Category Archives: International Travel

Visiting Paris This Year? Plan in Advance

If you have a hope of seeing the Mona Lisa at Le Louvre, book your timed ticket as soon as you book your travel to Paris © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are planning to visit Paris his year, it is especially important to make plans really early, lock in reservations to visit the sites, attractions, restaurants, hotels, even train or bus transportation you most want to include if you are going outside Paris.

Paris (with 85,000 hotel rooms) is expecting about 15 million visitors as it hosts the Olympics (July 26-August 11) and Paralympics (August 28-Sept. 8. Other events to keep in mind: Tour de France, from June 29 to July 21; and Tour de France Femmes, from August 12 to 18.

The fact is, Paris is so popular (for good reason), there is no longer the “shoulder” season or “off season” (especially as more travelers seek the comparative comfort of cooler seasons, known as “coolcationing”). No matter when you travel, to get the most out of your visit, it is essential to do pre-planning. The days of just strolling into the major attractions are well gone, so advance purchase of timed- and capacity-controlled tickets will still be essential. Book online as soon as you know your dates of travel. In that way, you can avoid wasting valuable time and money waiting on line for tickets (followed by the line for security). Moreover, having a set time to visit the key attraction on your list will help you structure your day – while still allowing for serendipitous experiences and discoveries.

I must admit that my decision to spend four days in Paris at the end of my European Waterways canal boat cruise in the Alsace-Lorraine was a bit spontaneous and I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to do the research and preparation which I am recommending here. (So I didn’t get to go up the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower.) And planning out my visit for a city as big (and yet, as I found, not so big that I couldn’t walk everywhere), with as many highlights, was intimidating from a logistics point of view. So I began as I would hope other travelers do: I consulted what other travel writers have written about “four days” in Paris, and checked the various lists of “top attractions” like on tripadvisor.com.

Listen, while most travel writers will focus on the “off the beaten track” and “hidden gems” and “local favorites,” if, like me, you haven’t been to Paris in eons or ever, you want to experience what everyone else is talking about. They are the top attractions for a reason. But by preparing in advance in order to reduce wasting time waiting on lines, you will (I guarantee) have those serendipitous discoveries of “hidden gems” and “less known” that you can then boast discovering.

I had my list of top attractions, but how to organize in the best way?

Book your tickets to Musee D’Orsay in Paris in order to have more time to really enjoy the spectacular art collection, housed in this former Beaux Arts train station, in relative calm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I started with figuring out the priority attractions – Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay – that would require advance, timed tickets, and made each of them the centerpiece of a day. Musee D’Orsay is closed on Monday; Le Louvre is closed on Tuesday. Then I looked to what was around, but much of how I spent my day after was pretty spontaneous.

The city was hopping with visitors this year – as tourism recovered globally after pandemic closures and it seems the world decided never to put off again their dream destinations. I visited in late August, a very busy time in any year, and the city is already preparing for the Olympics (I happened upon a city-wide practice run for security street closures.)

And most surprising to me, was how easy it is to get around Paris – especially walking and by bicycle (with loads of bicycle share stations), with its special biking lanes and traffic signals, and traffic signals and crossings that favor pedestrians. For those who prefer, the superb metro and bus system has multi-day tickets.

I walked everywhere – because it is the whole of Paris that is the attraction – the architecture, the people, the street activity, and the sheer beauty of the city, absolutely one of the most beautiful, enchanting in the world. And not just around the stunning sites of the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Notre Dame (which you can see as it is restored), but neighborhoods that are so picturesque, interesting, and full of character. So I plot the walking time into my day.

It is thrilling to watch the progress of the restoration project at Notre Dame © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But walking around, is the best way to come upon those “hidden gems” that no one else knows about. You have a cascade of serendipitous experiences, compelling places and surprises around every corner. It’s like surrendering yourself to the universe, or in this case, the city, and let it find you. And sometimes, when you set out in search for something, all these other things emerge.

(GPS is only helpful when you already have internet, but you should plot your route and then download so you have the maps offline or at least download the Paris map, which I kept forgetting to do, so I often relied on actual maps and the kindness of wonderful strangers, even with my very limited French, to point me in the right direction.)

During my four days in Paris, I visited:

Arrival afternoon:

Arc de Triomphe

Stroll the quais along the Seine for the magnificent views of Eiffel Tower at sunset into the night

Day 1: (Sunday)

Musee D’Orsay

Isle de la Cite (to see the restoration of Notre Dame)

Sainte-Chappelle

Tuileries Gardens

Place de la Concorde

Stroll the quai along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower at night

*

Day 2 (Monday)

Le Louvre

Notre Dame (again)

Isle de France

Marais District/Holocaust Memorial

*

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Marais District/Holocaust memorials

Place des Vosges

Museum of Paris History (a highlight)

Musee d’Art D’Histoire du Judaism

Musee Picasso-Paris

Bastille monument

Place Royale

*

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Montmartre

Musee Montmartre

Dali Gallery

Sacre Coeur

(Not on my list: Versailles, which I visited many years ago but any first-timer should visit)

And here are my regrets at having missed out: Victor Hugo’s House (turns out I was right there but didn’t know to look); Petit Palais which has marvelous exhibits (couldn’t time it right); the Crype Archeologique de L’Ile de la Cite (right beside the Notre Dame, but I never time it right to visit); and Catacombs (intriguing!). And yes, I regret not climbing the stairs up the Eiffel Tower (didn’t realize you can get that ticket on the spot) and seeing the museum and climbing inside the Arc de Triomphe

Yes, these are the most popular sites, but they are popular for very good reason, and if you are not a frequent visitor to Paris, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to experience them yourself. But there are ways to make the experience your own. Your list of “highlights” might be different – like the bateaux mouches cruise on the Seine (included in the Paris attractions pass).

Try to book your visit to Le Louvre either early in the morning or on one of the evenings the museum is open late © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I highly recommend getting the Paris Museum Pass (https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en, which provides admissions to 34 museums in Paris and 11 more in the region) or the Paris Pass (parispass.com) which not only makes attractions and experiences more affordable, but will absolutely add to what you see and do, and also provides such helpful information as hours, location, proximity to where you are. When booking, try to book the earliest available times or evening times, and midweek over weekend.

You are likely to arrive in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which has easy train connection to downtown – purchase your metro ticket in advance at a wonderful visitor information office as you walk out, and even a multi-day ticket. This will cut down on wasted time waiting on line to buy a ticket and the confusion of knowing what zone you need. And it saves quite a lot of money. But the best part is you don’t think about how much you are spending – it all seems free.

If you are traveling in France, remember to book your train or bus tickets in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming from Strasbourg by train at the end of my six-day canal cruise of the Alsace Lorraine aboard European Waterways’ Panache, I arrived at Gard d’Est and made my way on the metro (after going in the wrong direction on the metro) to a stop just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. My hotel, the Hotel Napoleon Paris, a five-star boutique hotel which put me perfectly into the atmosphere of Napoleon’s Empire period, is not even a half-block away, and one boulevard over from the magnificent Champs Elysee. (Note: book train tickets in advance, www.raileurope.com)

It was afternoon, and I quickly checked in to this charming boutique hotel, dropped my bag, and went out to explore the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Visitors along the Champs-Elysee on their way to the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This iconic symbol of France is set in the middle of a roundabout (the Place D’Etoile, like a star”) where 12 busy boulevards converge, including the magnificent Champs Elysee which is aligned with its center. Don’t even think about trying to cross the roundabout – you must walk through underground passageways to get across the busy boulevards that encircle the monument (There’s a pedestrian tunnel at Place Charles de Gaulle on the north side of the Champs-Élysées that will take you down to the arch.)

Don’t even think about trying to walk across the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe. Use the underground walkways © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Building the Arc de Triomphe began in 1806 on Napoleon’s orders. Just a year earlier, in 1805, Napoleon’s forces won a decisive victory over Russian and Austrian troops at the Battle of Austerlitz. French architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin took his inspiration from the great arches of the world and designed Triomphe to be the largest in the world. The arch is 164 feet tall, and twice a year, the sun sets directly in the center. It took 30 years to complete the arch which was officially opened by King Louis-Phillipe on July 29, 1836.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the years since, soldiers have marched past the arch as a victory lap – France and its allies did in 1918, 1944 and 1945; Germany in 1871 and  1940. Every year, a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, buried below the arch, marks the anniversary of the armistice signed on Nov. 11, 1918.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today, the Arc de Triomphe is more of a symbol of peace and is very recognizable as the end point for the Tour de France cyclists. For the French, the Arc de Triomphe goes well beyond being commemorative, but is foundational in the French national psyche.

Each day at the Arc de Triomphe, there is a ceremony to honor France’s fallen soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1921 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was incorporated into the monument, and today the tomb’s flame is rekindled every evening at 6.30 p.m. to show respect for All of France’s fallen.

One such event was just winding up as I arrived.

The Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of the French people’s national pride © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was transfixed by the arch, the spectacular bas-reliefs of historic events that grace each pillar – The Entry of Napoleon, The Conquest of Alexandria and The Battle of Austerlitz. The most famous of them, The Departure of the Volunteers, also known as La Marseillaise, was created by the Romantic sculptor François Rude in 1792. The others were crafted by two other sculptors, Antoine Etex and Jean-Pierre Cortot Plaques list the names of hundreds of generals and battles.

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Admittedly, I didn’t know that you could enter the monument and climb the 284 steps to to the terrace (an elevator is available for those who require it) for a view, or that there is a museum inside – The Permanent ‘Great Moments of French History’ exhibition which traces the story of the Arc de Triomphe and explains the architecture, friezes and sculptures. So I definitely did not book tickets in advance. But the line to purchase tickets was ridiculous so I happily contented myself to just study the stunning reliefs and be transfixed by the arch’s form. (Having a Paris Museum Pass would have provided free admission without the need to reserve a time.)

Stunning reliefs decorate the Arc de Triomphe, recalling France’s history  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I missed though was the dramatic view from the top: looking down the Champs-Élysées to the Louvre, out to La Defense, around to the Eiffel Tower. And you look straight down at one of the world’s largest round-abouts, where the 12 avenues come together.

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumph of architecture and decoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can purchase tickets in advance; the Arch is also included on the Paris Museum Pass http://en.parismuseumpass.com/

I continued my walk well into the evening, following the route the concierge at the Hotel Napoleon laid out for me: strolling down the Champs Elysee, turning onto the Avenue George V (and passed the famous Hotel George V), to the Seine.

Paris is truly magical, truly the City of Light and romance. Couples walk along the quai, attach a lock to just about any wrought iron they can find, pose for a selfie.

That first view of the Eiffel Tower at night, reflected in the Seine, is breathtaking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That first view of the Eiffel tower from across the Seine, the bateaux mouches sailing by (I’m seeing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in “Charade”) as the sky takes on the rosy tones of sunset, fills you with a giddiness that can be described as joie de vivre. By the time I headed back along the quai, passing couples in amorous embraces, night has descended and the views of the lighted tower, bridges, and reflections on the river take your breath away.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon on a tony residential street just off the Champs Elysee, I felt more like I am going back to my swank Parisian apartment rather than a hotel. I get another view of the Arc de Triomphe as I turn the corner.

Walking back to the Hotel Napoleon Paris at night, you get a view of the Arc de Triomphe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hôtel Napoléon Paris 5,40, av. de Friedland 75008 Paris, Direct phone   +33156684480, www.hotelnapoleon.com, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-napoleon-paris/, https://preferredhotels.com/hotels/france/hotel-napoleon-paris

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

For Olympics planning (and where you can purchase tickets that become available), https://www.paris2024.org/en/

Next: Musee D’Orsay Highlights Day 2 in Paris

See also:

ROMANCE IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOTEL NAPOLEON IN PARIS, CITY OF LOVE

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Romance is at the Heart of the Hotel Napoleon in Paris, City of Love

The Hotel Napoleon, a boutique five-star hotel just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe in the fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Romance is at the heart of the Hotel Napoleon in Paris, the City of Love. Romance is in its genes.

The Hotel Napoleon, just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe off the Place d’Etoile in Paris’ fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day.

The Hotel Napoleon, a boutique five-star hotel  just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe in the fashionable 8th Arrondisement, began with a love story that continues to this day © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Built on the site of the former Tolstoy family mansion in Art Deco style in 1928 by architect Henri Porteau, shortly after its opening, it was bought by Alexander Pavlovitch Kliaguine, a wealthy businessman from Russia, as a wedding present for his bride. A young Parisian student of literature, they had met at a salon, and fell in love at first sight. Kliaguine wanted to provide his bride a place to entertain Parisian high society (she later became the Baroness de Baubigny) and both resided there all their lives.

A portrait of the bride who stole Alexander Pavlovitch Kliaguine’s heart, in the Hotel Napoleon lobby © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To this day, the Hotel Napoléon Paris is owned by the Kliaguine family, and a new generation Kliaguine, now the general manager, still lives in the hotel with his family. Indeed, the hotel, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide, was named to its The 2022 Top 25 Historic Hotels Worldwide Most Romantic Hotels

And as Kliaguine had promised his bride, the Hotel Napoleon became a popular gathering place for Paris’ social elite and illustrious artistic and literary expatriates (“The Lost Generation”): F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn  (who nicknamed the Napoleon “The Place”), Miles Davis, Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, who signed its Golden Book.

This all prompts images of  Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” (where a nostalgic screenwriter finds himself mysteriously going back to the 1920s every day at midnight), and the Algonquin Hotel in New York (famous for its Algonquin Round Table of New York City writers, critics, actors, and wits) to dance in my mind.

The hotel has appeared in movies, such as Jean Gabin’s 1930’s movies and even had a star turn in, Le Cave se rebiffe (1961), where the character played by Jean Gabin, one of French cinema’s greatest stars, declares he is staying at The Napoléon, “as always”.

The grand Empire décor of The Hotel Napoleon transports you back in time © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exterior of the seven-story hotel may be Art Deco, but the atmosphere of this luxury boutique hotel will put in mind not of the Jazz Age or Art Deco, but the elegance of the Empire Period of Napoleon.

The Napoléon Bonaparte opened in 1928 as a “hôtel de charme” (a small distinctive hotel or boutique hotel) and only a year later, in 1929, reached the grade of “petit palace” and was renamed Napoléon Paris for its location steps away from the Arc de Triomphe. It was designated a five-star hotel by the French Agency of Tourist Development in 2013.

It is perfection that the historic Hotel Napoleon is just steps away from the Arc D’Triomphe, along Avenue de Friedland, one of the 12 boulevards that radiate from the Place Etoile and just one over from the famous Champs Elysee in the toniest of Parisian neighborhoods, you might as well be in “Midnight in Paris,’ the way you feel transported back into France’s Empire period of Napoleon with its furnishings and collection of 400 historic paintings.  

The gracious lobby at The Hotel Napoleon, once a gathering place for Parisian social elite and the “Lost Generation” of literati and artists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The boutique hotel is elegant, yet intimate and comfortable. You feel more like you are invited to into a gracious mansion or even that you are occupying your own grand Paris flat in the toniest of Parisian neighborhoods, the fashionable 89th Arrondissement. The Napoleon has remained an undeniably romantic retreat, offering private terraces with views of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe and an enviable location in the Triangle d’Or.

You can’t help but swoon at the collection of art which is also featured in the sumptuous guestrooms and suites inspired by Parisian Empire design by interior design firm Malphettes & Biz.

One of the suites at The Hotel Napoleon. Each is individually decorated family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Napoleon boasts more suites (57) than hotel rooms (39), recently refreshed and renovated. Each is individually decorated and blends the extravagance of Empire design with contemporary elegance. Each has fine furnishings, sumptuous linens, grand drapery, lush fabrics and wallpaper, striking artwork, and luxurious marble-and-mahogany bathrooms, stocked with Nuxe luxury skincare products.

Some of the terrace suites overlook the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, while others provide views of Avenue de Friedland or the flowers of the inner courtyard. Seven of the rooms have a terrace and four have a balcony.

One of the suites at The Hotel Napoleon. Each is individually decorated family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Suite 319-320 is opulently decorated with Chinese black-and-gold wallpaper. The most luxurious suite, 618, is named for Josephine – not Napoleon’s wife, but Josephine Baker.

There are niceties including a refrigerator stocked with snacks and soft drinks and juice that are replenished each day at no charge and free WiFi.

