Tag Archives: wow experience

a rafting tour boat on the Petrohue River of Chile with snowcapped mountains in background

Sporty Adventures: WOW Trip Reviews

More and more travelers are discovering the joy of experiencing a new place from the seat of a bicycle (or e-bike), the single-track of a hiking trail, or atop a horse, camel, or ATV. Count on our Trusted Travel Experts to add anything from some gentle countryside ambles to an adrenaline-stoking zip line into your next trip. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.


Switzerland: skiing, via ferrata in a gorge…

Traveler Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola with the Matterhorn in the background on the Swiss Side of Zermatt, Switzerland.

Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola on the Swiss side of Zermatt, with the Matterhorn in the background.

“I took my son (age 19) to Zermatt for a ski trip the first week of March. I wanted a special mom-and-son trip. I reached out to WendyPerrin.com for a referral to help and was connected with Nina and Simon. They took my wishes and planned an EPIC trip for me. The accommodations were amazing, the ski guide was so good I booked him an additional day, and they added to the itinerary a gorge trip and a special nighttime fondue and another evening tapas tour.

What made it more spectacular were the guides hired. We are very accomplished skiers in the U.S., living in Colorado and Tahoe. We knew Zermatt was a little more complicated of a mountain, with the lifts and the Swiss and Italian sides. They recommended a ski guide, and we are so very happy they did! Made the skiing more efficient and fun! One of the more memorable moments was a walk down into town from the evening fondue, and as we passed through one of the small hamlets, a small white one-room church—like the kind in old western towns—was lit, and our guide noticed my interest so he went over to see if it was open. It was and I was able to make a small donation in the box and light a candle and have a prayer of gratitude. I will remember this forever.

I rarely use travel services, as I do travel a lot and am comfortable booking on my own. However I wanted to have a bonding experience with my son and be stress-free. I feel more connected to my son, as we did activities together without worry. I would definitely recommend Nina and Simon when you want to be taken care of and have special moments. The guides were in direct contact with them, and it appeared to me the relationships are deep and very positive. We were the beneficiaries of those relationships for truly one-of-a-kind experiences.” —Wendy Mueller

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


Norway: dogsledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling…

Traveler Jim Braun running his team of dogs in Alta, Norway.

Jim Braun running his team of dogs in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Kathye Faries

“Seeing the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for ages and it was time to make it happen! With Wendy’s help we were connected with Torunn, who planned a terrific 10-day adventure for us in northern Norway in February, 2024. I worked with Karin Andresen on many of the details and Karin did a wonderful job too. My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn and Karin planned for us.

We started in Alta, well north of the Arctic Circle, and stayed at a great property outside of the town in a beautiful setting on the banks of a frozen river. We went snowshoeing (easier than I thought it would be) and ice fishing with Kelle of Glod Explorer, and his husky Bruno. Jim caught an Arctic Char so our lunch was as fresh is it could get! Sitting in a lavvu, around a fire, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh-caught fish was a real treat. We also took a snowmobile ride at night at Bjornfjeld Mountain Lodge. We were cozy in a beautiful mountaintop glass igloo, cooked our dinner over a fire and looked for the lights. On our last day in Alta we spent several hours dog sledding in the beautiful Finnmark forest and on frozen lakes, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Our guide, Hannah, ran the Iditarod two years ago and was so expert on the trails. We loved our day with her and her dog teams.

While en route to our next destination (we saw moose, reindeer and foxes along the way), we had lunch with Johan, a Sami elder, in the village of Maze. His family has raised and herded reindeer for generations and his sons are poised to take care of the business someday. We learned so much from him about his profession, about the Sami, and got to meet some of his reindeer. Fascinating.

In Karasjok we stayed at one of the most unique, exceptional small properties we’ve ever seen. Every cabin and all of the furniture in each of the 7 cabins has been built by hand from natural materials. This place is a hidden gem, set in the forest and truly magical. On property were 45 Alaskan Huskies who were very friendly and loved “cuddles” from everyone. One of our days was spent with Magrit, a Sami woman who has spent her entire life raising and herding reindeer. We went with her by snowmobile, up high in the mountains, to see and feed some of her family’s herd. We spent time in the forest around a warm fire and she shared stories with us about her life. On our last day there, I went dog sledding with the Alaskan Huskies—it was an exciting ride where the dogs broke a new trail in deep, newly fallen snow on the frozen lake. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

The last few days of the trip were spent in Oslo where our expert guide took us to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (very, very moving), and the National Museum (which houses Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). We saw several contemporary buildings—the Library and the Opera House—watched some young men run from the sauna and jump into the 32-degree water of the harbor (yikes!); and toured the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Aurora was as wondrous as I expected and we were so lucky to see it. Northern Norway is a beautiful part of the world with clean water, clean air, warm and friendly people and so accessible to the outdoors. When we asked local guides (who grew up in Alta and Karasjok) if they ever wanted to move away, their answer was NO!!!! We could understand why.

The trip was so smooth due to Torunn and Karin’s expertise. Prior to and during the trip we made a few itinerary adjustments and all went perfectly. All of the guides and ground transportation services were there when and where they were supposed to be, and the outfitters and lodging choices were a great fit for us. We are so glad we saw the lights but we are also so appreciative of the adventures we experienced on this wonderful, enchanting trip.” —Kathye Faries

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


Peru: hiking, whitewater rafting, piranha fishing, jungle canopy walks…

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Zealand: kayaking, hiking, off-roading…

Traveler kayaking on the Ahuriri River, new Zealand.

Kayaking on the Ahuriri River.

“Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately, and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had.

We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world, and Jean-Michel and his team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

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


Oman and Jordan: biking, dune bashing, via ferrata…

Our travelers, Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

“Our trip to Oman and Jordan October 14th- Nov. 1st, 2023, was extraordinary! Even with the slight unease regarding the war, while in Oman and Jordan, all was well and safe. There did seem to be some extra military presence in Amman but that didn’t interfere with our trip. We are very happy we did not cancel!

Out trip planner, Daniel, did a wonderful job talking through everything with us ahead of time. He was honest about his thoughts about things that are worth it and that aren’t. Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Oman: Eating and drinking dates and Omani coffee with locals, dinner with a local family in Muscat, learning about the culture, talking with a local at the Grand Mosque to learn more about Islam, swimming and exploring Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, dune bashing in Wahiba Sands, the via ferrata course in Jebel Akhdar, biking down the mountains in Jabel Shams, the random barber shop experience for my husband to get his beard trimmed (hilarious and wonderful cultural experience), and the balcony hike in Jebel Shams.

Jordan: Petra during the day/night and the back door hike in, SCUBA diving the wreck in the Red Sea (not organized by Dan), ‘soft’ canyoning in Wadi Al Mujib, floating in the Dead Sea (so unique and funny!), and discussions about current issues with our guide.

I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip, especially in today’s political climate. It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens. Thank you!” —Amy Evers

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


Southern Africa: fishing on Lake Kariba, hiking Namibia’s sand dunes…

Travelers swimming in the Devil's Pool at the top of Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe

Karen Lindfors and Patrick Moore brave the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls.

“We had a marvelous, perfectly planned trip to Zimbabwe and Namibia in September. Katie on Cherri’s team designed an itinerary that was varied and had an optimal blend of animal safaris, cultural content, adventure activities and jaw-dropping landscapes. We began our trip with one day in Johannesburg, which we spent in Soweto with a fascinating photojournalist who seemed to know everyone in Kliptown. Following our tour he sent us all of the photos he took during our day with him. Unfortunately, we were there on a day when the Apartheid Museum was closed so we weren’t able to visit.

From Johannesburg we flew to Zimbabwe and stayed at three different safari camps. The first was on the Zambezi River, the highlight of which was a canoe trip on the river amongst the hippos and crocodiles. Our second stop was the stunning Bumi Hills Hotel on the shores of Lake Kariba. There we enjoyed traveling to a local village and visiting an African Bush Camp Foundation school. Other highlights were fishing on the lake, where we caught about 50 bream in a couple of short hours, and a wonderful sunset cruise.

Our third camp in Hwange National Park was in the classic African savannah. 50,000 elephants live there and we marveled at their fascinating behavior at the camp and park-maintained watering holes. We saw many lions up close and even a leopard on multiple occasions. Our sundowners (those gin and tonics were something else we loved) were generally in open areas where we could see herds of animals traversing to the watering holes for their own evening drinks. It was nature on full display.

