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Hiking

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Peru Week with Abercrombie and Kent: Our Day in 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. When you arrive, 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 more vast archaeological wonder than one can imagine on that quintessential photograph from above Machu Picchu. We arrived 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 mesmerizing 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 (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 09/26/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, August 23, 2019

Ontario Lakes Week: Final Stop, Killarney Mountain Lodge, Killarney Provincial Park

After spending 3 days on an island in a remote Ontario lake with very few people, it was an adjustment to get back to civilization. This was clearly evident when we arrived at Killarney Mountain Lodge, a busy Georgian Bay summer outpost, especially during the 3-day August Holiday Ontario celebrates. The front desk seemed ill-equipped to handle the many demands of the multi-generational families staying here and gave us bracelets to wear and a stack of cards to hand out every meal (neither were necessary during the stay). It felt far too touristy at the time. But I have to say that after spending 2 nights here, the place really grew on us and I’m glad Amy added it to the itinerary. I really enjoyed the food, especially the blueberry pancakes with regional maple syrup each morning, and the waitstaff were far superior to the front desk. I loved having our cocktail hour behind a beautiful new building they designed, made from massive logs. The patio overlooked a scenic inlet to Georgian Bay and we could spot otters gathering reeds from the water. From the resort, you can take an easy walk over a bridge to the town of Killarney, which will be commemorating its bicentennial in 2020. For lunch, we stopped at Herbert Fisheries for its award-winning fish and chips, made from local whitefish. We also took a sunset sail our last night into the many coves and anchorages in this section of the immense Georgian Bay.

The highlight of our time here were the two walks we took in Killarney Provincial Park. We started in the morning on the Granite Ridge Trail, a short climb that rewarded us with vistas of the water and the surrounding hillside. Near the top, we stopped to pick sweet wild blueberries. The Chikanishing Trail was dreamy, along the rocky shoreline to inlets and pools of the water on the bay. We slid from the rocks into the coolest water of our trip, then lied down in the sun on a perfect slab of rock under a cloudless sky. It would be our last dip of the vacation.
 
 
I want to thank Amy for designing a fantastic 8-day itinerary to the Ontario Cabin Country, visiting Algonquin and Killarney Provincial Parks and Lake Temagami. If you would like a similar rejuvenating jaunt in the region, please contact ActiveTravels and we’ll help with all the planning. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/23/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

New Life Hiking Spa Now Open for its 42nd Summer in Vermont

The weather finally started to warm up this weekend in New England and we took full advantage of it in Boston, biking the Minuteman Trail in Arlington and Cambridge. At last, we can escape the indoor gym and hit the trails. One of the best ways is with New Life Hiking Spa out of Killington, Vermont, in operation since 1978. For $229 to $269 per person, per night, you’ll receive a private room, three meals a day, healthy snacks, daily guided hikes, all fitness and wellness classes, evening activities, and massages. Three levels of professionally guided hikes are offered every day to accommodate your level of fitness. All meals are prepared fresh, on site, and created by a team of professional chefs who specialize in regional healthy cuisine. There’s no better way to start the summer than hit the trails, eat Vermont-grown goods, and perhaps lose a pound or two. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/28/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, March 15, 2019

Ecuador, So Much More Than the Galapagos! Last Stop, Mindo

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

One last outing from Quito to describe: the Mindo Cloud Forest, a premier destination for outdoor adventure. Although relatively small in size, the Ecuador cloud forest is considered one of the top biodiversity hot spots, containing approximately 15 to 17% of the world's plant species and nearly 20% of its bird species.
 
Led by our guide, Antonio Jaramillo, who runs a company called Wild Ecuador, we ventured 2 hours northwest of Quito to Mindo. This outing is best started in the very early morning to get the optimum weather in the cloud forest and the chance to do the most -- we did not understand this fact, and had it scheduled for an afternoon visit. My loss is the reader's gain.
 
While it is possible to visit Mindo as a day trip, spend at least one night to enjoy bird watching, hiking, butterflies, chocolate making, orchids, and adventure activities (tubing and rafting in rivers, ziplining over ravines, waterfall rappelling). Antonio is an expert birder -- there are 1680 total bird species in Ecuador, and he has 1125 on his life list! Mindo itself is home to over 450 species. After we rode a chairlift high above the clouds, we really enjoyed sitting with him drinking a local beer at Sachatamia Lodge (which provides a link to all local service providers), while he named the birds we were seeing. Sachatamia is a rustic wood hotel with 13 comfortable rooms and a pool; I would have been happy there. There are many other options for overnight as well, plus places in the small town to grab food and beverage. Plan ahead and participate in more of the available fun.
 
Thanks to Brandi at Kensington Tours for connecting me with Antonio for this part of the trip. His expertise made it special. 
 
