9 ways to preserve the polar regions for future generations

Aspiring polar explorers learn about sustainability and conservation on polar voyages with Quark Expeditions

By Doug O’Neill, Quark Expeditions 


It was one of those travel moments that was both Instagram-perfect—yet simultaneously soul-stirring. I stood on the deck of Ocean Adventurer as it sailed into Krossfjord, a 30-km long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Most of my fellow passengers were at breakfast so I had the deck to myself, with my camera at the ready, my eyes peeled on the horizon for my first glimpse of Lilliehöök Glacier, and my ears alert for the signature thunder of glacier calving.




In the midst of all that anticipation of nature’s drama unfolding before me, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of quiet, a stillness that brought with it a razor-sharp clarity of my surroundings.  My mind began to run through an inventory of every stunning image I had experienced in the days leading up to this moment: the sculpted icebergs, the expansive glaciers, the snow-capped mountains, the long-abandoned historic sites, the polar bears prowling along the ice edge, the reindeers that cantered past me when I was on a shore landing, the walruses that gazed at me as I kayaked 30 metres away, of the whales spotted from the ship, and of cliff-tops covered in thousands of nesting Brunnich’s guillemots.




And in my private polar epiphany, I was overcome not only with an intense appreciation for this pristine polar wilderness before me but also with a desire to protect it for every future visitor who came after me.




This realization was by no means unique to me—it’s a moment shared by many who visit the Arctic or Antarctic. And this raised a fairly basic question: what can guests do to help preserve the pristine polar regions?


 USTOA Blog4


For this answer, I turned to my colleague, Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager at Quark Expeditions, a long-time sustainability advocate and one of the forces behind Polar Promise, Quark Expeditions’ holistic sustainability framework for protecting the polar regions.




9 ways to be kind to the planet on your next polar voyage 

By Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager 


  1. Pack and use only reusable bottles (the only option when on a voyage with Quark Expeditions), coffee cups and reusable bags that you can take home with you.
  2. Choose refillable toiletry containers or non-plastic packaging that are free of microbeads. Your Quark Expeditions cabin is equipped with refillable dispensers of body wash and shampoo.
  3. Don’t introduce non-native species. Pack clean gear, including clothing, footwear, and bags. Decontaminate boots before leaving and upon returning to the ship by using the provided Virkon disinfectant bath.
  4. Bring a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera and/or phone from the elements. (Avoid single-use plastics at all times.)
  5. Don’t dispose of waste during shore landings. Where waste is unavoidable, bring along a reusable bag and carry the waste back onto the ship to be disposed of properly.
  6. Support local communities in the Arctic: Purchase goods from local artisans during community visits in the Arctic, but don’t purchase important goods like groceries and supplies as stock is limited and deliveries are rare.
  7. Follow the environmental and conservation guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), who outline strategies, policies and behaviors to protect the polar regions.
  8. Place a bid during our onboard auctions: proceeds from our onboard auctions support polar research and conservation groups.
  9. Become a Polar Ambassador. Talk to one of our Expeditions Team about becoming a Polar Ambassador.  This program teaches you how to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint every day. It’s also your way of educating your respective communities on the importance of protecting the majestic polar regions.




Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.

Updated on April 28, 2021: The United States Department of Homeland Security announced the extension of REAL ID full enforcement until May 3, 2023, because of the impact of COVID-19.

Updated on March 27, 2020: The new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

Updated on February 20, 2020: The Department of Homeland Security has made the decision to allow electronic submissions of the documents that are required to obtain a REAL ID, a positive step ahead of the deadline.

In order to board a commercially regulated aircraft on October 1, 2020, travelers must possess a REAL ID compliant travel document. In order to obtain a compliant REAL ID or to ensure that your current travel documentation is REAL ID compliant, please visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize your state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline.


Airline travel can be stressful for new and experienced travelers alike. Perhaps the most important part of any trip is ensuring that appropriate documentation and identification is in hand. For domestic travel, this generally means a valid U.S. driver’s license, or state identification card, while passports are required for international travel.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency housed within the Department of Homeland Security, has been speaking to an issue relating to “REAL ID”. REAL ID represents the federal government’s attempt to create uniform minimum security standards for all U.S. driver’s licenses and identification cards in order to access Federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, and board federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Creating these uniform standards is laudable and will ultimately make travelling throughout the U.S. safer. However, it is important that Americans are aware that their current form of identification, whether it is a driver’s license or state identification card, may not suffice to move through airport or other security settings, particularly with regard to traveling within the U.S. or elsewhere. The traveling public needs to be aware that updating travel documentation in the coming year will be necessary for those who are not already compliant. Otherwise, it is possible that come October 1, 2020 travelers could risk being turned away at the airport. To reaffirm, every American is currently required to possess a REAL ID compliant license or identification card by October 1, 2020 in order to, among other things, board a commercially regulated aircraft. Travelers without compliant identification could be turned away at the airport.

