the rooftop terrace of Essaouira’s Salut Maroc with new friends, private guide Jamal and driver Majid.

“We just returned from an amazing two weeks in Morocco. We told Radia that what was most important to us was to have a stellar guide. We also told her that we have a strong interest in music and would like to incorporate learning about Gnawa music in some way. And we told her that our hotel preference was to stay in riads instead of international chain hotels.

From the moment we were met at the Casablanca airport by our private guide Jamal and private driver Majid, we knew that we were in for an incredible trip. They were both so hospitable!  Jamal was incredibly knowledgeable about the culture and history of his country. He was very attentive to all of our needs, and he made us laugh a lot. He made sure that we saw everything on the itinerary and then some.

We stayed in beautiful riads with a very personal touch and enjoyed all kinds of delicious food. In addition to seeing many historic sites (mosques, synagogues, palaces, medinas, souks, tanneries), we also had adventures. We went for a camel ride and rode ATVs in the desert. We went for a hot air balloon ride outside of Marrakech. We went for a hike in the High Atlas Mountains from Imlil to Armed. One of our favorite activities was the sunset motorcycle sidecar tour of Marrakech, suggested by Radia. We felt like we were in a movie, riding through the Palmerie and the medina in comfortable, roomy, sidecars. A definite must-do!

Another highlight was an impromptu visit to the Todra Valley for lunch at Jamal’s family’s home. We were so honored and humbled to be invited into their home for lively conversation and a delicious lunch. And, to satisfy our musical interest, Radia organized a thoroughly enjoyable private Gnawa music workshop with master musician Najib Soudani in Essaouira.

With Jamal and Majid at our sides, it felt like we were traveling with friends we had known for a lifetime. The itinerary was wonderful, but they made the trip into an experience that we will cherish forever.” —Stephanie and Craig Smith

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

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Sri Lanka: “Miguel set up a cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop, and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail…”

Travelers surrounded by village kids on their Tea Trail hike in Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter meeting village kids on a Tea Trail hike.

“We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka planned by Miguel. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country, from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon.

Miguel also ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Our driver, Thissa, could say, “Let’s stop and see that bird,” or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Miguel had us stay in wonderful places, including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when.

Travelers with the chef at their cooking class in Amanwella, Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter cooking with the chef of Amanwella.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

What makes Wendy’s trip specialists stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill travel agents is that they—and Miguel—listen carefully to what you’re looking for in a trip. They have access to experiences you could never find on your own and include things you had no idea you wanted and end up delighted you experienced them. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

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

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Belize: “The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism…”

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

WOW Lister Patricia Johnson joined Salena and Allen Kern for lunch one day.

“My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Belize and Patricia. And we were off…. Patricia recommended a few places to stay, and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize. Both resorts were beautiful but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

We climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee ‘factory’ amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures.

On our first full day, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. We were happy! And Patricia met us there for lunch. Thank you, Patricia and Wendy.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost, as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism. Our week in Belize was full of surprises. I would recommend it to older people like us, to young families, well, to anyone who likes travel.” —Salena Kern

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

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South Korea: “Endless exploration of food, and an opportunity to witness the magic of the rural countryside…”

A tea sommelier at the Rakkojae Seoul Bukchon Village Hanok Hotel, South Korea.

A tea sommelier leads a tea tasting in Korea. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“Drawn to Seoul to attend a business meeting, we decided to extend our Korean journey to explore a loop of the southern half of the country. With limited knowledge of the culture, food, and scenery of South Korea, we reached out to Wendy, who pointed us to Grant. Grant was easy to reach, listened attentively to our travel interests, and collated a well-curated agenda for my wife and me, along with two friends joining us from Saipan.

Getting to Seoul is not the hard part. The excitement starts as you begin to journey into one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Fortunately, with Grant as our travel organizer, we did not have to worry about managing the language barrier, the poor functionality of most US-based map apps, or the extensive Seoul transit system. Prior to departure, Grant asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then created an itinerary which evolved into a spectacular journey of big cities, endless exploration of food, and an opportunity to witness the magic of the rural countryside.

Our first stop was the Park Hyatt Seoul, a stunning and well-situated hotel with superb service. During our time in the Korean capital, we sampled the highest quality Korean BBQ, innumerable variations of seafood, a tea tasting and a Korean liquor tasting. Despite a population of over 25 million in a concentrated area, we were struck by the city’s cleanliness, convenience, and kindness of its people.

Following Seoul, we travelled to Jeonju. After an efficient high-speed train ride, we checked into the Lahan Hotel overlooking the traditional Hanok village, which allowed for an easy stroll to any of the shops or restaurants that make this area a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Following the recommendation from the chef who taught us how to make beef bulgogi in Seoul, we went to her favorite place for bibimbap and seafood pajeon.