A battery of concierges who are members of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or readily share knowledge of the city, make you feel really at home and get the most of the precious time you have in Paris. The hotel can even arrange child care. And small pets are welcome.

The Napoleon has a gracious lobby, a lovely dining room (which before COVID served as a restaurant, but is where breakfast is served), and a lovely bar, the 1807, with outdoor terrace which serves as an outdoor café.

Enjoy breakfast in the lovely dining room at The Hotel Napoleon, you may meet Mon. Kliaguine, the general manager and owner of the hotel, who lives in the hotel with his family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tradition of celebrities staying at this intimate hotel is maintained, with a photo gallery of autographed photos of sports heroes– some who stayed here, some who were friends of the owner – outside the 7th floor fitness room (and what a fitness room it is!).

The Napoleon Hotel offers a selection of massages and treatments, available in the spa or in your room (daily from 9am to 9pm) and can be booked before your arrival or directly with the concierge.

There is also a very pleasant (and private) courtyard and for convenience of guests. Another luxury: a number of parking spots in front of the hotel (41E/day) and EV charging stations.

The Hotel Napoleon makes available parking and EV charging for its guests © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hotel Napoleon Paris offers packages, such as Romance in Paris includes Champagne, chocolates, and flowers; the Family package features connecting rooms.

The hotel is walking distance to everything on the first part of my four-day itinerary.

And so, on this first afternoon after I arrive by train from Strasbourg at the end of my European Waterways canal cruise through the Alsace Lorraine and pop out of the metro station at Place Etoile, I drop my bags in my room and set out to explore the Arc d’Triomphe, stroll the Champs Elysee, and walk along the quai of the Seine for the exquisite views of the Eiffel tower at sunset into the night.

Paris, the City of Light (and Love), is magical at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stroll back to the hotel along the grand Champs Élysées– the view up to the Arch at night is so dramatic – and for my brief time in the city, live a very Parisian experience. And the Empire ambiance completes the fantasy.

Midnight in Paris, indeed.

Hôtel Napoléon Paris 5,40, av. de Friedland 75008 Paris, Direct phone   +33156684480, www.hotelnapoleon.com, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-napoleon-paris/ https://preferredhotels.com/hotels/france/hotel-napoleon-paris

Historic Hotels Worldwide

The Hotel Napoleon is a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2011, the sister collection of Historic Hotels Worldwide®, a prestigious collection of more than 350 legendary historic hotels including many that were once castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries spanning ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate exemplary historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine, and in this way, preserves them.

To be nominated and selected for induction into Historic Hotels Worldwide, historical lodging properties must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons, or be a significant location for a historic event; be located in or within walking distance of a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of a historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance.

The Empire décor and a collection of 400 historic paintings make you feel you have slipped back in time, at the Hotel Napoleon, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These historic hotels are in diverse cultural settings: a 12th-century castle set among the rolling hills, prehistoric  monuments, and Celtic landmarks of Ireland’s Ancient Eastin, (Kilkea Castle, Castledermot Ireland, circa 1180); a medieval village nestled in the Tuscan countryside that dates back to the 11th century (La Bagnaia Golf & Spa Resort Siena, Curio Collection by Hilton, Siena, Italy circa 1081), a 1650 manor house which was the former summer residence of Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III (Hotel Claude Marbella, Marbella, Spain).

Travelers can find and book these historic hotels them at HistoricHotels.org, which since 2012 has served as a global travel website, or call 1-800-678-8946. The Annual Directory can be found by visiting HistoricHotels.org/Directory. More information at HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Must Plan in Advance

The days of just showing up in a city as popular and as culturally rich as Paris are over – and not just because the Olympics are coming to Paris this summer. There is no longer a “shoulder” or “off” season. Lines for tickets at attractions can take literally hours, or you can be shut out altogether as capacity is reached. And this caveat is especially the case this year: Paris (with 85,000 hotel rooms) is expecting about 15 million visitors as it hosts the Olympics (July 26-August 11) and Paralympics (August 28-Sept. 8. Other events to keep in mind: Tour de France, from June 29 to July 21; and Tour de France Femmes, from August 12 to 18.

As soon as you know your dates for travel, book your hotel, and pre-purchase timed tickets directly with the attractions you most want to see.

Walking back to The Hotel Napoleon, I get to appreciate this gorgeous night view of the Arc D’Triomphe. To visit during the day, best is to pre-purchase the Paris Museum Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even better, purchase a Paris Museums ticket, which provides admission to 55 different museums (34 within Paris and another 11 in the Paris region), including the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre and Musee d’Orsay – but you still need to pre-book a timed ticket and go through security (which also takes time). You can purchase the pass according to the number of days: 2 (E35), 4 (E70), and 6 (E85), which not only saves time (priceless), but money on buying tickets individually (https://www.parismuseumpass.fr/t-en).

There is also a Paris Pass through GoCity.com, which adds on attractions and experiences (the Paris Museum pass is included) for a total of 90. Among the experiences: Seine river cruises on the famous bateaux mouches (E18 if purchased separately); Perfume mini workshop by Fragonard (29E); French wine tasting at Les Caves du Louvre (E36); and even Ballon de Paris Generali, where you fly over Paris on the world’s largest balloon at 150 meters altitude (E20 ticket value).

The pass can save up to 50 percent off purchasing tickets individually. It comes with a GoCity app that lets you plan your visit and book your ticket. You sync your All-Inclusive Pass with the Go City app and download your Paris Museum Pass (parispass.com).

More planning help from the Paris Tourist Office, https://parisjetaime.com/eng/. Online ticketing at https://parisjetaime.com/eng/tickets.

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© 2024 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures 

Experts at NY Travel Show Offer Tips for Satisfying, Meaningful, Purposeful Travel

A wedding couple in Hangzhou, China. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s like this: travel is humanity’s best invention to promote the advancement of civilization. Travel is how ideas, innovations and progress, improved living standards and quality of life are spread among peoples, as Marco Polo proved. Travel is humanity’s best hope for peace and cooperation instead of zero-sum annihilation, as people from different places see and appreciate that we are more alike than different, and appreciate the differences. Travel is a community’s best hope for providing the economic underpinnings that provide jobs, upward mobility and enable people to stay on ancestral lands, have the funds to preserve and protect the environment, culture and heritage, and yes, make the adaptations and mitigations to prevent the ravages of climate change. Indeed, just as the travel industry has led the way with e-commerce, yield management, and  loyalty programs, the industry – the third largest in the world – is leading the way on climate solutions,

Tourism is what provides the economic underpinnings to support jobs and upkeep of such treasures as the Treasury at Petra, Jordan. To avoid crowds, stay overnight and enter the ancient city in the early morning © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel also is life-enhancing, enriching, potentially life-changing and among the best therapies against despair – providing a conduit for forging social connections, self-improvement, overcoming fear, anxiety and apprehension by fostering understanding and empathy, broadening perspectives. The experience of travel fosters resilience, self-confidence, self-reliance, adaptability, forges lasting bonds of family and friendship and broadens perspective and outlook.

That’s not just me saying it. It’s what travel experts with collective experience of decades (including myself), have seen and experienced firsthand.

“When we travel, experience the world, it changes us in a deep and profound way,” Pauline Frommer of frommer.com, told a standing room only audience at the most recent New York Travel & Adventure Show at Javits Center. “Right now we live in such a divided word – different facts inform our view but when we travel, we see the truth on the ground, that other countries have something to teach us, we can bring that back, and present an impression of America that is positive in places that may not have positive impression of America. Even with climate change, travel is one of the best tools in our ongoing search for creating world peace. So have wonderful, relaxing vacations, but your trips also can be meaningful and you can make a difference when you travel.”

“Consume news, but don’t let that make you a frightened person,” advises Rick Steves of ricksteves.com. “Be outward looking. If we want world to be peaceful, we have to build bridges. We can be challenged and stimulated by smart people who do things in smart ways. We can celebrate the Moroccan dream, the Bulgarian dream, just like the American dream – there is room for lots of dreams, As a traveler, we get to enjoy them all….[If we want a world of] peace and stability, the most powerful thing we can do as individual Americans is to travel and get to know people.”

Machu Picchu, Peru: travel has the potential to be life-enhancing, life-changing. But don’t put off your “bucket-list” experiences because you never know if there will be a pandemic, a political issue, a climate disaster. “Carpe diem,” says Patricia Schultz, author of “1000 Places to See Before You Die”

The COVID pandemic reinforced the value of travel – the three years of lockdowns and constrained travel upended local economies, while shutdowns that kept people from traveling underscored the human need for connection, for renewal, for new horizons to broaden perspectives.

“A life lesson we took away from COVID and postponed pleasure is that there is never a guarantee that we will be able to travel tomorrow or next year- our health, our need to care for people, political situation, climate disasters. Carpe diem,” says “1000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz.  She reflects on the places that she had included but have had to drop off her list recently – Ukraine, Syria, Iran even Jerusalem. “The lesson from this image [of people at the Western Wall] is carpe diem – if some place is on your bucket list and you think, well, the Pyramids will always be there, guess what? Don’t take anything for granted.”

And so with the pandemic in the rearview mirror (at least for now), people are traveling with furor and we are back to worrying about being crowded out and the potential impacts – and actions to prevent – overtourism. COVID-generated technologies and policies for advance purchase, capacity control are here to stay.

The excitement for traveling to the four corners of the globe and in every style, from decompressing on a beach, to joining an expedition to see gorillas in Uganda, to standing up for Ukraine by showing up in Ukraine, was evident at the New York Travel & Adventure Show, where booths were crammed and talks by experts including Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg, Pauline Frommer, on traveling smart, well and meaningfully were standing room only.

But because there is a whole world out there, you can make choices of where and when to travel. Don’t like crowds? Try to visit a destination when less crowded (though there is less of an “off-season” or “shoulder” season these days); find the “hidden gems” that offer as much atmosphere, experience and character; visit attractions either very early or later in the day (to avoid the hoards of cruise passengers and daytrippers); overnight in those charming, historic cities and villages (preferably in or within walking distance of the historic district) so you are there in the early morning and the evenings to enjoy the stillness and light without the hoards of cruisers and daytrippers; and pre-purchase tickets, city/museum/attractions passes so you don’t waste valuable time and money standing in line to purchase tickets. Climate and weather also have become major issues that should factor into where and when you travel.

Their message: By all means, experience the highlights of a place, but go further afield to seek out local experiences, opportunities to visit or stay in neighborhoods. Be a mindful traveler, a purposeful traveler: enhance the experience by learning the background, the stories and back-stories, hire a local guide, take a “free” walking tour (you basically tip the guide), sign up for some volunteer opportunity to give back to the community; seek out those tour programs that provide immersive opportunities to engage with locals.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct, for example, is the most-visited ancient monument in France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. Most people see it as a pretty photo op and do not understand how innovative the engineering was – how the Romans brought water from 30 miles away – and what a difference it made in the lives of people who didn’t have to spend hours of their day in pursuit of water.

Meet the people who live on Inle Lake, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“For a lot of tour groups, it is just a pretty bridge, a potty break, a souvenir stand. [But learning the backstory], humanizes this site,” says Rick Steves says. “How to carbonate the travel experience is about how to connect with people..Too many tourists sit on folding chairs watching yodeling on stage, but not connecting, and back in the hotel, only interact with other Americans. It’s a vacation, to be sure, but what is missing is what it means to travel.

Steves urges travelers to “get out of their comfort zone, to see culture shock not as something to avoid, but as the growing pains of a broadening perspective.”

“Become a cultural chameleon – physically change from culture to culture because it’s different.” That means going to where the locals hang out in the evening, drinking Ouzo in Greece, whisky in Scotland, tea in England, red wine in Tuscany, beer in the Czech Republic.” Go three blocks off the main drag to find the restaurants popular with locals; for some meals (breakfast, lunch) go to local groceries and markets and picnic. Seek out the family owned two-star hotel, inn, lodge, hostel or AirBnB – that not only saves money but adds enrichment because of a more “authentic” experience.

Pre-planning is the way to mitigate wasting time and money in line or with crowds.

“There are two types of travelers: those who wait in lines and those who don’t. Think carefully of minimizing lines,” Steves notes.

Crowds in front of the “Mona Lisa” in Le Louvre in Paris. Travel experts at the New York Travel & Adventure Show offered tips on how to avoid crowds and the lines, especially in places like Paris, where advance purchase of tickets to major museums and attractions is essential. In Paris, purchase the “Museum Pass.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before you go: get an idea of the attractions and sites you want to visit (I query “Three days in….” at TripAdvisor and other travel writers to get some idea). Then, go to the attractions’ websites to get all the visitor FAQs (can I take a water bottle into the Vatican; a backpack into Le Louvre – not likely after the latest incident of vandalism against the “Mona Lisa”). As soon as you have your travel dates (that is, your air fare), immediately reserve the tickets– if the attraction is a highlight for you it is a highlight for most others. Your priority places will set the framework for your itinerary, and the time saved by not waiting on line can go to those serendipitous experiences and discoveries. The same with restaurants you have your heart set on frequenting – book a reservation as soon as you settle your dates.

Take advantage of city passes, museum passes (a must for Paris) and attractions passes from companies like GoCity.com and CityPass.com, as well as the passes offered by the cities themselves, like the PragueCoolPass.com. They not only let you breeze through, but give extremely helpful information about current exhibitions, hours, directions, visitor information.

The PragueCoolPass maximizes your enjoyment of this historic city, like visiting its famous Castle © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Try to book the earliest opening hour of the day in order to minimize the crowds, but in any case, book the earliest time available in order to have the most amount of time.

If you are visiting an outdoor site like the Acropolis in Athens, avoid mid-day when it is not only hot as blazes, but overrun with thousands of visitors who have come off cruise ships or day trippers. Come either as soon as the Acropolis opens in the morning, when it is cool and uncrowded, or at the end of the day (as I did), when the light is a gorgeous golden, the views of the city are amazing, it is cooler and the biggest crowds have left.

Visit attractions like the Acropolis at the beginning or at the end of the day to avoid the crowds and the heat and enjoy the golden light © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

This is also the advantage of overnighting in the most charming cities like Bruges, Strasbourg, Seville, Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, Fez and important sites like Petra – choose a hotel in the historic district that is walking distance to everything but you get to enjoy in the early morning and evening when the lights/lighting/colors are so amazing, the canals like mirrors, the city streets are quiet and empty, before the onslaught of cruisers and daytrippers.

Overnighting in the boutique Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district means you get to have this impossibly picturesque city to yourself at night and in the quiet of the morning before the daytrippers overrun it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Take advantage of “free” walking tours in cities – local guides work for tips. These are great way to get an orientation. Search “free walking tours” and read the reviews.

Also, in major cities like Paris and London, you can buy mutli-day transit tickets for the train/bus (you can also do bikeshare), so that instead of paying the price of a taxi or Uber from airport into downtown, you can purchase the pass that includes the train or tram from the airport, and not have to wait on lines to purchase individual tickets from machines and deal with the confusion of zones and station names.

Searching muiti-day tour finders is a great way to get an idea of how to organize your time, what to see, what you should pay, and find tour programs that might best meet your needs. Frommer recommends Travelstride.com and Tourradar.com. These marketplace sites, she notes, can introduce you to local companies instead of the big-name tour operators.

Considerations for choosing the right tour company: price (per diem) is only one consideration, also consider what is inclusions (all meals aren’t necessarily a good thing, you might prefer to be able to go off and find those local favorites instead of a restaurant that caters to foreign groups); traveling companions (it is fun to travel with people from other countries, not just Americans); expertise of the guide; demographics of the tour company (often there are family itineraries; women-only; solo travelers; small groups (EF Tours, Audley Travel); price (luxury versus mass market) and age such as younger travelers (Contiki) versus older (Road Scholar) (visit www.frommers.com: How to pick the right tour company for you”).

Discovery Bicycle Tours stops at a winery at the end of the day’s ride in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Bicycle tours are ideal for women and solo travelers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find day tours, attractions, guides: Getyourguide.com; airbnb.com/experiences; tripadvisor.com. Foodies could look to TravelingSpoon and Eatwith. I like contexttravel.com.

Also be sure to pre-book rail (for example, raileurope.com) and bus transportation (flixbus.com is terrific) between cities. Find schedules at Rome2Rio.com.