In the past, deadlines have been set on REAL ID compliance, and those deadlines have been kicked down the line. For the current deadline, recent reports indicate that this deadline of October 1, 2020 may hold. It is recommended that American travelers proactively check to see whether their identification is compliant to eliminate the possibility of added travel-related stress.

The good news is that anyone who holds a valid U.S. passport already has a REAL ID compliant form of identification. As of September 2019, 47 states, the District of Columbia, and three United States territories are compliant. Oregon, Oklahoma, and the Northern Mariana Islands are currently under an extension to update their licenses while New Jersey and American Samoa are under review. All states and territories are on track to be compliant before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

The bad news is that many of the states have only just begun issuing compliant licenses and state identification cards, meaning that many travelers may still hold a non-REAL ID compliant license. Therefore, it is imperative that all travelers visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize their state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline to ensure that their travel driver’s license or identification card is compliant for domestic travel. Again, it is important to note that a valid passport is REAL ID compliant.

Unfortunately, not every state and territory have the same requirements for a REAL ID, meaning that the licenses or state identification cards will still not look completely uniform and the documents necessary to attain a REAL ID compliant license or identification card may vary. As mentioned previously, each traveler should visit their state’s or territory’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what documentation is required to obtain a REAL ID. At a minimum, travelers must provide documentation showing:

1)     Full Legal Name;

2)     Date of Birth;

3)     Social Security Number;

4)     Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and

5)     Lawful Status.

REAL ID compliant licenses and identification cards are identified by the presence of a star in the top right-hand corner of the card similar to the below:

USTOA urges individuals across America to ensure their identification is compliant and to take the appropriate steps to achieve compliance, if necessary. We strongly caution against reliance on the possibility of an extended deadline.

More general information on REAL ID can be found here.

More information on each state can be found here.

10 Passport and Visa Tips For Hassle-Free International Travel  

By Fatemeh LeTellier, Chief Marketing Officer of Travel Document Systems and co-founder of Pinnacle Travel Documents


  1. Make sure you have at least six months validity on your US passport!  Most countries require six months validity because they don’t want any traveler to get stranded in their country and be burdened with their expenses.  Further, most airlines require the six-month passport validity.
  2. If you travel a great deal, consider obtaining a second US passport valid for four years.  This will allow you to obtain visas on one passport while you travel on another. A second passport gives provides flexibility for the frequent traveler.
  3. Make sure you understand which countries require a visa for US citizens to enter. This way you are not barred from boarding your flight and missing your vacation or business trip.
  4. Make sure your name on your passport matches your name on your airline ticket/itinerary.  With heightened security measures at US airports and abroad you could be denied boarding.  If the name on your passport must be corrected, then you must renew your US passport as the US passport agency no longer amends names on US passports because of the new electronic chip passports.
  5. There seems to be confusion regarding the Passport Card.  The Passport Card can only be used at border crossings when driving between the US to/from Mexico and Canada.  You cannot use the passport card for flying! The Passport Card can be issued when the Passport is renewed for an additional government fee of $50.00. It is best to do both at the same time needed to save money and time.
  6. Many countries have gone to electronic visas which means the visas are e-mailed to the traveler. These visas are different than the traditional visas that are stamped in the actual passports.  E-visas can have a shorter validity and at times only valid for tourist travel and not for business travel. It is imperative that the traveler check to see that they apply for the correct type of visa based on their trip.  What we do at Pinnacle is assist the traveler in selecting the correct visa type for their specific travel needs. Some countries that issue electronic visas are India, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Oman.
  7. Children under 16 years of age are issued passports that are only valid for five years. The reason being that children’s features change so the picture needs to be changed every five years. Once they become 16 the passport is issued for 10 years. Both parents must be present to get the child’s documents sealed and if one parent is not available then the absentee parent must provide the accompanying parent with a notarized consent letter to apply for their child’s passport. The Passport Agency is very strict because of child abductions cases so they want to make sure both parents have given permission for a child to be issued a passport.
  8.  It is imperative that the signature on passport and visa applications match the exact signature on the US passport!  If the signature doesn’t match the application could be rejected which could delay the issuance of the US Passport or visa for international travel.
  9. The Passport Office and countries that issue visas require the photographs submitted for processing to follow specific guidelines.  The Chinese do not want the applicant to wear any glasses, jewelry or smile in the photo.  The US passport office doesn’t want glasses or smiling in photos. Further, The Indians don’t want any glasses on the photo. There are specific photo requirements that must be fold for smooth passport and Visa processing!
  10. Make sure you don’t apply too early for a Visa!  If you apply too early, then your Visa will not be valid for entry which could cause you to be denied entry to that country. For example, The Kenya E-visa is valid for 90 days from date of issue. The Visa for Laos is valid 60 days from date of issue and the visa for Rwanda is valid 30 days from date of issue.  We advise all our clients about visa validity requirements for business and tourist travel.


