Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

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

by Wendy Perrin | March 21, 2023

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Southeast Asia: food, local connections, uncrowded sights…


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Egypt: savvy logistics, sneak peak of the GEM…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Norway: Northern Lights, herding reindeer with the Sami…


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

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

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

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

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

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Florence: local artisans, private palazzo tour…


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Vietnam: history, lunch with locals, sunset cruise…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Argentina & Chile: Buenos Aires, Santiago, Patagonia


Hiking in Argentina.

Argentina. Photo: Kathye Faries

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

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

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

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

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

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


Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo: David Wertheimer

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

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Colombia: contemporary art, colonial charm, coffee country…


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

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Argentina: vineyards, colonial architecture, Iguassu Falls…


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

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

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


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

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


Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo: Seng Sophea

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

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

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

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

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Colombia: snorkeling, cacao farms, street art…


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

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New Zealand: intimate lodges, wine tastings, helicopters…


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

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Portugal: oceanfront pousadas, city tours…


Pousada de Sagres

Sunset. Pousada de Sagres. Photo: Benjamin Lowe

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

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

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

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

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Chile: Patagonia, Atacama, stargazing WOW Moment…


Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile.

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

Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience. He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly. And, I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). We have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon — particularly the smudge where the U.S. Apollo 11 landed.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Costa Rica: beach, wildlife, cloud forest…


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

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

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

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Belize: horseback riding, Mayan ruins, beach time…


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

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

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

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

All in all, we loved our Belize vacation.

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London: multigenerational Christmas trip


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

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Paris: wine tasting, front-row concert seats…


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

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Egypt: beyond the usual tourist sites


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Sicily: family trip in January


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

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

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

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Australia & New Zealand: monthlong grand tour


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

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Costa Rica: jungle & beach with teens


Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica

Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica. Photo: Shelby Willets

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

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Paris: making macarons, New Year’s fireworks…


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

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas


Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

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

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Morocco: Marrakech, Fes, the Sahara…


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

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Chile: heli-hiking, rafting, cultural visits…


Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter.

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

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

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


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

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Turkey: sunny & uncrowded in Istanbul


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

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

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

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Chile: wine region, Santiago, Atacama…


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

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Ecuador & Galapagos: family Christmas trip


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal: cooking class, VIP access…


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

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Vietnam: private experiences with local families…


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

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Mexico: Mexico City & Puerto Vallarta


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

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Belize: 50th anniversary with kids & grandkids


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Belize: snorkeling, day with a local family…


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

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Switzerland: anniversary trip with nature & history


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

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

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

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

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Argentina & Uruguay: wine country & beach time


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

After 5 amazing days at Cavas, I flew to Montevideo, UR and was then driven to the absolutely delightful and gorgeous town of José Ignacio. Maita and Santiago had recommended this over Punta del Este, and they were spot-on. I never would have found this little town and am now considering buying property there! I stayed at Playa Vik, which I will definitely go back to—it is one of the nicest properties I have ever had the chance to visit, and had very interesting tours (arranged by Maita’s office) to Garzon winery, lunch at Garzon Restaurant where I met Francis Mallman (!), Pablo Atchugarry’s amazing and beautiful art, as well as the must-see Casapueblo. I then had a short tour of Montevideo, and flew home the next day.

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

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Ecuador: Amazon jungle lodge with kids


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Argentina: Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Patagonia…


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

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

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

Highly recommend Maita and Malena.

The cruise was pretty amazing too.

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Iceland: hot springs, ice caves, meeting locals…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal: Lisbon, Porto, the Alentejo…


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

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

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

Contact Goncalo

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


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

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

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London: France: cultural immersion in Provence & Paris


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

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

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

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

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

Contact Philip

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Sandy

Costa Rica: jungle kayaking, treetop dining…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contact Priscilla

Italy: food, wine, the arts…


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

Read more reviews of Maria and Brian. Or request your own trip.

Contact Maria and Brian

Egypt: anniversary trip along the Nile


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Jim

Costa Rica: Thanksgiving trip with teens


3-toed sloth

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

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

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

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Portugal: road trip from Lisbon to the Algarve


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

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

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

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

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

Contact Goncalo



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

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