After our three safari camps we spent a night in Victoria Falls and, at Katie’s suggestion, braved a heart-pounding swim in the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls. After a helicopter ride over the Falls, it was on to Namibia and its stunning Sand Sea. The desert was mesmerizing and a photographer’s dream. We drove through the dunes, hiked on them and even took a balloon ride over the desert landscape. Throughout the trip we had fabulous guides who shared so much knowledge with us, both regarding the natural world and all of its creatures, and also their personal stories as well as the history and politics of their nations. The camps were lovely with such hospitable staff members who truly made us feel like welcomed friends. For the first time ever on the last day of a trip, my husband said he wished he could stay longer!” —Karen Lindfors

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


Switzerland: hiking in the Alps, kayaking…

Wengen village with the Swiss Alps in the background.

Wengen village with the Swiss Alps in the background. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from two magnificent weeks in Switzerland, all planned by Ana on Nina’s team. Switzerland is more beautiful than we even imagined. The amazing itinerary that Ana planned allowed us to do and see so much….and yet we felt relaxed and had time to enjoy everything. Our main goal was to hike in the Alps, but we also wanted to experience the cities, towns and beauty of Switzerland.

We went to Zurich, Zermatt, Kandersteg, Interlaken, Wengen/Lauterbrunnen Valley, Bern and Lucerne. Ana arranged all our wonderful drivers, tour guides and special tours. We covered so much ground and had so many incredible experiences like kayaking on Lake Brienz, a tour of a cheese dairy farm, learning about watch making and a delicious chocolate tasting!

We hiked a total of 8 days of our 14 days, and each hike was better than the next. Hiking in the Alps is truly incredible. Ana even provided hiking trail suggestions for each day. Even though our main goal for the trip was to hike the Alps, we experienced so much more of Switzerland. We are forever grateful.” —Susan and Josh Wieder

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


Costa Rica: surfing, rafting, rappelling down waterfalls…

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of five spent 10 days in Costa Rica at the end of August 2023. Our trip was planned by Irene (and her team) who lives locally in the region. Our trip was an amazing, wonderful family event that we’ll remember for a lifetime. Our family includes three teenage children, so we were looking for adventure. Irene delivered.

We spent 5 days in La Fortuna, residing at the Nayara Tented Camp, in a family tent that easily accommodated the five of us comfortably (no bed sharing for the kids!). The hotel was absolutely magical, and we want to go back. We did a chocolate workshop at Two Little Monkeys, which was a highlight for us, and well worth the drive out of town. Irene organized our excursions to the Hanging Bridges, the zip lines that rip down a mountain, and a canyoning tour that had us rappelling down waterfalls. All were amazing, with the rappelling being the family’s collective favorite. We also had a dedicated driver and larger van that accompanied us for our entire chapter in Arenal (hola Jonathan!), which we highly recommend.

We hopped a short flight and spent the last 5 days in the Manuel Antonio region. The hotel, Arenas del Mar, had a fantastic beach and wonderful restaurant. The wildlife was very active, including the white-faced monkeys that were a permanent fixture on the hotel grounds. For adventure, we got to paddle class III and IV rapids and we had a epic day surfing.

We will partner with Wendy Perrin/Irene Edwards for any future trip to Costa Rica (we will be back). And given the strength of our experience with our Costa Rica adventure, we will certainly turn to Wendy Perrin to help us explore other parts of the world.” —Jason Grapski

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


Iceland: exploring an ice cave, kayaking a glacial lagoon…

Foggy day on an ice cave tour in Iceland

Barbara Fierman, her husband, and their grandsons geared up to explore an ice cave.

“The timing, both time of year and number of days, was perfect for a trip with our two 14-year-old grandsons. We knew that the boys would love adventure and Chris provided ample opportunity for that. We explored caves, a geyser, and many waterfalls, hiked in national parks and in an ice cave, and kayaked at sunset through a glacial lagoon.

Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks. Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences.” —Barbara Fierman

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


Peru: hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Wiñaywayna ruins along Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

It is magical to approach the ruins of Machu Picchu on foot via the Inca Trail. Photo: Southwind Adventures

“My wife, kids (10 and 12 years old) and I had a fantastic trip to Peru, hiking four days on the Inca Trail, visiting Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Paracas. Wendy put us in touch with Tom, who created a great itinerary, got us lined up with superb guides, and made it so that all went seamlessly.

We were blown away by all that we learned about and saw of the Inca civilization. Their growth and all they accomplished in only a hundred years still has me dumbfounded. Visiting the Sacred Valley, which is in the Cusco region, was a great way to start. The Inca architecture, engineering, farming, food storage, religion, social systems, political systems, communication systems, and on and on…. Every bit of it was jaw-dropping and fascinating.

But for me, what heightened the impact was four days hiking and camping on the Inca Trail. Akin to taking a Nile cruise to see sights that would otherwise be inaccessible, hiking from the sacred valley to Machu Picchu gave us the chance to see not just individual, hard-to-access sites, but even better, to see the connections between them all and get a sense of how the Incas knit it all together—areas with different climates, environments, agriculture, foods, etc. Walking the centuries-old trail and encountering still-standing aqueducts, temples, waystations, and granaries along the way had a profound impact that I do not think would have hit us had we only hopped from site to site by train or car.

Aside from the Inca ruins we saw along the way, the natural beauty was almost overwhelming. Every step through the Andes was breathtaking. Any vantage point on the trail ,whether verdant or dry, could almost move you to tears, it was so gorgeous.

When we got to Machu Picchu late the fourth day… what a reward. Everyone has seen pictures, but to pass through the Gateway of the Sun and see the complex surrounded, even dwarfed, by the dramatic topography around it, well, it leaves me without words just thinking about it.

During the whole trip, the staff was 100% there to help and make sure all went well. For example, I would have expected the drivers to simply do their job and drive, but they went the extra step. They knew all the roads and shortcuts, but also made sure we were comfortable, well fed, and had snacks and water. Whenever we stopped and got out, each of our drivers kept an eye on the kids to make sure they didn’t head in the wrong direction or get swarmed by street vendors. If one of the kids got bored or tired, they were there to take the child back to the bus to rest. And all of it with kindness.

Big thanks to Wendy and team, our TTE Tom, our guide Ronny, and all the on-the-ground staff who blew our minds.” —John Strachan

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


Switzerland: hiking, rafting, mountain biking…

Laura Roberts

The Roberts family hiking in Wengen during their WOW Trip to Switzerland. Photo: Traveler Laura Roberts

“We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days with the help of Ana in Nina’s office. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our four grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all eight of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelight cave, rafted, mountain biked, wine tasted, and much more! We had three major destinations: Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town.

However, the true highlight was in the mountain near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions—cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there, and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!” —Laura Roberts

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


Italy: hiking, fly fishing, test-driving Ferraris…

Panorama of Roman Forum (Foro Romano) in the Morning, Rome, Italy

The Forum, Rome, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water. Execution was flawless, and it was huge value having a digital personal itinerary (w/ contacts and maps) and Cristina, our local operations manager, a text away for any last-minute needed changes.

After the overnight flight to Milan, we literally hit the ground hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, keeping our active boys moving while acclimating to the new time zone. Although a little risky with potential jet lag, this was a highlight hiking through the high serene hills for a couple of hours, with only the sounds of birds and a young wild boar and descending upon Portofino on foot. Portofino was a treat and the next full day at sea on a captained 40-foot boat to swim and visit the coastline at our leisure was awesome! Having lunch and snorkeling at San Fruttuoso was fantastic.

Additional memorable experiences included:

  • Visiting the Ferrari museum and test driving Ferraris on the streets of Maranello
  • Touring the Accademia sculptures, the Uffizi and cruising the Arno with a renaioli and our private guide Elvira
  • Leisurely driving through Tuscany with our lively driver Francesco, stopping for a wonderful private tour and lunch at a vineyard with its owner Diana
  • Staying at a palazzo in Montefalco: Maria was right—this is the balcony of Umbria, and the views are unforgettable!
  • Fly fishing (and catching/releasing brown trout!) in tranquil Borgo Cerreto with a very fun guide named Luca
  • Sightseeing through ancient Rome—including the Forum, Colosseum and Vatican museums—with very knowledgeable private guides (Valerie) and no lines!
  • Riding on the back of Vespas, seeing unique neighborhoods and parks in Roma
  • Learning to row a Batela in Venice w/ our own rowing instructor and having cicchetti (appetizers) and wine
  • Touring and climbing to the top of the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco

Maria chose excellent hotels for our stays, and the rooftop bar lounge and pool in Florence was a great way to end every fun day. We thought having private guides and transportation (car and water) made the trip much more memorable, as we received personal attention/treatment and allowed for personal interaction with locals to better understand the culture and way of life.

