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Friday, January 17, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, Waking Up at Machu Picchu

Few sights I’ve seen are as majestic as Machu Picchu. After a 2-hour train ride from Ollantaytambo, you arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes and switch to a bus for a 20-minute drive on a series of switchbacks up to the base of Machu Picchu. Once here, you better have one of the coveted timed tickets to enter these late 15th-century Incan ruins that miraculously the Spaniards never found. Row after row of stone walls lead up the steep hillsides creating a far vaster archaeological wonder than one can imagine on that quintessential photograph from above Machu Picchu.

 
I was on Day Five on an 8-day trip with the outfitter, Abercrombie & Kent, to Lima, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cuzco. We arrived at Machu Picchu a little after 2:30 pm, when the crowds were already thinning, to feel the smooth rocks of the temple, see the maze of aqueducts, and find the sun dial that was used to predict summer solstice. The tightly knit stone structures are impressive, but to be honest, pale in comparison to the surrounding landscape, a panorama of jagged peaks that lead to the snow-capped Andes in the distance. This includes Huayna Picchu, the striking peak you see behind every photo of Machu Picchu. We had the opportunity hike this peak the next morning at 7 am, but I chose to hike part of the Inca Trail rising above Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate. Every step you took on the 3-hour round-trip trek was another breathtaking view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. Fantastic!
 
Abercrombie and Kent really earn their money on this portion of the trip. We have all heard of the overcrowding at Machu Picchu and by the time I arrived back from my hike on the Inca Trail around 10:30 am, there were hundreds of people on the Machu Picchu grounds. But the past day we really saw the site in relative quietude. We arrived mid-afternoon the day prior when the crowds were less (after having a memorable lunch aboard our train), stayed at the base of Machu Picchu at the only hotel on the grounds, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (only 31 rooms, booked a year in advance by Abercrombie and Kent), and then received one of the few tickets the following morning to enter the grounds at 6 am, when there were few if any people around. Walking above Machu Picchu as the sun rose and the clouds cleared was an unforgettable experience.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/17/20 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Top Travel Days of 2019, The Much-Needed Therapeutic Waters of Temagami

In April, I crashed my car and had to deal with an unexpected, exorbitant tax bill. May brought the death of Lisa’s dad, Ken. Then in early June, we learned that one of our trusted tour operators that we like to use for Africa trips had just went bankrupt. Needless to say, by the time I reached the waters of Lake Temagami in late July, my nerves were shot. All I wanted to do was jump in the water and swim. And for 3 days, that’s primarily what I did. Dove in the heavenly waters of this vast lake and swam free crawl, backstroke, elementary backstroke, underwater, to a small island directly across from us. It was a perfect cleansing of my body in these pristine waters, happily washing away the year’s stress with each stroke. 

I had no idea where we were, a place called Ojibway on an island 20 minutes by boat from the parking lot some 5 to 6 hour drive north of Toronto. Amy had found the place because her daughter, Sophie, was counselor at Keewaydin Songadeewin summer camp in Vermont, sister camp to Keewaydin Temagami located on the same island as Ojibway. There were no campers during our stay, because the Temagami camp is primarily used as a base for long-distance canoe trips for paddlers, upwards of 6 weeks in summer. Ojibway felt like summer camp for adults in one of the most serene settings I’ve visited in Canada. The inviting waters entice you to grab a canoe and paddle to your heart’s content, following the loons. Meals are served family-style on the long tables and the food was surprisingly good. So was the company, many of whom had a long history with this island, including a woman from Mississippi, who told me that her grandfather had found this place in the early 1900s, not wanting to deal with the crowds in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Her family has been returning here for over a century. And who can blame them! 
 