After eating and drinking our way around Jeonju, we traveled by car to Gwanju in the southwestern portion of the country. On our drive, we were immersed in the beauty of the Korean countryside, taking a moment to stretch our legs with a nice autumn walk at Hwaeomsa temple. A stunningly beautiful site of quietude, we wandered the numerous Buddhist temple buildings and pagodas, with each vantage point offering a better view of the surrounding mountains. Informed by our guide that guests are allowed to reside overnight in this special place, we plan to come back soon to try out a ‘temple stay.’ ” —Michael Ruma

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

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Chile, Peru, and Bolivia: “My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture…”

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Milinda Martin with her private guide and driver in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“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.

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.

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

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

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Vietnam & Cambodia: “The lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious…”

Traveler Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family in the floating village of Prek Toal near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family near Siem Reap.

“My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Southeast Asia, both of them through Sandy and Ethan’s office. Someone once said, ‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.’ That couldn’t be more true about our experience. This year, we spent one week in Saigon, followed by one week in Siem Reap.

In Saigon, we stayed at the Majestic Hotel, which was a perfect location on the Saigon river and at the heart of the city. Sandy and Ethan were able to get us the same room on the same floor we had last year, #317, which had an outdoor garden where we had coffee in the morning. So beautiful. The ride up the Saigon river to Can Gio nature reserve provided a well-needed ‘Nature Bath’ while boating through mangroves, hiking through jungles, and feeding crocodiles and monkeys. What a major de-stressor and complete departure from our day-to-day life back home!

Our next leg of the trip was the Jaya House at Siem Reap, which is where we stayed last year. The Jaya House is one of my favorite places on earth. Upon arrival, we met with Christian, the property manager, who made sure we were scheduled for our daily massage. After recently experiencing a running injury, I was very happy to take him up on that offer! Those daily massages really helped me to heal from injury, as well as reduce a year full of stressors from back home.

We took an excursion to the margins of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. On this boat tour, we traveled back in time to see a floating fishing village, where people survive with very little, some without electricity. And yet, the people there smiled and waved at us as they went about their life, and we saw the children happily playing with each other and swimming in the water. I learned that if they could be happy with so little, I don’t need to sweat the small stuff at home. And the lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious, with a charcuterie that rivaled that from NYC! I would highly recommend traveling to Southeast Asia in general, and with Sandy and Ethan more specifically, if you are looking for a truly authentic, immersive, and life-enhancing experience.” —Sharon Theroux

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

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Travelers on a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

January Trip Ideas: Traveler Reviews to Inspire You

The wide array of places that are great in January may surprise you.  If that’s your time frame for a trip, take inspiration from your fellow travelers’ reviews of their favorite January trips—to locales as varied as Italy (even including Sicily), Scandinavia for the northern lights, Belize for a more affordable Caribbean vacation, Colombia for a sunny getaway for food lovers, Australia (where January is the height of summer), and the list goes on.

These travelers all booked their trips the WOW way: Their trips were optimized for the month of January by the local fixers on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts (and those whom we are testing for The WOW List).  You’ll find even more ideas in the January installment of our Where to Go When series, and you’ll find more traveler reviews here.

Unsure where to go in January? Click the black button below for our help.

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Italy for art and history in the cultural capitals

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

To avoid crowds (and take advantage of post-holiday sales) in Florence, go in January. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I had an amazing trip to Italy in January! Jennifer had everything so well planned out it was one of the most stress-free and special trips we have taken. We spent two weeks in Italy, splitting our time in Florence, Milan, and Rome. We specifically chose January because the crowds would be less, and they were. It was the perfect time to go for us. Not hot or crowded.

She gave us ideas of things to see we were not aware of, such as touring the outside of the cathedral in Milan from the top. Touring the Borghese Gallery in Rome. Lunch at the special winery on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius near Pompeii. And touring a private museum in Florence where we saw original drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci and the cartoon by Raphael he did for the School of Athens painting.” —Kim and Kevin Cronin

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Portugal for beautiful landscapes and seascapes (yes, in January!)

Wanchee Lowe

Sunset at the Pousada de Sagres on Portugal’s Algarve coast in January. Photo: Traveler Benjamin Lowe

“My husband and I went to Portugal for a week in mid-January, spending two nights in Cascais (near Lisbon), then four nights in Sagres in the Algarve, and the last night in Lisbon. Gonçalo gave us good suggestions of where to go. We told him we were interested in photographing land and seascapes, especially during sunrise and sunsets.

