Tag Archives: TTE

Angkor Wat

The Secret to Extraordinary Travel: Here’s Proof That The WOW List Works

How to minimize your risk and maximize your travel experience?  Know the right local fixer.  What will the right fixer do for you?  Read on.  Below is a continually updated sampling of the trip reviews that your fellow readers are submitting after using Wendy’s WOW approach.

Your feedback about the local fixers on Wendy’s WOW List is more important now than ever. That’s because the world has restarted, travel-wise, and what matters is not the WOW that these trip-planning experts delivered pre-pandemic, but the WOW that they’re able to deliver now.  So please, for the sake of your fellow travelers, send us your trip review as soon as you receive Wendy’s post-trip survey!

Mexico: after-hours museum visit, tequila tasting, a WOW Moment…


This was our second time using the services of Zach’s team, this time for travels to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende and, yet again, they excelled.

The tours and activities they planned in Mexico City (historical city tour, visit to San Angel, Coyoacan, and Casa Azul, etc.) were exactly what we wanted. They even arranged a private after-hours visit to the National Museum of Anthropology–we had the entire museum to ourselves! Wandering through the galleries with an expert was definitely a magical experience, and brought the cultures to life. Our guide, Victor, was excellent throughout, always finding something extraordinary for us to see, including the fantastic murals at the Ministry of Public Education (a truly overlooked site). Before leaving Mexico City, we were treated to a WOW Moment with a special lunch at Los Danzantes, including our own personal mariachis (thanks, Wendy).

San Miguel was the “downtime” part of our trip, however, Zach’s office did arrange a marvelous tour of the city, a tequila tasting, and tour of the Botanical Gardens. They even managed to squeeze in a tour of Queretaro before we boarded our flight home.

As before, the efficiency and knowledge of the people at Zach’s office made the trip effortless for us. Other parts of Mexico are on our travel list, and we will definitely call on them again for their help.

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Southeast Asia: food, local connections, uncrowded sights…


We just returned from a fabulous three-week plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE, best trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon which Sandy had strongly suggested was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterwards, we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much — seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy but he emphasized this was our trip. We did make last-minute adjustments. For example, on the spur of the moment we decided we wanted to see the Bamboo Circus in Saigon and our guide helped us get tickets four hours before the performance. (I would, however, recommend booking earlier.) Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.

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Rwanda & Tanzania: gorillas, rhinos, a community-owned lodge…


We had a great trip arranged by Katie and Cherri, to Rwanda for mountain gorilla trekking and then to the Serengeti in Tanzania for more wildlife viewing. The experience of being able to get so close to and observe elephants, giraffes, lions, gazelle, zebras, cheetah, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, leopard, hippos, golden and vervet monkeys, not to mention gorillas, in their natural habitat, is incomparable. Also incredible were the gorgeous birds including storks and flamingos. We were also lucky to see black rhinos both in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater.

The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was outstanding. The cottages were lovely. A wood-burning fire was lit every evening in our room, and sometimes on very cold mornings as well, by Felicien, our butler, who also brought coffee to the room. He helped us gear up for the gorilla treks, and assisted with hiking boot and leg gaiter removal when we were done. The treks themselves were physically demanding at high altitude but well worth it, and we were completely pampered when we got back to the lodge.

The lodge is community owned, and many staff members are from the nearby village. Felicien gave us a great tour and we were delighted to meet many of the people, including the beekeeper, the doctor/herbalist, and some charming women who showed me how to grind flour from sorghum. Easier than it looks!

We stayed at two different camps in Tanzania and our guides were outstanding. The game drives were amazing and the guides well informed. Our favorite was the Namiri Plains Camp, where you could look out your deck and watch elephants stroll by.

Cherri and Katie arranged a very smooth and varied trip, arranging and navigating smooth entry and exit and Covid testing for each country. I highly recommend them!

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South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania: wildlife, wine, delightful people…


We have just returned from three FABULOUS weeks in Africa (February 8 – 27) — we visited Cape Town, Rwanda, and Tanzania. As I said to Frankie in Cherri’s office — who planned the most stellar adventure for us and was BEYOND accommodating of our crazy scheduling issues — I thought a visit to Africa would be a one-and-done. My was I wrong — thanks to her recommendations, we officially have the safari “bug” and can’t wait for the opportunity to return!

My first call to Cherri’s office took place last September when I shared my destination wish list: Cape Town to meet our son who was sailing there in The Ocean Race, Rwanda to visit the gorillas, and Tanzania to enjoy a safari. EVERYTHING we did was guided by Frankie’s stellar advice, every detail was covered, every highlight touched, every special moment experienced, every gourmet meal enjoyed — truly, everything we did far exceeded our expectations. I could NEVER have planned this adventure on my own. Kudos to her and the rest of Cherri’s team!

It is impossible to identify a single moment that stood out amongst the others — they were all spectacular!….

Cape Town, the drive “down south” to Cape Point, the PENGUINS, the dinner recommendations, the people, our FABULOUS guide, Chantal, from Chalan Africa and the South African wines were all a delight! We were presented with varied opportunities to observe the cultural issues that still penetrate every day living in South Africa — simply by being there. To say that history is alive and — almost well — in South Africa is an understatement! On a unique note, I must say I never expected there to be rolling blackouts throughout the country — or to have a schedule announcing the timing of the blackouts posted in the Cape Grace Hotel each morning!

Rwanda was a delight to experience and Joseph, our guide from Uber Luxe Safaris, could not have been more perfect for our visit. His knowledge about Rwanda’s history and culture and his willingness to share was a treat for all of us. We soaked up every word he said, learned so much about its history, its people and their lifestyle, their future, were dazzled by the climb up to see two separate gorilla families on two separate days, admired the hard work ethic of the people (the women — WOW…farmers extraordinaire!!!) , and absolutely melted at the many, many, many smiles we saw along the way. We left Rwanda filled with much more than we EVER expected, which was simply a visit to gorillas :-)! If you go, do not miss a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial — it was our first stop after we landed and it set the tone for the remainder of our time in a beautiful country filled with beautiful, kind people — oh, and some very cool gorilla families!

And then…there was Tanzania! I grew up watching Born Free over and over again. And absolutely sobbed over Out of Africa. My kids — and we — all saw The Lion King on Broadway three times and watched the movie countless times. While much of each of these stories take place in Kenya, every wild animal, beautiful vista, expansive landscape are alive, well, and SPECTACULAR in Tanzania! We stayed at Singita Faru Faru in the Grumeti Game Reserve in the Serengeti, at Nyasi Migrational Camp with 1.4 million wildebeest and their zebra friends in the Southern Serengeti, and Little Chem Chem Lodge on Lake Burunge in north-central Tanzania. Each lodge was a sight to behold and an experience like no other. Each of our guides brought a different perspective to wildlife watching AND each had fascinating histories growing up in Tanzania. We loved listening to their childhood stories of a very traditional Tanzanian lifestyle! Frankie’s recommendations to experience these three separate lodges gave us the unique opportunity to experience so many different safari elements! We were filled with awe and gratitude that so much open space has been protected to benefit the zillions of species who inhabit this beautiful country and were treated royally at each lodge located in the middle of nowhere!

As the dust begins to settle from this very epic adventure, we will relive our very vivid and fond memories of each country and each experience with enormous smiles on our faces! Cherri’s team made it all happen and we look forward to making our next call to them for our next adventure. Thank you for directing us to them!!!

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Egypt: savvy logistics, sneak peak of the GEM…


We just returned from a terrific 2-week trip to Egypt that was planned with the help of Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos. Egypt has been on our bucket list for a decade, so with the pandemic winding down and the new Grand Egyptian Museum (“GEM”) set to open in November 2022, we figured early 2023 was a great time to go. Setting up a trip like this requires great planners that can provide expert guidance and adjust quickly as circumstances change, and Jim’s team worked with us interactively to plan the itinerary before we left and adjust it as things happened during it.

As one example, our plane to Cairo connecting through Europe left 7 hours late! That meant that we missed the last flight to Cairo from Frankfurt. We had engaged the flight advisor that Jim’s office recommended and were so glad that we did! She quickly responded to us on a Saturday night (!) and re-routed us Frankfurt-Munich-Cairo the same day. Jim’s office then had their Cairo team meet us at the plane with an electric cart (at 1:30 am), sped us through not only the airport but the immigrationeprocess, got us to our hotel and arranged for our next day to start a bit later. We woke up to see the Pyramids and Sphinx and visit the GEM that day as planned and didn’t miss a beat!

The story on visiting the GEM continued to morph for months as the opening was pushed back from 2022 to an indefinite 2023 date. Right before we left, Jim found a way for us to walk inside to see the fabulous architecture of this museum, which is spectacular! While we didn’t get to see it fully open with its acclaimed exhibits, seeing the building up close with the enormous statue of Ramses II was terrific. Once it is open, it will be spectacular!

Our ambitious itinerary covered Cairo, Aswan and an Abu Simbel side trip, a Nile cruise and Luxor. The only way to see everything we did is through careful planning with people on the ground who know the intricacies of how to put it together. For example, we are not sure how anyone in one day can see the key tombs in Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens without the help of experts, given the landscape and the ticketing system. Jim’s team helped us to plan so we had the tickets to everything we wanted to see there and a guide and driver to get us to each. We are convinced that there is no way to see these major sites without proper guidance.

We also recommend taking a dahabiya boat to cruise the Nile rather than a large cruise boat, as you get the opportunity to stop at sites along the Nile where the bigger boats can’t dock. With only 4 couples on our boat, it truly was an intimate and interesting experience and the food was amazing! And lastly, the value of a team on the ground was proven once again when one of us got food poisoning. Jim’s team sent a doctor to the hotel at night with necessary medication. That allowed us to continue the tour as planned the next day.

We highly recommend seeing Egypt now, as it is not overwhelmed with visitors, and also highly recommend employing Jim’s office to help plan it. Some trips can be planned independently, but in a destination like this, a knowledgeable team with great connections both on the ground and for flights is invaluable, as our experience proves!

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Norway: Northern Lights, herding reindeer with the Sami…


I first heard about Jan Sortland and his company through the Wendy Perrin WOW List. He deserves the accolades. Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. When the original estimate was more than I had budgeted, Jan figured it out so we could still go. And he did it graciously. From start to finish he was responsive and every question was answered thoroughly and quickly.

Our trip was planned impeccably. The hotels were excellent and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely and our dinners there were incredible.

Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them 3 out of 3 nights! Much of this is due to the incredible guides Jan arranged. Despite the fact that it was cloudy and snowing the first two nights, our guides looked at all the weather maps and found the area that had the most potential to clear up. It was a real drive, but the clouds disappeared and the Lights danced.

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

Jan, my husband and I were the beneficiaries of your many years of experience. Thank you. Thank you!

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Florence: local artisans, private palazzo tour…


Nancy and I were fortunate to have spent a wonderful week in Florence, Italy that was planned with Jennifer and her team. The trip went smoothly and more than met our high expectations, which we had from our previous experiences with trips that Jennifer has helped plan.

We had not even left the US when we realized how using a WOW expert like Jennifer is beneficial to a smooth and seamless travel experience. Our plane out of Denver was 6 hours late in leaving because of a mechanical issue and thus we were going to miss our scheduled connection in Frankfurt. However, because of the daily texts sent by Jennifer and her team describing the next day’s schedule, all we had to do was alert them as to the change in times and they took it from there so that our airport greeter was there to meet us and that our transportation into Florence was rescheduled to the appropriate time.

Jennifer arranged for us to have Veronica as our tour guide while we were in Florence. Veronica was so warm and friendly. She had a fantastic knowledge of the area and was able to explain things in a fun and educational way. We would definitely recommend Veronica as a guide if you are in Florence.

A highlight of the trip was a private visit to Palazzo Corsini where we not only had Veronica’s expertise but we also had the privilege of Countess Francesca, who grew up and still lives there, conduct the tour. We had such a wonderful afternoon. Another highlight was spending an afternoon visiting with local artisans of Florence. Veronica took us to places which we never would have found on our own. We also spent a morning going to various churches in Florence and saw some amazing artwork still in the churches; Veronica especially shined during this tour as she was able to put the art and the church into proper context so that you understood and appreciated the art you were seeing.

As we noted above, Jennifer and her office did a great job in planning and executing our Florence trip. We have only the highest praise for the services they provide and will undoubtedly utilize them again on a trip to Europe.

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Vietnam & Cambodia: best hotel rooms, tour guides, drivers…


This trip was exceptional. Sandy and staff made everything easy for us, down to his guide to Southeast Asia that answered all our how-to questions. Sandy guided us before the trip to make sure we had trip insurance and visas to both countries to save time, and that we brought the right items with us, while also discouraging lots of luggage.

We had the best rooms in each hotel and knowledgeable (and kindest) tour guides, drivers that took care to ensure we had water and a cold washcloth every time we returned to the car, as well as navigating the motorbikes and cars in busy cities. Our guides met us without any hitches at the airport and were always on time to pick us up. They took us to local restaurants that we would never have found and explained the history of the location to us, as well as being very willing to tell us about their lives and how they lived. It was an immersion that we could not have done on our own. Each guide confirmed our air reservations, which was helpful.

The itinerary was well-planned, with the ability to change anything at any time to meet with our interests. We were able to see much more than we anticipated and fit in so many things, while also having some down time to go to the beach in Hoi An and a few-day cruise.

We could not have taken such an awesome trip without Sandy’s guidance and we appreciate his staff for a flawless trip.

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Vietnam: history, lunch with locals, sunset cruise…


My husband Armand and I just returned from a truly memorable trip to Vietnam, planned by Sandy. This was our first journey in Vietnam, and Sandy and his colleagues took the time to carefully plan a flexible itinerary that was exciting as well as comfortable.

First, our guide. Aster, a young, kind, lively, and intelligent woman who introduced us to the religous, political, and economic history of Vietnam in a marvelous, storytelling fashion. Aster was a delight, and always offered us options to add or subtract activities from the day. She introduced us to delicious “street food” at casual restaurants and secured the best tables (balcony tables with views) at more upscale restaurants. We learned about Vietnamese family life too, and Aster shared her own family’s history.

One particular highlight: a delicious homemade lunch with a Vietnamese couple in their home. They were in their 60s (my age) and in one of our conversations they talked about their experiences during the “American war.”

Another highlight: our own private sunset boat cruise in a lovely boat down the Perfume River in Hue. Seeing sights from the water always gives a different perspective and the cruise was romantic as well.

Sandy also secured the best rooms in our room category in each of the hotels we stayed: the Azerai La Residence in Hue, and the Four Seasons (heavenly!) outside Hoi An. Our rooms had great views, were quiet, and were in the primo locations at each hotel. Both had pools, which we made good use of.

In the COVID era I find myself worrying more about diseases of all kinds. Rest assured, Aster and Sandy’s team made sure that every place we visited had high health and cleanliness standards. When, at times during drives between the cities, we needed to use a rest room, Aster and our driver always found us a clean bathroom.

In a country where one doesn’t speak the language, a guide is essential. Aster and Sandy gave us an introduction to Vietnam that makes us want to return to this beautiful country–and turn to Sandy’s office again for an unforgettable trip.

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Argentina & Chile: Buenos Aires, Santiago, Patagonia


Hiking in Argentina.

Argentina. Photo: Kathye Faries

Maita’s office did a terrific job of helping plan our trip to Buenos Aires, Santiago and Patagonia. I initially worked with Maita to frame the trip and she zeroed in on exactly what would be perfect for us. She suggested outstanding lodges in Patagonia, as well as excellent restaurants all over South America. We are foodies and we were not disappointed. I worked extensively with Malena Feijoo, who is on Maita’s team, to plan every detail of the trip.

Malena listened carefully to our needs and put together wonderful itineraries for us. One of the highlights when we were in Buenos Aires was a trip to a neighboring town for a cooking demonstration and fabulous lunch with a well-known chef. It was a fantastic experience! Maita recommended a tango show in Buenos Aires which I thought might be too touristy but it was just perfect—a small, intimate dinner club and amazing, skilled dancers. When we were in Santiago we headed out to Valparaiso for a day and were wowed by the art murals all over this wonderful, funky seaside town.

We had a complicated itinerary with several flights between various cities and the need for lots of transfers to and from airports, hotels and lodges. We had total peace of mind from the first day — every guide and every transfer was on time (or early) to greet us. The tour guides in both Buenos Aires and Santiago were knowledgeable, flexible and fun. They altered the itinerary a few times en route at our request and we appreciated the flexibility. Maita’s team “followed” us via WhatApp throughout the trip to check in, make sure all was going well and to inform us of what to expect next. It was nice to have someone watching over us.

The biggest surprise was the beauty of Patagonia. We were awed by the spectacular scenery. At one of the lodges we had our own guide and 4×4 for the 5 days and we were able to tailor the exploration to our desires. During our drives and hikes in and around Torres del Paine National Park we saw pumas, condors, guanacos (like llamas) and lots of other birds. Pure air, pure water and nature’s majesty. It was perfect.

I give this trip a 12 on a scale of 10 and highly recommend Maita if you are going to South America. Without her team’s guidance and suggestions we would not have had the wonderful experience that we did.

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Cambodia & Vietnam: history, street food, Angkor Wat at sunrise…


Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo: 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 Oun, from Andy’s team, 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!) We had postponed our trip for three years because of COVID, and felt safe and comfortable traveling, especially because the tourist crowds are still minimal. 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.

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Colombia: contemporary art, colonial charm, coffee country…


Boris and his team put together a fantastic trip to Colombia for my wife and me, a country we had not yet visited. Contrary to what people may think based on past history, Colombia was very safe, but very busy, and we were well looked after by excellent guides. Our trip started in Bogota with an easy direct day flight from New York. Three nights there allowed us to explore the city, its food and the amazing gold museum. Boris’ office arranged a private art tour which included access to a private opening of the works of the famous Colombian artist Jim Almaral, where we met him and his more famous wife Olga de Amaral. For a change in pace we then spent a night in Villa de Leyva, a national heritage site with a stop in Zipaquira to see the spectacular underground salt cathedral. Next stop was Medellin with visits to Communa 13, with an understanding of conflict and cacao, and a visit to a large orchid collection. Four nights in the coffee country, staying in a wonderful hacienda, allowed us to explore that area, including a rafting trip, a visit to a coffee plantation and a day out with an excellent birding guide. The final stop was Cartagena, where we stayed in the Casa San Augustin in the middle of the old city; great for walking around the old areas with activities such as a rum and chocolate tasting, a private cooking class in one of the best restaurants and a salsa dancing lesson. An easy 5 hr direct day flight took us back to New York. Colombia is a country well worth a visit, even though it does not seem to be on the radar screens of many of our acquaintances, and Boris and his team are a great asset for organizing a diverse and interesting trip.

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Argentina: vineyards, colonial architecture, Iguassu Falls…


Maita and Florencia gave us a truly memorable week in Argentina that began 4 hours after the World Cup-winning soccer team arrived home at EZE airport! I had many concerns about traveling over the Christmas holiday: the crowds, extra expense and pent-up travel demand from Covid. Despite all these obstacles, we had 4 great internal flights that Florencia booked and checked us in for all along the way, 5 terrific hotels and our guides were superlative. We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta to the whole area around Purmamarca, a real discovery area for us. Ending at Iguassu falls was just perfect. We had to throw Maita and team some curve balls at the last minute: such as securing my husband and his 80-year-old mother last-minute back-up plane reservations and transfers from Ushuaia to meet me in BA on 12/20. They were able to help them on the run. We just loved our trip and we can’t wait to go back and discover more of remarkable Argentina! Next time: Lake district, glaciers and Patagonia! And maybe even more Purmamarca!

Travelers really should book all the internal air through Maita. The Aerolineas site does not work from the USA. Also, the private driver for crossing over to the Brazil side of Iguassu Falls is a must, the crowds were crazy there and we could not wait to get back to the relative calm of the Argentina side. Our driver Alex did a great job in tough conditions. Staying at the Melia right there is worth the extra money times 10!

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Morocco: wine tasting, Roman ruins, motorcycle sidecar tour…


Our trip planned by Radia was absolutely fantastic! The planning process with Radia was easy. I had a general idea of the cities and sites that we wished to visit ,which Radia developed into a thoughtful and exciting itinerary, including such highlights as a gourmet lunch and wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard near Fez, an excursion to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a motorcycle and vintage sidecar tour through Marrakech’s medina and a sunset camel ride in the desert. Radia’s office helped us choose excellent restaurants for all our meals and handled all the reservations. Radia also arranged a very fun market tour and cooking lesson in Fez, where we learned to make chicken tagine in a rooftop kitchen overlooking the city. Our guide and driver chosen for us by Radia were both a perfect fit for our family, and they went out of their way to make sure we were having a wonderful vacation. We cannot wait to return to Morocco in the future.

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Southeast Asia: Angkor Wat, mountaintop temples, monk’s blessing…


Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo: Seng Sophea

Our two-week trip in December to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia was a wonderful first visit to the region. There were so many highlights! Starting in Chiang Rai, our favorite stops were the White Temple, any food from street vendors, Golden Triangle and Princess Mother’s chalet-style villa and garden. And then sunset at a tea plantation was so picturesque. In Chiang Mai I highly recommend 137 Pillar House hotel. It is a beautiful oasis in the center of town. The street food, markets, cooking school, mountaintop temples and hikes there were all amazing in Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand has so much to offer we could have spent our whole two weeks there.

During our incredible two nights in the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang we enjoyed a dance performance, an up-close walk in the woods with the elephants at the MandaLao sanctuary and then swimming in the crystal blue Kuang Si waterfalls. The visit was then topped off with a special dinner and blessing ceremony with our guide’s family and making merit with the monks before daybreak.

Angkor Wat was our next stop and did not disappoint. The vast grounds were impressive and our guide did an excellent job sharing the art and history of that site as well as the culture and livelihood of the surrounding area. We ended our stay with a few nights in Bangkok, with a spontaneous visit to an outdoor high-rise rooftop bar at sunset, and the hotel along the river with a balcony was an ideal spot to stay.

Sandy’s guides, who have all been with him for many years, truly made this visit come to life. Their adeptness at crafting exciting, varied activities each day, sharing their own stories, and imparting the countries’ history and culture made for an excellent trip. When I look back at our itinerary, I am amazed at how many experiences we enjoyed and it never felt rushed or harried. We would have never been able to craft such a rewarding itinerary on our own. Highly recommend Sandy’s team and scheduling no shorter than two weeks to capture it all.

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Colombia: snorkeling, cacao farms, street art…


Our trip to Colombia in January 2023 was so well-planned by Boris and his team! It was an adventurous choice for us, and we were rewarded with a vast array of experiences from deep countryside to wonderful cities. Colombia had apparently ended its rainy season—we enjoyed beautiful weather throughout. Boris and his team were so responsive, made itinerary adjustments easily, and always kept in touch. We felt safe, cared for. Our guides were excellent—knowledgeable, well-spoken, and easy-going while hosting us through many varied activities. Colombia is a diverse land, with incredible mountains, coffee plantations, small colonial towns and vibrant cities. Art, culture, and of course a notorious history abound! The Colombians are a welcoming, friendly people, and quite diverse. Our lodgings were lovely. Highlights ranged from orchid farms to art museums, from floating along a river in a bamboo raft, to a fascinating day on a small cacao farm with local farmers. The exotic fruits and juices are memorable, and many local cuisines. Our boat trip in Cartagena was first-class, and snorkeling was wonderful. Art has transformed many areas, especially with street art, and another highlight was our private art tour in Bogota! Thank you, Boris and team, for guiding us through a rich, multidimensional experience in Colombia!

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New Zealand: intimate lodges, wine tastings, helicopters…


We just returned from 10 days in New Zealand at the end of January and Jean-Michel and his team planned an absolutely amazing trip for us. Jean-Michel quickly helped us hone in on a plan and some key properties, then Fabienne worked with us to get all of the details in place and arrange amazing activities. Both of them helped us secure some of the last rooms available at stunning intimate lodges, and put together helicopter adventures, wine tastings, and phenomenal local guides that really made the trip special for us. There’s no way we would have been able to find all of the locations and activities that Fabienne lined up for us, and we felt like we saw a lot more of the South Island than we would have on our own. We’re already plotting when we can return, and fully intend to let Jean-Michel and Fabienne help us again when we’re back in New Zealand.

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Portugal: oceanfront pousadas, city tours…


Pousada de Sagres

Sunset. Pousada de Sagres. Photo: Benjamin Lowe

My husband and I went to Portugal for a week in mid-January 2023, spending two nights in Cascais (near Lisbon), then 4 nights in Sagres in the Algarve, and the last night in Lisbon. We spoke with Gonçalo, who gave us good suggestions of where to go. We told him we were interested in photographing land and seascapes, especially during sunrise and sunsets. After the Zoom conversation, his colleague Patrícia Gomes took over and I mostly communicated with her.

She drew up an initial itinerary and we went over it and emailed questions and answers back and forth etc. We paid a deposit after she secured the reservations and then paid the balance a few weeks before the trip began.

She 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.

I felt assured that if anything unexpected happened, it was a comfort to know that the travel advisor and team would help us. In fact, we got lost trying to find the Lisbon hotel (GPS failed) and I called them up and they were able to walk us calmly through where we were and direct us to the hotel. I highly recommend Gonçalo, Patricia and their team to help plan vacations in Portugal. We hope to use them again for another Portugal trip, maybe to the Azores and the eastern side of the Algarve, which we didn’t get a chance to see.

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Chile: Patagonia, Atacama, stargazing WOW Moment…


Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile.

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

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. 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). 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 U.S. Apollo 11 landed.

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Egypt: urban & rural, iconic sites & hidden gems…


The plan put together for our trip by Arlene Santos (Jim was in the process of moving to Nashville, so he was not directly available) was ultimately just perfect. The accommodation choices were spot-on-amazing properties that, while luxurious, were also good value, and the service of the local team was great. All that said, it was the pace of the 2 weeks that really made the trip a pleasure. I’ve wanted to go to Egypt for about 20 years and between my schedule and their revolutions, it’s not worked out. Our trip was even better than I’d imagined or hoped for and worth the wait.

What we loved was the perfect mix of seeing “the sights” that you’ve read about and seen in photos and getting a sense of contemporary life in Egypt—both urban and rural. Our notable highlights included Sakkara, Luxor and environs (tombs), the Old Cataract Hotel Nile View suite and the amazing Abu Simbel temples.

But hands down, the most special part of our experience was our 4 days and 4 nights on the Dahabiya Orient. We are SO glad we did this rather than a larger standard river cruise boat. From the moment we boarded to the moment we stepped off, we felt well cared for by the crew, who treated us both like honored guests and close friends. We opted for the “Terrace Suite,” which was at the stern of the boat and had a large private deck at water level. Honestly, we did not use it much, since the main deck space was so large and lovely and the other couples on the cruise were delightful. That said, it was a treat to have a 180-degree view of the river from our room (as opposed to the other cabins with only a standard window looking either starboard OR port). And had the other guests been less compatible, it would have been a nice space to escape for privacy. The food was Egyptian and extraordinary, and we, as vegetarians, were seamlessly accommodated. We were amazed what the chef was able to create in the tiny on-board kitchen.

Our guide on the cruise, Dr. Abdulla, was much more than a guide. He was the boat host and the English (and other languages) interface between guests and crew. He was not only extremely knowledgeable, but a gifted storyteller, bringing to life the history, geology, stories—and the stories behind the stories. He seemed genuinely to enjoy sharing the perspective of the life along the Nile. All the shore stops were great, but our sunset walk through a farming village one evening was special and our visit to the huge camel/livestock market and local market in Daraw was an exciting, novel and sensory-overloaded experience. We saw all manner of 4-legged animal sales, including camels. We would have NEVER even known about that as an opportunity, much less ventured to something like that on our own. And it was clear that not many tourists ventured there, since we seemed to be quite interesting to locals, some of whom had traveled from far away in even more rural areas and we were asked to pose with them for THEIR travel photos!

Other observations: Coordination by the team on the ground was excellent, although sometimes it was not completely clear what the role some of the people we interfaced with played. Also, we would suggest guides ASK if clients in advance want to go on “factory tours.” In Cairo, this happened twice without notice/asking. For instance, we were dropped off in front of a papyrus vendor and guided inside, having not been even told in advance where we were headed, much less given the option to pass on it. Even when we told the guide on arrival (as the driver drove away) that David had actually been to that VERY store on a previous trip, we were shepherded in and then obliged to watch the demo and (unless we wanted to make a scene or seem ungracious) view the wares. In Luxor and Aswan the guides gave us options to skip these “tours,” which we appreciated.

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Costa Rica: beach, wildlife, cloud forest…


We spent a week in Costa Rica from Dec 31 to Jan 6, planned by Irene. Since this was our first time, we wanted to spend time both on the water and in the mountains. We started our trip with a charter flight to the Osa Peninsula and spent 4 amazing days in Copa de Arbol. The staff at the resort is top-notch and we really enjoyed getting to know several of them as they took great care of us. The food and drinks are incredible — we looked forward to every meal in the open-air restaurant. The accommodations were very comfortable. We went for a day trip to the Corcovado forest and saw many colorful birds and animals. The highlight was getting to see a tapir (a rare large animal). Our guide was very knowledgeable and very good at spotting birds and setting up the scope quickly. We also did a snorkeling tour to the Cano island in Drake bay. Would highly recommend Copa de Arbol — it is remote and quiet, which appealed to us. The boat rides to the forest (an hour) and Cano (45 min) were choppy because of the windy weather.

From Osa, we went to Monteverde to see the cloud forest. We were picked up at the San Jose airport by Jonathan, who was our guide and driver for the next 3 days. Jonathan took us for a walk through the cloud forest (primarily flora versus fauna) and on another day for a hike through several sky bridges in the trees. He had arranged a night hike, which ended up being one of our favorite things — we saw 2 green vipers, a tarantula, owls, monkeys, tucan. Jonathan had also arranged a special surprise for us, with a sunset on a hill with absolutely incredible 360 views for miles and no one around. It was very magical watching the sunset with wine and cheese, as the full moon rose behind us. A very memorable evening! Jonathan took excellent care of us during the entire time.

In Monteverde, we stayed at the Senda Hotel with beautiful grounds. We saw many beautiful birds and animals right on the property during our morning walks. The small town of Monteverde is a 15 min walk away and we enjoyed a couple of great meals and shopping for a couple of art pieces. All in all, we really enjoyed our trip and look forward to going back and exploring new areas of this immensely diverse country.

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Belize: horseback riding, Mayan ruins, beach time…


It was a long trip from San Francisco, but once we arrived in Belize it was all worth the effort. We chose two destinations: the Lodge at Chaa Creek, in the jungle, and the Phoenix Resort in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye.

We used Patricia’s team to book the hotels and the experiences. We booked the flights ourselves with points. It was a pleasure to work with Patricia’s staff. They were professional, timely, and always available. In fact, they rescued us when the FAA fiasco occurred on January 10th, which delayed our trip two days. Miraculously within hours, they successfully rebooked our entire trip. We were amazed and very appreciative. If we had planned this trip without them, who knows what would have happened. We would highly recommend them to anyone traveling to Belize.

We loved the horseback riding, Mayan ruins visit, the cave tube-riding that we did while staying at the Lodge at Chaa Creek. The stay at the Lodge at Chaa Creek was wonderful and the meals were delicious. We would definitely stay there again.

We really enjoyed the Phoenix Resort. The room was beautiful and the staff was awesome. We liked being in the middle of San Pedro with all of the activities and restaurants that are available there. We rented a golf cart to spend a delightful day at Secret Beach.

All in all, we loved our Belize vacation.

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London: multigenerational Christmas trip


We recently returned from a trip to London with our family of 10 people that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and 4 grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a 2-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of 4. We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families. Our guide, Alex, was with us for 4 days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.

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Paris: wine tasting, front-row concert seats…


Jennifer and team knocked it out of the park again! After several trips to Paris in the past, my husband and I were looking to have a few special experiences organized by Jennifer’s team and leave the rest of our time open. From a seamless airport pick-up and departure experience, to a delightful private wine tasting, to front-row seats at the most magical harpsichord quintet performance in Saint-Chapelle after-hours, Jennifer made sure that no detail was overlooked and we were well taken care of every step along the way. When traveling to France, Jennifer has become my first point of contact (after Wendy, of course :)) and has never failed to delight!

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Egypt: beyond the usual tourist sites


Long before Covid 19 stopped the world in its tracks, Jim planned a three+ week trip for us to Egypt and Jordan for October-November 2020. In November 2022, after several one-year delays caused by COVID, we finally completed an expanded five-week version of this trip. Throughout, Jim consistently looked out for us, patiently dealing with our questions and requests for modifications. However, the long delay made us vulnerable to certain unrelated factors. During the six months prior to the trip, I developed a back problem that required surgery as soon as possible after our return. As a practical matter, I couldn’t walk far or stand long without risking stabbing pains. If you’ve been to Egypt, you know that a trip there requires lots of walking and standing. As just one example, parking lots can be over a quarter- to half-mile from the site. Fortunately, Egypt has its own version of handicapped access. If your guide and driver are firm and persistent, the police/military barricades can be opened and you can drive right up to the entrance. In some places, electric golf carts are available. My new physical limitations also necessitated a lot of attention from Jim and his on-the-ground team to find ad hoc ways to accommodate my needs. In the end, Jim was successful in finding and implementing adjustments. We are extremely grateful to him and his team. What we ended up with was far more than expected. With their help, I not only got through the trip, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had previously been to Egypt under highly unusual circumstances. Due to regional political issues, tourism was non-existent and I had the pleasure of seeing many of the “standard” tourist sites without a single other tourist present. But my husband, Jamie, had never visited Egypt. Jim did a superb job of planning a trip to meet Jamie’s needs but added things even in places I’d already visited that gave me a deeper understanding of Egypt’s past and today. He had us go far beyond the standard tourist circuit by adding multiple days at Siwa Oasis in western Egypt, near the Libyan border, and multiple days at Fayoum Oasis, three hours south of Cairo. What so impressed us is that Jim found ways to continually surprise and educate us, even in the usual places. While at Fayoum Oasis, we went way out in the desert to Wadi-Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales)—a UNESCO World Heritage Site I’d never heard of that contains the world’s greatest number, concentration and quality of fossils that demonstrate how the whale evolved to an ocean-going mammal from its earlier life as a land-based mammal. The fossils here are of those mammals in the last stage of losing their hind legs and feet. Who knew? It was extraordinary. While at Fayoum, Jim’s team also linked us up with an excellent birding guide for an extraordinary bird walk that included many life birds. These two oases were just two of the places we visited that went far beyond what we’d expected of this trip. Similarly, besides going to Petra, as do most tourists to Jordan (and oh, is it worth it), our guide stopped off to visit his friend Abu Ali, a local “character” who lives in a cave below the Crusader-era Shawbuk Castle. He runs the world’s tiniest hotel (a VW bug). Abu Ali apparently took a shine to me, because he gave me a genuine and valuable Nabatean coin from the reign of Arestes IV. At Siwa Oasis in Egypt, we stayed at an eco-resort with no electricity lit only by candles and lanterns and built in traditional Egyptian mud and salt-brick style. We were the only guests for our four-night stay. We got to see the suite where Prince (now King) Charles had stayed for his visit. We also were treated to the best food and service of the entire trip.

We sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan for five days on a traditional dahabiya that allowed us to see sites along the Upper Nile not available to those who take typical Nile cruises. We also had a relaxing interlude with only 18 other guests. It was a memorable week. Did you know you can swim in the Nile? We did. (Note: the crocodiles are all south of the Aswan dam.) It was amazing.

In addition to Petra in Jordan, we visited the amazing Roman ruins of the city of Jerash. I’ve been to lots of Roman ruins but these blew me away. Built on the edge of the Roman Empire, the city was massive and had surprising details both large and small. So, too, were the Roman mosaic floors that had been uncovered and were displayed on the walls of a simple but impressive church at Mount Nebo, reportedly near where Moses was buried. It is a pilgrimage site and I now understand why. Overall, Jordan was a far more interesting country to visit than we had expected.

Virtually any reputable travel agency can plan a nice trip to Egypt hitting the standard sites most tourists want to see. What you get with Jim is something different. Oh, you’ll see the Giza Pyramids, but if you give him the time, you’ll see how the pyramids evolved in Egypt’s Old Kingdom. Giza is only the most famous. At Saqqara we saw early attempts (including the “Bent” Pyramid, where the angle was wrong and had to be changed midway.) But we also visited some out-of-the-way pyramids with nary a tourist in sight – but lots of military and police in residence to stop looters. These included Meidum Pyramid outside Fayoum Oasis, a key interim step between the earliest (Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara) and the pinnacle (The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza) that helps fill in the gaps of the evolution of Egypt’s pyramids. We also saw the 12th-dynasty Pyramid of Hawara to see how Romans and local inhabitants stripped the exterior limestone coating and reused its blocks for local projects.

Other highlights included seeing Abu Simbel from the air. Thanks to Jim and his team, we had seat assignments on the “right side” of the plane (that is the left side) to get good photos. Sometimes, it’s the little details that make huge differences. The art in Ramses II’s famous temple is superb, naturalistic and not to be missed. The neighboring temple to his wife Nefertari gets far less attention but is almost as impressive (if only for his recognition of his Great Wife’s importance). Discovering a just-completed Avenue of the Sphinxes linking the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, lined with 1,200 sphinxes, was a delight for me. It had not existed on my previous trip. Gorgeously lit by night, it has reconnected the temples as they had been in antiquity. For me, the trip’s most moving moment was my tour of the Royal Mummies in the new Museum of Egyptian Civilization (not to be confused with the grand, yet-to-be-opened Egyptian Museum.) Seeing these 3,000-4,000 year-old New Kingdom royal mummies brought to life historical figures I’d read so much about and touched me by their individuality. Seeing the best-of-the best tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Queens and Nobles (especially Nefertari’s stunning tomb) was worth every extra penny. Jim’s recommendations were right-on. Tour bus groups do not include the extra-cost tombs, so we saw them with almost no other visitors.

If you are a thrill-seeker as I am, head to Siwa Oasis to surf the dunes of The Grand Sand Sea with a driver as enthralled as we were zooming up, over and down the steep dunes of the vast eastern edge of the Sahara in a 4-wheel-drive SUV. Then stop on what looks like a rocky cliff amidst this vast sea of sand to discover below you the evidence that this was once truly a marine sea and now is covered with millions of marine fossils. Thanks to Jim, his excellent logistics staffer Arlene Santos, our guides on the ground and excellent drivers, this was a trip worth the long wait.

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Australia: eco-friendly villas, Sydney for New Year’s Eve…


Just returned from a 3-week Australian vacation and can’t wait to return! A big shout-out to Jacki and Stuart for making our trip a seamless dream. Jacki planned not one, but two Australian vacations for us, as our first trip had to be cancelled a few weeks before our travel date due to the pandemic. Stuart’s office took the time to listen to what type of travel experience we were looking for and planned our trip accordingly. Hotel options were wonderful, including both classic city properties and isolated eco-friendly villas. Our private guides throughout were top-notch and flexible. It was wonderful getting to meet Jacki in Sydney upon our arrival! She was even able to make changes and schedule new excursions for us during our trip at the last minute!

With only 3 weeks to visit, we made the choice to concentrate our time in the southeastern portion of the country. Do not try and cover too much ground when visiting Australia. Remember, the country is truly a continent and traveling between cities can take up a good portion of your time if you aren’t careful! Dont underestimate travel distances! Make sure to visit small towns and rural areas to really get a flavor of the country!

New Year’s Eve in Sydney is an amazing experience, but the crowds are huge, locals tend to leave the city, and hotel prices skyrocket as you might expect. Also, many restaurants will close over the holiday, as this is prime summer vacation time Down Under. Make dining reservations ahead of time if there are any restaurants on your bucket list!

Finally, make sure to build in some down time in the places you visit!

Thanks to Stuart’s team for helping us plan this amazing Australian vacation! Thanks to Wendy for another amazing referral!!!

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Sicily: family trip in January


Matteo did a wonderful job of planning our Sicily family trip! He had many great tour suggestions, as he lives there, so he knows the area very well. We were there on a Holiday week in January, so some restaurants and stores were closed. Matteo found great restaurants that were open and even made some restaurant reservations for us. We had private tours every day. Our tour guides were very knowledgeable and very friendly. The driver we had was exactly on time every morning. He knew our itinerary to have us to each location as scheduled. Every day ran so smoothly.

A highlight of the trip was having a wine-tasting luncheon at the winery owner’s home by Mount Etna. They were such gracious hosts. Matteo was always available with responses right away from many emails of planning the trip AND during the trip. He even surprised us and met up with us at a cafe in one of the towns.

I would definitely recommend Matteo! Our vacation was absolutely, perfectly enjoyable and worry-free because of his expertise and patience in planning!

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Australia & New Zealand: monthlong grand tour


Our family of four, parents and two late-20-year-old daughters, traveled to Australia and New Zealand in December 2022 for a 3+ week trip. Quite frankly, it would have been impossible to have put together such a wonderful trip without the guidance, counseling and bookings of our travel consultants. The itinerary that was proposed, the activities that were planned, the guides that were enlisted, and the hotel and travel logistics were perfect. Everything went without a hitch, which is saying a lot for an almost 4-week itinerary. We had initially thought we would only visit Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, but Jackie persuaded us to tour Queensland and the rainforests, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, fly to Uluru to ride camels and experience the deep Outback, and take tours out of the cities to spots we know most tourists miss. The same held true in New Zealand, where Sara and Sarah staged a helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners at their home on the station), and a three-night stay at a beautiful two-bedroom cottage on a private estate winery on the North Island. We are most appreciative and know that our trip would not have been nearly as enjoyable without this team.

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Costa Rica: jungle & beach with teens


Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica

Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica. Photo: Shelby Willets

Priscilla planned a weeklong, adventure-packed vacation for two families traveling with 4 teenage boys! She was exceptional in working with both families to ensure each family’s preferences were met. Our private guide, William, was priceless and a perfect match! He made the trip amazing—I can’t imagine visiting Costa Rica without him! By visiting two distinctly different areas of Costa Rica as well as our quick stop in San Jose, we feel like Priscilla planned and William guided a comprehensive tour of their country. Thanks so much, the Willets and Yarmus families!

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Paris: making macarons, New Year’s fireworks…


We had a wonderful trip planned by Jennifer. She and her team planned some really great activities that our kids would enjoy, including the Retro Sidecar tour and the macaron-making class. I loved how her team texted our itinerary with addresses, phone numbers, and any museum/attraction tickets each day, so that we had everything handy. The dinners that were suggested were yummy. And our suite and adjoining room at the Hotel Grand Powers were absolutely perfect for celebrating New Year’s in Paris. We had a front-row seat to the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe. It was an incredibly smooth experience in Paris, which is what we needed for such a short trip.

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas


Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain. Gonçalo and Patrícia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted! It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect. Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!