It's hard to find a more peaceful and stress-free setting, one where your WiFi only works close to the dining area (and very slow at that). You’re free to discard the smart phone and read your stack of books, go for a paddle, have gin and tonics on the deck, and yes, swim. I want to hold on to that image of me diving off the dock at Ojibway to hopefully keep my blood pressure down the rest of the year. At least, until I return to this special spot again. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/16/20 at 07:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Top Dream Days of 2019, Biking Acadia National Park

I loved getting the chance to show my Laguna Beach buddies Holly and Tim my favorite playground in New England, Acadia National Park, in early July. We did all my top picks from climbing Acadia Mountain to strolling the rugged shoreline from Thunder Hole to Otter Point, but I really savor the serenity of biking the car-free Carriage Path Tails, that glorious 45-mile network John D. Rockefeller created in the first half of the 20th century. We were happy to hear about a free bike shuttle in operation from late June through Columbus Day that runs from the village green to the parking lot at Eagle Lake. We waited less than 10 minutes before being brought over to the lake and biking the circumference, up and down the hard-packed roads always with water and mountains in sight. We biked under one of the many stone bridges to see an often-overlooked gem, Bubble Pond, nestled peacefully between the gently sloping mountains. Then we headed north to bike around Witch Hole Pond and to stop and see the stone steps that form gently flowing Duck Brook. We crossed the bridge here, took a left on the bike trail, and soon caught up with West Street, which led right back to the Acadia Bike Rentals store on Cottage Street. A perfect way to spend the morning. 

 
We grabbed lunch and then strolled back to Saltair Inn, our lodging for the trip, located within easy walking distance of the restaurants and shops of Bar Harbor, but far away from the crowds. Owners Matt and Kristi are the perfect team. Kristi serves up yummy breakfasts each morning like blueberry pancakes and stuffed french toast, while Matt divulges the insider information on Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park that only a local would know. He designed the bike loop above and told us about a small trail near the restrooms at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse that led down the freshly cut stairs to a bed of rocks, where we not only had great views of the lighthouse, but spotted dolphins and seals in the sea. Matt also made Tim very happy by sending us over to McKay’s Public House for a cask ale pour of Maine brewed Sebago Ale, which we downed each night. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/15/20 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Top Dream Days of 2019, A Madrid Tapas Crawl

We loved our Madrid tapas crawl so much in early April that we did it twice. We met Marcy Forman, co-owner of Valesa Cultural Services, one of our preferred tour operators for clients headed to Spain, at the lobby of our hotel, Gran Hotel Inglés. Marcy has lived in Madrid for over 20 years and one of her favorite things to do is bring friends on an authentic Madrid tapas crawl. We started at Casa Toni, known for its crispy lamb tripe, an older specialty that’s hard to find in town these days. After downing the tender meat, we strolled around the corner to my favorite stop of the night, Casa del Abuelo, known for their tasty garlic shrimp. The dish comes out sizzling with a hefty chunk of bread, and is best paired with a short glass of sweet wine. Then it was off to La Campana, known for its fried calamari served in a large bun, bocadillo style. Next stop, the splashy Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid’s main public market, serving everything your heart desires, from acorn-fed Iberian ham to razor clams to fried croquettes, all washed down with sangria or cerveza. Our final stop was Chocolateria San Gines, in operation since 1894 and known for only one item, fresh out of the oven churros. Order a half-dozen, thin or fat, and it’s served with a steaming hot coffee cup of chocolate that many customers drink after dipping the churros. Sublime! We had so much fun with Marcy that we took our daughter, Melanie, on the exact same tour the next night. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/14/20 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 13, 2020

Top Dream Days of 2019, Seeing Big Buddha in Hong Kong

I loved our entire week in Hong Kong last January, including two great hikes climbing up Victoria Peal and atop the Dragon’s Tail, but our day with Big Buddha is perhaps the most memorable. It’s hard to grasp the immensity of Big Buddha until you’re high in the sky on a cable car looking down at this massive sculpture perched atop the hillside on Lantau Island. The sitting Buddha is one of the largest in the world at 112-feet high. We jumped on the excellent subway system to the Tung Chung station and then walked over to the Npong Ping Cable Car. We waited in line with our timed ticket and soon we were on a 25-minute cable car ride past the international airport to the mountainous silhouette that houses Big Buddha. Once the ride ended, we walked past the shops and climbed the 268 steps to go face-to-face with the statue, which made its debut in 1993. Amazing! Then we strolled over to the large Po Lin Monastery, where people were lighting incense and saying prayers for good fortune at the start of the Chinese New Year. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/13/20 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, December 20, 2019

See You Again in 2020!