South of Rome, Sicily and the Lake region are next!” —Mark Mazzatta

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


Spain: skateboarding through Barcelona

Sunny day in Barcelona with a view from Park Guell.

View of sunny Barcelona from Park Guell. Photo: Shutterstock

“I recently took my grandson to Barcelona to celebrate his 13th birthday. It was a ton of fun. Pablo and Patricia were so helpful in the planning process. His recommendation for our hotel was great—we had an apartment at the Neri. The street art walk was a highlight. We took a day trip to San Sebastian to explore the Basque country a bit. Gorgeous! My grandson is an avid skateboarder, so he chose Barcelona because it is one of the most skate-friendly cities in the world. He skated all over! A most memorable 10 days!” —Anne Collins

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


Switzerland: hiking, kayaking, paragliding…

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling OHIO during private kayak trip on Lake Brienz.

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana….” —Andy Shafran

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


Morocco: hiking among Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains

Wengen village with the Swiss Alps in the background.

Dades Gorge in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock

“I just came back from 10 days in Morocco. Radia did an excellent job at finding exquisite hotels and providing super guides. Our focus was on hiking in the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. The hiking specialists led us on terrific hikes. In the High Atlas Mountains we hiked from guest house to guest house, through ancient Berber villages and mountain passes. The trip was fascinating, challenging and exhilarating. We also found time to wander the medinas of Fes and Marrakech with local guides. Morocco is an other-worldly experience. I highly recommend a visit here for those curious about non-Western cities or hiking. The people were very kind and welcoming (eg, when hiking through Berber villages we were invited in for dinners and tea by a few local residents). Ten days was not enough to cover all that Morocco offered.”—Robert Berman

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


Newfoundland, Canada: hiking, fishing…

Newfoundland scenery

Newfoundland scenery. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Jill organized an eight-day trip for four couples, best friends for the last 30 years. It was a trip full of great adventure, hiking, fishing, good food, and fantastic people. In Cape Breton our local guide caught our vibe from the minute she met us and took us to her own town’s annual fair. She introduced us to some of the families there, and we instantly felt the warmth and kindness—we didn’t want to leave!

In Newfoundland, we stayed in Woody Point in Gros Morne National Park. The townspeople were, again, warm and welcoming (a common characteristic in this part of Canada). The local pub, The Merchant Warehouse, had great food, and the owner’s daughter plays her guitar and sings up a storm (don’t miss it). We had our screech-in there as well with the incomparable Aunt Sophie!!! The hikes were unrivalled; accurately marked and well-kept, the unique landscapes and terrain were breathtaking. We will be back to conquer Gros Morne itself!

Finally, we ended our vacation in Corner Brook at the beautiful Hew & Draw Hotel. The highlight here was our time with Darren, who took us out in his dory to his cabin on the water for a dinner of mussels and cod, with an evening tour of the surrounding region by boat. His mom had even baked us an apple pie! The stories he told us of his family and the region were again just part of the local hospitality. We have traveled to many places in the world, and the Canadian Maritimes is indeed a treasure.” —Barbara Palter

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


Baja, Mexico: scuba, surfing, horseback riding, zip lines…

Sea lions swimming and playing, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Sea lions swimming in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“Baja CA is such an easy destination to get to from Southern CA, so when Zach and his team suggested a Thanksgiving trip for my family of 4, including 2 teen daughters, we jumped on it as we have not explored the other parts of Baja beyond Los Cabos. As up-and-coming areas, we saw the charm of Todos Santos town, hiked along the hills above the ocean and had surf lessons at Los Cerritos.

Next up was La Paz, which has potential to become a wonderful destination, as there are plenty of adventure activities to choose from. We had a few travel hiccups the first few days in Todos Santos and La Paz, but Zach’s travel team of Jose & Amalia worked to make it the best they possibly could. One of our main goals for this trip was to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, which normally have a very dependable arrival in early November. However they decided not to show up in their regular numbers, so no one could get permits to swim with them in La Paz bay. This was a major disappointment but we had back-up activities planned and ideas ready, which is a useful travel tip for those “planning” on unpredictable animal life interactions. You just never know what will happen, so have something else in mind that will satisfy your travel wishes. We instead went on a sunset sandboarding excursion on the oceanfront dunes one late afternoon, and it was beautiful and remote. We also took a full-day boat trip to scuba dive with friendly, juvenile sea lions, took another dive through a shipwreck and then anchored at a remote beach for a wonderful lunch. These were both exciting excursions that filled the void of the whale sharks’ absence, and having Zach’s connections made it all that much easier.

Our last stop was Grand Velas on the Los Cabos corridor. What a property! The rooms, the views, the service, the spa, the food…it was all amazing!  We left the property for a few activities: horseback riding on the beach and in the hills, and a jam-packed adventure up in the mountains with zip lines, rappelling, free-fall jumps, climbing, & polaris vehicle driving; all seamlessly organized by Zach’s team.” —Andrea Phillips

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


Belize: hiking, snorkeling, river tubing…

Tiger Fern waterfall in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize.

Tiger Fern waterfall, Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently returned from an eight-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.” —Randi Maidman

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


Chile: heli-hiking, whitewater rafting…

Traveler Jeannie hiking in Chile.

Traveler Jeannie hiking in 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, whitewater rafting, cultural visits, among others—I would say that the heli-hiking in Pucon with my guide, Patricio Garrido, 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 that offered impeccable service and every possible amenity. Vira Vira, an AndBeyond property, was exquisite.” —Jeannie Mullen

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


Bali: white-water rafting, hiking…

ubud bali

Ubud, Bali. Photo: Yoan Carle/Flickr

“Having never been to Indonesia before, we told Diane the types of activities we enjoyed and she devised a custom itinerary that suited us perfectly. We spent an exciting day rafting down the Ayung river in Ubud and enjoyed a scenic guided hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the northern part of the island. We also enjoyed a visit to a Balinese farming village where we got to sample Balinese cuisine and meet the lovely Balinese people who call this area their home. A highlight we’ll always remember is the live Balinese music and dancing which were performed for our enjoyment. We were shy, to be honest, at first. But by the end of the performance we actually got up there and played the drums and cymbals! These are the types of experiences that make travel so worthwhile. We’ll never forget it—and we have Diane to thank for that!” —Joe McBrine

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


Australia: 5K and 10K city runs, snorkeling, spearfishing…

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

Sailing on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Tourism Australia

‘Wow’ is not a strong enough word to describe the incredible 19-day journey in Australia we enjoyed, thanks to the wonderful work of Stuart and Jacki. Our primary motivation was to participate in the 10K Sydney Harbour Bridge Run. So our trip started in Sydney at the Pier House, which is just below the south side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which turned out to be a perfect location, near the tourist sites but not in their midst. We then flew to Ayers Rock/Uluru and enjoyed dinner under the stars and the Field of Light show in the desert. Next came Brisbane, Cairns, and the Daintree Rainforest, where we went spearfishing and scalloping on the tidal flats with Brent Walker, a local aborigine, who then took us to his house and cooked the crab he and Susan had speared, as well as the unique flat scallops we had gathered.

The next day we went snorkeling at three sites on the marvelous Great Barrier Reef, which was alive with bright coral and many, many colorful fish. Thoroughly enjoyed the charming crew of the Calypso Blue. We then flew via private four-seater aircraft into the Arnhem Land outback, where we stayed with Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris in quaint cabins and enjoyed seeing aboriginal rock art in its natural state, unmarred by thousands of tourists. What a treat! We also saw an emu with its three babies, wallabies, dingos, and multiple species of exotic birds. We shared tasty meals with other guests, one of whom asked us how we Americans had learned about Davidson’s because few Australians know about it. (We credited Stuart and Jacki.) We finished our trip in Melbourne, where we ran in a 5K race that was part of the Melbourne Marathon Festival. Wendy, Jacki and Stuart, thank you all for our trip of a lifetime!” —John and Susan Mueller

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


Costa Rica: rappelling, zip lining, boating…

Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park.

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

“We recently returned (July 2022) from an amazing vacation in Costa Rica, which was planned by Priscilla. I traveled with my three adult children (17,19 and 23) and we were looking forward to an out-of-country excursion after staying in the States for an extended period due to Covid.