Patricia on Goncalo’s team booked pousadas for us because we like the historic nature of the accommodations and our rooms overlooked the ocean and we could see sunsets from our rooms in Cascais and Sagres. Free breakfasts were included in all our lodgings. She arranged a rental car and accommodated our request for a hybrid car. She also booked a full day of palace and castle tours in Sintra with a private driver and guide. In Lisbon we also did a private half-day walking/food tour, which she arranged.” —Wanchee Lowe

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Costa Rica for a combo of relaxation and outdoor adventure (and cooking lessons!)

Travelers at the cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys, Costa Rica.

Geralyn, Elise, and Rob Westervelt loved their cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys.

“My husband and I, both in our 60s, wanted a vacation that combined relaxation with outdoor activities, culture, nature, adventure, and eco-friendly accommodations. We began planning with Irene who asked many questions to customize our trip. Mid-way through planning, we added our 26-year-old daughter to the trip and Irene seamlessly made the adjustments.

We visited three locations during our 8 night stay. This pace allowed just enough time in each location. Our guide, Pablo, and driver, Jenkins, met us at the airport and brought us to our first location, the Arenal Volcano area. Our activities here included a sloth visit, hike up the volcano, and our two favorite experiences, a cooking class with Dona Mara and a cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys. These are not to be missed!

Irene arranged for transport to our next location, the Senda Monteverde Hotel. We had a night walk and hanging bridges tour. With each activity, we were impressed by the vast knowledge of the guides. My daughter is in her last year of veterinarian school and she had in depth conversations about animals and ecology with many of them. We were also very pleased that every transport was punctual and safe! Our final destination was the beautiful Manuel Antonio area. The plan was to relax here, but we found ourselves hiking, zip lining, and taking a sunset tour of the property!” —Geralyn Westervelt

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Colombia for “a beautiful climate” and a peaceful vibe that’s “far from the world’s chaos”

You’ll find serenity at Hacienda Bambusa in Colombia’s coffee country. Photo: Ryan Damm

“We traveled to Colombia as two couples who were well-traveled and anxious to learn, visit, and immerse ourselves into a new destination. It was snowing here in New York, and Colombia has a beautiful climate. Boris and his team planned us a wonderful trip. We started in Medellin for three nights, where we saw great street art and learned about cacao and the complicated past of this country. We also visited a magnificent orchid and hydrangea farm. From there we moved on to the coffee area, which is lush and peaceful. Bambusa is a small, quaint hacienda where we felt far from the world’s chaos.

On to coastal Cartagena, and the pace quickened with lively streets and great restaurants. We ended in Bogota, where we could have used another two days. Bogota is cosmopolitan and rich in history, art, and great restaurants. We really saw a huge cross-section of Colombia, and the hotels were all different and well-chosen. We felt very safe and educated during our stay, and I would highly recommend Boris to any traveler with a thirst to explore and learn.” —Bobbi Malzman

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris for having museums (and chefs and fashion designers) to yourself

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“Our trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre. Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide: Our private half-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic!

Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up-and-coming Parisian designers, and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners, and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.” —Kim Brown

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Antarctica for otherworldly adventure but with all the creature comforts

Travelers celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

Barbara and Larry Schoenfeld celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

“We told Ashton that we wanted a small ship with top-notch scientific experts on board. I was hyper-focused on the potential for unpleasantness crossing the Drake Passage. Comfortable cabins and good food wouldn’t hurt. And, we were not very flexible with travel dates.

Ashton quickly produced a short list of recommendations, despite the availability constraints due to the surge in demand for travel to Antarctica. We sailed on the Seabourn Pursuit. It is a luxurious new ship and is outfitted with stabilizers, which softened the rocky ride across the Drake. While in Antarctica, there were two excursions via Zodiacs daily—usually involving a hike on land or an island. They included walking among penguins and seals, floating among jaw-droppingly beautiful sculptural icebergs, traversing the rim of a caldera, and seeing ruins of former explorers and whalers.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Belize for a Caribbean vacation that combines jungle, beach, and culture

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

Travelers Salena and Allen Kern during lunch with their WOW List trip-planning expert Patricia Johnson

“My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Belize and Patricia. And we were off…. Patricia recommended a few places to stay, and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize. Both resorts were beautiful but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

We climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee ‘factory’ amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures.