Pinnacle Travel Document Systems, one of the largest passport and visa service companies in the world, prides itself on providing exceptional customer service by taking the guess work out of travel documentation. Their experienced staff will streamline and simplify the process for any travel document, passport and Visas. Services include speedy, even 24 hour, passport renewal and second passport issuance, applications for minors, and passport cards, as well as precise visa application assistance to ensure the correct documentation is delivered accurately and in a timely fashion.

Warm Up to a World of Winter Travel

 By Tauck 

If thoughts of winter leave you cold, traveling might be something you’ll warm up to. Sun-kissed islands from Cuba to Hawaii are the draw for snowbirds longing to migrate to a culturally rich tropical paradise during the winter months. Sailors will enjoy charting a course for Latin America’s waterways and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas, always in season for seaworthy adventures. And travelers with a taste for someplace exotic may want to head to faraway shores where upside down climates invite outdoor enjoyment year round.

Of course, the definition of ideal weather is purely subjective and ultimately personal. A beach bum’s disdain of snow-covered surfaces is nirvana to winter sports enthusiasts. Rain dampens hikers’ spirits but lush landscapes like the soggy Pacific Northwest are a naturalist’s dream. Some like it hot. Some like it cold.

But no matter your preference or destination, wintertime travel promises red-hot advantages that summer trips don’t have.


Fewer crowds. When cooler temperatures prevail and the kids are back at school, iconic sites in destinations around the world are enjoying their annual vacation from summer’s crowds. Consider visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, among the most visited cities in Europe, taking in landmark sights, without being rushed or wasting time on long lines. Check out the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Trevi Fountain, spontaneously stopping in a local trattoria in charming Trastevere, less busy in fall and winter. Admire Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, take in the views of Florence and its river from the Ponte Vecchio and climb to the top of the Duomo, lingering longer as you wish. And in Venice, stroll easily in St. Mark’s Square, savor the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica and stop for a prized photograph at the Bridge of Sighs without groups of photo-bombing tourists.

VW: Near Old Faithful Winter Lodge

A new perspective. Wintertime enables you to rediscover places you’ve already been in a completely different way. If the national parks are a favorite summer vacation destination, consider seeing them in a new light. Take Yellowstone National Park for example, a geothermal wonderland with 10,000 hot springs, thundering waterfalls, two thirds of all the geysers in the world and evergreen trees by the thousands. Winter turns it otherworldly, transforming the wilderness into an ethereal playground sculpted by ice, steam clouds and snow and blanketing it in sounds of serenity and silence you have to see to believe. Those who have braved the weather can’t say enough about the experience or the cozy lodges that remain open for the privileged few. Highlights range from sharing stories and camaraderie in front of the fire; hearty home-cooked fare, served family style, that nurtures body and soul; and outdoor adventures on snowshoes, sleds and snowmobiles that warm hearts with sightings of elk, bison, bighorn sheep and the occasional wolf, seen more clearly and abundantly in a barren landscape.


Seasonal switches. If it’s winter here, it’s summer someplace else. Depending on which hemisphere you’re in, summer may be in June or December. Southeast Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere turn the calendar upside down, making our wintertime the best time to experience their summer-like climates. Outdoor adventures, from game drives on African safaris, boat, tuk tuk and cyclo rides in Thailand and Vietnam to cruises to the Great Barrier Reef and throughout New Zealand’s fiord-lined waterways and zodiac expeditions to Arctic islands cloaked in ice, await on bucket-list winter escapes.

Holiday fairs. ‘Tis the season to celebrate the holidays around the world. Hop aboard a riverboat in Europe in December when city squares, town centers and bucolic villages are decked out and dressed up with festive decorations that glitter and glow with twinkling lights and timeless traditions. Who can resist the smell of gingerbread warm from the oven, cinnamon spiced ciders and steaming mulled wines, and carolers voicing cheer and goodwill with their spirited songs? The fragrances alone are enough to make river cruisers smile no matter the temperature.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov famously said “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

That’s especially true for travelers, which makes any time the best time to go someplace new.