In general, Ecuador has 3 geographical regions beyond the Galapagos: the Coast, the Highland areas (including Quito and environs), and the Amazon (for example, Tena). Did you know that most of the roses in the US and Canada come from Ecuador's Highlands? Make sure to explore as many areas as you can. Please contact ActiveTravels for advice and assistance. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/15/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Ecuador, So Much More Than the Galapagos! Great Activities Within an Hour of Quito

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

To reinforce yesterday's recommendation to add at least 3 or 4 days to a Galapagos trip in the highlands region of Ecuador, here are three wonderful activities I did just outside of Quito. 
 
Definitely don't miss the ½ hour side-trip to the base of the Teleferico Gondola. The view, as you ascend the east side of the Pichincha Volcano to lookout point Cruz Loma, reveals a unique landscape of the city and the opportunity to travel more than 8,000 feet in less than 20 minutes. Once there, you can spend a few hours or a few days! Options abound: hiking to the summit of Pichincha, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and even paragliding. Of course, you could just sit with a picnic and take in the vista, including the world's highest Catholic Church. I loved swinging on the giant swing.
 
Another lovely place for outdoor activity is the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, less than an hour's drive from downtown Quito. Lush green farmland has developed in the crater of the inactive volcano, the only such agricultural area in the world (growing maize, beans, potatoes, vegetables, alfalfa, and more, for 500 years). Side note: In Ecuador, there are 18 varieties of bananas, 137 varieties of corn, and 300 varieties of potatoes! From the top of Pululahua, you can take it in, or, if so inclined, hike down. Horseback riding, hiking, birding, and mountain biking are the most popular activities inside the volcano trails. There's even an ecolodge using renewable energy inside the 2500 year-old crater.
 
And, of course, you can't go to Ecuador without straddling the equator. There are not one, but two competing equator sites close to Quito. Most people apparently know that Mitad del Mundo's equator line is a bit off. Intiñan Solar Museum has its own marker, which is closer to the right spot. It's hard to know if either is 100% accurate, but locals claim that Intiñan is more "real." They are only a few hundred yards from one another, so you can easily see both sites. Interestingly, science experiments like the Coriolis effect (where water swirls down a drain clockwise on one side of the equator, and counter-clockwise on the other) work at both.
 
Tomorrow, Otavalo, South America's most famous market, where indigenous locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their colorful handicrafts and produce. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/12/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hong Kong Week-Climbing Up Victoria Peak

The concierge we dealt with at the Intercontinental was exceptional, not only providing us with authentic Chinese restaurants to visit, but finding a sports bar to watch the New England Patriots playoff game. We wandered over to an Irish pub called Delaney's at 8 am, only to find the place packed with American expats. Three hours later, we wandered out of there elated after a stirring victory onto the busy streets of Kowloon, a bit of a culture shock. We took the historic Star Ferry over to the Hong Kong section of the city after making an essential stop at the ferry terminal to talk to someone at the Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitors Center. They provided a walking map to hike up to the top of Victoria Peak. Seemed easy enough, but we had no idea how steep the trail is. On a series of switchbacks on a narrow concrete path that starts to the left of the Victoria Peak tram, we snaked up the hillside past the tall apartment buildings and residential neighborhoods. Close to the top, we spotted a pair of wild boar nibbling at the scrub, which seemed apropos since the Chinese New Year is celebrating the Year of the Pig. We would later learn that the wild boars are overrunning the island and becoming a bit of a problem. One hour later, we made it to the top of the funicular to a viewpoint that offered a spectacular vista of the city skyline, surrounding waters, and neighboring islands below. We then celebrated our achievement over pizza and German beer at a place called Wildfire, before happily taking the funicular back down. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/12/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Top Dream Days of 2018, Checking Out Jasper

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Anyone who knows me knows I love the mountains. John Muir's famous quote, "The mountains are calling and I must go," a sticker found at Yosemite National Park, adorns my laptop. So it's not a stretch to say one of my dream travel days of 2018 was in Jasper, Alberta high in the Canadian Rockies. 
 
I drove with my husband Josh from Lake Louise to Jasper on the famous Icefields Parkway. It's 143 miles, with tremendous views (13 viewpoints). I can recommend stopping at the Peyto Lake Overlook, about ½ hour outside of Lake Louise. You are rewarded at the end with the view of the intensely colored lake. 
 
Once in Jasper, we checked into our terrific hotel, The Tekarra Lodge. We had a snack while sitting in Adirondack chairs, high above the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers, and watched the swirling blue water down below. Then off on a hike we went. 
 