On our first full day, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. And Patricia met us there for lunch.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost, as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism.” —Salena Kern

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Tahiti and Bora Bora for a boat charter and the ultimate beach resort

Hammock in a beach in Tikehau, Tahiti

French Polynesia is great for snorkeling, diving, birding, or just relaxing in a hammock. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of six adult children and a four-year-old grandchild recently returned from a trip to Tahiti (December 29 to January 12) organized by Kleon. Kleon did such a good job getting quotes for various options from chartering a boat to picking out the best resort for our family for the week stay. The Conrad Bora Bora Nui was perfect for this holiday adventure with the entire family. My husband and I added a five-night stay at The Brando, which was an incredible resort, especially for the privacy, the beautiful units, and numerous activities offered there. The most unique travel experience was observing 80 or more baby turtles being released twice during our stay at The Brando.” —Carol Powell

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Peru for adventures at Machu Picchu and in the Amazon

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“My granddaughter and I just returned from our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie. This trip’s primary objective was the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

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.” —Jim Stock

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Dubai for perfect weather for desert safaris

Bernirene Ramos

Bernirene Ramos and friends in Dubai’s Heritage Desert.

“Our group chat was called, ‘Dubai, Here We Are!’ Nick planned my ‘ladies’ trip,’ from accommodation to our daily itinerary. January was the perfect time. It was sunny, low-mid 80s during the day and low 70s in the evening. It was Dubai’s winter season, therefore popular sites were not crowded. We were able to capture great photos without being blocked by others.

We were in Dubai for 7 days and we made every day count. The itinerary was well coordinated to cover all the amazing ‘must-sees’ and still allowed for daily free time. We had to switch our visit to Abu Dhabi to a different day because of a last-minute intel of a private event at the Qasr A Watan. And, we wanted to add a couple of ‘must-sees and photo-ops’ during our trip. Nick was able to rearrange our schedule and coordinate with our tour guides seamlessly. It worked out perfectly. He was accessible 24/7. We were taken care of from the time we disembarked the plane at arrival to the time we departed Dubai. Our drivers were great, tour guides were knowledgeable, friendly and fun to be around. We did the Heritage Safari Desert trip on our last day. It was the perfect ending to an amazing trip! Thank you Nick!” —Bernirene Ramos

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Norway for the northern lights (plus dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saunas)

View of the Northern Lights in Alta, Norway.

Alta, Norway, is one of the best places for spotting the northern lights in January. Photo: Shutterstock

“Truly a trip of a lifetime. My family of 4 (me, my husband and two adult boys) went to Alta where we went dogsledding, snowmobiling, and saw the northern lights. In Oslo we went on a very interesting architecture tour. The highlight was relaxing in the lodge sauna after a day spent snowmobiling and getting called by the lodge staff to come outside to watch the northern lights!

The staff at all of the places Torunn and Mari sent us to were exceptional and would go out of their way to provide assistance. We can’t wait to go back sometime in the summer now and see the same location again.” —Neha Vyas

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Panama for the legendary Canal and an “amazing” private-island resort

Bungalow of a private resport in Panama.

An eco-friendly private-island resort, Isla Palenque is located on Panama’s Pacific coast. Photo: Isla Palenque

Pierre organized a great trip to Panama for us—two 60-plus-year-olds who were looking for some cultural moments as well as some serious relaxation. We started in Panama City and with Pierre’s guidance organized our vacation dates around a fascinating partial transit tour of the Panama Canal, which is only available a few days each week. We also enjoyed our visit to the Embera indigenous village, especially the boat ride to the waterfalls. I was worried that this might be exploitative, but the tours are run by the Embera themselves. Lunch of fish and plantains in a palm leaf was delicious.

Our city tour the next day was hindered by the fact that it was a national holiday, but Pierre’s team came through and organized a hike to the top of Ancon Hill for great views over the city and a visit to the fish market, with lunch. Our hotel, La Compania, in the old city was amazing, and Pierre wisely booked us a courtyard room to avoid the street noise. We loved being in the old city with its restaurants, bars and ambiance.

We then enjoyed the relaxation part of the trip, six nights at the amazing Isla Palenque. This very small resort where everybody knows your name was everything we wanted: peaceful, beautiful, great food and drinks. When we felt the urge to move a bit we went hiking in the rainforest, kayaking and did an island-hopping trip with snorkeling and lunch on a deserted beach that was wonderful.” —Christine Zufelt

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Australia for Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef

The Bengtzen family on a private yacht at Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

The Bengtzen family spent a day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef from a private yacht.

“New Year’s in Australia had been a dream of mine since I was 14. We began in Sydney, where we stayed at the Shangri-La hotel. It gave us an amazing view for the fireworks, which were absolutely incredible. It was perfect for us and our adult kids to watch and not have to fight the crowds.

From Sydney we went to Hayman Island in the Whitsundays islands. This was a one-of -a-kind experience. From here we were able to have a private snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef—both the inner and outer reefs. Restaurants on the island were fantastic, and the beach is heaven. From Hayman we went to Noosa, where we had an incredible experience kayaking on the ocean. The shopping and food were wonderful and gave us a great end to our trip.

