Favorite Attractions at Disney World for Kids 8-12 Years of Age

During my recent trip to Walt Disney this past September I found out how beneficial it is to purchase the Park Hopper Pass.

I got to experience so many rides during my stay that you won’t want to miss when you make your next visit.

Here are my top rides from each park for school age kids:

Magic Kingdom
In the Magic Kingdom I narrowed it down to 2 attractions. One is the climbing adventures of Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse. There is so much to hear and see every step you take. This is a self guided tour that takes you up to the crows nest! I can’t wait for you to experience the view! My other favorite ride in Magic Kingdom was the Pirates of the Caribbean. The calming boat ride takes you back in the day of pirates. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for all the different treasures along the way!

            

Animal Kingdom
While in Animal Kingdom I went straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Walking the trails to get to the ride was so eye catching it’s hard to concentrate on where you intended to go! The guides sure put on a show in case you miss all the animals right beside your jeep! Yup, we had 2 adult giraffes and a baby cross right in front of us. You won’t want to miss this exciting adventure!

            

 

Hollywood Studios
As I made my way to Hollywood Studios I was met by Star Troopers securing the premises! Surprise character visits can show up anywhere! As I looked ahead I saw this huge, colorful roller coaster. And there is was, the newest attraction, Slinky Dog Dash. This is such an exciting roller coaster you’ll want to get back in line to ride again! I highly recommend adding this ride to your Disney Experience!

         

Let’s set you up with a Park Hopper Pass … it’s time to head to Disney!

Kangaroo Island at its best

An added benefit of staying at Southern Ocean Lodge is that all excursions are included. It’s more like an all-inclusive luxury resort.

These are some of the tours we did:

  • Kangas and Kanapes. On this historic tour you will learn about the early island settlers at Grassdale, an island property that can be reached by a short drive from the lodge. There is plenty of local wildlife including kangaroos and wallabies that congregate to graze. It’s amazing to observe these creatures in their natural environment. During you trip you will sip on premium Southern Australian beverages and nibble on a canapé while enjoying the sunset
  • Seal Bay. Seal Bay is home to Australia’s third largest colony of Australian sea lions. You will join a naturalist guide for an exclusive tour on the beach with these wild animals. Hear about their unique breeding cycle and the ongoing research programs implemented on site. This is privilege unique to KI!
  • Wonders of KI. This half-day signature experience is a spectacular introduction to KI’s wildlife, maritime heritage and stunning coastal landscapes. The trip highlights include: visit Cape du Couedic lighthouse, a stop at Remarkable Rocks, a view from Admirals Arch and a fur seal colony encounter. What a wonder it was!
  • Koala Sanctuary. We also stopped at a Koala Sanctuary nearby to look for some Koalas in the trees. We spotted 3. It was really raining when we stopped so we didn’t stay too long to search for them. But there were a few!

                                

Luxury Livin’ at Southern Ocean Lodge

Southern Ocean is an exquisite luxury lodge located on Kangaroo island. You can reach this lodge by plane from Adelaide or via a ferry ride. This is one of the most sought after places to stay in Australia and now I know why. We arrived very late in the day from Adelaide and were anxious to get to the resort. Upon landing in Kangaroo island, the resort had someone waiting at the airport to pick us up. The staff member at the airport knew who we were and were awaiting our arrival. As it was dark once we landed, we learned how alert and a driver/guide have to be on the roads on Kangaroo island. Those Wallabies, Kangaroos and Koala’s don’t always obey the animal crossing signs. LOL They can jump out in front of a car at night or even during the day. The training for these drivers and guides is intense as they have to learn to not be distracted while driving and always on the lookout for these cute animals. 😊  

      

We traveled there in the Winter so it was rainy season, but the lodge was still completely booked. Upon arrival at the resort, the Manager of the hotel was waiting for us and ready to welcome us. There is no standard check in desk, you are lead to the beautiful couch in front of the fire place to get all checked in. Once we were checked in, we mentioned we were starving from traveling all day. They kept the kitchen open a little later for us to be able to have something to eat so that we didn’t go hungry. So thoughtful and made a great first impression.