Taking the train from Paris to Strasbourg, France. Be sure to book your ticket in advance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find the best airfares (always tricky), Frommer recommends searching Momondo.com/Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com, and CheapoAir.com. Momondo (and Kayak, which are owned by the same entity) tended to consistently find the lowest fares, and have filters that let’s you select for everything from the type of plane (if you wanted to avoid a Boeing 737 Max 9, or if you wanted to find the airlines with the cheapest fares with a checked bag.

But the experts also recommend that after searching for the best fares, you book directly with the airline, ”because if you book through a third party, you can’t rebook as easily as directly through the airlines” if there is some delay, cancellation or need to change. “Search but don’t book,” Frommer says.

Frommer also railed against “drip pricing” – the extra fees that airlines attach (even though Biden has waged a campaign against junk fees.) US airlines average $78 in added fees; European airlines average $58. So for United, the average is 122% of the base fare; for jetblue it’s 147%; but for Sun Country its 201% and for Frontier, its 376%, so the added fees can be higher than the fare.

When you search for an airline, Frommer consistently recommends you “Hide your identity” “Use a privacy setting on the browser, or use a different browser and different computer if you return to search fares” because the airline will track you, gauge your interest and post higher fares.

Also, there are optimum times to search and book:

  • Purchase airfare on Sundays (6% cheaper domestic travel, 13% cheaper international)
  • Book 28 days out (“the sweet spot”) for domestic travel (24% savings), 2-4 months out for international (10% savings)
  • Start your trip on a Thursday (16% savings over flying on a Sunday)
  • Fly before 3 pm (to avoid the 50% increased risk of being cancelled or delayed)

For best hotel rates, book 3-plus months in advance for resorts like Hawaii, Mexico, Caribbean, Florida but just one week before in business cities (New York, London, Paris, Denver). “It takes courage to wait to book one week before travel, so book a refundable room in advance, then search a week ahead of travel.”

“For first time in 20 years, I am having to research New Jersey hotels for people coming to New York City, because on September 18, the city got rid Airbnb, and all the cheap hotels are filled with migrants. Hotels were  charging $900 in December compared to $129 in January for the same room.”

Welcome to Riad el Yacout, built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university, which stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse, Fez, Morocco, booked on hotels.com © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To find “secret hotel discounts, Frommer is recommending seeking out travel clubs like RoomSteals, the new Travel & Leisure Club, professional associations’ travel clubs – some which have fees to join – and @Hotel on Instagram (no fee to belong).

How do clubs have “secret: rates? “Hotel companies have contracts with Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity etc. and are not allowed to offer publicly deeper discounts (more than 5-10%) than they give to expedia, orbitz). But if they can’t fill their rooms, they turn to the clubs.”  On the other hand, the clubs often do not show as much information as you need about services and the like.

Also, Frommer notes, Airbnb isn’t necessarily a bargain over hotel rates. “Now because so many extra fees, a recent study showed in 48 of 50 states you pay more at Airbnb than hotel (two exceptions are Nevada and Louisiana). But AirBnB is great for groups, families, if you need a kitchen (and want to save money cooking), but on average, you no longer save money on a rental vs. hotel.”

On the other hand, Frommer has always been a big booster for home exchanges – where you actually trade the use of your home for someone else’s – a way to save money but also really live like a local.

“You can go anywhere in the world – a Paris apartment, a houseboat in Sausalito.” Among the exchanges are HomeExchange.com.

Pauline Frommer cautions about getting too cautious – fearful – of traveling abroad,

Pointing to the recent US State Department’s worldwide travel advisory in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, she notes that Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela all have travel advisories against coming to the US because of the gun violence epidemic. “Venezuela thinks it is too dangerous to come here.”  The State Department’s worldwide caution for Americans, is as if to say, “’Don’t travel anywhere, the world is too dangerous. That’s mind boggling. Yes, listen to the US State Department, read the cautions, but understand the rest of the world is terrified to come here.” There is a lot to listen to, though – such as where women of child-bearing age should be mindful of Zika, or where there is political instability or widespread crime, and urges travelers to enroll in the State Department’s “Smart Traveler” program.

The experts advise purchasing travel insurance and soon after you purchase your flights, so that you are covered if for some reason you have to cancel.

Pauline Frommer suggests looking for travel insurance that covers “Cancel for any Reason” (CFAR), includes medical evacuation and covers pandemics (policies do not necessarily cover “fear of travel” if there is a pandemic but a destination isn’t closed by authorities).

“Say the destination has a new strand of COVID but didn’t shut down, and you decide not to go – if you cancel with regular insurance, it won’t be covered – because ‘fear of travel’ is not included. A CFAR policy allows you to cancel for any reason – it’s more expensive, but will repay 75% of costs.

All the experts discourage purchasing travel insurance from the travel provider (tour operator, cruiseline), but to use apps that give you different policy recommendations based on your needs (date of travel, who traveling, age, destinations) such as Squaremouth.com, Insuremytrip.com and Travelinsurance.com.

“Inevitably the most expensive policy covers the least, but the best is usually in the middle,” Frommer advises. “Never ever buy from the travel company you are going with – if they go belly up, you’ve lost insurance too.”

Angel Castellanos (www.angelestravellounge.com) offered more tips on traveling smart with technology, like Google Fi (which makes its own SIM cards and has free international data roaming in most countries) and T-Mobile (which do not charge roaming fees for international calls; calls are 25c/minute; unfortunately, it is rare to get internet service with T-mobile abroad; you use the available WiFi) instead of having to pay for an international phone/data plan. Also, consider purchasing an international SIM card for $2.

For digital safety, he recommends installing a VPN (a virtual private network) on to mask your identity when you are on a public network, with digital thieves trying to steal passwords. He recommends ExpressVPN which works all over the world.

Flying, definitely register for TSA Precheck (costs $75, good for 5 years, and some credit cards rebate the charge), and CLEAR, which uses biometric data to verify your identify, and let’s you go directly from the kiosk to the front of the line “like a VIP. In certain airports that can make the difference in making the flight.” And several business credit cards like American Express Platinum rebate the cost of Clear.

Denver International Airport. Use TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, MyTSA, to breeze through the airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can also install the MyTSA app on your device, a free app that gives real time information for what is happening at airport – how long the security line is taking, if one area of the airport is closed and you need to go through TSA in a different location.

Now, the Homeland Security department offers mobile passport control, even if you are not registered for Global Entry (which is similar). You can enroll by submitting passport information and responses to CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) – the free version requires you to enter passport information each time – answer the questions, then you get to whisk through a third line (the regular line, the Global Entry kiosk, and now the Mobile Passport control).

“Google is one of biggest game changers for international travel,” he notes. You can download maps in advance so they are available when you do not have access to WiFi.

The same is true for languages. “Language is no longer a barrier. You can program a phrase like ‘I’m allergic to peanuts,’ and it will show it written as well as speak. You can download the language in advance so it can translate even when offline. You can use the camera function to translate foreign languages into English.”

Of course this eliminates the delight and satisfaction of finding a local person who can either speak English or mime an answer to “I’m lost, Can you tell me how do I get to….?”

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New Brunswick Roadtrip: Metepenagiag Heritage Center Highlights Miramichi Visit

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Metepenagiag Heritage Center has artifacts that show 3,000 years of habitation of the Mi’kmaq people in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So often the best travel experiences happen by serendipity. I had left the Bay of Fundy coastal trail behind in Moncton this morning to continue our New Brunswick roadtrip, driving 90 minutes to Miramichi, a small city that’s the gateway to northern New Brunswick, Canada, renowned for hunting and fishing. I meet up with Amanda Craig, from Miramichi’s tourism office who was taking me to hike a mile-long trail to Fall Brook Falls (at 108 feet high is the highest in New Brunswick). It’s located in Irving Woodlands private preserve, but alas, the access road is closed. I had spotted a sign along the highway to the Metepenagiag Heritage Park and was really excited to learn more about New Brunswick’s First Nations history and so we head there.

Metepenagiag is so much more than a museum exhibition – it preserves, documents, honors and resurrects the Mi’kmaq heritage and culture.

Metepenagiag is an active archaeological site and research center where artifacts unearthed have provided proof the Mi’kmaq have been occupying this land for at least 3,000 years. When you first walk into the exhibition building, you can look into the lab where researchers examine artifacts. Some of the items, like a 1200-year old Earthenware pot, arrowheads and other items are on display.

Earthenware 1200 years old is on display at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The significance of this place is clear when you learn that it was after decades and generations of a national policy to eradicate First Nations’ cultural heritage, when even speaking the language, so critical to passing along its oral history and tradition, was banned and children were forced from their community into residential schools to strip away their native identity, that in the 1970s, a Mi’kmaq member, Joe Augustine, discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow.

“When a company was planning to expand its gravel pit in our community, our beloved and respected Elder Joe Augustine remembered being told from his Elders before him of an old burial ground in the area,” state the notes accompanying a photo of Joe Augustine and Yvonne (Paul) Meunier digging at the pit state. “He went to the site they described and found what was to become the Augustine Mound – a cemetery dating back to over 600 BC.

Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites in the 1970s which provide evidence of 3,000 years of habitation in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The concept of preserving, protecting and presenting the rich Mi’kmaq culture is expressed by our Elder and lives on in our community.”

In 1977, archaeological work began on another site Elder Joe Augustine uncovered: the Oxbow, a village site situated at the head tide, showing Metepenagiag has had over 3,000 years of continuous settlements right to the present day.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Constructed about 2500 years ago, the circular Augustine Mound is a rare example in the Maratimes of the elaborate burial tradition associated with the Adena culture, which originated in the Ohio River Valley and then spread throughout eastern North America. The rich archaeological record found at the site includes well-preserved textiles and basketry, ornaments of Lake Superior native copper, Ohio fireclay pipes, and distinctive Adena-type stone tools dating back 7000 years.

The types of objects retrieved from the Augustine Mound are exceptional for this area of Canada – copper beads on leather, small pieces of baskets, textiles, animal hides, moose-hair work, porcupine quills, feathers and wooden-handled tools. The salts from thousands of copper beads helped save the raw natural fibers from decomposing.

Artifacts uncovered at the Augustine Mound and Oxbow show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The earth mound, the types of burials and the artifacts suggest that the Mi’kmaq of Metepenagiag probably carried on complex trading and cultural relations with other Aboriginal societies as distant as central Ohio.

Oxbow is one of the largest pre-contact archeological sites in the Maritimes and remarkable for its rich and deeply stratified record of almost continuous human occupation. The artifacts uncovered show that for the past three millennia, aboriginal people have repeatedly come to this oxbow in the Miramichi River to fish, hunt and gather plants. Seasonal flooding covered their camps with silt, preserving evidence of their everyday life, including stone tools, ceramics, and fire pits.

Archaeological research is actively underway at Metepenagiag Heritage Center, Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Known today as the Mi’kmaq (from the word nikmaq, meaning my kin-friend), in ancient times they called themselves Lnu’k, The People. The Mi’kmaq are an Eastern Algonkian-speaking people closely related to the Wolastoqiyik, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and the Eastern and Western Abenaki. Together, these nations formed the Wabanaki Confederacy.

“The findings of these two archeological sites scientifically prove the ancient oral history we have always known, passed down through many generations. This is our legacy and how two national historic sites came to be.”

“Elder Joseph (Joe Mike) Michael Augustine (1911-1995) left an important legacy: the rediscovery of the Mi’kmaq identity and culture as a people and as a nation.” Joe Mike served two terms each as Chief and as a Band Councillor.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette poses with a photo of his great grandfather, Mi’kmaq Elder Joe Augustine discovered the Augustine Mound and Oxbow archaeological sites that proved Mi’kmaq habitation for 3,000 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“This is archaeological proof of living here 3000 years,” says our guide,  Marcus Alexander LaViolette, heritage interpreter, a 20-something fellow who turns out to be the great grandson of Joe Augustine, making his remarks all the more poignant.  

One room displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season (they lived along the river in warm seasons, and moved to the forest in cold).

Mi’kmaq ancestors lived in wikuoms (wigwams), not tipis. Some cone- shaped wigwams could hold up to 30 people; A or V-type usually held large groups, which typically would have been built by women.

Marcus shows us a re-created canoe and the skin of an Atlantic sturgeon, which grew to a size “as long as a canoe.” A main food source for generations, the sturgeon, which could grow over 3 meters long and weigh 400 kilos, are now exceptionally rare – the last one was caught 30 years ago. “Sturgeon are an ancient fish in an ancient river; they haven’t evolved,” Marcus tells us.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center guide Marcus Alexander LaViolette with a canoe and skin of a sturgeon that once provided sustenance to Mi’kmaq, but now is virtually extinct © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The birchbark canoe “was likely the most remarkable Mi’kmaq construction.” It ranged from 3 to 8 meters long; with high ends and raised sides, a uniquely Mi’kmaq design, that kept the canoe from taking on water. Using this type of canoe, the Mi’kmaq ancestors traveled out to sea, up streams and down rapids. The canoe could transport large loads but was light enough so one or two people could easily carry it.

“We lost the tradition of canoe making,” Marcus tells us, “so this is a generic style for birch bark canoe.”

The exhibit hall is a portal to ancient history, he tells us, stressing that it is a point of pride that all the notes are equally translated in English, French, and Mi’kmaq, especially since only 5% of Mi’kmaq people can understand their native language. There are about 200,000 Mi’kmaq in Canada and in Maine.

Marcus notes that there the pots do not have a flat bottom but would be designed to wedge into the ground. They would boil or cook using superheated sand – which would form a crust around bread and not get into the bread. When it was done, they would pat it like a drum so the sand comes off, leaving the bread. “That they can recreate the process shows proof of concept – shows can do it, re-creatable.” (In the “Taste of Metepenagiag” package, guests learn how to make traditional bread.)

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

The ancient Oxbow village was next to one of the best salmon fishing pools. For centuries the Miramichi River was a river of fish – so many salmon swam up the river that they would keep villagers awake at night as they fell on the water after leaping into the air. The ancestors smoke-dried a lot of the salmon catch for winter or to use in trade.

The Mi’kmaq ancesters knew the names and uses of trees, plants, flowers and herbs. Foods included fiddleheads, cat-tail roots, raspberries and blueberries. The bloodroot plant provided dye. Balsam fir helped to cure wounds. Canoes and containers were made from birchbark, wood and root, and mats from reeds and rushes. Sweetgrass and tobacco are still used in ceremonies.

Metepenagiag Heritage Center displays how the Mi’kmaq would have lived, season by season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“We slowed down First Contact,” Marcus says, then adds, “The Mi’kmaq way of life did not last. With the first Europeans came dramatic changes. The ancestors began to spend more time gathering furs to trade for the prized European goods. They became dependent on Europeans for food. European diseases killed whole Mi’kmaq villages. With few people left to pass on tradition, much knowledge and history was lost.” In fact, the British barred them from hunting or fishing.

This place had always been important for trade – there is even evidence of the Vikings having come. European merchant traders set up a commercial fishery on the Miramichi River in the 1760s that destroyed much of the traditional salmon fishery. “The few Mi’kmaq living at Metepenagiag struggled to survive.”

Local women made this re-creation of the magnificent embroidered, beaded coat made in 1841 for British sea captain Henry O’Halloran who was made an honorary chief of the Mi’kmaq, on view at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is what made a magnificent embroidered, beaded coat that is on exhibit all the more significant, and treasured by the community: it is a re-creation of a fabulous coat, meticulously crafted by local women for a British sea captain, Henry O’Halloran. At a time when the Mi’kmaq were forced onto a reserve and weren’t allowed to hunt or fish, Captain O’Halloran traded with the indigenous people, provided food and formed a close relationship. The coat was made in 1841on the occasion of making him an honorary chief. This one is an exact replica, made by the local women, which if sold, would be valued at $300,000. (Marcus proudly says he got to model it.)

Marcus points to the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, saying, “When our ancestors signed treaties with the British Crown, such as in 1779, they did not give up ownership of our traditional lands. They also kept our rights to fish, hunt, gather and trade.” But these rights were not honored.

In 1994 Metepenagiag signed a historic “loss of land-use” agreement with the government of Canada. But it did not include all of the lands and access to resources that have been taken from our community. Negotiations are continuing in an effort to obtain a fair settlement.” Only recently, each tribal member received $20,000 from the Canadian government as compensation for land.