In my initial phone calls with Priscilla I had mentioned that we wanted to maximize our time in the country (12 days) and visit several different locations. We also love to be active. It was planned to perfection. My only request was to stay at Nayara Tented Camp. Priscilla went out of her way to coordinate the trip around my request. The Tented Camp was wonderful beyond words, it was a nice break of sorts from our busy days and we all loved it, especially the private plunge pool.

We started in Tortuguero, which is a gem on the Caribbean side of the country. We stayed at a river lodge, right in the middle of the rainforest. It was extremely lush and with lots of wildlife sightings. From there we went to Arenal, where we did waterfall rappelling and zip lining. Our rafting was cancelled due to an impending storm. We also did an evening frog tour, which I would highly recommend. Our last stop was the amazingly biodiverse Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific side. We were in awe of all of the wildlife sightings. The mangrove tour was one of the highlights of our trip. We were in the boat for about 4 hours, with constant wildlife sightings. One night we did an evening bug tour, with loads of different bug sightings, another must if you are in the Osa Peninsula. The tours, resorts and activities were planned by Priscilla perfectly.

Priscilla listened to my requests and worked closely with me to coordinate all activities that were suited to our interests. We accomplished our goal of seeing different areas of the country, and getting an amazing introduction to the unbelievable biodiversity of this country. She was a pleasure to work with, extremely responsive, and I would highly recommend her for anyone that is considering a trip to Costa Rica.” —Meg Castineiras

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


Costa Rica: hiking, canyoning, ATV tour…

Amazing panoramic view of beautiful nature of Costa Rica with smoking volcano Arenal background. Panorama of volcano Arenal reflected on wonderful picturesque lake, La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Arenal volcano, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family (husband, wife, and two college-aged daughters) used Priscilla to plan a trip to Costa Rica. We had a balance between fun activities and down time at the beach, which meant that we stayed in two different places. Our first base was the Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa, which boasted large, comfortable rooms with stunning views of the Arenal volcano. From this location, we were able to go canyoning and have several nature hikes with our naturalist, Gustavo. At first I thought that it might be too much of a splurge for us to be accompanied all the time by our own naturalist, but honestly, it was so worth it! He was able to spot sloths (which, obviously, aren’t active enough for us to spot) and so many birds, exotic toucans, even an arboreal snake that we would have simply passed right by without noticing. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we had with him. Our second base was the W Resort at the beach, in first-class accommodations with howler monkeys in the surrounding forest. Every tour arranged by Priscilla was outstanding, from the canyoning to the ATV tour. Gustavo even arranged for us to have a private ATV tour because he saw that the afternoon forecast was looking pretty rainy.” —Claire Leuenberger

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


Argentina & Chile: hiking in Patagonia

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia.

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia. Photo: Explora

“Our trip to Patagonia was incredible. A couple of days in Buenos Aires was a great way to break up the long travel and a treat to explore an interesting, colorful city with our guide, Claudio. Tom’s suggestion to spend four nights on a small ship exploring the glaciers of the Beagle and Drake channel was spot on. We loved adventures in the zodiacs every day, as well as amazing guides and very good food. The highlight of the trip was Torres del Paine. The most beautiful place we’ve ever seen. So glad we stayed at Explora, with the best view in the entire park, fabulous guides to take you hiking, and great food and service!” —Carrie Lazarus

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


Canada: Heli-skiing

Alpine homes at the foot of Whistler Mountain, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler Mountain, British Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was the most fun vacation we’ve ever had!  We started with a phone conversation with Marc to explain our interest in helicopter skiing, combined with fine dining and luxury accommodations. Our biggest concern was that most heli-ski trips appear to involve staying in remote accommodations for a week with a small group of strangers and a common dining room, but no restaurants or other activities on-property for the bad-weather days. Instead, Marc suggested we stay at Whistler-Blackcomb Village in Canada and utilize the Whistler Heli-Skiing company that leaves daily directly from the Village. The best decision we made was to go with his recommendation.

Marc’s staff arranged private transportation to take us from the airport to Whistler and back, and confirmed (and reconfirmed) dinner reservations every night of our trip at the best restaurants. When one of our scheduled heli-ski days got cancelled due to weather, Marc’s staff immediately rescheduled our day to include spa reservations, to ensure we didn’t miss a beat. It was so nice knowing our trip planner was following up all the way through our trip. There was even a surprise cheese board that arrived in our hotel room shortly after arrival with a special note from our trip planners.” —Rachel Bunton

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


Ecuador: Hiking & horseback riding

Horseback riding at Hacienda Cusin, Ecuador

Horseback riding at Hacienda Cusin, Ecuador. Photo: Myths and Mountains

Allie did a great job customizing our Ecuador trip to fit our interests and goals. We started the trip off the beaten path at the Hacienda Zuleta, which was simply fabulous. I love historical inns and, at 400 years old, it hit the mark for me. The hiking and horseback riding were superb, and the staff was incredibly friendly and tried to make everything perfect for the guests. One of my daughters is a skilled rider, and she and her horse guide went out galloping through fields, mountain trails and back roads each day for hours.

The next stop was the Galapagos Islands, which we did via a land-based tour. Again the hotels were unique and charming, with first-rate staff. The wildlife was spectacular, abundant and ruling the land and sea. All of our tours were either private or small-group tours (two families), so we felt our experiences were unique and we were not on a conveyor belt. Everyone we connected with in Ecuador was friendly, interesting and happy to share their paradise with us.” —Stephanie Danforth

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


Hawaii: surfing, paddleboarding, biking…

Four Seasons Maui balcony

Four Seasons Maui. Photo: Four Seasons

“We were unsure which Hawaiian islands we wanted to visit, but Dani asked our family (four adults) so many questions about what we expected and how we wanted to spend our time, and was so well-informed, that we ended up with a fantastic vacation. We decided on the Four Seasons resorts on the islands of Maui and Lanai, which turned out to be perfect choices. Dani arranged all of our activities: surf lessons, paddleboard lessons, skeet shooting, archery. We had dinner reservations ready and were able to just enjoy our days. A highlight was our WOW Moment, biking down Haleakala through sun and clouds. Just a pleasure! Dani also maximized our time by advising us to take the ferry to Lanai, but to fly from Lanai to Maui instead of using the ferry again. Great advice!” —Nancy Stone

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


Switzerland: paragliding, glacier trekking, Via Ferrata…

Start of paraglider at Mannlichen top point above Grindelwald, Switzerland. - Image

Paragliding above Grindelwald, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina created an itinerary that included many excellent suggestions that we were not aware of, even though I had done a fair amount of research on my own to know what Switzerland had to offer. Paragliding in Grindelwald, a Canyon Swing, a Jet Boat in Interlaken, a private cave tour, glacier trekking, a helicopter transfer from Jungfraujoch to Gstaad, the Via Ferrata in Mürren-Gimmelwald, the Gorner Gorge adventure in Zermatt….AWESOME! The execution of the trip was flawless: When the helicopter landed in Gstaad in a grassy field, the driver was right there waiting for us. There would have been no way to plan this trip on our own and have everything run as smoothly as it did.” —Travis Schmitt

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


California: kayaking, paragliding, e-biking…

Kayaking in Southern California.

Kayaking in Southern California. Photo: Janette Gill

Our teenagers are still talking about our Southern California paragliding adventure over the beaches and golf course at Torrey Pines and our beach barbeque at Crystal Cove State Park while watching the sunset with our toes in the sand. Sheri was very helpful in recommending and organizing hotel stays at both the hipster Pendry Hotel in San Diego and the luxurious Pelican Hill Resort outside of Newport Beach. We initially had a little misunderstanding with the resort regarding our room location, but after a short conversation with Sheri, we were quickly upgraded to a room with a much better view (thanks, Sheri). This type of personalized service is the reason we plan most of our trips using Wendy Perrin’s trusted travel experts. Since this was our third qualifying trip, Wendy surprised us with a WOW Moment—a day of adventure on charming Coronado Island. Our guide for the day picked us up at our hotel for a short ferry ride over to the historic island, where we spent the day riding electric bikes around the quaint residential areas, and then we kayaked out into the Bay. Thanks, Wendy and Sheri, for a very memorable day for all of us!”—Janette Gill

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



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A group of resting lemurs katta looking at the camera.

Thrilling Animal Encounters: Reviews of WOW Trips

For many people, seeing wild animals in their native habitat is their favorite reason to travel; that’s the common thread in the trip reviews you’ll read below. True wildlife sightings can’t be engineered, and there is a growing sensitivity to the ethics of animal encounters. The folks on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts can put you in the right place, at the right time, and with the right local trackers to maximize your chances of seeing wildlife in its natural state. Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.