With more than 140 journeys across 7 continents in over 100 destinations and 70+ countries, Tauck offers a choice of wintertime travel options around the world, from exotic journeys and small ship cruises to family vacations and river cruises during the holidays in Europe. Find all the details at tauck.com.


Named to Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” list for 22 consecutive years, Tauck has been a leader in enriching travel since 1925.



Top Destinations for Family Learning Journeys

By Carol Dimopoulos of Perillo’s Learning Journeys

As President of Perillo’s Learning Journeys and in my role as an adjunct professor for SUNY Empire State College, I believe that both travel and education are investments in a child’s future.  When my children were young I realized we could combine the two. Incorporating classes in the destinations we traveled to deepen their course work and bringing the learning to life. When planning family travel, I always consider an experience which moves beyond the realm of the traditional.

Perillo’s Learning Journeys offers a unique collection of customized family journeys designed to combine cultural immersions with hands-on education to ignite learners’ passions in a certain area of discipline or interest.  Meet with other students and their families to learn about life in their respective cultures, forming new relationships.  Participate in a community project as to learn about cultural responsibility.  The experience provides a platform for families to learn something new, which lasts far beyond the physical experience of the journey.


1. Italy

Family-friendly Italy invites you to explore its beautiful cities and soak up its regional culture, history and cuisine. The learning possibilities are endless!

Participate in a pizza and gelato course in Rome and a mask-making class in Venice. Immerse your family in Italian culture by learning some language skills and enjoy a hands-on studio art program that provides a better understanding of the masterpieces you’ll see. Participate in culinary sessions using regional techniques to make craft pasta, pizza, and ice cream. Visit a local farm to learn about the region’s food and wine production.  Visit the interactive Children’s Museums in Rome and Florence. Take an art or mosaic class to deepen art appreciation.

Italy is a land rich with festivals.  Plan your experience around a festival and you are sure to become immersed in the local life!

2. Greece

The land of mythology, Greece is the perfect destination for family learning travel.  Visit the mythological islands of Santorini and Crete, the seat of muses, gods and goddesses. Learn about the historical sites, visit a volcano, enjoy a Greek dance class, experience a scavenger hunt, cook with a local Greek Yia Yia (grandmother), and experience vibrant Greek community and culture.

3. Peru

Peru is a privileged land of endless opportunities: nature, adventure, culture, history, archaeology, handicrafts, native textiles, fabulous gastronomy, and trekking.  Experiencing an authentic adventure exposes travelers to the local customs and warm people who welcome your family into their homes and share their family’s traditions. From textile and music workshops where you learn how to play traditional instruments and even build your own zampoñ to bring home, to visiting the sacred Machu Picchu, and taking part in the Inca practice, Kusi Runa,  your family will be immersed in Peru’s history, nature, and living culture.

4. Iceland

Stir your family’s imagination for Viking lore and introduce them to fun aspects of geology in Iceland.  Learn about the first Parliament while visiting Thingvellir National Park. Experience the world of whales and seabirds during a whale-watching cruise near Reykjavik. Discover the wonder, beauty, and science behind major geological sites as you stand before powerful waterfalls such as Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skogafoss; watch geysers spout 100 feet in the air; witness the site where two tectonic plates collided, and see the black-sand beach of Reynisfjara. Go inside of an Ice Cave, a virtual volcano and even bake Rye bread using geothermal methods.

5. London and Paris

London and Paris are the perfect destinations to bring your family’s learning to life with an immersion in history, arts, and culture. In London, explore British history at the Tower of London with a Beefeater and visit the tombs of monarchs and poets at Westminister Abbey. Learn stage fighting techniques at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, take a walking tour of Harry Potter’s “hometown,” and a cruise along the Thames, and view the city from the London Eye. In Paris, engage with art during special programs at the Louvre and the Musé d’Orsay. Ascend the Eifel Tower, take walking tours of the Latin Quarter and Montmartre, join a cooking class and learn how to blend your own perfume.


Learning Journeys offers cutting-edge travel experiences powered by Perillo Tours’ 74 years of travel planning expertise.  More than a traditional vacation, Learning Journeys’ itineraries focus on enhanced immersion in a specific interest or passion, such as yoga and wellness, cooking, photography, watercolor painting, bird watching, dance, language study, conservation, and much more. All journeys incorporate elements of culture, nature, culinary traditions, community service, and meeting with locals.  Programs to worldwide destinations include Italy, Bali, India, Malta, Peru and more. 