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Morocco: Marrakech, Fes, the Sahara…


Radia and her team put together a trip of a lifetime for our multi-generational family of eight. Our 10-day trip to Morocco over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was one of the best we have ever taken together. It was the perfect combination of cultural experiences, food experiences, sightseeing, shopping and adventure! We spent three nights in Fes, one night in the Sahara and six nights in Marrakech (due to the holiday season some of the Riads had minimum stays, but there was plenty to do for the 5 days!). Radia suggested the perfect Riads for us (Palais Amani and La Masion Arabe), along with a luxury tented camp in the desert. Each day was a new adventure and our incredible guide, Bouch, really made the trip that much better. We have taken a lot of trips with a lot of different guides around the world, and Bouch really topped them all! He made sure everyone was always happy, from the kids to the grandparents, and changed things last-minute where he saw fit. We always seek out unique, local experiences when we travel and Radia and Bouch really made sure we had plenty of them! Highlights included a hike in the Atlas Mountains followed by a cooking class at a local Berber family’s home in the mountain village. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we will not soon forget! There were even mules to help carry some of us up the mountain! We also loved the sidecar tour around Marrakech—such a fun and different way to see the city beyond the medina, where most tourists spend all their time. But, everyone’s favorite day of the trip was the time we spent in the Sahara. We felt like we were in the pages of National Geographic as we drove ATVs over the gorgeous sand dunes—so fun and thrilling with the most unbelievable scenery. And we drove the ATVs right to where our camels were waiting to take us on an unforgettable sunset ride and then on to our luxury tented camp for the evening, where our belongings were waiting for us. It was truly a dream come true. We also had another surreal experience in the Sahara when we had tea with a nomadic Berber family who lives in tents without electricity or running water. We were able to talk to them and ask them questions about their life (through our guide, who translated for us)—it was a very educational and eye-opening experience, especially for our teenagers. It is not easy to get to the Sahara, but it is most definitely worth it and there are different options for how to make the journey that can be discussed. Morocco is a feast for the senses. Even just walking around the medina and souks, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells you will experience will leave a lasting impression on you. It is such a special country, I could go on and on. My only regret is not seeing other parts of Morocco, but it is definitely a place I plan to return to and I will definitely be contacting Radia when I do (and requesting Bouch as our guide!).

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Chile: heli-hiking, rafting, cultural visits…


Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter.

Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter. The Lake District, Chile. Photo: Jeannie Mullen

Tom planned a fantastic two-week holiday hiking trip to a part of Chile that I had never been to … the Lake District south of Santiago … an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Of the many activities offered (hiking, floating, white water rafting, cultural visits among others), I would say that the heli-hiking in Pucon with my guide, Patricio, who is also a professional photographer, was a standout. Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic. What a phenomenal experience. It’s like we had the world to ourselves for the day. This was the third time that I have used Tom for trip planning in South America. He chose terrific properties which offered impeccable service and every possible amenity. Vira Vira, an AndBeyond property, was exquisite.

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Australia: wine, beaches, behind-the-scenes tours…


We just returned from an Australian holiday trip with our 2 teenage daughters. Stuart and Jacki put together a phenomenal itinerary with something for everyone! We began our trip in Melbourne, where Liz picked us up at the airport and we were on our way to tour, hoping to see some of the city before things shut down for Christmas, the following day. On Christmas Day, we drove the Great Ocean Road outside of the city and were completely surprised with a WOW Moment of a helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles. It was breathtaking! The next day, we drove through the wine country of the Yarra Valley with tastings, lots of animal sightings and delicious food, followed by a 2-night stay at the Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula area, about an hour-and-a-half from Melbourne. The Mornington Peninsula was also filled with award-winning wine and food, along with charming little beachside towns. After a few days of the relaxed area and beautiful hotel, we flew up north to Cairns and stayed in the coastal town of Port Douglas, about an hour north of the airport. This is an ideal location to anchor a trip to both the Great Barrier Reef along with the Daintree Rainforest. We had a magical first day snorkeling around the reef, followed by a day in the rainforest with our guide, Guy. Both days were incredibly special, where we created memories that will never be forgotten. Our last stop was Sydney. After a 3-hour flight from Cairns, we checked into the incredible new Crown Sydney Hotel. The 3 full days in Sydney were action-packed with sightseeing, behind-the-scenes private tour of the famous fish market, climbing the Sydney Bridge, shopping and a private opera house tour along with a show. My kids even got to see one of their favorite American singers in concert while we were in town. Jacki made sure that we had dinner reservations booked every night of our trip since it was the busy holiday time. After our 12-day trip, we are exhausted but definitely feel like this was a trip of a lifetime!

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Turkey: sunny & uncrowded in Istanbul


Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. I would definitely recommend Karen to anyone going to Turkey.

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Chile: wine region, Santiago, Atacama…


My husband and I had a great trip to Chile over the holidays 2022. Tom did an excellent job planning and executing every detail of our travel. We visited the beautiful wine region, Santiago, and the amazing Atacama desert. We enjoyed so many activities from horseback riding, a cooking class and wine tasting at the Vik Chile to hiking sand dunes, photographing flamingos and the salt flats while at the Alto Atacama resort. Our guides and transfers were flawless, and Tom was even able to step in and negotiate a late checkout on our last day so we could have time at the spa before our long journey home. Next time we hope to make it to Patagonia and would definitely work with Tom again.

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Ecuador & Galapagos: family Christmas trip


We just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Allie was our true partner in the planning of this special experience. Allie is a great listener. She really learned the kind of trip we wanted and the diversity of activities and pacing we needed with three teenagers (ages 19, 16 and 16). As a consequence, Allie made great selections for us. We loved all of our hotels on the trip, including Hotel Mama Cuchara in Quito and Golden Bay Galapagos hotel in San Cristobal. She also made practical restaurant recommendations.

One of Allie’s best decisions was selecting Gustavo Cabezas as our guide on the mainland of Ecuador. He was the perfect guide for our family – deeply informative, fun, and energetic. Gustavo’s special connections enabled us to have special and unique experiences and his love of his country was contagious. Highlights of our time on the mainland include a visit to La Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world at the equator line) and taking the TeleferiQo cable car up the Pichincha volcano.

Our time in the Galapagos Islands was flat-out incredible. We saw sea lions (including hundreds of newborns), giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs, parrot fish, sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, sergeant fish, sharks and green turtles. We really enjoyed our hikes, snorkeling and kayaking. We also enjoyed the Coral I, the 35-passenger ship, selected by Allie. We met wonderful people from all over the world and our teenagers made friends.

One area in which Allie and her team really shine is logistics. Every pick-up and drop-off ran perfectly, including one pick-up at 3:15 a.m. The help at the airport at numerous points of the trip was outstanding too. The airport in Quito is strangely confusing and we were happy for the assistance. At one point, we decided to change a scheduled activity and Allie was responsive at 6 a.m. in the morning and helped us make some adjustments. Overall, the trip was an A+. We will be forever grateful to Allie and her team for a priceless experience.

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Panama: cloud forest, city sights, a WOW Moment…


Our family of three decided in November we wanted to travel somewhere for the New Year holidays and chose Central America for our general location. We contacted Pierre, a travel expert on The WOW List, for his help with travel options. We had used Pierre in 2017 for a fabulous trip to Nicaragua that we still fondly remember today. He suggested Panama and the trip planning began! Given that this was short notice and over the holidays, Pierre still put together another memorable trip for us.

We started out the first two days in Panama City and had an awesome guide, Rebecca, for our city tour. Rebecca showed us all the key city sights, but just as important was that she was very attuned to our interests and conversed rather than lectured. We had such a lovely day. One of my favorite stops was her recommended coffee shop, which we ended up going back to at least four more times!

The evening after the tour, we were given our WOW Moment — and what a Moment it was!! We were picked up in a Panama school bus — Diablo Rojo — with all the neon lights flashing and the salsa music playing! It took us from the hotel to the Historic Old City, where we had a great typical Panamanian dinner at a local restaurant, then enjoyed the view from a rooftop bar with a glass of wine. Finally, back to the hotel on Diablo Rojo! What a fun outing!!

Our next two locations were in the mountains of Panama — spending three nights at each place. Pierre did a phenomenal job getting rooms and guides arranged for us at these places. The first was in Boquete, at Hotel Hacienda Los Molinos. It was very charming with a gorgeous view of the area. We did two all-day tours. First was to an agro-organic farm called Hacienda Mamecillo. The family was such a gracious host, especially considering this was on Christmas Day. They produce all their food organically, as well as a special coffee. It was so interesting and impressive. The meal they served was, honestly, one of the best meals we have ever had — worthy of any fine dining anywhere.

The next day was spent with a well-known local expert birding guide, Raul, and we were rewarded with many sightings to add to our “life list.” But more than that, it was a pleasant day spent with Raul and learning about the local nature there in the cloud forest. We will request him again if we are able to return in the future.

Finally, we headed to our last destination at the Mount Totumas Ecolodge. Jeff, the owner, and his staff could not have been nicer. Panoramic views of the cloud forest from the main lodge deck were amazing and the variety of birds spectacular, all at arm’s reach. The local expert birding guide, Reinaldo, is highly skilled with sharp eyes. During our nature walks, we were again rewarded with many sightings added to our life list. Each day Alma, the head chef, prepared tasty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was fine dining in a remote cloud forest retreat. It was wonderful!

Even though we planned this trip on such short notice, and over the holidays, Pierre was able to put together a really wonderful and memorable trip for all of us. We couldn’t be happier! Its only been 5 days since we have been back — and we are still missing Panama!!

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Portugal: cooking class, VIP access…


Goncalo and Patricia planned the perfect four days in Lisbon for our multi-generational family of eight. Right from the start they were super responsive, and we traded over 100 emails finalizing all of the details up until the week before we left. This was a stopover for us en route to another destination, so we really focused on Lisbon and immediate surrounding areas. Spending a day in Sintra was a must on our list, and after being told that we would likely have to wait hours to get into Pena Palace even with advance tickets, they planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed and we had the entire place to ourselves! This was a true VIP experience and a very memorable one for all of us! Our guide, Tiego, was so knowledgeable about everything and he really related to everyone in our group, even the kids. We love trying all different local cuisines when we travel, so we did a food tour/food shopping in the morning that evolved into a cooking class in the afternoon, which everyone enjoyed—this was a highlight! All of the restaurants they recommended were perfect, from the casual places while were still fighting jet lag to the amazing dinner and Fado music show experience. And visiting Lisbon around the holidays, we had the added bonus of all of the beautiful lights and decorations around the city! I can’t wait to plan another trip to see the rest of Portugal and when we do, I will most certainly be reaching out to Goncalo and his team!

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Vietnam: private experiences with local families…


We worked with Dan’s office based on your recommendation, and they were terrific. They were flexible when we needed to postpone our planned trip to Vietnam in April 2020 due to COVID, and on several subsequent potential dates, until we actually got to go with our adult daughter in early December 2022. The two-week trip went without a hitch and included some truly special private experiences with local families. Each guide had a high level of expertise, spoke English well and brought something unique to the table for each of us. We feel like we really got to cover the country from north to south and never felt we were not in safe hands — even when hanging onto the back of a motor bike in Hanoi or Saigon. There were several times when our domestic flights were delayed or canceled and Dan’s office handled the logistics professionally. After action-packed days, we ended the trip at a Six Senses resort for some R&R, which exceeded expectations!

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Mexico: Mexico City & Puerto Vallarta


Thanks to Zach, Gabriela and Amalia, my husband Kenn and I enjoyed an incredible trip to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta over the Christmas holidays. We have been to multiple locations throughout Mexico, but knowing little about all of the available options in Mexico City and PV, we again went to Wendy’s WOW List for guidance. As always, our high expectations were surpassed at every step of our vacation. In both locations, Zach and his team put together a personalized itinerary that matched our entire wish list. The Orchid House in Mexico City had the charm and location we’d requested, and our driver and guide—Joel and Javier—took us to sights and places that we never would have found on our own with a knowledge, love and fluency that only native residents would have. The same for our five-star resort—Garza Blanca—just south of Puerto Vallarta. We utilized Zach’s referrals for all of our activities and restaurants and were never disappointed. Reservations were made and confirmed for us in Spanish, and Zach’s team greeted us at both airports to assure smooth passage during the crazy, busy holiday time. We truly would have been lost without these helpful people to guide us to the proper airline windows. Even when I requested information about a workout space in Mexico City, Gabi came through with a reservation and easy walking directions. We enjoyed a WOW Moment at a lovely restaurant in Puerto Vallarta where our table was located literally next to the ocean. Amalia actually showed up in person to make sure all elements of our wonderful surprise came to pass. We have never enjoyed that kind of personalized service! Communication with the team was immediate and nothing was left to chance. Even when we requested changes, there was never any hesitation or sense that I was “bothering” our team. The main focus and mission from Zach and every member of his team seemed to have one purpose: to ensure a WOW vacation for us, which they exceeded in every way. Zach also now covers Costa Rica, which we can’t wait to experience. Muchas gracias to his team.

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Belize: 50th anniversary with kids & grandkids


To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be! Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!

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Belize: snorkeling, day with a local family…


We recently returned from an 8-day trip to Belize planned by Patricia and Julianie. We are a family of four with 17- and 21-year-olds. We wanted a mix of activities and relaxation. We wanted to explore Belize but also stay in only one hotel. Snorkeling was our first priority, and because we had recently been to Guatemala, seeing Mayan ruins and coffee and chocolate plantations were not important, because we did those in Guatemala. Patricia recommended we stay in the Placencia region at Naia Resort and Spa. It was the perfect location. The rooms are beautiful and well appointed, the staff is very attentive, the beach is very large and the food outstanding. We were able to do both land and water excursions, with nothing being more than 45 minutes from Naia. Patricia and Julianie were in constant contact with us during our stay, including making some last-minute changes to our itinerary due to unexpected rain. In addition to a private, full-day snorkeling excursion, we did a tour of the Monkey River, a hike and river tubing in the Jaguar Preserve and spent a day with a local Garifuna family. We loved every excursion and only wish we could have stayed a few days longer.

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Switzerland: anniversary trip with nature & history


We planned a big trip to Switzerland for our 20th anniversary together. We originally tried to go in 2021 but decided to postpone due to Covid. We are glad we decided to go this year, though things were still busy even into October. We usually love travel in October during our anniversary, because there are fewer crowds. There were fewer crowds, but it was definitely much busier than trips to Europe in previous years during the same time.

Our trip planner did an amazing job with all of our requests. In fact, they kept everything we told them in mind, from the type of information we wanted to get during our tours, to the places we preferred to stay. We never ever would have gotten to do half the things we did if we hadn’t gone through this agency.

Switzerland was extraordinary, and everything we booked was personalized and incredible because of our trip planner. Every tour guide had information about us and what we wanted before we even met them. They took us on unique experiences we wouldn’t have even known about otherwise.

We got one-on-one guided tours through the Gotthard Pass, where they built bunkers into the mountains during WWII. We drove through the Lake Thun region with the most beautiful water and mountains we’ve ever seen. And yet another wonderful guide drove us around the gorgeous Appenzell region, where we got to see the Abbey Library of Saint Gall (omg, no words will ever do that location justice!). The travel planner even introduced us to the manager of the historic hotel in Bern where we stayed, and arranged for him to give us a personal tour of the hotel (a big deal as I’m a writer and used the trip to research locations for my book). It was a trip like no other. We can’t wait to go back! I highly recommend working with Nina’s office for any trip or activity in Switzerland. They are experts!

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Argentina & Uruguay: wine country & beach time


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. My first trip with them was to Buenos Aires and then through Patagonia (Argentina and Chile). This time I wanted to go to Mendoza and then to Uruguay. I traveled from November 21 for 11 days, and everything was absolutely amazing. We had planned this trip to take place in the fall (U.S.) of 2020 and were finally able to reschedule. I stayed at Cavas Wine Lodge (where Santiago had spent a few days just a couple of weeks prior to me going), and I highly recommend it. It is located in a gorgeous vineyard, and has gorgeous views from all angles. The people who work there are absolutely lovely and will happily help you in any way they can. Maita’s team had arranged for me to go to several wineries, and each one was excellent and so much fun! Views abound, the wines are excellent, and with hundreds of wineries to chose from, I was delighted that Maita’s office found ones that were perfect for me.

After 5 amazing days at Cavas, I flew to Montevideo, UR and was then 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! I stayed at Playa Vik, which I will definitely go back to—it is one of the nicest properties I have ever had the chance to visit, and had very interesting tours (arranged by Maita’s office) to Garzon winery, lunch at Garzon Restaurant where I met Francis Mallman (!), Pablo Atchugarry’s amazing and beautiful art, as well as the must-see Casapueblo. I then had a short tour of Montevideo, and flew home the next day.

If you are thinking of working with Maita’s team, go for it! Maita and Santiago will listen to your likes/dislikes, what you want out of the trip, etc., and will then create a bespoke itinerary that you will absolutely love! I am already working on a third trip with them and I have no doubt it will be wonderful.

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Ecuador: Amazon jungle lodge with kids


We are living in Quito for a year. This little country offers so much magnificence to the curious traveler, and we are trying to cram it all into twelve months. Allie was essential to creating our trip to the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador’s Amazonia. She put our trip together, found the right lodge for our family, and got the perfect rooms at a time that was ideal. It was tough because we did not start planning long enough in advance, but Allie’s knowledge of lodges and the region made it possible to get everything lined up in an instant. Without her expertise, I would have spent weeks doing research, and that likely would have meant missing out on getting rooms. Allie also got us a private guide, which was not necessary, but we thought it would allow us greater flexibility since we were travelling with kids. Turned out to be a great idea.

Napo Wildlife Center is a world-class lodge owned and run by the small local Añangu Kichwa community. They have committed to using ecotourism to save their community and their corner of the Amazon rainforest. Bottom line: They are knocking it out of the park. I cannot express how impressive their work and commitment is. In 1998, they were a small community, dealing with acute poverty, threatened by development, oil exploration, and the contamination of their water and forest. In that year, with little knowledge or experience in tourism, they decided they’d stave off the despoliation of their corner of the rainforest by starting a five-star ecotourism program. Learning about where the Añangu community was when they started this idea, and seeing all they have achieved in a couple decades…well…I just cannot wrap my head around their achievements or put into words how remarkable it all is. I am just brimming with awe and admiration for the Añangu and what they have accomplished.

The reason to go to Amazonia (or El Oriente, as it is called in Ecuador) is to see wildlife in hyper-diverse Amazonia, and wow did we ever see wildlife. We flew 1/2hr from Quito to Coca, Ecuador, hopped in a comfortable (not fancy) power boat for two hours, then transferred to a six-person canoe for the two-hour paddle to the lodge with the two guides who would introduce us to the Amazon rainforest over the next five days.

On that trip we saw weaverbirds and innumerable weaverbird nests, which are two to four feet in length. Just a marvel of construction. On the paddling portion of that journey, about 50 squirrel monkeys crossed the creek above us, within 30 feet of us, many with babies clinging to their backs. We also saw woolly monkeys. And we hadn’t even arrived at the lodge yet!

The lodge itself was magical. The staff was as friendly and helpful as could be. Really made us feel at home. In the TV room out back where the employees live, my son and I watched the World Cup finals with a bunch of staff and locals who had paddled in for the game. We were welcomed warmly, and we joined in and cheered with (or against) the rest of the crowd.

The bartender made delicious drinks. The food was tasty and plentiful. (I have no complaints at all, but to be frank, the food wasn’t at the same level as the rest of the place. Not that the food was bad by any measure, but maybe just that everything else set a tough standard to meet. ) The rooms were comfortable. The other guests were interesting, and we had fun sharing experiences with them all.

The guides are top-notch. Ecuador has a great system for educating and licensing guides. Many were from the local community. They knew every animal and plant in Spanish, English, Latin, Kichwa, and often local nicknames. Their ability to spot animals in the jungle thicket was extraordinary, and they did a great job finding ways to get us closer.

We brought our two kids, both around 10yrs old. The schedule for viewing animals was full, and the heat and humidity were a factor (85 or 90 degree highs, 80%+ humidity at all times), and that exhausted our kids. The staff was great about helping them with their exhaustion. I mean, our kids were not in any trouble, they were just beat. But the staff went above and beyond to help. It didn’t feel like they were trying to provide great service; it just felt like they cared, and wanted the kids to bounce back and enjoy their stay. Our guides smoothly revamped our schedule on the fly so the kids could rest, and we didn’t miss too much.

Another good thing Allie helped us with was getting us the one room (or one of the only rooms) at Napo WC that has a jacuzzi. With young kids, we knew they’d need a diversion in the midst of a lot of structured activities and nature expeditions. The jacuzzi was a big help.

While at Napo Wildlife Center, we saw six species of monkeys, and so many parrots, macaws, grebes, flycatchers. We saw snakes, frogs, and crazy looking crickets. We watched caimans and paiche (400lb river fish) from the boardwalk in front of our room. All to the spectral drone of howler monkeys in the distance, like a cold north wind gusting outside your door.

And Napo Wildlife Center has nearly no biting insects! Magical place.

Amazing. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Argentina: Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Patagonia…


A few years ago we went on a Seabourn cruise to celebrate a friend’s wedding anniversary and because some weather caused excursions to be cancelled, we received a credit. Not being confirmed cruisers, we decided that Antarctica would be a good choice, since it is the only way to get there! So we booked it. We thought it would probably be the last time we would be in this part of the world, so we planned to start in Buenos Aires and make several stops along the way to Ushuaia, where we would board the ship to Antarctica.

We contacted Maita from The WOW List. We worked with Malena, her associate. This trip was one for the ages! Malena helped us pick a total of six locations, starting from Buenos Aires to the Mendoza wine region to three hiking lodges in Patagonia, before landing in Ushuaia at the very southern tip of South America. We stayed three nights in each location.

This was complicated itinerary. Several flights, lots of drivers, guides in each location, and she pulled if off without a blip. The hotels were a real highlight — and we love our top-end hotels! — the food was very, very good, the guides terrific. So many highlights. Wine country surprised us. We did not know how good Argentine wine was. We get exposed to a lot of OK Malbec here at home, and it was so much more than that. We wound up sending five cases home! The hiking in Patagonia settings astonished. The lodges, especially the Explora in Chalten, are set up to maximize the terrain, the views, and the camaraderie among the other guests. Really fun.

Highly recommend Maita and Malena.

The cruise was pretty amazing too.

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Iceland: hot springs, ice caves, meeting locals…


Going to Iceland has been a dream of mine for many years. My friend Robyn and I started planning a trip. Then she found Chris, who helped turn a regular trip to Iceland into a Magical Icelandic Adventure full of private tours and adventures. His recommendations were amazing and he helped us create memorable experiences and remarkable encounters we never could have done without his help.

Iceland is a beautiful, unique island, and it has a very powerful positive energy. You are surrounded by nature everywhere you go. It wakes you up, it makes you feel alive, and you take notice of every remarkable and unbelievable view you see. It helps you appreciate nature in a brand-new way. With Chris’ help, we also met so many incredible and hospitable Icelandic people, who love nature and appreciate their land. They are easygoing, kind, and entertaining storytellers.

When we arrived early in the morning, our driver/guide Boga took us to an Icelandic Bakerí for our first taste of the many scrumptious treats. From there we went on a tour in a Super Jeep to a Hot River Soak in a geothermally-active mountain range. The views were incredible as we descended into the steaming geothermal activity in the Valley. The Hot River soak was very relaxing and really made us feel like we were connected with the gorgeous nature surrounding us. It was also invigorating, as the outside temps were in the low 40’s. After the soak and a very scenic lunch, which included fresh-caught salmon cooked in a hot spring and stories of Icelandic sagas from our entertaining guide Andreas, we continued along the Ring Road to visit the most well-known waterfalls on the South coast, Seljandsfoss and Skogafoss. We also saw the Black Sand beach in Dyrhoaley, which provided us with a sample of the crazy winds Iceland is known for.

Next came our tour of the Katla Ice Cave with our guide Ari. On the drive he entertained us with Sagas about Katla and other unique Icelandic facts. Arriving at the Glacier felt almost like we arrived on another planet, the environment was so unique. Once we climbed inside the Ice Cave, it made you feel incredible, you are standing in and around 800-year-old ice. It was beautiful and dazzling, it literally takes your breath away. It was also a little frightening, getting us outside our comfort zone.

Along the way, we had private shopping experiences at a Cooperative and then Petra’s Stone Collection with incredible Icelandic Gems and crystals. Once shopped out, we met our guide Engo to go on a Safari to look for Reindeer and discovered he had a private Car Museum that we added to our tour on the fly, after he learned we had classic car fever.

Driving North into the Lake Myvtan area was a land like no other. We heard Neil Armstrong and many other astronauts have come here to train due to the unique landscape. Traveling throughout the north of Iceland was an experience and we enjoyed all the activities, especially the Geospa. It was so relaxing, with an incredible view of the fjords.

We continued on our way with a dynamic, pastel-colored sunrise greeting us to another beautiful day in Iceland. Our journey today included a stop at Godafoss waterfall, which is powerful and tremendous to see in person. Then we spent a pleasurable afternoon in Aykureri and really enjoyed a side stop at The Christmas House, which was very whimsical in a fun way. Our drive to Sigluförður was very scenic and our view from our hotel room was stunning. I loved the deep blue color at dusk and it seemed more vibrant here. We enjoyed a beer tasting at Seagull 67 Brewery and a walk through town, which had beautiful Christmas lights shining.

Continuing to the Western side of Iceland was picturesque. We enjoyed the many beautiful Icelandic horses and farms. We had a lovely stop at Hvitserkur, a mystical stone dragon in the sea with incredible views in every direction. The night brought us to the 500-year-old seaport town of Stykkisholmur. We then headed to the Golden Circle and experienced a one-of-a-kind sensory experience at Friðheimar Tomato Greenhouse and restaurant. The scent, the views, the presentation, the sounds, the delicious tastes. Everything mixed together created an awesome experience!

At the end of our adventure, we spent a little time in Reykjavik and enjoyed exploring the beautiful architecture along with the shopping, museums, fun experiences, and lots of different tasty foods. Our last night we spent at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon. Just stepping into the lobby you could tell it would be a one-of-a-kind experience. The hotel, the Blue Lagoon waters, spa, and dinner at The Moss restaurant were the perfect way to end our magical tour of Iceland.

All the Hotels throughout our travels had enchanting views and each was unique and had its own character, charm or coziness to it. The breakfast buffets were always delicious, full of many choices and presented attractively.

Thank you Chris for the magical experience. All the drivers and guides were excellent and well chosen for this amazing adventure!

I think we have fallen in love with the country and its people, and plan to return very soon and often.

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Portugal: Lisbon, Porto, the Alentejo…


Our trip to Portugal was amazing. Goncalo planned every detail to perfection. We started in Alentejo — which we had not even thought of going to — and it was the perfect place to get over jet lag and recover in a gorgeous hotel and setting. From there we went to Porto, and he planned amazing day tours — walking tours and a day trip to the Duoro with an incredible winery visit and lunch. Porto was wonderful and we loved exploring it. We also had a WOW Moment at Claus Porto — a company that started in Porto in 1887 — and we had an incredible experience. After Porto, we went to Lisbon for seven nights. There had been a really bad rain the night before we got there, and Goncalo called us when we arrived and suggested canceling one of our tours due to the flooding damage. We actually had really good weather the whole trip, but it was a relief to know we were not going to trudge through wet areas after a deluge the night before.

Goncalo planned it so we had stops with tours on the way to each city, and our drivers were wonderful. All the restaurants they suggested and booked were so good. Everyone that toured us or drove us around knew so much about Portugal history and so much pride in their country. December was a great time to be in Portugal and we loved it so much, and Goncalo made it a truly wonderful experience from the second we landed until we got on the plane to come home. We did not have to think of anything — he already had it all figured out. We can’t wait to go back!

Read more reviews of Goncalo. Or request your own trip.

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Chile & Argentina: Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls…


We are 2 couples who wanted to see parts of Chile and Argentina, and other tour companies did not cover all of the places we wanted to see. On Wendy’s site we found Jordan’s team. They designed an itinerary for the places that we wanted to see, which included Torres del Paine (Chilean Patagonia), El Calafate and Perito Moreno glacier in Argentine Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Iguazú Falls on the border with Brazil, and colonial northwest Argentina (Salta, Purmamarca, and environs). Originally planned before COVID to include stops in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Easter Island, Carmen and company (in Jordan’s office) stayed in touch, allowing us to reschedule our trip without difficulty. When things reopened, they helped redesign the trip without Easter Island, as it did not reopen. They arranged air, transfers, guides, and hotels, working with our preferences and budget. They listened to us and truly were great planning partners. All went superbly and all lodgings were excellent, except for the one in El Calafate. Throughout the trip Jordan’s team left nice touches—bottles of wine in a couple of rooms, chocolates, and a few others. We highly recommend flying premium economy in South America, as often the seats are similar to U.S. first class, but more importantly, the check-in for premium economy is much faster and has shorter lines than coach. Communication with Jordan’s office was excellent, especially as we rescheduled and made changes as places reopened. The pleasant surprise was that all of this detail and quality, for two couples, was only a little more expensive than booking with one of the larger tour companies that has larger group trips. We would certainly use Jordan again if we traveled to South America.

Read more reviews of Jordan. Or request your own trip.

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London: France: cultural immersion in Provence & Paris


Mid-November found us in Provence and Thanksgiving in Paris. Philip, Laurie and Sarah put together an enlightening, expanding and enjoyable trip to France. A special shout-out to Laurie and Sarah for their hard work, patience, and flexibility making the many changes, additions and modifications to our plans, even on-the-fly when we were on the ground in France.

Before our trip, I don’t think we fully appreciated the many facets of France – cultural, gastronomic, viticultural, historical, artistic, and the physical beauty of the South – it’s overwhelming. Those many aspects made us appreciate the difficult task of creating an itinerary for clients unfamiliar with France, especially clients who insist on “less is more,” since there is so much more to the country than we understood. Laurie and Sarah did a marvelous job introducing us to France and her many facets, and our guides, Patrick, William and Sonia in Provence, and Marie in Paris, completed the task of opening our hearts and minds to the country and her people. (We will readily attest that the American reputation of the French is completely undeserved.)

Of particular mention was one stop on our itinerary Laurie arranged that was the highlight of our trip and exemplified our eye-opening and surprising introduction to France. We visited Patrick and Estelle on their manade in the Camargue, saw their massive black ornery bulls and majestic horses, gazed across the wide-open flat expanse of the land swept by the wind from the sea, and spoke to them about a lifestyle that we did not expect to see in France and that reminded us of Montana, where we spend much of our time. They were both such warm, open and engaging people, with quick honest smiles that easily bridged any language barriers. The rancher, Patrick, and I had a good laugh, because he and I wore the same Filson and Carhartt clothing – a nice touchpoint of lifestyles. Thanks to him and William we were able to make an unscheduled stop at a session of young men training in Camargue-style bullfighting. What a thrill!

Again we were reminded of the immense value in having a local travel professional put together tours and arrange local guides. Especially in Provence, our guides all made a point of mentioning they were personal friends of Phillip, saying that he was part of their “circle of confidence.” Although we arranged our own lodging and flights (because we used points and had family connections), we are very happy that we again found a local agent through The WOW List that put together a trip that exceeded our expectations.

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Laos and Thailand: family parties and monk blessings with a local guide


My husband & I recently returned in November from a Covid-postponed trip to Southeast Asia utilizing the services of Sandy. Originally we had requested assistance with travel in Laos but extended our travels to include additional time in Thailand.

Sandy made numerous Zoom calls to discuss options and listen to our concerns (a second time, after planning an April 2020 trip that was cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic) and put together a wonderful itinerary that allowed us to travel efficiently through four separate regions in Laos. We initially entered Laos after a brief visit to Northeastern Thailand in the southern Champasak Province, then traveled north by plane to the capital city of Vientiane. From there we took a high-speed train to the charming city of Luang Prabang and then traveled further to Pakbeng with a private boat up the Mekong & into Northern Thailand.

We were met at the Laos border & escorted throughout Laos with the delightful guide Paan, who provided us with interesting destinations & memorable experiences. She never met a stranger and was effortless in her ability to introduce us to the uniqueness of her country. We particularly appreciated her willingness to include us in some wonderful family moments, including an engagement party for her cousin in Vientiane. We learned some of the customs and protocol of significant family events; meeting many of her family & friends was the highlight of our trip. We also participated in a blessing event with a monk at her own private home with other members of her family. We always felt as if we were traveling with a friend who wanted us to see the real Laos. Even though we visited many of the tourist highlights, we were able to mingle with the locals in a more authentic environment.

We found the lodging choices in Laos spot-on, in excellent locations for our day trips in each region & felt Covid safe during all of our travels.
The additional travel in Thailand rounded out our previous trips in this country, including a few days around Bangkok and Ayutthaya, Khon Kaen in Northeastern Thailand near the border of entry with Laos and the Chiang Rai/Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand. The Thailand guide in the Bangkok area, Kat, along with the private guide & driver, Chen & Whitia, in Khon Kaen & Chiang Rai, were also excellent professionals that added immensely to the time spent in each area. They quickly became trusted allies in showing us their country & we thoroughly enjoyed their company each day.

We usually handle our travel itinerary personally but know that we would not have had such a well-guided and personal experience in this part of Southeast Asia without the expertise of Sandy and his fellow staff. We were fortunate to not have any issues during our month-long trip but knew we would be taken care of efficiently if any medical or travel-related problem occurred. We highly recommend contacting Sandy for travel assistance in Southeast Asia!

Read more reviews of Sandy. Or request your own trip.

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Costa Rica: jungle kayaking, treetop dining…


Priscilla did a fabulous job of planning a trip to Costa Rica for us and our adult daughter. From our friendly welcoming guide and driver, who met us at the airport at 10:30 pm when we arrived and took us to our hotel, to the guide and driver who picked us up at 4:15 am to take us back to the airport, every detail was handled smoothly and efficiently.

Our hotel rooms were comfortable and as promised, the staff who met us and guided us were exceptional and all of our meals were delicious. We especially loved the plates of fresh fruit and the freshly squeezed orange juice that appeared every morning for breakfast.

In Tortuguero, a highlight was the kayaking trip down an inland waterway and a short detour into a small, seemingly endless series of creeks on the side of the main waterway. It was like going into another world, even in the other worldliness of the jungle. At the end of this trip our guide asked us all to stop paddling, close our eyes and just listen to the jungle sounds. It was magical.

In Monteverde, our guide into the high rain forest was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and he had a high-end telescope that allowed us to easily see the rare Splendid Quetzal, who was some distance away. Our guide even used our own phone cameras to take photos through his telescope, leaving us with marvelous photos and short videos.

We had a special WOW Moment in Monteverde when we were taken to the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience. Each of the delicious, small nine courses represented an area of Costa Rica that was explained to us as it was served. Our private table was in a glassed-in, small private dining area in the treetops overlooking the town. We were there at sunset and the view was amazing.

All in all it was a special family trip for us. Thank you Wendy and Priscilla for helping arrange this trip.

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Italy: food, wine, the arts…


When Italy beckoned for a return visit in September, we turned to Maria for assistance in building an itinerary that focused on food, wine and culture. Maria did an excellent job in finding new places to visit and new experiences. We got a firsthand look at several familiar Italian products with visits to the marble quarries at Carrara, the Ferrari Museum, a balsamic vinegar producer and a violin maker. Each was very interesting and highly recommended. We experienced the quieter side of Italy in the charming Tuscan town of Barga, as well as the more populous—and popular—Venice and Milan. All of our guides and drivers were excellent and knowledgeable. Our hotels were all comfortable with top-notch service. We never felt unsafe re: COVID. Maria’s recommendations opened up new areas of Italy for us to explore and gave us another memorable Italian journey.

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Egypt: anniversary trip along the Nile


A trip to Egypt has been on our wish list for quite a few years. We finally decided that the right time and opportunity would be for a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary, November 4, 2022. We usually travel independently, sometimes arranging the trip details ourselves or on other occasions relying on a travel consultant. Early in our planning for this trip, it became apparent to us that working with a knowledgeable trip planner would be vital to help us sort through all the possibilities that Egypt offers. At that point and as we have done before, we looked to Wendy Perrin’s list of Trusted Travel Experts and found Jim and his team.

The planning process with Jim was a model of collaboration. In our conversations, Jim learned about our interests, dreams, goals and limitations. He then applied his knowledge to suggest a complete trip of an appropriate length, with stopovers and accommodations that were right for us, and specific guided, private tours in each location. The trip plan that resulted focused on the Nile River. We began in Cairo and Giza. Then we flew to Luxor, where our touring included extraordinary temples and tombs. After Luxor, we boarded the Dahabiya Zekrayaat and sailed for four nights up the Nile to beautiful Aswan. Jim’s expertise resulted in some unforgettable experiences in our trip plan. While we intended to include a cruise on the Nile by some means, Jim’s recommendation that we sail up the Nile on a dahabiya in one of the two panoramic suites on board was perfect. Queen Nefertari’s tomb and Abu Simbel were magnificent. Our exclusive dinner cruise on the Nile on a private yacht sailing from Aswan on the night of our 50th anniversary was an extraordinary highlight and most memorable celebration of our lives together.

The documentary output from Jim and his team that resulted from the planning process was impressive: a comprehensive, detailed and descriptive itinerary; entry visas for Egypt; a packing and preparation checklist; contact information for everyone who would support us during our trip; and lots of useful guidance that would help us feel comfortable, confident and prepared to make the best use of our time during the trip.

The trip plan produced by Jim and his office was executed virtually flawlessly by the staff and representatives in Egypt. The representatives in Cairo and Aswan were cordial, punctual and very effective in facilitating our interactions with hotels, airports and airlines, customs offices and any event venues. They coordinated schedules with our local drivers and guides. To the extent that any hitches arose, they resolved them. When adjustments to the schedule could enhance our experience, they suggested them and implemented them when we agreed. For example, our representative in Aswan suggested moving our attendance at the sound and light show at the Philae Temple to a different night when the primary audio presentation would be in English. Then he made all the contacts that were needed so that the remainder of our activities in Aswan were adjusted seamlessly to fit our time there.

Jim’s team arranged for the services of Egyptologists to guide us in Cairo, Luxor and Upper Egypt. Our guides in these locations – Reham in Cairo, Michael in Luxor and Amany in Upper Egypt – were outstanding. All were knowledgeable, fluent, flexible and interesting. They were adept at providing us with commentary about the sights in a conversational manner that was not pedantic. All were also effective in avoiding or overcoming obstacles that can come from crowded places, limited facilities, or other real-time complications. In just the first couple of hours on our first morning in Cairo, Reham and our local driver Mohamed felt like new friends that we had just met.

Jim, his team and all of their representatives and associates in Egypt created an awesome 50th anniversary celebratory trip that exceeded our grand expectations.

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Costa Rica: Thanksgiving trip with teens


3-toed sloth

3-toed sloth, Mauel Antonio, Costa Rica. Photo: Alana Jacobson

Irene helped our family plan a wonderful trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week. After a long day of travel, Irene had a driver meet us at the airport & bring us to our historic hotel in San Jose. We had nice meal at the hotel restaurant and a good night’s sleep before taking a short flight the next morning to Quepos. Once again a kind driver picked us up and took us to our hotel—Arenas Del Mar in Manuel Antonio. We loved the resort! It was the only one on the beach & even had its own private beach. The monkeys and sloths were thrilling to watch. We saw them all the time! All of the staff was fabulous & so friendly! Our kids love activities, so Irene set us up with a zip line tour that was fun for the whole family. Some of us did a surf lesson too. The waves were pretty big because a storm had just come through, but it was fun. We also spent time with a guide in Manuel Antonio park. It was pretty busy, but our guide knew where to go for a quieter experience. The park is beautiful and there was so much to see!

Our other destination was the Osa Peninsula. A driver picked us up and drove us the 2 hours to the small town of Sierpe, where we took an exciting boat ride through the river & mangroves & into the ocean til we reached our hotel, La Paloma. It’s a lovely luxury eco-resort & we had a room with a spectacular view and plenty of space for our whole family. Once again the staff was wonderful, so thoughtful, kind and interesting to talk to. We enjoyed scuba diving (though visibility was not great after the storm), kayaking, exploring Corcovado National Park & we even did a guided night walk to see some of the evening creatures. Corcovado Park was amazing! We saw macaws, toucans, many types of monkeys, sloths, agouti, crocodiles and even a tapir! We did have some rain on our trip, we heard it had been a very rainy year, but we didn’t mind. Makes everything so lush & green! Irene was wonderful in seamlessly planning our trip and making sure everything went well. It was really helpful to have someone so familiar with the country & knowledgeable about all the hotels & activities. Thank you for making our trip great!

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Portugal: road trip from Lisbon to the Algarve


My wife Leslie and I traveled to Portugal this year from 11/7-17. Having never been to Portugal, the reasons we decided to venture there are twofold: to consider the possibilities for a dual passport, which we heard was easier there, and to experience the culture and climate in the off-season, which is when we would consider staying in the future for an extended period.

Through Wendy we reached Goncalo and his assistant Patricia Jesus in Lisbon. Based upon our intentions and the level of travel that we prefer, they were able to craft an itinerary that served our known needs and opened new horizons for us. Their suggestion for the itinerary was actually a road trip which included a rental car delivered to our hotel in Lisbon and then setting out east to a charming type of farm stay for 2 nights and then directly south to the eastern part of the Algarve, adjacent to Spain, which was an area that we wanted to research in depth. All of their suggestions included hotels and restaurants and areas along the way that might be of artistic or historical interest, and all were great suggestions. They arranged for a historically based guide in Lisbon for a 1/2 day and an artist as a guide for the next 1/2 day, knowing that the arts are a driving force in both of our lives. This type of experience was a tremendous opportunity for us and gave us a thorough appreciation of the art world there and informed our desire to learn more. It’s experiences like these that make Wendy’s recommendations so valuable to us, as the professionals that one comes in contact with through this service are fully vetted and of high caliber.

Since Covid was no longer much of a consideration, we were able to travel safely and carefully without worry. All of the accommodations and restaurants suggested were well thought out and to our liking, and perfectly coincided with our days of driving. After 3 days on the eastern edge of Algarve, we drove to just north of the western edge to the Costa de Vincentina, which was truly magnificent. The wind and surf and thrilling sky conditions there created an exhilarating experience, as Patricia strongly recommended a 2-night stay in another farm type country setting. A rare find indeed!

All in all we greatly enjoyed our time in Portugal, and the guidance afforded us by the superior team of Gonçalo and Patricia was instrumental in this. We will return and we will definitely knock on their door before we do so next time.

Read more reviews of Gonçalo. Or request your own trip.