Ecuador: “At Mashpi Lodge, a biologist identified a new species, the ‘Mashpi glass frog,’ which he found for us on a night walk…”

A frog clinging on the traveler's glasses frame.

A Mashpi glass frog clings to an eyeglass frame. Photo: Traveler Robin Madden

“We just returned from a 10-day trip to Ecuador, with our two adult sons and one of their partners, and unlike most, we did not include the Galapagos in the itinerary. We chose to visit the Amazon and stay at Napo Wildlife Center, and Mashpi Lodge in the Cloud Forest. These two places were chosen due to their commitment to the local communities and preservation of the incredibly biologically diverse ecosystems in which they are each set. Carmen on Jordan’s team put together a seamless experience.

Though remote, the Napo Wildlife Center is both elegant and comfortable. Our experience included a local guide from the indigenous community. The lodge is owned and operated by the local community—a rarity in luxury lodges. Mornings started early, 5:30, but oh, the payoff! We saw multiple species of monkeys, more than 40 different birds, caiman, river otters, and a sloth, as well as various snakes and insects.

At Mashpi Lodge, Fernando was our guide, and he is the ‘frog whisperer.’ He is a biologist who did research there prior to becoming a guide and identified a new species, the ‘Mashpi glass frog,’ which he found for us on a night walk. We had the extraordinary luck of witnessing a battle between a wasp and a tarantula. The wasp won, killing the tarantula and depositing her eggs inside to hatch in about 10 days. Fernando videotaped the whole encounter. It was like watching a National Geographic special, but it was right there in front of us.” —Robin Madden

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


Mexico: “Four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside private boat excursions to key wildlife sites…”

Diver swimming with whale shark

Diving with a whale shark. Photo: Journey Mexico

Zach and his wonderful team—Carolina and Jose among many others behind the scenes I’m sure—planned the most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me. We were interested in a nature-focused experience, spending all of our time on whale watching, sea lions, whale sharks, etc.  Zach was so thoughtful, spending a series of phone calls with me figuring out what kind of travelers we were and what kind of experiences would be right. He then proposed the perfect itinerary, including four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside time in La Paz on private boat excursions to key wildlife sites and a transfer evening in Cabo. We weren’t excited about spending time in busy Cabo, and he found us an under-the-radar boutique hotel that checked all our boxes (quiet, beautiful, excellent service).

The trip itself was flawlessly executed.  Carolina went out of her way to figure out where we could skip logistics steps and bypass lines. It couldn’t have run more smoothly during a very crowded time in Baja. I was also so appreciative of their flexibility and help when, at the last minute, I had a medical emergency and couldn’t go with my daughter. They immediately shifted all of the reservations to a new family member who accompanied her. Hearing their glowing, joyful reports every day of the amazing time Zach and team had organized was almost as wonderful as being there myself. We can’t recommend Zach, Carolina, Jose and team more highly.” —Cate Bradley

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


Canada: “We are so thankful to have experienced polar bears in the wild with a small group on foot…”

Polar bear with cubs in Canadian Arctic.

A polar bear with cubs in the Canadian Arctic. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was a fantastic trip!  I’ve been thinking about seeing polar bears for years and imagined traveling in tundra buggies outside of Churchill looking for bears. Thank goodness I reached out to Marc and his team for their help!

Marc suggested a walking safari at a remote camp. He also helped determine the optimal time and best experience based on our interests. It was amazing! The tour is 6 days—4 days at the camp and one day on either end in Winnipeg.  The camp is 60 km north of Churchill, we flew in on an 8-passenger plane and saw a polar bear from the air! The entire time we were at the lodge, there were 3 bears around the camp. We had so many opportunities to see them from the lodge, from the viewing decks outside, and walking on the tundra. Equipment was provided and very much appreciated for protecting us from the Arctic winds. We were also lucky enough to see an amazing show of the northern lights.

As we were preparing for our trip, our questions were quickly and accurately answered by Kate on Marc’s team. We appreciated their recommendations and support. We are so thankful to have experienced polar bears in the wild with a small group on foot.” —Deborah Wente

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


The Galapagos Islands: “We had penguins nibbling our fins, watched sea turtles noshing underwater and sea lions performing acrobatics…”

woman snorkeling underwater in Galapagos with giant tortoise

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Traveler Colleen Grazioso

Ashton did an incredible job helping us plan our vacation of a lifetime to the Galapagos to celebrate our Dad’s 75th Birthday (and my 50th!).  We spent eight days aboard a sturdy and very comfortable catamaran that sleeps 16 passengers across eight passenger cabins. The ship has a crew of ten that provided amazing service. It was incredible to have the entire boat to ourselves. With no internet onboard, we spent real quality time relaxing together. My dad claims he spent more time with his grandkids on this trip than over the past 15 years combined!

We walked on young lava around volcanoes, hiked up mountains, kayaked in caves, saw tons and tons and tons of all sorts of iguanas, swam on deserted white-sand beaches, watched octopus in tide pools, walked next to giant land tortoises, and saw lots and lots of blue-footed boobies. Several of us are certified SCUBA divers and were a little upset before we got there that we wouldn’t be diving on this trip but, I have to say, the snorkels we did on this trip were more spectacular that any dives I have ever done, anywhere. We had penguins nibbling our fins, watched sea turtles noshing underwater and sea lions performing acrobatics in front of us—every single day. We saw rays and whales and sharks and eels and tons of colorful fish and starfish the size of hubcaps. If you like to snorkel, this trip will top anything you have done, I guarantee it!” —Colleen Grazioso

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


Southern Africa: “My daughter and I were profoundly affected by the emphasis on sustainability and respect/harmony with nature…”

elephant close-up in Zambezi river in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s Lower Zambezi River is home to massive herds of elephants. Photo: Wilderness Safaris

“My daughter and I had the most incredible trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as organized by Cherri and her team. One thing I always appreciate about your specialists is their desire to understand my particular travel needs and desires. We started with 5 days in Cape Town, mixing up our need for outdoor activities—hiking and biking—with cultural and historical highlights. Then, off to Camp Moremi in Botswana, where we did 7 jeep drives that brought us so close to all the animals. Having been in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater before, I really appreciated the small and intimate camps in Botswana. When we found animals, there were only 2-3 Jeeps, and we did not crowd them. This allowed us to see animals mating, feeding, nursing, fighting, and other activities that are just part of life.

At Camp Okavango, which is surrounded by water, our safaris were by boat, canoe and on foot. We loved this—the quiet, the birds, the alarm calls! Once, on walking safari, we encountered a male elephant at close range. Our guide, Taps, quickly advised us on how to act and proceed. We felt entirely safe, and at the same time, were within 10 feet of the elephant. He even sniffed us!

Our final stop was at Dulini Leadwood in Sabi Sands, and I have to say, this was beyond fantastic. Within one day, we saw all of the Big 5 animals! Again, we were able to watch animal behaviors that are so rare, such as a leopard with her 3- month-old cub, playing.   While an African safari is never inexpensive, this one surely met all the criteria of ‘trip of a lifetime’. My daughter and I were profoundly affected by the emphasis on sustainability and respect/harmony with nature. This is my 5th trip with one of Wendy’s experts, and we have 2 more coming up. I love doing my own travel planning, but when going somewhere that has myriad options and connections, it’s just so much easier with one of your travel planners. Thanks so much.” —Milinda Martin

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


Alaska: “The Kodiak Brown Bear Center was very interesting—and did we see the bears! We saw them in the water, on the land, and even in the trees…”

Alaskan brown bear sow and its cub at Brooks Falls in katmai National Park, Alaska

An Alaskan brown bear sow and its cub at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our fifth trip to Alaska was again spectacular, thanks to Judith. We wanted to visit Kodiak Island for bear viewing and also try ocean fishing. The Kodiak Brown Bear Center was very interesting—and did we see the bears!  We saw them in the water, on the land, and even in the trees!  We also enjoyed the lodge and the limited number of people that can stay at one time. There are only four cabins.