      

The dining at the lodge was superb some of the best I have divulged in my travel. There was everything from burgers to the gastronomic journey of Kangaroo Island. The menu changes daily and there are plenty of selections to please your palette. There is also complimentary FULL bar as well … and when I say full bar, I mean full bar. They had wine selections from all over Australia and endless beer varieties including local specialties. All beverages were self-serve. The rooms and common areas were focused on the outdoors and amazing surroundings. 

      

The rooms are absolutely breathtaking. Since we arrived in the dark, we were very anxious to see our view and the rest of the hotel once the sun came up. Trust me, it didn’t disappoint. 

       

The lodge is located on Hanson Bay on the southwest coast of the island. There are just 21 luxury suites with some of the most amazing views you will ever have the pleasure of experiencing. The best features of the room were the heated Floors, free Wi-Fi, walk in closet and a mini bar that is stocked daily 

      

When you’re ready for the ultimate luxury experience in Australia contact me and I will share more about this once in a lifetime experience and help you to plan your own personal journey.

Avatar Flight of Passage

One of Disney’s newest attractions at Animal Kingdom Park is Pandora – The World of Avatar.   Without a doubt, my favorite ride at Disney World is the Avatar Flight of Passage. This ride is a 3D flying simulator attraction within Pandora. You ride a mountain banshee and take in the breathtaking views of the beauty of Pandora on a rite of passage.

The ride itself is only 5 minutes long … I highly suggest using a FastPass as this is a VERY popular ride.  I was still left speechless and amazed by how realistic everything was. I highly recommend making the Avatar Flight of Passage part of your Disney world experience!


My America’s Cup Sailing Experience

While traveling in New Zealand we had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Auckland. My most memorable a experience from this trip was sailing on an authentic retired Americas Cup Yacht.

We boarded the yacht at the port in Auckland and began the 2-hour hands on adventure. This was not your traditional sailboat excursion. As part of experience you had your turn to help steer and hoist the sails on the boat. There was no experience required to partake in these activities, they helped guide you through these processes on board. If you weren’t interested in joining in you could simply sit back, relax and enjoy the views and beauty of New Zealand.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand let’s schedule a stop in Auckland for a sailboat ride.

      

This honeymoon inspiration brought to you from Mandy!

Each honeymoon I plan is unique and customized to each couple and their desires. Honeymoons are a great time to cross items off of your bucket list. Why not spend 3 weeks in Australia and New Zealand and check off two!

Here’s an example of honeymoon ideas I had given and planned for a very adventurous couple. 

New Zealand offer stunning landscapes and plenty of friendly locals to provide guidance.

What to do:

  • Sea Kayaking at Cathedral Cove — This is one of the best sea kayaking trips in the country
  • Hobbiton Movie Set Tour — experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Shire as seen in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies.
  • OGO in Rotorua — dive into a giant inflatable ball and roll down Mt Ngongotaha
  • Polynesian Spa — enjoy deluxe thermal bathing and relaxation while overlooking lake Rotorua
  • Waitomo Glowworm Cave — view thousands of magical glowworms above you as you glide silently by boat.
  • Stay at Chateau Tongariro Hotel in Mount Ruapehu In The Heart Of Tongariro National Park, you’ll volcanoes and enjoy thermal springs
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing — Provides a 19K trek that leads you up to the saddle between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro.
  • Fly to Dunedin — Take a wildlife tour where you may encounter penguins, seals and albatross
  • Milford Sound Nature Cruise — enjoy waterfall scenery, spot wildlife and listening to an informative nature guide. 
  • Explore Queenstown — visit a winery or take a scenic tour

Australia has plenty of things to see and do. There is endless beauty wherever you turn.

What to do:

  • Cairns  Take an outer reef tour and explore the Great Barrier Reef
  • Kuranda  You must book an all-inclusive tour on the regions oldest railway. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers ocean-views and is the world’s most beautiful cableway.
  • Blue Mountains — These mountains are known for inexplicable scenery, a eucalyptus forests, breathtaking waterfalls and MORE. Spend a couple nights in the mountains … you certainly will not run out of things to do.
  • Sydney — Check out the Sydney Opera House, explore the harbor and make a stop at the zoo or the botanic garden

If Australia & New Zealand aren’t on your list there are plenty of other destinations our travel advisors can recommend. The sooner we start planning the more time we have to perfect!

