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Friday, February 24, 2012

UNIQUE TRIPS OF A LIFETIME

LIVING UP TO OUR NAME WE HAVE PUT TOGETHER A COLLECTION OF "UNIQUE" TRIPS FOR YOU.....

Galápagos and Peru



(7–14 days)


Why We Love It: This trip exceeds even our expectations. This tour dreamed up a Galápagos tour timed to commemorate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150-year anniversary of The Origin of Species—and tapped his great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, to lead the way. In Peru, your guides will include an expert investigating Incan environmental practices, and you’ll see art and textiles through the discerning eyes of locals who have amassed an impressive collection.


Where It Goes: After two days in Quito, you’ll board a 48-passenger cruise ship for seven days in the Galápagos. The Peru leg (seven more days) loops from Lima to Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, then back to Lima.




What You’ll Do: A tour of Quito’s colonial architecture zeroes in on Independence Square, the Archbishop’s Palace, and El Sagrario Church.
Galápagos island-hopping begins on Santa Cruz, where sea turtles nest, then continues on to the red volcanic Rábida Island and its sea lion colonies and Galápagos hawks; La Cumbre Volcano, home to rare island species like flightless cormorants and Galápagos snakes; Black Turtle Cove and its saltwater inlets and mangrove swamps, accessible only by panga (motorized fishing boat); Isabela Island, for blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas; and back to Santa Cruz for a private tour of the Charles Darwin Research Station and a seat at the inauguration festivities for its new Darwin Facility. Peru highlights: the famous weekly art and crafts market in the colonial village of Pisac, in the Sacred Valley; lunch with the Lambarri-Orihuela family at their Huayoccari Hacienda, where you’ll see their renowned colonial- and folk-art holdings; a tour of Machu Picchu with archaeologist Alfredo Mormontoy; and a last stop in the Incan capital of Cuzco, with a side trip to the nearby Sacsayhuaman ruins—a fortress built of massive stones weighing up to 125 tons and pieced seamlessly together.




Where You’ll Stay: The 210-foot-long eco-friendly Eclipse in the Galápagos; in Peru, at Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in the forest below the citadel, and Cuzco’s La Casona Hotel, a restored colonial mansion.


New Zealand
(14 days)


Why We Love It: This adventure slips you into new destinations—in small groups led by local guides at out-of-the-ordinary sights. This itinerary steeped in the 1,000-year-old cultural traditions and folklore of New Zealand’s first inhabitants—the Maori tribe. Maori guides are called upon throughout the journey, whether you’re hiking the grassy battlegrounds of Ruapekapeka, scene of the last conflict between British and Maori forces in the 1846 Northern War, or group-paddling a war canoe down hidden tribal waterways.




Where It Goes: From ancient settlements at the tip of the volcanic North Island to beaches, rivers, and glaciers, then all the way down to the peak-rimmed tourist center of Queenstown, on the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu.


What You’ll Do: Sit on Tokerau Beach (North Island) to watch tribesman Hekeneukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi Busby Kaumatua demonstrate how to make a traditional ocean canoe; detour north to Cape Reinga, the last stop made by Maori spirits of the dead on their way to the afterlife; and hike nearby through the lush Waipoa Forest to see Tane Mahuta, one of the world’s largest remaining ancient kauri trees, whose girth rivals that of America’s sequoia (45 feet). On the South Island, you’ll sail with the Maori-owned Whale Watch Kaikoura to see sperm whales up close; hike alongside the Arahura River, where you can stop to search for greenstone, a jade, found only on the South Island, that is sacred to the tribe for its symbolic role in peace agreements; and trek across the Franz Josef glacier with an expert on global warming’s impact on the region.





Where You’ll Stay: Highlights include two hotels with extensive green practices: the Hapuku Lodge, whose recycled-timber tree houses are 30 feet aboveground in a grove of native manukas (valued by the Maori for their flowers’ medicinal properties), and the Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass, a sheep farm with 20-plus miles of nature trails. Guided and self-guided hikes take you through beech forest and past cascading water, and may include sightings of bellbirds and rare orange-fronted parakeets.


Greater Yellowstone


(7–10 days)


Why We Love It: You’ll meet the best veteran tour guides in Yellowstone National Park, check in to the finest green hotels, and hook up with exclusive adventure operators. This tour’s guides will escort you to their secret stomping grounds for fishing, hiking, rafting, and more.


Where It Goes: This wilderness-and wildlife-focused trip begins in Bozeman, Montana; continues south to ranch land near tiny Cameron; leads you through the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park; and finishes up in Tetons-ringed Jackson Hole, Wyoming.


What You’ll Do: Take your pick of more activities than you can handle in three days at the sustainably managed Lodge at Sun Ranch, including horseback riding, bird-watching (look skyward for ferruginous hawks and long-billed curlews, two of 126 species on the property), and rafting or canoeing on nearby rivers. A hybrid car transports you to Yellowstone to explore the park with such expert naturalists as Mike Bryers, whose favorite spots after 27 years on the job are the thermal pools scattered throughout the 3,472 square miles of the park. (“They’re almost scenes from another planet,” he says.) You’ll also have the chance to ride the rapids down the Snake River; hike family-friendly trails in the foothills of Wyoming’s Gros Ventre Mountains; trek into Horseshoe Canyon and spend the night—or up the camping ante with a two-night kayaking, rafting, and fly-fishing trip on Jackson Lake. And come equipped for a safari-like trip to spy on the region’s impressive elk, grizzly, and wolf populations.