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* Although we have compiled and reviewed these reviews for trip planners to earn a spot on The  WOW List, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of the reviews we receive and cannot assure that all travelers will have the same experience.

beach and rocks at Anse Source d'Argent beach Seychelles

Where to Go in August: The Best Places to Travel

A lot of people ask us where to go in August: It’s one of the few times of year when they can take a week or two off from work, yet it’s also when so many places are hot, crowded, filled with tourists, devoid of locals, and priced at their most expensive. If all you need is an easy beach escape with the family, consider the southeastern United States: Southeast kids are back in school by mid-August, which means lower rates at lovely, breezy, kid-friendly coastal resorts in places like Virginia’s Northern Neck and St. Simon’s and Sea Island, Georgia. If you’re itching for something more adventurous, though, consider the following options.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Newfoundland and the Maritimes, Atlantic Canada

Newfoundland scenery

Newfoundland scenery. Photo credit: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Ever since Wendy went there one August several years ago, she’s been urging other East Coasters to flee to Newfoundland in late summer, as an antidote to the crowds, heat, and beach traffic that choke the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. You get a foreign island with dramatic sweeping landscapes, lighthouses and fishing villages galore, roads to yourself (well, you plus a few moose), a distinct local culture, and incredibly friendly people, all without having to schlep too far from home. (You can fly there via Toronto or Halifax from many U.S. hubs.) A must on any Newfoundland itinerary is the Fogo Island Inn, a fascinating five-star philanthropic experiment that Wendy says has the most soul of any hotel she’s ever seen. Read why Wendy loved it there.  

Read reviews of WOW trips to Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to Atlantic Canada

British Columbia, Western Canada

Heli-hiking at Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park

Heli-hiking at Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park, British Columbia. Photo: Hello BC

August days are usually clear and sunny (ideal for seaplane and helicopter flights). It’s prime time for kayaking, hiking, fishing, and river rafting, not to mention bear- and whale-watching. August is when Wendy chose to take her family to Whistler (see We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis and I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler), as well as to the Discovery Islands (see My Extreme Week in Canada and 6 Otherworldly Escapes That Feel More Remote Than They Are).

Read reviews of WOW trips to British Columbia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to Western Canada


green hills and waterfalls by Kirkjufell mountain,Iceland

Kirkjufell mountain, Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

Iceland’s high season starts to taper off in the second half of the month, meaning that you’ll find fewer crowds, more hotel availability, and somewhat better prices—but the weather is still pleasant for exploring the country’s awesome landscapes.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Iceland. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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A rib ride on the Thames River is a fun way to see waterfront sights such as the London Eye.

A rib ride on the Thames River is a fun way to see waterfront sights such as the London Eye.

England’s capital is a smart choice in August: It’s a short flight (relatively speaking), it’s not too hot or crowded, and London hotels that typically cater to business travelers have reduced rates (and many of the city’s museums are free). London in August is such a smart move that that’s when Wendy took her own family there—and you can read what each of her young sons had to say about it in Do’s and Don’ts For Your Trip To London.

Read reviews of WOW trips to England. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Wachau Austria view of village and green field

Summer in Austria is all about beautiful weather, long days, and festivals. Photo: Austria Tourism Board

The days are relatively long, the weather is great, and there are music festivals—especially opera—all over the country. You can usually find good hotel deals in August, except in Salzburg, which hosts its six-week classical music festival (one of the biggest in Europe).

Read reviews of WOW trips to Austria. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to Austria

Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia

Great Barrier Reef aerial view

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

August brings clear blue skies, good visibility for divers and snorkelers, and calm seas (the wind usually dies down at the end of July). It’s also a great time to view wildlife: dwarf minke whales visiting the northern reefs, manta rays off Lady Elliott Island in the region’s southern zone, and humpback whales—including Migaloo, the world’s only known all-white humpback—on their annual migration to Antarctica.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Alaska Small-Ship Expedition Cruises

Guests explore on Zodiac in Southeast Alaska, Tracy Arm, calving ice

Guests spot calving ice while exploring on Zodiac in Southeast Alaska. Photo: Lindblad Expeditions/Michael S. Nolan

August is especially inviting for a small-ship expedition cruise to Alaska, as daylight remains long, wildlife is plentiful, and the glaciers are uniquely illuminated by the late summer sun. Stay up late at this time of year and you may even be treated to the gorgeous green glow of the northern lights.

Read reviews of WOW expedition cruises to Alaska. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring view at Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring view at Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

In August you’ll find warm days and cool nights, wildflowers in bloom, and hiking trails mostly free of snow. Do keep in mind that this is the busiest time in Yellowstone, with prices to match, and skies may be hazy from wildfires. Things are noticeably quieter during the last week of the month, since families have headed home and retirees wait until after Labor Day to visit.

To get a WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to the American West

Washington State: The San Juan Islands

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

August brings the clearest skies to the San Juans, making it one of the most popular months to visit the region.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Washington. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons

kayaking in jackson lake grand teton national park

Grand Teton National Park is full of outdoor activities in the summer, including kayaking on Jackson Lake. Photo: Billie Cohen

July and August bring the best weather of the summer, with warm days and cool nights; wildflowers are blooming, hiking trails are usually free of snow, and rivers should be clear of spring runoff, making for perfect fly-fishing conditions. All other summer activities, such as biking, rock climbing, rafting, and horseback riding, are easily available. (Skies may be hazy from area wildfires in August.)

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Kenya Safari: The Great Migration

Great Migration, Mara River, Kenya

The Great Migration on the Mara River. Photo: James Friedman

The best time to see the Great Migration—one of the grandest wildlife spectacles on Earth, with more than two million wildebeest and zebra on the move and predators lurking nearby—is July through September, and the best place to be is in the Masai Mara National Reserve. There are more than 15 different river crossings in the Masai Mara (bottlenecks along the migration route where the animals must avoid hungry crocodiles and lions), with great names like Smelly Crossing, Rekero Crossing, Football Crossing, Helicopter Crossing, and Double Crossing. You need to be patient, and in the right location at the right time of day. To increase your odds, consider staying at two camps in different locations.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Kenya here, here, and here. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Mid-June through midAugust is the middle of the rainy season, but prices are relatively low, everything is lush and green, and weather patterns are predictable: You get beautiful sunny mornings for adventure activities, and the strong showers in the afternoon give you time to rest while listening to the tropical rain that cools things off for the evening.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Costa Rica. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Seychelles

beach and rocks at Anse Source d'Argent beach Seychelles

Chez Batista Villas, Seychelles. Image courtesy of Torsten Dickmann – STB

August is one of the sunniest months in the Seychelles. Rain can occur at any time of the year, but storms are typically short and isolated. Bear in mind that seas can be a little rougher from May to September.

Read reviews of WOW trips to the Seychelles. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Rwanda and Uganda: Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla in Rwanda

The best time for gorilla tracking in Rwanda is June through September. Photo: James Friedman.

The best time for tracking the gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda is June through September, when it’s cool and there is less precipitation (but remember, this is still the rainforest, and storms can hit any day).

Read reviews of WOW trips to Rwanda and Uganda here and here. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a gorilla-trekking safari

New Zealand

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Photo: Rob-Suisted/New Zealand Tourism

Summer skiing, anyone? August is the top month for skiing in New Zealand: You’ll get the most reliable heli-skiing conditions in August—and combining that with a tropical island like Fiji can be fun.

Read reviews of WOW trips to New Zealand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Cambodia and Angkor Wat

silhouette Sunrise Fisherman fishing on the boat at Tonle Sap lake Cambodia

Tonle Sap during sunrise, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

Late May through early September is Cambodia’s green season. It rains two days out of three, but the mornings are almost always sunny and bright, with rain clouds gathering toward the late afternoon; get out of bed early to explore when Cambodians are most active ahead of the midday heat, and you’ll enjoy far fewer crowds and vibrantly green rice paddies. Plus, the money you save on shoulder-season hotel rates you can spend on massages, world-class golf, and fine food.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Cambodia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why August is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Washington: Seattle

Central and South America


Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Trancoso, and the Amazon

Colombia: Bogota

Ecuador: Quito and the Andes



European Canal Barges



Switzerland: hiking in the Alps

Asia and Pacific


French Polynesia: Tahiti

India: Agra and Ladakh

Mongolia: camel trekking

Nepal: Upper Mustang

Papua New Guinea: trekking





Zimbabwe (second half of the month)





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Beautiful Trancoso beach near Porto Seguro in state of Bahia, Brazil

Where to Go in July: The Best Places to Travel

Even in the peak summer travel month of July, there are still plenty of places in the world where you can escape the heat, crowds, and beach-bound traffic jams. Here are ideas for you, gathered from our Insider’s Guides to destinations worldwide.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Newfoundland and the Maritimes, Atlantic Canada

Breaching humpback whale, Newfoundland

July and August are prime time for spotting humpback whales in Newfoundland. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Ever since Wendy visited one summer several years ago, she’s been urging other East Coasters to flee to Newfoundland in summer, as an antidote to the crowds, heat, and beach traffic that choke the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. You get a foreign island with dramatic sweeping landscapes, lighthouses and fishing villages galore, roads to yourself (well, you plus a few moose), a distinct local culture, and incredibly friendly people, all without having to schlep too far from home. (You can fly there via Toronto or Halifax from many U.S. hubs.) A must on any Newfoundland itinerary is the Fogo Island Inn, a fascinating five-star philanthropic experiment that Wendy says has the most soul of any hotel she’s ever seen. Read why Wendy loved it there.  

Read reviews of WOW trips to Newfoundland. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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British Columbia, Western Canada

bear looking at camera on Nakina River in British Columbia canada

Summer is a good time for bear-viewing. Photo: Entree Canada

The days are usually clear and sunny (ideal for seaplane and helicopter flights) and the seasonal wilderness lodges, which typically open in mid-May, have been operating long enough to work out any kinks. The summer months are also prime time for kayaking, hiking, fishing, and river rafting, not to mention bear- and whale-watching.

Read reviews of WOW trips to British Columbia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

July brings Norway’s best weather. The days are endless, with almost no night, the nature is at its peak, the waterfalls are still large, and you still have some snowcapped mountains in the fjord area.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Norway. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Bora Bora, Tahiti, and French Polynesia

Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

Fakarava atoll, French Polynesia. Photo: Julius Silver/Pixabay

The “Heiva” festival falls during July, with local contests on outer islands early in the month and a culmination of ceremonies in Papeete, Tahiti around the 20th. July also falls during the “Trade Wind” season, when the breezes keep temperatures in the low 80s and the humidity is down as well. It still rains, but in 30- to 40-minute bursts, and then the sun comes out again (a cycle that can repeat a few times through each afternoon and evening). The lagoons can be a bit choppy, but are still great for kite surfing, catamarans, or outrigger canoes with a sail and, of course, sailing.

Read reviews of WOW trips to French Polynesia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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green hills and waterfalls by Kirkjufell mountain,Iceland

Kirkjufell mountain, Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

In July Iceland sees about 20 hours of daylight, so you can pack your trip full of the outdoor pursuits that the country is famous for. It’s also when the weather is mildest—which here means average temperatures in the mid-50s—and the roads, hiking trails, and lava caves aren’t blocked by snow.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Iceland. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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A row of thatched palapas on golden sand on the tiny island of Rendezvous Caye in the Belize Barrier Reef, off the coast of Belize, Central America

Rendezvous Caye in the Belize Barrier Reef. Photo: Shutterstock

While July technically falls during the country’s rainy season, the showers are sporadic and typically not a daily occurrence. Hotel rates are lower at this time of year, and it’s also the beginning of lobster season—so you can fish by day and enjoy the freshest possible crustaceans for dinner that very evening. Wendy and her family have enjoyed two idyllic trips to Belize in July/early August, including one when her son got SCUBA-certified right on the dock of their boutique resort.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef aerial view

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

July is the perfect time for whale-watching on the Great Barrier Reef: You can go swimming or snorkeling with dwarf minke whales, and cruise alongside humpbacks on their annual migration. This being the southern-hemisphere winter, both the air and water temperatures are in the 70s, with plenty of sun and almost no rain.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Trancoso, Brazil

Beautiful Trancoso beach near Porto Seguro in state of Bahia, Brazil

A Trancoso beach near Porto Seguro in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Photo: Shutterstock

If you are after a taste of the international party scene that put Trancoso on the map, you need to go from January through March. But if you are after peace and quiet, July is pure bliss: Temperatures are still in the high 70s to 80s, and you will often have mile upon mile of palm-tree-backed beaches all to yourself.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Couple at hiking in the area of Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background.

Hiking in Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the distance. Photo: Switzerland Tourism/Ivo Scholz

July brings the best conditions for hiking in the Alps. In the Appenzell, you can chat with farmers in their fields; near Interlaken, ride the gondola to the summit of the Jungfrau. After a few days on the trails, rest your legs and soak up the Italian-influenced culture on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Switzerland. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Guests explore on Zodiac in Southeast Alaska, Tracy Arm, calving ice

Guests spot calving ice while exploring on Zodiac in Southeast Alaska. Photo: Lindblad Expeditions/Michael S. Nolan

Until mid-July the mountains are still covered in snow, the flowers are emerging, and the animals have just given birth, so you might see moose out with their calves, as well as just-born fur-seal pups. Plus, the locals are happy that winter is over and that visitors have returned. Temperatures are typically in the mid-60s during the days (which are the longest days of the year) and you’re likely to see active, calving glaciers. All in all, it’s a great time to see the 49th state via a land-based stay, a cruise ship, or a smaller expedition-style vessel.

Read reviews of WOW land trips to Alaska here, and WOW cruises of Alaska here and here. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Wildflowers blooming in Grand Teton National Park

Wildflowers blooming in Grand Teton National Park.

You’ll find warm days and cool nights, wildflowers in bloom, and hiking trails mostly free of snow. In the Tetons, rivers should be clear of spring runoff, making for perfect fly-fishing conditions. And it’s prime time for a huge variety of activities—biking, rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding. Summer can be busy, but there are creative ways to beat the crowds in national parks.

To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo: NPS/Tim Rains

High up on the Canadian border, Glacier has a very short season: The entire Going-to-the-Sun Road (the park’s star attraction, cut into an immense, craggy cliff with amazing vistas) is only open for a few months, typically from late June to October. In July, there will still be snow, but the weather is pleasant. These days, sadly, you’ll find only a few dozen glaciers left from the 150 that were here back in 1850. There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails to choose from, some of which skirt waterfalls and glacial lakes.

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Kenya and Tanzania Safaris

Great Migration, Mara River, Kenya

The Great Migration on the Mara River. Photo: James Friedman

The best time to see the Great Migration—one of the grandest wildlife spectacles on Earth, with more than two million wildebeest and zebra on the move and predators lurking nearby—is the dry season, since the animals come out looking for water sources. The best place to be is in the Masai Mara National Reserve: There are more than 15 different river crossings—bottlenecks along the migration route where the animals must avoid hungry crocodiles and lions.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Kenya and Tanzania here, here, and here. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Fiordland Lake, helicopter

See Fiordland Lake by helicopter. Photo: Jean-Michel Jefferson

In the southern-hemisphere winter, Queenstown is a snow-capped beauty, and there are not many people around; it is cold but heavenly, and a great time for snowshoeing and touring Fiordland by helicopter.

Read reviews of WOW trips to New Zealand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Arctic

Polar Bear, cubs, Arctic

Summer in the Arctic means great photo opportunities. Photo: Ashton Palmer

The early summer months not only bring reasonably warm weather but also have the advantage of the midnight sun, when the near 24-hour daylight conditions make for superb photo opportunities.

Read reviews of WOW trips to the Arctic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why July is a good time to go.


North America and Caribbean

Caribbean Islands: off-peak rates


St. Barts: off-peak rates


Central and South America


Brazil: Rio, Pantanal Wetlands, and the southern Amazon region

Colombia: Bogota

Costa Rica: green-season deals

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands and Quito





England: London

European Canal Barge Cruises



Sicily: first half of the month

Turkey: Istanbul and Aegean Coast


Asia and Pacific

Cambodia: green season

China: Yunnan Province


India: Agra and Ladakh

Nepal: Upper Mustang region

Papua New Guinea







South Africa: Cape Town



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Where to Go in November: The Best Places to Travel

While November can be a dreary time of year in the U.S., the weather in many other parts of the world is positively delightful. It’s also a smart time to travel—between the summer and holiday high seasons—given the current pent-up travel demand to many of these places during their peak seasons. If any of these destinations are on your must-travel-to list within the next year, you’d be wise to plan for November 2022 or November 2023.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. For more pandemic travel solutions, see our Covid-19 travel advice. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Northern Italy

view of Canelli, a town in the Piedmont region of Italy with greernery, old buildings and blue skies

November is truffle season in Piedmont.

In November head to Piedmont for truffle season (the White Truffle Fair in Alba runs the entire month). Try truffle hunting, taste the local Barolo wines, watch artisanal cheese makers, cycle among the vineyards (electric bikes are available!), hike the rolling hills beneath the crisp blue skies…or do it all with your family in a villa for Thanksgiving. This is also harvest time for olives and wine. Learn to cook al fresco in an olive grove, on a goat-cheese farm, or in a vineyard. Remember, November is when Billie took her dream Italian cooking vacation.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Northern Italy during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Provence, France

the hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

Provence and its pretty villages, like Gordes, are incredibly popular so try to visit in shoulder season. Photo: Pixabay

The light in Provence in winter is why so many famous artists moved there, and the sunshine makes al fresco lunches possible well into November. Provencal markets bustle in the fall, and truffle hunting starts in November. Hike amid the glorious autumn landscapes and hilltop villages of the Luberon, and cycle through the wine country around Gigondas and Vacqueyras, where there are few cars and great eateries.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Provence during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Andalusia, Spain

Skyline in the Old Quarter of Seville, Spain

Skyline in the Old Quarter of Seville, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

One highlight of this magical part of Spain is the culture—an aspect that can be very hard to experience during the summer high season, when the numbers of tourists and residents are imbalanced. In November, by contrast, most of the visitors are gone, making it much easier to interact with locals (and to enjoy some breathing room in the region’s UNESCO World Heritage sites). The weather is still quite pleasant, with temperatures near 70 degrees during the day.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Spain during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Beautiful nature view on Azores with small villages, tows, green nature fields. Amazing Azores. View of typical Azores village in Sao Miguel island, Azores, Portugal.

Sao Miguel island, Azores, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Temperatures remain in the 60s well into November, when it’s still warm enough for dinner outdoors at the many restaurants that now have significant sidewalk seating; heat lamps aren’t needed till late in the month. Private river boats—which are much better for sightseeing than your typical river cruises—sail the Douro through the end of the month too. And the weather is even more mild on the subtropical islands of Madeira—known for outstanding hiking opportunities—and the Azores, where you can also hike, bike, and off-road around the postcard-perfect lagoons.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Portugal during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below.

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Greece: Crete, Corfu, or Rhodes

Corfu is one of a few Greek islands that stays open and lively through the winter months.

Many Greek islands shut down in late October or early November, but Crete, Corfu, and Rhodes operate year-round, offering traditional cultural and culinary experiences and festivities in the winter months. November is a great time for sheep farms, olive orchards, and the wine harvest.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Greece during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Aquamarine blue waters of sea near Taormina resorts and Etna volcano mount. Giardini-Naxos bay, Ionian sea coast, Taormina, Sicily, Italy.

Hike Sicily’s Mt. Etna in the fall. Photo: Shutterstock

If your goal is to combine culture and outdoor beauty, fall is this island’s best season. Autumn brings the olive, almond, and wine harvests, and sunny, mild weather. Outdoor activities include exploring Sicily’s Greek and Roman ruins, hiking Mt. Etna, and cycling though nature reserves and wine country.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sicily during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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St. Barts

Le Guanahani, St. Barts

Le Guanahani, St. Barts. Photo: Le Guanahani

Come November, many resorts, boutiques, and restaurants that closed during the height of hurricane season have reopened, and everything feels fresh and new. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival also takes place this month, attracting star chefs from France and elsewhere. Plus, hotel and villa rates don’t jump up until mid-December.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Earlier this year Wendy and her family traveled through the #2 country on our list: Morocco. Here they are at the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, Morocco.

The weather is perfect at this time of year: sunny days and crisp, clear evenings that make for great star-gazing in the desert. It’s also ideal for hiking in the Atlas Mountains, as it’s starting to cool down and the peaks are often photogenically snowcapped. Plus, it’s harvest time: You can see saffron being picked, and olives turned to oil, right in front of your eyes.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Morocco during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Patagonia: Argentina and Chile

Torres del Paine National Park view of mountains and water

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Photo: Luis Felipa, Southwind Adventures

Most of Argentina and Chile are great at this time of year (think Buenos Aires, the Atacama Desert, even Easter Island), but Patagonia is an especially smart move in November because the lodges have a quieter, more relaxed ambiance and there is less traffic on the roads than during the busiest weeks of December and January. November is also the best time to spot Patagonia’s elusive wildlife, such as nandu, guanaco, puma, huemul, and condor, as all of the animals are more active during their breeding time. The region has a reputation for changeable windy weather, but November feels like spring, with snows melting off the high peaks and flowers beginning to bloom. Rates are sometimes also a bit lower this early in the season.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Patagonia, and elsewhere in Chile and Argentina, during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Brazilian Amazon

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

Aerial view of Anavilhanas National Park Islands, Rio Negro, Brazilian Amazon. Photo: Shutterstock

River levels are lowest in November, so all of the beaches are out in their full splendor. (People are often shocked by the beauty of the white-sand beaches that form here, making a trip to Brazil’s region of the Amazon unique from the experiences one can have in Ecuador or Peru’s swaths of the same river system.) An ideal trip extends over five days, so it’s easy to fit into a Thanksgiving break. And the area around the Negro River, which is acidic, is not good for mosquito reproduction, so there is little chance of malaria or zika.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

Explore Belize on the water or in the jungle. Photo: Belize Sailing Vacations

Before Thanksgiving, hotel rates are at their lowest. The days are hot, but the humidity is dropping, and the evenings are cool and breezy. November 19 is Garifuna Settlement Day and is best spent in either Dangriga or Hopkins, where the Garifuna people celebrate—with drumming, dancing, and parades—the arrival of their Afro-indigenous ancestors more than 200 years ago.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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London (for Thanksgiving break)

christmas tree by London Tower Bridge

London’s Tower Bridge at Christmas. Photo: London Perfect

November is a great month for museum lovers, as many of the blockbuster exhibitions open in the fall; there’s also the London Jazz Festival, where world-class stars and hot emerging artists share the bill. And the Christmas spirit is already in the air starting in mid-November, with holiday lights on all the shopping streets, a plethora of Christmas markets, high tea at gorgeous hotels, and holiday cheer everywhere. If you can’t wait until then, Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks on November 5.
Read reviews of WOW trips to London during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Hula Valley National Park bird migration Israel

The great bird migration through Hula Valley National Park in Israel. Photo: Oren Cohen

While November falls at the beginning of the rainy season, temperatures are still mild and there are no crowds (unlike October, which sees many Jewish and Christian travelers visiting for Sukkot). Millions of birds stop in Israel at this time of year, on their way from Eurasia to Africa; arrange a private tour of the Agamon Hula Reserve and the Hula Valley National Park to witness this great migration.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Israel during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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pyramids in egypt

Temperatures in Egypt are perfect in November. Photo: Jim Berkeley/Destinations & Adventures

By November the summer and fall heat has ebbed and Egypt is at the beginning of its cooler season: Temperatures average 80 to 85 degrees during the day in Cairo and 85 to 90 in Upper Egypt (the area around the Nile that is south—but also upriver—of Cairo). Rain is not a factor, and the air is clear, making it the perfect month for photography, especially in the early morning, when the sun’s rising rays highlight the rich hues of the temples and monuments, and at sunset, when the fading light always gives a lovely red glow to images. (Read about Billie’s October 2021 trip to Egypt.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Egypt during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Galapagos Islands

underwater photo of a sea lion in the Galapagos islands

Galapagos sea lions.

The Galapagos is a magnet for families with kids during summer and other school vacations; if you’re looking for a quieter time, think November (except Thanksgiving week). Blue whales, humpback whales, and whale sharks—the largest fish in the sea, growing up to 40 feet in length and weighing as much as 40,000 pounds—are most likely to be spotted in the Galapagos from June through November.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Galapagos during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Durbar Square in Patan village Nepal

Patan’s Durbar Square, Nepal. Photo: Shutterstock

November is the perfect time in Nepal, whether you’re a trekker or just want to explore a fascinating culture. And there’s more to tempt the latter crowd than ever before, with roads leading to villages once accessible only on foot. In November, the air is crisp and clear, without the pre-monsoon dust, so the mountain views are best. And festivals abound: Near Everest, Manu Rimdu is an exorcism festival designed to purge evil from the area, ensure a bountiful harvest, and confer blessings on the villagers and all sentient beings with dancing, prayers, and comic relief. Then there is the very important Festival of Lights, or Tihar, honoring the gods, humans, and animals, which falls each year in either November or late October.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Nepal during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo: Anantara

Much of Thailand is at its very best in November, when the mountains are lush and green from the recently receded monsoon, the mornings are diffused with a subtle mist suspended in the valleys, and the sun is gentler as the seasons ease into cooler weather. The rivers are deep and navigable, and the waterfalls are at optimum volume. All in all, it’s an ideal window to travel, before the crowds and costs rise in December.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Drummers at the Kalapthy Festival in Kerala, India

Drummers at the Kalpathi Festival in Kerala, India. Photo: Sanjay Saxena

November is an ideal time to visit almost all of India—except the Himalayas—thanks to the temperate weather. The just-passed monsoon season has given way to relatively clear skies in Delhi and Mumbai, and there are festivals throughout the country, from the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan to the grand Kalpathi Chariot Festival in Kerala.
Read reviews of WOW trips to India. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Northern Lights, Norway

Northern Lights, Grøtfjord, Kvaløya, Norway. Photo: Gaute Bruvik – visitnorway.com

If you’re prepared for some unsettled weather, the benefits of visiting Norway in November include seeing the aurora borealis; trying out glass-blowing, ceramics, or knitting with local artists; and discovering the Norwegian art of “kos,” roughly translated as the practice of gratitude and of consciously appreciating one’s surroundings. During this quieter period locals have more time to share with visitors, now that the busy summer months have passed. There’s also plenty of hiking, kayaking, and even arctic surfing when the weather allows, and whales to be spotted along the country’s coast at this time of year.

Read reviews of WOW trips to Norway during the pandemic here and here. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Australia and/or New Zealand

aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef from an airplane

The Great Barrier Reef, seen from above. Photo: Tourism Whitsundays

Australia and New Zealand were off-limits for so long that now everybody is clamoring to go; airlines are bringing back nonstop flights, making the long journey that much easier. This coming November is one of the few times when there is still availability, and it’s one of the best months for a wide-ranging trip to several different parts of these countries: The water around the Great Barrier Reef is calm, making for good visibility; and the weather is spring-time pleasant in Auckland, Sydney, Kangaroo Island, and the outback; and the peaks on New Zealand’s South Island are still picturesquely snow-capped.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia and New Zealand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why November is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Arizona: Grand Canyon

Florida: Disney World, Orlando

Hawaii: Maui and Oahu (for whale-watching)

Mexico: Los Cabos beach vacations and villa vacations, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Maya, and Mexico City


South America

Argentina: Mendoza

Colombia: Cartagena and Bogota



England: The Cotswolds

Greece: Athens

Iceland (for Northern Lights)






Cambodia: Angkor Wat

China: Beijing

Indonesia: Bali


Thailand: Bangkok

Vietnam (southern)



Madagascar: whale sharks


Australia and Pacific

Fiji (for November deals)



Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Wild caribbean beach of Manzanillo at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Where to Go in January: The Best Places to Travel

Ring in the New Year at home, then get on a plane: Though prices are high through New Year’s, there are deals to be found starting later that first week in January. Tropical and Southern Hemisphere destinations work especially well for those needing a dose of sunshine.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. For more pandemic travel solutions, see our Covid-19 travel advice. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

U.S. National Parks

snowy scene of hot spring steaming in winter in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in winter. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

From snowshoeing in Yellowstone to hiking in Joshua Tree, adventures abound in our national parks—even in the middle of winter. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see the Grand Canyon with a magical dusting of snow, or have a view of Yosemite Falls all to yourself.
Read reviews of WOW trips to U.S. national parks during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Goff’s Caye Island, Belize.

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive (as Wendy’s son did), fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters—or you can charter your own private yacht, enjoying fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and plenty of distance from everyone except your captain and first mate.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Belize during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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British Columbia

two people watching the northern lights in british columbia canada

You’re likely to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights if you visit British Columbia in January. Photo: Cyndie Martinez

January and February have the most reliable snowfall, making it ideal for not just skiing, but also ice-fishing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in Western Canada. You also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Those looking for an extra dose of adventure can even mush their own dogsled team from lodge to lodge—led by an expert guide, of course.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Canada. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Costa Rica

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

January is one of the nicest times of the year weatherwise for a winter escape, right in the middle of the Costa Rican dry season. It is often the only time in the high season that you can plan a last-minute trip and still have your first choice of the top properties.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Costa Rica during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Gorgeous view of Teotihuacan, The Sun´s Pyramid surrounded by hot air balloons, shot take at the dawn.

Mexico City is vibrant with arts, restaurants, and parks—and the historic Teotihuacan pyramid is nearby too. Photo: Shutterstock

Mexico is much more than a one-dimensional beach destination. Sure, fabulous oceanfront resorts and sumptuous private villas abound on its long coastlines. But the country is also home to charming colonial towns, captivating pre-Columbian ruins, and a vibrant scene in Mexico City—which sees more sun and less rain (and smog) at this time of year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mexico during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

January is prime season for hiking in Patagonia, which gets just a bit quieter after the holiday rush. Meanwhile, at the foothills of the Andes, the grapevines in Mendoza sit heavy with ripening fruit. Temperatures hit the 90s in Buenos Aires, so the locals hit the beach—leaving the city easy to navigate, with so little traffic.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Argentina. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Italy’s Cities

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with Rome, Florence, and Milan in January. Temperatures will typically be in the high 40s and 50s during the day, but plan on bundling up to fit in with the locals. Perhaps a new pair of leather gloves to complete your Italian look? They’ll be on sale. Italy generally has only two times during the year when they extend sconti (discounts) in retail shops: January and July. You can find deals at both boutique shops and international-brand stores after the holiday craziness, and you won’t have to fight the crowds so common at other times of the year. Enjoy Rome’s decadently rich hot chocolate as an afternoon treat, or post up next to a funghi (the mushroom-shaped outdoor heaters) and dine al fresco in one of Florence’s beautifully lit piazzas.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Maldives

overwater bungalow at Joali resort in the maldives

The view is grand from the cantilevered hammocks at JOALI’s private overwater villas.

It’s a breeze to socially distance in the Maldives: Many of these idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean are home to just one resort; secluded beach villas and overwater bungalows are the norm; restaurants are open-air, toes-in-the-sand kinds of places; and the closest interaction you might have is with a manta ray while snorkeling. Here’s how Brook spent a blissful five days there during Covid.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Maldives during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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small boat on beach of Koh Phangan island Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand. Photo: Journeys Within

Southern Thailand is ideal from mid-January through March, when the oceans are still relatively calm, and sunny skies and cooler temperatures prevail before the heat returns in April. Bangkok, meanwhile, is a year-round destination: There’s always great food and off-the-beaten-path adventures to uncover, and short bursts of rain can easily be dodged while in the city.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

January is the best time to visit Rio—assuming you don’t mind temperatures that regularly hit 105 degrees: It’s the height of summer, Cariocas (Rio residents) are at their most relaxed, and the nightlife is at its peak.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Nicaragua mountains

Nicaragua. Photo: TPS Dave/Pixabay

In January, the country is lush and green, there is no rain, and the breezes keep temperatures in the high 80s during the day on the coast—perfect for chilling out by the ocean—and in the 70s in the mountains—ideal for hikes in the cloud forest.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Nicaragua. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sri Lanka

Adams peak also known as Sri pada in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations

Adams peak, also known as Sri pada, in Sri Lanka over the Maskeliya reservoir and tea plantations. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in mid to late January is delightful—spring-like temperatures and blue skies—and it’s a quieter period sandwiched between two busy times: Christmas/New Year’s and Chinese New Year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sri Lanka. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Burj Al Arab hotel and beach in Dubai

In January, Dubai is still warm enough for beaches, but also has a shopping festival. Photo: Pixabay

January is the cooler season—which in this part of the world means temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. Designers descend upon the city for the Shopping Festival, when shops and boutiques offer discounts all month long. Read how Brook spent a multi-day layover in Dubai’s desert during the pandemic.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Dubai. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sydney, Australia

boat sailing in water on Sydney Harbour Australia with famous bridge in background

Sailing on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Tourism Australia

Sydney’s summer months (December to February) bring beach weather, as well as festivals and harborside celebrations: After the world-renowned New Year’s Eve celebrations comes the Sydney Festival, a three-week celebration of the arts culminating with Australia Day on January 26. It’s also the right time to take a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach, go sailing in Sydney Harbour, hike waterside trails, picnic on city parklands, catch an outdoor movie screening or concert, or attend one of the city’s many professional surfing, tennis, cricket, and rugby competitions. (Remember that prices are also at their peak in summer, so book accommodations and tickets early, before they sell out.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why January is a good time to go.

North America and Caribbean

Florida: Disney World, Orlando

Hawaii: Oahu (whale watching)


Central and South America

Brazil: Salvador and Trancoso

Ecuador: Galapagos




France: Paris apartment rentals

Iceland: northern lights

Norway: winter activities




China: Yunnan Province

India: Mumbai and Rajasthan

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations


Africa and Middle East

Abu Dhabi



Australia and Pacific

New Zealand: Bay of Islands and Queenstown

Papua New Guinea: diving in Milne Bay



Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Where to Go in October: The Best Places to Travel

Pleasant temperatures, fewer tourists, and shoulder-season deals make October a great time to travel to a large swath of the globe. Since you can’t go everywhere (sad, I know), we’ve pinpointed a few of the optimal spots. From vineyard-hopping in France to whale-shark-spotting in the Seychelles, the following destinations and experiences belong on your October travel list.

This list represents U.S. travelers’ best bets for October 2022 specifically, when it comes to a combo of good weather, reduction of Covid-related risks, and favorable conditions for local activities: With the right local expert arranging your trip, you can spend most of your time in the open air, keep socially distanced, and limit your activities to places with higher vaccination rates and lower rates of local spread, all of which greatly reduce your risk of testing positive just before returning to the U.S.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. For more pandemic travel solutions, see our Covid-19 travel advice. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Utah’s National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Mark Campbell

October is one of the best months to explore Utah’s stunning national parks: The temperatures are generally moderate and the crowds thin. An insider can show you the parks on foot, by vehicle, and even from a helicopter.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Big Island, Hawaii

Wai'pio Valley Lookout, Hawaii

Wai’pio Valley Lookout, Big Island, Hawaii.

October is the choicest month for the Big Island, as the weather is driest—with daytime temperatures hovering around 85 degrees—and families aren’t traveling, so prices are lower. (The only thing it’s not an ideal time for is surfing.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Hawaii during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Olympic National Park, Washington

A beautiful sunset on the ocean among the rocks, Cape flattery trail , Olympic Peninsula, Washington state

Sun on the ocean among the rocks, Cape flattery trail, Olympic Peninsula, Washington state. Photo: Shutterstock

In October, the weather is usually pleasant across all three of the park’s environments: the Olympic Mountains, the temperate Hoh Rain Forest, and the rugged Pacific coastline. There may be snow at the high elevations and some rain lower down, but the waterfalls will be flowing, and the area is very lush. Sunsets also tend to be spectacular at this time of year.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Washington during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Italy: From the Cinque Terre to Puglia

Castello di Grinzane and village in Piedmont - one of the most famous wine regions of Italy

Castello di Grinzane and village in Piedmont – one of the most famous wine regions of Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

From the northern coastline to the boot of the heel—and just about everywhere in between—Italy is gorgeous in October. The weather is pleasant, hotels aren’t charging their peak-season rates, and you’ll enjoy a more authentic experience when the people dining beside you at the trattorias are locals, not tourists. On the Amalfi Coast, October is when the throngs of cruise-ship passengers have thinned, prices have dropped (a little), there’s plenty of sun, and the sea is still warm enough for swimming. In Tuscany, festivals for the olive and grape harvests abound, and the fall foliage is stunning. In Rome, you don’t need to wait in line for an outside table in the city’s iconic piazze.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Italy during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Burgundy, France

Burgundy's rolling hillsides

Burgundy’s rolling hillsides. Photo: Trufflepig

The chaos of harvest is over and the grapes are in—which means there’s still lots of activity in the wineries, since the wines are fermenting and the vinification is in full throe, but the winemakers themselves have a little more time to spend with visitors. It’s also the prettiest time: The leaves on the vines turn yellow and gold, and you realize why they call it the Côte d’Or (the golden slopes). And beyond the wines, it’s the most interesting time for seasonal produce: Mushrooms and squashes complement wild game on the menus of the local restaurants.
Read reviews of WOW trips to France during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Madrid, Spain

Old cozy street in Madrid, Spain. Architecture and landmark of Madrid, postcard of Madrid

Cultural events pick up in fall in Madrid. Photo: Shutterstock

In September and October, the blistering summer heat abates and cultural events pick up, with festivals, theater shows, and concerts. It’s also much easier to get a room at one of the new luxury hotels that has opened in the city in recent years, from the Four Seasons to the Rosewood to the Edition.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Madrid during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Austria’s Danube Valley

The Wachau Valley, Austria

The Wachau Valley, Austria. Photo: Austrian Tourist Board

October is at the end of peak season, there’s gorgeous fall scenery, and it’s harvest time in the vineyards, which means that the Heuriger (wine taverns) are especially fun and lively and you’ll probably get to try new wines. More important, especially for wine buffs, many of the smaller (and better) Heurigers aren’t open year-round, but they’re all open in October.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Austria during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Sicily and Malta

Mt. Etna, Sicily.

Mt. Etna, Sicily. Photo: Pixabay

October is one of the most colorful and flavorful months in Sicily and Malta. It is the season of the harvest in Sicily, which means fresh olives, almonds, and chestnuts—not to mention wild mushrooms, prickly pears, and carob—complement the island’s always-bountiful variety of culinary offerings. In nearby Malta, it is still warm enough for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, or a romantic overnight sail to the island of Gozo with nobody else around. Throughout the region, the air and sea temperatures are still warm and inviting, flights and accommodations are less expensive than during the summer, and the fewer tourists mean you get a more intimate experience with the local people.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Sicily and Malta during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to Sicily and/or Malta


aerial view of Hvar island and surrounding sea Croatia

On Hvar, it’s still swimsuit season but the party crowds have gone. Photo: Exeter International

Visit Croatia in the first half of October and you’ll find good weather, fewer tourists, and lower hotel prices than during peak season.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Croatia during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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sunset over sailboats Naxos Town Greece

Boats off the island of Naxos. Photo: Billie Cohen

Smart travelers will let the summer crowds die down, then go to Greece in the fall. As with Croatia, at that time of year you’ll find pleasant temperatures, quieter streets, and lower prices.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Greece during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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rainbow umbrellas hover over a street of shops and restaurants in Istanbul turkey

Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Tim Baker

The fall shoulder season is a sweet spot for Turkey: Istanbul and Cappadocia are sunny and mild, while on the Aegean Coast, it’s warm but not sweltering, and the sea is calm.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Turkey during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan lake landscape, one of famous tourist attraction in Bali, Indonesia - Image

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan Lake, Bali. Photo: Shutterstock

While October falls during the rainy season, showers are usually limited to a few hours in the afternoon or overnight. It’s also less busy than the high season, making hotel rates more attractive.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Bali. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Northern Thailand

The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The view from Anantara Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo: Anantara

Northern Thailand is at its best at the end of the green season: From mid-October to mid-December, the rains have diminished but the waterfalls and rivers are full, and the crowds and higher prices of the late-December to mid-January peak season have yet to arrive. The mountains are lush and green, and morning mists hanging in the valleys send shivers up your spine. (Bangkok is a year-round destination, and short bursts of rain can easily be dodged in the city.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Thailand during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Northern Chile and Argentina

the red sand of Chile's Atacama desert with tall mountains in the distance

The Atacama Desert of Chile has an otherwordly and beautiful landscape. Photo: Awasi

While both the Atacama Desert in Chile and the region around Salta, Argentina, are year-round destinations, October and November see fewer visitors than other times of year—leaving your vistas of these wide-open landscapes largely free of other travelers. (These are also excellent months to hop a flight to Easter Island, when the place is nearly empty and the weather ideal.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Chile and Argentina during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The dunes in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo: Timothy Baker

Jordan is ideal in October, when the heat of summer has passed but the cold of winter—which can be particularly harsh in desert regions such as Wadi Rum—has not yet arrived.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Jordan. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Dhow boat Cruise in Arabian Peninsula, boat on blue water with desert mountains in background

A dhow cruise on the Arabian Peninsula in Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

From mid-September through October, Oman’s weather is perfect: It’s not too hot in the desert and not too chilly in the mountains.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Oman. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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An eagle hunter on horseback in Mongolia holding an eagle

An eagle hunter in Mongolia. Photo: Chris Rainier/Nomadic Expeditions

October is when you can attend the one-of-a-kind Golden Eagle Festival—a colorful celebration of a centuries-old Kazakh hunting tradition in the Altai Mountains. When the festival was founded in 1999, only 40 families still hunted with eagles; today more than 400 do so, and many locals rely on the income they earn during the event. Our Trusted Travel Expert can even arrange for you to have dinner with the competitors.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Mongolia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Wonderful view of the East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate) to the Citadel and a moat surrounding the Imperial City with the Purple Forbidden City in Hue, Vietnam. Hue is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

View of the East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate) to the Citadel and a moat surrounding the Imperial City with the Purple Forbidden City in Hue, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

Since the monsoons hit northern, central, and southern Vietnam at different times, weather across Vietnam varies widely. If your goal is to travel throughout the country, the driest months to visit are October and March. Fall is when you’ll find the best weather conditions in Ho Chi Minh City and the south.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Vietnam. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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The Seychelles

Maia Luxury Resort, Anse Louis Beach, Seychelles

October brings a mix of good weather and value. Photo: Maia Luxury Resort/Lindsey Wallace

October represents a nice balance of great weather (not too hot and little to no rain) and great value (since many of the resorts still have low-season rates). It’s also the best month for snorkeling and diving with whale sharks.
Read reviews of WOW trips to the Seychelles. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why October is a good time to go.