It's hard to top the Bald Hills Trail from Maligne Lake (5 hours round-trip), recommended by a local we met. It really had it all -- forest, alpine meadows of wildflowers, mountains, and a sweeping view back to Maligne Lake. It was a "peak" experience, which we finished off with an excellent meal at Syrahs in downtown Jasper. Elk carpaccio, warm seafood salad, smoked Alberta bison brisket ragout, and port. Fantastic!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/15/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 04, 2019

AMC to Expand Trail System in Maine’s New National Monument

One of the highlights of my travels in 2018 (which I very well might discuss in my upcoming 5 Dream Days of 2018 blogs) was the weekend we spent this summer at AMC's Gorman Chairback Lodge. Smack dab in the heart of Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness in the North Woods, this last great stand of wilderness in northeastern United States is not easily accessible. You have to drive 45 minutes on rutted timber roads from Greenville, Maine to access the lodge, but once you see the pristine waters of Long Pond and hear that unmistakable yodel of a loon echoing across the lake, you immediately realize it was worth the effort to get here. Now word comes that The National Park Service has contracted the AMC to build a series of hiking trails in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, giving visitors more access to this large swath of green space. As of now, development has been limited to the main Loop Road, a 16-mile dirt road. With the AMC trail addition, each trail will extend one to two miles from the Loop Road. AMC's trail crew started work in October 2018 and will continue work through fall 2019. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/04/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Madeira, a Great Active Winter Getaway

I recently attended an event sponsored by Belmond Resorts in Boston and was intrigued by their property on the island of Madeira, Belmond Reid's Palace. While we book many vacations to Portugal and the Azores, Madeira is still off the radar for most Americans. Closer to North Africa than Europe, (540 miles from Lisbon, but only 360 miles from Morocco), the average temperatures in January are in the high 60s, ideal for active travelers. Perhaps best known for its wine and as the birthplace of soccer legend Christian Ronaldo, the volcanic island is also home to jagged peaks and lush valleys that are laced with hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Summer is the high season, when many cruise ships visit the island, with their thousands of passengers. But head to Madeira now and you have the place to yourself, much like the Azores this time of year. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/12/18 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Part III of My Week in the Canadian Rockies: Jasper

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches
 
From Lake Louise, take your time as you drive the famous Icefields Parkway all the way to Jasper. It's 143 miles, with tremendous views (13 viewpoints). I can recommend stopping at the Peyto Lake Overlook, about ½ hour outside of Lake Louise. You are rewarded at the end with the view of the intensely colored lake. Also, stop for a snack at the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre, and walk on the trail to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. It's not far, and there are a lot of people, but it does get you up very close. (Note: Skip the $30 pp Glacier Skywalk, a walkway over the Sunwapta Valley. No glaciers to be seen.)
 
In Jasper, we loved our hotel, The Tekarra Lodge. We stayed in a simple and adequate King Lodge room, above the Dining Room, but I'd definitely recommend the cabins. If you reserve well in advance, there are small, medium, and large cabins. Ask for one near the river. Then you can sit in an Adirondack chair, high above the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers, and watch the swirling blue water down below. Breakfast at Tekarra (included in the price) was great, and an elk conveniently graced the grass just outside the dining room window one morning. 
 
For meals, Jasper is a real town, with lots of choices for excellent food that isn't fried tourist fare. We loved Syrahs so much, we went back twice. For starters, we enjoyed the elk carpaccio and the warm seafood salad, followed by the smoked Alberta bison brisket ragout, and the port and fig chicken. My husband Josh said the gin and tonic was the best he's ever had. Make a reservation and enjoy. 
 
In terms of hikes and things to do, Jasper is in Jasper National Park, so you need a different trail map than the one for Banff and Lake Louise. Grab a Jasper map at the Icefields Discovery Centre on your way between Lake Louise and Jasper, or at the Parks Canada Visitor Center in Jasper (500 Connaught Drive). We didn't really plan a longer hike on the day we drove into Jasper (we wanted to allow time for short walks off the Icefields Parkway during the long ride), but you could pre-arrange a hike on the glacier if you have 3 hours to spare. 
 
We enjoyed all our hikes in Jasper but it's hard to top the Bald Hills Trail from Maligne Lake (5 hours round-trip), recommended by the host we met at Syrahs. It really had it all-forest, alpine meadow of wildflowers, mountains, a sweeping view back to Maligne Lake. It was our longest and hardest hike of the week, a "peak" experience, and at times a little narrow when you are up very high. We felt very pleased with our accomplishment and a wee bit tired. It was the perfect way to end our trip to the Canadian Rockies. 
 
Don't hesitate to contact ActiveTravels and I'll give you the scoop on Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff, including other exhilarating adventures, like rafting down the Sunwapta River. We'll be back next week with a new slate of blogs. Thanks, as always, for spending the time with us!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/08/18 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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