It is important to note that First Nations people – there are about 2 million in Canada – only received the right to vote without losing their native Indian status in 1960; the last residential school closed as recently as 1995. In 2014, Canada passed the Truth & Reconciliation Act, apologizing for the harm in trying to eradicate indigenous heritage, prompting a policy toward promoting indigenous rights and heritage. Indigenous tourism, a key tool for both economic development and preservation of indigenous heritage and culture, is now Canada’s the fastest growing industry, Amanda says.

At the end of our visit, Marcus says, “First Nations people don’t believe in goodbye – everything is a circle, comes back – even if in next life.”

Metepenagiag Heritage Park has 1800 meters of groomed trails (30 minutes walking time) that let you “walk in the footsteps of our ancestors” to the water.

You can overnight at the Metepenagiag Heritage Center in a tipi, lodge or cabin and be immersed in Mi’kmaq experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is more, you can overnight in a tipi (glamping), cabin or lodge, have a First Nations dining experience, storytelling and be immersed in the 3,000-year heritage around a campfire. Or take part in “A Taste of Metepenagiag” and learn about foods and cooking techniques. New experiences are also being developed.

The Mi’kmaq operate SP First Nations Outdoor Tours, authentic indigenous experiences that begin with a traditional welcome, a river tour by canoe or kayak, storytelling; and authentic First Nations dining and accommodations (56 Shore Road, Red Bank NB, Metepenagiag, 506-626-2718).

Metepenagiag Heritage Park, 2156 Micmac Road, Red Bank NB, 506-836-6118, [email protected] 1-888-380-3555, metpark.ca.

To get to the Metepenagiag Heritage Center, you go through a Mi’kmaq residential community of about 600 people, where you have to be a community member to own the home (but do not own the land). It looks like a typical suburban neighborhood. with its own school (the federal government subsidizes the public school but teachers are paid less than regular school teachers) and shopping center. After the museum was built, the community opened a woman’s shelter, health center. The community also owns Riverside Entertainment (gaming room, restaurant), downtown.

Sportsman’s Paradise

Miramichi is world renowned as a sportsman’s paradise for fishing, hunting, hiking, kayaking, tubing down the rivers, and the longest zipline in New Brunswick (1200 feet). Indeed, the rivers, filled with salmon, and lush wilderness that provided the food and shelter to sustain the Mi’kmaq even 3,000 years ago, continues to sustain Miramichi today.

Miramichi is so prominent for salmon fishing (baseball star Ted Williams used to invite major celebrities including Marilyn Monroe to his family cottage in Blackville), that there is actually an Atlantic Salmon Museum, founded by the local historical society in 1982, that displays 5,000 artifacts “celebrating the artistry of fly tying, the beauty of a well-crafted rod and, above all, the nobility of that ‘king of fish’ the Atlantic salmon.”

One of John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates on view at the Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most notably, the museum is the repository for the internationally revered John William Keith-King collection of 150 plates that feature exquisite flies combined with stunning artwork and historic photos, plus artwork, reels, fishing rods, fishing tackle, fish replicas and antique outboard motors. The collection is valued at $500,000 (the plates alone valued at $5,000 each), Believe me, I never thought such a museum could be so fascinating even to someone who has never fished for salmon. This place is pure bliss for fishing enthusiasts. (Admission is free. Check hours. 263 Main St, Doaktown NB, 506-365-7787, www.atlanticsalmonmuseum.com

The Ledges Inn, a sportsman’s retreat, Doaktown, New Brunswick © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

People come from all over for the opportunity to fish and hunt, staying in upscale places like The Ledges Inn,  a 4.5-star outfitter with 10-room lodge, picturesquely set on the bank of the Miramichi River, where you can enjoy salmon fishing, upland bird-hunting, four-wheeling, snowmobiling (30 Ledges Inn lane, Doaktown NB, 1-506-365-1820, Ledgesinn.com); and the historic Wilson’s Sporting Camps, family-owned hunting lodge, offering sportsmen retreats since 1855(23 Big Murphy Lane, McNamee NB, 1-877-365-7962, Wilsoncamps.nb.ca).

Another local attraction is the Priceville Footbridge, which, local lore has it, was built in 1938 to unite two lovers who lived in villages separated by the river. At 656 feet, it’s the longest suspension bridge in New Brunswick, was damaged and rebuilt in 1939, then replaced in 1988 (McNamee Road. https://tourismnewbrunswick.ca/listing/priceville-suspension-footbridge).

Enjoying a plate of mussels at Vera’s at Richie Wharf, Miramichi, as the sun sets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back in Miramichi, I spend a pleasant evening at Richie Wharf, a charming waterfront park and historic site, where on Friday nights locals come out for music and dancing, After enjoying this scene, I have a delightful dinner (mussels!) at Vera’s patio with a gorgeous view of the sunset on the river. (84 Norton’s Lane, Miramichi, 506-625-2300)

Other Miramichi highlights: There are loads of historic sites we didn’t have time to visit but sound so interesting: Doak House commemorates Scottish entrepreneur Robert Doak who settled here in the early 1820s (386 Main St. Doaktown, 506-365-2026); Wilson’s Point Historic Site, a provincial historic site, contains the Scottish ancestry of Miramichi, but has archaeological significance for the Mi’kmaq people as well as the French Acadians and Loyalists (8 Enclosure Rd., Derby Junction, www.wilsonspoint.com, 506-627-0162); Miramichi History Museum (182 Wellington St., 506-778-4050); Tabusintac Library & Museum (4490 Rte 11, Tabusintac); and W.S. Loggie House & Cultural Centre, a Victorian home with artifacts from 1850 to 2000 (222 Wellington St., Miramichi, 506-775-4996).

Also: Miramichi River Interpretive Trail (1.4 km long, 158 main Street, Blackville; 90-min, Miramichi River Boat Tours out of Richie Wharf; Gallan’s Miramichi River Tubing (Doyles Brook, miramichirivertubing.com); Escuminac Beach (escuminacbeach.com); Historical Beaverbrook House Haunted Tour.

Rodd Miramichi River Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I overnight at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel, picturesquely set in the waterfront village (1809 Water Street, 506-773-3111).

The next morning, I meet up with David and Laini at the Calico Café; they have been exploring Prince Edward Island and Shediac, where they had a fabulous dinner at Le Mogue Tortue, a restaurant with an Alice-in-Wonderland like setting (tea cups,clocks!), and we continue on our roadtrip to French Acadia, where we will bike on the new Veloroute (bikeway) along the coast, through French fishing villages.

Miramichi Tourism, 800-459-3131, discovermiramichi.com.

Travel planning assistance from Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

See also:

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP BEGINS IN ST. ANDREWS

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA ROADTRIP: SAINT JOHN, CITY OF FIRSTS, OLDESTS, AMAZEMENTS

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: DISCOVERING FUNDY TRAIL PARKWAY, FUNDY NATIONAL PARK, CAPE ENRAGE

NEW BRUNSWICK ROADTRIP: MESMERIZING HOPEWELL ROCKS

Next: Exploring French Acadia’s culture and heritage by bike!

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

The World is Your Oyster: Summer Vacations with Pizzazz

The dramatic reward after a four-day 26-mile trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bucket List Summer Adventures

For those who want to ditch the tame in favor of a series of thrilling experiences you can complete on your summer break, here are trips with pizzazz for you:

1. Central Utah Backcountry Cycling: Central Utah has one of the largest stretches of true backcountry left in the nation. Escape Adventures’ six-day cycling tour goes eastward through contrasting desert scenery and high alpine forests along Utah Highway 12 (one of America’s most scenic highways) to Capitol Reef National Park. (https://escapeadventures.com/tour/utah-escalante-and-capitol-reef-national-park-road-bike-tour/)

2. Yellowstone Ranch Getaway: Get away and give back during a stay at the historic O.T.O. Dude Ranch on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. Montana’s first dude ranch offers classic adventures like hiking, horseback riding, fly-fishing, archery, sport shooting and more, as well as locally inspired cuisine and cozy cabins. Proceeds from every stay go to preservation efforts at the National Register of Historic Places-listed ranch. (https://trueranchcollection.com/yellowstone-pop-up/)

3. Galapagos, Andes + Amazon: Discover the enchanting Galapagos Islands at Scalesia Galapagos Lodge, explore the Amazon Rainforest at Sacha Lodge and experience the Ecuadorian Andes at Hacienda Piman, all in a 15-day tour. Learn about endemic flora and fauna, hike near active volcanoes, paddle tannin-rich blackwater creeks and explore the highlands of the Andes. (https://www.sachalodge.com/programs/#galapagos-programs)

4. Wine + Bike Piedmont: The Langa and Monferrato regions of Piedmont are in one of the most important wine production areas in Italy and received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014. Tourissimo’s Piedmont Barolo cycling tour takes you into the heart of these regions, over rolling hills covered with vineyards and past ancient castles and hidden hilltop hamlets. (https://www.tourissimo.travel/piedmont-wine-region-cycling-tour)

The amazement of seeing the Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

5. Jackson Hole Glamping: Fireside Resort offers luxuriously outfitted tiny house rental units designed by Wheelhaus a short distance from Grand Teton National Park, making it the perfect basecamp for summer adventures. Experience whitewater rafting, hiking through the Tetons and revel in the wonder of Yellowstone National Park’s geothermal features. (https://www.firesidejacksonhole.com/)

6. North Cascades Traverse: A new five-day trip from Wildland Trekking combines iconic North Cascades National Park backpacking and a stay at a remote lodge with no road access on Washington’s Lake Chelan. Backpack over alpine passes and through pristine wilderness to the lodge, then hike to views of the Stehekin Valley before returning to civilization by boat. (https://wildlandtrekking.com/trips/stehekin-lodge-backpacking-trip/)

7. Patagonia Fjords Cruise: Book a nine-day voyage through Chilean Patagonia with Adventure Life and set sail among stunning fjords, islands, glaciers, peaks and wildlife. Visit Puerto Cisnes, San Rafael Bay and Glacier, the Gulf of Penas, the isolated village of Puerto Eden, the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel, ending in Ushuaia, Argentina. (https://www.adventure-life.com/patagonia/cruises/17283/patagonia-chilean-fjords)

Go whitewater rafting in Big Sky, Montana © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

8. Big Sky Summer Fun: A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers proximity to Yellowstone National Park’s natural wonders and wildlife, plus opportunities to hike through shaded forests and wildflower-filled meadows, float or fly fish clear, cool waters, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking. (https://thewilsonhotel.com/)

9. National Parks RV Trip: Blacksford rents fully stocked Mercedes-Benz Sprinter overland adventure vehicles from Winnebago with an all-inclusive pricing model that includes unlimited miles, bedding, kitchen and bath supplies, a free annual pass to the national parks, 24-hour roadside assistance and no generator fees. (https://www.blacksford.com/)

10. Yellowstone Family Rafting and Riding: This three-day whitewater rafting and horseback-riding package from Flying Pig Adventures offers families the opportunity to experience the Yellowstone National Park area like never before. The thrill of witnessing one of nature’s most iconic environments, tackling rough terrain on horseback and running class III rapids cannot be found anywhere else. (https://www.flyingpigrafting.com/3-day-yellowstone-adventure)

Looking for more adventure? Check out the itineraries in the U.S. from REI Adventure Travel (rei.com, 800-622-2236) and G Adventures (gadventures.com, 888-800-4100).

Biking Holidays

Biking trips are my favorite for the combination of experiences they offer: seeing destinations close-hand, most often off-the-beaten track out of busy urban areas; at a pace where you see a lot and do a lot but slow enough to really see and do; where there is a physical and emotional satisfaction having pedaled the distance.

Operators today offer guided tours (ideal for solo travelers) as well as self-guided (where they give you the route, the inns or hotels, and ferry your luggage point to point but you are on your own) all over the world. And don’t be deterred by concern for the distance or the hills – many operators offer e-bikes as an option.

Bike the scenic Bruges-Amsterdam route and stay on a boat, with Boat Bike Tours © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Boat Bike Tours, based in Amsterdam, (we took their Bruges-Amsterdam tour last summer) offers a selection of itineraries in Holland, but also the region, and in addition to boat-bike trips, have sail-bike trips, and cities and nature tours (US tel.203-814-1249
 [email protected], www.boatbiketours.com).

Discovery Bicycle Tours (we took their Maine Coastal trip, and this year their Quebec Eastern Townships) has a long list of cycling vacations in the United States (Idaho Trails tour is one of its most popular), Canada, Europe, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand & Chile including one that is particularly interesting to me, England: Cotswolds & Stonehenge Bike Tour. As we write this, there were still spaces left on Lake Champlain Islands, Empire State Trail, Stowe Bike & Brew Weekend, Minnesota Rail Trails, Washington Cascades Trails, Idaho Trails departures,  ([email protected], 800-257-2226, discoverybicycletours.com).

Wilderness Voyageurs (traveled with them on their Mickelson Trail & The Badlands Bike Tour in South Dakota; they’ve introduced tours on New York’s own Empire State Trail bike tour as well as Olympic Peninsula bike tour in Washington State), plus New Mexico, , [email protected], 724.329.1000, 800.272.4141, wilderness-voyageurs.com)

Biking through Badlands National Park, South Dakota, with Wilderness Voyageurs © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BikeTours.com specializes in European itineraries, including guided, self-guided, and boat-and-bike tours, with excellent value. Among the more unusual is the UNESCO Sites of Albania (which I took some years ago with an e-bike); active tours like Southern Fyn: A Tour Around Denmark’s Fairytale Island and Pearls of Dalmatia by Bike and Boat, Romantica and leisure tours like Poland’s Masurian Lake District (Upscale Lodging). BikeTours.com is showcasing six 6 and 7-night self-guided bike tours showcasing Europe’s most beautiful vineyards and wine-growing regions: Rioja: Hidden Spain – Land of Wine, Burgundy Wine Trails: Beaune to Macon on the “Voie Verte”;  German Rivers, Wines & Cycle Paths by Bike and Boat; Wine & Bike in Hungary’s Balaton Uplands; Croatian Vineyards and Villages of Undiscovered Istria;  Tuscan Wine Classic: Pienza to Castellina via Siena. They have also introduced a new series of day trips. (biketours.com, 833-216-0635)

Biking among UNESCO sites in Albania with BikeTours.com (e-bike option recommended) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. is appealing to scholars, curious explorers and lifelong learners on these three bike trips, with every mile imbued with history. Not only do the landscapes of ScotlandNormandy, and the Cotswolds feel frozen-in-time, but each place played a part in shaping the world as we know it—through theaters of war, royal revolutions, ruins of the Roman Empire, and powerful clans and castles. Duvine has an expansive catalog of up-scale bike tours (888 396 5383, duvine.com)

Butterfield & Robinson has always been known for high-end, elegant biking trips. Itineraries include Burgundy Wine Country Biking; Piemonte Wine Country Biking; Chile Wine Country Biking; Vienna to Budapest Wine Country biking; Spanish Wine Country; Tuscany wine Country (seeing a pattern?) (866.551.9090, www.butterfield.com)

Backroads was founded in 1979 by Tom Hale and has been a leading innovator in active and adventure travel every since. Active adventures highlight the special character of each destination. The company offers Biking, Walking & Hiking and Multi-Adventure Tours; Active Ocean & River Cruises, Active Safari, Active Culinary and Snow Adventures; and Dolce Tempo trips for travel at a more relaxed pace. Also Private Trips and Family Trips designed for three distinct age groups: Families with Teens & Kids (best for ages 9+), Families with Older Teens & 20s and Families with Young Adults (backroads.com, 800-462-2848)

Trek Travel is more for hard-core, offering mountain, off-road, gravel trips (Girona, Swiss Alps, Tuscany, Vermont), Ride Camps, and even experience the Women’s Tour de France with VIP race viewings and access to one of the best women’s professional teams, Trek-Segafredo, and get to ride on the route New 3 & 4-day bike tours in places such as San Diego, Santa Barbara and Vermont. Also, self-guided and trips with a boost, e-bike (Croatia, Mallorca Island,Glacier) (trektravel.com, 866-464-8735) 

On the Water

Cruising is fun but we prefer cruising with a twist: small ship, river cruises, barges, canal boats, houseboat experiences.