North America

California Coast

Hawaii: Maui

Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons National Park (first half of the month)

Mexico City (second half of the month)

Puerto Vallarta (second half of the month)

Riviera Maya (second half of the month)

Yellowstone National Park (first half of the month)

Central and South America


Brazilian Amazon

Buenos Aires

Colombia: Bogotá

Costa Rica: fishing, wildlife and turtle hatching

Patagonia (second half of the month)







Canal Barge Cruises


Czech Republic


Killarney and County Kerry




Romania (first half of the month)









Trekking in the Himalayas


Africa and Middle East


Cape Town and the Winelands





Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains


Australia and Pacific


French Polynesia (first half of the month)

Great Barrier Reef

Papua New Guinea: trekking

Queenstown hiking and cycling


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

Where to Go in September: The Best Places to Travel

Leisure travel usually slows down after Labor Day, as kids go back to school and adults go back to work. That makes September a smart month for many places around the world.  This list represents U.S. travelers’ best bets for September 2022 specifically, when it comes to a combo of good weather, favorable conditions for local activities, and reduction of Covid-related risks: With the right local expert arranging your trip, you can spend most of your time in the open air, keep physically distanced indoors, and limit your activities to places with higher vaccination rates and lower rates of local spread, all of which reduce your risk of testing positive just before returning to the U.S.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. For more pandemic travel solutions, see our Covid-19 travel advice. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.


Northern Lights, Norway.

September is the sweet spot for Norway, when it’s still warm enough to spend your days exploring the fjords but the night sky gets dark enough that you have a good chance of catching the Northern Lights.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Norway. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Mediterranean coastlines and islands

colorful boats in Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta

Marsaxlokk Harbour, Malta. Photo: Exclusively Malta

In September, the Mediterranean region is still sunny (but not too hot) and it’s warm enough to go swimming—and yet the crowds have thinned because kids are back in school. From the Algarve in Portugal to the French Riviera to the Cinque Terre in Italy to Turkey’s Aegean coast, the weather is great for strolling through villages and indulging in the local culinary treats. Don’t forget about islands like Corsica, Sicily, or Malta, either: On the latter, there are village feasts happening in September, with parades, concerts, and even fireworks.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Portugal’s Algarve, France’s Riviera, Sicily, Malta and Turkey during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a Mediterranean trip


Sheep grazing in Killarney National Park Ireland.

Sheep grazing in Killarney National Park, Ireland. Photo: Celebrated Experiences

September and October, when the summer crowds have gone but relatively warm weather remains, is one of the best times to visit. It certainly might rain—this is Ireland, after all—but that just means you’ll have rainbows!  In September, which is considered high season, leaves start turning, ushering in fall.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Ireland during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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tractor harvesting grapes in a vineyard in Tuscany Italy

Vineyards in Tuscany, Italy.

Come September, the vineyard-covered hills across much of Tuscany come alive for the vendemmia, or grape harvest. The rumble of small tractors rolling along the long rows of vines, the chattering of families and farm hands as they snip off individual clusters by hand, the tinkling of glasses and forks against plates as long tables are set up outdoors for everyone to take a break for lunch al fresco…these are the sights and sounds of autumn in Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano, and the rest of Tuscany’s wine country.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Tuscany. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Porto and the Douro River Valley, Portugal

Grape harvest in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Harvest in the Douro Valley, Portugal. Photo: Porto Tourism

Late September and early October are typically the time for the grape harvest in the Douro. You can participate by picking grapes (more fun than it sounds) or—better yet—stomping the fruit à la I Love Lucy with your own two feet. There are also some amazing hikes just north of Porto, which are at their best in fall when the weather and landscape are starting to change; options range from easy strolls to expert-level routes.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Portugal during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Bamberg Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Claudia Schwenger

Bamberg Bavaria, Germany. Photo: Claudia Schwenger

September hits the sweet spot of pleasant weather and minimal crowds, and there are many charming, open-air harvest festivals taking place. Plus, there’s Oktoberfest, most of which actually falls during September.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Germany during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon view of the watchtower.

The watchtower in Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

After Labor Day, the Grand Canyon gets much quieter, prices fall from the highs of summer, and the weather is still pleasant.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming. Photo: NPS

From mid-September to mid-October, the aspens are golden, the area isn’t crowded, and hotels often discount their rates; plus, the grizzly and black bears are more visible as they stock up prior to hibernation, and the elk are bugling. While the weather can be cooler, it’s a good excuse to take advantage of the fireplace in your room.
To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

Ask about a trip to Jackson Hole and Grand Teton

Cruises: Alaska, Eastern Canada, Mediterranean

Star Breeze

Setting sail on the Star Breeze. Photo: Windstar Cruises.

As the summer winds down, you can often find the lowest pricing on cruises in iconic destinations like Alaska and the Mediterranean. For those seeking a getaway that’s closer to home, many ships sail routes through New England and Eastern Canada, stopping in places like Boston, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City.
Read reviews of WOW cruises during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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French Polynesia

The Brando Resort, French Polynesia

The Brando Beach Villa, French Polynesia. Photo: Brando Resort

Humpback whales approach the islands (mostly Rurutu and Moorea) to give birth and feed from August to October. The waters hold a lot of food that fatten up the babies before they head to the Antarctic. If the whales are calm and the weather is good, you can even snorkel with them and listen to the sounds they use to communicate with each other; it’s really quite an amazing experience.
Read reviews of WOW trips to French Polynesia during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Kangaroo Island, Australia

kangaroos on kangaroo island Australia

Kangaroo Island, off the coast near Adelaide, is a top destination for animal lovers. Photo: South Australian Tourism Commission

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s own Galapagos, a time capsule of the region’s native plants and animals, largely undisturbed by civilization for thousands of years. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidna, koalas, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals, and scores of birds can be seen in their natural habitats all year round; however, antipodal spring is a particularly special time to visit, with clear and warm days returning, wildflowers blooming, and joey kangaroos emerging from their mothers’ pouches. (It’s also before the Australian school holidays hit and families start arriving in October.)
Read reviews of WOW trips to Australia. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Trancoso, Brazil

The beach lounge at Villas de Trancoso Brazil

The beach lounge at Villas de Trancoso. Photo: Villas de Trancoso

If you are after peace and quiet, Trancoso’s off-season (i.e., June through September) is pure bliss: Temperatures are still in the high 70s to 80s, and you will often have mile upon mile of palm-tree-backed beaches all to yourself.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Brazil during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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South African Safaris

Elephants, Singita Kruger, South Africa

An elephant family at Singita Kruger, Kruger National Park.

September is glorious in South Africa. The winter chill has left, and spring is on its way. The grasses that grew high after the rainy season have been chomped down, leaving the animals in full view. Cape Town is warming up, and the rains have more or less gone for good. Whales can be seen off the coast, the vineyards are green, and safaris are spectacular throughout the parks and reserves.
Read reviews of WOW trips to South Africa. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Agra Fort - Medieval Indian fort made of red sandstone and marble with view of dome at sunrise. View of Taj Mahal at a distance as seen from Agra Fort.

Agra Fort, with a view of Taj Mahal in the distance. Photo: Shutterstock

September is ideal in Northern India: In Delhi, the monsoon rains have given way to clear skies and pleasant temperatures. At the Taj Mahal, you’ll find the fewest people and the best photographic conditions. It’s also a good time for trekking, with fall color in the Himalaya.
Read reviews of WOW trips to India. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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View over the mausoleums and domes of the historical cemetery of Shahi Zinda through an arched gate, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

View over the mausoleums and domes of the historical cemetery of Shahi Zinda through an arched gate, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Shutterstock

After the summer heat, Uzbekistan’s weather is once again comfortable for touring the ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Khiva, and for hiking in the mountains or camel riding in the Kizil Kum Desert. Click here to read about the trip Wendy and her family took to Uzbekistan.
Read reviews of WOW trips to Uzbekistan during the pandemic. To get your own WOW trip and VIP treatment, use the black button below. 

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Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why September is a good time to go.

North America

The California Coast


Newfoundland and Labrador


Central and South America

Argentina: Skiing in Mendoza


Brazilian Amazon

Chile: Atacama Desert

Colombia: Bogota

Ecuador: Quito





Czech Republic: second half of the month

European Canal Barges

Hungary: second half of the month

Iceland: northern lights

The Italian and Swiss Alps

Italy: Florence

Italy: Lakes Region

Italy: Umbria

Italy: Venice





Spain: Andalusia and Madrid


Turkey: Cappadocia

Turkey: Istanbul









Thailand: Bangkok

Africa and Middle East


East Africa Safaris



Morocco: second half of the month

Oman: second half of the month

Rwanda: Gorilla Trekking



Australia and Pacific


Great Barrier Reef

New Zealand: Queenstown

Papua New Guinea: Trekking



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Ideal Islands for Each Month of the Year

Figuring out the optimal time to travel to an island can be tricky. “Peak season” often does not mean the best time to go; it just means the most expensive time, based on when school’s out in the countries that send the most vacationers to that island. “Low season” might mean peaceful and lovely, with a brief and pleasantly cooling shower each afternoon, or it might mean that every restaurant and famous site shuts down entirely. In addition to seasonal changes in weather, most islands have limited lodging—which can drive rates to extortionate levels—and some island can get crowds that will overtax the small tourism infrastructure, especially when cruise ships stop there.

We’re here to help—by suggesting a few islands for each month of the year. These are the opportune moments when the destination is at its best yet, in most instances, offers shoulder-season pricing. Craving an island not listed below? Punch its name into the “Destinations” search box at top left; if we’ve got an Insider’s Guide for that island, you can read the best and worst times to go.

Seeking the right island or island-trip-planning specialist for your specific needs? You may ask us here.

January: Madeira, Portugal

This sub-tropical Portuguese island may be small, but it puts on a New Year’s Eve celebration and fireworks show that rivals the ones in Sydney, London, and Rio. (Book early!) Later in the month, the world-class hotels will be far more affordable, yet you can still enjoy virgin laurel forest, panoramic hiking, and great local gastronomy, including the island’s namesake wine.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

January: Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

With a private yacht at your disposal, the Mergui archipelago is a veritable playground of diving and snorkeling sites full of rare underwater species, mangroves with crystal-clear water, and beaches where the only human footprints will be the ones you leave. In January, the weather is warm and sunny, and the seas are calm.

Ask Wendy who is the best Myanmar or yacht-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

January: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Located where the Pacific currents meet the Indian Ocean, this archipelago is a marine Eden with more than 1,300 species of fish and three-quarters of all the hard corals found in the world. Above the water line, the forested karst islands are home to fantastical creatures such as birds of paradise and tree kangaroos. October through April is Raja Ampat’s dry season; just after the holidays, prices drop considerably.

Ask Wendy who is the best Indonesia or cruise specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Isla Palenque, Panama

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

A private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama, Isla Palenque offers both environmental sustainability and barefoot luxury. Just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland, it’s easily combined with other parts of Panama or even Costa Rica, and you get seven different beaches, the surrounding Chiriqui National Marine Park, and a jungle full of monkeys and birds. February sees gorgeous weather—and with just eight thatch-roofed casitas and one villa on the 400-acre island, you’ll never encounter crowds.

Ask Wendy who is the best Panama specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Venice, Italy

All that is sumptuous and extravagant about Venice is kicked up several notches in February, thanks to Carnevale. A month’s worth of elaborate celebrations—marked by Baroque costumes, masked balls, sinful sweets, and general bacchanalian overindulgence—reach a fever pitch in the “Fat Days” preceding Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). Carnevale dates vary from year to year but always include at least part of February.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Venice, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Crete, Greece

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

While many Greek islands go into hibernation in the winter, with resorts and restaurants shuttering for the season, Crete is large enough that it stays vibrant year-round. It’s also Greece’s most southern—and thus warmest—island. Not everything will be open in March, but it’s a great time to get a dose of local culture, and hotel rates are lower than you’ll find later in spring.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda.

April is when the cruise ships start to arrive for the summer season, letting off up to 4,000 passengers at a time. A month earlier, hotel rates are half their summer peak, temps are in the low 70s (great for golf and tennis, if not bikinis), and there are free tours, lectures, and arts demonstrations all over the island.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bermuda, and ask Wendy who is the best Bermuda specialist to plan your specific trip.

March: Malta and Gozo

gozo island green hills scenery in Maltese archipelago

Gozo is smaller and more rural than its neighbor Malta.

March sees few of the cruise-ship visitors who arrive daily in Malta come summer. With highs in the mid-60s and a lush green coating on the hills brought out by winter rains, this is a particularly great time of year for countryside walks and cycling on neighboring Gozo, which is smaller and more rural than Malta.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Malta, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Azores

green fields on Flores island The Azores Portugal

The Azores are known for breathtaking natural beauty. Photo: Visit the Azores

You won’t find ultra-luxe resorts and 24-hour concierge service in the Azores, but you will find whale- and dolphin-watching (sightings of migrating cetaceans peak in April), breathtaking natural beauty, and locals who are genuinely happy to see tourists at this time of year. For a slower-paced trip, stay just on the main island of São Miguel; if you prefer to see a bit more, base yourself on Faial and take day trips by ferry to Pico and São Jorge.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Maldives

person swimming in clear blue water at Cheval Blanc Randheli resort in the Maldives

The Maldives. Photo: Cheval Blanc Randheli.

April (after Easter) is when you’ll find a sweet spot of lower hotel rates and ideal weather: Temperatures are consistently in the high 80s year-round, but in April there is almost no rain or wind, so the water is calm for snorkeling and diving.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Maldives, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is a little-known hiker’s paradise, with trails that bestow views of white-sand beaches and crystalline water on one side, and craggy mountain peaks on the other. But if you go there to walk in summer, you’ll melt. Visit in April instead, when it’s not too crowded, the temperature is pleasant, and the wildflowers are in bloom.

Ask Wendy who is the best specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Santorini, Greece

Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean sea

Oia town, on Santorini. Photo: Shutterstock

May weather is warm but not hot, and hotel rates are lower than from mid-June through September. The crowds are less too, which has the added benefit of ensuring the service will be better. During the hectic summer months, when hordes of cruise-ship passengers invade the island, service suffers; you can barely even find an available taxi.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Capri, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

Mild spring temperatures make it pleasant to explore this legendary island, which is still in a state of tranquility before the mad crush invades in June. The orange and jasmine flowers in bloom lend wonderful scents and colors; it’s also the time of year for many sailing events, as well as the annual celebration of the island’s Patron Saint San Costanzo.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Corsica, France

aerial view of Corsica island France

Corsica is great for hiking in May. Photo: Philip Haslett

While summer is high season, May and June are hard to beat: The temperatures are a bit lower, the crowds fewer, and the hotels don’t impose minimum-stay requirements. It’s a great time for the hiking, cycling, and canyoning that Corsica is known for—but if you want to spend a lot of time in the water, you’re better off waiting until September.

Ask Wendy who is the best Corsica specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Oahu, Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Mark Kushimi

Oahu’s temps are consistently pleasant year-round (usually between 78 and 82 degrees). The reason May is ideal—except for the Japanese holiday of Golden Week, at the start of the month— is that airfare is less expensive and crowds are fewer.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Oahu, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Bali

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

June has the most reliably pleasant weather in Bali—daytime temps in the 80s and gentle breezes to keep the sun from feeling too hot—and better prices: High-season hotel rates don’t kick in until July.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bali, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Sri Lanka

eautiful Tropical Beach In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka. These boats used to take people to watch dolphins

Kalpitiya beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Sri Lanka’s east coast, stretching from the quiet beaches of Trincomalee to the surf paradise of Arugam Bay, bursts with life this month. Compared to the better-known beaches in the south, those along this coast are more secluded, with a calmer and shallower sea—perfect for whale watching, snorkeling, diving, and fishing. After Easter and before summer vacation, visitors are fewer and the prices are easier on the wallet.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Spitsbergen, Norway

Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, is one of the world’s best places to see polar bears. While Arctic voyages set sail throughout the summer, going early in the season maximizes your chances of seeing these magnificent animals before the sea ice recedes.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Arctic, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Mallorca and Menorca, Spain

Beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beach at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.

Find beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beaches at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.Photo: Bespoke Travel Spain and Portugal

Early in the month, you’ll find great weather without the crowds of beachgoers who invade in summertime. Mallorca is a golfer’s dream, with a wide range of hotels, while Menorca is off the typical tourist circuit and ideal for those who want to relax by the sea and enjoy life as the locals do.

Ask Wendy who is the best Spain specialist to plan your specific trip.

June: Yakushima, Japan

This sub-tropical island, located in the waters just south of Kyushu, is ideal for intrepid travelers: Its mountains and vast forest of ancient cedar trees are crisscrossed by a network of hiking trails, from easy walks to challenging ascents. June signals the end of the rainy season, so you’ll find stunning waterfalls along the trails; it’s also when endangered loggerhead sea turtles return to Yakushima’s beaches to nest.

Ask Wendy who is the best Japan specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Vanuatu

This Melanesian chain of roughly 80 islands that stretch across 800 miles is a remote and undeveloped paradise. You won’t find five-star resorts, but you will find crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, gorgeous beaches, active volcanoes, and warm and hospitable locals. July and August are a drier, cooler time of year in this tropical island nation.

Ask Wendy who is the best South Pacific or boat-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Aeolian Islands, Italy

Italy in July, you say? Isn’t it jam-packed? Not in this chain of islands—some of the most pristine left in Europe—that are just a short sail from Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in their entirety. While the mainland is mobbed, charter a yacht with a captain who was born on the islands and who can show you beautiful and lush Salina; the jet-setters’ getaway of Panarea; and magnificent Stromboli, where volcanic eruptions frequently light up the night sky.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest in Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest. Photo: Tahiti Tourism

French Polynesia’s “Heiva” festival falls during July, with the culmination of ceremonies in Papeete, Tahiti, around the 20th. Heiva is a celebration of life and all things Polynesian. The outer islands hold local contests—in everything from outrigger racing to stone carrying and spear throwing, traditional dancing and singing to tifaifai (quilt) making—and the best go to Tahiti for the main festival. It’s a great time weather-wise as well; the trade winds keep temps in the low 80s and the humidity low.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Tahiti and French Polynesia, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Zanzibar

July is a perfect time to cap off a safari with a few days on Zanzibar’s gorgeous white-sand beaches. It’s one of the island’s driest and sunniest months, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s and not much humidity. Plus, the Great Migration is usually in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti in early July, with the enormous herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara by mid-month.

Ask Wendy who is the best Zanzibar specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Faroe Islands, Denmark

Gásadalur on Vagar Island, Faroe Islands. Photo: Tina Thorman

There is great hiking on the Faroe Islands, and more sheep than humans. Photo: Tina Thorman

The weather in the Faroe Islands is notoriously dramatic and unpredictable—but your surest chance of warm and sunny days comes in the summer. There is great hiking on the islands, more sheep than there are humans, and a rustic charm and sense of welcome that could have you sharing a home-cooked meal with a local family. Luxury here is not in the bathroom fixtures or the thread count of the sheets, but in the time and space to clear your mind and recenter your soul.

Ask Wendy who is the best Faroe Islands specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia

Great Barrier Reef aerial view

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

August brings warm weather, good visibility for divers and snorkelers, and calm seas (the wind dies down at the end of July). It’s also the best time to view whales—dwarf minke whales visiting the northern reefs and humpbacks on their annual migration to Antarctica. Every August, Hamilton Island also hosts Race Week, a sailing regatta with festivities on and off the water.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Great Barrier Reef, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur looks directly at the camera in Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur, Madagascar

August is deep enough into the dry season that the wildlife viewing is very good (the lush foliage of rainy season makes it hard to see the animals) yet it also precedes the peak season of September and October, when the parks are more crowded (and the weather hotter).

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Madagascar, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Ionian Islands, Greece

If August is your only time to travel to Greece and you don’t love crowds, charter a yacht in the Ionians. Many of the smaller islands in this group are accessible only by boat, so you’ll be free of the swarms that plague Santorini and Mykonos this month. Instead, you’ll find a temperate climate, spectacular beaches, lush vegetation, beautiful mountains, and the true flavor of Greece when you disembark from your boat and head into a tiny town for a meal at a local taverna.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Ibiza

Bay with sailboats in Cala d Hort IBIZA Spain

In September, it’s not nearly as crowded at Ibiza’s beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs

Come September, it’s not nearly as crowded at the beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs (or on the roads). Rates for hotels and private boating excursions drop, but the weather is still lovely, and it’s warm enough to swim (with ideal air temperatures for hiking and biking as well) right up until the hot spots’ closing parties in early October.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Hvar, Croatia

aerial view of Hvar island and surrounding sea Croatia

On Hvar in September, it’s still swimsuit season but the party crowds have gone. Photo: Exeter International

It’s still swimsuit season, but the atmosphere is much more laid-back than in July and August, and the travelers are more sophisticated than the summer party crowds. Croatia is known for its excellent wine, and September also coincides with the grape harvest. Later in the month, hotel rates drop.

Ask Wendy who is the best Croatia specialist to plan your specific trip.

September: San Juan Islands

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in the San Juans (and the Olympic Peninsula) is usually still very nice in September, and there are fewer tourists than you’ll find in July and August. (The best time to see the resident orca whales, though, is June.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the San Juan Islands, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Lofoten Islands, Norway

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

In September and October, the crowds are gone, the weather is still pleasant, and the days are long enough to enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing, and other activities—but with enough darkness that you stand a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Ask Wendy who is the best Norway specialist to plan your specific trip.

October: Sicily

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

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

October is one of the most colorful and flavorful months in Sicily. It is the season of the harvest, which means fresh olives, almonds, chestnuts, wild mushrooms, prickly pears, and carob complement the usual variety of culinary offerings. Air and sea temperatures are still warm and inviting, the ancient cultural sites are bathed in a crisp autumn light, and flights and hotels are less expensive than during the summer..

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sicily, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: The Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles. Photo: Maia Luxury Resort.

October brings calm winds and beautiful temperatures, but it’s not a popular time for Europeans to travel—so rates are lower than usual. It’s also the best month for spotting whale sharks.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Seychelles, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Hawaii’s Big Island

Wai'pio Valley Lookout, Hawaii

Wai’pio Valley Lookout, Big Island, Hawaii.

October is one of the Big Island’s driest months, with daytime temps hovering around 85 degrees.  It’s also a month for deals, given that so few families are traveling.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Big Island, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Newfoundland

berry picking on Fogo Island Newfoundland Canada

Berry picking on Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

This month brings out the island’s culinary delights: You’ll find locals foraging for wild berries, delicious food festivals, and restaurants blessed with abundant harvests and the freshest seafood.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Ambergris Caye, Belize

sunset in Belize at Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye. Photo: Absolute Belize

Before Thanksgiving, hotel rates are at their lowest. The days are hot, but the humidity is dropping, and the evenings are cool and breezy. November 19 is Garifuna Settlement Day and is best spent on mainland Belize in either Dangriga or Hopkins, where the Garifuna people celebrate—with drumming, dancing, and parades—the arrival of their Afro-indigenous ancestors more than 200 years ago.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Belize, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: The Galapagos Islands

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands. Photo: Pixabay/Peter Stuart Miller

The Galapagos is a magnet for families with kids during summer and other school vacations; if you’re looking for a quieter time, think November (except Thanksgiving). Blue whales, humpback whales, and whale sharks—the largest fish in the sea, growing up to 40 feet in length and weighing as much as 40,000 pounds—are most likely to be spotted in the Galapagos from June through November.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Galapagos, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Papua New Guinea

Milne Bay is home to the most varied scuba diving in Papua New Guinea: Here you’ll find coral structures, exotic creatures hiding in the sandy bottom, and WWII wrecks to explore. The diving in Milne Bay is at its best from November through January, which is the dry season for this part of the country.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Papua New Guinea, and ask Wendy who is the best Papua New Guinea specialist to plan your specific trip.

November: South Georgia Island

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

A jewel in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island will appeal to anyone interested in wildlife, wild places, or the history of Antarctic exploration. The season here runs roughly from late October through early March, but what makes November special—in addition to the king penguins stretching as far as the eye can see—is the plethora of elephant seals and fur seals on shore.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts. Photo: Hotel Christopher

Come November, many resorts, boutiques, and restaurants that closed during the height of hurricane season have reopened, and everything feels fresh and new. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival also takes place this month, attracting star chefs from France and elsewhere. Plus, hotel and villa rates don’t jump up until mid-December.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to St. Barts Beach Vacations and St. Barts Villa Vacations, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

December: The Caribbean

Idyllic tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Antigua island in Caribbean

Antigua island in the Caribbean. Photo: Shutterstock

From just after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas, you have lovely weather and can enjoy savings of up to 40% off peak-season rates. (Peak season starts just before Christmas and lasts till just after Easter).

Ask Wendy who is the best Caribbean specialist to plan your specific trip.

December: Fiji

Villa at the Taveuni Palms Resort, Fiji

A villa overlooking the ocean at the Taveuni Palms Resort in Fiji. Photo: Taveuni Palms

At the start of cyclone season, you’ll find tropical afternoon showers but also great resort deals: free nights, free massages, even free domestic airfares. The Yasawa and Mamanuca islands are your best bet for dry days at this time of year.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Fiji, and ask Wendy who is the best Fiji specialist to plan your specific trip.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Northern Lights, Norway

Where to See the Northern Lights and When

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about the northern lights—where to see them, when, and how. “There are three prerequisites,” says Jan Sortland, one of the Norway specialists on Wendy’s WOW List.  “It has to be dark, the skies have be clear, and you have to be under the auroral oval.”  The best countries for seeing the northern lights are Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada (north of the 60th parallel), Alaska and, to a lesser extent, Sweden and Finland—but there’s a lot of guesswork involved. “It’s a question of maximizing your chances,” says Sortland.

The aurora borealis can be seen from September through mid-April, when the earth’s magnetic field attracts charged particles thrown off by the sun, the result of solar storms. The particles form a halo around the magnetic pole, the so-called auroral oval. The phenomenon is most visible from November through February, when nights are dark and below-freezing temperatures result in clearer skies. The farther you are from city lights, the better. Wherever you go, plan to stay at least three or four nights and to combine light-chasing with other activities, such as skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and visiting reindeer herders. The following intel should help you plan an extraordinary experience of the northern lights.


Norway is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, and one of the best places in Norway is the town of Alta, on the northern coast, where the world’s first scientific aurora borealis observatory opened in 1899. The town has good infrastructure, it’s easy to travel to, and it’s not too cold. And, Sortland says, 100% of the travelers he has made Alta arrangements for have ended up being in the right place at the right time to see the northern lights. The best time to go is January through March, when snow cover is good. Read reviews of the northern-lights trips arranged by Sortland, and contact him via Wendy’s questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


Iceland is colder than Norway and prone to wandering low pressure, but a magnificent landscape makes up for the often harsh and unpredictable weather. Small towns in the southern countryside are a good base. Contact Wendy to find the best travel specialist to plan a trip to Iceland.


Greenland is a good choice for travelers who prefer not to brave the dark and cold of deepest winter. A September cruise through the world’s largest fjord system guarantees icebergs, tundra hikes, Arctic wildlife, and stunning landscapes, and there’s a good chance you’ll see the northern lights. For such a small-ship expedition cruise, contact Wendy’s recommended specialist for Arctic cruises. For a land-based trip, contact Wendy’s Greenland specialist.

Northwest Canada

Northwest Canada sometimes gets displays of northern lights in September, but its fall weather isn’t ideal (cold, rainy, windy). If you rent a car in Whitehorse, you can visit museums by day instead of biding your time at a country lodge until it gets dark. January and February in British Columbia are ideal for skiing, dogsledding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, plus you have a good chance of seeing the northern lights.  To be marked as a VIP and get the best trip possible, contact Wendy’s recommended specialist for Western Canada.


Alaska gets good light shows in Fairbanks from mid-February to the end of March, when temps are starting to rise and the weather is clearing. The city hosts the month-long World Ice Art Championships during this time. For help planning a trip, contact Wendy’s recommended Alaska expert.

Finnish Lapland

Finnish Lapland sees the northern lights about 200 nights per year, or roughly every other clear night. The glass igloos at Kakslauttanen have see-through roofs, so you can potentially view the northern lights from your bed. For help planning a trip there, use this questionnaire so you’ll be marked as a VIP.


Sweden boasts the Aurora Sky Station, a mountaintop observatory reached by the country’s longest chair lift (Arctic gear is provided), and a wide range of winter activities. At the latest rendition of the Icehotel, which melts each spring, you can sleep snuggled up in an artist-designed room sculpted from river ice. For help planning a trip there, contact Sortland via Wendy’s questionnaire so you’ll be marked as a VIP.


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

Lake Como, Italy

Extraordinary Experiences the Right Travel Specialist Can Make Happen

Did you know it’s possible to get into the Tower of London alone after-hours? Tour Italy’s closed-to-the-public castle wineries with the nobility that owns them?

Such magic can happen when you book your trip through the right insider—such as the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. They’re the people you contact when you realize that life is too short not to make your next trip extraordinary. They can get you into places that are normally off-limits, introduce you to fascinating locals and otherwise-impossible-to-meet VIPS, and guarantee you return home with profound insights and priceless memories.

Here are examples of what they can pull off in Europe.   They typically arrange such experiences as part of a larger itinerary, so they can guarantee a magical trip from start to finish. Reach out to them by clicking on their name in each entry: That way they’ll know I sent you and you’ll get priority status.

Lake Como, Italy. Photo by Andrea Grisdale

Lake Como, Italy. Photo by Andrea Grisdale

See Lake Como’s hidden treasures on a classic Riva Aquarama speedboat.
Lake District, Italy

Your English-speaking captain will pick you up in one of these mahogany beauties favored by the locals and take you on a lakeside tour that will reveal the many magnificent villas and gardens that are hidden from view on land.

Andrea Grisdale, Trusted Travel Expert for Italy. Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guide to Italy’s Lakes Region.


Have high tea with the Duke of Argyll in his legendary castle.
Argyll, Scotland

Love history? Downton Abbey? Scottish clansmen? If the Duke (who’s the chief of the Highlands’ Campbell clan) is in residence, we’ll arrange for you to tour his home, iconic Inveraray Castle, and chat over tea in one of its formal entertainment rooms. The property stood in for Downton Abbey’s Duneagle Castle, where the Crawleys celebrated Christmas.

Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Expert for Scotland, Ireland, and England. Read Jonathan’s Insider’s Guide to Scotland.


Get into the Tower of London after-hours.
London, England

A Yeoman warder will show you the secrets of the ancient fortress that is the Tower of London. You’ll enjoy a private viewing of England’s crown jewels in all their splendor and get to see things the public never does. Jane can also find ways for you to hobnob with royalty—an experience we road-tested ourselves.

Philip McCrum, Trusted Travel Expert for England. Read Jane’s Insider’s Guide to London.

Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. Courtesy Greg Tepper

Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia. Courtesy Greg Tepper

Gain entry to the Hermitage’s secret storage rooms.
St. Petersburg

With 1,000-plus rooms, The Hermitage is Europe’s largest museum. A deeply knowledgeable curator can get you past the lines and crowds, help you navigate to the best artwork, and make it come alive. You’ll get to see pieces from Catherine the Great’s original collection (she opened the museum in 1765, in what was then the royal residence of the world’s wealthiest family) and even visit the storage rooms, 40 minutes away and stuffed with rarely seen treasures. There are only a handful of curators at the Hermitage who can do this, and you have to know someone who knows someone to arrange it, but the experience is unforgettable.

Greg Tepper, Trusted Travel Expert for Russia. Read Greg’s Insider’s Guide to St. Petersburg.

Puesta de sol, Alhambra, Spain

Puesta de sol, Alhambra, Spain. Photo courtesy Ignacio M. Irurita.

Be alone in the Alhambra at sunset.
Granada, Spain

Free of the tourist mobs that pack this medieval Moorish complex during the day, you’ll experience the true magic and majesty of its palaces, courtyards, and fountains—and feel like you’ve been transported to another world and time. The private tour is expensive, but well worth it, especially for an extended family or other large group.

Virginia Irurita, Trusted Travel Expert for Spain. Read Virginia’s Insider’s Guides to Andalusia’s Cities and Seaside.


Take part in a traditional Turkish wedding.
Cappadocia, Turkey

Summer is prime wedding season in Turkey, and we love to arrange for travelers to attend akina gecesi (henna night), which kicks off the three-day celebration. The evening starts when the bride is brought in, her face covered with a red sheer cloth. Women apply henna to her hands and wrap them to give her palms the desired ornamental color. Then there’s music and dancing (men with men and women with women, in traditional Turkish fashion), and a more-the-merrier atmosphere in which everyone is welcome. Travelers who’ve participated in these festivities always come away having made new friends.

Earl Starkey, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey. Read Earl’s Insider’s Guide to Cappadocia, Turkey.


Tour closed-to-the-public Tuscan castle wineries with the nobility that owns them.
Tuscany, Italy

Italy is a land of wine, but no region has wineries more storied and revered than Tuscany. Many of these historic estates have been owned for centuries by successive generations of a single noble family, and they are set around private castles or villas open only to a select number of guests for private visits. Our connections can gain you access to certain exclusive estates, where you’ll spend the day touring the property with the (invariably charming) owner, sampling their prestigious wines, and joining the family for a lavish lunch that shows home cooking at its finest.

Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore, Trusted Travel Experts for Italy. Read Maria and Brian’s Insider’s Guide to Tuscany.

Make three types of traditional Habsburg strudel at Gundel restaurant in Budapest.

Make three types of traditional Habsburg strudel at Gundel restaurant in Budapest.

Stretch strudel with a master.
Budapest, Hungary

Make authentic Habsburg-style strudel from scratch with a chef at Gundel, the century-old restaurant in Budapest that Hungarian-born restaurateur George Lang (of New York’s Café des Artistes) helped restore to its former glory in the 1990s. Tradition says you should be able to read a newspaper—or a love letter—through the thin, hand-stretched dough that is the basis of Hungarian strudel. You may not be able to perfect your technique in a single lesson, but there’s no harm in trying. After class you get to eat your creation.

Gwen Kozlowski, Trusted Travel Expert for Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland. Read Gwen’s Insider’s Guide to Budapest and the Danube.


Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow. Photograph courtesy by Robert Polidori

Grand Kremlin Palace, Moscow. Photograph courtesy Robert Polidori

Gain access to the Kremlin—the opulent part normally reserved for heads of state.
Moscow, Russia

The glittering Grand Kremlin Palace, the no-go section of the Kremlin, is used by Russia’s president to sign treaties and entertain foreign heads of state. Built for the tsars, it’s the Versailles of Russia. Access is allowed only with permission of the commandant of the Kremlin—in other words, you need connections and financial power. Expect to pay approximately $4,500 for one to 18 people to enter, but it will be your most memorable experience in Moscow.

Greg Tepper, Trusted Travel Expert for Russia. Read Greg’s Insider’s Guide to Moscow.


Gain entry into Venice’s most opulent private palazzi
Venice, Italy

Explore two private palazzi along the Grand Canal. The palace owners themselves, descendants of Venetian nobility, will show you the frescoed ceilings, rare artwork, lavish furnishings, and hidden gardens. You’ll arrive and leave by boat, of course.

Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore, Trusted Travel Experts for Italy. Read Maria and Brian’s Insider’s Guide to Venice.

The Harbor in Hvar, Croatia

The harbor in Hvar, Croatia. Photo courtesy Dan Weisburg Photography

Sail to Dubrovnik’s hidden islands on your own yacht.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik’s Old Town can be jam-packed with tourists, especially when cruise ships are in town, but you can escape on a yacht to the Elafite Archipelago—a lovely scattering of quiet islands hiding in plain sight, just 30 minutes from the busy city. Your first stop will be the former residence of Vice Stjepovic-Skocibuha, a sixteenth-century maritime entrepreneur, now owned by a local family that has spent years returning it to its regal state. (The mansion is normally off-limits, but we can arrange for you to visit.) After that you’ll hop to another island for a private piano concert at St. Nicholas Church, one of many medieval stone churches—dating from Dubrovnik’s heyday as a leading city-state of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—that fell into disrepair during communist times. St. Nicholas is one of the best preserved. Afterward, stroll through the town of Lopud; its stone pathways winding through olive groves and vineyards are a breath of fresh air after the bustle of Dubrovnik.

Ala Osmond, Trusted Travel Expert for Croatia. Read our Insider’s Guide to Croatia.


Dine with the Guilera family in their home, Gaudí-designed Torre Bellesguard.
Barcelona, Spain

Bellesguard is like no other Antoni Gaudí creation—a modernist-Gothic take on the medieval castle that once stood here (its ruins are in the garden). After a leisurely aperitivo and a home-cooked meal, the Guilera family will lead you on a private tour of this hillside perch drenched in Barcelona history.

Virginia Irurita, Trusted Travel Expert for Spain. Read Virginia’s Insider’s Guide to Barcelona.

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence.

Giardini Torrigiani, Florence. Photo courtesy Brian Dore.

Discover Europe’s largest private urban garden.
Florence, Italy

We can arrange to get you inside Europe’s largest private urban garden, the nearly 17-acre Giardino Torrigiani, with the Florentine nobleman who owns it as your guide. It’s a sixteenth-century botanical garden with an extraordinary wealth of tree and plant species from all over the world, not to mention historic greenhouses and lemon houses. You’ll end your visit with a casual aperitivo al fresco in the garden with your host, a charming thirtysomething marquis who’s much cooler than what you might expect from ancient Italian nobility.

Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore, Trusted Travel Experts for Italy. Read Maria and Brian’s Insider’s Guide to Florence.


Bodrum Castle, Turkey.

Bodrum Castle, Turkey.

Explore Bodrum’s Museum of Underwater Archaeology with an archeologist who helped excavate its shipwrecks.
Bodrum, Turkey

A local archeologist will lead you through Bodrum’s castle and its Museum of Underwater Archeology, showing you the remains of the shipwrecks that he helped excavate. Hearing firsthand about the underwater dig and the backstory behind some of the Museum’s holdings—like a Syrian shipwreck comprised of pieced-together glass found under the sea—turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill museum visit into one of the most thrilling experiences of your trip.

Karen Fedorko Sefer, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey. Read Karen’s Insider’s Guide to Turkey’s Aegean Coast.


Get wined and dined at the Louvre, after hours.

Go behind the scenes at the Louvre with one of the museum’s art curators, visiting rooms not open to the public and learning in depth about the collection’s most famous works and undiscovered gems. Or take a “wine tour” through the Louvre: A curator will show you the role that wine plays in various works on display, followed by a wine tasting and dinner inside the museum when it is closed.

Jennifer Virgilio, Trusted Travel Expert for France and Monaco. Read Jennifer’s Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks.


Visit the workshop of a master craftsman of Irish crystal.
Dingle, Ireland

Sean Daly is a second-generation master craftsman who left his job at Waterford Crystal 15 years ago to create his own boutique company: Dingle Crystal. He has a small store in Dingle, where he sells objects including bowls, glasses, and chandeliers, but the real magic takes place just outside of town in his personal workshop. We can arrange a private meeting there with Sean, who will demonstrate the painstaking process of cutting the glass and share his strong and unedited opinions on the crystal industry in general.

Jonathan Epstein, Trusted Travel Experts for Ireland, England, and Scotland. Read Jonathan’s Insider’s Guide to Killarney and County Kerry, Ireland.


See the fjords on your own private yacht—and on your own schedule.

Explore the Norwegian fjords onboard a luxurious yacht for either a few hours or over several days. The best-of-the-best itinerary takes at least seven days—you set out from Bergen and sail up the coast, exploring one dramatic fjord after another, stopping to hike or bike around the glaciers, and calling on picturesque little fishing villages along the way. This is the most expensive, exclusive, and enjoyable way of seeing the fjords.

Jan Sortland, Trusted Travel Expert for Norway. Read Jan’s Insider’s Guide to Norway.


Start friendships with Switzerland’s most interesting artisans

Appenzellerland is a region that’s as Swiss as Swiss can be, and you can get up close and personal with its best examples of artisan workshops and traditional culture. Want to see how a bell is made the old-fashioned way? Visit Peter’s bell-smith workshop so you can feel the heat as he molds the metal. Fancy a trip to a Swiss farm? Meet Sepp, the passionate farmer who has gourmet chefs queuing up for the exquisite meat he produces by giving his beloved cows a special beer treatment. Have you ever heard a Hackbrett being played? You will when we drop in on Brigitte at her family home, where she’ll enchant you with the beauty of this stringed instrument that’s an essential part of Appenzeller folk music. By the end of a day spent sharing the real lives of local people, you’ll see that there’s more to rural Switzerland than cheese and chalets.

Nina Müller, Trusted Travel Expert for Switzerland. Read Nina’s Insider’s Guide to Switzerland’s Secrets.


Linger over a private sunset dinner inside a Portuguese lighthouse that’s usually off-limits to the public

Normally, Portuguese lighthouses are closed to the public—they are considered part of the navy—but I can get you inside several of them for a private meal at sunset, with the dramatic scenery of the rocky cliffs and the Atlantic ocean laid out before you, and nothing but the sound of the crashing waves to interrupt your dinner.

Gonçalo Correia, Trusted Travel Expert for Portugal. Read Gonçalo’s Insider Secrets of Portugal.

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

Colorful empty adirondack Chairs lined up on a sunny Beach

Winter Escape: 10 Places You’d Rather Be Than in This Cold Weather

As you wait out the cold and snowy season with friends, family and a nice glass of wine, we want you to remember that there are still warm and sunny parts of the world.

These ten destinations in particular have gorgeous weather and beautiful beaches—imagine yourself in any one of them, or better yet, use the time stuck indoors to start planning your winter escape.

Caribbean Islands

There are several islands that you can reach via nonstop flights from many U.S. cities. These are the more familiar and busy ones, including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. But to get to the really special places, you’ll have to put in a little more time and effort, which usually means at least two flights—one of them on a puddle jumper—and sometimes a ferry ride. The British Virgin Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with St. Kitts and Nevis, are all well worth the effort it takes to reach them.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Island Resort, and contact Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Big Island, Hawaii

beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii.