Judith also made arrangements for us to go ocean fishing in Homer with a full-service charter—meaning, not only did they provide the bait and tackle, but they also handled the cleaning and made arrangements for processing so we could ship our catch home for us to enjoy. The scenery was spectacular, and the sea was relatively flat. We saw whales and puffins, and we fished for salmon and halibut. Our hotel was on the Homer Spit, so we could watch the boats come and go. One evening we brought our dinner back to the hotel so we could watch the sunset from our picture window, and our dinner view was a group of sea otters having fun playing in the water. Another wonderful trip! Thank you, Judith, and also thank you, Wendy Perrin, for your list of travel specialists.” —Marsha Friedli

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


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

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle in the Galapagos. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise aboard the Elite. Allie planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible, and none of us wanted to leave.  We plan 90% of our travel on our own, but with a trip like this, which we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we wanted to be 100% sure we got it right. We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (land-based or boat-based? which of a hundred boats? large or small? monohull or cat? four-day or longer? etc.). She helped us make it perfect. So perfect that maybe it won’t be once-in-a-lifetime.

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

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

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


Costa Rica: “We were able to see howler monkeys and troops of both white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys…”

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica.

A white-faced Capuchin monkey in Costa Rica’s rainforest. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife and I, along with our three children (elementary, high school, and college age), worked with Priscilla in the planning of a trip to Costa Rica in March. We were able to mix in plenty of activities with some relaxation.

Our first stay was at The Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal Volcano area. The hotel offered plenty for the children to do beyond swimming. The waterfall rappelling excursion Priscilla recommended was very fun. At the hotel we spotted sloths and toucans, and the view of the volcano from the hotel room was spectacular.

Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula. The Sunset Rancho offered a fantastic view of the ocean, and the meals were great. Our excursion to Corcovado National Park was a highlight and we were able to see Howler Monkeys and troops of both White Faced Capuchin and Spider Monkeys. We also saw an arboreal anteater, Coatimundis, and a saltwater crocodile. Priscilla set up a wonderful night tour where we were able to see snakes, frogs, spiders, a scorpion, and even a fleeting glimpse of a Kinkajou. Cocolito Beach by the lodge offered some great waves for boogie boarding and never felt crowded. From beginning to end, Priscilla and the team provided a lot of details/organization so we could just enjoy the trip.” —Nelson Mongiovi

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


Kenya & Rwanda: “It’s hard to explain the joy and wonder one experiences when face-to-face with a gorilla family, but it was extraordinary, and we are forever changed…”

A gorilla in Rwanda. Photo: Pixabay

“We recently returned from a truly amazing trip to Kenya and Rwanda, organized by Dan. We began planning our trip over a year ago, initially interviewing two companies that were rated as being in ‘the top five’ by respected travel publications. Disappointed that their representatives weren’t really listening and designing trips that met our criteria, we reached out to Wendy’s team and got connected with Dan.

Dan is a great listener and promptly put together an itinerary that excited us and met our requirements. With his guidance, we selected two locations for safaris on private lands in Kenya, the Lewa Conservancy and the Mara North Conservancy. The safari experiences at the two locations complemented each other really well.

In Lewa, we saw four of the Big Five upon arrival, just on our drive from the airstrip to camp! Home to countless unique species, there we also saw Grevy’s Zebra, white and black rhinos and even wild dogs. Fortunately, we also made it to the Maasai Mara in time to see the Migration and a drama-filled river crossing, as well as all the Big Five. Our last stop was Rwanda, where we went gorilla trekking for two days. It’s hard to explain the joy and wonder one experiences when face-to-face with a gorilla family, but it was extraordinary, and we are forever changed.” —Gina and Roger Symczak

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


African Safari: “Watching a pride of lions feast on a freshly killed hippo…”

Travelers taking photo with the rainbow behind them at the safari in Masa Mara Conservancy, Kenya.

Martha and James Issokson saw not just wildlife but a rainbow on their safari in the Masai Mara Conservancy.

“We just returned from a wonderful stay in Kenya. Daniel’s guidance enabled us to narrow down the many possibilities for a trip to Africa. He was helpful in selecting the time of year, the locations, and also the type of resort experience we wished to have. We stayed at two of the Kicheche resorts from February 4-12. The selection of camps in the Masai Mara Conservancy and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy provided a wonderful variety of terrain and wildlife to view.

The location, food and level of service were above and beyond our expectations. Experiences like viewing elephants, buffalo and gazelles from our tent at the Ol Pejeta camp and watching a pride of lions feast on a freshly killed hippo at the Mara Conservancy made our trip one we will not soon forget.” —James and Martha Issokson

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



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

young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia

WOW Experience: Sunrise Ceremony with Cambodian Monks

sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley Cambodia
After our private ceremony with the temple's monk, we watched the sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley. Photo: Billie Cohen
young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia
A young monk prepared a special water blessing for us at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Cambodia. Photo: Billie Cohen
beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom outside Siem Reap Cambodia
Another beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom. Photo: Billie Cohen
temple painting at Phnom Krom pagoda outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The pagoda was painted with intricate medallions. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap are more than a thousand years old. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom Cambodia outdoor shrine
The Phnom Krom mountaintop complex is dotted with statues and shrines. Photo: Billie Cohen
buddha statue with monks and a banyan tree at Phnom Krom temple in Cambodia
A statue of Buddha sits under a real-life banyan tree. Photo: Billie Cohen
tamarind juice and lotus yogurt breakfast in Cambodia
My favorite parts of our picnic breakfast: tamarind juice, lotus and bean yogurt, and croissants. Photo: Billie Cohen
pink lotus flower in a field near siem reap cambodia
Bright pink lotus flowers stood out in a field of green, outside Siem Reap. Photo: Billie Cohen


Travel often involves a lot of running around. In an almost compulsive effort to see, do, eat, and experience as much as we possibly can, we go all out, nonstop. But on one wonderful morning in Cambodia, I was reminded of the immeasurable value of sitting still. And, ironically, it took one of the most accomplished travel planners in Southeast Asia to make it happen. Sandy Ferguson has lived in Asia for most of his life and he’s been planning people’s trips throughout the region for more than four decades. Maybe that long-lived experience is what helps him think past the usual sightseeing checklists and identify the intangible wonders that his longtime home has to offer. It’s definitely what helps him know where to find them.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special-access opportunities you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Sandy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

A sunrise meditation at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Siem Reap. The early-morning drive to the temple takes you through a lovely village, then up a winding road to a hilltop overlooking the Tonle Sap Lake and miles of fields. The temple complex includes pagodas, terraces, some working buildings used by the monks, several statues and artworks, and the preserved ruins of a ninth-century temple, similar to what you’d see in Angkor, but in a very different (and very tourist-free) context.

The Where and When:

Phnom Krom Pagoda is about a half-hour drive outside central Siem Reap. The experience is available year-round; since sunrise is generally the same no matter when you visit (around 6am), you’ll be picked up at your hotel at approximately 4:30am.

The WOW:

I am a frequent solo traveler. I like to explore by myself, at my own pace, and on my own schedule. But by no means am I a solitary traveler—I talk to everyone: The gentleman scooping my gelato in Locarno, the young woman running a wool shop in Lisbon, the ticket taker at the La Chaux-de-Fonds history museum, the playful little kids from Dubai in my train car, the Azerbaijani family on the funicular at the Reichenbach Falls. I’m a sponge, and my main goal (and joy) when I travel is to soak up everything else and everyone else.

So I admit I was a little nervous about the morning activity Sandy Ferguson recommended for me during my stay in Siem Reap: meditating with the monks of a historic temple at sunrise. He met the former abbot of this mountaintop temple back in 1989, very soon after tourists were first even allowed into Cambodia, and it’s one of the exclusive experiences he’s able to offer as a result of such relationships (which he’s developed extensively in Asia over the years, in addition to all his family and friends). His excitement was contagious, but nevertheless I was daunted. Sure, watching the sun come up over the valley of the Tonle Sap Lake after a morning of meditation sounded lovely in theory, but I was already feeling my legs twitch and my restlessness get the better of me. How long would I have to be silent for? What if I couldn’t sit still for the whole time? And I have to wake up when?

Despite my trepidation about our 4:30am pick-up time, I ended up feeling wide awake as the car drove through the pre-dawn darkness. Around us, Siem Reap was silent and unmoving; it was such a rare view of a destination that is usually buzzing with people and activity.

When we arrived at the hilltop complex, the early morning was still dark, and inside the pagoda, all was quiet. A young monk was already kneeling on a rug in front of a giant golden Buddha statue, waiting for us next to a pile of fresh flower petals and a bowl of water. The scene was beautiful, serene, and also a little thrilling. The world hadn’t woken yet, but here we were on top of a mountain. We settled ourselves on the rug and, through our guide’s translation, learned some background about the monks’ lifestyle and traditions, how to sit for meditation, and about the upcoming water blessing ceremony, meant for purification and good fortune. And then it was time. The monk showed us a few options for how to arrange ourselves comfortably and what to do with our arms and legs, and we began.