Advice From Couples Who Tied the Knot in Mexico.

While planning a wedding is always stressful, throwing one in Mexico comes with its own sets of challenges. Before you decide to jet off to tie the knot here’s some advice from real-life brides that will guarantee a successful out-of-town celebration.

See the venue in person. 
Many resorts are now offering a “Test Drive” package where the bride and groom can visit the resort prior to the wedding. 
This will give the wedding couple a chance to see the resort, meet with the wedding coordinator, and check out possible wedding locations. It’s great to put faces with names and discuss details in person as sometimes there are delays in email responses.

Arrive early.
The wedding couple should arrive at the resort a few days before their guests do. In Mexico there is a residency requirement that must be met and it varies by hotel so make sure you know what yours is.

Add an extra day.
Once your guests leave stay an extra day or two so you can relax and unwind. You will be busy with pre-wedding activities and visiting with guests that you will want a day to relax before you head home to the daily grind.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.
You and your guests are going to remember the beautiful sunset during the wedding ceremony, not the centerpieces, bouquets and place cards. So if you can, cut out these details and keep it simple!

You won’t necessarily save money.
There’s a big misconception that hosting a wedding in a location like Mexico will save money. 
The truth is, even if you have fewer attendees, you’ll probably end up shelling out more on an entire weekend’s worth of events. But it will be a wedding full of memories for everyone.

 

Honeymoon Cruising … why not?

Sail away with your spouse and start married life off on the right foot.  

Here are a few reasons why you may want to consider a cruise …

  • Unpack one time. Start by settling into your cabin on of the greatest benefits of cruising is unpacking once and visiting multiple destinations.
  • Daily Romantic Dates. There are plenty of dining options to choose from that provide a romantic atmosphere and great food options. Plus, there is plenty of entertainment on board.
  • Spa Treatments. Schedule a couples massage … ultimate relaxation for you and your spouse
  • Disconnect. What better way to escape reality then cruising the open waters. 
  • Multiple Destinations. There are multiple ports that you will stop in giving you the opportunity to visit more than one destination of choice. Find a romantic itinerary suited for a honeymoon.
  • Meet People. There are plenty of opportunities to meet other couples to hang out with if you are interested. Maybe you’ll get some good tips on what has made their marriage successful.
  • Food & Beverage. All your food is included and many cruise lines offer a beverage package as well.
  • Entertainment. There is plenty to do on board you can enjoy show, head to the casino, enjoy the sunset with a cocktail in hand or simply relax in the lounge. The choice is yours!
  • Adventure. Book shore excursions and experience some adventure on your honeymoon. You could swim with dolphins, go zip lining or take an ATV tour … just to name a few. There are endless options in each port for you to choose from.

If you think a honeymoon cruise is right for you let me help with the planning so you can simply focus on starting your life with your soon-to-be spouse.

Exciting Thailand

I spent three nights in Bangkok, where the traffic and noise are extreme.  We visited some temples including the Marble Temple and a gem factory where we were able to watch the craftsmen set gems in rings and necklaces.  The following day, we visited the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market which is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Bangkok.  We traveled by boat through the market, which is a must! When we wanted to see something at one of the stalls, the driver would pull over so we could look at the item and begin bartering. Food was also sold from the boats that you could buy.  It was a fun experience. 

We then flew to Chiang Mai, a much smaller and quieter town.  Our guide met us and took us to our hotel, the Rati Lanna Resort and Spa.  It was a beautiful and very relaxing hotel – I would have loved to stay here for several days.  We visited five different temples here and saw what remained of the city wall.  The next morning, we traveled to the Elephant Sanctuary, a one-and-a-half-hour drive.  We fed the elephants bananas, interacted with them and took pictures.  Then the elephants went for their bath, where you threw water on them and then they were off to the mud baths.  It was a great experience.  