The beach at Kawaihae, Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

The Big Island boasts several of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches, including the half-mile white-sand Hapuna Beach—the one often seen in advertisements and television shows touting an island paradise. For another perfect white-sand strand—but without the crowds—try Makalawena Beach near Kekaha Kai Sate Park, in Kona. You’ll have to maneuver an unpaved road for a short distance and walk a bit from the parking area, but that is part of the charm.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Big Island, Hawaii, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

three orange beach chairs and a green umbrella facing the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Puerto Vallarta’s historic center is home to great restaurants, galleries, shops, and nightlife, as well as plenty of photogenic charm—cobblestoned streets, whitewashed adobe walls. The Malecon, Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, offers a great look at how local Vallartenses spend their evenings, strolling along with their children, grandparents, and friends.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

There are lots of gorgeous spots in Costa Rica, but don’t miss Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park. Despite a certain level of press over the years, the peninsula’s remoteness leads most travelers to substitute easier-to-reach rain forests and jungles—but whereas you’re likely to see a scarlet macaw in one of those other locations, on the Osa Peninsula you might see a tree full of them. The abundance of wildlife among majestic old-growth trees makes the payoff huge.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Luxury Eco-Travel in Costa Rica, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


woman sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano

Try sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano, one of Nicaragua’s most active cone. Photo: Flickr/Beth and Anth

One of Nicaragua’s most appealing attractions is its abundant wildlife. Playa La Flor Nature Reserve, one hour from San Juan del Sur, is the perfect place to see sea turtles laying their eggs in the spring. Rather do something more adventurous? Try sandboarding down the Cerro Negro volcano, one of the country’s most active cones. It’s an hourlong hike to the top—where you’ll have a spectacular view of the sulfurous crater and also the Pacific Ocean.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Nicaraguaand use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

We’re pretty sure you don’t need convincing that the Maldives are paradise—just look at the photos. Bliss out on the beach, laze around in an overwater bungalow, or try UV snorkeling after the sun goes down and see how the corals light up in fluorescent greens, yellows, and reds.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Maldives, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Sri Lanka

beach at Nilaveli, Trincomalee Sri Lanka shutterstock

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

From the urban centers of Colombo to the tropical seaside south of Galle, Sri Lanka offers both quiet retreats and thrilling adventures. For travelers who want to admire the beauty of the countryside, the Tea Country’s many miles of manicured tea plantations provide the ideal place for a hike. For thrill seekers, the Kelani River provides an unparalleled opportunity for rafting and canyoning through the Central Highlands.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


Amanbagh, Rajasthan India

Amanbagh, Rajasthan, India. Photo courtesy Amanbagh

For complete relaxation, spend a day by the pool at Amanbagh, an oasis of palm and eucalyptus trees and Mughal-inspired architecture once used by the maharajah of Alwar on tiger-hunting expeditions. For something more active, saddle up one of the Marwari horses at Mihir Garh and ride through the Thar desert, pausing to visit the Bishnoi villages.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan, India, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


Bondi beach panorama Sydney Australia

Sydney’s summer (December–February) brings beach weather. Photo: Southern Crossings

Sydney’s popular tourist attractions are well-known and visited by travelers from all over the world. But for some of the city’s hidden gems, jump on a ferry to Watsons Bay, and take in the views as you approach the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. Once a tiny fishing village, Watsons Bay now offers walking tracks, beaches, and a harborside park.  Just one hour from Sydney and a favorite of locals but consistently overlooked by visitors, the Royal National Park has spectacular coastal views, abundant birdlife, indigenous culture, bushwalking, cycling, and surfing. It’s also the world’s second-oldest national park (after Yellowstone).

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sydney, Australia, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Queenstown, New Zealand

View from Pencarrow Lodge, New Zealand

View from Pencarrow Lodge, New Zealand.

New Zealand is as an adventure mecca. Experiences for adrenaline junkies abound throughout the country, but most are concentrated in the Queenstown region. This is the place, after all, that claims to have invented bungee jumping. If you’re eager to try it (and you should!), we recommend a leap at the Kawarau Bridge. You can also go hiking on one of the area’s many unknown trails or go jet boating, rafting, skydiving, gliding, mountain biking—whatever rocks your boat.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Queenstown, New Zealand, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.


Where would you rather be right now?

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

What Not to Do in the Caribbean

Making the most of your Caribbean vacation means knowing where to find the hidden gems. It also means knowing what to skip and why. So we asked the Caribbean travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List to share their tips for avoiding mistakes—what’s overrated, overpriced, or just not a smart move—in the Caribbean.

Hitting the beach? Don’t choose the wrong islands.

If beach bliss is your No. 1 goal, steer clear of Dominica, Saba, and Montserrat. They have plenty of charms, but are not known for their beaches.

Instead: While you can find inviting stretches of sand just about anywhere, the islands most famous for their beaches are what some call the coral islands: the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas (Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and the Exumas are among the favorites), and Anguilla. These are all basically flat and scrubby with the quintessential powdery white sand and crystal-clear water that the Caribbean is famed for.

Read our Insider’s Guide to the Finding the Perfect Caribbean Island Resort, and reach out to Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Planning to scuba dive? Don’t get stuck with the cruise crowds.

Cozumel and Grand Cayman can get overrun with passengers from the giant cruise ships that call there. The only way to avoid the cruise crowds is to dive at off-peak times or to go with a dive operator who knows the secret spots.

Instead: In Cozumel, Palancar Reef is about an hour’s boat ride from town, each way. If you stay at the Iberostar Cozumel you will be able to sleep in, then have a cup of coffee while others are “commuting,” saving you two hours per two tank! — Meg Austin, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Scuba Diving in the Caribbean

Read our Insider’s Guide to Scuba Diving in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and reach out to Wendy to find the right travel planner for your next trip.

Renting on St. Barts? Don’t book a cook.

St. Barts has some of the best rental villas in the Caribbean, as well as some of the best restaurants. So don’t spend your money on a private chef the way you might if you’re renting on, say, Jamaica or Barbados.

Instead: Splurge on an in-villa massage. A number of villas have rooms or nooks designated specifically for spa treatments. In the late afternoon, getting a rubdown in a shady poolside cabana is the ultimate indulgence. —Peg Walsh, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for St. Barts Villas

Read Peg’s Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations, and reach out to her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Shopping in Bermuda? Don’t waste time in Hamilton’s generic shops.

Shopping in Hamilton, once a highlight, is no more. Although the storefronts nicely reflect the architecture of Bermuda, their merchandise decidedly does not; most is what you’ll find in the United States.

Instead: One exception is the Island Shop, with its colorfully hand-painted housewares. Owner Barbara Finsness has even brought back the “Bermuda bag”—a small purse with wooden handles that’s a relic of the past.

Read our Insider’s Guide to Bermuda, and reach out to Wendy to find the right travel planner for your next trip.

Looking to experience the best of the Riviera Maya? Skip the famous Xel-Ha.

Xel-Ha bills itself as a “natural aquarium” for ecotourists to swim and snorkel in, but it has nothing to do with the appreciation of nature. All of the coral in the lagoon is dead, and there are virtually no fish; it’s basically now a giant swimming pool stuffed with tourists and surrounded by tacky gift shops, restaurants, and bars.

Instead: Take the ferry to Cozumel on a day when no cruise ships are in port (have your concierge call the “Capitania de Puerto” to check: 52-987-872-2409). The boat trip—about $15 for adults, $10 for kids—gives you incredible views of the coast, the Caribbean, and the reefs around Cozumel. Once ashore, head to Pescadería San Carlos for some tasty ceviche. —Zach Rabinor, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to the Riviera Maya, and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Planning to do activities on a Sunday? Don’t be surprised when things are closed.

Many Caribbean islands are deeply rooted in the Christian faith, which means Sunday sees closures of attractions, shops, and even restaurants.

Instead: Pack your own pool float (because while some resorts might have a couple of floats for the pool, most don’t supply them for the ocean) and hit the beach. Depending on the island, consider venturing from your resort to a public beach to hang with the locals: On St. Barts, for instance, the public beaches (especially Gouverneur and Saline Beach) are postcard-perfect.

Read our Insider’s Guide to the Best and Worst of the Caribbean, and reach out to Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Don’t forget to take your passport—and check it

Check the expiration date on your passport—it gets risky when you get to the six-month mark. Most countries now require you to have a passport that will be valid for at least three to six months from the time you travel or they won’t admit you—not a nice surprise at the check-in counter!

What are some of your own Caribbean travel don’ts? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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

St. Basil Cathedral, Moscow Russia

Why You Should Go to Moscow in Winter

We all learned this lesson from our parents: Just because everyone else does something doesn’t mean you should do it too. When it comes to travel, that’s especially true. Who wants to follow the masses and be herded like sheep through the most popular tourist attractions at the most popular times of the year? No one—because in travel, the converse of that old lesson is true as well: Just because most people dismiss a destination at a certain time of year, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it too. Places you wouldn’t think about visiting in their off-seasons are sometimes the exact places you should be exploring—offering better deals and a more authentic experience.

Moscow in winter is that kind of place. “The city is hip and happening, with a vibrant food scene,” says Greg Tepper, our Trusted Travel Expert for Russia—“and you won’t be nearly as cold as you think.” As for safety, “There are no security issues—that is, beyond the pickpockets you find in other major European cities such as Paris and London,” says Greg. “The days of gang violence in Moscow are long over (1990s) and there hasn’t been a terrorist incident in Moscow in many years. There simply is no anti-American feeling on the streets of Moscow, and visitors from the U.S. are treated just as any other travelers are.”

Greg is a big fan of visiting Moscow in the winter—so much so that he’s offering a complimentary special enticement for WendyPerrin.com readers: If you reach out to Greg via his WP trip-request form for a trip to Moscow (or St. Petersburg), you get your choice of a room upgrade at one of his recommended hotels, a half-day private expert guide, or a world-class theater performance.*

Here, Greg shares his top five reasons for visiting the Russian capital during the cold season.

  1. The value doubles

“The Russian ruble is down more than 50 percent against the U.S. dollar. In the winter and on the weekends, the hotels offer their lowest rates of the year. That compounds the savings to make Moscow more affordable than it has been in more than 20 years. Top Moscow hotels cost less than $370 a night, including 18 percent VAT and full breakfast!”

  1. Theater is at its best

“Travelers go to Russia for world-class opera, ballet and symphony. These are all at their best in the winter, which was always the ‘social season’ there. A wonderful bonus is that Russian operas are sung in Russian with English supertitles in the theater, making them so easy for English speakers to follow. (Italian and other foreign-language operas have Russian supertitles.)”

  1. Sites are less crowded—by far

“The summer crowds are gone by November, and Moscow’s world-class museums are empty.”

  1. The Dr. Zhivago effect

“Honestly, who doesn’t dream about snowy sleigh rides with a mink blanket, vodka, and mittens to keep you warm? No one ever forgets an evening stroll through Red Square with snowflakes drifting atop St. Basil’s Cathedral.”

  1. Russian hospitality means really warm buildings!

“You can stop worrying about being cold in Moscow in the winter. In fact, if you wear long underwear indoors, you’ll likely find yourself uncomfortably warm and start looking for a window to open to let in more cool air! Russians like it this way, so bring a big, warm coat (preferably fur, which is very much in fashion and not taboo there) and be prepared to take it off and check it at the coat-check the moment you walk indoors.”

What other destinations do you think are worth visiting in their off-season?


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

*Offer valid for travel between October 1–March 31, 2017. Suites are not included in the hotel upgrade offer.

Dining Pergola Ca di Pesa Italy villa

Rent A Villa In Italy For the Whole Family

Poolside and deck view.
Poolside and deck view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor side view
Outdoor side view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
dining room
Dining room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Master suite sitting area
Master suite sitting area. Photo: Homebase Abroad
outdoor cooking
outdoor dining
Outdoor dining. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Dining Pergola
Dining pergola. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cantina detail
Cantina detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Cinema night
Cinema night. Photo: Homebase Abroad
cinema seating
Cinema seating. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Bellavista suite detail
Bellavista suite detail. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Brunello suite sitting room
Brunello suite sitting room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Living room view
Living room view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
interior view Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Interior view. Photo: Homebase Abroad
breakfast nook Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Breakfast nook. Photo: Homebase Abroad
children's TV room Ca di Pesa Italy villa
Children's TV room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
Italy villa ca di pesa jungle room
Jungle room. Photo: Homebase Abroad
countryside view
Countryside view. Photo: Homebase Abroad


Hi Wendy,

I’m looking for a really special villa in Tuscany for a family reunion for my mom and dad’s 40th wedding anniversary. There will be 18 of us, ranging in age from three years old to 82. We want a great setting with fabulous views, and also a good base for making day trips to the hill towns. Can you suggest a village or villa for us—or a good resource for securing a rental?
Thanks for any help you can offer,



You’ve got a challenge, Margaret: The dreamiest villas in Tuscany tend to be restored farmhouses or castles filled with things that can be treacherous to toddlers or grandmas or both: slippery centuries-old stone steps, open-hearth fireplaces, wobbly antique furniture, spiky medieval-style door latches, etc. I know this from personal experience, having rented an ancient Italian farmhouse with my own mom and kids. I went to sleep every night worried my two-year-old was going to trip over an antique, go flying into a door latch, catapult down the stairs, and end up in the fireplace.

But I do, in fact, have a place in mind for you. Several years ago, when I was in Tuscany I was shown a rambling property called Ca di Pesa that is actually an historic borgo (medieval village). I’ve remembered it since because it struck that unusual note of being sophisticated enough for adults (it’s got a wine cellar where you can dine by candelight, for instance, not to mention a cinema and a bocce court), while also kid-friendly enough for tots (it’s got plenty of flat lawn and a freshwater pool with a child-friendly gate). It’s in an ideal central location amid the vineyards and olive groves of Chianti, near the charming town of Panzano, halfway between Florence and Siena. And it fits 18.

Two caveats: First, a lot of people who rent homes in Tuscany like to be able to walk into town, and while it’s only a five-minute drive to town, it’s a 3.6-mile walk—and not on a charming country path but just on the regular road. Second, the price tag is high, so it helps if you can fill the house. (Maybe you can scrounge up two more family members to make your group 20?) The price in May is $22,500 for the week—which sounds exorbitant until you do the math and realize it translates to $161 per person per night and includes a concierge and a welcome dinner.

So it’s a splurge, for sure, but then again, you did ask for “really special.” And, to this day, whenever I fantasize about the Tuscan villa vacation I desperately need, I think back to Ca di Pesa and look through the photos above. My favorite touch in the house? The jungle fresco in one of the bedrooms.



Gelato among ancient temples in Syrcuse, Sicily.

How to Find Italy’s Most Authentic Gelato (and Where)

Few things excite me more about Italy in summertime than the prospect of all that gelato. Milky and dense, this Italian delicacy feels both familiar and exotic to a palate raised on American ice cream. The difference: America’s iconic dessert is made with more cream, gelato with more milk; the latter is also served at a higher temperature.

How to find, and properly eat, Italy’s finest gelato? Here’s intel from our Italy-based Trusted Travel Experts:.

pistachio gelato italy

Color will tell you a lot about the gelato—it should be natural, not neon. Photo: Marcello Baglioni

Color is key to sussing out a truly artisanal gelateria.

Look first at the banana and pistachio flavors: They should be a grayish white and earthy green, respectively,, says Andrea Grisdale of IC Bellagio. No flavors should have anything approaching a neon hue.

bins of gelato in italy by CIU Travel

Gelato should be packed densely into the bins. Wave patterns mean air was pumped into the dessert. Photo: CIU Travel

If it’s not packed flat into the bins it’s served from, it’s not high-quality.

While those fluffy waves of gelato in the display case might look appealing, says Brian Dore of CIU Travel, they actually signal that air was pumped into the dessert, simply for appearance’s sake. Like Donald Trump’s hairdo, those waves are all about style, not substance.

It’s normal to have to pay for gelato before you order it.

Let the cashier know what size you want, in a “cono” or a “coppa”—the smallest version of each usually allows room for two flavors—and then bring your receipt to the counter to place your order. “It’s not very common, but you can ask for a small taste,” says Andrea.

You shouldn’t mix cream- and fruit-based flavors.

That’s what connoisseurs say (though that hasn’t always stopped me).

It’s okay to eat it for breakfast.

We all know by now not to order a cappuccino in Italy after noon, but no such rules apply to gelato. In his 15 years living on Sicily, says Marcello Baglioni of Agave Travel Creative, he saw plenty of Italians make a breakfast of a sandwich of ricotta, pistachio, and Modicano chocolate gelato pressed between fresh brioche.

Gelato is more than just a snack; it’s a ritual.

It’s “a ritual tied to the passeggiata in a way that no other food in this street-food-bereft culture is,” writes Brian on his Postcards from Italy blog. “Where almost anything in the U.S. can be eaten on the go, very few Italian foods can, and very few Italians want to! Gelato is one of the few exceptions, and everyone from stately grandfathers to young hipsters to toddling grandchildren can be seen walking down the street licking dripping cones or digging into cups with tiny plastic shovel-shaped spoons for the late afternoon ‘merenda’ (snack) or after dinner on hot summer evenings.”

Here are a few of Andrea, Brian, and Marcello’s favorite gelaterias:

Gelateria del Teatro in Rome. Photo: Concierge in Umbria

Gelateria del Teatro in Rome. Photo: Concierge in Umbria

In Rome:

Giolitti has been making gelato since the 19th century. The stracciatella (a milky base with fine chocolate shavings mixed in) is a must. Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40

Gelateria del Teatro serves cake flavors that reflect the founder’s pastry-chef training, as well as inventive options such as ricotta, fico, e mandorle (ricotta, fig, and almonds). Via dei Coronari, 65

Gelateria Alberto Pica is known for its fragoline (strawberry) and riso zabaione (similar to rice pudding). Via della Seggiola, 12

Gelateria Carapina is a new style of gelateria, playing off of the slow-food movement with intensely flavored, creamy gelato and a limited selection based on seasonal availability. Via dei Chiavari, 37

In Bellagio (on Lake Como):

At Gelateria del Borgo, Andrea recommends the vanilla, hazelnut, and pistachio. Via Garibaldi, 46

In Ragusa, Sicily:

Gelati Divini serves flavors inspired by local wine varietals such as Moscato and Nero d’Avola. Piazza Duomo, 20

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

Beautiful Sunset at Tangalle, Sri Lanka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The city wall and gate of Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

What Crowds? Yunnan Is the Secret China Has Been Keeping

We’ve all seen pictures of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing. The flashy skyline of Shanghai, the crowds and traffic of Beijing, the touristy waterfront light show in Hong Kong.

Those modern cities are what a lot of people think of when they think “China”—and unfortunately, that thought is usually followed by the specter of crowds, noise, and pollution. But there’s a very different world just beyond those buzzing cities, and it might change the way you think about traveling in China.

In Yunnan Province you can experience an alternate version of the most populous country in the world—a version where nature rules over crowds, the food is farm-to-table fresh, the air is clear blue and clean, and the people invite you into their homes instead of elbowing you out of their way.

With the help of Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China, I had the chance to dive into Yunnan Province, specifically the region of Dali where Mei grew up, to experience a very different side of China. Here are ten reasons why it should be included on any itinerary to the country.

1. You will learn that Yunnan’s “rural” is different from American “rural.”

Farmland is right up against people's homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Farmland is right up against people’s homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

In the U.S., farmland is a wide stretching expanse of planted ground. If people live on it at all, they live far apart. But in China, people live in rows of houses along what looks, for all intents and purposes, like a suburban street. And directly across from their house is a small plot of land, which they farm. They might have other family plots around the area too.

2. You will find the natural beauty astounding.

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali, Yunnan, China

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali. Photo: Billie Cohen

A short drive from the hotel took us to the base of Cangshan mountain range, where we hiked a rock-paved trail up past temples, tucked-away altars, waterfalls, a tea plantation, beautiful vista points, and even a few historic family grave sites, which led to fascinating conversations about cultural traditions and beliefs.

3. You will meet people who surprise you.

Cangshan mountain hike

On our hike, Mr. Tian pointed out flowers, leaves, and plants commonly used in local cooking and medicines. Photo: Billie Cohen

The hike was led by botanist Mr. Tian, a former hotel-uniform designer who’d been successful in Beijing but had retired and moved to the countryside to teach environmental awareness to kids. As we walked, he pointed out flowers and leaves used in traditional cooking and medicines, and our guide Frank (a passionate flower-gardener himself) added his own personal stories eating those foods in his childhood home. Even though Mr. Tian didn’t speak any English, there was rarely a lull in the conversation—and we had plenty of laughs too. My favorite part: Despite some shyness on this particular topic of conversation, I discovered that both Frank and Mr. Tian had hidden talents. Frank has a beautiful voice and we convinced him to sing us a folk song as we walked through the woods. That loosened up Mr. Tian, who later revealed that he is a talented artist who draws Audubon-like illustrations of flora and fauna. He showed us some artwork he had on his phone and let drop that he was holding his first exhibition in a few weeks. Sadly, I was going to be gone by then.

4. You will eat well—and healthily.

Dali Yunnan China local lunch woman cooking

The ingredients at a local lunch spot were so fresh because they were farmed nearby. Photo: Billie Cohen

It is a myth that all Chinese food is greasy and oily. In Yunnan, where the food is truly grown locally and served farm-to-table (you’ll pass farms wherever you go), everything I ate was fresh and healthy. Mixed vegetables and meats are often simply sautéed with a little bit of oil (rapeseed is what’s most commonly used) and a lot of delicious spices and flavors. As a vegetarian, I was able to eat well and deliciously—lots of tofu, lots of greens, and several new vegetables to try.

5. You’ll eat like a local.

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

After our hike up Cangshan mountain, and the bonding it encouraged among our little group, we decided to change plans and eat at a local village spot recommended by Mr. Tian, where we found a crowd of regular folks digging into their daily lunches. At the counter, we picked out our main ingredients (a variety of vegetables and meats) and then headed upstairs to dine like locals, on low benches at a low table, sharing the dishes family-style. Pro tip: The typical way of eating is family-style, right down to the practice of allowing everyone to serve themselves from each platter with their personal chopsticks. If that’s going to bother you, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a serving spoon—no one will mind. (Though my new friends were impressed that I didn’t.)

6. You will meet artisan craftsmen who don’t live in Brooklyn or have beards.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

One of the many interesting artisans that Mei knows in Yunnan is a local potter who lives in the hills above a tiny village. After a ten-minute easy walk through winding streets, we reached Mr. Yung’s pottery compound, a few earthen shacks arranged next to a long dirt ridge that reached quite far down the hill and turned out to be, as he called it, the Dragon Kiln. That kiln could fire 1,000 vases at once. Mr. Yung’s work is that in-demand.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter and although his rustic studio didn’t look like much from the outside, it turned out to be a small museum when I walked inside—packed with beautifully shaped vases and bowls, some in progress and some finished. Make sure you ask for a lesson at the wheel. Mr. Yung (who doesn’t speak any English) lit up when I asked and we shared quite a laugh when my bowl turned out lopsided. If you have enough time in Dali, you can even take your creation home.

7. You can prepare and eat lunch with a Bai family.

Bai minority woman cooking lunch in Yunnan Province China

Yang Mama prepared lunch with us in her own kitchen. Photo: Billie Cohen

Mei and our local guide, Frank (who also grew up in Dali and nearby Kunming), arranged for us to have lunch with a local Bai family. There are 56 ethnic groups in China; the Han people make up about 92% and the rest are small pockets of minority groups, including the Bai people, who number about 180,000. They live primarily in the Yunnan province, and you can see them going about their business in various markets that your guide will lead you through. In one special afternoon, after shopping for greens in the local Dali market, we took them to a Bai family’s home where Yang Mama (pictured) cooked them up in a giant wok heated by bricks, along with other regional dishes. Ask to help, and you’ll get the chance to try out the wok. After lunch, Yang Mama prepares three different kinds of teas, each with a symbolic meaning. And yes, the Bai women wear their colorful costumes all the time—not just for the tourists. However, we did learn from Frank that they’ve modernized a little bit. Look for the braided lanyard pinned near their right shoulder and hidden in a chest pocket; it’s usually connected to glasses or a mobile phone.

8. You’ll get to see handicrafts up close and learn how they’re made.

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Chinese government has funded some traditional handicraft schools to help keep those arts alive. With Frank, we got to visit two: an embroidery school and a batik school. Though we did run into another tour group at the silk embroidery school, my experience still felt separate: The big group did not get a private meeting with the woman who ran the small school (of only a dozen students), nor a guided tour through the gallery—and no matter where we went, there was never any pressure to buy anything. (Check out the baskets in the picture: They’re full of silk worm eggs!)

Dali Yunnan Province China embroidery school

The baskets are filled with silk worm eggs! Each produced miles of silk that is dyed and used for embroidery by the students at this school. Photo: Billie Cohen

9. You’ll learn about local architecture from the inside out.

Inside a local's home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

Inside a local’s home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

Thanks to Frank’s and Mei’s deep roots in Dali and the time they’ve spent building relationships with interesting people, we were able to stop into a few local homes to see what they looked like, say hello, and even glimpse some behind-the-scenes real-life moments (like a pair of tween boys watching TV while their mom did laundry, or a wife cooking dinner as the husband led us around). This was so much better than having architectural details pointed out from the street as we walked by, as I saw other tourists doing.

10. You’ll have WOW experiences that weren’t even scheduled on your itinerary.

Undoubtedly the most “wow” moments of WildChina’s Yunnan itinerary were the ones that happened organically: The teachers at the handicraft schools who dropped surprising factoids in response to my many questions, the fascinating botanist Mr. Tian, the Bai woman who cracked up when I threw back a shot of spicy tea way too fast, the potter who laughed with me when I failed miserably at the potter’s wheel, and, most of all, our guide Frank.

Frank certainly didn’t have to tell us stories about his adorable young daughters (named after flowers) or show us pictures of all the plants he and his wife have stuffed into their home, or sing two folk songs for us (we had to beg for a few hours to make that happen). He was just a nice guy, with the unique local insight that comes from living in a place your whole life and wanting to find ways to help visitors see it the way he sees it, with all its wonders.

Those seemingly random human moments are the ones you end up talking about most when you get home. Ironically, though, they don’t really happen entirely by chance, do they? They happen because of the connections you make when doors are opened for you, and because someone with exceptional local knowledge put all the people and pieces in the right place and then stepped back to let the magic happen. That’s what Mei can do. Without all those people, Yunnan still would’ve been amazing and worth a stop on any China trip, especially as a fascinating juxtaposition to the country’s bustling cities, but the region and culture wouldn’t have opened up to me the way they did.

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



*Disclosure: WildChina provided me with a ten-day trip through China, mostly free of charge (we split the cost of domestic China airfare, and United provided the long-haul flights). In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. Our goal in taking sponsored trips from travel specialists is to evaluate the services we recommend for our readers and ensure that they remain up to Wendy’s standards. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and WildChina here.

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

5 Amazing Island Resorts Where Overwater Villas Are Just the Start

It’s easy to book an “exclusive” resort in the Maldives, right? You just Google “best luxury resorts in the Maldives,” and see what pops up. Then you do a bit of online research, ask a well-traveled friend for his opinion, or flip a coin. Right?

Wrong. Just because you’re going to an amazing destination doesn’t mean your trip automatically will be. There are countless ways in which the right travel fixer, one with intimate knowledge of the territory and on-the-ground relationships, can pull strings to improve a trip. Justin Parkinson, for example—Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for the Maldives and the Seychelles—does far more than just guide you to the right island and property for your needs.

Based on dozens of trips to these islands and his close relationships with the hoteliers there, he has access to the best rooms at the best prices. He knows which overwater bungalows have the most panoramic views or the most private setting or the biggest pools or the best snorkeling off the deck. He knows that the best bungalow locations on an island often depend on weather conditions, which change throughout the year, and can tell you the best room location in January vs. June. And he knows when to suggest getting the full tropical experience by splitting your stay between a beach villa on one side of an island and an overwater villa on the opposite side (the butler can move your things from one room to the other).

He also arranges activities, of course, suggesting the best times of day for things like snorkeling and seaplane excursions, and offers unique experiences such as an afternoon on a desert island or a private beach barbecue where the chef teaches you how to grill seafood the local way. Justin even matches his travelers to the staff members—from room butlers to dive instructors to massage therapists—who will best suit their needs and personalities.

And we haven’t even mentioned the value-added benefits (such as complimentary meals and yacht transfers) or how much Justin can save you on business-class airfare to and from the islands, thanks to specially negotiated airfares.

Even pinpointing the right resort in the first place isn’t as simple as it sounds. Your in-laws may have fallen in love with XYZ Private Island, but that doesn’t mean you will. To make the perfect match, your travel expert must ask the right questions and take the time to discover what lights your fire.

Start feeling the spark with this list, from Justin, of the five most exclusive private islands in the Maldives and the Seychelles:

The private beaches at Cheval Blanc Randheli

The private beaches at Cheval Blanc Randheli are as luxurious as the villas. Photo: Cheval Blanc Randheli

Cheval Blanc Randheli, Maldives

“Cheval Blanc Randheli’s 29 water villas are quite possibly the most luxurious ever built at any resort in the world. The entire property is lavish, but the rooms are a highlight. Designed by Jean-Michel Gathy with cathedral ceilings and 20-foot-high hand-crafted doors that can be opened for airiness or closed for coziness, there is nothing like them—anywhere. Each villa has its own infinity pool, dining pergola or pavilion, and private beach. Among the many facilities are a spa on its own island, reachable by dhoni, with separate hammams for men and women.”

One of the beautiful villas at Frigate Island Private in the Seychelles

One of the beautiful villas at Frigate Island Private in the Seychelles. Photo: Fregate Island Private.

Fregate Island Private, Seychelles

“Fregate Island Private has some of the prettiest beaches in the Indian Ocean. The eco-resort has made an outstanding effort on behalf of the island ecology, and it shows: The island is a haven for rare birds, plant life, and a healthy population of Aldabran tortoises. Each of the 16 private residences has its own terrace, a large infinity pool, and a Jacuzzi. You can dine at the Yacht Club, in a tree-house restaurant in one of the island’s largest banyan trees, or on the plantation where the resort’s food is grown, as well as on the beach or in the privacy of your own residence.”

The Private Reserve overwater villa at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

“Gili Lankanfushi lays claim to the world’s largest overwater villa. It’s called the Private Reserve, and it’s a freestanding structure, accessible by boat, in the lagoon. The resort also boasts an organic vegetable and herb garden, secluded beaches, an underground wine cellar, treetop tables, and a laid-back Maldivian feel. The new surf center takes guests to excellent nearby breaks.”

North Island, Seychelles

North Island is known as much for its seclusion as for its incredible views. Photo: North Island.

North Island, Seychelles

“A large island with only 11 villas, North Island is the ultimate in privacy and seclusion, while at the same time offering plenty to do—for example, you can go hiking with an ecologist or diving with a marine biologist. The resort does a first-rate job of looking after its guests, as well as protecting the island’s ecology.”

Veela Private Island

The terrace of the Ocean Pool House at Veela. Photo: Veela Private Island

Velaa Private Island, Maldives

“Velaa Private Island is one of the best all-around resorts in the world. Its overwater villas are huge, and they have good-size pools, not plunge pools. It has the best service of any resort in the Maldives, and its facilities, too, are unmatched. They include a multi-story wine tower, a golf academy, and an overwater restaurant featuring the most talented chef in the Indian Ocean.”

Wendy recommends maximizing every moment of a Maldives or Seychelles vacation by reaching out to Justin to orchestrate it. You’ll find the best trip designers for other parts of the world on The WOW List.

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

Olympic City, Rio de Janeiro.

5 Safety Tips for Rio During the Olympics, or Anytime

As host to the world’s largest Carnival, Rio de Janeiro is used to welcoming massive influxes of tourists. This year, 400,000 visitors are expected in August for the Olympics and in September for the Paralympics games. Some attendees might be wary about traveling to Brazil due to the Zika virus scare, however, and others might have concerns about crime or how the recent impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff (over alleged budget manipulations) will affect the country. So we’ve connected with our Brazil-based Trusted Travel Expert Martin Frankenberg to get his perspective and advice. “Most visitors are surprised by how safe they feel in Rio after all they’ve read and heard about the city’s safety concerns,” he says. “Still, travelers should be alert, as they would be in any big city.” While Zika virus is a concern, he points out, the date of the Olympics actually lowers your risk: “Remember that during the winter months, which are July and August in Brazil, there are far fewer mosquitoes.”

Here are tips for a safe and memorable trip to Rio:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Staying safe in Rio isn’t hard with a bit of planning. Photo: Flickr/Ramon Llorensi.

1. Look out for camera snatchers.

The most common crime tourists need to think about, Martin says, is camera snatching, mostly carried out by teenagers. To avoid being a target, Martin advises, don’t wear flashy jewelry, keep your camera safely stowed when not in use, and avoid walking alone on an empty street.

2. Avoid the waterline at night on Copacabana Beach.

“Don’t go to the waterline on the beach at night, unless there are a lot of people there,” says Martin. “The beaches are general deserted at night. While a romantic walk along the water might seem tempting, you will be a prime target for theft. Therefore, it’s best to keep an evening stroll to the promenade sidewalk that runs along the beach; this is safe.”

3. Take the subway, not the bus.

The Olympic events are taking place in four main locations: Maracanã, Barra, Copacabana, Deodoro. Each of the venues is accessible by public transit; you can view maps and plan your route on the official Rio 2016 website. The subway is very safe, says Martin, and has the added perk of being air-conditioned. Buses are less safe, he warns. They’re a concern also indicated on the US State Department’s safety report on Brazil (due to frequent theft on buses). The only Olympics venue you should not take the subway to, Martin advises, is the Deodoro complex, where equestrian, biking, canoeing and a few other events are being held. Since it’s out in the suburbs, which are less savory than the city center, he recommends private transportation. Your hotel concierge or apartment manager should be able to arrange this; alternatively, you can use Uber in Rio. Once inside the event venues, you should be totally safe.

4. Pack long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and insect repellent with at least 20% DEET.

It’s important to protect yourself against Zika virus, of course. As Wendy wrote in her TripAdvisor column,,“The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are learning new information about the Zika virus every day, so the [mosquito-borne] epidemic is an unfolding story, but they agree that the travelers with the most reason for concern are pregnant women.” Bookmark the CDC’s Zika page for the latest information.

While pregnant women or those planning on getting pregnant are advised to postpone their trips, other travelers need not panic. “Only one in five people who get the Zika virus get any symptoms at all,” Wendy writes. “Those symptoms—a mild fever, joint pain, a body rash, and conjunctivitis—usually disappear after two to seven days, and the virus clears itself from the body about a week after infection.”

Since the way to get Zika is to be bitten by an infected mosquito, follow the CDC’s precautions against mosquitoes. Use insect repellent that contains 20% or more DEET. Use screens and close doors and windows. Wear clothing—preferably light-colored, preferably permethrin-treated—that covers as much of your body as possible. On Wendy’s trip earlier this month to countries affected by the Zika virus, she and her family wore an ExOfficio line of permethrin-treated clothing called BugsAway.

“Rio is a large city of more than six million inhabitants, and the population here is really not scared,” notes Martin. “As a percentage, the number of infected people is low, and the number of people with any complications is incredibly low.”

5. Know your emergency numbers.

In case you do encounter any health or safety issues in Brazil, dial 190 for the police and 192 for an ambulance; note that the operators might not speak English. At hospitals doctors usually speak English, but nurses do not. If you’re in need of a good hospital, Martin suggests Clinico Sao Vicente (João Borges, 204 – Gávea, Rio de Janeiro, tel: +55-21-2529-4513). It’s located above Leblon and has English-speaking staff.

If you haven’t booked your tickets to Rio yet, it’s not too late. Martin still has full-service private villas available, and can source tickets for anyone booking accommodation with him.

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

Meet our writer

Lily Heise’s work in tourism and travel writing have seen her blossom hunting in Kyoto, tracking down hidden Angkor temples and getting lost in the Argentinian outback. Her writing has been featured in CondeNast Traveler.com, The Huffington Post, Business Insider and Frommer’s Guides, and she also share tips on France, other travel destinations and romance on her blog Je T’Aime, Me Neither. You can catch up with her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

crafts shoes and hats at Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Authentic Craft Markets Worth Traveling the World For

No matter where you are in the world, an authentic street market is the perfect place to immerse yourself in a community. A few hours wandering through the maze of stalls will tell you what that society values (whether it’s textiles, secondhand books, or cigars) and how the local economy works (a diminutive grandmother bargaining with cut-throat aptitude, or a farmer bartering livestock in exchange for pots and pans). Plus, you can pick up some high-quality souvenirs, often purchasing directly from the artisan.

So we asked the Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List: Which markets are most worth a traveler’s precious time? Here are some of their favorites for finding locally produced handicrafts:

Pisac Market—Pisac, Peru

The Place: The Pisac market is one of the largest traditional markets in Peru and one of the liveliest Sunday markets in South America. Every Sunday morning, the main plaza is full of crafts by local artisans, plus a traditional Peruvian outdoor market with fruits and vegetables where locals shop and mingle with friends (a smaller food market is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

The Goods: The market is known for authentic crafts made by the Quechua inhabitants of nearby Andean villages, including high-quality hand-knit wools, ceramics, leather goods, and jewelry. There’s plenty for kids too: handmade wristbands, key rings, and small musical instruments.

Best Time to Go: Though you can stop by the food section of this market on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you really want to come on Sundays, when there is also a procession of varayocs (mayors and their deputies from nearby local villages), who make their way through town to the San Pedro Apóstol de Pisac church. Dressed in colorful ponchos and distinctive hats, the mayors carry silver-embossed staffs symbolizing their prominent office. The deputies blow conch shells to help clear the crowd as the mayors move through town.

Insider Intel: If you’re driving to Pisac from Cusco, don’t miss the cooperative of Awana Kancha en route, where 14 communities practice various forms of ceramics in an educational workshop setting. And after exploring the Pisac market, venture up to the Incan ruins perched spectacularly overlooking the Sacred Valley. This is one of the most well-preserved Incan sites outside Machu Picchu.

Tom Damon, Trusted Travel Expert for Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Patagonia

Chinchero Market—Chinchero, Peru

The Place: Known for its commanding view of the surrounding snowcapped mountains and its centuries-old houses, Chinchero is a quaint highland community that is characteristic of Andean towns, with a combination of both Incan and colonial architecture. The village once served as a country estate for Tupac Inca, one of the early Incan rulers. Chinchero’s inhabitants continue to honor their Inca ancestors by passing their weaving skills from generation to generation and dressing in traditional Quechua clothing.

The Goods: Woven goods, particularly belts (fajas) and shawls (mantas).

Best Time to Go: The market is held on Sunday mornings in the main square.

Insider Intel: This is an ideal place to catch local inhabitants following the age-old traditional barter system of trueque. Tom can also arrange lunch with a weaving expert at her home, where you’ll get an overview of the Andean weaving process and participate while wool is carded, spun, and dyed, learning about the different techniques used to create these textiles.

Tom Damon, Trusted Travel Expert for Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Patagonia

Otavalo Market—Otavalo, Ecuador

The Place: The Lake District community of Otavalo is home to one of South America’s largest and most vibrant markets, dating back centuries to when Indians from the lowland jungles would visit the highlands to trade their products. Produce and craft stalls are set up in four plazas, overflowing into the streets.

The Goods: Don’t miss the exquisite woolen products and embroidery work for which the Otavalo weavers are renowned. You’ll also see ceramics, wood carvings, and leather goods from all over the country.

Best Time to Go: Saturday is market day; arrive early (7–9 a.m.) to catch the colorful action of the live animal auction, where Otavaleños practice a unique form of silent bartering.

Insider Intel: The Otavalo weavers are renowned for their talent, which, combined with a sharp business sense, has made them one of the most prosperous of all indigenous groups in South America. Near Otavalo are small artist towns (Cotacachi and San Antonio) known for their leather work at good prices, as well as bread dough artists, hat makers, handmade wood crafts, stone sculptures, and a variety of authentic artesanía.

Tom Damon, Trusted Travel Expert for Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Patagonia

Monastiraki Flea Market—Athens, Greece

The Place: Stretching from the famous Plaka district to the trendy neighborhood of Thiseio, this open-air market forms a pedestrian-only ring around the foot of the Acropolis, in the historic center of Athens; it has been the meeting place of locals and travelers for thousands of years.

The Goods: Monastiraki is not your typical flea market. The most central market of such a diverse city, it has a little bit of everything, including numerous traditional and trendy shops, bars and cafés, traditional tavernas and restaurants, street performers, and of course historic ruins. Because it caters to both locals and visitors, there are many small shops that offer traditional Greek products, as well as more typical souvenirs: handmade leather goods, independent artisans’ crafts, clothing, secondhand books, and even some antiques.

Best Time to Go: Because of its central location, Monastiraki is buzzing with people pretty much around the clock, every day of the week. If you’re not one for crowds, visit during the morning, when the streets are quieter and shop owners are just starting their day. If you don’t mind crowds and enjoy a little bargaining, then come on a Sunday when it actually does resemble a flea market; in addition to the shops, street vendors set up tables or roll out a carpet to sell any number of things, from trinkets to interesting old books, coins, and furniture.

Insider Intel: The most traditional souvenirs here are the well-known komboloi (“worry beads”) or a pair of handmade tan-leather Greek sandals; the best of the footwear options are made to measure.

Grand Bazaar—Istanbul, Turkey

The Place: The Grand Bazaar is the world’s oldest shopping mall and, with 4,000 stores, perhaps still the biggest.

The Goods:
Ceramics, hand-hammered copper, silver, textiles, jewelry, carpets, pashmina scarves, spices, Turkish delight, evil eyes.

Best Time to Go:
The bazaar is open every day but Sunday. I like going in the early morning or late afternoon during the week, when it’s not too crowded.

Insider Intel:
Don’t go home without a carpet; it is the art of Turkey. Orient Handmade Carpets is a very reputable shop just outside the Grand Bazaar, with the best selection in the entire country.

Karen Fedorko Sefer, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey

Bac Ha Market—Sapa, Vietnam

The Place: Many different ethnic minorities barter and sell their goods at this market, one of the busiest in the region. It’s also the most colorful, with the Flower Hmong people dressed in traditional costume. Thanks to all of the activity and imagery, it’s a photographer’s dream.

The Goods: The Flower Hmong sell mostly local products such as traditional clothes, materials, foods, homemade wine, and herbal medicines. There are also farm animals: horses, water buffaloes, pigs, and chickens. The handmade embroidered items make great souvenirs.

Best Time to Go: This market takes place every Sunday, but the best time to explore it is from 8 a.m. to noon during the fall, when the weather is best (which means it’s not only more pleasant for travelers, but better attended by locals).

Insider Intel: Haircuts are another popular reason to attend the market—men often come from the mountain villages to go to the barbershops.

Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Chatuchak Market (a.k.a. the Weekend Market)—Bangkok, Thailand

The Place: People claim that Chatuchak is the largest outdoor market in the world; it’s truly one of those markets where you get to mix with locals doing their own shopping, and where you’ll find local products at great prices. If you are into art, they have it. If you are into antiques, they have it. If you are into new fashion designers, they have it. If you are a foodie and want to sample local dishes, they have it. There is something for everyone, and the people-watching is out of this world.

The Goods: You can buy practically anything and everything there, from vintage clothes to handmade soap to artwork to living animals to souvenirs.

Best Time to Go: This market is only open on weekends; mornings are best because it gets really hot in the afternoon.

Insider Intel: After walking around for a couple of hours, you should definitely get a foot massage for just $5; they’re widely available throughout the market.

Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Mani Sithu Market—Nyaung U, Myanmar

The Place: The colors, sights, and sounds make this market one of those that stick in the mind for a lifetime. It is real, and needed for the locals, but it is also friendly and approachable for visitors—and it’s a labyrinth, which adds to its mystique. Many travelers drive right by on their way to Bagan (the village of Nyaung U is the main access point for that ancient city), but I find that after some temples, a bit of market time shocks the system out of the meditation of architecture and history, bringing you right back to the present.

The Goods: Like a Burmese Walmart, you’ll find everything you would ever need here: food, clothing, medicine, even cars. This region is particularly famous for its lacquerware, which is light and easy to bring home.

Best Time to Go: Mid-morning any day of the week.

Insider Intel: Try mohinga, a Burmese fish soup that is served all day—it’s one of those tastes that captures a whole experience in one spoonful.