It seems like yesterday that I was writing a story for Men’s Journal on the best trips to take over the new millennium. Now it’s 20 years later! This year has been a banner year for ActiveTravels, reaching long-term goals on both sales and membership. It’s a privilege to write about my journeys all these years and to send clients to the countries and states that excite me the most. 2020 marks the 30th year of being in the travel industry and there’s no way I’d still be here without your support, especially post-2008 recession, when publications folded and half my editors found other lines of work. I’ve been blogging ever since and I’m excited to report that next year, this blog will finally be updated as we make important changes to the ActiveTravels website. Thank you for your support and please stay tuned. 

We’re off to the outskirts of Playa del Carmen to get some much-needed R&R with the family. Have a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year! We’ll be returning the week of January 6th with our Top Dream Days of Travel in 2019. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/20/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Austin Adventures Offers Mother/Daughter Hiking Trip to Zion and Bryce

Austin Adventures recently announced the wise decision of making Kasey Austin president of the company. I had the pleasure of traveling with Kasey and her dad, Dan, founder of Austin Adventures on a fantastic trip to the peaks surrounding Colorado Springs in 2015. I’m happy to announce that one of Kasey’s first moves as president is creating more multisport trips for women, including a 6-day mother/daughter group trip to Zion and Bryce August 23-28, 2020. Cost is $2898 per person, double occupancy. Other women-only trips include hiking in the Canadian Rockies September 6-11 and a multisport adventure to Peru and Machu Picchu September 12-20. ActiveTravels is happy to check availability and help with airfare and lodging/route before or after your adventure. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/19/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Camp Sarika to Debut at Amangiri Spring 2020

Those of you who like your adventure lathered in luxury most likely know about Amangiri, the 34-suite lodge unveiled by exclusive Singapore-based hotelier Amanresorts. Amangiri is located near Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in Utah’s canyon country, surrounded by stunning mesas and remote desert. Now you can get a little closer to nature thanks to ten luxury all-weather tents that are set to debut next spring. Evenly divided between one and two-bedrooms, the 10 units are equipped with a living area, dining area, as well as private bathrooms with a bathtub, and indoor and outdoor showers. The one-bedroom tents are approximately 1,900 square feet, while the two-bedroom tents offer over 2,800 square feet of canvas-covered comfort. Wake up with morning yoga, then spend the day hiking in the canyons with a naturalist, boating on Lake Powell, or staring in awe at the Vermillion Cliffs. Afterwards, reward yourself with an outdoor spa treatment. 

 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/18/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

ActiveTravels, Home to the New England Dream Day Itinerary

Travel and Leisure just came out with their 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020, and much to our delight, Boston popped up at Number 10 and Maine at Number 29. If you’re thinking of a Boston and New England trip in 2020, we’ll happily design a route and point you in the right direction. Since ActiveTravels made its debut in 2012, we have designed more than 100 itineraries for clients headed to New England from all over America and the world (including New Zealand, the UK, Switzerland, and Israel). We send clients all over the globe, but New England is our area of expertise. I wrote more than 400 travel stories on New England for The Boston Globe and Yankee Magazine, and authored Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England. Depending on your passions, we can customize our Dream Day Itineraries for wildlife lovers (moose, whales, seals, beavers, and loons), active travelers (biking past 5 lighthouses in Portland, hiking to waterfalls in the White Mountains, paddling the Allagash River), foodies (James Beard award winning restaurants and favorite lobster-in-the-rough joints in Boston, Portsmouth, Portland, and the Maine coast), or art lovers (MFA, the Clark, Mass MoCA, the Farnsworth). We’ll divulge all of our secrets, especially the most scenic off-the-beaten-path driving routes. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/17/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, December 16, 2019

New Holland America Cruise from Boston to Greenland in 2021

Holland America just announced a new cruise departing from Boston to Greenland the summer of 2021. Three 17-day Greenland, Newfoundland & New England Discovery cruises aboard the Rotterdam will depart in July and August and sail roundtrip from Boston to the remote shoreline of Greenland and Newfoundland. Ports include Paamuit, Qaqortoq and Nanortalik, Greenland; St. John’s, Red Bay, St. Anthony and Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Bar Harbor, Maine. If you book a suite on any of the 2021 Canada and New England itineraries by February 28, 2020, they’ll throw in free drinks, free dining package, and free gratuities. Please let ActiveTravels know and we’ll check availability and pricing. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/16/19 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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