Thailand has a lot of different experiences to offer from the bustling city of Bangkok, to the quieter city of Chiang Mai and beautiful beaches in the south of the country.  There are so many things to see and do or do nothing at all.  Thailand is a very exciting place to visit.

                   

In Queen Victoria’s Footsteps

Britain’s Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, exerts a powerful influence on the world’s imagination and historical consciousness today.  She lent her name to the Victorian Era, has been the subject of recent movies like Victoria and Abdul (starring one of my favorite actresses, Dame Judi Dench), and is still celebrated with the Victoria Day holiday in large parts of the former British Empire.  During a recent port call at Southampton in southern England, I had the opportunity to follow in her footsteps with a visit to Osborne House, her personal vacation retreat.

Many cruise ship visitors to the port of Southampton will take advantage of excursions to London, which is about 90 miles away.  Instead, I decided to arrange a privately guided tour to see Osborne House myself and to learn more about this remarkable woman and her private life. 

Osborne is located on the Isle of Wight, which is located across a body of water called the Solent from Southampton.  It’s a short 30 minute high speed ferry ride to the little yachting port of Cowes, then a 15 – 20 minute drive to Osborne.  We met our guide and driver on the pier in Cowes, then headed along the coast to our destination.

Built between 1845 and 1861 under the close direction of Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, Osborne mimics the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo.  That’s architectural style isn’t common on England, but was chosen because the views reminded the Prince of the Bay of Naples in southern Italy.  That might not seem possible in rainy Italy, but having experienced both, I can appreciate and even share his perspective. 

Osborne House itself is a step back in time to 1901, when Queen Victoria died in her sleep in her bedroom.  Large parts of the house lay untouched after her death, so today’s visitor can enjoy a well-preserved glimpse into a time long passed.  Among the highlights we saw were the Queen’s sitting room and the desk where she worked, the bedroom where she died, and the nearby “playhouse” built for her nine children – “playhouse” in quotes, as it is larger than many homes in the United States!

One unexpected highlight was the Durbar Dining Room, built to mimic the style of an Indian palace.  As the then-Empress of India, Victoria was fascinated by the country, but never visited it herself.  This ornate dining room, full of Indian-inspired wood carvings and artwork, was the closest she ever got.  For the modern visitor, in an Italian palazzo on the shores of the Solent in England, it’s quite a sight to behold.

Too soon, it was time to return to Cowes for the ferry ride back to Southampton and the continuation of our cruise. 

Privately guided tours, such as this one, represent a great way to expand your horizons while cruising and visit places that the ship’s own excursions bypass.  As a group of two, with a driver and a guide, we were able to cover the distance quickly, spend more time at our destination, and gain a far deeper understanding of it than is possible in a larger group. 

Contact me to schedule an introductory conversation, and let’s talk about how we can customize your luxury cruise with privately guided shore tours that focus on your passions and interests.

Holiday Fun at Disney!

The holidays bring plenty of EXTRA fun at the most magical place on earth … Disney! Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is the happiest haunting on earth. You’ll enjoy plenty of treats and the park will be full of halloween themed entertainment and Disney Characters. And then there’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party which is a very jolly holiday party. All the Disney Characters wear special holiday attire and many of your favorite attractions take on a holiday theme.

  • If you want to attend the parties, you need a separate party ticket. Your park ticket WILL NOT get you access to the party.
  • If you are only going to the party that day (say you’re spending the rest of the day by the pool or one of those “other” attractions in Orlando), you DO NOT NEED a park ticket in conjunction with the party ticket, only the party ticket is needed. This is great if you want to do something off property during the day and still experience the party at night.
  • You are allowed in with that party ticket after 4pm (even if the party doesn’t start until 7pm). If you have the party ticket, they give you a wristband when you come in so that everyone knows you can stay for the party.
  • The tickets go up in price the day of so best to buy in advance (mine was $10 less by getting in advance).
  • If you order them well in advance, they will send plastic generic cards. If you order them a week or two out (if there is still space) they just load them on to your Magic Bands.
  • Dining reservations leading up to the parties will be hard to get. Any restaurants from 2pm on are typically full in Magic Kingdom on party days.
  • If you are staying OVER Halloween you can see the park transform from Halloween to Christmas. November 1 is the last day of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The Christmas decorating begins immediately after to prepare for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party which begins on November 8. How cool would it be to hit both parties in a week!!