None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t found Wendy Perrin and her referral of Stuart. Stuart and Jacki then took our dates, our family info, and planned a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us. I cannot recommend them enough.” —Keri Bengtzen

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Sicily for meeting “wonderful people” over archaeology hikes and culinary experiences

Mt. Etna, Sicily.

Mt. Etna stands out from a dusting of snow in winter. Photo: Pixabay

“While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castelbuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa dell’Acqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortigia to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb.

Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a volcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nave Winery for a tour, wine tasting, and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found every day during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.” —Barbara Gross

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Sri Lanka for an exotic (yet affordable) island with welcoming people and delicious cuisine

Travelers surrounded by village kids on their Tea Trail hike in Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter meeting village kids on a Tea Trail hike.

“We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka planned by Miguel. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon.

Miguel ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Our driver, Thissa, could say, ‘Let’s stop and see that bird,’ or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Miguel had us stay in wonderful places, including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

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Chile for Patagonia’s unique nature and wildlife

Travelers on a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

Bill Livingood, Lynn Woodhouse, Sandra Quinn, and Stephen Thomas walk through a field of lupine during a birdwatching excursion in Chilean Patagonia.

“My husband, two friends and I have just returned from our trip to Chilean Patagonia, and once again, we were in the expert hands of Maita and her team. We began with a 3-night stay at the Singular Patagonia, outside of Puerto Natales. What a stunning and unique small hotel in a gorgeous setting overlooking a fjord. One wall of our room was a window onto the fjord and the activity of so many birds. We loved our bird-watching excursion there. With our great guide, we spent literally the entire day hiking through forest, pampa and the wetlands, spotting 41 species of birds. When we got to the end, and were pretty spent, our guide and driver served wine, water, tea, lentil soup and cheese, sausages and crackers. That certainly refreshed us. We enjoyed an afternoon empanada class and an interesting trek to three different caves. The Singular is definitely worth the stay.

From there, we drove to Tierra Patagonia, just outside Torres del Paine National Park. Magnificent view from our huge window in our room!!! We seized the opportunity for multiple excursions, as well as enjoying massages in the spa, taking a swim, and braving the wind for the outdoor hot tub. We saw lots of wildlife, wildflowers, stunning sunsets, and on our last morning, the entire dining room was abuzz when we saw a puma saunter across the property in front of us.

We spent our last night in the Singular Santiago, our second stay there, and it is a lovely hotel in a great location. Before our departure for the US, we had an extraordinary WOW Moment: Maita and team had arranged a cooking class and dinner with Tatan, a chef who hosted us at his home overlooking the city and mountains. He was gracious, interesting, and charming. We began with luscious appetizers on the balcony, and moved to the kitchen where he had organized work stations and assignments for each of us as we made ceviche and pisco sours. In addition to having fun, we learned new cooking skills. Gary, our escort to the airport, had to drag us away as we enjoyed our meal and delicious cheesecake on the balcony. With Tatan and Gary, we learned more about life in Santiago and Chile. By the end of the evening, we had begun questioning whether this trip, our third to Chile, would be our last, as we learned more about other places and things to do.” —Sandra Quinn

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Finland for the northern lights and other Arctic adventures (ice fishing, dogsledding…)

The cozy and warm Glass House Suite at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Finland.

Between outdoor adventures, Michael Ruma warmed up in his Glass House Suite. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and, with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh, who created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

We hopped an easy flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our Glass House suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood-burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! Intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up and hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the Arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky.

Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. On our last day in Helsinki, we splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do. Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.” —Michael Ruma

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Vietnam and Cambodia for blow-your-mind history, street food, and Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat

It requires careful planning to have Angkor Wat to yourself like this. Photo: Traveler David Wertheimer

“Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Sopisith prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations. Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!) There were multiple ‘wow,’ bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.” —David Wertheimer

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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

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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

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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

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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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Brook in Machu Picchu, Peru with not a lot of people around.

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Tips for Peru, including Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Lima

The goal:
My main goal was to get the best experience of Machu Picchu. It’s a mythic site in most travelers’ imaginations, built centuries ago by exacting craftsmen in the unlikeliest of locations: set high atop a peak in the cloud forest, as the Andes descend toward the Amazon. I had visited 15 years earlier—and that experience surpassed even my exalted expectations of the legendary Incan redoubt—but this time I wanted to see how a new entry system, with prescribed paths through the ruins, affects travelers’ experience of this magical place.