European Waterways, a luxury hotel barge cruising company, offers an immersive and all-inclusive “gentle voyage of discovery” focusing upon the culture, history, fine wine, and gourmet cuisine of the cruise regions in nine countries. With a 6-to-20-person capacity and 1:2 crew ratio, European Waterways cruises inland waterways that are inaccessible to larger vessels. This fascinating network of smaller canals allows for flexibility, spontaneity, and ample opportunity to hop off and explore the beautiful surroundings via bicycle or on foot, plus daily, chauffeured excursions “off the beaten track” to a wide variety of attractions and activities, from wine tastings to private tours of stately homes. 877-879-8808 in the U.S., 1-877-574-3404 in Canada, or visit www.europeanwaterways.com

UnCruise Adventures operates boutique yachts and small boats carrying 22-86 guests on voyages in Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Coastal Washington, Galápagos, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Colombia. (uncruise.com, 888-642-6745).

You also can’t beat Lindblad Expeditions for expeditionary-style cruising and soft-adventure trips, famous for pioneering Galapagos and Antarctica, Georgia and the Falklands, on its specially designed ships, National Geographic Orion, and National Geographic islander II. (expeditions.com, 888-667-2830).

GoGalapagos’ cruise aboard the 100-passenger Legend affords a sensational family adventure experience © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For the most perfect family cruise/travel/adventure experience we have had, set your compass to the Galapagos. Go Galapagos is a cruise and tour operator offering excellent price/quality value for 3, 4, 7 and -night inclusive cruises (two guaranteed weekly departures), You can also combine the cruise with land packages in the Galapagos, in Ecuador, and in Peru. In addition to the 100-passsenger Galapagos Legend, Go Galapagos also has two yacht-style ships, Coral I and Coral II. (www.GoGalapagos.com, 888 50 KLEIN).

Swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos on the GoGalapagos Legend cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Want to skipper your own yacht, or charter a boat with a captain and crew? Dream Yacht Worldwide, a pioneer in making sailing and sea travel accessible employs more than 600 people in 31 countries and operates in 50 destinations worldwide, with a fleet of more than 900 monohulls and catamarans. Dream Yacht Charter offers one of the most diverse fleets of sailing, yacht and boats, If offers skippered and crewed charters (dreamyachtcharter.com)

The marvelously scenic and special time-travel experience of sailing one of the historic Maine Windjammers, like the Stephen Tabor, on Penobscot Bay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another really special cruise experience is sailing on one of the historic vessels of the Maine Windjammer fleet that sail the Penobscot Bay. Each is distinctive (and on a few occasions during the season (Windjammer Gam – June 12, Great Schooner Race- July 7, Camden Windjammer Festival – Sept 1-2, and WoodenBoat Sail-In – Sept 12, they gather together in scenes that evoke the Great Age of Sail. Each vessel and each cruise is different (many are themed): Windjammer Angelique, Schooner American Eagle, Schooner Grace Bailey, Schooner Heritage, Schooner J. & E. Riggin, Schooner Ladona, Schooner Lewis R. French, Schooner Mary Day, Schooner Stephen Taber ([email protected], www.sailmainecoast.com, 800-807-9463.)

Enjoy cruising at your own pace, exploring the iconic (and calm) Erie Canal, captaining your way through locks, docks, and under lift bridges. Erie Canal Adventures, out of Macedon, NY,provides completely equipped 34 foot Lockmasters, ideal for 1 couple (some prime summer/fall dates available to charter) and 41 and 42 foot Lockmasters that sleep 4-6 people (limited dates available in September). These are set up like a floating houseboat with bedroom, bath/shower, fully equipped galley kitchen, remarkably easy to operate. (www.ErieCanalAdventures.com, 315-986-3011)

Cruising New York State’s Erie Canal on one of Erie Canal Adventures’ Lockmasters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Solo Travel

Traveling solo is one of the big trends in travel. Bike tours are an excellent choice (I can attest). So are rafting trips, river, expeditionary, and small-ship cruises and canalboats.

Western River Expeditions suggests rafting itineraries – Grand Canyon, Colorado River, Salmon River – that have proved popular for solo travelers (https://www.westernriver.com, 866-904-1160).

Tour operators are also embracing solo travelers, offering departures that do not add the single supplement, for example, or matching up travel companions. EF Go Ahead Tours (GAT), a premier provider of culturally immersive travel experiences, announced it is introducing four new tours, for a total of 14, to its increasingly popular Solo-Only portfolio. EF Go Ahead Tours, is running its Semi-Annual Sale through June 29:  Book a 2023, 2024, or 2025 tour by June 29 to lock in the lowest price and take up to $400 off of the cost of their trip.  June 20 and 21, the Summer Solstice Flash Sale will offer Up to $800 off remaining 2023 tours.  To make travel even more accessible, EF Go Ahead’s flexible booking policies including AutoPay lets you hold a spot with $99 down and wait 60 days before your first interest-free payment. (www.goaheadtours.com, 800-590-1161).

Skyscanner Savings Generator

Global travel site Skyscanner has launched the new and expanded summer edition of its Savings Generator tool to help travelers save big this summer. 

The global travel sitecurrently searches 80 billion prices every day, so Skyscanner’s experts have crunched the numbers to share some simple dos and don’ts for grabbing the best bargain this summer. 

Put your desired route into the Savings Generator to see if it’s available. If not, bookmark the page and check back because Skyscanner adds new destinations to the list.

To provide a comparison, the Savings Generator starts by displaying the average monthly flight price for your destination. From there, it shows you the best time to book your flight and the cheapest day to travel on. If you’d like to consider a less-expensive alternative, the Generator displays different destinations, their average monthly flight price for travel, and the best day to go in order to save money. (See more: https://www.skyscanner.com/tips-and-inspiration/best-time-to-book-savings-generator)

Getting there: Skyscanner has beefed up its Savings Generator to find the best fares for summer travel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel the last week of the school summer holidays (instead of the first) and save 31% 

To save big this summer, travel on a Sunday (most of the time)! 

Travelers who are flexible and can fly on less popular days of the week can save up to 5% on the cost of their flights this July and August according to Skyscanner’s Summer Savings Generator. An added bonus is that airports are likely to be less crowded too. As 73% of Americans share, they would be willing to change the day and/ or week of their summer vacations to save this year, it really pays to do your research by Use Skyscanner’s Whole Month view.   

There are still inexpensive deals – just search EVERYWHERE for the very best prices  

To let Skyscanner’s algorithm find the cheapest deal, just type in ‘Everywhere’ with your travel dates.  

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© 2023 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/KarenBRubin 

Day 3 on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Town in the Clouds, Terraces of the Sun & Forever Young

Wiñaywayna is the most spectacular Inca site on the trail after Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On our third morning on the Inca Trail, we are wakened at 5 am at our tents in the Chaquiccocha campsite to be packed up, have breakfast at 5:30 am and out by 6:30 am to begin what is generally considered the most relaxed day of the four-day trek, when our Alpaca Expeditions group will hike 6.2 miles mostly downhill, and visit two Inca sites, Phuyupatamarka (‘Town in the Clouds”) and Intipata (“Terraces of the Sun”), before reaching the campsite, where, we are told, a special activity awaits.

I’m still on a high from surviving Day 2 and the dual challenges of Dead Woman’s Pass and Runcuraccay Pass, so I feel I can handle anything (and not just on this trek).

It’s a foggy morning and before setting out, our guide Lizandro organizes all of us in a great circle with the porters and staff and guests (Giorgio calls us “family” and Lizandro calls us “team” and both are true in the way we have bonded) so we meet each other. We learn that the porters all come from one mountain village, that two are brothers, 62 and 68 years old, that one of the porters is a woman (very unusual, but Alpaca Expeditions has made an effort to recruit women).

Getting to know you: Alpaca Expeditions porters and staff and trekkers introduce ourselves © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We trekkers introduce ourselves, also, and I mention that today is my 71st birthday – mentioning it because I am pretty pleased with the achievement (and our guide, Giorgio, at one point guessed I was 55 – perhaps just being polite) – to emphasize that they have made this experience of a lifetime possible for me.

Alpaca Expeditions’ “Green Machine” porters and staff who make our Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu – a trip of a lifetime for many – possible © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We hike for 2 hours along what they call “Inca flat” (gradual inclines) and begin to enter the jungle, known as the Cloud Forest. As we walk, we have the opportunity to see Salkantay, the second highest snow-capped mountain in the Sacred Valley, and get glimpses of a fantastic panoramic view of the Vilcabamba mountain range through mist and clouds.

One of the fun sections of the Inca Trail goes through a small cave © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We make our way up to the last peak and our third pass, Phuyupatamarka (“Temple Above the Clouds”) at 12,073 ft. from where we have great views overlooking the Urubamba River.  Down the valley, we get our first view of Machu Picchu Mountain, but the famous “Lost City” itself is still hidden from view.

From Phuyupatamarka it´s a 3-hour walk down a flight of stone steps to our last campsite and the grand finale for this day, exploring the Incan site of Wiñaywayna (“Forever Young”).

On the descent, we stop in a small cave, and just as the pilgrims did 600 years ago as they came closer to Machu Picchu, the religious center, Lizandro uses this site, the Temple Above the Clouds, to discuss religious beliefs and practices at the time of the Inca.

Exploring the Incan site of Phuyupatamarka © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This would have been one of the religious sites where pilgrims 600 years ago would be able to show their devotion and purify themselves before they reached the sacred Machu Picchu. It would have been a place of offerings, a ritual shower, of sacrifice.

At the time of the Inca and thousands of years before, the many different tribes were polytheists, worshipping many gods mostly associated with Nature. They believed that nature, man and the Pachamama (Mother Earth), lived in harmony and perpetual interrelationship. The Inca state promoted the worship of a Creator God (Wiracocha), Sun God (Inti), Moon Goddess (Mamaquilla), Thunder God (Illapa) and Earth Mother (Pachamama), and a host of other supernatural entities. But the ruling Inca established Inti, the sun god, as the most important (the first Inca king declared himself to be the son of Inti, to establish his divine power and authority).

Eric takes in the dramatic landscape along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lizandro points to a trinity that organizes the belief system: “The Inca thought three lives (past, present and future) ran parallel – one underneath (past), one above (future). They divided the world in three dimensions, three stages of life, which they depicted with animals – the condor (the heavens), the puma (the middle world of earth), and the snake (the underworld).

The snake represents knowledge, wisdom; because everything known is from past; the puma represents strength, energy; the condor connects this world to next world because it could touch heaven and carry heavy things, he says.

“The Inca saw life as a circle, not a line, so life never ends. They believed life is reborn and when they were buried, they were placed in the fetal position pointing to the sun and mountains; rulers were mummified and their mummified remains taken and paraded around one day a year. Children didn’t inherit property – people were buried with their belongings (for the next life). Machu Picchu, a sacred place, would have taken more than a lifetime to build, but though Emperor Pachacuti believed he wouldn’t enjoy it in this world, he would in the next.”

And the linchpin to it all, the basis for the Inca emperor’s power and authority, was religious faith.

So, while the Inca did not have slaves, they had a system of labor, whereby the men would give two to three months of service to the rulers (the first Inca Emperor, Pachacútec, the Alexander the Great of the Inca, had them build Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo and the various palaces and temples), and gave 50 percent of what they harvested to the nobles and the priests out of religious devotion.  And the people were kept ignorant – only the nobles and priests were educated – so they could be controlled with the use superstition and miracles.

He says there would have been six water fountains here – so people could take a ritual shower “to purify mind and body before going to Machu Picchu.” He also points to a sacrificial rock.

There appears to be an altar carved into the bedrock facing sunrise.

We have about 45 minutes of a steep downward hike before it levels off again.

The Incan site of Intipata, Terraces of the Sun, one of the sites that would have served the pilgrims and nobles on their way to Machu Picchu and were abandoned for 400 years before being discovered by archaeologists © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come to an Inca site, Intipata (Terraces of the Sun) that interestingly, overlooks our final campsite waaaay down the mountain. Lizandro points out what would have been a platform for sacrifice. “Not for human. That would be rare” indicating that it would take place only in extreme circumstances, like a famine and would be mainly girls 11 and 13 years old who belonged to Cuzco noble families, who were told they were born to be sacrificed as offerings to stop a national disaster. He describes one instance when the king sacrificed his daughter. (I’ll bet it was a period of famine, because they needed to reduce population to keep in balance.) The sacrificed were given fresh vegetable hallucinogenic flower to eat. “They offered them not death, but life.”

Llama at Intipata. “The Llama represents spiritual life and the black llama, a symbol of material life, would be sacrificed,” our Alpaca Expeditions guide, Lizandro, tells us © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

More typically, it was a llama that would be sacrificed. “The llama represents spiritual life and the black llama, a symbol of material life, would be sacrificed.”

At Intipata, a boulder that would have been used as a platform for ritual sacrifice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inca did not have a written alphabet, yet they had to figure ways to communicate across distances – to alert the villages along the Inca Trail when the king was coming, when enemies approached. They did it using runners – sometimes in relays (they could do the 26 mile distance we do in four days in four hours), using conch trumpets. Also, the patterns and colors of their clothing would identify who they were, what tribe, and so, whether friend or foe.

Terraces at Intipata. The scale is mind-blowing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But they also had a system of colored strings and knots, called quipu, that recorded and relayed information, which he shows us as an example. Lizandro says (not disguising his resentment) that only a few quipu have survived but many have been taken to foreign museums (in fact, most of what the archeologists have taken from the Inca sites have yet to be returned).

(I imagine that the quipu could be read like Morse code and while they did not have an alphabet, the code was probably based on mathematics, so perhaps a computer could decipher?)

Getting set for our Alpaca Expeditions cooking class activity © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the end of this relatively short and easy third day’s hike, we get into camp at 1 pm (it doesn’t feel like five hours!) and Lizandro tells us to look forward to a special “activity”. This turns out to be a cooking class, where Chef Mario shows us how to cook a popular Peruvian dish, lomas latudo. We get chef’s hats and aprons and the platters of ingredients – beef, red pepper, tomatoes, onions, yellow pepper, ginger, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper, cilantro, oil to fry potato (served with French fries and rice) – which we learn how to properly cut, dice, stir and sauté – before enjoying our handiwork for lunch.

Chef Mario leads a cooking demonstration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the afternoon, after time to relax, we walk a surprisingly short distance (less than 10 minutes) along a trail from our campsite to one of the most impressive Incan villages of all, Wiñaywayna, and (unlike when we go to Machu Picchu the next day) we have it almost to ourselves to explore.

Eric demonstrates the tossing technique during our Alpaca Expeditions cooking class © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wiñaywayna is the most spectacular Inca site on the trail after Machu Picchu and the most popular campsite because of its proximity to Machu Picchu.

Winawayna, one of the most impressive archaeological sites along the Inca Trail, was named ”Forever Young” because of the blooming orchids found there © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wiñaywayna was discovered by a local archeologist in 1942 who was excavating a different site, Chamchabamba, and found it hidden under dense vegetation and cloud forest. Amazingly, they found orchid flowers growing on the wall. Lizandro explains that Peru has 435 species orchids, but they mostly bloom early or at the end rainy season, some bloom only  every 4-5 years or for only one day year, opening at sunrise and dying at sunset. But the orchids found here bloom year round, which is why they named the site, Wiñaywayna  – Forever Young – for the orchid. (If Dead Woman’s Pass, thankfully, did not prove prescient for me, perhaps Forever Young on this, my birthday?)

Wiñaywayna is the most spectacular Inca site on the trail after Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We explore the site, climbing up and down the steep stone steps, walking through the corridors, really getting into the architecture and engineering, the logistics, as if the people left only yesterday. You realize these ruins were buried under overgrowth for 400 years and can only marvel at what was involved in its excavation so that we can appreciate it today.

Wiñaywayna is the most spectacular Inca site on the trail after Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of the Inca sites have yet to be uncovered and are still buried, and the ones that we do see have only been partially excavated. Indeed, only about 40 percent of Machu Picchu has been excavated.

We go through a room with three walls and big windows which, Lizandro tells us, means it was a storage room – the windows provided ventilation for better preservation, while homes had no windows because it would be too cold; instead, there are spaces in the walls where they would put idols for decoration.