                     

Specifically for the Halloween Party

  • COSTUMES. Costumes are allowed and recommended. Many attendees wear costumes … even adults. Group costumes are very popular! Disney does have rules for the costumes. Click here for details.
  • CANDY. You get a LOT of candy so it’s best to bring a back pack or two per family. You get candy as you exit rides and they have candy stations throughout the park. I brought home a large ziplock and I wasn’t even trying to collect.
  • CHARACTERS. Some characters only come out for the Halloween Party – this is the only time of year to get pictures with all Seven Dwarf’s (over an hour), Jack Skellington (this wait is long). Ariel and Eric are together, Belle and Gaston and other “couples” appear who don’t typically appear together.
  • MAP. Be sure to grab a map. The Trick or Treat locations are marked by orange pumpkins and character locations by Mickey’s black silhouette.
  • CAST MEMBERS. There are cast members EVERYWHERE so just ask questions. I asked them about what character’s were a must see and where they were very helpful.
  • PARADE. Find your spot early. The Boo to You Parade is great – headless horsemen is pretty cool!
  • PIN COLLECTORS. For the pin collectors, there is a Not-So-Scary Halloween Party pin that you can only get at the party, plus other speciality souvenirs as well ONLY available at the party.
  • MEMORY MAKER. They will sell Memory Maker for ONE day, this gives you an option during the party to pay for one day to get the spooky magic shots! (similar to mine below)
  • DANCE PARTIES. You can attend the Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball and other dance parties. The characters will actually come out and dance with your kiddos. It’s worth it to go to see the joy in your child’s face when they are dancing with the characters!

If you LOVE Halloween or Christmas you should absolutely add these parties to your bucket list! It’s awesome to see the park all decked out for these holidays!

My Experience in India 

I just returned from a fantastic tour of India. During my tour I had the opportunity to visit Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  The first thing that strikes you is the traffic and number of people.  They have four lanes of traffic, as a suggestion, but there are seven lanes with people, bicycles and motorcycles weaving between the traffic.  

We were able to visit New and Old Delhi and observe how the British influenced the look and feel of the country.  In Agra, we made a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal … It was amazing!  The pictures make the place look unreal, but it is beautiful.  The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for the tomb of this favorite wife and he was also buried there.  As the sun rose over the Taj it just simply lit up all of its surroundings.  We learned that the minarets that surround the tomb, actually lean outwards so that if they ever fell, they would not land on the mausoleum. There are inlaid marble designs at the Taj, which is still being made by descendants of the masters who did the original inlays.   

Fort Agra is where the emperor lived protected by his army. The palace is now open to the public now and the remainder of the grounds are occupied by the current army.  The palace has a view of the Taj Mahal and when the emperor was imprisoned there he was able to see the Taj daily.  

Following Agra, we were on to Jaipur.  We visited the Water Palace and rode elephants up to Amber Fort.  The fort was surrounded by a wall similar to the Great Wall of China.  

Everywhere we visited, the people were very friendly.  We visited shops that made and sold saris, camel hair rugs, jewelry and souvenirs.  It was a fabulous trip and our tour operator, Culture Holidays, did a fantastic job of showing us India.

                        

Group Travel to Walt Disney World

Planning for a large group trip to the most magical place on earth is only half the battle! Surviving the trip with several people, and many opinions and all different eating and sleeping patterns for many age groups is a completely different animal.

Here are some of my helpful tips when planning a group (large or small) trip to Walt Disney World: 

Follow a Schedule but be Flexible:
Having a plan and a schedule is a must, but make sure you do not over-schedule your days.  If the schedule is too strict, it becomes frustrating and hard to follow, especially if you fall behind on times, and end up missing important things on your agenda.  Be flexible!  If everyone is showing up 15-20 minutes late for your meeting time, be prepared to adjust a few things for the remainder of the day to stay happy and realistic.