The challenge:
Most of all, I wanted to avoid potential crowds. In the peak months of May, June, and July, up to 5,600 people can enter Machu Picchu per day. So I went in low season, when no more than 4,200 people can visit (and often far fewer do). There are now signposts and ropes that guide you along one of four routes based on your entry ticket; route #1 provides the longest and most complete experience of the site. The good news is that—in low season at least—I was able to walk freely along my route, stopping whenever I wanted to take photos or ask my local guide a question.

Low-profile ropes and signage guide visitors around the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Low-profile ropes and signage guide visitors around the ruins.

The highlight:
It’s awe-inspiring to wander through the ruins and imagine how the Incas managed to quarry, shape, and stack so much rock to build a city in such a vertiginous spot; their exquisite craftsmanship is evident in the carefully aligned stones, each laid on top of the others with no mortar.

Machu Picchu on a cloudy day with mountains in the background.

A quiet January day at Machu Picchu.

Smartest route:
There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu: on foot via the Inca Trail, or by train. (Technically, the train takes you to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain on which the ancient citadel sits, and from there you take a bus up a switch-backing road that dead-ends just outside the ruins.) My favorite approach to Machu Picchu captures the best of both worlds: Start on the train—with a seat on the left side, which gives you a view of the Urubamba River—then get off a few miles short of Aguas Calientes and hike the last portion of the Inca Trail. That way you arrive on foot via the Sun Gate, as the Incas once did, with the ruins spread out before you.

Smartest timing:
Afternoons are usually the quietest time of day to visit Machu Picchu, since day-trippers need to leave by early afternoon to catch their train back to Cusco or the Sacred Valley. The busiest hours are from 10am to 1pm. Permits to hike Huayna Picchu—the iconic peak in the background of every Machu Picchu photo you’ve ever seen, which makes for an exhilarating climb—are only available between 7am and 11am.

Machu Picchu on a cloudy day with mountains in the background.

The vertiginous Huayna Picchu towers over the ruins.

Best surprise:
The splendid weather I experienced even in January’s “rainy season.” During my eight days in Peru, it rained overnight several times, but on only three occasions were there showers during the day—and each time those were brief. The nighttime precipitation, along with the buildup of clouds during the day, made for spectacular vistas in my photos, and the farmers’ fields were a striking patchwork of purple, yellow, and white flowers. January is also a beautiful time to be in Lima: Instead of the fog that the city is infamous for, think summertime warmth with an Atlantic breeze to cut the humidity.

Brook biking along a seaside path in Lima, Peru.

Brook spent a sunny afternoon in Lima biking along a seaside path.

Worst surprise:
The Sacred Valley is far more built-up than on my last visit; land that was once most valuable when cultivated is now covered by suburban sprawl. A new international airport is under construction in Chinchero, above the valley. Based on what I saw of the progress so far (a graded dirt rectangle) I don’t expect the airport to open in 2025 as publicized—but when it finally does, I do expect this beautiful corner of the world to get even busier. Get there soon if you can.

Peru's Sacred Valley surrounded by mountains.

Parts of the Sacred Valley are already even more built up than this.

Coolest example of living history:
I spent an afternoon exploring Cusco’s historic center with Teo Allain Chambi, whose grandfather Martín Chambi was a renowned indigenous photographer of the early 20th century. Charmingly modest and yet so proud of his grandfather’s legacy, Teo carried with him a scrapbook of Martín’s street-scene photographs from the 1920s, guiding us to the same spots where his grandfather had composed those shots a century ago. What was most impressive was how little had changed: The buildings have been carefully preserved, many streets are still rough cobblestone, and graceful wooden balconies overlook flower-strewn plazas to this day.

Teo Allain Chambi at Plaza de Armas in Cusco showing photos of from the Plaza.
Teo Allain Chambi in Cusco's Plaza de Armas.
The Coricancha temple in Cusco from the outside on a cloudy day.
Spanish conquistadors made a habit of usurping sacred Incan sites; here, the Convent of Santo Domingo sits atop a wall of the Incas' Coricancha temple in Cusco.
Brook with raised hands in front of the Inca wall.
Brook offers a bit of scale beside the enormous stones in an Inca wall in Cusco.

 

Best hidden hiking trail:
On my last day in Peru, I wanted to stretch my legs before my overnight flight home. So I met up with a private guide who showed me a seldom-used hiking trail outside Cusco that took us past potato and fava-bean fields, through stands of hardy polylepis trees that somehow thrive as high as 16,000 feet above sea level, to the archaeological site of Inkilltambo. Here were sturdy terraces built many centuries ago, and a shrine carved out of rock and reserved for Inca elites. Apart from a nearby farmer working his crops with hand tools, we had the place to ourselves. It was a Sunday, and on the shorter, gentler path we took home, we greeted several cusqueño families heading out for a picnic.