Wiñaywayna is remarkably intact so you can see how the homes, storage rooms and temple were constructed © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see what would have been a watch tower. There would have been guards with weapons at the ready to protect Machu Picchu – like sling shots (a rope of wool with a bag in the middle with rocks),  arrows, lances, spears, hatchets – fine for use against another tribe, but fairly useless against the weapons the Spanish invaders wielded. The guard would have been able to recognize if someone coming was friend or foe by the colors and design of their clothes.

Seven windows arranged on a curve in the temple at Winawayna © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The temple here has three different architectural styles, which Lizandro says shows it was built by different generations and different engineers. A wall of this temple has seven windows that look out to the peak, arranged in a curve. The round shape was to reflect the sun, to provide different places to observe sun, like a sun dial. The seven windows are homage to the Seven Sister stars of the Pleiades.

Appreciating the terraces – an agricultural laboratory to determine the best methods at different levels of elevation – and how Winawayna was built into these steep cliffs of the Andes Mountains © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The terraces here at Wiñaywayna were Incan agricultural laboratories – narrow and concave to follow the curves of the mountain, every seven levels a different ecology, granite and quartz used to absorb heat from the sun to keep plants from freezing overnight. “The Inca realized that elevations produced better potato and corn adapted to altitude.”

This site, along with the others, were purposely abandoned in 1538 with the Spanish conquest.

The first Spanish expedition, in 1532, had only 167. “They were invaders, not explorers.  They came to destroy the culture, the civilization. They took gold and silver and brought disease,” Lizandro says. The population at the time of the Inca was as high as 18 million before the Spanish.

Appreciating the terraces – an agricultural laboratory to determine the best methods at different levels of elevation – and how Winawayna was built into these steep cliffs of the Andes Mountains © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Machu Picchu and the other sites were built in the mid 1400s, over a period of about 60 years. Less than 100 years later, the population started decreasing– the human ecologist in me can’t help but wonder if the massive building projects and empire building didn’t take its toll on the population.

“European diseases came even before the Spaniards came. Cortez brought disease to the Mayans, and the Mayans, trying to flee the Spaniards by going south, carried the diseases along the same network of roads the Inca used to conquer and unify its empire. The 12th Incan king, Huayna Cápac (it is believed) died in 1525 from smallpox and there was no king to follow.”

He says that it is wrong to think of an Incan civilization, rather than an Incan ruler and ruling family of perhaps 20,000 who dominated a population that ranged in size from 10 to 20 million.  “When he passed away, he was mummified to continue guiding.” Because the Inca ruler could have as many concubines as he wanted, Huayna Cápac likely had 500 children throughout the kingdom, but only three who were sons of the Queen, were in line to be king. Two of the brothers were fighting a civil war for control at the time the Spanish came to Cuzco in 1533,” another reason the Spanish were successful with their conquest.

“The Spaniards saw amazing gold, silver – a city of gold – buildings covered in gold, a temple that had life-sized animals of gold. The Spaniards melted them to make coins. Then the Spanish king sent more soldiers.”

The view through the temple at Winawayna © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Incan kingdom, weakened by civil war and not exactly supported by the masses they had subjugated for a century, abandoned this place to protect Machu Picchu, which was holy to them, like the Vatican. Machu Picchu was hidden amid the mountain peaks. To protect it from the Spanish invaders, the Inca destroyed the trails that led to Machu Picchu, and ultimately, abandoned Machu Picchu as well, making a last stand at Vilcabamba.

“The Inca weren’t the nicest to build such a civilization. For 100 years, they had to kill to control, so not all people were happy, so they didn’t help the Inca against the Spanish,” Lizandro says.

None of these grand projects were ever finished, which is more understandable than if they were completed.

We have as much time as we want to explore until darkness begins to fall because we can just stroll back to the campsite.

When we sit down to dinner, Chef Mario presents me with the most amazing birthday cake I have ever had in my life – completely decorated. It took him three hours to prepare it with the camping equipment he cooks with. I share the cake with Peter who timed his bucketlist Machu Picchu ascent for his 35th birthday the next morning.

Lizandro then asks us what time we would like to wake up in order to get to the check point to Machu Picchu before the other 200 trekkers who will be on line: “3 am? No? Then 3:01,” he says, noting that he has a 98% success rate in being first in line for the checkpoint when it opens at 5:30 am. The check point is only about 10 minutes walk from the campsite. Why so important to be first? Well, to get to the Sun Gate by sunrise, and before the small space gets jammed crammed with people all elbowing to get the best views and photos.

Tomorrow is the day we will reach the goal of our trek: Machu Picchu.

The permits to do the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu are limited to 500 a day for all the trekking companies (which includes 200 for trekkers and 300 for porters and staff) and get booked up months in advance.

More information: Alpaca Expeditions, USA Phone: (202)-550-8534, [email protected], [email protected], https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/

Next: Day 4 on the Inca Trail – Machu Picchu!

See also:

VISIT TO PERU’S SACRED VALLEY IS BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU

INCAN SITES OF PISAC, OLLANTAYTAMBO IN PERU’S SACRED VALLEY ARE PREVIEW TO MACHU PICCHU

ALPACA EXPEDITIONS’ INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU IS PERSONAL TEST OF MIND OVER MATTER

DAY 1 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: A TEST

DAY 2 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: DUAL CHALLENGES OF DEAD WOMAN´S PASS, RUNCURACCAY

DAY 3 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: TOWN IN THE CLOUDS, TERRACES OF THE SUN & FOREVER YOUNG

DAY 4 ON THE INCA TRAIL: SUN GATE TO MACHU PICCHU, THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Day 2 on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: Dual Challenges of Dead Woman´s Pass, Runcuraccay

Eric and Sarah celebrate having reached Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2 of Alpaca Expeditions’ four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, with Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the day I have been dreading for weeks. This is the day of reckoning. Dead Woman’s Pass.

Everyone  – and not just my about-to turn-71-year-old self, some 25 to 40 years older than the other 14 in our pack – seems to have the same anxiety over Day 2. It is the longest, most challenging day of the four-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, when we will hike for four hours up to 13,829 ft over what I hope is not presciently named Dead Woman’s Pass (the name comes from its shape, not an event).

In fact, the climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass is only the first four hours of the full day’s hike, followed by two hours down, then rest and lunch. But then (and this is what could do me in), another hike up another mountain, to Runcuraccay Pass at 13020 ft albeit not quite as high, but steeper, 1,378 ft in elevation (more like a stadium staircase times 100 that I had imagined the whole way up to Dead Woman’s Pass would be), and then a steeper (1,220 ft), challenging decline to our campsite at Choquicocha. In fact, it is theRuncuraccay Pass that proves the more fearsome, as I soon discover, but actually unfolds to some of the most dramatic and interesting views and sites of the entire 26-mile Inca Trail trek. In all, we will hike a total of 10 miles this day, which includes a mile’s worth of up and downs.

One of my fears is that I won’t make it into camp before dark (there are 12 hours of daylight) so I keep my headlamp handy in my day pack, which helps alleviate my high anxiety.

(I used Day 1, the second hardest of the four day-hike, as a test, fully well expecting that our guide would politely tap me on the shoulder and suggest I walk back down the way I came, which also was my strategy if I decided the trek was too hard. But he didn’t. And I didn’t. But pressed on.)

Our Alpaca Expeditions group up at 5 am for breakfast before tackling the most challenging day on the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu: hiking over Dead Woman’s Pass at an altitude of 13,779 ft. above sealevel, followed by Runkuracay Pass at 13,020 ft. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s 5 am when we are wakened in our tents with basins of hot water and soap and hot coca tea (to help with the altitude).

Breakfast is sensational, providing excellent energy food (porridge is especially good). Indeed, breakfast typically offers some combination of scrambled eggs or omelette, pancakes, porridge, cereal, fruit salad, toast, orange juice, milk, tea, coffee, hot chocolate. We are always supplied enough drinking water – tap water that is boiled for us.

Alpaca Expeditions’ Green Machine team of porters cheer us on as we leave for Day 2 on the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we leave camp at just about 6 am with the first light, the porters line up and applaud for us, giving us that extra boost of encouragement.

As we get higher, Lizandro stops to tell us little stories – a clever ploy so that we rest and acclimate to the higher altitude (in fact, I hear that older people such as myself do better with the altitude precisely because we go slower and stop more often).

Hiking up to Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2 of Alpaca Expeditions’ four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking up to Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2 of Alpaca Expeditions’ four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another point, he distributes coca leaves and instructs us how to stuff it into a cheek and let the liquid blend with saliva to get its benefit of countering altitude sickness. Then, at another stop, he distributes a kind of plant oil (like eucalyptus) and shows us how to clap three times, then breath in the vapor, which opens up our air passages so we can can in more oxygen.

Alpaca Expeditions guide Lizandro gives us an oil and shows us how to inhale it to breathe more efficiently as we climb the last stage to Dead Woman’s Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Hiking up to Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2 of Alpaca Expeditions’ four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before the last ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, there is a rest stop at Llulluchampampa (the best public restrooms on the trail!) and a stand where locals sell snacks and such. There are llamas with a baby grazing and hummingbirds. We see snow on the peaks.

Llama graze along the Inca Trail at Llulluchapampa, happy at an altitude of 12460 ft. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
A rest stop and snack stand at Llulluchapampa, before the final ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Actually, I make it up to Dead Woman’s Pass by 9:15 am – coming in not at the end of the pack as I expected, but more towards the middle, Eric tells me. Everyone cheers. I honestly don’t remember feeling pain or discomfort, though I know I stopped several times along the way.

A rest break at Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, at 13020 ft. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Group photo! Our Alpaca Expeditions pack celebrates reaching Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point, at 13020 ft., on the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © goingplacesfarandnear.com

On reaching the pass, we stop for a short break to enjoy the views and take photos (our guide, Lizandro, patiently takes each of our photos and a group photo), and we each indulge in the self-satisfaction of the accomplishment before setting off again to descend to Pacaymayu Valley, Hidden River. It’s another hour and a half down the side of the valley – to our lunch spot.

Beginning the descent from Dead Woman’s Pass 13,020 ft. to Pacaymayu at 11,700 ft. on the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get in at 11:15 am to the cheers of the porters and fellow trekkers, where I find mats have been laid out for us to rest, but Mary Kate (who is part of the group of six women who are friends or friends of friends or friends of friends of friends of Caroline), is leading yoga stretches.

Mary Kate leads our Alpaca Expeditions trekkers in yoga stretches © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We enjoy a snack and then a fantastic and welcome lunch served in the dining tent (delectable chicken salad appetizer; Sara Lawa soup which is a kind of egg-drop soup made with corn flour, eggs, ginger) and I am struck by how really excellent the food is – I mean as good as the finest restaurant in Peru. Alpaca Expeditions boasts the best chefs in the mountains, and I am inclined to agree.

Alpaca Expeditions sets out basin of warm water and soap before lunch in the dining tent © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chef Mario seems to use spices, flavors, textures (hot soups, energizing carbs, reinforcing proteins) that are medicinal or at least appropriate to the activity, whether to hike, acclimate, rest, sleep or wake. All the food is prepared from fresh ingredients purchased in the Cusco local market and carried up for us by the porters, then prepared by the chef (no canned or rehydrated food) who also caters to vegetarians, lactose intolerant and food allergies with heaping platters.

Lunch typically includes a delicious soup (like corn or mushroom) and some combination of chicken and rice, sausage, fried fish, ceviche, steak, beans, fried rice, french fries, boiled potatoes, vegetables, salad.

Tea time snack when we make it into camp for lunch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is such a lot of food but it is not just for us – the porters and staff eat the same food as we do (which, we learn, was not always the case for the trekking companies and a feature of Alpaca Expeditions that we really appreciate).

 After this delightful lunch, the realization sets in: this is only the half-way mark of this challenging day. We actually have another mountain to climb and descend.

Alpaca Expeditions porters hike up to Runkuracay Pass on the four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, the two-hour climb up the next mountain to Runcuraccay Pass is steeper though shorter – really what I had envisioned (and feared) the Dead Woman’s Pass would be like – and altogether more challenging.

We stop at a small Inca site (Runcuraccay) and see two huge waterfalls cascading down the opposite side of the valley.

Our Alpaca Expeditions guide, Lizandro, explain that while the Inca did not have written language, they communicated with quipu – a system of colored strings and knots – that so far have not been deciphered © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After the second pass, it’s another hour of a steep downhill hike to reach the magnificent Inca site, Sayacmarca (an otherwise inaccessible village).

The second half of the Day 2 Inca Trail trek proves the more challenging, but also the most scenic © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This part of the trek has actually been the hardest. Eric and Sarah, who had just 10 days before hiked Rainbow Mountain, a 6.2-mile out-and-back trail near Pitumarca, Cusco, where they hiked 1,627 ft  in elevation up to 16,000 feet (and suffered altitude sickness), are skipping up and down these peaks like a mountain goat. I’m a tortoise, taking my sweet time, going slow and steady, stopping for the views.

Eric and Sarah, on the “grand finale” of a six-month travel odyssey, having already hiked Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, literally skip up and down the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The descent from Runkuracay Pass proves the more challenging © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trail disappears as a thin line hugging the mountainside, the people are mere dots of color, and then, in the distance, this amazing and improbable fortress, Sayacmarca, appears. This is an astonishing view as we descend (it is steep), with the mountain mist – even more astonishing because you are not prepared for it as you are for Machu Picchu. And to realize that this construction was basically to protect Machu Picchu. (Here, though, as Lizandro warned, we encounter the meanest mosquitoes.)

Those tiny dots of color are members of our Alpaca Expeditions pack on the Inca Trail toward Sayacamaka, the “inaccessible village” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1941, an archeaologist came upon Sayacamaka, which was completely buried under the overgrowth and named it “inaccessible village.” The site is strategic – on top of mountain, surrounded by valleys, and protected. We see what would have been a watch tower. These structures were used for resting places, like a hostel, for the pilgrims, nobles and travelers, spaced 20-25 km apart so they could be reached in a day’s hike and travelers knew there would be food and drink ready, Lizandro tells us.

Sayacamaka, which was completely buried under the overgrowth and named by archaeologist “inaccessible village” emerges out of the mist along the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inca would build a temple just for storing idols (gold), but would worship in open area – more important than a temple, because being in contact with nature  was the essence of their religion.

Some 16 small rooms have been excavated – the ones with windows were storage rooms; homes did not have windows (too cold). There were no farming terraces here; food came from other places, supplied by other community people.

Sayacamaka, which was completely buried under the overgrowth and named by archaeologist “inaccessible village” emerges out of the mist along the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a huge rock in the middle of a house that was natural, part of mountain, in the same shape as mountain. “The Inca made a replica to be closer to mountain (it was considered a god).”

Sayacamaka is one of the most intriguing and dramatic sites along the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

How did they get the building stones there? Lizandro points to where a quarry would have been on the other side of the mountain; the building stones would have been brought up the steep trail using only human power. How many would have built the village, and over what period of time, I wonder.

They also engineered canals to bring drinking water – we see three small, square constructions that served as water fountains.

Peru’s Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Environment is responsible for these sites and rangers protect them. While they excavate and can restore, they cannot rebuild any of the structures, so if there is a stone that has fallen off and they are not sure where it came from, they leave it where it fell.

Sayacamaka is one of the most intriguing and dramatic sites along the Inca Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 1915, the archaeologist Hiram Bingham, who is most responsible for uncovering Machu Picchu, found 8 of these Incan trails. One of the trails led to Vilcambaba, the last refuge of the Inca. In 1538, these sites along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu were destroyed by order of Manco Inca, the last Incan king to protect them from the invading Spaniards. Portions have been restored.

After exploring Sayacamaka, it’s only 20 minutes further to our second campsite, Chaquicocha (Dry Lake) at 11,808 ft. altitude, as the sun sets over the Vilcabamba mountain range. 

Chaquicocha campsite is described as a recently restored Inca settlement at the gateway to the jungle, nestled between two eco-systems – high ground and cloud forest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After exploring Sayacamaka, it’s only 20 minutes further to our second campsite, Chaquicocha (Dry Lake) at 11,808 ft. altitude. We reach the campsite at around 6:30 pm, as the sun sets over the Vilcabamba mountain range, having met the toughest challenge of the trip (and my life).