6 Cities for Art and Architecture Lovers

By Hayley Warner, Monograms Marketing Coordinator

Art and architecture, created long before us and preserved to last long after us, offer a glimpse of the past – of how people looked, how they lived, what they enjoyed. And these 6 cities gave rise to those creators, to the world’s most legendary architects, painters, sculptors and innovators. Their masterpieces continue to provide a portal through which we are able to better understand life long ago. If you travel to see the world’s greatest masterpieces or to marvel at intricate architecture, these 6 swoon-worthy cities are for you!


From the surrealism of Salvador Dali to Pablo Picasso’s cubism, Spain gave rise to many 20th century legends. The capital city of Madrid claims many of these masterpieces as her own, housing the likes of Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez in three major art museums – the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen. Though much of Madrid’s infrastructure is modern and her sister city of Barcelona is a bigger hit with architecture enthusiasts, be sure not to miss Plaza Mayor and Parque del Buen Retiro.



Known for the abstract works of Gaudi, Barcelona is a city where art and architecture merge into one. Influenced by nature, Gaudi incorporated curves, color and mosaic patterns into his design in an unprecedented way. Barcelona is marked by his architectural statements – from La Sagrada Familia which took more than 140 years to complete, to Parque Guell. Barcelona is also widely considered to be the childhood home of Pablo Picasso. Although he spent most of his adult life in France, the city pays homage to his early upbringing by displaying thousands of his work in the aptly named Picasso Museum.


Though a buzzing metropolis, London’s art scene was slow to develop – Galleries were not a city staple until the late 1980s when the Young British Artists, a group of visual artists including Damien Hirst, decided to shake things up and add contemporary art to the city’s portfolio. London has since evolved into a dynamic and influential player in the art world with renowned museums dominating the city’s West End and emerging artists rising in ranks south of the Thames. Most notably, London has shaped the contemporary art scene, with museums like the Tate Modern, White Cube and the Royal Academy of Arts attracting visitors from around the globe. If you prefer to admire masters from the 17th century or before, check out the National Gallery.


The City of Light is home to some of the most celebrated single pieces of art in the world. Famous museums like The Louvre and Musee D’Orsay house works including the Mona Lisa, collections of Degas’ dancers, and Monet’s water lilies. France was also a prominent source of inspiration for Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, and the Picasso Museum in Paris showcases much of his personal collection. Beyond an extensive art collection, Paris is loved for its opulent architecture. It gave birth to the Gothic style, characterized by flying buttresses and the extensive use of stained glass. Sainte-Chapelle is a perfect example of this style!



Following in the footsteps of their Greek predecessors, the Romans were architectural masterminds and unparalleled innovators, becoming the first to construct the arch and to create the first concrete-like building material by mixing volcanic ash and lime. No single city on earth possesses more architectural ruins or ancient wonders than Rome. From the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, each preserved ruin reveals something about the way Romans lived and what they valued.



Though the city itself is somewhat of an open-air museum, with piazzas displaying sculptures designed by Michelangelo, Florence is predominantly known as the city that gave rise to the Renaissance, and thus, some of the world’s most remarkable, forward-thinking artists. Masterpieces like Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus were created here and still live on display at the Uffizi Gallery in the center of the city. Beyond master painters and sculptors, Florentine architects were equally advanced. At the time of its design, Brunelleschi’s Duomo was the largest dome in the world and a true architectural wonder – how was it going to stand without support structures? It took more than 140 years to complete the original design and the Duomo remains an engineering feat.

 There are different ways to travel. You can choose to go with a group… You can choose a do-it-yourself vacation… Or, you can choose something in-between. Something that’s better than going it alone. It’s called Monograms and there’s nothing else like it. Monograms invites you to travel the world independently, with expert help.


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

Safety has always been the top priority for USTOA members so we’re particularly sensitive to State Department travel alerts and warnings, which can cause more confusion and uncertainty among travelers than guidance. We’re constantly monitoring these alerts and found Everett Potter’s overview of what they mean in USA Today this week particularly helpful and informative, so wanted to share it with both travelers and our travel agent partners as a resource:


In addition to monitoring State Department travel alerts and warnings, our members are uniquely positioned to monitor situations around the world. With eyes and ears on the ground in destinations, our tour operator members have access to real-time information that allows them to act in the best interest of both guests and employees.