Wear the Same Color:
Seriously.  You don’t have to be twinning, but the same color shirt makes life so much easier when at a theme park.  People are everywhere, and when you can spot the same blue/yellow/green (whatever color) colored shirt, you can gather much more quickly.  Bright colored shirts do work best.  If you are the one organizing the shirts to be ordered ahead of time, put the names on a spreadsheet, sizes next to it and order in bulk.

Appoint a Leader:
Most of the time, the person planning the trip, by default, becomes the leader during the trip as well.  You really need one person sort of in charge of the timeline, the schedule, the reservations, and the point person if problems arise during the trip.  Grab a co-leader to help if you need assistance getting the messages out to the other group members, maybe it’s via text, or calling.  Work together as leaders to corral everyone before a show or meal and help keep each other calm and happy.

      

Remind Everyone of Meet Times Each Day:
It’s always good to have a printed/emailed schedule for the entire trip, but daily reminders of what is happening that day and/or the next day, before going your separate ways that night are good.  Designated meet-up times are important for group photos, communication of any last minute changes, or problem/issues.

Plan for Everything to Take Longer:
If a normal meal will take you 45 minutes to an hour, add on another hour to that.  For groups to be seated, brought their drinks, appetizers, food, desserts, etc always takes so much longer.  Relax and enjoy the experience and understand that basically everything takes about twice as long as normal.  Communicate that to the group as well, so they are just as relaxed and are expecting it to take longer also.

Good luck in your group adventure to the most magical place on earth. I have helped many groups, multigenerational families, and my own family and friends take wonderful trips, and we not only survived, but we had a ton of fun! I can help you too!

      

A Mother & Daughter Adventure in Argentina

I recently took a wonderful trip to the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls on the border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina!

My daughter and I were searching for a new destination to explore before she begins her new career as an attorney … what better place then South America.  We didn’t experience any jetlag since you are basically in the same time zone (East Coast). We had an early arrival so we were able to enjoy a full day to sightseeing!

As with many countries, the day we were to arrive a National Labor Strike was called which delayed our departure by a day. We couldn’t do the empanada cooking class we had scheduled, but we still found plenty to see and do in Buenos Aires. I wanted to experience different neighborhoods so our first hotel was located in the San Telmo area, which is filled with antique stores and art galleries.  On Sundays, the San Telmo Feria is a must-see! There is a 12-block market filled with vendors selling jewelry, leather goods, clothing, local foods and more!  Musicians on street corners and of course, tango in the Plaza!

Our small group city sightseeing tour introduced us to some of the different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires:·      

  • La Boca where most were immigrants but mainly Italians settled·
  • Caminito Street with the colorful street art and vendors·
  • Puerto Maderas along the Rio de la Plata and Recoleta the home of the finest stores and hotels as well as the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried!  ·
  • The Pink Palace on the Plaza Mayo where Eva Peron delivered her farewell speech.

The absolute highlight of our trip was Iguazu Falls; one of the 7 natural wonders of the World and I agree!  It’s less than 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Airport and a 25 minute drive to the town of Puerto Iguazu where we spent two nights at the Panoramic Hotel. The hotel is located on a hilltop with a spectacular view of Paraguay and Brazil while standing in Argentina! Our local guide picked us up bright and early to be on the first train into the National Park to view Devil’s Throat the highest and most expansive of the 19 falls.  We opted to stay on the Argentine side since Brazil requires visas for U.S. Citizens, but both sides have national parks with hiking trails to view all the falls.  The roar of the waterfalls and spray was amazing and worthy of hundreds of photos!  We ended our visit with a 2-hour “Great Adventure” through the Iguazu jungle and zodiac ride to view the falls from the river!  Thinking we were prepared with ponchos and dry bags we still managed to get soaking wet as the boat sped through the falls multiple times!

We returned to Buenos Aires and spent three additional nights at the Melia Recoleta Plaza. As much as I loved the San Telmo neighborhood vibe the Recoleta location was more central for walking the city.  The architecture is very mixed throughout the city giving you a European yet Latin feel!  We visited the Eva Peron Museum and thoroughly enjoyed the tango dinner show at La Ventana!