The Chaquicocha campsite is described as a recently restored Inca settlement at the gateway to the jungle, nestled between two eco-systems – high ground and cloud forest. It has one of the most picturesque settings with a fantastic view of the night sky to observe the stars, except it is cloudy tonight. It is also quite cold, and I am so happy with my $4 purchase of knee-high alpaca wool socks.

Chaquicocha campsite is described as a recently restored Inca settlement at the gateway to the jungle, nestled between two eco-systems – high ground and cloud forest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Happy Hour” ( tea time) before dinner consists of popcorn, fried wontons, tea, coffee, followed by another superb dinner (the menu might consist of some combination of stuffed chicken, vegetable tortillas, pizza, spaghetti, pork cutlet, sauteed vegetables, salad).

The permits to do the Inca Trail trek are limited to 500 a day for all the trekking companies (which includes 200 for trekkers and 300 for porters and staff) and get booked up months in advance.

More information: Alpaca Expeditions, USA Phone: (202)-550-8534, [email protected], [email protected], https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/

Next: Day 3 on the Inca Trail

See also:

VISIT TO PERU’S SACRED VALLEY IS BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU

INCAN SITES OF PISAC, OLLANTAYTAMBO IN PERU’S SACRED VALLEY ARE PREVIEW TO MACHU PICCHU

ALPACA EXPEDITIONS’ INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU IS PERSONAL TEST OF MIND OVER MATTER

DAY 1 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: A TEST

DAY 2 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: DUAL CHALLENGES OF DEAD WOMAN´S PASS, RUNCURACCAY

DAY 3 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: TOWN IN THE CLOUDS, TERRACES OF THE SUN & FOREVER YOUNG

DAY 4 ON THE INCA TRAIL: SUN GATE TO MACHU PICCHU, THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Incan Sites of Pisac, Ollantaytambo in Peru’s Sacred Valley are Preview to Machu Picchu

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Incan ruins at Pisac in Peru’s Sacred Valley on this one-day Alpaca Expeditions tour are our first introduction to the massive scale of Incan building projects. Though there were settlements here before who built terraces (there were two other major empires before the Inca), it was the Inca emperor Pachacuti who conquered the area in the mid 1400s who ordered the building of a sprawling mountain complex covering 162 acres.

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Pachacuti (who also built Machu Picchu, our ultimate destination on Alpaca Expeditions’ four-day/three-night Inca Trail trek) built Pisac as a multi-purpose residence, citadel, observatory and religious site – a secluded royal retreat outside of Cusco where he and nobility could “relax” between military campaigns, undertake ritual and religious ceremonies and be a defensive refuge.  Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors destroyed the Inca complex.

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

In fact, it seems most of what we associate with the Incan Empire came under the rule of Sapa Inca (paramount leader) Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui, whose name meant “earth-shaker”. Beginning in 1438, he and his son Tupac Yupanqui began a far-reaching expansion that brought much of the modern-day territory of Peru under the ruling Inca family control.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Incan Empire extended 3,000 miles, connected by an elaborate network of roads, and had built these monumental structures at Cuzco, Pisac, Ollantaytambo  and Machu Picchu– without the benefit of draft animals like the horse, the wheel, iron or steel tools, written language or currency.

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

How was that possible?

Our Alpaca Expeditions guide Jaime explains how the Incan society was organized – its principles of labor and work.

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

 “The Inca had three layers of labor,” Jaime tells us: Anyi (reciprocity); Minka (communities work together) and Mita (a labor tax, where every man had to give two to three months of service to the government or serve in the military each year). By combining their political authority with religious authority, the people drafted to build the Inca’s palaces and temples did it as much out of devotion to god as their obligation to give service the state.

The Inca believed the mountains and stones were sacred so they would build on top of the bedrock rather than disturb it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Societal behavior was governed by three moral precepts: Ama sua: Do not steal; Ama llulla: Do not lie; and Ama quella: Do not be lazy.

How long would it have taken to build Pisac? Jaime says that each ruler would have designated his own project that had to be completed in his lifetime and not left to a successor (which is why most of these sites we see were not finished).

The Inca believed the mountains and stones were sacred so they would build on top of the bedrock rather than disturb it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

At the high point of Pisac, 3,594 meters (11,791 feet elevation), there is a watchtower, from which guards would have sent and received messages by blowing a conch. It might announce that the Inca king was coming and to be ready, or a threat.

The Inca worshipped the mountain and the rocks, so would integrate the mountain contour into the structure, rather than alter it, building on top of the bedrock.

Pisac, Incan archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jaime explains how the terraces were built – how they would build from the bottom to the stone wall, digging a couple of feet into the ground, use a tree as a lever, filling three layers of material – soil-gravel-big stones – so that the water would drain to the lower terrace. They used a rudimentary tool – a long stick with a stone or metallic point, and one man would use it like a spade and a second would turn the soil over.

The Inca family was “pure”, but could name a non-Incan as chief. Someone could ascend to noble rank if they had a skill. An Incan ruler would have an official wife who would also be Incan, and only her children would inherit, but he could have as many concubines as they liked, and would have dozens of children.

“It was a very organized (and controlled) society.”

Holes in the mountain at Pisac indicate where graverobbers hoped to find treasure buried along with the body © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another overlook, we see where some 3,000 holes have been made in a cliff – created by grave robbers. At this site, people were buried in caves with their belongings so they would have them for the next world. The king and nobles, though, were mummified and put into a mausoleum.

Pre-Incan cliff dwellings at Pisac © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also see the remains of pre-Incan cliff dwellings. “They were afraid of cannibals” who believed they could ingest their victim’s power. “It was practiced until the mid-1800s.” Also, 1000-2000 years ago, there more wild animals and the people lived in cliffs to be safe.

We drive down into the town of Pisac which was built in the valley below the ruins by Viceroy Toledo in the 1570s, where Eric has found a local Andean restaurant online for lunch.

Alpaca Expeditions’ one-day Sacred Valley tour is an opportunity to visit villages as well as major important archeological sites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pisac is famous for its market. Official market days are Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday filling the Plaza Constitución but the market is busiest on Sunday when indigenous Quechua communities from the surrounding area come to town to sell their produce and stock up on supplies for the week. We have very little time to explore the market. (We need to be back in Cuzco at 6 pm for our mandatory orientation for the Alpaca Expeditions trek to Machu Picchu.)

Alpaca Expeditions’ one-day Sacred Valley tour is an opportunity to visit villages as well as major important archeological sites © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We would also have liked time to visit the museum, Comunitario de Pisac, which opened in 2009 with exhibits on the production of ceramics and the traditional textiles produced by local Quechua communities. A room is dedicated to the Incan presence in the area covering its development from the archaic period (7,000 to 800 BC) to the period of imperial expansion of the Inca state (1400 to 1535). The museum includes a graphical presentation of the various areas of the imperial city, as well as various ceramic objects and remains (including Incan mummies).

Ollantaytambo

After lunch, we drive 1 ½ hours further to Ollantaytambo, a fascinating and massive Incan site built during the Inca’s heyday which provides an excellent preview of what we will experience at Machu Picchu. Here, we see rock formations representing the Incan god, Wiracocha (the god of creation), and the Church of St. James on top of Inca site.

Rock formation representing the Incan god, Wiracocha (the god of creation) at Ollantaytambo (note the crown on his head) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The large boulders, 40-50 tons each,  were so finely finished with curved and convex edges and placed, indicate that this structure would have been the temple; boulders that are basically piled up show that it was never finished. He points out the slight angle of the wall – meant to for stability in the event of an earthquake.

It’s almost impossible to contemplate how the Inca cut such stone, let alone how they moved them from the quarry and put them in place on a mountainside to build Ollantaytambo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“They believed rocks were beings,” Jamie says. “From the quarry to the structure they may whip the rock (rather than the person)“ to get it to coooperate. There would have been a model of the structure they were building in ceramic or stone at the quarry and most of the carving would have been done there, where there was more room, the finishing touches would be done at the site. In the distance we can see the two quarries but it is unfathomable how they managed to move these multi-ton boulders.

It’s almost impossible to contemplate how the Inca cut such stone, let alone put them in place on a mountainside to build Ollantaytambo. Note how many angles there are in this boulder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Temple of Water, we see how the Inca used water for irrigation as well as for drinking. The window opening was cut to align with the solstice, and water, diverted from the river, would be directed back into the channel.

The Temple of Water Ollantaytambo – the window lines up with the stolstice, while the water was directed into the temple and then directed out to a channel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I was concerned that I was huffing and puffing climbing around the site – realizing this was part of my acclimation to the altitude but anxious that it did not bode well for the Inca Trail trek we would be starting the next morning. I half imagined the Alpaca Expeditions guide would tap me on the shoulder and tell me I wasn’t suited for the trek. 

You could easily spend 2-4 hours here – there is so much to explore – and then spend time in the gorgeous market in the charming village just outside the walls. But we have to rush back – it’s about 3 hours drive back to Cuzco – to get to our mandatory 6 pm orientation at Alpaca Expeditions’ offices for our Inca Trail trek.

The town of Ollantaytambo is at the base of the archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next morning, when our bus taking our group to the start of the Inca Trail trek stops in this very village to pick up a couple from their hotel here, we realize we could have organized our tour differently – done the orientation the night we arrived and stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo. Then we could have had more time to really enjoy the site and the village and instead of getting picked up at our hotel in Cuzco at 4 am could have been picked up here at 6 am. (In this scenario, we still would have left our luggage back at the Amaru Inca hotel in Cuzco where we will return after the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trek, and just had with us what we were taking on the trek.)

Everyday life in the town of Ollantaytambo is at the base of the archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is also possible to combine a stay in Ollantaytambo with Machu Picchu without doing the four-day Inca Trail trek. Alpaca Expeditions has various tour options with shorter or no hiking.

Everyday life in the town of Ollantaytambo is at the base of the archeological site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The permits to do the Inca Trail trek are limited to 500 a day for all the trekking companies and get booked up months in advance.

To see all the options for touring, visit Alpaca Expeditions, USA Phone: 202-550-8534, [email protected], [email protected], https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/

Arriving back in Cuzco for our orientation to the Alpaca Expeditions four-day/three-night hike/camping trek to Machu Picchu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Next: Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

See also:

VISIT TO PERU’S SACRED VALLEY IS BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU

INCAN SITES OF PISAC, OLLANTAYTAMBO IN PERU’S SACRED VALLEY ARE PREVIEW TO MACHU PICCHU

ALPACA EXPEDITIONS’ INCA TRAIL TREK TO MACHU PICCHU IS PERSONAL TEST OF MIND OVER MATTER

DAY 1 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: A TEST

DAY 2 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: DUAL CHALLENGES OF DEAD WOMAN´S PASS, RUNCURACCAY

DAY 3 ON THE INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: TOWN IN THE CLOUDS, TERRACES OF THE SUN & FOREVER YOUNG

DAY 4 ON THE INCA TRAIL: SUN GATE TO MACHU PICCHU, THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Visit to Peru’s Sacred Valley is Best Way to Prepare for Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu

A weaver at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center where we see the different varieties of llama and alpaca, learn about how the wool is produced, the raw materials that the dyes are made from, and watch villagers at their looms make stunning textiles on Alpaca Expeditions’ Sacred Valley tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We prepare for our Alpaca Expeditions four-day/three-night Inca Trail hiking/camping trek to Machu Picchu by spending an extra day Cuzco and the Sacred Valley – the best way to begin to acclimatize to the high altitude before the trek, which goes up to nearly 14,000 feet. This not only helps us avoid debilitating altitude sickness but also lays the foundation for appreciating what we will see and experience along the trail.

While it would be better to have arranged two or three days to acclimate before the trek – which would also provide more time to visit the extraordinary sights in Cuzco, Pisac and Ollantaytambo – having come from a week in the Galapagos for this grand finale to Eric and Sarah’s six-month odyssey, we only have one full day before starting out on the trek, so Alpaca Expeditions’ one-day Sacred Valley tour is ideal.

Our guide, Jaime, picks us up at 8 am our charming boutique hotel, the Amaru Inca (Cuesta San Blas, 541, Cusco City Center, Cusco, 84) which must once have been a hacienda, and we set out in private car into the countryside, where we immediately see neighborhoods, villages and communities.

Cuzco’s most famous monument, the statue of Christo Blanco with open arms that overlooks the city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The road begins its twisting rise into the mountains and Jaime stops just before the Sacsayhuaman fortress at a point where we are level with Cuzco’s most famous monument, the statue of Christo Blanco with open arms that overlooks the city. Eight meters high, it was created by Cusco sculptor Francisco Olazo – a gift from Palestine in 1945 – and a mini version of Rio’s statue. From here, the Cathedral and churches and Spanish-style buildings are most prominent.

Looking down at Cuzco, you see the Spanish structures built over the Incan structures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cuzco was the capital of the Incan Empire and the “navel” of the world, according to its lore. At its peak, had 30,000-40,000 inhabitants.

“There is nothing like Cuzco in any other part of South America for the concentration of people and sites,” Jamie says.  There are some 1,250 sacred sites in Cuzco.

The hostels we stay in today were once grand homes – first of Inca rulers who began to take over Cuzco in 1000 AD, then rich Spaniards who came in the first century after conquest, in 1536.

The Incan heritage pretty much had to be resurrected because the Spanish did their level best to eradicate the culture, and especially the “pagan” religion which was based on nature worship – literally building their palaces and churches on top of the original foundation stones of the Incan palaces and temples.

“It’s as if they were saying, ‘We are built upon your gods. Submit.’”

The Spanish conquerors intentionally eradicated the Incan culture and society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The center square, would have been the city’s market place and where religious ceremonies would have been held, was renamed by the Spanish the Plaza de Armas – the place of arms – where they would have held executions of rebels.

Our guide Jamie explains that the Inca were actually the ruling family – not the people – who basically ruled over some 50 different tribes and city-states, speaking different languages.  Some 20,000 to 40,000 Inca nobility ruled over a population of 10 to 20 million that at its peak, spanned as far as Columbia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. The Inca expanded its empire from Cuzco by conquest and “diplomacy” between 1000 and 1536, reaching its peak in the mid 1400s, 125 years before the Spanish conquest.

What is so remarkable is the Empire the Inca built – the monumental architecture and 3,000-miles of road network reaching all corners of the empire – was accomplished without the benefit of draft animals like the horse, the wheel, iron or steel tools, a written language, currency, or slaves.

How was it possible for a few hundred Spanish conquistadors to conquer the Incan Empire ? The Spanish seemed to arrive during a perfect storm of turmoil and weakness in the Empire. The Inca Emperor Huayna Capac had died in 1529 after contracting smallpox, that likely came from Maya fleeing south along the roads the Inca built, who were infected by the Spanish and weakened the population; and two brothers were embroiled in a devastating civil war to become the new Emperor. Atahuallpa, the 13th and last emperor of the Inca, was victorious, only to be captured, held for ransom, and then executed by Francisco Pizarro.

But a key reason for the Spaniards’ success was that the tribal people were not motivated to battle the invaders. Many wanted to be rid of the Inca rulers and allied with Spaniards (“The Inca weren’t very nice,” Jamie says). Also, the Spaniards seemed to be endowed with supernatural power and the incarnation of the priests’ prophesy of an existential event akin to Armageddon.

The first group of 90 Spaniards arrived in Cuzco in 1533 in Cuzco and lived together with Cuzco population for three years. But in 1536, a second, larger, more militant group came, determined to take the Inca’s gold and silver (the Inca did not understand how the Europeans valued precious metals as a source of power) and forcibly replace the “pagan” religion with Christianity.

The Incan leader Manco realized the Spaniards weren’t leaving, so rose up against them, but the Incan weapons were no match. After the third battle, the indigenous population abandoned Cuzco and the Spanish took over their properties.

If the Spaniards would have come 50 years later, Jaime says, the Incan Empire may have taken over Mexico and been powerful enough, unified enough to drive the conquerors out, he says.

At the Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center, we learn the vital importance of domestication of llama and alpaca to the Incan Empire © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Spaniards did whatever they could to eradicate the pagan religions. Some continued to observe  their religious rituals in secret – even up to modern day and as recently as 15 years ago, would practice secretly. Today people openly practice. “The church knows our religion was respecting nature,” Jamie says.

We stop at the Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center where we see the different varieties of llama and alpaca, learn about how the wool is produced, the raw materials that the dyes are made from, and watch villagers at their looms, make stunning textiles (there’s also a fantastic gallery, museum and a large store).

