While Matt took a fantastic voyage visiting five countries in five days, could regular people really do a trip like this? Most people don’t even want to try a week like this! It would wear them out. There are ‘round-the-world fares that would allow people to travel all over, but the fact is, it’s not worth it. Each destination on Matt’s trip really requires at least a week to visit properly. Travel & Leisure editor Mark Orwoll shares some tips on how to plan and take your own “Where in the World?” tour.
MACHU PICCHU, PERU
Machu Picchu: Reason to Go
The most popular activities in Peru are hiking in the Andes Mountains, jungle trekking in the Amazon basin, and soaking up the culture of the native Incas.
Machu Picchu: When To Go
The Andes highlands are popular with tourists all year round, but the best time weather-wise is the dry season, from June through August.
Machu Picchu: How To Go
Fly from Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, New York, or Miami on Lan Chile, Grupo TACA, Continental, American, or Delta for around $1,200-$2,000 round trip — although occasionally you can get deals for under $700, even less. It’s about six hours by air from Miami.
Machu Picchu: Getting Around and Things to Do
You’ll fly to the capital city of Lima, which is noisy, polluted, and not especially attractive (although there are ongoing plans to restore the colonial center). Even so, spend a day or two in Lima admiring the old colonial buildings and churches, shopping at the many crafts markets, and visiting the anthropology and gold museums. From there you’ll fly inland to Cuzco, the oldest inhabited city in South America and capital of the ancient Incan empire, your starting point for the trip to Machu Picchu. (Once you’re in the highlands, don’t pass up the chance to sample a local delicacy that you probably won’t find anywhere else: roast guinea pig!) At Cuzco’s altitude of more than 11,000 feet, it’s essential that visitors acclimatize themselves by spending a day or two in town before attempting to hike to Machu Picchu.
From Cuzco you’ll take the early-morning train ($30-$80 round-trip for the bus-train combo) to Aguas Calientes on the Urubamba River at the base of Machu Picchu. From there you take a bus up the steep mountain (with 13 hair-raising hairpin turns) to the ruins. If you’re a hardy mountaineer, you can choose instead to hike most of the way along the Inca Trail, which will take you about four days to reach Machu Picchu. Either way, if you want a special experience, book a room ($265 a night) at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge at the entrance to the ruins; it’s the only way you can watch the sunset and sunrise over the Lost City of the Incas.
Machu Picchu: Saving Money
While the airfare can come with a hefty price tag, you’ll find that Peru is extremely affordable once you arrive. Rooms at deluxe hotels routinely cost under $100 and meals at some of the finest restaurants will rarely cost more than $10 per person. Shopping is a bargain too, with alpaca sweaters often going for less than $20, and silver-and-turquoise jewelry for under $50.
Here’s an affordable package from Marnella Tours (866/993-0033): 6-night air/hotel/tour package for $789, includes round-trip air between Miami and Lima and between Lima and Cuzco; 2 nights in Lima, 3 nights in Cuzco, one night in Aguas Calientes (near Machu Picchu) and a full-day tour of Machu Picchu, plus breakfast daily.
Paris: Reason To Go
The City of Lights is tailor-made for a family vacation, if only because there is so much to do that will appeal to everyone in the clan, no matter their ages.
Paris: When To Go
Summer has the best weather. Many restaurants are closed in August, however, when the French traditionally take vacation, but there are still enough restaurants (and shops, churches, museums, etc.) to make the city enjoyable. About the only months when you might think twice about visiting are the rainy months of winter.
Paris: How To Go
Paris is served by Air France, British Air, Delta, Continental, and TWA; if you hunt for good fares, you can probably find one for under $500 from the East Coast. The flight from New York is about eight hours.
Paris: Getting Around and Things to Do
If you’ve never been to the Eiffel Tower, you have to go, but bypass the Michelin-starred restaurant at the top, and instead head for the more affordable and family-friendly Altitude 95. For a special treat, save your visit to the tower for after dark; the tower is open until midnight in the summer. If you have been to the Eiffel tower before, or if you’d rather just avoid the throngs of tourists, you can get an equally spectacular view from the department store called La Samaritaine (19 Rue de la Monnaie). A lot of visitors to Notre-Dame Cathedral don’t know it, but you can climb to the top of the north tower (385 steps) to get eye-to-eye with the church’s famously hideous gargoyles. Parents may be creeped out by the Catacombs (1 Place Denfert-Rochereau) and the Sewers (Pont de l’Alma), but kids will never forget the millions of skeletons throughout the former or the miles of labyrinthine tunnels in the latter. Fight hard against going to Disneyland Paris. But if your children insist, take the A train (well, the “A” RER Express) 40 minutes east of the city to the theme park, which isn’t all that different from the Disney parks back home (except your can get wine with your mouseburger). Better yet, if a theme park is called for, visit the Parc Asterix, based on the French comic-book character.