Where You’ll Stay: Options include the eco-sophisticated Lodge at Sun Ranch; one of Yellowstone’s historic park lodges (all of which are undergoing major greening by parent company Xanterra properties); J Bar L Ranch, in the sweeping Centennial Valley; and the LEED-certified Hotel Terra, in Jackson Hole. (Set aside time for a massage or a thermal soak with 100 percent organic products at the hotel’s Chill Spa.)




Southeast Asia


(16 days)


Why We Love It: For travelers who still associate Southeast Asia with the Vietnam War, this tour shows a rarely seen side of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, placing the conflict on the continuum of an ancient culture. The guiding notion of this trip is to mix and mingle tours of breathtaking temples, like Angkor Wat, with experiences of daily life in villages that keep such temples alive. Dominique Callimanopulos founded her three-year-old company after seeing the world as a student and young professional revealed a disconnect between travelers and the places they are inspired to go. A portion of the trip’s cost goes to on-the-ground projects.



Where It Goes: Thailand: from Bangkok to the temple cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; Laos: Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the village of Pak Beng; Cambodia: Siem Reap, site of Angkor Wat.


What You’ll Do: Learn traditional Thai dancing; visit a rarely mounted exhibit of indigenous crafts sponsored by Queen Sirikit’s foundation; take an ecotour of a “community forest” in Chiang Mai where tea and coffee crops have replaced illegal logging; and indulge in a traditional Thai massage. Cruise the Mekong River toward Luang Prabang, Laos, stopping to watch a hill tribe pickle rice into whiskey, and sample (or purchase) the results. Ride a tuk-tuk to Luang Prabang’s temples, including Wat Xieng Thong, known for its magnificent tree-of-life mosaic, and Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, with its five-tier roof; stop for a quick dip below the Kuang Si waterfall on the way to the Language Project Library, and in a nearby village, receive a blessing from elders in a traditional Baci ceremony. In Cambodia, visit Angkor Wat, then watch local fishermen ply the waters of Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. More highlights: a hike to Kbal Spean, where 900-year-old intricate carvings in and around the Kbal Spean river depict Hindu deities; and an on-site conversation with the founder of the Cambodia Land Mine Museum, which educates villagers on land mine awareness and accident prevention.


Where You’ll Stay: Our favorite stops include the colonial-era Mandarin Oriental Bangkok on the Chao Phraya river; the Luang Say Lodge, in Pak Beng, elevated on stilts for 180-degree views of the Mekong River Valley; and Maison Souvannaphoum, in Luang Prabang, once home to Laotian royalty.


Safari in Kenya
(11 days)


Why We Love It: This tour works closely with tribal communities makes travel rewarding for tourists and indigenous peoples alike—Masai and Samburu villages and guides are integral to this trip.


Where It Goes: From the border of Tanzania to the big-game–rich Great Rift Valley; north to the semi-arid Laikipia Plateau; and up to the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust in the Matthews Range.


What You’ll Do: Three days in, you’ll be riding camelback and walking through vast plains and tribal villages. The eight remaining days are yours to fill as you’d like. Highlights: moonlit bush dinners timed to catch wildlife at a watering hole; a picnic on Ol Lolokwe Mountain, believed by the Masai to be the residence of the gods; a hike through the forested Matthews Range, where leopards and thousands of once-threatened elephants roam; and a visit to the “singing wells,” to see a human chain of Samburu warriors descend into wells as deep as 32 feet, chanting ancient songs as they hand up vessels of water for their cattle.
 Where You’ll Stay: In an open-air room with a private plunge pool at the eco-minded Shompole Lodge, a Masai-style room with stone walls and earthen ceilings at Tassia Lodge, and a luxury tent both en route to the Matthews Range and at the community-owned Sarara Tented Camp in the Namunyak Trust. Optional while there: a starry campout on wide sand luggas (dry riverbeds).




Biking in Burgundy


(6 days)


Why We Love It: This customized biking trip brings you close to a culture intimately tied to the land.


Where It Goes: From Dijon, on a custom-designed hybrid or racing bike adjusted for you, you’ll cycle to the village of Chambolle-Musigny and its 370 vineyard acres of Pinot Noir; then follow the Côte d’Or, a limestone escarpment stretching to the river Dheune, to the medieval city of Beaune; and head into the Ouche Valley—hilly enough to create thirst, and thick with wineries to slake it—before going back to Dijon.
 What You’ll Do: Covering 25 miles each day, this trip is doable at your own pace. Stops are mostly about wine: you’ll tour wine caves with Domaine des Epeneaux owner and biodynamic-viticulture advocate Benjamin Leroux; visit the Grand Cru vineyard Le Montrachet; ride to the 12th-century castle of Chateauneuf; and picnic at Les Jardins de Barbirey, a private garden laid out in the early 1800’s. A walk through Beaune’s Old Town with historian Chantal Leroux pauses at shops stocking local L’Époisses cheese and truffle of Burgundy. Final touch: a lunch at a biofarm, Ferme de la Ruchotte, for a meal featuring locally grown vegetables and organic cheeses.



Where You’ll Stay: At the 18th-century Château André Ziltener; the historic Hôtel Le Cep, with views of Beaune’s Old Town; and a 12th-century monastery turned luxe country hotel, the Abbaye de la Bussière.

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