Hyakumanben Flea Market—Kyoto, Japan

The Place: Kyoto’s Chionji temple hosts the Hyakumanben flea market on the 15th of each month in a beautiful garden setting, attracting many colorful stalls full of local artisans who would not otherwise be able to afford a permanent retail space in Kyoto.

The Goods: All kinds of artisanal crafts, including geta (wooden slippers), washi paper, lacquered umbrellas, exquisite Japanese fans and paper lanterns, yukatas, and a multitude of items you will not find anywhere else. Many stalls also offer local delicacies to munch on, such as miniature koi-shaped waffles with a red bean filling, or crispy rice crackers coated in soy sauce.

Best Time to Go: The market is only open once a month, on the 15th. In May, the market coincides with the Aoi Matsuri Festival, when locals don a costume from the Heian period and make offerings to the Shimogamo shrine nearby; it’s like being on the set of a period drama.

Insider Intel: The small bath towels block-printed with Japanese themes are useful if you’ll be visiting a ryokan or onsen spa later in your trip.

Le Marché—Papeete, Tahiti

The Place: This is the only major public market in French Polynesia; you can shop, eat, browse, and also get a glimpse of the culture. If you visit at the beginning of your trip, it’s a quick education on what to expect on the outer islands; if you visit at the end, you can pick up all the gifts you might want to bring home.

The Goods: I like to say that anything and everything that is Tahitian is sold at Le Marché: skin oils, soaps with tropical fragrances, creams, vanilla in different forms, beautiful hand-woven hats and baskets, carved wooden bowls from the Marquesas, pareos (the festively patterned cloths wrapped around the body by both men and women here), cultured pearls—even traditional tattoos. Locals go to Le Marché for produce, fresh fish, flowers, and ready-made meals and snacks; there are a few sit-down restaurants upstairs where you can have an excellent and inexpensive meal.

Best Time to Go: On a Saturday morning, when the market is busiest with food, flowers, and people. Be sure to make time for a café au lait with coconut milk and a croissant.

Insider Intel: Pick up some miraculous Tamanu oil, which will heal virtually any skin irritation.

Kleon Howe, Trusted Travel Expert for Tahiti, Bora Bora, and French Polynesia

Toki Zargaron Trade Dome (a.k.a. Chorsu Bazaar)—Bukhara, Uzbekistan

The Place: This trading dome was once a major stop on the Silk Road; the bazaar has a large central dome and four passages with smaller domes, where caravans came from four different directions for trade and exchange throughout the centuries. Today, visitors come to enjoy authentic sweet Uzbek green tea and watch real craftsmen at work.

The Goods: You’ll find all sorts of textiles—intricate embroidery, Ikat-patterned silk, and other traditional techniques—wood carvings, straw artwork, jewelry, and much more.

Best Time to Go: The bazaar is open every day; Sunday is the best day to visit, when many locals are out shopping. Since most tour groups come in the morning, I recommend that travelers visit the market around 3 p.m. You’re more likely to get some one-on-one time with the artisans that way, learning about the process of making their crafts. Also, their families or students often join them in the afternoon, and it’s fun to see several generations at work.

Insider Intel: I can arrange for my clients to actually participate in making embroidery, metal plates, or wood carvings, or to shop at the market with a chef for the ingredients to make bread or pilaf.

Zulya Rajabova, Trusted Travel Expert for Uzbekistan and the Silk Road


All of these Trusted Travel Experts arrange magnificent start-to-finish trips for travelers. Click on their links to read what makes them the best itinerary designer for their destination or to request a trip. From there, click on “Read Reviews” (below their photo) to find out how they can maximize your experience of their destination.

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

Visiting The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China: Secrets to Seeing It Right

Great Wall, China
The view of the Wall one way.
Great Wall, China.
The view the other. Note that there aren’t a lot of other people here with me.
Mutianyu shuttle bus
Most tourists arrive at the Mutianyu welcome area and have to take an official shuttle bus up to the Wall entrance. Traveling with WildChina meant I didn’t have to.
Mutianyu, Great Wall
As you can see from this map, you can hike among 23 watchtowers on the Mutianyu section of the Wall.
Cable car at the Great Wall
Bill Clinton rode this exact cable car up to the Great Wall in 1998. Billie Cohen rode it in 2016.
Mutianyu Great Wall of China chairlift
I visited Beijing in late March, which meant the trees had only just started to wake up from winter. In a few weeks, the view out the back of the cable car will be greener but it will also be more obscured. Also, notice the lack of haze. This is a great time of year to visit Beijing for clear skies.
Great Wall of China part that juts out
See how the Wall curves to the right? Legend has it the foreman was a little tipsy when he gave the construction order.
8 lotus shaped arrow hole Great Wall of China
Lotus-shaped arrow holes were added to the Wall in the 1580s.
9 The Brickyard Mutianyu courtyard
The Brickyard resort and restaurant is a repurposed glazed-tile factory. In a few weeks, these bare trees will be full and the onsite culinary garden will be blooming.
10 Chairman Suite at The Brickyard Mutianyu China
The Chairman Suite at The Brickyard at Mutianyu maintains the feel of the original factory, and also has some retro 1960s touches.


Everyone’s seen pictures of the Great Wall of China. And it’s been around for nearly 3,000 years. But if you’ve only seen the photos or only remember the basics from your school lessons, you’ve hardly scratched the stone surface.

I walked the famous stretch of barricade in Mutianyu, with my history-buff guide Chris from WildChina (the company run by Mei Zhang, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for China), and he worked three bits of magic. First, without WildChina’s special access, I would not have been able to roll right up to the entrance. I would’ve had to ride the crowded shuttle bus with everyone else from the gift shop mall at the bottom of the hill. Instead, we drove nearly all the way up to the ticket booth and didn’t have to wait for anything or anyone.

Second, he timed our visit so that we were not surrounded by massive crowds. Granted, the Great Wall is China’s biggest tourist attraction, so it’s never going to be completely empty—but by scheduling my visit on a Monday around 11am, we missed the morning tour-bus crowds and were able to stroll the Wall freely, rather than crammed in among swarms of other people. Third, the history and context that Chris knew made the Wall come alive. I almost felt bad for others at the Wall—for them it was just a spot for a bucket-list selfie.

Here are nine secrets about the Great Wall of China and how best to experience it.

1. It doesn’t all look the way it does in the photos you see online.
Various tribes contributed to its growth, building different parts out of clay, earth, stone, and wood at different times as far back as 700 B.C. The Han tribe’s Wall (as in the predecessors of Atilla) was the longest, at about 11,000 miles, but it’s almost all gone.

2. But a lot of it does.
It was Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty (the first of unified China, around 220 B.C.) who effectively stitched together the tribal sections into the more familiar stone barrier we still see today. Subsequent dynasties added to it and reinforced it, and China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) extended them. There are more than 9,000 miles of the Wall left, and about 4,000 of them look the way we imagine it: built out of stone bricks. These sections were constructed during the Ming dynasty.

3. It extended beyond modern-day China and Mongolia.
There was even a stretch of the old Wall in North Korea, but Kim Jong-Il tore it down out of national pride.

4. Construction didn’t always go as planned.
If you look downhill from where the cable car lets you off in Mutianyu, you’ll see a stretch of Wall that oddly loops out from the main path. Legend has it that, in the 1500s, the guy in charge of construction got a little drunk and gave the wrong order. To this day, the Wall still juts out unexpectedly.

5. War and peace really do go together.
In the 1580s a general added lotus-shaped arrow holes to the Wall, in a reference to the Buddhist blessing for peace. In Mutianyu, look for them near your feet, where the steps meet the Wall.

6. History is still living…nearby.
The residents of the village of Mutianyu are the descendants of those who built the Wall. And during the Cultural Revolution, farmers stole stones from the Great Wall to build their houses. Even today, some of the village homes still have Walls made of appropriated bricks.

7. The Mutianyu section of the Wall has its own Hollywood sign.
In the 1960s, a giant stone sign was laid on the side of the mountain in honor of Chairman Mao; it says “Loyal to Chairman Mao.” Over the years, the brush overtook it and it was lost to sight. Seeking a way to bring attention to his village, the Mutianyu mayor in 2008 had the sign cleaned and fixed up. Look for it to the left side of the Wall as you gaze uphill.

8. You can stay overnight near the Wall and not feel like a tourist trapped in a low-budget motel.
American Jim Spears and his Chinese wife Liang Tang have long roots in Mutianyu, and are partners in The Brickyard hotel and restaurant. Built in a repurposed factory that used to make glazed tiles for palaces and temples, the whole spread was redesigned by Jim about ten years ago as a way to showcase the beauty of the area and to give back to the community he and his wife had become a part of. All 25 rooms have views of the Wall, 80 percent of the staff is local (and most are women), and 80 percent of the food is local too (with about a quarter grown onsite). Chef Ranhir Singh let me know that the tofu in my vegetable dish was crafted by a nearby villager.

9. When it comes to visiting the Wall, distance makes all the difference.
If you’re staying in Beijing, you have a few options for which part of the Wall you visit:

• The sections closest to central city are Badaling and Juyongguan. They’re also the most crowded and commercialized.

• The next step up is Mutianyu: This section is about 1.5 hours from central Beijing by car. It winds across low mountains at roughly 2,000 feet and you can climb stairs, take a cable car (as Bill Clinton did), or ride a chairlift up to it. From there, you can hike a stretch that connects 23 watchtowers. For those brave enough, you can ride a toboggan back down. This makes Mutianyu sound like an amusement park, but I found it to be not that crowded and, therefore, decently serene.

• The “advanced” option is Jinshanling. This piece of the Wall, a combination of restored and wild stretches, is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Beijing. Because of the distance, it’s usually the least crowded, and because of its elevation, the views can be stunning. But if the air quality isn’t great (therefore limiting vistas), and you don’t have time for more than a day trip, it’s not necessarily worth the effort.

• Remember that it’s illegal to hike wild sections not regulated by the Chinese museum system—and they can be dangerous if you try. Visitors have fallen from rougher areas to their deaths.

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

Disclosure: Wild China and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on Wild China’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. We agreed to this arrangement so that we could test out the services of one our Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts and report back to you on it personally.

A beach on Île d'Yeu

French Islands So Pretty You’ll Be Tempted To Skip Provence

Looking to explore French countryside without the crowds of Provence and the Riviera? Consider the islands off the Atlantic coast, especially if you enjoy biking through picturesque villages, sampling succulent seafood, and relaxing on miles of sandy beaches—sandier than most you’ll find on the French Riviera. Here is your guide to choosing the right French island for you.

Best for Those Who Want it All: Île de Ré

Ile de Ré has scenic ports, whitewashed houses with colorful shutters, expansive beaches, famous oysters, even vineyards. The one drawback is that because the island is now on the tourism map, it’s attracting 160,000 vacationers per year, making it the most expensive of the islands. You can evade the worst of the crowds by coming slightly off-season, in June or September, or by spending time in one of the island’s smaller, quieter towns, such as La Flotte. “La Flotte has a great daily morning market selling local specialties like fleur de sel and homemade soaps,” points out Trusted Travel Expert Paul Bennett. “And there are excellent restaurants overlooking the port, such as L’Ecailler, where you can enjoy the best of the day’s catches with a glass of the island’s crisp white wine.”

Best for Budget Beachcombers: Île d’Yeu

Ile d’Yeu has the natural beauty of Ile de Ré without the hype. South of the city of Nantes and accessible by ferry from Fromentine, this small island has a wide variety of charming vacation rentals and is easy to get around only by bike. You can wander the narrow passageways of its main town, Port Joinville, before trekking out to the 14th-century fortress le Vieux-Château. Along the way, breeze by traditional fisherman huts and tall lighthouses perched on steep cliffs. Get digging on the beach and you can have a tasty free clambake for dinner.

Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, Belle-Île

Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton, Belle-Île. Photo courtesy Bathilde Chaboche, Office de Tourisme Belle-Île-en-Mer.

Best for Adventurous Romantics: Belle-Île

This beautiful island off the coast of Brittany has almost-tropical aquamarine waters, 60 pristine beaches, and quaint villages. Outdoorsy types can kayak, windsurf, scuba dive, or hike to the island’s famous rocky “needles,” Les Aiguilles de Port-Coton. Culture lovers are in for a treat too: They’ll recognize that rock formation from Claude Monet paintings. When dinnertime calls, make your way to the fishing village of Sauzon to feast on fresh-off-the-boat lobster. Then get a well-deserved good night’s sleep at the Citadelle Vauban hotel, in a 17th-century fortress (that also has a good restaurant and local museum), or pamper yourself at the Castel Clara, whose seawater spa faces the wild coast.

Best for Getting Away From It All: Île d’Ouessant

If you’re after tranquility and natural beauty, sail over to this offbeat island, the north-westernmost point of France. You can bike along the coast, through green fields dotted with sheep, and past deserted beaches beckoning you to lay down your towel. Discover what daily life was like on the island pre-WWII at the Niou Huella Eco-Museum, or wave toward North America or Great Britain at Créac’h lighthouse, marking where the Atlantic Ocean turns into the English Channel.

Best for Families: Île aux Moines

Few foreign visitors join savvy French families on the short boat ride from Vannes to l’Île aux Moines, one of the Atlantic coast’s best-kept secrets. “With no cars and amazing sandy beaches, it’s perfect for kids,” notes Trusted Travel Expert Jack Dancy. “Plus there are great hiking and biking trails, excellent sailing opportunities, and many family-friendly holiday rentals.” The streets of the main town, Port Blanc, are lined with quaint traditional stone houses, shops, and crêperies. A wander into the center of the island will take you to France’s own Stonehenge, Cromlech de Kergonan, a megalithic site featuring 24 standing stones. While you’re in the area, Jack also suggests visiting the walled city of Vannes, especially for its fish market in the 19th-century Les Halles market building. Watch as local fishmongers try to out-hawk one another with their selection of sea bass, haddock, and prawns hauled into port that very morning.

Since there’s so much to discover on these islands and along France’s Atlantic coast, consider a multi-day sailing trip—something Jack can arrange.


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

Meet our writer

Lily Heise’s work in tourism and travel writing have seen her blossom hunting in Kyoto, tracking down hidden Angkor temples and getting lost in the Argentinian outback. Her writing has been featured in CondeNast Traveler.com, The Huffington Post, Business Insider and Frommer’s Guides, and she also share tips on France, other travel destinations and romance on her blog Je T’Aime, Me Neither. You can catch up with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Serenity Pool at the Four Seasons Maui.

Best-Value Hotels in North America’s Hot Spots

For the Trusted Travel Experts on Wendy’s WOW List, spending the night in a hotel is serious business: They’re constantly scouting new properties in their destination and re-inspecting their past favorites to make sure they’re still up to snuff. Here are their favorites across North America:

Disney World

Best for Pinching Pennies
The Garden Wing rooms at the Contemporary allow you to stay in the most expensive neighborhood at Disney—the coveted “monorail” line, which is the closest to the Magic Kingdom—without having the most expensive house on the block. By not paying the premium to have a lake view or a theme-park view in the main Tower building, you can enjoy staying at a deluxe resort in one of the best-priced rooms.

The Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is in Disney’s moderate category, but don’t dismiss it. This sweet Dixieland-themed property has only 1,000 rooms, so there’s less competition for space at the pool and the food court than at other mid-priced resorts, which can be twice as large. The kids will love the water slide, and the whole family will appreciate the direct buses to each of the parks and the option for a boat ride on the canals to Downtown Disney.

Families enjoy the Family Suites at the Art of Animation Resort. They can sleep up to six people, have two bathrooms, and are themed after Cars, Finding Nemo, or The Lion King. You also get a separate room from your kids! Rates start at about $270, which is a much better value than paying for two rooms. —Michelle Allen, Trusted Travel Expert for Disney

Read Michelle’s Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Maui, Hawaii

Best Pool for Kids
Families headed to Maui might consider the Grand Wailea, where the enormous pool deck is a kid’s paradise, with nine interconnected pools, four waterslides, caves, waterfalls, and even a rope swing.

Best for a Special Occasion
The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has the best location on the island. Honeymooners appreciate the candlelit, beachfront restaurant and the adults-only Serenity Pool, while families can take advantage of the complimentary kids’ club. It’s one of the priciest hotels on the island but, at certain times of year, we can arrange for our guests who stay five nights or more to receive a $100-per-night resort credit. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time inside, don’t bother springing for a room with a full ocean view—you’ll be more than satisfied with a partial ocean-view. —Jay Johnson, Trusted Travel Expert for Hawaii

Read Jay’s Insider’s Guide to Maui,and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Best for Under $200 a Night
The Inn at Ship Bay is the best value in the San Juan Islands in summer: its water-view rooms cost just $195 a night. They are comfortable rather than swanky, but when you’re able to enjoy the view from your balcony—and then walk a few steps to the hotel restaurant, which is one of the island’s best—you won’t worry about the motel-style bathrooms. — Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert for the Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guide to the San Juan Islands, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

The Four Seasons Seattle

The Four Seasons Seattle. Photo courtesy Steve Sanacore.


Best City Pool with a View
The Four Seasons has big rooms, great service, and a prime location one block south of the Pike Place Market. The heated pool is warm enough that you can swim outside in December, while you’re taking in the view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. The partial bay-view rooms are a good compromise, cost-wise, between the city-view and the full deluxe bay-view rooms. My preferred rates often provide substantial savings of $100 per night or more in the summer months. — Sheri Doyle, Trusted Travel Expert for the Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, British Columbia

Read Sheri’s Insider’s Guides to Seattle, and contact her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Utah’s National Parks

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

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

Best-value splurge hotel
Book one of the four suites at Cougar Ridge Lodge and you’ll have access to an exhibition kitchen where cooking lessons, wine tastings, and custom wine blending can be arranged; a roomy bar; a game room with a state-of-the-art simulator and a full-length bowling alley; and ATVs, horses, and bikes available for an additional cost (guests at the less expensive casitas that have recently been added to the property can’t use most of these features). The two suites on the north side of the lodge have private hot tubs; the two on the south side have access to a wrap-around deck that leads to a shared hot tub. The lodge is a half-hour drive from the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park, home to amazing rock formations, excellent hiking and road touring, fly fishing, and more.

Mexico City

Best for a Weekend Getaway
Head to the St. Regis Mexico City on a weekend, when prices are significantly lower. It has top-notch service right on Reforma, the city’s main thoroughfare, and it’s especially great for families, thanks to the kids’ program (in-room glamping!), indoor pool, and child-care services. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to Mexico City, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Best Way to Make Lemons from Lemonade
Hacienda San Angel, a cluster of exquisitely restored villas in the hills above the historic center of Puerto Vallarta. After the triple hit of the economic crisis, swine flu, and the narco-media blitz, rooms are only a fraction of their 2008 prices. The San Jose, Vista de Santos, and Angel’s View Suites have even better views of downtown and the Pacific Ocean than do the more expensive Royal Suites. We can typically offer upgrades and special amenities, depending on season and occupancy. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to Puerto Vallarta, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Best for Privacy Seekers
Hotel Esencia is one of the finest boutique hotels on the coast, with relatively uncrowded beaches, as it’s bordered by private homes to the south. Watch for third-night-free promotions, which give you a 33 percent discount over advertised rates. The super-personalized service makes you feel like royalty; you are, after all, staying in the former home of an Italian duchess. — Zachary Rabinor, Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guide to the Riviera Maya, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

British Columbia, Canada

Best Pool for Kids
Fairmont Chateau Whistler is an outstanding hotel with genuine hospitality and a ski-in, ski-out location at the base of British Columbia’s Blackcomb Mountain. It’s also my favorite place in Whistler to send families—the façade looks like a French castle, but it’s as-homey-as-can-be inside. My kids love swimming between the indoor and outdoor sections of the pool and sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows in one of the three outdoor hot tubs, while my wife and I appreciate the inexpensive meals we can pick up at Portobello Market, a kind of high-quality cafeteria. All of our travelers enjoy complimentary breakfast and room upgrades at the hotel.

Best Wilderness Sightings
As wilderness lodges go, it’s hard to beat the value for dollar you get at Sonora Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands. Unlike other similar properties, Sonora doesn’t require a minimum stay, and its rates include the room, meals, and beverages, but you pay extra for the activities you want. And there are plenty to choose from: wildlife programs (where you can see whales, grizzlies, seals, sea lions, eagles, or dolphins), sea kayaking, fishing, snorkeling with salmon as Wendy and her family did last summer, or just hanging out at the fabulous spa. Our guests who book here get a complimentary two-hour wilderness excursion by zodiac. —Marc Telio, Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada

Read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and contact him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

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

Great Wall of Chin

How to Solve China’s Two Biggest Tourism Problems

Hi everyone, this is Billie, coming to you from Beijing. I’ll be traveling this week and next in China and sharing with you all the cool things I’m seeing, doing, and eating—and all the ways the right travel planner can make all the difference. Especially in a challenging destination like China.

That’s right, on this trip, I’m traveling with WildChina, run by Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China. Wendy keeps constant tabs on the travel planners she puts on her WOW List to ensure that they are delivering on “wow” experiences that live up to your (and her) standards, and Mei is doing some interesting work over here that we wanted to check out and share with you.

We were inspired to set up this trip, because we were hearing from readers and from travel planners that many people think China is a hard place to visit or not worth it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Beijing skyline from Rosewood Hotel

The Beijing skyline on a late-March morning, from my room at the Rosewood Hotel—and there’s no smog! Photo: Billie Cohen

Everyone talks about Beijing’s smog like it’s the monster in a horror movie. But the trick to avoiding it is simply to know when to visit. Mei knows: early spring (right about now) when the weather is mild and beautiful (high 60s, low 70s) and the seasonal winds keep the air quality nearly as low as in other international cities.

Forbidden Palace China

The skies were blue and the smog nonexistent on the breezy spring morning I visited the Forbidden City. Photo: Billie Cohen

As for crowds, I haven’t been part of one yet. That’s because Mei’s guides have insider knowledge and special access. The first means they know things like what time of day to hit the Great Wall so that you’re not swallowed up by tourist hordes; the second means they can whisk you past queues and ticket takers so fast you’ll feel like a VIP. And of course you are.

Forbidden City Chin

My guide Chris found us a completely tourist-free nook in one of the Forbidden City’s gardens. The peace and quiet was wonderful. Photo: Billie Cohen

To remind travelers that there’s more to China than traffic-clogged Beijing or crowded Shanghai, Mei likes to take them way off the beaten path. So in addition to urban touring, she encourages travelers to explore rural areas, like Yunnan Province, where I’m headed in a few days. Mei grew up in that region, and therefore has deep local connections—connections that her travelers get the benefit of.

That’s what I know to start, and that’s what I’ll be checking out on this trip. Follow me for the next two weeks as I share my experiences (on instagram too a @billietravels). Leave any questions below and I’ll try to get them answered.

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

Uzbekistan new years performance

Uzbekistan Is the Family Vacation Idea You’ve Been Missing

We’re guessing that Uzbekistan isn’t on many families’ travel radar. It wasn’t on ours—until Trusted Travel Expert Zulya Rajabova gave us five reasons why it should be:

It’s the land of famous explorers and conquerors. Have your children been learning about Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, or Marco Polo? A trading crossroads for millennia, Uzbekistan is rife with history just ready to be brought to life: You can try on costumes from the time of Tamerlane, or ride camels into the desert as the explorers would have done, learning how to make fire and sleeping in a yurt.

You can make art with local craftsmen. Participate with your kids in a hands-on tutorial in ceramics, carpet weaving, calligraphy, embroidery, or woodcarving. And since an entire Uzbekistani family usually practices the same craft, the artisan’s kids will likely work alongside you (if the tutorial is arranged outside of school hours).

You can have a kid as your local guide. Zulya runs a Young Ambassadors program, through which she trains Uzbekistanis from 7 to 17 years old to guide travelers (always with a professional adult guide accompanying as well). In addition to showing you around the city of Bukhara, the local kids will take your family to their school, share a game of soccer, maybe even invite you into their home for plov, a savory, slow-cooked medley of rice, lamb, and vegetable—and the national dish of Uzbekistan—and some sweet halva, a sesame-based dessert.

Your child will gain a greater appreciation of family. Family is strong in the Stans. In Uzbekistan, families are big, and several generations often live with or near each other. American kids experience this beautiful bond, Zulya has found, and come away with a deeper respect for their own parents and grandparents.

The shopping is off the hook. Bukhara’s bazaars are some of the world’s largest and most diverse, and it’s not all produce and housewares. Ancient designs and fine craftsmanship have made Uzbekistan a hot destination for fashion designers, so the jewelry and textiles you bring home will put your teen right on trend. (Zulya can also introduce you to some of the country’s top designers.)

Zulya finds that kids aged nine and up get the most from a trip to Uzbekistan. That way, your whole family can stay in a nomadic yurt camp, ride camels to a picnic in the Kyzyl-Kum desert, and fully participate in Uzbekistani culture.


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

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Even in summertime, there is still snow at the highest elevations. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Inukshuk rock statue on Whistler Mountain was created for the 2010 Winter Olympics. An inukshuk is a collection of rocks that may have been used as a navigation reference point for the Inuit. Photo: Tim Baker.
The family takes the podium outside the Roundhouse Lodge atop Whistler Mountain. This is as close as we’ll ever come to winning an Olympic medal. Photo: Tim Baker.
Mountain bikers from around the world cruise down the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikes and bikers fill a gondola up the mountain. Bikers and hikers usually ride up in separate gondolas. Photo: Tim Baker.
Bikers and hikers are kept separate on the mountain too. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug tries his balance on a teeter-totter in Whistler’s bike-skills park. Photo: Tim Baker.
Doug powers over the bumps at a park along the Fitzsimmons Creek in Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
A lull in the action on our Green River rafting trip. Photo: Tim Baker
The view from the summit of our RZR adventure. Photo: Tim Baker.
Blink and you can miss the bobsleigh. If you plan to shoot photos of family and friends riding it, practice on preceding runs. Photo: Tim Baker.
Connecting Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, the Peak 2 Peak gondola set multiple construction records. Photo: Tim Baker
The 20-minute ride travels up to 1,427 feet above the ground. Photo: Tim Baker.
Two of the gondolas have glass-bottom floors. Photo: Tim Baker.
We saw many signs warning about bears, but the only wildlife we saw was this hoary marmot posing for photos at Blackcomb. Photo: Tim Baker.
Charlie speeds through the last corner of the Westcoaster Slide in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys battle each other in floating circular rafts in the Blackcomb Adventure Zone. Photo: Tim Baker.
Whistler Village has plenty to offer families in summer. Photo: Tim Baker.
Kids at play in Whistler’s Olympic Plaza. Photo: Tim Baker.
The boys are attracted by a hand-operated water pump and race leaves down the sluice. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Whistler farmers’ market takes place Sundays from June through October and on Wednesdays in July and August. There’s plenty of fresh local produce and homemade snacks to fill up on. Photo: Tim Baker.
The mini golf course in front of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, our home base for our trip. Photo: Tim Baker.
From the gondola, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
At our table in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Charlie picks the size of his cut of Dry Aged Prime Canadian Rib Eye. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tomato Gin Soup being prepared at our table. The soup was as great as the presentation. Photo: Tim Baker.
Chocolate fondue with fruit and cake for dessert in The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
One of our many “designer” hot chocolates in the Gold Lounge of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Photo: Tim Baker.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club is nestled into the mountains. Photo: Tim Baker
Even if you are not a golfer, the clubhouse at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s golf course is a nice place to enjoy a sunset cocktail or meal. Photo: Tim Baker.
At the Britannia Beach Mining Company, a mining drill is demonstrated inside a tunnel. Photo: Tim Baker.
Inside the ore-processing building of the Britannia Beach Mining Company. Photo: Tim Baker.
Shannon Falls Provincial Park is a perfect place to stop and stretch along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Photo: Tim Baker.
Tourists have been visiting the 450-foot Capilano Suspension Bridge near Vancouver since 1889. Photo: Tim Baker.
Besides the Bridge, Capilano has many more suspension bridges and displays that explain the flora, fauna, and history of the area. Photo: Tim Baker.


Note from Wendy: Note from Wendy: If you need a vacation spot that’s gorgeous, uncrowded, not too hot, and not too far, Canada is a destination you should be seriously considering for this summer. Last summer, my family…

Everyone knows Whistler’s reputation as a winter sports mecca. It hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics—and so far this season has had more than 32 feet of snow, with all 200 trails open. But did you know Whistler is an adventure-packed summer destination too? Wendy and the boys and I had a blast there last summer, and we strongly recommend it to other families. Here are ten reasons why:

1. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola

It’s not a thrill ride per se, but the Peak 2 Peak Gondola is a thrilling ride, to be sure—especially when there’s a light breeze. This gondola connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and holds world records for the longest (2.7 miles) and highest (1,427 feet) gondola, with the world’s longest unsupported span: 1.88 miles. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Two of the gondolas—the silver ones—have glass-bottomed floors; while that’s kind of cool, the view down wasn’t much better than the view out of the almost-all-glass gondolas. Be sure to watch the short video in the lodge atop Whistler Mountain on how the lift was constructed and its safety systems. You’ll want to ride this more than once to fully appreciate the engineering.

2. The Olympic Bobsled

The Olympic Bobsleigh at Whistler Sliding Centre has been adapted for summer use: Rubber tires have replaced the bobsled’s rails. You buckle your helmet and strap into the sled for a run that takes less than a minute. It’s sensory overload: You hold on tightly, blink, and it’s already over. One run is not enough. If you do a second run, you might have time to actually look out and enjoy it.

3. The Via Ferrata

We climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain, aided by steel rebar rungs drilled and epoxied into the mountain face. See I Can’t Believe We Did This: Mountain Climbing in Whistler. It was one of the most rewarding adventures we’ve ever had as a family. While often we’re just passengers in our adventures, this climb totally depended on you! We had a great feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit. Surprisingly, this 3- to 4-hour Via Ferrata climb is still under the radar. Even locals don’t know about it. You’ll work up an appetite, so I suggest the all-you-can-eat barbeque at the Roundhouse Lodge afterward as a tasty reward for your efforts.

4. The Sasquatch zip-line

If you need to add North America’s longest zip-line (1.6 miles) to your zip-line collection, the Sasquatch is for you. The first step is a true leap of faith, as you’ll be traveling about 60 miles per hour at up to 700 feet above the valley floor. It’s an adrenaline rush, but it’s not our family’s favorite. (This one’s our family’s favorite.) Next time, we’d like to try some of the other ziplines in and around Whistler. Here’s a video of the boys riding the Sasquatch.

Sasquatch from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

5. RZR driving

Of all our activities, Dads, this one is for you! You race off-road up and down fire breaks on a nearby mountain in a four-seat, four-wheel-drive dirt buggy. Maybe I liked this RZR adventure so much because whenever I drive the kids on roads of similar condition to our favorite hidden lake in California, I’m always pulling a fishing boat, trying to avoid the potholes, ruts, and washboards. In these speedy little RZR buggies, though, you just power over them! Just hit the gas and hold on for dear life. Then back way off the gas because you’ve scared yourself to death. This was freedom and fun! Granted, I had the steering wheel and the kids just sat there holding on to the grab bars, but they loved it too. Full props to our guide, who saw us languishing behind a much slower tandem ahead of us and called base for a new guide just for us. I had a hard time keeping up with the new guide, but it sure was fun trying. Check out this video of our ride:

Wendy RZR from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

6. Mountain biking

In summertime, instead of brightly outfitted skiers and boarders bombing down Whistler Mountain, you see brightly outfitted mountain bikers. Only trail dust subdues their colorful outfits and skid protectors. Speed is a must; control seems to be optional. We saw wipeouts but, fortunately, we viewed from a safe distance as we rode up and down the mountain on the chairlift. Lifts are designed to carry bikes up the mountain, and shops in town that sell and rent skis in winter cater to all sizes, abilities, and pocketbooks of mountain bikers. We saw groups of bikers from around the world posing for photos with their national flags.

Our resident biker, Doug (who was 11 at the time), wasn’t quite ready for the mountain, but Whistler Village has a free public bike-skills park that is perfect for beginners. We rented a mountain bike from one of the many shops (about $20 for a couple of hours) and rode over. Doug loved it and built up course confidence by handling all the obstacles (the teeter totter, the whoop-dee-doos) at his own speed. When we visit again, he’ll take advantage of one of the many classes available on the mountain.

7. Whitewater rafting

The Whistler area has a variety of whitewater rafting runs, ranging from beginner to advanced. We chose an easy one and had a few thrills and spills. Here’s a little sample:

Whistler Raft from Timothy Baker on Vimeo.

8. Golf

The boys and I played a few holes at the scenic Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II and nestled into the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, the 6,635-yard course is Audubon Certified. That means that the operators appreciate their stewardship of the land. They’ve reduced water and chemical usage and are managing habitat for the wildlife living on or near the course, including a “hotel” (wooden nest) for bats. You can drink water from the glacier-fed Blackcomb Creek that flows through the course. Even if you don’t play golf, you can enjoy the scenery by having a drink or meal at The Clubhouse. We ate there at sunset.

9. Blackcomb Adventure Zone

Our boys are getting older (they’re now 12 and 13) and now require a little more adrenaline than what was on offer at the family adventure zone in our hotel’s backyard. The pint-sized race cars, Westcoaster Luge, and Kiss The Sky Bungy Trampoline are perfect for the younger set. The Mario & Friends Mini Golf was challenging enough to be enjoyed by all ages. We played several times, early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

10. Our home away from home: The Fairmont Chateau Whistler

This is the grand dame of Whistler, and we loved it. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler rises from the valley the way Cinderella’s Castle rises from Disneyland. You can see it from many spots on the mountain, and it looks every bit the place you want to call your home. The staff was friendly and efficient, from the valet who opened our car door when we first arrived to the guy who brought umbrella drinks to us in the hot tub at 10:30 pm.

Our room was mountain-themed without being too heavy-handed or theme-parky.

The highlight of the hotel for the kids was breakfast in the Gold Lounge each morning, thanks to the amazing, artistic hot chocolates with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Each morning the boys’ hot chocolate was decorated differently, as if the staff was having a competition to decorate each mug better than the last. Dinner in The Grill Room was another highlight for the boys. I devoured the dry aged prime Canadian rib eye, carved to order at our table. If there is a must-have, we all loved the Tomato Gin Soup, flambéed tableside. Be ready with your camera.

If there was one time I wished we were there in winter, it was when we were soaking in the giant Jacuzzis on the pool deck looking onto Blackcomb Mountain. I could imagine myself there after a day of skiing, just soaking for hours under the stars. But it was a wonderful summertime antidote for our adventure-weary bones too—an antidote made even sweeter by the late-night cocktail service.

Getting there from Vancouver

We drove the 70 miles from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway at a leisurely pace. If I had any regret about the trip, it’s that the drive was too short and I just wanted to keep driving. The roads are easy and the scenery spectacular. We enjoyed trying to pronounce the Indian names for the towns and areas we passed, and we were always intrigued to find out what was around the next mountain.

En route to Whistler we stopped at Shannon Falls Provincial Park, right off the Highway, and the boys had a great time scrambling over rocks around the falls. On the way back we stopped at the Britannia Mine Museum; with a bright yellow 235-ton mine truck in front, it’s pretty hard to miss. The highlight for the kids was riding the train into the mine and seeing (and hearing) the drills and mucking machine being demonstrated. I was awed by the size, scale, and heavy-duty engineering of Mill 3. The fact that we learned so much about mining seemed almost incidental to the visit.

For the grand finale, as we neared Vancouver, we made one last stop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has been a tourist stop since 1889. The 450-foot-long bridge itself is way cool, but the rest of the park was a perfect place to let the kids loose again before heading back to the city.

Planning the Ultimate Itinerary

We got indispensable itinerary help from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, Marc Telio. If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

Disclosure: Tourism Whistler invited our family to Whistler and arranged for a complimentary stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, as well as a rental car. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Tourism Whistler’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read the signed agreement between Wendy and Tourism Whistler here.

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

The Holocaust Memorial in Budapest

The Ultimate Jewish Heritage Trip in Israel Includes a Stop in Europe

Starting this spring, U.S. travelers who are passing through Europe on their way to or from Israel can take advantage of special new Jewish-heritage itineraries. “It’s actually very convenient to combine a tour of Israel with a stopover or a few days in Europe or North Africa,” says Joe Yudin of Touring Israel, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Israel. “It’s a great way to break up a long flight while keeping the theme of the journey.”

Joe has teamed up with Europe specialists on The WOW List to create the customizable multi-country itineraries, which typically include visits to historic synagogues, Jewish museums and cemeteries, and restaurants specializing in traditional Jewish food. So far, these travel experts have created seven itineraries—six in Europe and one in Morocco—that tell a seamless story. “After all, the story of the Jewish people began in Israel 4,000 years ago,” says Joe, “and with the Roman conquest of Israel the Jewish nation was dispersed throughout the known world. These tours will focus on the connection of those events and be tailored to each traveler’s specific interests.

“Of course, travelers can also visit the usual iconic sites in those countries, just as a Jewish-heritage itinerary in Israel also includes visits to Christian and Muslim and secular sites.” The tours are hosted by guides specialized in Jewish culture and history and include opportunities to meet local Jewish community leaders. Highlights include:

* Morocco: In Casablanca, the Moroccan Jewish Museum, the only Jewish history museum in the Arab world.

* Spain: The Jewish Quarter of Cordoba and the Maimonedes Synagogue, built in 1315, as well as Jewish heritage sites in Barcelona, Seville, Toledo, and Gerona/Besalu.

* Portugal: The little towns of the Serra da Estrela and one of the oldest synagogues in Europe at Tomar.

* Budapest: The Holocaust Memorial in Budapest and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives in the Great Budapest Synagogue.

* Prague: The Spanish Synagogue, as well as the ancient Old-New Synagogue and Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, founded in 1478.

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna

The Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, Vienna. Photo courtesy Ouriel Morgensztern.

* Vienna: The Jewish Quarter of Leopoldstadt, the Jewish section of the Central Cemetery, and the Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse, where a permanent exhibition gives a comprehensive insight into Jewish life and the Jewish history of Vienna.

* Italy: The Jewish Ghetto in Rome and a medieval Tuscan hill town known as La Piccola Gerusalemme, or Little Jerusalem, for the Jewish community that coexisted with the majority Christian population in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, the Medici rulers confined the Jews to a ghetto, and travelers can visit the synagogue, bakery, mikvah, and other remnants of Jewish heritage.

Spotlight on Venice
A destination of particular interest this year is Venice, which established a Jewish ghetto on March 29, 1516. The city and the Jewish community of Venice are marking the quincentennial with Venice Ghetto 500, a yearlong program centered on three main events: an opening ceremony at the Fenice Opera House on March 29; the exhibition “Venice, the Jews and Europe” at the Doge’s Palace (June–November); and the refurbishment of the Jewish Museum and restoration of three historic synagogues, a $12 million project begun in 2014.

In connection with the quincentennial, Touring Israel has teamed up with Maria Gabriella Landers and Brian Dore to offer a three-day, privately guided tour that comprises both prominent landmarks and little-visited sites. The following itinerary can be customized to suit individual travelers’ interests and time constraints:

Day 1: You’ll take a private water taxi to the dock of Ca’Sagredo, one of Venice’s oldest and most esteemed five-star hotels near the major sights. Although on the Grand Canal and close to the Piazza San Marco and Rialto, the hotel is a bit apart from the tourist thoroughfare. Home to one of the Venetian Republic’s wealthiest and most powerful families, this 42-room property is housed in the palazzo that was their fifteenth-century residence. Paintings of important seventeenth-century Venetian painters adorn the common areas, and there is a restaurant on site with seating on the Grand Canal.

In the late afternoon an English-speaking Venetian will meet you in your hotel lobby to accompany you on a bacarata, stopping in at some choice spots for ombra and cicchetti (wine and Venetian appetizers) during the traditional cocktail hour. This is a great introduction to La Serenissima through a truly local custom, and you can learn about Venetian gastronomy as you become familiar with the lay of the land.

Day 2. A local expert guide will lead you through the Jewish Ghetto. The term ghetto originates from the Venetian word getto, meaning the pouring of metal. Today the word has a negative connotation, but in 1516, when an enclosed neighborhood for Jews was created in Venice, it referred to the foundry that the district replaced. The Venetian Republic segregated Jews to placate the Roman Catholic Church, which had already forced the expulsion of Jews from much of Western Europe. Nonetheless, in the span of a few decades the Venetian Jews were able to overcome obstacles and establish a tight network of trade that involved the states bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. You will visit the ghetto and learn the historical importance and contribution of the Jewish population during the Serenissima Republic, and you will see the famous hidden synagogues, which are among the oldest and most valued in Europe. Your specialized guide will accompany you privately into three stunning synagogues and explain the ghetto’s history, art, and curiosities. After the ghetto tour, you’ll explore the Cannaregio neighborhood, a very interesting but little visited section of Venice. Enjoy lunch here at one of the restaurants that feature classic Venetian kosher cuisine. After lunch you’ll explore the Jewish Cemetery on the Lido, where the tombs date from 1389. The cemetery endured a long and tumultuous history until it was abandoned in 1938.

Day 3: Your guide will get you past the lines for the Basilica in the iconic Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, where, you’ll get to see the 500th-anniversary exhibit, a multi-media celebration of Jewish art, culture, and civic society throughout the history of the lagoon.

Day 4: On your final morning, you’ll get to take a private water taxi from your hotel to your point of departure (airport, train station, port, or Piazzale Roma).

For more information or to customize your own itinerary, contact Joe Yudin of Touring Israel.

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

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India

Make Sure Your Private Guide Can Do These Six Things

The more time I spend with private local English-speaking guides—and I’ve used them in countries worldwide—the more I think it’s one of the hardest professions around: part psychologist, part historian, part logistician, part fixer, and all-around charming travel companion. That is why guides vary so vastly in quality; I’ve had a few I wanted to fire, and a few I wanted to invite to my wedding.

The cream of the crop, in my experience, come via top-notch destination specialists such as the ones on Wendy’s WOW List. Our Trusted Travel Experts spend countless hours every year in their destinations vetting new guides and educating old ones. They build loyal relationships with the best guides in a region, so that those guides will go the extra mile for their clients. That’s why I’m more comfortable spending my money on a guide vetted by a Trusted Travel Expert, as opposed to a guide I find online. Here are a few examples of what makes a guide booked by a TTE different:

They whisk you past the lines. They’ll pre-buy your admission tickets so that you don’t have to wait in lines at museums and other sights. I myself have been whisked past a long line at the Taj Mahal, my guide leading us with tickets already in hand.

They get you in. Different regions, cities, and even museums or monuments require different guiding licenses; only the best guides have the licenses to chaperone you everywhere you want to go. If you’re stuck with a guide who’s not licensed to show you a site, he’ll have to hand you off to someone else, and that locally licensed guide could be terrible. On a different visit to the Taj Mahal, I was handed off to someone who did nothing but recite historical dates and attempt to restrict my photo taking to only the corniest shots. (No, I do not need to pose while seeming to pluck the top off of the dome—thanks, though.)