A field full of pink potato flowers.
A field of blooming potato plants near Cusco.
Inkilltambo inn Cusco in the mountains of Peru.
The archaeological site of Inkilltambo, near Cusco.
Inkilltambo inn Cusco in the mountains of Peru.
Incan walls were built around natural limestone outcroppings at Inkilltambo.

 

Best museum you’ve never heard of:
There’s much more to Peru’s rich history than the Incas, and the Larco Museum in Lima is a worthy spot for delving deeper into the country’s past. Spend an afternoon admiring vessels, jewelry, and textiles from the Moche, Nazca, Wari, and other pre-Columbian societies, then segue to the bougainvillea-draped patio for dinner at the museum’s excellent restaurant.

People dininng at the Larco museum restaurant in Peru

Dine under a canopy of greenery and stars at the Larco Museum in Lima.

Local flavors to try:
Peru has earned enormous respect lately for its cuisine, but you don’t have to wait months for a reservation at Lima’s Central (considered by some to be the world’s best restaurant) to appreciate the country’s flavors. I tried delicious fruits like aguaymanto, cherimoya, and lucuma at a market, watched chefs bury potatoes and fava beans and ears of corn and guinea pigs for a traditional pachamanca lunch, and tasted local dishes like causa, ceviche, and tamales at Cumpa, a “creole tavern” with a hipster vibe in Lima that is only open for lunch, and where office workers and laborers in t-shirts compete for table space.

A variety of fruits at the Surquillo Market in Lima, Peru.
Did you know that the cacao fruit—the starting point for chocolate—looks like this?
A vendor dressing in colorful clothes at the Lima market in Peru selling variety of vegetables.
A vendor sells packets of vegetables for soup at a local market in Lima.
A woman shopping at the Surquillo market, in Lima.
Shopping at the Surquillo market in Lima.
The ingredients spread out on mats before they're placed underground for the cooking process.
Burying food between hot stones for a pachamanca lunch.
The start of the cooking process with all the food below the stalks.
The chef blesses our pachamanca lunch.
Brook’s lunch in Peru with a buffet full of dishes cooked underground.
The resulting, delicious buffet.
Over the top image of Tamale Cumpa on a black plate.
A tamale at Cumpa in Lima.
Over the top image of cauza cumpa on a blue plate.
Cauza at Cumpa in Lima.
Preparing pisco sours behind the bar at Lima's Miraflores Park hotel in Peru.
Pisco sours are practically the national drink of Peru. Here's Brook learning how to make one from the bartender at Lima's Miraflores Park hotel.

 

What to look for after dark:
I was fascinated to learn that the Incas saw images in the negative space of the night sky. Yes, they connected the dots between stars to draw constellations—but they also found creatures (a snake, a llama) hidden in the dark spots of the Milky Way. It’s a reminder of how we are all so similar, yet at the same time can see things so differently.

Language lesson:
Quechua, the language shared by many of Peru’s indigenous groups and still spoken by some today, has no word for “friend.” Instead, one of my private guides explained, Quechuans simply address each other as brother or sister—everyone is considered family. This small detail went a long way toward explaining the warm welcome that I felt throughout my time in Peru.

START YOUR OWN TRIP TO PERU

 

Transparency disclosure: Some experiences described here were provided to Brook for free, or at reduced rates, by local hotels and suppliers. In keeping with our standard practice, there was no promise of editorial coverage in exchange: Complimentary or discounted travel never influences our reportage. All of these experiences are accessible to every traveler who uses Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

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

Brook Wilkinson in Machu Picchu, Peru.

South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

South America contains fascinating diversity—of cultures, landscapes, and activities ranging from wine tasting to wildlife viewing to bucket-list hiking. And while parts of the continent are once again receiving as many travelers as they did pre-Covid, those numbers are still an order of magnitude smaller than the crowds flocking to Europe’s most popular spots. While 2023 saw 35 million tourists visit Rome, for example, just 7 million visited all of Argentina. So often overlooked, and yet so rich in possibilities: You’d be wise to put South America on your 2024 travel calendar.

During our WOW Week 2024 Travel Talk on February 6, WOW List experts for South America joined Wendy and Brook to share what’s new in South America, what might surprise you, and how to ensure your trip there goes smoothly. Watch the full video, and scroll down for the top takeaways:

Top Takeaways

If your heart is set on the Galapagos, book far in advance, advises WOW Lister Allie Almario. Only 70 ships are allowed to cruise around the islands, and most carry just 20 to 48 passengers. So that your choices aren’t limited, start planning 8 to 9 months ahead—especially if you’re a family that needs multiple cabins.