Tip for Families
Don’t overlook the public gardens throughout the city. Their attractions are free — or nearly so — and include zoos, boat rides, puppet shows, merry-go-rounds. Plus they’re terrific places to let the kids burn off some excess energy. In particular try the Jardin du Luxembourg on the Left Bank and the Jardin D’acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne.
Also, be sure to purchase a Paris Visite card, which allows unlimited use of the Paris transportation system for the number of days you specify, plus discounts to museums and attractions all over the city.
Paris: Saving Money
Staying in Paris can be as expensive as any city in the world, but remember that most of your family’s needs will be comfortably met staying in three-star hotels where you can get a suite for under $200 or two connecting double rooms for around $125 each per night. Better yet, check out the web site for Air France to see what deals they’re promoting. Right now, through Air France Holidays (www.airfranceholidays.com), you can get a six-night package, including round-trip airfare from New York, hotel accommodations, breakfast daily, and a Seine River cruise for as little as $765 through June 13 (from as low as $949 from June 14-September 13).
Bangkok: Reason To Go
Thailand is the destination of choice for travelers in search of temples, ruins, and deserted cities, as well as of those looking for some of the most beautiful beaches and islands anywhere in the world. (That’s why the producers of Leonardo DiCaprio’s film “The Beach” came here to film the movie.) Snorkeling and diving are key reasons to visit Thailand’s east and west coasts.
Growing in popularity: touring the islands around Phuket by inflatable canoe. In jungly northern Thailand, the biggest attraction is wilderness walking; the ancient city of Chiang Mai is the perfect base for trips in the north.
Bangkok: When To Go
The best time to visit most of the country is from November through February, when it is neither as rainy nor as hot as the rest of the year. August is a popular month for tourists, but try to avoid April (unbearably hot in Bangkok) and October (monsoons hit hard).
Bangkok: How To Go
It’s a long haul to Bangkok — about as far as you can get from the United States. You can get there from the U.S. on Thai International Airways, Northwest, United, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and several other airlines, most of which make one stop on the approximately 19-hour flight from Los Angeles. Round-trip airfare, depending on your city of origin, usually costs between $1,200 and $2,500 — in coach! Once you’re in Bangkok, use water taxis and the motorized rickshaws (called tuk-tuks) to avoid the traffic jams.
Bangkok: Getting Around and Things to Do
No matter what attracts you most to Thailand, you’ll spend at least part of your time in maddening, exciting, incomparable Bangkok — which, despite the unending traffic jams, smog, and noise, is one of Asia’s most electrifying cities. Don’t miss the ancient temples (a temple is called a wat) and palaces in Old Bangkok, west of the train line that bisects the city. For souvenirs, visit Jim Thompson’s Silk House (a shopper’s paradise for more than 35 years).
You should also plan to take a boat tour of the city’s canals, poke around the floating market in Thonburi, and walk through the public areas of the famed Oriental Hotel, which for more than a century has attracted the likes of Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, and James Michener. Shopping is a nonstop affair in Bangkok, but a word of warning: You can buy good clothing inexpensively there, but beware of counterfeit designer labels.
Tip for Families
Don’t miss the Thonburi Snake Farm, where you can see men whirling cobras around their heads and dodging their (apparently) deadly fangs by inches.
Bangkok: Saving Money
The time it takes to get there and the average cost of transportation ($1,500 and up from the West Coast) are good reasons to make a trip to Thailand longer than your average vacation — two weeks wouldn’t be too long. Once you get there, however, costs are generally cheaper than in the United States. There is a great bargain right now, though, on Korean Air — $626 round trip from either San Francisco or Los Angeles to Bangkok. The fare must be purchased on Korean Air’s web site.
Mykonos: Reason To Go
Mykonos is a capital of the jet-set, renowned for the charm of its ancient traditions and the nonstop action of its nightlife. If you’re the sort of traveler who likes warm beaches by day and hot dance clubs by night, you’ll find the island of your dreams on fashionable Mykonos.
Mykonos: When To Go
The most popular time to visit the Greek islands is from June through August, when the hot temperatures and sunny skies are perfect for lying on the beach and swimming in the blue Aegean Sea. During the off-season, prices go down for hotels and restaurants, but there is reduced service on the inter-island ferries and on flights between Athens and the islands.
Mykonos: How To Go
To get there you’ll fly first to Athens; Delta Airlines (from New York’s JFK) and Greece’s own Olympic Airways (from New York, Boston, and Chicago) offer the only nonstop service between the United States and Greece — an 11-hour flight from New York.
If you’re willing to make connections, you can also fly on Air France, Lufthansa, Swissair, and Sabena. From Athens to Mykonos is just a short 30-minute flight on Olympic Airways or a six-hour ferry ride (half that time by hydrofoil ferry) from the port of Piraeus. Warning: It can be difficult to get accurate ferry information. The scores of travel agents who sell ferry tickets usually keep schedules only for those ferry lines they serve. Best bet: go to the Port Police office and ask there.