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel

View of the Old City from the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Joe Yudin.

They answer every question. Guides clamor to work for the top firms, who can feed them a steady stream of clients—so those firms hire only the most knowledgeable guides. When reader Courtney Hartness reviewed a trip booked by Trusted Travel Expert Joe Yudin, she called her guide “a walking encyclopedia.” From Montana to Mendoza, from Saigon to the Serengeti, I’ve had the same experience with TTEs’ guides.

They connect you with local influencers and other interesting people. In fact, often the guide is a local influencer or expert in a particular subject matter. In their review of Italy Trusted Travel Expert Maria Gabriella Landers, readers Bob and Linda Infelise describe their guides as “a professor at the University of Edmonton’s campus in Italy, a television personality in Bologna, and a wonderful retired librarian in Venice.”

They hold the keys to the highest level of insider access. In many cases, a guide alone can’t open doors that are closed to the public. “It takes years to cultivate relationships with museum curators, theater directors, palace management, etc.,” says Greg Tepper, Trusted Travel Expert for Russia. No single guide in St. Petersburg or Moscow can get a traveler behind all or even most closed doors. But Greg can, and so his guides can when they’re working for him.

They take you to only the most worthwhile shops and restaurants—not those that give kickbacks. The best guides command the highest rates; lesser ones are forced to supplement their wages with kickbacks from cronies at touristy stores, eateries, even museums.

We’d love to know: What do you value most in a private guide?

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

Cheetah in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Great Deals on Kenyan Safaris Are Happening Now: Don’t Miss Out

If you’ve been even toying with the idea of taking a safari, now is the time to book it. KLM has just announced a flash sale of airfare to Nairobi, starting today through March 14, for trips taken through May 31. Fares out of several major US cities start as low as $723. Even better news: Those aren’t the only flight deals right now. Dan Saperstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for East Africa and South Africa Safaris, reports that British Airways and Swissair are also offering fares right now for less than $800 (he’s even seen a few for less than $700), and that some discounted fares are extending through July and August. “These are all excellent deals,” he says, “as this airfare is usually anywhere from $1,100–$1,500 per person for these airlines (KLM can be upwards of $2,400 at times).”

In addition to the airfare deals, there are two other big discounts that travelers can take advantage of if they head to Kenya in spring:

1. Accommodations: “Pricing for the camps and lodges is also less expensive these months of the year,” Dan explains. “Rates typically go up around June 15th in East Africa, so combined with the airfare, you can see significant savings traveling during these months.”

2. Visas and fees: In an effort to encourage more family travel, Kenya just changed its entry visa policy so that all children under the age of 16 get into the country for free, effective immediately (adults are still $50). In the same vein, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that from July of this year, all park fees will be reduced and that VAT charges will be removed. Dan says, “It may not appear to be a huge difference on a daily basis, but it certainly adds up to a huge savings over the course of one’s safari, especially when traveling with a family.”

As for the key question of whether spring is a worthwhile time to take a safari, Dan says “absolutely it is. Rains can occur this time of year, but the ever-changing global weather patterns make it a worthwhile time to visit, as the animals are there to be seen year-round; they certainly don’t go inside if it happens to rain!”

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

A picture-perfect sunset, as seen from the Negro River, , a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil

Things to Do in Brazil Beyond the Olympics

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are almost here, and in addition to providing the chance to see Usain Bolt win another pile of gold medals, the Games are also an opportunity to explore the best of Brazil. August is technically winter in the southern hemisphere, but Brazil’s weather is mild and dry—making it a great time to add some nature to your Rio city stay.

Here is a savvy selection of places to see and things to do beyond the Olympic events.

Rio de Janeiro

With the Olympic events in Rio spread out across four hubs, traffic in the city will be a nightmare—which is one reason to book your tickets through a Trusted Travel Expert from Wendy’s WOW List, as those tickets will get you access to the V.I.P. shuttle vans operating throughout the city in their own lane. “One hub, Deo Doro, is in serious suburbs,” says Martin Frankenberg, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Brazil. “Unless you’re a die-hard equestrian fan, think hard. It could take one and a half to two and a half hours to get there, depending on traffic.” Martin also mentions that Deo Doro is a dodgy area after dark and therefore isn’t a great place to go wandering around. That said, he emphasizes that Rio is a safer city than people think; still, it is a city. “You just have to be smart,” he says. “Don’t leave your camera sticking out, don’t wear jewelry…..Use common sense..”

As part of the Olympics, a lot of new stuff is being built in Rio, and not all of it is specifically for the Games. Martin recommends the stunning Museum of Tomorrow, designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, and the Museum of Image and Sound in Copacabana.

The Amazon

The Amazon starts its dry season in August, which means river levels are lower and beaches are exposed. “People are often shocked by the beauty of the white-sand beaches that form here,” says Martin, “making a trip here unique from the experiences one can have in Ecuador or Peru’s swaths of the same river system. In fact, I know of few other places in the world where you can have a different beach entirely to yourself each evening at sunset.” Don’t expect to see wildlife here, though. If you want that, try…

The Pantanal

August is an ideal time to check out the Pantanal, the biggest hot spot for wildlife in the Americas—jaguars, alligators, capybaras, and thousands of birds and fish. If you are looking for a safari-like experience, this is the place.


In contrast to Rio’s urban crush, Paraty is a scenic small coastal town set along the Costa Verde against a backdrop of mountains. It’s a charming beach escape with colonial buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, only a three-hour drive from Rio.


“Also within driving distance of Rio, this area has incredible lodges,” says Martin. “One of my favorites is the Reserva do Ibitipoca. It’s a farm estate with amazing waterfalls, horses, beautiful country scenery.” The property is on a preserve covering 4,000 hectares of natural wilderness and is part of an effort to not only protect the current environment but to make sure that all growth here is sustainable.


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

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia

These Four New Lodges Offer a Rare Glimpse of Northern Namibia

Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia
Sorris Sorris Lodge, Namibia. Photo: Tino De Njis/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia
Omatendeka safari lodge, Namibia. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge
Elephants at Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Namibia Exclusive
Namibia's Xaudum safari Lodge
Namibia's Xaudum Lodge. Photo: Greg Wright Architects/Namibia Exclusive
Namibia safair. Photo: Olwen Evans/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive
Sheya Shuushona safari camp, Namibia
Sheya Shuushona, Namibia. Photo: Piers L'Estrange/Namibia Exclusive


A newcomer to the safari scene is making some of Namibia’s wildest country accessible with the opening of four small luxury lodges in remote northern regions. The lodges, designed by architect Greg Scott and constructed of native materials, are surrounded by spectacular scenery—boulder-strewn desert, red sand dunes, soda lakes. Far from conventional tourist routes, they provide rare access to such treasures as a river valley that is home to the endangered black rhino and a national park populated by some 3,000 elephants.

Namibia Exclusive Safaris is the brainchild of Vitor Azevedo, a native Angolan who came to Namibia as a refugee at age 12. Its mission extends beyond wildlife conservation and includes helping pastoralists and small farmers live sustainably on their ancestral lands. The company has developed equitable partnerships with local constituents organized into conservancies, and its programs give visitors a unique glimpse into the lives of people such as the Damaras, pastoralists who speak a click language. The first lodge, Sorris Sorris, opened in August 2015.

Perched atop granite boulders in a rocky desert landscape, Sorris Sorris has only nine guest rooms (like all the lodges), an outdoor pool, and panoramic views of the Ugab River and Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s tallest peak and the site of hundreds of rock paintings. The river’s ecosystem provides habitat for the black rhino, the desert elephant, and the desert-adapted lion. In addition to nature drives, sightseeing here is done by hot-air balloon.

Omatendeka, at the headwaters of the Hoanib River, boasts a 360-degree view of plains and tabletop mountains. Natural springs attract lions, elephants, and the endangered black rhino, as well as zebra, oryx, springbok, giraffe, and eland. Activities include guided nature walks, game drives, and watching the animals at the waterhole outside your bungalow door.

Located inside Khaudum National Park, Xaudum is surrounded by Kalahari sand dunes covered in an acacia forest, habitat for an estimated 3,000 elephants, as well as antelope and the rare wild dog. The nine guest rooms are connected to public areas by raised wooden walkways.

Sheya Shuushona, on the edge of Etosha National Park, overlooks a vast saltpan that changes color with the season, from snow white to pink to turquoise. The pan becomes a lake in the rainy season, attracting flamingos, storks and cranes. The nine guest rooms can accommodate 18 guests at a time.

For more information or help planning a trip, contact Cherri Briggs of Explore, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts.


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

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

How to Get the Best Tickets to the Olympics

If you’ve been thinking about experiencing the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer, don’t wait any longer to plan your trip. The best hotels are nearly sold out. Luckily, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Brazil, Martin Frankenberg—a Brazil native based in São Paulo, with an office in Rio—just dropped us a line to share some good news and useful tips.

As we explained in our how-to-plan article last summer, Olympic tickets and hotel bookings are available only through Authorized Ticket Resellers (ATRs)—and even back then nearly all of the hotel rooms were already spoken for by the International Olympic Committee and its long list of VIPs, sponsors, and staff.

The news is that Martin can now officially sell tickets and book hotels for you—and he has access to the hotels you’d actually want to stay in. At the time of this writing, he can still get travelers into the Sofitel, the Caesar Park, and the new Grand Hyatt. A few other new-for-the-Olympics luxury hotels—including the Trump and the Emiliano—are expected to open soon, too, possibly bringing a few more room options.

As for events, Martin notes that you can still buy tickets to just about everything, even the most popular events like the opening ceremony. (The only two not available at this time are the men’s tennis final and the men’s basketball final.) Of course, certain events come with big buzz and matching prices. For example, while the initial round of gymnastics will cost you only $300–$400, the finals round for sprinter Usain Bolt is more like $3,000. The most expensive tickets go up to about $7,000.

Fortunately, prices for official tickets are regulated, and if you buy through Martin you’ll pay the set price plus a transparent handling fee and be assured that your tickets are legitimate. You’ll also be buying what’s known as VIP hospitality tickets. That means they come with a few perks:

  • the best available Category A seats
  • access to the event’s hospitality lounge for food and beverages
  • a pass to use the VIP mini vans in Rio’s Olympic driving lane—which means you won’t be stuck in traffic as you travel between events

We recommend reaching out to Martin via this Trip Request Form because then you’ll be identified as a Wendy Perrin traveler, which brings a few additional benefits. You’ll be set to have the best possible experience in Brazil.


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

Cinque Terre, Italy

The Truth About Cinque Terre’s Supposed Tourist Limits

Lots of news outlets have been reporting that Italy will soon start limiting the number of people allowed to visit Cinque Terre this summer. The crowded seaside villages have become so clogged with tourists over the past few years that this announcement—of a plan to require tickets and cap visitors at 1.5 million—sounded realistic.

But as so often happens, the reports got most of it wrong (as they did with the scare that Venice was banning all wheeled luggage). You will not need tickets to visit the Cinque Terre this summer. We checked in with our Trusted Travel Experts for Italy to get the real details.

Turns out that the ticket idea broached by the president of Parco delle Cinque Terre was just that—an idea. As his staff clarified for Andrea Grisdale, it’s true that the national park is concerned about the high numbers of tourists to their UNESCO World Heritage Site—since 2011, the number of visitors has shot up from about 400,000 to about 2.5 million in 2015.

But officials are only brainstorming and researching options at this point—they are not limiting the number of visitors in 2016. One proposed idea is an online ticketing system called the Cinque Terre card (which would give visitors unlimited train access and admission to the park’s trails); another proposal could be a simple increase in prices. Beyond that, other ideas have been floating around—basing ticket availability on weather and trail conditions; an app that would show live information about traffic and tourist congestion in each village—but nothing is concrete.

At this stage, it’s too early to tell what will definitely happen. And you can be sure that we will keep you updated with the facts from our well-connected experts

As Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers clarified, “There is nothing to this story other than it highlights something we’ve been saying to our clients for a long time: The Cinque Terre are overrun with tourists and may not be the authentic, fishing villages and peaceful hiking experience they have in mind.”

Of course, the Cinque Terre are not so popular by accident—they are beautiful, and remain on many people’s bucket lists despite the crowds. If these five towns along Italy’s Ligurian coast are on your travel list, here are some tips for making the most of your visit:

See the towns by boat.

“The five Terre towns are really tiny, so any land-based visit or hiking will be crowded, and the public ferries and local trains that go from town to town are also crowded,” notes Maria. “It is lovely to get out on the water to see the coast from that perspective—the view from the water is really what people see in dramatic photos of the area anyway.” Maria and Brian can set up a private boat excursion for you on a speedboat or sailboat; you can read more about it here.

Plan far ahead.

Andrea recommends you reserve accommodation as much in advance as possible, as the availability in the hotels is quickly booked up.

Visit during shoulder seasons.

“Consider the months of April and October ,as there are fewer tourists and a beautiful time of the year for weather and scenery,” says Andrea. “May, June, July August and September are always busy months for this area.”

Put in the leg work and you’ll be rewarded.

In a great blog post on the Cinque Terre, Maria and Brian point out that “Corniglia, the center village, is one of the least visited, as its clifftop position requires climbing 400 stairs, but because of this also has some of the most stunning views and hikes on the coast.”

Eat local

With all that walking, you’ll need sustenance. Don’t miss the local specialties: Liguria is the birthplace of pesto Genovese and is also known for focaccia bread, seafood, and Sciacchetrà, a wine produced in the hills of Cinque Terre.

Explore beyond Cinque Terre

Pro tip from Maria: Explore the area beyond the five towns. “I often suggest that visitors to the area stay in Santa Margherita Ligure or Portofino, which are also popular, but larger and a bit more expansive so you don’t feel the constant crush of your fellow travelers. The Cinque Terre is only a few minutes away, and you can visit the five towns in one day. You can also hike in the hills above Portofino. Other small coastal towns that are not strictly part of the 5 Terre but are nearby include Comogli, Moneglia and Porto Venere.”

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

Shakespeare400: One More Reason You Should Be in the U.K. This Spring

When William Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 52, his body was lowered into the grave without a lot of fanfare. By then he had retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and his London public, wowed by Richard Burbage’s portrayal of Hamlet, paid little attention to the playwright’s passing—an oversight that puzzles Shakespeare scholars to this day. This year marks the quatercentenary of the great man’s death, and his countrymen are honoring him with a fitting yearlong celebration. The Shakespeare400 festival involves a consortium of leading arts and cultural organizations coordinated by King’s College London, and it will take place all over England, with events concentrated in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. To suss out what’s happening, you need to do some research (always the case with Shakespeare).

Our handy Shakespeare 2016 toolkit, below, will guide you to the treasure (be prepared to make some hard choices!) and help you plan your trip.

What to Do and Where to Find It


This events calendar lists dozens upon dozens of Shakespeare-related performances in London and other parts of England. They range from Forced Entertainment’s “Table Top Shakespeare” (the complete works performed by six actors and a cast of household objects—Pericles is a light bulb, Hamlet a bottle of ink; March 1–6) to the London Philharmonic’s “Shakespeare400 Anniversary Gala Concert” with readings by Simon Callow (April 15).


Shakespeare’s Globe, a major participant in Shakespeare400, has mounted an ambitious yearlong program of special events called 1616: A Momentous Year. The theater is marking the playwright’s birthday weekend with the return of its around-the-world Hamlet, now entering the final weeks of a two-year, 180,000-mile, 196-country tour, and The Complete Walk, a 2.5-mile outdoor pop-up cinema along the Thames. The 37 screens, one for each play, will show scenes from Hamlet filmed in Denmark, Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, Romeo and Juliet in Verona, and so on (April 23–24).

Royal Shakespeare Company

The website of the Royal Shakespeare Company describes a dazzling yearlong program of performances, lectures, and behind-the-scenes tours of its Stratford-upon-Avon complex. Start by viewing the season trailer.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This nonprofit org cares for the five homes and gardens directly linked to Shakespeare and his family. Its website lists upcoming events, gives online access to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare-related material accessible to the public, and hosts a video tour of the five homes. Birthday events in Stratford-upon-Avon include a jazz procession staged by the New Orleans Shakespeare festival and a hip-hop performance of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets by New York rap artist Devon Glover (April 24).

Shakespeare’s England

What to see and do in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Kenilworth, Royal Leamington Spa, and the surrounding areas.


Where to Stay

For hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon, Jonathan Epstein, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for England, recommends The Arden, which is right across the street from the RSC; for a more countryside experience, he recommends staying in the Northern Cotswolds at a property such as Buckland Manor, Dormy House, or Cotswold House. In London, where Jonathan has special relationships with an array of four- and five-star hotels, he particularly recommends the historic Carriage Rooms at The Stafford for Shakespeare fans. Breakfast at many hotels is included when you book through Jonathan, as well as complimentary cream tea at The Arden, a guaranteed upgrade at Dormy House, and other perks.

If you’d prefer to spread out in an apartment, consider family-friendly South Kensington, especially if you’re traveling with children. The neighborhood is close to Kensington Gardens, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum. Kensington is also well connected on the Tube and buses so that you can easily reach all the Shakespeare400 spots quickly and easily. (Go to Ask Wendy for a recommendation for a London apartment specialist.)


For Special Access

Jane McCrum, another of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for England, can arrange a complete itinerary that includes unadvertised V.I.P. activities such as visits to private libraries to view original folios of Shakespeare’s works.


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

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Having a baby changes everyone. One of the biggest adjustments for me was putting away my passport. I went from visiting three continents in my first six months of pregnancy to managing nothing more exotic than Cabo San Lucas during the first four years of my son’s life—and all-inclusives certainly weren’t going to scratch my travel itch. That’s when I called Andrea Ross and April Cole, two of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia. Andrea had raised her kids in Cambodia and traveled with them all over the region. I asked her: Could I have the sort of enriching trip that I longed for—but one that my four-year-old son would also enjoy, not just suffer through? Not only did she assure me that it was possible, Andrea told me she’d plan it, crafting a two-week itinerary that got us to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, in Cambodia, plus Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Saigon in Vietnam.

Let me be honest: The trip wasn’t all smiles and cooperation, like the Facebook feeds of those friends you envy (appearances can often be deceiving). We probably averaged two tantrums a day, which is definitely higher than the at-home norm for our reasonably mellow kid. But am I happy we went? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Of course—now that I’ve had a few months to recuperate. Here’s my advice for those wanting to travel adventurously with small kids in tow:

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon. Photo: Khoa Nguyen

  • Book with a Trusted Travel Expert. I’ve done plenty of independent travel. But leaving the planning to Andrea this time meant that I could focus on my family rather than rustling up that night’s hotel confirmation or figuring out how to get from A to B. And having done it all with kids herself, Andrea could anticipate our needs, choosing hotels with truly useful perks (free laundry at Siem Reap’s Unique Boutique), kid-friendly guides, and cultural experiences that we never could have booked on our own, such as meeting a Vietnamese family who played their collection of traditional instruments for us—and then invited our son, Zeke, to bang away on them to his heart’s content.
Halong Bay vietnam with kids

By building anticipation about our Halong Bay boat trip before we left home, Zeke was thrilled to hop on board when the time came. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Build anticipation. Andrea advised us to look at maps with Zeke, borrow books about Southeast Asia from the library, and discuss the itinerary with him. This also helped prep Zeke for the most unfamiliar moments of the trip: While he was initially reluctant to sleep on a boat in Halong Bay, I talked him into it by showing him photos of our junk online, and explaining that he’d be the only kid in his class to have spent a night on a boat. By the time we got there, he was thrilled to hop aboard.
  • Don’t look to your bucket list for inspiration. Since you probably won’t get to every place worth visiting (see Rule of Four, below), this isn’t the time to fulfill that lifelong dream of seeing Machu Picchu or experiencing the Australian Outback. It is, in fact, a great time to revisit a place that you already love. I’d been to Siem Reap eight years earlier—even stayed at the same hotel—and so everything felt familiar. This made it easier for me to get around with a kid, and to accept that I’d be spending my afternoons at the pool rather than poking around town.
  • Follow the Rule of Four (or more). At least four nights in each location, that is. Andrea set a quick pace so that we could see all the major highlights of Vietnam; the downside was that we had to spend only one or two nights in several locations in order to squeeze it all in. If I had it to do over again, I’d stick to just two or three destinations and stay in each longer. After our fourth night in Siem Reap, Zeke was finally getting comfortable with our surroundings and the hotel staff—just in time for us to move on.
  • Help your child create a “Things that Are Different” or “New Things I Tried” book. This brilliant advice came from Andrea, who devised it as a way to turn potential negatives into positives, and to engage kids in really seeing what’s around them. Before we left, Zeke helped pick out a blank Moleskine notebook; during the trip, he drew tuk-tuks and trees on its pages, and dictated stories about houses on stilts and shops without doors. I left pages blank so that I could add photos from each day, and I plan to use the same notebook on our next trip—thus creating a journal of Zeke’s early travels.
  • Don’t focus on the flights. Long-haul flights are to family travel what diapers are to early parenthood—the thing that feels like it’s going to be a huge deal, but really isn’t. Stay tuned for an upcoming article with my tips on making the best of a long flight with a young kid; in the meantime, rest assured that however distant your destination, the flying time is a small fraction of your overall trip (I say this even after spending almost 38 hours in the air over the course of our two-week trip).
Presidential Palace in Hanoi Vietnam with kids

Zeke plays outside the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. Toys can be helpful for when your kid just doesn’t want to walk through another museum. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Don’t skimp on toys. Andrea cautioned me not to pack light with a kid in tow. How I wish I’d taken her advice and brought more to keep Zeke occupied during our downtime. Next trip, I’ll pack a new small toy for each day, which I can bring out for that moment when Zeke doesn’t want to walk through another museum, or when I simply need a rest. Balloons are also great: They’re small and light for packing, and a quick distraction when blown up.
local artist and kid sketching in Mekong Delta

The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Prioritize doing, not seeing. Interaction is key to a kid’s enjoyment of the trip. Anything we did that allowed Zeke to participate was a hit. The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Andrea warned me that the experiences she had planned for us there were a bit more touristy than the biking or walking tours she arranges for adults—but taking part in all the local industries was right up Zeke’s alley. Another highlight for him was the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, where he got to finger spider-web-fine threads of silk and take a crack at carving soapstone. When Zeke got bored wandering around yet another ancient temple, simply handing him our camera to take photos bought us another half-hour of happiness.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, Siem Reap Cambodia

To break up temple visits, we stopped at the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre in Siem Reap. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Plan at least one thing each day for the kids. Use that activity as a motivator to get through the rest. When Andrea wanted us to see several smaller, less crowded temples outside the Angkor Wat complex, she sweetened the day for Zeke by adding a stop at the fabulous Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre.
  • Schedule downtime. Even kids who don’t nap at home will need to rest each afternoon, given the added stimulation of a foreign country. On the days that we failed to make this happen, we paid the price with an extra-cranky kid. Andrea also wisely planned two days at the Hoi An Beach Resort in the middle of our trip, which were essential for all of us to recharge. A bag of sand toys bought from a roadside stand for Zeke, umbrella drinks for my husband and me, and we were once again a happy family.
  • Gather playground intel. In cities, where your hotel room is bound to be small, you’ll need somewhere to burn off energy. Public spaces dedicated to kids are largely a luxury of the developed world; in Hanoi, when Zeke voiced his displeasure with the city tour we had planned, our guide brought us to Tini World, a play area inside a high-rise mall. Sure, we missed Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Fine Arts Museum, but we still got to chat about contemporary Vietnamese culture with our guide while Zeke played in the ball pit and painted a ceramic crocodile.
  • Employ a private driver. The money you’ll spend is well worth it. We could have hired a tuk-tuk to drive us around steamy Angkor Wat—but taking breaks inside our air-conditioned van, with cold towels and icy drinks at the ready, kept Zeke’s energy from flagging and meant that we were able to do more touring. It also allowed us to leave a bag in the vehicle with spare clothes, water, toys, and other in-a-pinch supplies, carrying in my backpack only the essentials (which for us included sunscreen, tissues, and tangerine-scented hand sanitizer—which Zeke would sniff as we strolled through pungent Asian markets).
  • Don’t push unfamiliar food. So much about being in a foreign country is overwhelming to kids; let them find some comfort in their meals. English menus with a “western food” section? It’s the last thing I’d want in a restaurant when traveling alone, but my first priority with a kid. Be proactive about keeping blood sugar high—if ever there was a time for unlimited quantities of whatever you limit at home (in our case, bread and ice cream), this is it.
  • Manage your expectations. I went into the trip imagining that Zeke would emerge from his bubble of relative plenty and discover how much less most other kids make do with; instead, Zeke focused on his own deprivations. Let me tell you, it’s humbling to have your kid whine for sparkling water and insist on being carried when you’re surrounded by children whose parents have sent them onto the streets to sell postcards and trinkets for a living.
  • Bend your parenting rules. Travel with young kids is hard. Cut yourself some slack, whether this means offering unlimited screen time or resorting to bribery. (Zeke often ended up on our shoulders midway through a temple visit. With the promise of a single packet of M&Ms, I got him to walk on his own through all of Banteay Srey.) Don’t worry about setting a bad precedent; children understand that things will go back to normal once you’re home.
  • Splurge at the end. Through most of our trip, my husband, son, and I were fine with sharing a single room. Early on, it would have been a waste to have a suite, as jet lag was waking Zeke up at night. But by the end of the trip, my husband and I were starved enough for adult time that we tried to sneak out after putting Zeke to bed (a Skype call from laptop to smartphone serving as our baby monitor)—only to find that our hotel’s bar had been taken over by a cruise-ship group for a loud performance. As we gulped down our drinks on our room’s cramped balcony, I vowed to end our next trip in a suite.
At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone

At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Keep your eyes on the prize. If your main goal is to relax, this isn’t the right kind of trip for your family. But if you want to foster a love of travel in your kids, and a curiosity about the world and all its differences, it’s best to start young. I had to remind myself many times that the goal of our project was to expose Zeke to new things—which doesn’t have to be enjoyable to be worth it. Zeke still talks about our “big trip,” even mentions Cambodia and Vietnam by name. They’re now his touchstone for a part of the world where things are different. And that, to me, is worth everything.

What lessons learned have you learned from traveling to exotic places with young kids? Share your own tips below.


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

Disclosure: April and Andrea and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on their part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement here

How One Travel Company Creates Meaningful Travel

Years ago, at the end of a trek through the Himalayas, an American traveler asked her Nepali guide, If you could do anything for your village, what would you do? It’s a question that regularly comes up on cultural tours, especially in a place like Nepal, where families often struggle to put food on the table but readily open their doors and hearts to passing strangers. Naturally, we wish to return their generosity and reflect their good will, but how?

The American trekker, in this case, was Antonia Neubauer, our Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan. Her guide responded that he would build a library for his village. Antonia, a former language teacher and education researcher, knew about libraries and about the impact they can have on entire communities—men and women, adults and children. And as the founder of a travel company specializing in Asia, she had the drive and the resources to create one in a Nepali village.

That parting conversation was the beginning of READ Global, an international organization that today serves 2.5 million people in three countries—Nepal, Bhutan, and India—and has garnered a string of prestigious awards. The latest: The 2015 Legacy in Travel Philanthropy award, sponsored by American Express, which recognizes sustained impact for more than 15 years. The award, announced in December, went jointly to Lindblad Expeditions and Myths and Mountains, the travel company Antonia founded in 1987. From the beginning, part of the mission of Myths and Mountains has been to give back to the communities that bring its customers so much joy (you can watch Toni talk about it in this video).

In October 2016, Antonia will be taking a group to Nepal to visit several of the READ libraries, which function not just as book lenders but as community centers, bringing information—how to grow better crops, how to raise healthier children—to rural villages. (The initials stand for Rural Education and Development.) On that trip, travelers will:

  • Have dinner in Kathmandu with the READ board, which includes key members of Nepali society, to get a unique perspective on life in the country;
  • Have breakfast with the Jomson Mother’s Group, a women’s organization that has established a library, a children’s center, a microcredit program, and a water-treatment plant;
  • Learn about the efforts of Tukche villagers to rebuild following the 2015 earthquake, and visit the furniture factory that sustains their library;
  • Meet the remarkable Tharu people who reached out to other communities after the quake, saving many lives.

When your travel specialist engages in the type of philanthropy exemplified by READ Global, you cannot help but share in the benefits. Over and over, travelers tell us their most memorable moments have little to do with snowcapped mountains and everything to do with the people they meet. As “Antonia’s friend,” you are welcomed with open arms, and that’s just the beginning. Throughout your trip, you have unparalleled access to people and places, and extraordinary experiences as a result. Finally, the question of how to thank your hosts becomes a no-brainer when there’s an award-winning organization to accept your check—all because of a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the part of your Trusted Travel Expert. It’s a travel experience in which everybody wins.


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

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze—and Wendy in one of its zodiacs

How I Monitor the Travel Agents I Recommend

Throughout my career as a travel journalist and consumer advocate, I’ve been known for upholding the highest standard of honesty and transparency. Now that I have my own website, I want you to know how I work, how my Trusted Travel Experts work, and the steps I’m taking to ensure that all the recommendations you read here are the best possible. That’s why I’m hosting the first Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit next week in New York City.

At this two-day conference, I’ll be getting together with the Trusted Travel Experts from my WOW List to share information on what today’s sophisticated travelers want and how to give it to them. This summit is one of the ways I ensure that every TTE on my WOW List is living up to your standards.

Maybe you’ve seen The WOW List and wondered how I came up with it. Maybe you assume it’s just like any other “best of” list. Or that I am some kind of travel agent recommending my friends. Or maybe you figured that any travel agent could pay their way onto that list.

If you thought any of those things, you’re dead wrong.

My WOW List is unique and independent. I’m not a travel agent—I’m a journalist—and no one can pay to be included. The trip planners who make the cut each year have gone through rigorous testing—often by me, and always by hundreds of travelers who have sent me their feedback. (You can read reviews of every TTE on the website, and if you’ve traveled with one yourself, I encourage you to share your own review.) I have known—and monitored—most of the TTEs on my list for more than a decade: I know the kinds of trips they plan, their level of taste, what they do best, and their occasional foibles. I know everything about them from their business models to the names of their dogs. I also know that they appreciate what it means to have the Wendy Perrin stamp of approval, and they understand the expectations and trust they need to live up to in order to keep it.

The WP Global Travel Summit is integral to safeguarding that trust. So on January 11 and 12 I’ll gather with my select group of expert travel planners and we will swap ideas, innovations, and best practices about how we can improve your travel experiences in 2016. My team and I will come away with insider destination tips, travel solutions, and trip-planning ideas that we’ll be sharing directly with you. What’s more, the conference is being held at the Dream Downtown hotel in New York City, right across from the beautiful High Line park and historic Chelsea Market, so we’ll be posting insider tips about NYC and one of its coolest hotels too. Stay tuned here at WendyPerrin.com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear more about what we learn at the WP Global Travel Summit. We can’t wait to find new ways to make your next trips extraordinary!

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

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


If you’re flying through Barcelona-El Prat airport (BCN) and have a layover, you’ll probably be tempted to try to duck into the city and look around. The good news is that as long as you have at least seven hours, you can do it. We talked to Paul Bennett of Context Travel—our Trusted Travel Expert for short, cultural experiences in cities worldwide—for tips on how make the most of your Barcelona airport layover:

How to get out of the airport:

Taxis: Taxis are plentiful at the airport. A taxi to central Barcelona should run about 25 to 35 euros. The journey should take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day..

Train: There is train service from the airport to the station Barcelona-Passeig de Gràcia in central Barcelona. The train line is the R2 Norte Aeropuerto – Sant Celoni / Maçanet Massanes. This train runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes. You can purchase your ticket at the airport station before boarding. Finding your way to the train from the airport is easy—it’s clearly marked. The station Barcelona-Passeig de Gracia is in the heart of the Eixample district, where many of Gaudi’s works are located.

Bus: Try the Aerobus. There are two options—one leaving from Terminal 1 and the other from Terminal 2. The buses come frequently, every 5 to 10 minutes. They are affordable (about 10.80 euros per round-trip ticket), comfortable, and fast (35 minutes). You purchase your ticket from the driver while boarding or sometimes there is a person selling tickets at a kiosk by the bus (they are legit). The bus makes a few stops at various spots in the city—its terminus is Plaza Catalonia, which is ideally located just between the Gothic Quarter and Eixample district and is served by several metro lines. Its website is very easy to navigate. Don’t be alarmed if your bus is full when you arrive and you can’t get on, just remember that another one will come very shortly. It’s also very easy to find the Aerobus at the airport—it should be very well marked.

Note: The aerobus is generally easier to navigate than the train, as it’s designed for tourists. But if your time is very limited, or you have a very specific destination in mind, a taxi might be worth the extra cost.

What to do with your luggage: There is a left-luggage office in Terminal 1, on the first floor (Spanish floor 0) and it’s possible to leave luggage there for up to 30 days (fee per 24-hour period). If you’re arriving into Terminal 2, Terminal 1 is a short walk away. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs 24 hours a day. The charge for all or part of each 24-hour period depends on the size of your luggage: large locker (50x80x90 cm), €5.80; medium locker (35x80x60 cm), €5.10; small locker (35x80x45 cm), €4.50.

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: mertxe iturrioz/Flickr

If you have a 7-hour layover:

 Allot four hours for travel to and from the city in order to be back in time (two hours in advance) for an international flight. That will give you a nice three hours in the city, which is enough to get a feel for Barcelona’s medieval Gothic Quarter and its more gritty sister, the El Raval neighborhood.

Start with a quick look at La Rambla, the city’s ancient thoroughfare, which was once a stream located outside the city walls. (In fact, a “La Rambla” street exists in many cities and was derived from the Arabic word ramlah, meaning riverbed). If you’re hungry, head to the Boqueria to see the sites and smell the smells. It’s a tourist haven, sure, but it is a historic market worth taking in, with many authentic vendors and locals doing their shopping. Pinotxo bar is one of the best stands for regional specialties; try the bacalao (dry salt cod), which is ubiquitous. After a bite, wander briefly through the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets, staying especially attuned to the neighborhood’s ancient Jewish Call (the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but there are still traces, however slight, of their existence in Barcelona). Then head over to El Raval, on the Boqueria side of La Rambla. It’s an area that was once grazing land for the walled city and has undergone great transformation over the centuries. The last century was hard on the area (it became the red-light district); however, in the 1990s the city poured money into developing the Raval, and it’s now a bohemian center. It’s home to the Richard Meier–designed Museum of Contemporary Art but still a haven for trendy artistic types (check out the street art).

For those interested in learning about the Raval’s history with an expert, you could skip the stroll through the Gothic Quarter and consider Context Travel’s three-hour history seminar of the neighborhood: Revealing the Raval.


If you have an 8-hour layover or longer:

Take a taxi to the top of Montjuïc hill for a spectacular view of the city and a bit of exploration. The area is home to a 17th-century fortress (the Montjuïc castle, Carretera de Montjuïc); two Olympic stadiums (1936 and 1992); the International Exposition (World’s Fair) of 1929; the Palau Nacional (built for the World’s Fair and intended to be a temporary structure, but now the Museum of Catalan Art; a museum dedicated to the work of Catalan artist Joan Miró; and quaint secret gardens along the hill’s side. Later, board the cable car (near the Funicular de Montjuïc’s Miramar station; walk about a half mile along Avinguda de Miramar in the direction of the sea (east), or take the #50 bus, for a thrilling ride down to the port, where you can stroll along the seaside promenade and stop for a relaxing drink or bite to eat in the sun. After this break, depending on how much time remains, explore the area of Barceloneta just next door. It’s a neighborhood created in the 18th century to provide housing for families who were displaced by the construction of the citadel in the Ribera neighborhood. Many of Barceloneta’s original 18th-century, two-story houses exist today, and its comparatively wide streets are a bright alternative to the dark and narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Stop in at the lively neighborhood tapas restaurant La Bombeta for some great snacks before taking a taxi back to the airport.

For those looking for more structured time, try Context Travel’s three-hour Montjuic, Conquering the Mountain walk or the three-hour Barcelona and the Sea tour.


If you don’t have time to leave the airport:

There are a number of VIP lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders and open to other ticket holders for a small fee (26 euros per adult/12.50 euros per child). These lounges usually have food and beverage service, television, Internet access (sometimes even computers for use), newspapers, and books. The Joan Miró VIP Lounge in Terminal 1 is open to travelers flying only to non-Schengen countries and even has showers and a leisure area with pool tables.

Terminal 1 also has several air rooms, air showers (30 minutes; includes towel, gel, and slippers), and an air wellness program (read: massage). These should all be pre-reserved on the website.

There are a few play areas for children spread out around both terminals. They can be found on the interactive airport map.

The airport offers 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi to every traveler. Beyond that, it must be purchased.


More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

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

Fireworks over London's Tower Bridge on New Year's Eve

The Rewards of Spending the Winter Holidays in London

London is magical during the holiday season. There’s a festive atmosphere everywhere you go, and the city is lively and vibrant with seasonal events, cultural goings-on and, of course, world-class shopping.

And, when you’ve got family in tow, there’s no better way to experience the holidays in London than by renting the right apartment. You can simultaneously feel at home and on vacation. You get more space for your dollar (remember that most London hotel rooms are tiny), a communal living area for family gatherings, and even a kitchen for preparing your own holiday feast.

To help you pull together a London winter getaway, here are ideas for things to do and where to stay, whether you’re bringing the whole family or just escaping for a romantic weekend alone.

What to Do

• Take a twirl around the Natural History Museum’s ice rink and then warm up with a hot cocoa. There are ice rinks across London, but this one is popular, as it’s only a short stroll from South Kensington.

• Check off a few people on your holiday shopping list with a visit to the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum gift shop. They have an excellent Christmas display for a bit of artistic gift-giving inspiration.

• Join the crowds for holiday shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. The hustle and bustle combined with the glittering Christmas lights makes this a classic London experience during the holidays. Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are also extremely festive for shopping leading up to Christmas.

• Don’t forget the department stores! Get into the holiday spirit by visiting the holiday displays at Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Liberty and Harrods.

• November through the end of December, take a stroll along the Thames at the Southbank Winter Market. Get a glass of mulled wine and explore the wooden chalets selling gifts, sweets, and festive food and drinks.

Where to Stay

South Kensington is a top choice during the winter holidays, thanks to central location, excellent transport options, and great sights and dining. Walk to the ice rink at the Natural History Museum and spend a day visiting the sights along Museum Row. Shopping and the West End are just a hop, skip and jump away on the Tube or a bus. It’s a wonderful area for feeling like a local and enjoying cozy evenings in a comfortable home setting.

To find the right travel specialist for London apartments, reach out to Ask Wendy.

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

San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy

The Rewards of an Italian Villa Vacation in Winter

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy
Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy
Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy
Outdoor whirlpool, San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy
La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad
Villa Sola Cabiati, Lake Como, Italy villa rental
Villa Sola Cabiati, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad


How does a holiday in an Italian villa sound? Like a dream, if you ask us. Sure, the holidays are lovely no matter where you spend them because it’s always wonderful to be with family…but wouldn’t they be just a bit more wonderful if you were sipping Italian wine from the scenic backyard of your own Tuscany estate? Yeah, you know it would. That’s why we checked in with Mara Solomon, our Trusted Travel Expert for Large Italian Villas (four bedrooms or more), to find the best, most beautiful properties for all your holiday getaways. Start planning your Italian villa vacation now…

Thanksgiving in Tuscany

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy

Le Ripe villa, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“One of our favorite houses is Le Ripe, outside the village of San Casciano dei Bagni, a little jewel box of a medieval village that’s a 1.6 km walk from the house. The view is of all the hills that go up to Monte Amiata—it’s breathtaking. It’s a main house for eight with an adjacent building that brings you up to 14. You have working fireplaces, and the cook, Antonietta, is amazing. The owner of the house has also developed a lovely spa, and November is a perfect time to visit (so are December and January) because you can sit in 104-degree water and look out over the gorgeous countryside. The other reasons to come here for Thanksgiving are that airfare is cheap and you are deep into the autumn festival. You have fresh porcini, zucca, chestnuts—it’s a huge food time here and there are many simple quaint festivals to celebrate the harvest.”

Christmas in Florence

Via Lambertesca apartment rental, Florence, Italy

Via Lambertesca apartment, Florence, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“I love Florence for Christmas. They put these long, white banners over the streets with illuminated stars and snowflakes, and it’s beautiful. They don’t do the whole commercial Christmas here—you get together with your family and you eat. And there’s no better place for it. Via Lambertesca is the apartment I would recommend in Florence. It’s between the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo—there is no better location. It has five double rooms and comfortably accommodates ten people. It’s modern and gorgeous, and we have a terrific cook who can prepare a whole holiday dinner.”

Christmas or New Year’s in Milan/Lake Como

Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy villa rental

Villa Maria Serena, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“Milan is fabulous right now—so alive, so interesting, and the people are beautiful. As for where to stay, this is a contrarian view, but I recommend Lake Como. I was at Lake Como a few years ago in December and it snowed, and it was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it. We have three houses that have beautiful working fireplaces, and that are so sumptuous that you just want to relax indoors and enjoy. Plus, it takes no time at all to get to Milan from here—they’ve really improved the highways so it’s only about an hour, and we would arrange the car so you don’t have to drive.”

Winter Break in Venice and then the Dolomites

San Lorenzo villa rental, Dolomites, Italy

San Lorenzo villa, Dolomites, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“For a February or March break, I am an enormous fan of doing a city culture trip to Venice and then going two hours to the Dolomites for skiing, where you can do the Sellaronda ski loop of connected lifts and trails.

We have a beautiful house called San Lorenzo. It’s small and intimate with four rooms and three and a half baths, and it can accommodate ten people. It’s up in the mountains overlooking Val Badia, Val Pusteria, and Val Aurina. It’s really a retreat: You have a stainless steel heated outdoor whirlpool, you have a full indoor spa with sauna, you have a huge wood-burning stove, and you have people who cook and look after you and who are gems.”

Easter/Spring Break in Maremma, Tuscany

La Civetta villa rental, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy

La Civetta villa, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. Photo: Home Base Abroad

“April is pretty much the best time for getting a hit of spring in Italy, when it’s still bad weather back home on the East Coast. My preference for April is the Maremma region. There’s a microclimate here, where spring comes early. It’s not pool weather but it’s warm, colorful spring days, and after a long winter, we’re all just starved for that. It doesn’t work if you’re from L.A., but as a New Englander I’m especially drawn here.

La Civetta is one of our properties in this area. It’s five minutes from a cool little village where you’ll find a Croatian tailor who will make you a beautiful jacket in a week, for men or women. It’s also near another thermal bath that’s very natural, rustic, and wonderful.

In addition to this little tailor, there are also food shops—and this is wine country. All the big heavy-hitting wines—they’re from here. You’re driving by the vineyards as you come to the house. So anybody with an interest in wine could easily fill an April here. And it’s nice because this is not when other people are there. You pay nothing for your plane ticket, it’s not crowded, and it’s much easier to see the vineyards.”