A weaver at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This visit provides fascinating insights into the culture and heritage, the structure of society and the ecosystem that shaped and sustained the Incan Empire – the environment that supports agriculture in high altitude (enough food and calories to fuel the building of these monumental structures and support an army) and domestication of animals, how the natural materials at hand shaped the culture.

A weaver at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You realize how critical to the success of the Incan Empire the domestication of llama and alpaca were – for carrying goods and producing wool for clothes – the only domesticated animals in pre-Hispanic America. Also, the grasses were food for the animals but also used to make the ropes for bridges and hauling the massive stones (I suspect were also used to make the straight lines without the benefit of rulers.)

A weaver at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These finely-woven textiles and the monumental architecture were the main arts of the Incan Empire; instead of written communications they used knotted strings (quipu), which still cannot be deciphered but which (Karen postulates) might have been a kind of Morse code (so why can’t a computer crack the code?). The colors and patterns of clothes would communicate tribal affiliation, friend or foe.

The source of the natural dyes for the textiles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inca’s success at farming had much to do with the fact the Inca calendar was tied to astronomy. Inca astronomers understood equinoxes, solstices and zenith passages and the Venus cycle. Religious leaders –the only others besides the nobles who were educated – used their knowledge as power over the people who were kept ignorant. The priests would use the solstice as if the people’s religious devotion would bring back the longer days. They couldn’t predict an eclipse, but they well understood how it operated.

Weavers at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inca also used mathematics to divide up political governance (a system of 10s), assess taxes, keep the census, and to do the calculations necessary to create such monumental architecture.

A father and child at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also see guinea pigs in cages. They were a delicacy, served at important festivals, and even today are served for festivals as well as in restaurants.

At the Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center, we learn the vital importance of domestication of llama and alpaca to the Incan Empire © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the Inca could not have accomplished what they did – labor, military might – without enough food (calories) to support the population, which is why the Machu Picchu Sacred Valley was so vital.

Sarah and Eric pet a baby alpaca at Manos de la Comunidad, a handicraft center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at a famous overlook known as El Mirador (Lookout Point) from where we can see the Sacred Valley – an abundance of fertile plains in this high area of the Andes – spread out in front of us.

The view from El Mirador (Lookout Point) of the Sacred Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Around the year 1000, Manco Capac claimed to be the “son of the sun god Inti,” sent to earth to become the first king of the Inca. He was known for his courage, and taught the people how to grow plants, make weapons, work together, share resources and worship the gods – in other words, set the parameters for the society.

Karen suspects the source of Manco’s power over the people was that he was an agricultural genius – figuring out terraces and irrigation technology – and abundant food production was proof of his divinity. He probably was a popular dictator but later Inca rulers relied on force. Besides military might and a brutal form of “justice,” the Inca ruled through religion and superstition.

The view from El Mirador (Lookout Point) of the Sacred Valley © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Their religion was based on nature and the different tribes had their own local gods and idols – they worshiped the gods and goddesses of rain, lightning, rainbow (connected with fertility), moon, sea and water. The Inca imposed sun worship of Inti over other gods, even Pachamama (Earth Mother). The people drafted to build their palaces and temples did it as much out of devotion to god as their obligation to give service to the state.

Chancing upon traditional dancers filming a video at El Mirador © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The elevation of the valley provides the perfect climate for growing corn (maize), so Inca named in Sacred Valley (a golden staff also comes into play). The maize was also used to make a fermented liquor that was used in religious ceremonies, adding to the “sacred” nature of the valley.

They modified the river bank with sand bags to control flooding and perfected irrigation techniques to create more arable land; the terraces created micro-climates for producing different crops.

Terracing and irrigation account, plus the ability to find fertile soil and take advantage of micro-climates account for the Inca Empire’s success in producing food © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Inca society was a combination of feudalism and socialism. While they did not have currency and technically did not use slaves, instead, the exchange of goods and services was based on reciprocity between individuals and among individuals, communities and the Inca rulers. Farm production was divided up with 25 percent going to the Inca rulers and nobility, 25 percent to the priests and religious institutions and half kept by the farmers. The Inca rulers (who theoretically owned all the means of production) reciprocated by granting access to land and goods and providing food and drink in celebratory feasts for their subjects.

When the Spanish came, they introduced a feudal system – where the Spanish owned all the land. That persisted up to as recently as 1969, when a socialist (nationalist) president came to power.

“The government bought the land to give to farmers, brought more freedom, and the right to go to school. For the first 15-20 years, it didn’t work well because farmers didn’t know business like the landlord, didn’t have the export connections, and were used to being bossed. The government had to step in, ‘Remember the Inca time’ – and get them to act as a cooperative. Today, every farmer has his own land. Peru’s biggest export is avocado; its corn is shipped to Japan, Germany and Canada.”

As we drive into the countryside, we see women in traditional dress, pass markets and see buildings painted with election posters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we drive into the countryside, we see women in traditional dress, we pass markets. Many of the houses – still made of adobe – were swept away in a massive flood and are being replaced with brick structures which do not seem completed (to save taxes?). There is an election underway and we note campaign posters painted on whole buildings.

Before the day is done, we will have a chance to explore the archeological sites of Pisac and Ollantaytambo before making our way back to Cuzco for our 6 pm orientation with Alpaca Expeditions for our Incan Trail trek that begins the next morning.

The permits to do the Inca Trail trek are limited to 500 a day for all the trekking companies (which includes 300 set aside for guides and staff and only 200 for trekkers) and get booked up months in advance.

More information: Alpaca Expeditions, USA Phone: (202)-550-8534, [email protected], [email protected], https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/

Next: Exploring Pisac, Ollantaytambo

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© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Cruising on the Galapagos Legend: San Cristobal Island

Snorkeling at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have our longest, and roughest, sail over the second night of this three-night, four-day cruise aboard the 100-passenger Galapagos Legend. Our guide, naturalist Alejandro, tells us to keep doors closed so they don’t slam. Actually, it feels more like being rocked in a cradle during the night. (While the weather is temperate year round and the Galapagos is visited throughout the year, in this, the dry season, is when the seas tend to be rockier. In any case, we’ve prepared by taking a motion sickness pill and not drinking any alcohol-well, Karen abstained.)

Booby in flight, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sail to Punta Pitt and Pitt Islet off San Cristobal Island, the easternmost island, closest to South America’s coast (600 miles away), the oldest island and oldest settlement in the Galapagos. Here we first have a marvelous, two-hour hike to the high point of a steep, eroded tuff cone. Here is the only opportunity to see all three booby species in the same place: the red-footed booby perched on small trees, the Nazcas which nest on the ground near the cliff edge and the blue-footed boobies inland. Frigatebirds fly around and the views are stunning. Notably, we see how hardy vegetation takes hold in such a volcanic barren land – saltbush, spiny shrubs, Palo Santo trees, cacti, and, because it is the dry season, we get to see stunning carpets of red Vesuvius.

While it seems that most of the time, the animals we see ignore us, as we walk the trail, a blue-footed booby (adolescent?) seems curious enough to just stand in the middle of the trail as we take photos, study us, and wait until we came back.

A young blue-footed booby seems to be as curious about us as we are about it © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A young blue-footed booby seems to be as curious about us as we are about it. San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A young blue-footed booby seems to be as curious about us as we are about it. San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While the blue-footed booby lays up to three eggs and can get enough fish to feed two to three chicks, the red-footed booby only lays one egg, because it takes half day to fish so it can only feed one chick. It nests in large colonies, laying one chalky blue egg in a stick nest, which is incubated by both adults for 44–46 days. The nest is usually in a tree or bush and only rarely on the ground. It may be three months before the young first fly and five months before they make extensive flights. Red-footed booby pairs may remain together over several seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals, including harsh squawks and the male’s display of his blue throat, also including short dances. (See: https://www.santacruzgalapagoscruise.com/boobies-in-the-galapagos/)

Red-footed booby, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Red-footed booby, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Red-footed booby parent feeds its chick, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the high-point in the walk, there is a stunning view and the most vivid color. And for sure, Karen spots a red-footed booby flying back with a branch and watches as it maneuvers the branch to make a nest. We soon come upon another nest where the parent is feeding her chick.

Red-footed booby flies back with a branch to build its nest, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Red-footed booby builds its nest, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a marine iguana nest. Our guide, naturalist Billy, says it’s a mystery why it lays its eggs so far from the ocean, and how the hatchling, without any parental help (because the parents don’t stick around), knows instinctively how to get to the ocean. He suggests the baby iguana can feel the vibration of the ocean waves; Karen has the hunch that the baby can smell the salt since we have learned that land iguana have glands which remove the salt from their blood and, as we have seen, expel the collected salt in forceful nose excretions which look like snorting or sneezing. (Karen says, “Hey, we’ve been in the Galapagos like five days, I have my two cents!)

San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Close encounters with sea lions on the beach at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming back down to the beach, we get to snorkel again, and this proves to be the most sensational experience of all – the sea lions actually play with us in the water. One uses a rock like a ball, tossing it up and grabbing it in its mouth, and when it drops into the sand, digs it out with its snout and plays some more. Sarah finds a sea turtle that we get to swim with.

Close encounters with sea lions on the beach at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Close encounters with sea lions on the beach at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Close encounters with sea lions on the beach at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Close encounters with sea lions on the beach at Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
This sea lion was showing off for Laini, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
This sea lion amuses itself with a rock, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Snorkeling, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Swimming with a sea turtle, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the afternoon, we sail to a different part of San Cristobal, Cerro Brujo, where there is an exquisite white-sand beach just loaded with sea lions. Our visit begins with a dinghy ride to explore the gorgeous rock formations and see the iconic scene of Kicker Rock through an opening.

San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A view of the iconic Kicker Rock, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We spend a relaxed afternoon on Cerro Brujo, which was one of the first sites visited by Darwin. The coral sand beach is so beautiful, we spend only a little time swimming or snorkeling because just walking (or jogging) along the beach is so special. The scenery is dramatic – the white sand, black lava, aquamarine water, the sweep of the horizon, the iconic Kicker Rock framed on the horizon, and the Galapagos Legend anchored.

Stunning scenery from Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stunning scenery from Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A marine iguana emerges from the sea at Cerro Brujo,, blending in with the rock, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stunning scenery from Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are black iguana, black crabs and bright-red crabs climbing the black lava rocks, some of us spot the last baby sea turtle trot from its nest into the ocean, and we get to watch a mother sea turtle making her way back into the sea.  Walking to the far end of the lagoon to Sapho Bay (Puerto Grande), we look out for black-necked stilts, ruddy turnstones, whimbrels and white-cheeked pintails. And apparently, there are legends of buried treasure at Puerto Grande.

Laini sketches the sea lions from a distance of a few feet; Sarah is transfixed by a mother sea lion and pup, David and Eric run to the end of the lagoon.

Cerro Brujo, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a feeling of complete contentment that continues on during an Ice Cream Festival on board the Galapagos Legend, while sitting in the hot tub, and looking back as Kicker Rock fades into the distance, glowing a golden brown in the setting sun.

Cruising on the Galapagos Legend passed Kicker Rock © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Enjoying the Ice Cream Festival in the hot tub onboard the Galapagos Legend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Onboard the Galapagos Legend, Kicker Rock fading into the sunset© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sailing into the sunset on the Galapagos Legend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next morning, we sail around to the Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town of San Cristobal and the capital of the Galapagos province and the second most populated after Puerto Ayero on Santa Cruz.

For our final excursion, we are taken by bus up to the highlands to visit the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, a giant tortoise breeding center, established by the Galapagos National Park in 2003. We get to observe giant tortoises living in a semi-natural habitat, and learn about their origin, evolution, and threats from introduced animals. The reserve is one of four in the Galapagos dedicated to restoring the populations of tortoise, ultimately to return them to the wild.

We watch as giant tortoises at the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve seem to form a line and parade as if to a meeting, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, San Cristobal, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Cerro Colorado Tortoise Reserve, San Cristobal, Galapagos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Being a port town, a provincial capital city and having an international airport, San Cristobal is also a gateway for invasive, sometimes aggressive, species – like the black fly which came in 1990 and proved dangerous for humans and farm animals.

The town is just a short walk to the airport where Eric, Sarah and Karen fly on to our next destination, Quito, en route to Cuzco, Peru, and the four-day/three-night Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. It will be the grand finale to Eric and Sarah’s six-month odyssey.

The Galapagos Legend cruise is perfect for this bucket-list experience – the ideal mix of soft adventure, the wonder, thrill and delight of exploring and encountering truly unique sights, all in comfort, and sharing together.

Go Galapagos offers a selection of itineraries that basically cover the major islands – four 4 day/3 night itineraries (East, South, North, West) which can be combined to make longer itineraries.

The itineraries are wonderfully organized so that your days are filled and fulfilling with exploring, hiking, snorkeling, discovering, adventuring, each place so different and distinct in terms of wildlife and geology, and then time on board to enjoy truly sensational meals either in the comfortable Lonesome George dining room, or alfresco; relax in the hot tub (how fun to have an ice cream festival while soaking in the hot tub), pool or fitness room, or hang out in the charming lounge where you are likely to see Attenborough’s “Galapagos” series running or play board games that are on hand. They also have kayaks available for rent. (Another advantage of the East itinerary is that it let us start off with a few days on Santa Cruz island and the charming town of Puerto Ayora before meeting up at Baltra Airport for the cruise.)

Cabin on the Earth Deck of the 52-cabin Galapagos Legend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship, with 52 ocean-view, air-conditioned cabins is large enough to feel very comfortable and have all the amenities you would want on a luxury cruise, but small enough to feel intimate.

The Lonesome George dining room on the Galapagos Legend ship is named for the iconic giant tortoise who was the last of his species, who in turn was named for comedian George Gobel because of a character the comedian played © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s a reason they say Galapagos is a trip of a lifetime – the total experience is a constant wow, especially when shared with loved ones and have the memory to share with the next generation so is ideal for a family, especially multi-generational. That’s what this is about – a chain of life and living. (But note: you need to be mobile enough to get on/off the dinghy from the boat, onto the shore, and hike, so seize the opportunity and don’t put this bucket-list trip off). The Galapagos is also an ideal honeymoon for a couple who loves adventure but wants the luxury and romance of a cruise for their special journey starting out life together. 

Lounge aboard the Galapagos Legend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just how special a Galapagos cruise is can be appreciated by the multiple milestone birthdays celebrated each night. (Indeed, Paul, a video game animator who was taking his third consecutive cruise aboard the Galapagos Legend, said he got tired of waiting for friends to join him, so just two days after celebrating his 40th birthday, he flew to the Galapagos on his own.)

A farewell toast and the end of the four-day/three-night “East” cruise aboard the Galapagos Legend © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Galápagos is wonder-full to visit any time of the year. Because of the Islands’ location on the Equator, the air and water temperatures remain relatively stable all year long. During peak seasons (mid-June through early September, and mid-December through mid-January), it is particularly important to make your travel arrangements well in advance.

Go Galapagos, an alliance of Kleintours and Gala Tours, is a cruise and tour operator with more than 34 years of experience, offering excellent price/quality value for 3, 4, 7 and -night inclusive cruises (two guaranteed weekly departures), You can also combine the cruise with land packages in the Galapagos, in Ecuador, and in Peru.

In addition to the Galapagos Legend, Go Galapagos also has two yacht-style ships, Coral I and Coral II.

Go Galapagos by Kleintours, Av. Eloy Alfaro N° 34-111 & Catalina Aldaz. 170515, Quito – Ecuador, Ph: (593) 2 – 2267000 / (593) 2 – 2267080, USA: 1-888 50 KLEIN, www.GoGalapagos.com.

Here are more helpful links: 

https://www.Go Galapagos.com/request-a-quote-2/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/galapagos-legend/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/coral-yachts/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/islands/santa-cruz/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/islands/genovesa-island/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/islands/south-plaza/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/islands/santa-fe/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/islands/santa-cruz/
https://www.Go Galapagos.com/galapagos-animals/

See also:

CRUISING ON THE GALAPAGOS LEGEND: A VOYAGE OF WONDER

SANTA CRUZ ISLAND IS WONDER-FUL START TO GALAPAGOS ADVENTURE

CRUISING ON THE GALAPAGOS LEGEND: SANTIAGO ISLAND

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