You know those times during a trip when you’re hyper-aware that this is a moment and you know you should try to imprint every detail on your brain so you can remember it forever? That’s what was going through my mind as we crossed our legs and closed our eyes and tried to concentrate on our breathing. Of course, the pressure of the moment was exactly what kept popping my eyes open; I was so eager to look around, to take in the murals on the painted walls and the shapes of the statues, to observe my fellow travelers, to watch the intriguing young monk who yawned once or twice himself. I had so many questions about what I was seeing that I spent the first few minutes just cataloging them in my brain so I could ask them afterward; there was so much to see and learn that shutting my eyes seemed (to the reporter in me) like a waste of an opportunity. And then my guide caught me with my eyes open, and I felt like a kid who’d disobeyed the teacher. He smiled knowingly (he must see this stubbornness in so many of his guests) and gently motioned for me to try again.

So I did. Honestly, my compliance was more out of duty and respect than anything else, but as my eyes finally relaxed and breath finally steadied, I became more and more surprised by what I’d been missing:

I heard the roosters crowing outside.

I sensed the growing lightness in the room as the sun rose.

I heard the shuffling of my fellow meditators as they too struggled, and I felt a kinship with them.

I felt the stillness of our leader who despite his very young age had so much more practice at this.

I felt my head clear and my breath even out, and for a brief second, I allowed myself to let go of the constant pressure to experience everything. A pressure I didn’t even realize I was putting on myself so heavily.

When I opened my eyes, I was refreshed—and no one was more dumbstruck than I. Because somewhere in that pre-dawn temple, as the sun rose through the windows, I realized the gift I’d just been given: the opportunity to simply stop. On a trip where I’d done nothing of the sort for weeks on end, this was a pretty powerful revelation—a reminder to experience the destination around me, rather than trying to wring an experience from it. I laughed to myself, because obviously Sandy knew this.

Once we completed the meditation, I sat in wonder as the monk intoned a blessing, sprinkled each of us with water and flowers and tied a string around our wrist while he chanted in Pali, the language of Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism. The string, which is traditional throughout the region, is a way to take the monk’s blessing with you, to remind you of it no matter where you are. “Everything that comes out of the temple is designed to be a blessing,” Sandy explained to me later. “Whether they’re feeding people or teaching people, that’s the prime drive.”

The sun had started to come up, and we strolled outside and around the complex to watch the sun rise and enjoy a picnic breakfast next to thousand-year-old temple ruins. From the hilltop we could see all the way to the horizon—field after field after field, dotted with villages that were now waking up below us.

As we drove back through the now-bustling village, we saw residents preparing food and decorations for a wedding, and we stopped at a lotus field to admire its hot pink flowers. That afternoon, we returned to our more active pace of sightseeing, but the peacefulness of the morning never left me. I’d been given an uncommon glimpse into a key part of Cambodian culture, and a reminder to slow down enough to truly experience it.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience is organized exclusively by Sandy Ferguson, who is one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia; you can read his Insider Guides to Southeast Asia, to Bangkok, and to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and the Best Beaches, and read reviews by travelers who’ve used him to understand the caliber of trips he arranges. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits, request your trip here.

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

This Is the Day in Bali You’ll Never Forget: A WOW Experience

The small rural village of Pacut is about an hour and a half outside Ubud.
The drive into Pacut, the hometown of my guide Agung.
The central pavilion, or bale gede, of the traditional home where I spent the first part of the tour. It's surrounding by small enclosed buildings, including a kitchen and bedrooms.
Bright floral temple offerings are placed on sidewalks and in front of businesses and homes all over Bali. Now I got to make my own.
Ta da!
Lunch is served on a beautiful bamboo pedestal…
…and looks even more beautiful inside.
My own custom bamboo sunhat!
Agung goofing around with my hat on. That double basket he's carrying is incredibly heavy. I couldn't lift it at all!
You'll see these stepped rice fields all over Bali—and the view never gets old.
This is the real daily work for the farmers who live in Pacut, and I got to see it up close.
Guests are welcome to wade into the paddy and help push the oxen.
On the porch of his home, Agung plays the rindik for me.
Then I tried my hand with the village's gamelan orchestra.
The village's town hall/community center is also an outdoor pavilion. This one is called a bale banjar and it's where the orchestra performs.
The cymbals were the instrument I excelled at…because I only had to clang them together when my percussion team members nodded at me. The rindik was a lot more difficult.
These multitalented men played flute-like instruments for some songs, and then switched to percussion on others. They were my cymbal buddies.


We travelers are always looking for that holy grail of an “authentic” experience. We want to feel like we’re really connecting with a place we visit, not just looking through the glass at it. We want to experience those spark-filled moments when our eyes widen and we realize the person we’re talking to (or smiling and gesticulating wildly at) has just made that magical transformation from stranger to friend. Most of the time, those moments are random, impromptu; they can’t be planned or orchestrated. But the truth is, they can be nudged. That’s where the right travel planner comes in. Moreso than their connections at hotels, restaurants, and special events, it’s their connections to people that will end up making your trip memorable. And in Bali, where there’s no lack of natural beauty to gawk at and cultural activities to experience, seasoned travelers want to find a way beneath the surface, to get out of the lovely-but-touristy towns and connect to whatever it is that makes Bali so special. Spoiler: It’s the people. And Diane Embree’s village day tour is how you meet them.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special-access opportunities you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Diane, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

A personalized and personal-feeling day in a Balinese village, meeting the residents, learning about the culture, and trying your hand at the crafts, work, and traditions that fill their daily lives. If you’re interested, Diane can also arrange for a charitable opportunity like a visit to a school. “I never pressure people to donate,” she says, “but the information is on my website if people are interested.”

The Where and When:

The small rural village of Pacut, about an hour and a half outside Ubud. This experience is available any time of year, except during some holidays when the villagers will be busy with preparations.

The WOW:

Diane has cultivated an exclusive arrangement with the village of Pacut, which, she told me, “is so small it’s not even on the maps of Bali. I can guarantee that no other tourists will be in the village on the day you go there.” What makes it even more special is that Diane has a personal connection to Pacut. “My longtime colleague who runs the ground operation in Bali is originally from the village and still has very strong ties there. In fact, he is currently the head of the village (an elected position),” she says. “In addition, one of the guides [Agung] and all the drivers that I use are from the village.”

Throughout the day you’ll meet several of the town’s residents, who prepare you a homemade lunch of typical Balinese foods and give you hands-on lessons in two Balinese crafts: constructing the ubiquitous flower-filled temple offerings that are strewn on sidewalks all over Bali every day, and weaving a bamboo-leaf hat. You’ll appreciate the headgear even more later when you’re in the sun-drenched rice fields and have the chance to meet a local farmer and pull his oxen through a paddy. (Interestingly, on our walk through the rice field, I was surprised and delighted to see a man biking down the road wearing a bamboo hat like the one I’d just made. His was browned and worn with age, so I got the feeling he hadn’t made it that morning for my benefit.)

Lunch and crafts take place in the courtyard of one of Pacut’s traditional Balinese homes, which are not the single houses that we’re used to in the west but rather compounds of small buildings and outdoor pavilions called bale. Sitting in the shade of the central bale gede, you start to understand the shape and rhythms of real Balinese lives, without a tourist in sight. While the flower-offering and hat-making craft sessions are cute fun—and probably even better for families traveling with kids—the real highlights come after lunch.

First, since Pacut is where my guide Agung grew up and still lives, he personally knows everyone you’ll meet—and he’ll also invite you into his own home. I was welcomed like an old friend and got to sit with him and his wife as they showed me pictures of their teenage daughter, toured me around their home, offered some first-hand insight into the increasingly complex issues surrounding Balinese land ownership and farming, and then relaxed with me on the porch as Agung gave us an informal concert on his rindik, a kind of xylophone made from bamboo. Sitting on his porch, listening to his music, and talking about our different lives, I had one of those moments when you know you’re experiencing something incredibly special. This was the quote-unquote authentic experience we travelers are always searching for, and the reason it happens is because Diane and her colleagues have built friendships and working partnerships with real people who live in the real Bali.