We are hopeful that the U.S. traveler continues to be resilient and keeps exploring new cultures…it’s the best antidote to the misunderstanding that plagues world events today.

by Kelley Ferro

“Okay, now make a wish,” said Deniza, a Bahian beauty and a press officer from Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Institute), as she tied one of three knots of a Bahia wish bracelet around my wrist. I had been familiar with a colorful Brazilian tradition of the “Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia” bracelets on my first visit to Rio de Janeiro, but it wasn’t till I was standing back in Brazil that I realized that these wishes do come true.

Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia bracelets outside the patron saint’s church in Salvador: translated it roughly means In Remembrance of the Savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia

Lembrança do Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia bracelets outside the patron saint’s church in Salvador: translated it roughly means In Remembrance of the Savior of Bahia or Souvenir from the God of Bahia

Brazil is one of those special places that after you go once; you’ll want to go back again and again.  My wishes were granted sooner than I expected when USTOA said they were sending me back to shoot our Live Like a Local series this past August. Back in 2013, I had spent a one week vacation fully immersing myself into the lifestyle of Rio de Janeiro. My days consisted of late breakfasts, runs along Ipanema Beach, boutique shopping in Leblon, slurping cool Acai in the afternoons and admiring the talented Brazilians play soccer during my tanning sessions on the beach. In my mind, Rio was as close to paradise as I could imagine.

With the help of USTOA, Embratur, Adventure.com and our talented guides and ambassadors, my return trip to Brazil was equally as magical, and way more jam-packed with adventure. In just six days, we covered three cities, met a slew of locals and filmed our way through some of the country’s most epic sites.

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

We started out in Bahia, a Brazilian state in the Northeast which has a distinct Caribbean flavor. Historically, the capital city of Salvador was the epicenter of the slave trade and it was the first stop on our itinerary. Approximately two million slaves helped grow Bahia’s booming sugar industry at that time. Thankfully, slavery was abolished there in the late 1800s, but the African influence still remains infused in the region’s personality. I saw it in the capoeira lesson that I took, a Brazilian martial art that was created and secretly practiced by the slaves of that time. I saw it in the food, like Brazil’s national dish feijoada which developed when slaves added leftover scraps of meat to their usual meal of rice and beans. I even saw it in the art such as paintings of the Afro-Brazilian religious deities that are as prominent as their Catholic counterparts.

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

The traditional dress of a Bahia woman in Salvador’s Pelourinho

We continued our Bahia exploration with a stay in Lençóis, the jumping off point for a slew of natural wonders and outdoor adventures. This sleepy backpacker village was our laidback home, perfect for relaxing evenings. And we needed them, after spending our days spelunking, ziplining, grotto swimming, cave snorkeling, mountain hiking and photographing waterfalls.

Swimming in the Poço Azul

Swimming in the Poço Azul

To conclude our Brazil adventure, we spent our last day in Rio. Arriving late in the evening and with an impending flight out at 5:00am the following day, my Rio de Janeiro repeat trip was condensed into 24 hours. And I made sure to make the most of each hour.

Up well before dawn, I prepped for our last and only day in one of my favorite cities.  Hair done and good walking shoes on, it was “go time” at 6:00am and off we went to beat the crowds at the top of Corcovado. If I can give one tip to any first time visitors, go to see Christ the Redeemer AS SOON AS the doors open (8:00am) Besides a few other valiant travelers, we were the only people at the top of this world famous site.  I felt like I spent a lot of time with Jesucristo, dividing my gaze between the majestic statue and the equally majestic view of this coastal city.

Christ the Redeemer, on top of Rio

Christ the Redeemer, on top of Rio

But time was ticking and down we went to check out the Santa Teresa neighborhood, and area springing up with new cafes, art galleries and outdoor bars along the cobbled streets. Our local guide told us the backstory of this previously Portuguese aristocrat area as we poked our head in the shops.  A quick pick me up of Brazil’s signature caffeinated beverage, and we were off to see the Selaron Steps, an explosion of colorful tiles from hundreds of cities and countries around the world.

Coffee in Santa Teresa

Coffee in Santa Teresa

Rio’s enviable sunshine decided to take a pausa, so we did too for a refueling session at a Brazilian buffet while the rain cooled down the city. Lucky for me, the restaurant was next to a Havaianas store and Deniza, press officer from Embratur (Brazilian Tourism Institute) and local Bahian beauty, gave me a rundown of the best flip flop styles that weren’t found in the USA. I now have enough flip flops for the rest of my life.

Havaianas Shopping!

Havaianas Shopping!