The return flight back to the USA departs late in the evening. We spent our last afternoon with a leisurely lunch at Don Julio’s in the Palermo neighborhood. Argentina is famous for their steaks and now I know why!

I definitely would recommend a visit to Argentina with a side trip to Iguazu Falls. With more time I would have added Mendoza to see the wineries and a gaucho day trip to Susana Ranch or a trip to the Tigre Delta!

Ah – all the more reasons for a return visit!

Machu Picchu … a Check off the Bucket List

In 1532 the Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire. In 2018 a small group of friends from Minnesota captured it again, or we could say that it captured us.

For many years the Inca civilization with their amazing ingenuity and progressive thinking, lived and ruled a great portion of South America and the Andes in what is now Peru.   How were they able to create the incredible way of life they had from farming terraced mountain sides, creating aqueducts to bring water to crops, building storage bins for containing their harvests, moving huge stones to create monuments to their gods and fortresses from their enemies, understanding and using celestial references for guidance to planting and harvesting, these questions and the mystery of what happened to this incredible civilization have long held a fascination for me and some of my friends. This put a visit to Machu Picchu at the top of our bucket list

After realizing that the longer you put off this trip that you want to make, the more difficult it gets on your body, we decided that now was the time to go. With the superior help and guidance from Laurie Johnsrud at Travel Leaders here in Rochester, the trip was planned, a tour company selected (Quasar Tours), an itinerary created, airline tickets purchased, and the trip finalized. Choosing the right time of year to go to Machu Picchu is important. We selected the end of April and first part of May. The seasons are opposite to here in North America and so what was just beginning to be Spring here in Minnesota was the beginning of Autumn in Peru. The rainy season had ended, temperatures were in the 60s to 70s most of the time, so a light jacket was only needed in the evening or early morning.

          

Our guides were excellent and met us at every entry to a new city whether we traveled by plane, bus, or train. Each day they accompanied us to see the ruins and artifacts in areas which were part of the Inca Empire as well as to show us how the Peruvians of today live and work in these areas. The guides spoke excellent English; so learning about Peru, the Inca civilization, the history of the areas we saw, explaining who had built the vast Empire, how they survived and prospered was interesting to learn. A surprise for us was that Machu Picchu which means “old mountain” took more than 90 years to complete and was most likely only used by the Emperor for a few weeks each summer as an escape from the heat of the city. Most of the Incas lived in Cusco and the Sacred Valley which are still thriving today.

Cusco is a busy city where you see museums and cathedrals created by the Incas. As you tour Cusco you notice that the Spanish influence is strong, but the Incas were very clever and added touches of their lives to buildings and art work to make them their own. Auguas Calientes is the city at the foot of Machu Picchu, there you will find many shops with llama and alpaca clothing created by the local people. There are also many beautiful sculptures on the walls along the streets that tell the history and culture of the Inca civilization. We visited a family who do salt mining. Another shop where silver is worked and beautiful jewelry created. And another where alpaca is washed dyed and made into beautiful clothing. Our visit included a trip to Lake Titicaca with its floating islands which must be rebuilt every 20 days since the reeds used to create them rot away. The families who live on these floating islands have been doing this for over 400 years. We also visited Kenko, where a surgery and embalming area had been carved from a single monolithic stone. We were told that some of the Inca structures were destroyed by the Spaniards because they believed that with the size of some the stones (as large as 50 tons) only the devil could have done this and not a mere man.

Altitude is an issue for tourists, so you are constantly reminded to drink plenty of water, drink cocoa tea, eat cocoa leaves, and take your time. I was the only one who really got sick, but once you come down the mountain, you are almost instantly feeling better. Over 3,000 varieties of potatoes are grown in Peru so you will have some type of potato with every meal. Peru proudly produces over 90% of the countries food supply so they import very little.

The Inca influence is still strong today in all of Peru and visiting it will only make you more amazed and intrigued by what was accomplished so many years ago.

     

Written by Clients: Bachmans, Smiths and Wickres.