Mykonos: Getting Around and Things to Do:
There’s plenty to see and do on Mykonos, whether you want to visit the famous windmills, take pictures of the stark-white church of Paraportiani (one of the most photographed churches in the world), or marvel at the houses rising from the sea in the neighborhood appropriately known as Venice. You won’t have trouble getting around the hilly island, which is only 10 miles long by 7 miles wide. Buses and taxis are cheap and plentiful; you can also rent a car or, more fun, a motorscooter. (Beware: Some travelers complain that they’ve been surprised by hidden charges upon returning their rental cars, or that the “all-inclusive” price didn’t include insurance for accidental damage.) You can also take a 20-minute boat ride from Mykonos to explore the ruins of ancient Delos, birthplace of Apollo.
Visiting Mykonos is an easy way to get a start in the Greek islands; spend a full day or two here, then take advantage of the frequent (summer) inter-island ferry service to visit some of the lesser-known but equally intriguing islands — Lipsi, Samos, Crete, or any of the hundreds of others — before heading back to Athens for your return flight home.
Mykonos: Tips for Families:
There are plenty of great beaches to suit any taste, including family-oriented, nudist, gay nudist, and more — so choose carefully! Best bets for families are Platyialos and Kalafatis, reachable by bus.
Instead of expensive hotels, consider staying at one of the many private apartments for rent; you can find ones large enough for a family for under $100 a day. For some samples, go to http://mykonos-accommodation.com/.
Mykonos: Saving Money:
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to spend too much on Mykonos. When you’re one of the most fashionable islands in the world, you can charge an arm and a leg. Stay out of the tourist restaurants; there are plenty of small, affordable restaurants and tavernas serving fresh seafood, souvlaki, feta cheese salads, and a delicious dessert of nut-and-honey called baklava, and topped off with thick, rich (and bitter!) Greek coffee.
There are terrific packages out there, if you look for them. One deal I found, from Homeric Tours (www.homerictours.com), includes round-trip air from New York, five hotel nights in Mykonos, two hotel nights in Athens, breakfast daily, plus transportation between Athens and the island, for only $999 through June 9; prices go up to as much as $1,499 at the peak dates in July and August.
Great Summer Deals for Families
AFFORDABLE SAFARI: Thomson Family Adventures (www.familyadventures.com) will take you on a 12-day safari in Tanzania designed just for families. You’ll go on game-viewing rides in open-air vehicles in search of elephants, rhino and lion. You’ll travel through the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. You’ll stay in a mix of adventure camps deep in the wilderness and comfortable lodges. But what makes this trip very special is the chance to meet and spend time with the gentle Hadza people, among the last hunter-gatherer peoples on earth. Prices, including air from the East Coast, $3,390 for adults, $2,890 for kids under 12.
SYDNEY AFTER THE OLYMPICS: The U.S. dollar is at its strongest ever against the Aussie dollar. First-class hotel rooms are going for as little as $50. Airfare is as cheap as it’s ever been. Air New Zealand is offering special family discounts for travel to Sydney and Auckland from Los Angeles — an adult fare of $1,298 can buy a child’s round-trip ticket for just $99. Get details at http://www.airnz.com/travel/index.jsp.
FIJI UNBELIEVABLE: An unheard-of deal is being offered from the U.S. West Coast to Fiji — $699 for round-trip airfare and seven nights at the Shangri La Fijian Resort, the largest hotel in Fiji. How can they do it? Fiji’s government was overthrown in a coup last year. Although things are politically peaceful now, the tourism industry is still reeling. This is how they hope to get the tourists back! Contact Discover Wholesale Travel directly at 800/576-7770 (no website available).
Svalbard: Reason to Go:
Because unlike Matt most of us can’t go to a remote North Sea oil rig; but we can go to remote Svalbard, a sparsefly populated island group in the Norwegian Sea, above the Arctic Circle, and take a cruise on a 40-year-old freighter past the stunning icebergs, glaciers, and isolated fishing villages.
Svalbard: When To Go:
Summer, of course! This IS the Arctic Circle, after all. In July-August you’ll get 24 hours (or almost) of sunshine every day.
Svalbard: Getting Around and Things to Do:
You’ll fly from Tromso on the Norwegian mainland to the distant island group of Svalbard, where you’ll board the 60-passenger M.S. Brand (a former freighter refitted for passenger service) on a five-day cruise.
You’ll be able to get close to the icebergs and rough shoreline on inflatable Zodiac boats. On shore you’ll go to anthropological sites to see evidence of ancient hunters who once lived here. You’ll also sail into some beautiful fjords that very few ever have the chance to see and admire.
Svalbard: Saving Money:
You wouldn’t be able to do this trip yourself. I recommend signing up for the cruise offered by Svalbard Polar Travel (http:www.svalbard-polar.com). The price (which ranges between $1,100 and $1,700 depending on cabin accommodations) includes air travel from Tromos to Svalbard, your cruise, and most meals and activities. Airfare to Norway from the U.S. must be booked separately.