Animal lovers should know about “Blue Patagonia,” says WOW Lister Maita Barrenechea. While this region is best known for mountains and hiking, its coastline is home to an abundance of marine wildlife: penguins, whales, sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, and dolphins. You’ll find the greatest concentrations of animals from October through the first week of December.

Colombia is maturing as a luxury-travel destination, reports WOW Lister Boris Seckovic. The Four Seasons will soon open its third hotel there, which will be in the Caribbean city of Cartagena. Colombia also checks a lot of boxes for families and multigenerational groups, with colonial towns, mountain ranges, rainforest, and beaches all in close proximity.

Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flat is a photographer’s dream, shares WOW Lister Marisol Mosquera. It’s equally beautiful in the rainy season (November to March)—when it turns into a lake with islands dotted by giant cacti—and in the dry season (May to October), when you can drive across the crystalline surface.

Trekking in the Andes isn’t just about the Inca Trail, says WOW Lister Tom Damon. For instance, he can arrange a glamping experience in Peru’s Sacred Valley with tents large enough to stand up in, cots fitted with mattresses and pillows, a staff to cook for you, and animals to carry your gear.

Chile’s wine regions are vastly underrated, according to WOW Lister Jordan Harvey. A few of his favorites within driving distance of Santiago are the Casablanca Valley, for soft reds like pinot noir, and the Colchagua Valley, for more robust varietals like cabernet and carménère.

 

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

Brook posing above Lysefjord with snowy mountains in the background.

Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2024, February 5–9

UPDATE: WOW Week 2024 is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter

 


 

This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  We’re seeing more travelers booking trips farther in advance than in past years, as well as travelers taking more family and friends along.  Based on these bigger groups locking more trips in place earlier— especially to Western Europe—we’re predicting that Europe’s iconic locales, from Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the Greek island of Santorini, will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from May through early October.  Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-pandemic demand for travel, what with Europe’s summer season coinciding with events such as the Olympics in France in July, the G7 Summit in Puglia, Italy, in June, and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe from May through August.

Not to worry:  We’ve got solutions, and Brook (pictured above in Norway in November) and Hannah and I, plus special guests, will be sharing them during WOW Week, February 5-9, when we’ll host a Travel Talk every day at 7 pm EST.  Bring your burning questions!

NOTE: If you have trouble signing up for our Travel Talks, make sure you have a free Zoom account that is associated with the email address you are using. 

 


 

Where and When to Travel in 2024

Monday, February 5, at 7pm EST

Last year broke travel records, and you should expect—and prepare for—more records to fall in the year ahead. Wendy, Brook, and Hannah reveal what’s shaping up for 2024: opportunities to take advantage of, challenges to zap, and the coolest under-the-radar places, off-season values, foodie experiences, and more.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

Tuesday, February 6, at 7pm EST

Wendy and Brook explain why the continent should be on your list for 2024, and WOW List experts for South America share what’s new, what’s best, what you haven’t thought of, and how to ensure your trip goes smoothly.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Successful Family Travel in 2024

Wednesday, February 7, at 7pm EST

WOW List experts with the latest intel for maximizing your travels and minimizing stress—in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and beyond—will share solutions. Learn how to keep everybody in your travel group happy, whatever their ages or conflicting needs and interests. Bring your questions!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Travel Insurance and Emergency Assistance: How to Protect Yourself

Thursday, February 8, at 7pm EST

Learn how to prepare for the unexpected, from surprise injuries to natural disasters to political unrest. Experts explain and simplify how to minimize your risk, both financial and medical, and they’ll take your questions live, so bring your list of what’s been perplexing you!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone!

Friday, February 9, at 7pm EST

Photojournalist Tim Baker (a.k.a. Mr. Wendy Perrin) reveals simple tips to help you take much better travel photos with your smartphone–better action shots, group shots, food shots, night shots, video, and more. Tim’s advice is device-agnostic: Apple and Android users welcome!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet:

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions (via our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature) and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you (see Wendy’s WOW List).

Don’t miss this special WOW Week discount:

Medjet is offering our WOW Week audience an exclusive discount of up to $50 off New Medjet Annual Memberships. The deal is available from Monday, February 5 at 9am EST till Monday, February 12 at 5 pm EST. You can learn more about Medjet and get the deal by clicking the red button below. 

GET THE DEAL

 

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Patagonia

A Trip to Argentina, Chile, Patagonia:
Start with our Questionnaire

This pandemic has unleashed unprecedented travel hurdles, as well as opportunities, and we’re monitoring them all. Are you seeking a private, easy, custom-tailored, top-quality trip that minimizes the risk to you and others? We’ll recommend your smartest options and the best trip-planning fixer for your specific situation, and we’ll ensure you get VIP service. Here’s how it works:

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