Without skipping a beat, it was time to explore a favela, something I hadn’t done in the past. Our local guide brought us to the Santa Marta favela, a relatively small hilltop “slum” that has had one of the biggest positive transformations. We met Veronika, a local resident who guides visitors through her home community. Through a translator was needed, Veronika and I chatted about life here, her kids, Michael Jackson and about her thoughts for the future of her community. I could have spent all day here but it was on to the next part of the day, Rio’s famous beaches.

Veronika, our local guide in the Santa Marta Favela

Veronika, our local guide in the Santa Marta Favela

The rain had passed but the clouds continued to hang out over Rio. Either way, Copacabana Beach still looked lovely and there we filmed some of the city’s favorite drinks, coconuts and caipirinhas. After my first bite of a dulce de leche churro (WOW!), we transferred to the city center by subway. Traffic is brutal so the surprisingly clean and efficient underground metro was the fastest route. We arrived at an outdoor square where Monday night samba dancing takes place, to the tune of a live band. We weren’t the only ones camping out for this free show. However, the band canceled and so the dancing was postponed.

Groupie hot, waiting for Samba Dancing

Groupie hot, waiting for Samba Dancing

Undeterred, we headed to Lapa to tour some of the bars of this neighborhood popular for nightlife. Rodrigo, our Brazilian guide, introduced us to a special aged cachaça and after a few rounds and many “saúdes” later, we were starving. Where to eat in Rio when you only have one night? A churrascaria of course. This carnivorous restaurant was jam-packed even at 10:00pm. The churrascaria tradition is like a meat buffet that comes to you. Since I’m not a big meat eater, I enjoyed their insanely huge salad bar as our group tucked into to almost every type of meat that came out.

Men eating meat at the churrascaria

Men eating meat at the churrascaria

As our manic day came to end right before my 2:00am transfer to the airport, I felt like we had really sucked the juice out of Rio. This city is non-stop and we did our best to keep up, from dawn… till dawn again.

This trip was entirely different than my first leisurely week in Brazil. However, my love for the country has only grown. We did more in one day in Rio than many people do in a week, and I can say the same is true for each day on the rest of the trip. My knowledge of Brazil’s culture, hotspots and people has improved dramatically and from that, I only have a longer list of where I want to go when I return again.

On that first wish bracelet back in 2013, I had wished to return to Brazil. Now, as I write this I am wearing my latest bracelet, given to me from Deniza. It’s my daily reminder that wishes come true and that I’ll be going back to Brazil on another adventure before long.

To see a video behind the scenes of my wild 24 hours in Rio, click this link→ Rio in 24 hours

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.

by Sherry Ott, AFAR Ambassador

I could feel bass beat reverberate through my body and waft through the neighborhood as I stepped out of the car and walked through the open door twinkling with Christmas lights.  The beat seemed to be as powerful as the hug I received when entering the Perez-Cuesta family home in the suburbs of Cartagena, Colombia.  It was a welcome like no other for my first night in Colombia.  I was expecting a handshake and I received a powerful, emotional hug – one that in my culture is normally reserved for close family or friends.  I quickly learned being hugged with gusto was a normal greeting in Cartagena, as each of the four daughters came and did the same thing as they seemed to burst with excitement about the evening.

Upon arrival in Cartagena, my first exposure to the local culture was to actually set foot in a local’s house and be treated to one of the most genuine and heartwarming nights I can remember in my travels.  As Ruth, the mother, was busy cooking dinner the daughters entertained us showing us the small but lovely three bedroom home and answering my many questions about life in Cartagena.  More family members and neighbors seemed to pour in like a moth to the flame.  I was struck by the affection of the entire extended family and random neighbors, all hugging and greeting as if they hadn’t seen each other for ages.

The Perez-Cuesta family + cousins + neighbors + me = a bundle of energy!

The Perez-Cuesta family + cousins + neighbors + me = a bundle of energy!

The plantanos were frying as we shared beers in the living room, but all the while I was aware of the music in the background.  The whole neighborhood had their doors and windows open and everyone seemed to be living to the beat. Thinking about all the times I wanted to scream at my neighbors for playing music too loud in their apartment, I asked if any of the neighbors ever complained about the music in the neighborhood.  They looked at me surprised as if they didn’t even hear the music outside, and they had suddenly become aware of it now.  “No, everyone loves the music” Ruth answered slightly confused at why I would even ask the question.