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


Tower of David, Jerusalem, Israel.

How to Stay Safe Traveling in Risky Countries

If you’re waiting for that perfect moment to travel to the Middle East, it’s probably never going to happen. It’s like waiting for that perfect moment to have a baby: You can always find some reason why now is not the optimal time.

At least once a week a reader emails me asking whether it’s safe to go to Israel, Egypt, Turkey, or [fill in country perceived as dicey] right now. I’ve noticed that the people asking have one thing in common: They’ve never been to the country in question.  And I think that very fact makes it harder for them to put the risks in perspective. If you’ve traveled in a supposedly precarious country before, you know first-hand how much less risky it is than all the media noise would indicate, you realize that the statistical probability that you will be the victim of a terrorist attack there is tiny, and you have no need to email me.

The news media never report the extent to which everyday life goes on as normal at a destination—because that’s not news. As I pointed out in Is It Safe to Travel To Turkey?, “Television and news coverage always make an incident in a foreign country seem more alarming than it actually is. If news sources were to report the extent to which life at the destination goes on as usual, with people going about their everyday routine unaffected, it wouldn’t sell ads, and the news sites wouldn’t get traffic.”

I’m writing this from Marrakech, by the way. It’s my fifth trip to Morocco. And in those five trips I’ve had so few safety concerns that it no longer even occurs to me that there might be risk involved in traveling to Marrakech.

So, in my opinion you should just go ahead and go. But be a smart traveler by doing three things:

(1) Book your trip through a Trusted Travel Expert.

Proven destination specialists like those on my WOW List have the latest security information at their fingertips, know which areas in a country are safe and which aren’t, employ the savviest guides and drivers, and know how to keep you from harm. Earl Starkey, Trusted Travel Expert for Turkey, has been keeping travelers safe there. And Joe Yudin, Trusted Travel Expert for Israel, is keeping travelers safe in Israel.

“I felt totally safe,” says Nadika Wignarajan, a WendyPerrin.com traveler from Bayonne, New Jersey, who just returned from a trip to Israel arranged by Joe. She and her parents were there for a week, including on November 4, when an Israeli Border Police officer was critically injured by a Palestinian driver who deliberately struck him near Hebron—the latest attack in a wave of increased violence since the start of October.

“Joe and his team have their ears to the ground and know what’s going on,” says Nadika. “I knew my guide wasn’t going to take us anywhere that wasn’t safe. There are parts of New Jersey that are more dangerous. We felt safer in Israel than in some areas of New York City where you don’t want to go at night.”

In fact, Nadika adds, there are advantages to being in Israel right now. “There are fewer tourists than usual. The religious sites are crowded, and there are cruise ships bringing in a lot of tourists, but other places were not crowded, and the hotels weren’t that busy; they were going out of their way to do stuff for us.”

“The biggest misconception travelers have,” says Joe Yudin, the Israel-based travel specialist who booked Nadika’s trip, “is that there is constant violence everywhere. That just isn’t the case. The second biggest misconception is that there is tension in the air. Not true. Yesterday I spent the entire day in an Arab village in the Gallilee, and everyone was nice, pleasant, accommodating, warm, smiling. There have been a few bad incidents, and these unfortunately are played up in the news over and over and over. But the fact is that usually there is no violent crime on our streets. Yes, there have been a few wars and everyone here is a soldier and knows what to do in wartime, but this isn’t a war. This is a wave of violence that we usually do not have. It brings the level of violence here up to the regular level of violence you find in Western cities.”

(2) Give yourself peace of mind via MedjetAssist’s Horizon Membership.

Even intrepid seasoned travelers who are able to put risks in perspective—and who understand the difference between the probability of an incident occurring in a country and the probability of an incident occurring to them while they are in that country—can still wonder how to lessen their risks when traveling there. If an incident occurs and does impact your trip, what are the smart steps to take?

You might not know the answer, but you can turn to someone who does. MedjetAssist, the air medical transport membership program that gets you from a foreign hospital that you happen to find yourself stuck in to a hospital back home that you trust—something that most travel insurance policies won’t do for you—recently added a new membership level that reduces your risk when your security is threatened: Horizon Membership offers assistance should a crisis—a terrorist attack, a political threat, violent crime, or the like—strike. You get access to a 24/7 Crisis Response Center, a veteran security expert to advise you, and response services to come to the rescue if necessary.

Actually, MedjetAssist Vice-President and COO John Gobbels points out, if required, a crisis team can come in and remove you from a situation even if it’s not been a declared a major event or incident—even if it’s just because you’re feeling uncomfortable due to the current situation on the ground and want to get out of that place.  Some other companies’ emergency response services benefit kicks in only after a “qualifying security event” has taken place, says Gobbels—for instance, after the State Department has issued a Travel Warning, or after the event that was merely threatening has escalated into a dangerous situation.

(3) Take smart precautions.

If you’re headed to Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East:

1. Enroll in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so the Embassy can send you security updates and help you in an emergency.

2. Choose a hotel that has CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, so you can monitor the news in the mornings and evenings. Also make sure the hotel has reliable Internet access, so you can check local English-language news Web sites.

3. Avoid public gatherings and demonstrations.
Don’t get caught in an angry mob.

4. Avoid public transport.
Use a driver.

5. Stay away from border areas and avoid bad neighborhoods the same way you would in New York City or Chicago.
“Don’t wander alone in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, or Nablus,” says Joe Yudin, my Trusted Travel Expert for Israel.

6. Don’t photograph government buildings, military installations, airports, train stations, policemen, guards, or anyone who doesn’t want his/her photo taken.

7. Carry your hotel’s business card—the one written in the local language—so you can show it to non-English-speaking locals (such as a taxi driver) and get back to your hotel in an emergency.

8. Carry a cell phone programmed with emergency numbers (for the police, your hotel, and medical emergencies)

9. Carry a mini-flashlight (in case you’re caught in the dark).

10. Don’t focus on the wrong risks. Don’t get so caught up in avoiding risks that are highly unlikely—e.g., a terrorist attack—that you forget to focus on those risks that are much more likely to damage a trip—e.g., traffic accidents, pickpockets, food poisoning, sunburn.


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

Samburu woman from northern Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Four Amazing Places in Kenya You Should Know About

Kenya is best known for the Masai Mara and the millions of wildebeest that crisscross its vast plains during the Great Migration, but this diverse country has so much more to offer travelers who love nature and adventure. If you’re contemplating a trip, here are four other amazing destinations you might want to add to your itinerary.

The Northern Frontier

Northern Frontier, Kenya, Africa Photo by Susan Portnoy

Northern Frontier, Kenya, Africa. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The rugged, mountainous Northern Frontier (which I recently visited as the guest of the Kenya Ministry of Tourism and East African Affairs) encompasses the Samburu, Kalama Laikipia, Shaba, and Lewa regions. It has the visual drama of Namibia with its miles of volcanic rock, desert-like terrain and harsh, though stunning landscapes.

Here you’ll find lions, leopards, and elephants and the usual game you might expect, but there’s more, it’s home to the “Northern Special Five,” endemic species you won’t see anywhere else in Kenya such as the oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grévy’s zebra, Somali ostrich, and the adorable gerenuk, a Somali name meaning “the antelope with a giraffe neck.”

Thanks to fewer travelers in the north, you rarely (if ever) share sightings with other vehicles. Animals are a bit shyer than those used to the constant attention in the Mara, but for many this “wilder” north is a refreshing change from areas where game has become so accustomed to humans they’re almost indifferent.

Landscape and wildlife aren’t the only reasons to venture to the Northern Frontier. Dan Saperstein of Hippo Creek Safaris, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, sends many of his guests northward. And he explains that the cultural experiences are different there as well. “The Samburu, Borana, and even Laikipia Maasai, who are all quite distinct from the Maasai found in the south and in Tanzania, have different artwork and customs.” You can arrange for visits to local homes called Manyattas, and according to Saperstein, they’re often less commercial than in the Maasai villages in the south.

Related: East Africa Safaris: Insider’s Guide to Kenya and Tanzania

gerenuk animal in Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Only found in northern Kenya, the gerenuk is Somali for “giraffe-necked antelope. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

The best time to visit is during Kenya’s winter months, which fall between June and September. “It can be much hotter by the equator in summertime and we tend to avoid it specifically October through March, when it can be brutally hot.”

Lake Nakuru

The flamingos of Lake Nakuru, Kenya

The flamingos of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Photo: Gerry van der Walt

Imagine the glimmer of a shallow blue lake at sunrise dotted by thousands of fluffy pink flamingos. The algae that grows in the warm waters of the Rift Valley’s Lake Nakuru, is a delicacy for the pastel flocks and other species such as pelicans and cormorants.

The number of flamingos varies depending on the water’s depth and food supply, but Gerry Van der Walt, co-founder of Wild Eye, a company that leads photographic safaris in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, says that Nakuru is “a perfect add-on to a safari that includes the bigger parks such as Amboseli National Park, the Masai Mara or Samburu. The diversity—which includes the lake shore and iconic fever tree forests—makes for an amazing photography and wildlife setting.”

buffalo at Lake Nakura Kenya

A buffalo, one of the many other wildlife species found at Lake Nakuru. Photo: Gerry van der Walt

Van der Walt has seen large numbers of flamingos at the lake year round, but for the best viewing he recommends trips in April through June after they breed in Tanzania and migrate north to Kenya.

Amboseli National Park

elephants on plains of Amboseli, Kenya Photo by Susan Portnoy

Elephants traverse the plains of Amboseli. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

Elephant lovers, take note. Amboseli National Park near the Tanzania border draws huge herds of elephants that can number 80 members or more for your viewing pleasure. Underground springs, fed by the melting snow off Mount Kilimanjaro, attract elephants and many species of birds to the resulting swamps. They provide cool mud and life-giving water during the dry season, which runs between June and October.

Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris, another of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Africa, recommends Amboseli to clients who are interested in driving safaris through Kenya and Tanzania. “In addition to being able to view some of the largest elephant families in East Africa,” says, Friedman. “Amboseli is close to the Namanga border, making it a perfect two-day addition to an itinerary spanning both countries.”

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as seen from Amboseli, Kenya. Photo by Susan Portnoy

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as seen from Amboseli, Kenya. Photo: Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler.

While the elephants are the stars of the park, there’s plenty of other wildlife, and if you’re lucky, weather permitting, you may even get to see the Kili summit peeking through the clouds.

Related: Insider’s Safari Guide: The Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania 

Tsavo West

Shetani lava flow in Tsavo West, Kenya

Shetani lava flow in Tsavo West, Kenya. Photo: Finch Hattons Camp

Southeast of Amboseli is Tsavo West, another Friedman favorite. It first became famous in the late 1800s for the two, man-eating lions that killed a number of construction workers building the Kenya–Uganda railway. Today, without the threat to life and limb, travelers who love to immerse themselves in nature will find plenty to enjoy on game drives and guided walking safaris.

You’ll want to check out the Nile crocodiles and large pods of hippos that frequent Mzima Springs, a crystal clear stream that flows into three large pools connected by rapids. In the top pool, a glass viewing room provides visitors with a fascinating look at the water and its inhabitants below.

Tsavo West, Kenya

The view while driving through Tsavo West, Kenya. Photo: Custom Safaris

The Shetani (meaning devil) lava flow is an undulating black landscape that spans nearly five miles. It’s a marvel of spectacular jagged rocks and caves to explore along the road to Amboseli, and another must-see.

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


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

Istanbul's Bebek Neighborhood

Is It Safe to Travel to Turkey?

Is it safe to travel to Turkey? That is a question I’ve been asked dozens of times over the past two decades, usually as a result of a scary news story that makes someone second-guess a trip they’ve already planned.

Last week I was asked the same question again by a reader who has booked a Turkey trip through one of the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. Even though she’s excited about the trip, she is getting pressure from her family and adult children to rethink her plans.

I understand that her family may be concerned, given what they are hearing and seeing in the news, but if it were me, there’s no way I would cancel. Turkey has had bombings every year since I can remember, and never have any of these incidents impacted or dampened my readers’ travel experiences there. I myself have been to Turkey four times—three of those times coinciding with major terrorist incidents—and every time I felt totally safe everywhere I traveled in the country.

I know that politics in Turkey are complex and that national elections are scheduled for November 1. But I also know that television and news coverage always make an incident in a foreign country seem more alarming than it actually is. If news sources were to report the extent to which life at the destination goes on as usual, with people going about their everyday routine unaffected, it wouldn’t sell ads, and the news sites wouldn’t get traffic. That’s why media outlets are forced to write sensationalistic, scary headlines: to get people to click and read.

True, there are areas in southeastern Turkey—near the border with Syria—that most countries’ governments are warning travelers not to visit. But those areas are hundreds of miles from Istanbul and other popular tourist sites.

Furthermore, any coverage that paints a story about difficulties travelers might be facing does not apply to travelers who booked through a destination specialist such as the Trusted Travel Experts on my WOW List. These experts know their destinations like no one else, and they know the truth about where it’s safe to be. In the case of this particular reader, she booked her trip through Karen Fedorko Sefer, a Turkey travel expert to whom I’ve been sending travelers for years. Karen lives in Istanbul and has the latest on-the-ground intel for making trips safe, not to mention extraordinary.

Last year, after another spate of news reports about terrorist incidents in Turkey, I interviewed several readers of mine who were traveling in the country at a seemingly difficult time. They had arranged their trips through Earl Starkey, another Trusted Travel Expert who lives in Istanbul. (Here’s his Insider’s Guide to Istanbul, as well as his Insider’s Guide to Cappadocia.) Examples of what these travelers told me include:

“The impression from the news in the U.S. is of a somewhat exotic, traditional country that is as progressive as a secularized Muslim country can be, but that remains somewhat poor and undeveloped,” Mr. Martin said. “I was, quite frankly, in shock to find a modern, affluent, and incredibly clean cosmopolitan city in Istanbul, efficient, modern airports, and generally friendly, accommodating people who truly were secular and in many areas very wealthy.”

“Before we left, my main fear was that there would be a great deal of hostility toward Americans. I never felt that! The Turkish people are warm and welcoming—just lovely people.”

“We were in Cappadocia when the U.S. bombing of Syria started. That day we toured a number of small towns in the area, and I looked carefully for any negative response from the locals. (I am over six feet and clearly American, so I do stand out in a small village). Everyone was very friendly and welcoming—I did not observe a single negative glance or frown.”

In that same article, I outlined steps you can take to decide if Turkey is right for you, along with precautions you can take to remain safe. While those tips remain useful, that article was written for people who travel totally on their own and do not have one of my Trusted Travel Experts watching over them throughout. The on-the-ground support that my Trusted Travel Experts offer is invaluable on any trip, and it’s the reason I created The WOW List in the first place.

So please don’t avoid Turkey. Just plan it right. Chances are you will be pleasantly surprised by the extent to which life goes on as normal, you will have fascinating conversations with the locals about current events, and you will feel jazzed about being there at an important moment. I say this because that’s what my readers who return from Turkey always tell me.

Imagine the news that Turkish people are getting about our lives in the United States right now. The sudden and all-too-frequent mass attacks of violence in our schools, movie theaters, and churches surely must make them question whether it’s safe to travel to the U.S.   Would you tell them not to come?

Fireworks at Disney World, Orlando, Florida.

How Disney’s New Ticket Prices Will Impact Your Family Vacation

Disney made two announcements last week that will affect trips to Disney World and Disneyland. We checked in with Susan Kelly, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Disney trips, to learn more about how these changes could impact any family vacations you may be planning to the happiest place on earth.

The first news was that annual passholder rates have gone up and benefits have changed. “Now visitors have options between different levels of passes at different price points,” Susan explains. “The most expensive Platinum Pass includes parking, park hopping, a photo pass, and no blackout dates.” Conversely, the least expensive option has blackout dates and excludes the extra perks.

These passes are geared toward visitors who go to Disney a lot, Susan points out, so the change might not affect you at all if you’re planning a one-off family vacation.

The second announcement will have a greater impact if or when it is eventually implemented: surge pricing. When demand for tickets is highest (holidays, school breaks), tickets will be most expensive; when demand is lowest, tickets will be cheaper.

“The current park admission model has everyone paying the same flat rate to enter the parks,” Susan explains. “A four-day pass is the same price, no matter when those four-day visits occur. The new pricing being considered will have different prices for each day, based on what season and what day of the week you visit. A visit to Magic Kingdom on the Saturday of Christmas week will be more expensive than a visit on a Wednesday in early September. You will save by visiting on weekdays and designated off weeks.”

One reason cited by Disney for this potential change—apart from the obvious goal of making more money—is crowd control; the theory is that cheaper tickets offered at low-peak times will help spread out the high peaks and valleys of visitor numbers throughout the year. “Hopefully it will do something to alleviate the crowds,” Susan says. “The number-one question travelers ask us is: ‘When can I go when it is not busy?’”

And how can families still make a Disney vacation affordable? It’s all about planning: “You will save more the longer you visit,” explains Susan. “It’s the family visiting for only one or two days that pays the most per day. There is the opportunity to save up to 45 percent on park admission if you visit for more days. Knowing that, it’s smartest to plan for one big trip. It is better to visit once for eight nights than to do two shorter visits of four nights each.”

Susan also recommends taking advantage of any promotions that Disney runs. “Part of our free service is that we keep our ears to the track on discounts as they are released, and we work to apply them to existing reservations. If there are no discounts available at the resort the traveler booked, we give them the option to move to where there is a savings.”

Your best strategy? Reach out to Susan to book your Disney vacation for the smartest dates. (She knows when they are.) And keep in mind that if the only time your family can travel is during a peak week, and you hate crowds, Disney might not be the right place for your family at that time.

“I think that one hand of Disney is trying to find ways to manage the crowds by providing a financial incentive to visit during ‘off’ times,” Susan says, “but the other hand has over-built and over-promised that ‘magical’ experience. You can’t skip down Main Street with 25,000 people in your way!”

Remember also that Disney can be so expensive on some dates that it might actually be more affordable to take your family overseas! For ideas, check out our list of European Cities that Are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly and contributor Eric Stoen’s guide to a perfect family vacation in Paris.


Medano Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Why You Should Be Heading Back to Cabo. Now.

As travelers start planning their fall and winter escapes to the sun, Mexico looms large in imaginations. It’s so close, so sunny, and works equally well as a beach-bum getaway, a family vacation, a sporty adventure destination, a romantic resort escape, or a sophisticated foodies’ hot spot.

But just one year ago Baja California, and particularly Los Cabos, was facing something much more challenging than the usual busy tourist season: rebuilding after Hurricane Odile, a category 3 storm which made landfall on September 14 and decimated the area.

Amazingly, Los Cabos has rebounded with the speed of a superhero. The video below, put together by the Los Cabos Tourism Board, shows just how extensive the damage was — and how fast the rebuild was.

We checked in with Julie Byrd, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Los Cabos, to get her insider opinion on how her favorite spot on the Baja Peninsula has recovered. Julie specializes in villa rentals, and her company can also arrange fishing and yacht charters, ground transportation, celebrations, and guided tours. A foodie at heart, Byrd has strong opinions on everything from local taquerias to fine dining, so be sure to ask her for recommendations when you get in touch.

What’s the lay of the land now: Where is it okay to travel?

I am confident in saying that it is okay to travel to any of the resort areas and private housing communities of Los Cabos. The downtown area of Cabo San Lucas, the marina and luxury developments throughout the tourist corridor and extending to Puerto Los Cabos and the East Cape, are in excellent shape.

In fact, something very cool was uncovered as a result of Odile: the sunken cargo ship Lundenberg, which went down off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in 1954. You can watch an underwater video here.

Which hotels have reopened or are reopening? Are villa rentals an option now too? If so, where is best?

We’ve actually had a lot of villas available since shortly after the hurricane. In fact, we had very high occupancy during the winter holiday season last year. Only two of our properties were not ready for the December holidays. At this time, more than 100 Los Cabos rental villas are available.

As for hotels, the bulk of Cabo’s hotel inventory is back, with a few notable exceptions with reopening dates extending into 2016. Some resorts took the opportunity not only to repair after the storm but to undertake extensive remodels. I’m happy to see that the luxury boutique Hotel El Ganzo will be reopening soon at the Puerto Los Cabos marina—it is a personal favorite.

We have been maintaining a list of hotel reopening dates on our blog. The only hotels that have not reopened are:

Casa del Mar Resort – opening October 2015
El Ganzo – opening October 2015
Dreams Los Cabos – opening October 2015
Me Cabo – opening December 2015
Melia Cabo Real – tentatively opening April 1, 2016
Westin – July 1, 2016

I personally stayed at Villa Estero, located in the private development of Fundadores (in Puerto Los Cabos, San Jose), in May and found it to be among the best Los Cabos has to offer. It is an up-and-coming area, where celebs and the like are now staying for the luxury and privacy the community offers. It has a championship golf course, close access to the PLC Marina and great restaurants, a private beach club and—best of all—brand-new, amazing villas.

Lovers Beach Cabo San Lucas Mexico

Lover’s Beach, or Play del Amor, Cabo San Lucas

Are there any places travelers should avoid?

Visitors should be cognizant of construction projects taking place in areas such as Cabo Real, where they are building two new hotels, Solaz and LeBlanc Spa Resort.

When is the best time to visit?

The winter months are, by far, the most popular time of year. The migrating whales begin arriving in Cabo around December. Peak season for our private villas is Christmas/New Year’s. The region remains busy throughout the spring, with low-season deals starting in May and lasting throughout the hot summer months. Another good time is early November, when you have similar weather and thinner crowds, plus the big-game fishing is fantastic and the water is still warm.

What else do travelers need to know?

Our palm trees had some pretty extreme haircuts.

One year ago from Hurricane Odile from vcabo on Vimeo.

Monteverde Costa Rica

12 Ways to Improve Your Next Trip

Meet our writer: Geri S. Krauss is a New York-based attorney, a savvy traveler who has been to all seven continents . . . and, for a travel agent, she can be one tough customer. Geri was unknown to me until a few weeks ago, when she reached out after a trip that bowled her over, designed by one of my Costa Rica specialists. We ended up meeting for lunch in Manhattan. Geri does so much research for every trip, and is so knowledgeable about online travel tools, that I asked her why she doesn’t just book her trips herself. When she shared her perspective on the benefits of working with my Trusted Travel Experts, I found it fascinating and thought you would too. Here’s Geri:

My husband and I are full-time attorneys, so our travel time is limited and precious. We want to make the most of it by having an experience that is tailored to our interests and budget and gives us a true sense of the people and places we visit. After much research, I’ve come to rely on Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for this.

These trip experts would be the first to confirm that I am not an easy customer. I ask a ton of questions, do my own research into the suggestions made (which generates more questions), and scrutinize itineraries, questioning every detail.

There have been some tough moments. There was the email I got with the subject line “Throwing up my hands in horror” when a trip expert had to tell me that our carefully planned trip had been thwarted because room availability suddenly vanished. There was the time another expert recommended a “hike along partially flooded terrain, mud, rocks, exposed roots with high humidity and temperature around 90 F (30 C),” which left me questioning why on earth I would want to do that. “For the wildlife” was the expert’s answer—and I’m glad I gave in because it turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip.

Even for someone as challenging as I am, working with these trip experts has been special. Why? They consistently give you personal attention, offer unique opportunities, have a deep knowledge of the country in which they are located, give candid evaluations of what to see and do, and move you through the itinerary so seamlessly that the hassles and waiting that are often a part of traveling just seem to disappear. In short, here’s what they deliver:

1. A private, personalized itinerary

Our itineraries have always come with top-notch guides, accommodations, and experiences. The guides and drivers are extremely knowledgeable about their country and customs, speak excellent English, are wonderfully gracious and accommodating, and navigate with an insider’s knowledge of where to go and the best time to get there.

2. Flexibility: The traveler calls the shots all day every day

Everything is tailored to our interests. We travel at a pace that works for us. We can decide whether we want to be accompanied by a guide and/or a driver, or whether we would rather spend time on our own. The time we spend at each activity is geared to us—with flexibility to stay longer than planned if we are very much engaged or leave early if we are ready to move on. We can stop to eat when and if we choose—or skip a meal so that we can squeeze in one more thing to see or do. Our guides and drivers are always ready to help us in whatever way they can —and to adapt our schedule if weather or something unexpected requires a change. It is the perfect combination of independent travel and extraordinary planning and expertise.

3. VIP treatment at check-in

When we were traveling in India, every time we arrived at our hotel, we were met and greeted at the entrance, by name, and welcomed in traditional Indian fashion. We were shown to a comfortable sofa, where a drink and a cool towel were waiting for us. A concierge immediately came over to us, checked us in, and guided us to our room. When we got there, our luggage was already waiting for us. After this had happened on several occasions, I asked our guide how it was that every hotel was ready and waiting for us the moment we arrived. I learned that this was not happenstance. It was because the trip expert made sure that the guide called each hotel at a certain time while we were on our way there to tell them exactly when we would be arriving and assure that we would be cared for so promptly and graciously. Never a line, no searching for a room to assign, no waiting!

4. Hand-picked hotel rooms

Our rooms have always been terrific, as the Trusted Travel Expert knows which are the most desirable rooms for views or location or amenities (in any given category), and then they make sure that the room they select is reserved for us.

5. Special dining arrangements

In Costa Rica we were impressed that the waiters in the various lodges’ dining rooms told us as soon as we sat down that they were aware of certain food preferences we had made known to the Trusted Travel Expert. We didn’t have to say a thing! Two lodges arranged for us to have a private dinner in a special location—one with a menu planned solely for and with us the evening before—just because of the relationship the Trusted Travel Expert had with the lodges. In some countries we’ve even had the pleasure of meeting and dining with our trip expert shortly after our arrival.

6. Visits with locals from all walks of life

In Australia we were the only guests at a beautifully restored homestead surrounded by miles of outback. We were invited to dine with the owners and their friends—Australians and New Zealanders. During the fabulous home-cooked meal, we were treated to stories about life in the outback, the restoration of the house, and the rivalries between Aussies and Kiwis. We ended up talking for many hours and covered virtually every topic of current events, including some very interesting observations by those “down under” with respect to the American presidential election that was taking place that day. Their perceptions were fascinating. Indeed, given the influence that the President of the United States has over world events, our hosts questioned whether the world could trust leaving the choice of the President solely up to the American electorate! On another day, we visited with the owner of a private rainforest sanctuary who introduced us to the many resident animals that came right up to greet us. Later, we sat by the side of a stream in the forest and were treated to a delicious lunch of salads and fresh fish—which he perfectly cooked on a camp stove in the back of his truck.

7. Access to places that are off-limits to the public

Many of the must-see sights in China and India are filled with crowds, but our Trusted Travel Experts have been able to arrange special access for us to avoid the crowds or see things not generally open to the public. In China we had an amazing opportunity to feed and play with the baby pandas in Chengdu Panda Reserve. We viewed the Xian terracotta warriors from a special gallery located right on the floor and learned about how the warriors are restored through access to the curators’ restoration room. In India we were able to view the Taj Mahal from a special access point and remain for a short time after all the crowds had left. We visited beautifully decorated rooms in private areas of the Jaipur City Palace still used by the royal family for entertaining. We were invited to attend the Holi ceremony hosted by the Maharajah of Udaipur. All very special.

8. Guides with specific expertise

Not only have our guides been excellent generally, but our trip planners have been able to provide us with guides with particular knowledge. I have an interest in photography, and in India our guide was a terrific photographer who made sure to show me the best spots to get interesting shots and, if possible, to time our visits to get photos in the best light. He also greatly assisted me in learning the local etiquette to take pictures of people. In Costa Rica I again requested a guide who was a photographer, and he made sure we approached photographic subjects from the right angle and in the right light. He taught me many new techniques, and I was thrilled with the results. While I was busy trying out those techniques, he tutored my husband in bird watching, then quizzed him on each identification.

9. Meaningful experiences where you give back to the community you’re visiting

Because of their deep relationships and connections in the countries where they live and operate, trip experts are often involved in environmental or community development activities. We had the rewarding opportunity to participate in one of these initiatives in Costa Rica. Our Trusted Travel Expert had set up a program to help the children who lived in a local village with English lessons and pronunciation by offering them the opportunity to meet with English-speaking travelers. We spent one afternoon at the village assisting the Costa Rican teacher who had been sent to the village to conduct this enrichment program, which the children enrolled in by choice. What a wonderful time we had interacting with these children (aged 10) who were so bright, enthusiastic, and fun. While we were there to help them with English, they insisted that we learn some Spanish words from them as well.

10. Transportation shortcuts and efficient logistics

As we tend to cover a lot of territory in a short time on these trips, the trip expert’s knowledge of local transportation options and obstacles has been invaluable. In Costa Rica, for example, many of the roads are poor, and some travel is best accomplished via privately chartered four- to six-seater planes. There is no way we could have made these arrangements on our own. It requires knowing which planes (by size or engine number) are allowed to fly to which places at what times of the day and in what weather conditions. Furthermore, our trip expert uses only certain planes and specific pilots, based on safety records and experience. In one location in Costa Rica, I had decided to pass on the trip expert’s suggestion that we book a driver; I said we’d rely on taxis instead. Shortly after we arrived, however, I found that getting a taxi was neither easy nor reliable. I called the trip expert, confessed that I should have heeded her advice, and in less than an hour we had a car and driver at our disposal for the rest of our stay there.

11. Addressing the unexpected

Sometimes not everything goes as planned. Yet our trip experts have always been instantly available to address any issue. In China, when we arrived in Lijiang, my husband experienced altitude sickness. We were scheduled to go for a couple of days to Zhongdian, a town located at an even higher altitude. Obviously, that was no longer an option. Within a day, our trip expert had made alternate arrangements and rescheduled our flights without our having to pay any cancellation fees.

12. Help is only a phone call away

In rural India, when I needed to see a doctor, I called our trip expert and within 15 minutes an English-speaking doctor was at our door. Whether I am looking for a restaurant reservation, seeking the best place to shop for a particular item, or needing to resolve any hiccup in the plans we encounter, help is only a phone call away.


Geri Krauss and her husband Dan’s next trip is to New Zealand, booked through Jean-Michel Jefferson. We can’t wait to hear all about it!

If you want a trip like the ones Geri Krauss describes, contact the right Trusted Travel Expert via WendyPerrin.com:
(1) Go to The WOW List to find the right destination, cruise, or villa specialist.
(2) Click on that travel specialist’s CONTACT button to reach his/her WendyPerrin.com trip-request form.
(3) If you’re not sure who is the right specialist, Ask Wendy.

Uma Thurman on the cover of Town&Country, October 2015

You Too Can Save Africa’s Wildlife From Extinction

The best safaris are about a lot more than picturesque tented camps and iconic wildlife; they have a conservation-minded sense of purpose. I’ve been doing a lot of research on safaris and Africa’s endangered wildlife lately—you would be too if you were interviewing Geoffrey Kent, founder of Abercrombie & Kent, onstage at the Skift Global Forum next month—and I just want to share a riveting update when it comes to safaris with a mission: Uma Thurman’s Journey to Protect Africa’s Wildlife from Vicious Poachers, in the October 2015 issue of Town&Country.

“Rhinos have lived on this earth for millions of years, but wildlife experts estimate they may be gone in just 10—poached to extinction,” reports Town&Country executive travel editor Klara Glowczewska, who traveled in Africa with Thurman to cover the story. Approximately 4.5 rhinos are slaughtered every day, killed for their horn, which sells for as much as $35,000 a pound, making it more valuable than gold. Rhino horn is coveted by the newly rich in Vietnam, where it is viewed as medicinal and an aphrodisiac, and where it is ground into powder and used as a cocaine-like party drug.

Last year South Africa’s Kruger National Park lost 10% of its rhinos to poachers.  In Botswana rhinos are better protected. So the government of Botswana and the safari operator Wilderness Safaris, both role models for sustainable tourism in Africa, are working together to employ a revolutionary solution: They are translocating rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. It’s no easy task, considering that your typical 4,000-pound rhino doesn’t understand why it needs to move to Botswana. So Thurman and Glowczewska went on an eight-day South Africa-Botswana mission to rescue rhinos—and their story makes for a must-read adventure.

Darting rhinos in South Africa

Veterinarians dart rhinos from a helicopter during capture. Photo courtesy Explore, Inc.

Not only can you read about the trip, you can actually take it. Cherri Briggs of Explore Inc., one of my Trusted Travel Experts for African safaris, orchestrated Thurman’s trip and has created a similar adrenaline-fueled eight-day itinerary so that those of you with a deep interest in wildlife protection can become part of the most dramatic conservation story of the 21st century.

Capturing rhinos for translocation

Getting a rhino up and walking after sedation is a team effort. Photo courtesy Explore, Inc.

Briggs has arranged conservation-minded, even life-changing, safaris for the past 20 years. As for Wilderness Safaris, check out its integrated annual reports to see how they measure and report on the 4 Cs (commerce, conservation, community, and culture) that are embedded in their business model. A lot of travel companies talk a good game about sustainability; few volunteer to share publicly an annual report that details their sustainability goals and measures their progress toward achieving them.

So you’re in the best of hands with this safari of a lifetime. The price tag is monumental but designed to raise funds for the cause: $18,655 per person, plus a tax-deductible donation requirement of $25,000 that goes to Rhino Conservation Botswana.  Participants will help save critically endangered wildlife, have a purposeful and meaningful vacation (the best kind), and return home knowing they’ve made a difference. To book the trip, reach out to Cherri Briggs.

Rhinos in the wild

Relaxed white rhinos after release in Botswana. Photo courtesy Explore, Inc.

Canal Barging: The Cruise Experience You’ve Been Missing Out On

Picture yourself floating gently along Europe’s winding waterways, dining every night on fresh local foods and spending your days exploring hidden nooks of France, Germany, and Belgium.

That’s the experience of canal barging—a very specific type of European cruise that has gained a very loyal following of sophisticated travelers, but which is still unknown to many.

That might be because the word “barge” isn’t very enticing—it doesn’t exactly conjure up the charm and luxury that these trips really offer. A better name for the experience would be “canal yachting,” says Ellen Sack, our Trusted Travel Expert for this kind of vacation, who’s been working in this unique part of the travel industry for 30 years.

But whatever you call it, this kind of vacation is something special—a way to see beautiful European countryside from the water without the drawbacks of a cruise. Even if you’ve been to Europe many times, or taken a river cruise, canal barging is a new experience.

barge cruise france

The Luciole cruises through Northern Burgundy and holds up to 14 guests. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

What exactly is canal barging?

Canal barging is a type of cruise that takes place on very small boats that wind through Europe’s manmade canals, some of which were built as far back as the 16th century, when cargo barges used them to ship freight around the region. Now that trucks, trains, and planes have taken over that job, the canals are used as sightseeing routes for small boats that are still called barges, even though they’re more like intimate floating hotels. As opposed to their predecessors, these come with all the high-end amenities: private chefs, private tour guides, and a captain who is often the owner of the vessel and an expert on the region. Days are filled with activities that enable you to delve into the rural areas’ artisan culture and laid-back lifestyle. On one day you might find yourself bicycling through fields, shopping at local markets, wine tasting at vineyards, or getting a behind-the-scenes tour of a chateau.

Canal barge vacations are similar to other cruises in that they have start and end dates and follow set itineraries. But since groups are very small—Ellen Sack’s company, Barge Lady Cruises, offers boats that carry 12 people or less, and none carry more than 24—guests have access to a lot of privately guided experiences. And if you don’t feel like sharing the boat, you don’t have to: A multigenerational family can book an entire barge to themselves, whereas if you’re a couple who’s feeling social, you can join a mixed boat.

Either way, the groups are always very small—not like a bus tour or cruise ship excursion. “It’s intimate, very authentic, very slow,” she explains. “You see the rural countryside from the water and get into a world that a traveler wouldn’t get into ordinarily. It’s really a lot more interesting than the name of the industry would imply.”

Where can you do it?

France is the main destination, and Sack has most of her boats there. But she also offers cruises in Holland and Belgium, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany.

canal barge cruise itinerary

Canal barge itineraries include private tours, artisan food tastings, outdoor activities like bicycling, and visits to villages and markets. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises.

How does it differ from river cruises?

“The small size differs from every other cruise on the planet,” Sack explains. “It’s often confused with river cruising because both are on waterways of Europe, but our boats are much smaller, they go on canals and really small waterways.” And, she adds, barging is much much slower. “We go about 50 miles per week. You could walk faster. Whereas river cruises are larger—100 to 200 people—and they travel several hundred miles per week.”

The upshot is that barging will take you deep into a country’s rural areas, which are not accessible to river cruises (or big-ship ocean cruises either).

However, if you’re looking for a lot of nightlife, shopping, a more formal atmosphere, and city excitement, then canal barging is not for you. “It really is deep countryside and it is laid back.”

The other important thing to understand about barging is that it is not a customized trip. Itineraries are set, and have been crafted by Sack and her team based on more than three decades of experience and contacts in the area. “On all of our boats, whether it’s a family trip or anything else, we have strong programming,” Sack explains. “It’s not for people who prefer to wander around by themselves. Barging is for people who want everything taken care of, who want to eat gourmet food, who want to see sights with a private guide. If someone tells me that they want to spend ten hours wandering around village X, then barging is not for them.”

How to decide if canal barging is right for you:

Barging is for a certain kind of traveler.

•You like slow travel. Barging isn’t for travelers who want to hit a lot of countries and destinations in one trip. It’s for travelers who want to immerse themselves in an area and see parts of Europe they haven’t had access to before.

•You like good food. Barges have their own private chefs and usually include the chance to shop with the chef at a market.

•You like private, special-access experiences. Barge cruises stick to set itineraries, but the quality of the itinerary very much depends on the experience of the company you book with — which is why we recommend Sack’s company. She has great connections in Europe and is able to arrange for special experiences, like mustard tasting with artisans in Burgundy.

•You don’t care about dressing up. As Sack tells it, most of her travelers are comfortable in the informal setting of a barge. They aren’t looking to get dolled up and hit the town, and they don’t mind that they’re going to kick back for a week.

•You’re not looking for a custom-tailored trip. Barge cruises are turn-key—that is the point. They provide a luxury experience that is all laid out for you, so that you know exactly what you’re getting and don’t have to think about anything. And the best part: It’s all pre-paid. Every single meal, drink, activity, and guide (except for gratuities) is covered in your initial cost. “We call it a house party,” Sack says. “We want to treat you like you’ve joined a house party and everything is prepaid. You will never put your hand in your pocket.”

canal barge cruise food

Most canal barges have a private chef, who prepares meals with local foods every day. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

When to do it:

Since barge cruises travel where most tourists don’t—and offer private tours and experiences—anytime is a good time to go, even during the usual height of Europe’s tourist season.

In general, the barge season runs from April 15 to November 1 and is most popular in June and September. Mid-April through the first two weeks of May are what’s known as value season, where some boats offer 10 to 25 percent off their main season rates. But every boat differs; some might have their value season in August, and some don’t have a value season at all.

But Sack stresses that it’s the boat that makes the trip—not the date. “The weather doesn’t differ drastically, so there’s not a better or worse time to go. It’s more about finding the right boat for you.”

And finding the right boat for you is what Sack does best. Contact her through WendyPerrin.com to be identified as a Wendy Perrin VIP traveler (which means that Wendy will be in the wings offering advice and making sure your entire travel-planning experience is a positive one), and then talk to her about what you want in your vacation. Sack knows her boats, their routes, and their owner-operators extremely well and can tell you whatever you need to know. You can also peruse her Barge Lady Cruises website, which is packed with a ton of info. You’ll find pictures and blueprints of every boat, sample menus and photos of meals, a full itinerary, photos of the crew and past guests in action, and reviews from previous travelers on each specific vessel.

canal barge cruise deck

Canal barging is all about having a laid-back vacation. Photo: Barge Lady Cruises

Budapest River Cruise

Planning a Cruise? Avoid These Rookie Travel Mistakes

Part of the reason for the growing appeal of cruises is that they remove a lot of the stress and logistics from travel. You get on the boat, and you enjoy. Easy. The tough part comes beforehand, when you have to decide which cruise is right for you: Big ship or little ship? Ocean or river? Exciting expedition boat or leisurely barge? And where in the world should you go?

There are so many factors that affect the success of your cruise that it’s easy to make a rookie mistake. That’s why I have a special section of my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts dedicated solely to cruise travel agents. Here, I’ve asked them to share the biggest blunders they see travelers make when it comes to arranging a cruise vacation. Fortunately, these are easy mistakes to avoid when you book your trip through a savvy cruise specialist.

Celebrity Reflection cruise ship

The Celebrity Reflection cruise ship. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

European Cruises
Planning to board the ship the same day you fly into port. You want to book a flight that gets you to your embarkation port city at least the day before, since there’s always the chance of an airline delay and you don’t want to risk missing the ship.
—Tom Baker, Trusted Travel Expert for Affordable Large-ship Cruises

Read Tom’s Insider’s Guide to Affordable Mediterranean Cruises and contact Tom to get the best possible trip.

Asia Cruises
Sleeping on the ship when it overnights in a location where the port is far from the city. In Bangkok, where the ships dock 90 minutes from town, overnighting in a hotel will cost a bit more, but it can save you six hours of driving back and forth over two days. In Shanghai, pay attention to where your ship docks; smaller ships, like the Crystal Symphony, can get right downtown, whereas bigger ships must dock 90 minutes away.
—Mary Jean Tully, Trusted Travel Expert for Luxury Small-Ship Cruises

Read Mary Jean’s Insider’s Guide to Asia Cruises and contact Mary Jean to get the best possible trip.


Barge Elisabeth in Burgundy. Photo courtesy Barge Elisabeth.

Barge Elisabeth in Burgundy. Photo courtesy Barge Elisabeth.

European Canal Barge Cruises
Expecting to cover as much ground as you would on a river cruise. Barges cruise at four miles per hour, and never at night—you could walk faster than the barge moves! Itineraries are six nights long (beginning either on Saturday or Sunday) and travel 30 to 50 miles deep in the countryside. Canal barging is about getting to know a small area intimately and thoroughly.
—Ellen Sack, Trusted Travel Expert for European Canal Barge Cruises

Read Ellen’s Insider’s Guide to European Canal Barge Cruises and contact Ellen to get the best possible trip.

Antarctica Cruises
Selecting an itinerary that’s too short. A trip to Antarctica is an investment of not just money but also time. It takes several days to reach the continent (including crossing the Drake Passage), and because of unpredictable sailing conditions, an extra two to four days can make a significant difference in your experience. Eleven-day itineraries provide a cushion for challenging weather conditions. I’d also encourage you to build in an extra day or two to relax when you arrive in Argentina or Chile (the usual points of embarkation) so that you’ll be refreshed and more present with the experience once you reach Antarctica. I have never met anyone returning from the Great White Continent who complained that the trip was too long—rather, people wish they’d had more time.
—Ashton Palmer, Trusted Travel Expert for Small-Ship Expedition Cruises

Read Ashton’s Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises and contact Ashton to get the best possible trip.