Second, I got to sit in with the band. During your drive to Pacut and throughout the day, you’ll learn a ton about the way communities are set up in Bali, and their family and village traditions. For instance, some communities have a gamelan orchestra, which is called upon to provide the soundtrack to all kinds of community events: weddings, holidays…and in this case, a visit by one of Diane’s guests. The Pacut orchestra has an unusual backstory: Years ago, one of the locals found a discarded instrument. As Diane tells it in a blog post she wrote, “No one in the village—not even the oldest resident (who was in his 80s)—could remember the instrument ever being played, or even how it got there.” But determined to start their own orchestra, the men scraped together the money to fix it and to take lessons after they finished their workdays in the fields. Over the years, Diane has helped support the band, and your visit includes a donation so that the players can maintain their instruments and continue with their lessons.

Unbeknownst to me, while I’d been out in the fields, this amazing group of musicians had gathered at the al fresco town hall (called the bale banjar) with all their instruments and prepared to give me a private concert. The music is beautiful, rhythmic, and surprisingly easy to pick up. I know that for a fact because I was invited (as you will be) to try my hand at a few of the instruments: drums, a rindik, gongs, and cymbals. With the help of smiling musicians and the encouragement of other parents and children who’ll be drawn to the show, you will feel like part of the band in no time. Fair warning, you’ll probably be invited to dance too. Just go with it, though—this is exactly what you came to Bali for.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience can be tailored to your specific interests and is available through Diane Embree, our Trusted Travel Expert for Bali and Indonesia. See Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali and read reviews of Diane to understand the caliber of trips she arranges. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits, request your trip here.

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

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Have Angkor Wat To Yourself: A Cambodia WOW Experience

Angkor Wat is the most famous of Cambodia's temple—the park is named for it, after all—but it's usually the most crowded and, in my opinion, it's not even the most interesting. With ABOUTAsia, we got to see several temples off the beaten path. Photo: Billie Cohen
Barely another tourist was in sight when we began our day of temple visits. Photo: Billie Cohen
Ta Prohm—alone! Photo: Billie Cohen
We entered Ta Phrohm through this little-used gate, and avoided pretty much everyone else. Photo: Billie Cohen
Kanha helped us understand what we were looking at, which made us appreciate it that much more. Photo: Billie Cohen
Another tourist-free temple. Photo: Billie Cohen
We stopped for a picnic breakfast amid a garden. Photo: Billie Cohen
Fresh croissants, fruit, tea, and juices. Don't miss the tamarind juice—very refreshing in the heat. Photo: Billie Cohen
The view from the top of Ta Keo. That's Kanha in the tan shirt at the bottom, and just one other guide with a few visitors. Photo: Billie Cohen
Bayon Temple, one of my favorites. Photo: Billie Cohen
Pheakdey picked a fresh mango right off the tree for us. It was much juicier and sweeter than the ones we get in Brooklyn! Photo: Billie Cohen
Rice, beans, and coconut are baked inside a bamboo shoot. When it's done, you peel back the bamboo and enjoy! Photo: Billie Cohen
The journey to Villa Chandara, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The journey to Villa Chandara includes an oxcart ride and, when the weather cooperates, a boat trip. When I visited, the area was suffering unusual drought conditions, which meant I couldn't take the boat trip, but the oxcart was fun. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara dining, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Thanks to all that open space, the sunset at Villa Chandara is stunning. The fields were pretty brown when we visited due to the drought, but this is what it usually looks like. Photo: Ethan Crowley, ABOUTAsia Travel
Villa Chandara private circus performance, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
In addition to a musical concert, your Villa Chandara experience might include a circus performance. Ours did not, but I was convinced to check out the Phare circus on another night and was blown away—do not skip it. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel


Angkor Wat is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, which also means it’s one of the most crowded. But you don’t have to battle your way through this bucket-list experience with the more than one million visitors who converge on it each year. There is a better way: One of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia has figured out how to avoid the worst crowds of the Angkor Archaeological Park. Now, that’s a bold claim but, as I found out when I tested this WOW Experience myself, it works like a charm.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special experiences you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Andy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

Touring Angkor temple complex without the usual onslaught of tour groups and noisy crowds that ruin the monument’s majesty, not to mention your photos.

The Where and When:

Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 20 minutes outside of the small Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The 150-square-mile park includes the famed Angkor Wat temple, but also dozens more—dating from the 9th to 15th centuries—that are just as magnificent, and in varying states of preservation.

Our Trusted Travel Expert can accommodate you whenever you visit Siem Reap, but for the best chance to have some temples all to yourself, he recommends visiting between late May and early September, during the green season. As he explains in his Insider’s Guide: “Sure, 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.”

To be fair, I road-tested this WOW Experience outside that recommended window, toward the beginning of May, which was still very hot as the rains had not yet started. The temperature inside our comfortable air-conditioned SUV was kept in the cool 70s, but the outside temperature was well above 100. As a result, my timing wound up as both the best and the worst for being in Siem Reap. It’s hot and sticky, but it’s much less crowded. Cold bottled water and icy washcloths kept us cool enough, and the occasional juicy mango picked fresh off a tree kept us energized.

The WOW:

Andy Booth is an Oxford-trained physicist who found an incredibly logical and fool-proof way to tackle the challenge of touring the megapopular Angkor complex: He used science. Andy founded ABOUTAsia, a travel firm that has earned a coveted spot on The WOW List, and his team periodically collects data on the number of tourists visiting each temple at various times of year in order to ensure that ABOUTAsia guests can find sweet spots of solitude and quiet. Those sweet spots are very rare things, considering that Angkor is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions—so popular, in fact, that in 2017, authorities nearly doubled park admission prices in an attempt to control the crowds and imposed strict rules for dress codes and behavior (because the hordes of visitors wearing short shorts and carrying selfie sticks were taking too many liberties). You can therefore imagine the immeasurable value of spending your day with an experienced guide who knows exactly how to avoid all moment-spoiling bus groups.

Our guide to the temples, Ms. Kanha, was wonderful, warm, funny, and full of information—along with interesting personal stories. Private guides make the experience at Angkor Wat (yes, any tuk-tuk driver can take you around for about $25, but to transform the piles of ancient rocks into living history with connections to past kings and current events, you need a well-trained guide). Kanha smartly had us enter one of the most popular temples, Ta Prohm, first thing in the early morning (we got picked up at 6:30am), knowing that the crowds peak there later in the day—and she took us in via an alternate entrance so that even if we did encounter other people, we’d be touring the temple in the opposite direction. Astonishingly, we nabbed photos of the temple’s famous wall-straddling giant tree roots with no one else around, and we didn’t run into any group until we were more than halfway through that temple. From there, Kanha led us to various other beautiful temples, some literally off the beaten trail, where she illuminated artistic details and architectural themes that served to differentiate the structures from one another (all those ruins can blur together after a while) and to link them together into a story that reflected not just Cambodia’s history but the history of Southeast Asia too. At most sites we saw only a handful of other tourists, and at one little-visited monastery, Ta Nei—accessible by an offshoot path you have to know about to find—we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Even for Angkor Wat itself—the park’s main attraction, which we visited on our own on another day—Kanha had insider tips for us: what time to get there for sunrise, which side of the walkway to sit on for the best views, which direction to turn once we entered the temple so that we’d beat the queue to climb the central spire’s staircase, and what spots to view first so that we’d skirt most of the noisy tourist flock.

On the second day of our tour with AboutAsia, we saw an entirely different Cambodia. Leaving behind any other tourists and the usual sites you’d expect to see here, we were instead granted access into the local lives of the area’s farmers, out in the countryside not far from Siem Reap. We visited a family home where we sampled a tasty bamboo-rice-and-bean snack the kids were cooking in an outdoor oven; we ate juicy mangoes picked fresh off a tree; we bumped along in an oxcart through a farmer’s dusty field; and all the while, we got to know another excellent guide, Pheakdey, who grew up not far from there and could pepper the day with his own personal stories and experiences.

We ended the day feeling like royalty, watching the sunset at ABOUTAsia’s private villa Chandara, a traditional home overlooking green fields. Here, a private chef prepares a gourmet multicourse meal, while musicians serenade you with traditional Cambodian instruments. The dinner party can be enjoyed privately, ABOUTAsia’s general manager Ethan Crowley had told me earlier, but sometimes guests enjoy pairing up with other ABOUTAsia travelers. We dined alone due to scheduling, but it was easy to see how a slightly larger dinner party could be a fun and fulfilling end-of-trip experience: You’d get the chance to talk with other travelers about the amazing things you’d seen and done during the week, swapping stories and experiences over cocktails and good food—a little going-away soiree to send you back home in style.

How to Make it Happen:

Such experiences are customizable to your specific interests and are available through Andy Booth, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Cambodia, whose trips start at $400 per day for two travelers. Read Andy’s Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get special benefits, request your trip through our site.

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.