Cartagena, Colombia is a symphony of sound more than any place I’ve ever been.  The constant drumbeat seems to be the heartbeat of the city.  Musical scenes play out on every corner of Old Town, Getsemani, and even little beach towns like Manzanillo.  Everywhere I went people were laughing and moving to the beat.  Giant speakers in public were the norm as people spilled out of establishments and into the streets of Cartagena at all hours of the day.  This music was the canvas to their overall bubbly free-flowing personalities.  This was a culture with gusto and energy, they lived outwardly and because of that, I immediately loved Colombia.

As I walked around the Old City, I watched a waitress move her hips to the beat and pump her arms up in the air for a moment as if everything else around her has disappeared.  The barefoot man in Bazurto market walking among a dozen big pots of oil with furious flames lapping up beneath them plops whole fish in the hot oil in perfect beat to the music.  As he moves on to the next big pot he shuffles his feet as if he’s salsa dancing with a ghost and then plops in another fish.  All the while with a big smile on his face doing what seems to me to be one of the hottest, hardest, and thankless jobs I’ve seen. I round a corner in the Getsemani neighborhood and find a crowd around three men playing music.  One has an accordion, one has an old pail for a drum, and one has what resembles a cheese grater; together they make beautiful high-energy music.  The crowd of locals moves to the beat and claps along.  All I could do was stop and smile at this scene of pure music joy.

Music and smiles found all over the streets

Music and smiles found all over the streets

I needed to find a way to get more involved; I was tired of being on the outside of this music looking in.  I wanted to feel the music like the locals, and Eduardo, my Avanti Destinations’ assigned guide, suggest I take a private salsa lesson in the Old City.  It was a hot steamy night as I walked up the stairs into the dance studio and startled the tall man lounging on a metal chair.  He didn’t speak English, but that was ok as all I had to do was follow his lead.  He turned on the overhead fans, looked at me, smiled, and a barrage of Spanish started flowing.  I just smiled and followed his steps.

Learning the 1, 2, 3, tap of the Salsa!

Learning the 1, 2, 3, tap of the Salsa!

I learned different salsa steps including the Colombian and Cuban versions which seemed to me to have subtle variations, but to the locals it was very clear delineations.  My hips seemed to loosen up as the music got louder and finally after following his every movement in front of the class he took my hand and we danced together.  I could hear the crowd outside starting to rev up for the night and I bid my instructor adios and went out to test out my newly learned skills.

Now I’m really dancing!

Now I’m really dancing!

Upon the recommendation of Eduardo, I found just what I was looking for at Donde Fidel’s Salsa bar.  As I rounded the corner near Plaza de la Coches you could hear the music.  It was as if the Pied Piper were luring in the dancers around the Old City late into the night as the restaurants closed.  I followed the music to the corner and found a lively colorful scene with women moving their hips like I never knew was possible.  That certainly wasn’t covered in my beginning salsa class; those were advanced movements for sure! But the Colombians made it look so easy and carefree, like they came out of the womb moving their hips and feet in a rhythmic fashion.  But after a lifetime of music, of course dancing would come as naturally as walking to them.

Looking in on Fidel’s Salsa Bar – a mix of people and music

Looking in on Fidel’s Salsa Bar – a mix of people and music

I sat at the bar content to watch the sites of young, old, tourist, and locals all intermix in salsa beat.  There was no real dance floor, but no one cared, whatever space was available was used.  People bumped into each other and no one minded, as eternal smiles seemed to be on their faces.  It took exactly two songs before I was beckoned to join.  I knew the locals wouldn’t let people sit around for long and just be a voyeur.

Locals feeling the beat at Fidel’s in the Old City Cartagena

Locals feeling the beat at Fidel’s in the Old City Cartagena

Soon someone had my hand and I was hip to hip with strangers, smiling, laughing and moving to the beat produced by the giant sound system behind the bar. Instead of being on the outside, I was on the inside now, my inhibitions slipping away with each step.  After the set of songs, I gave my new dancing partner a powerful, emotional hug like Ruth gave me when I arrived in Cartagena.  I didn’t even care that he was a stranger, it just felt right – now I really was a part of Colombia.




Travel expert, video journalist and contributor to Tripfilms.com, Kelley Ferro picked Taiwan for her first trip to Asia. The island nation has so much to offer; from the energy of the big city to the serenity of postcard-worthy beaches. Explore Taiwan alongside Ferro as she tours its vibrant landscape, culture, history and food with USTOA member Ritz Tours.

Ready to explore more? Watch the videos below to experience the incredible culture, landscape and food of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Culture

Tropical Countryside

Taiwan’s Cultural Food

Ritual Ceremony

Taiwan’s Street Markets