By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

I’ve often found that when you mention visiting Cuba to someone, it’s undoubtedly the case that you will be asked about a combination of the following things – communism, cigars, rum, music, and classic cars.  It’s not without good reason that these are common topics, but the diversity of this unique Caribbean island avails so much for adventurous souls looking for new paths to explore.

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My time traveling to Cuba with smarTours began at the heart of the country’s biggest city – Havana. Greeted by a local guide and expert on the history of the surrounding architecture in Old Havana, we walked cobblestone streets and learned about the Spanish influence on the colonial-era buildings. I was fascinated by the information being shared, yet I couldn’t help but be distracted as I watched locals navigating their morning. A young couple walked by drinking café cubanos, carrying a newspaper and briefcase. A group of construction workers hauled materials in a wheelbarrow for a restoration project. An old man swept in the park. Each little vignette revealed a more intimate reflection about what daily life as a Cuban could look like. Capturing these moments in my photographs became a theme of how I enjoyed my travel experience.

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The next step in the journey with my travel companions brought us from Havana to the city of Sancti Spíritus, one of the oldest settlements in Cuba and the capitol of the Sancti Spíritus province. We arrived at our hotel to find it perfectly positioned on the edge of Parque Serafín Sánchez, the central park of the city and a meeting place for visitors and locals alike. Late into the evening children gleefully chased one another around a fountain positioned in the middle of the park. Nearby speakers pulsed familiar songs as karaoke patrons did their best to sing along and entertain the on looking crowd. The recent addition of Wi-Fi to the location has made it a popular spot for people to connect for a moment to search the Internet or communicate with loved ones. The pleasant warm breeze paired with a delicious Cuba Libre made for a relaxing time of reflection and people watching.

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Rich in cultural history, Cuba is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Of those, we had the pleasure of visiting Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguëy, and Trinidad. A town that thrived in the boom of the sugar cane industry, Trinidad sits adjacent to the Valley de los Ingenios and is now known for producing tobacco. Breathtakingly preserved, I found myself transcendently returning to a time when the sugar trade drove life in the colonial town. The Afro-Cuban influence can be felt and experienced through art, music, and dance in Trinidad at Palenque de los Congos Reales. The performance center exhibits centuries old traditional folklore performed to the steady beat of conga drums. Volunteers keep these stories alive while working other jobs in different fields.

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It’s without question that one of my favorite moments during my time in Cuba was visiting the home and studio of Bernardo Valeriano Casanova Fuentes – ceramic artist based in Camagüey. He spoke only a few words, instead allowing his son to share his story, as he attentively formed piece after piece at his workbench and potter’s wheel. In a matter of ten minutes, Bernardo produced a diverse collection of artifacts from single slab of clay. His property was modest, well lived in, and beautiful. It wasn’t flashy or showy, but encapsulated the sustainable life he has found doing what his loves everyday.

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Cuba has something to offer to all kinds of visitors – classic car enthusiasts, cigar aficionados, history buffs. More than anything, I found for myself that the daily life of the Cuban people was the most intriguing and beautiful facet to my visit.

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Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog and check out check out smarTour’s The Best of Cuba tour.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

I was eighteen when I began working at a locally owned café in the suburbs of Seattle. The modest eatery was the byproduct of two passionate foodies – Angela and Miriam. The latter, a Cuban immigrant, ran the day-to-day operations of the shop. Memories of my midday shifts are peppered with “Cuban” sandwiches and masterfully crafted cortaditos, pre-sweetened espresso shots topped with a small pour of steamed milk. I vividly recall listening to Buena Vista Social Club on repeat and asking Miriam what the musicians were singing about. Her reply – “Home.”

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

It was moments like these that gave rise to my fascination with Cuban culture. (And, the reason I said “yes” to the invitation to visit Cuba with smarTours).

When arriving in Havana, it is immediately apparent that you are in one of the most unique places in all of Latin America. Pristinely kept vintage automobiles navigate the streets, often taxiing visitors and locals alike from destination to destination. Brilliantly colored colonial buildings line the city plazas, seemingly untouched from their construction. Large billboards proclaiming “Viva la Revolución!” are painted with portraits of revolutionary Che Guevera and other political imagery and can be seen driving on the highway.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

There are few places or things, if any, which feel “modern” in the entire country. It’s this resourcefulness that has come to characterize so much of the world’s perspective of what Cuba is like.

Visiting Cuba in the off-season (summer) made for an especially pleasant trip to someone who likes to avoid crowds at all costs while traveling. Instead of having to maneuver through throngs of tourists at Almacenes de San José, the famous open-air craft market at the port of Havana, it’s the vendors selling their goods that will enliven your shopping experience. Here you can find every kind of leather good, carved wooden cigar holder, or piece of art you could desire. A portrait of American author Ernest Hemingway stamped on handmade paper caught my attention and was mine for the price of 3 CUCS, the Cuban convertible peso.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Hemingway’s stories served as additional inspiration for me to visit the largest island in the Caribbean. A man smitten by the sea, Cuba’s unspoiled waters housed game fish that would become the key character in his most famous novella – The Old Man and the Sea. Finca Vigiía – Ernest Hemingway’s home in the San Francisco de Paula ward of Havana – can be visited on nice days when the humidity doesn’t force the meticulously maintained home to be closed. The Finca is a snapshot into the author’s life. Original furniture and books remain largely unmoved; busts of animals from Hemingway’s expeditions adorn the naturally lit dining room. A nearby unnamed bar serves the most delicious cocktail in country: Coctel Vigía – a perfect blend of freshly pressed Guarapo (sugar cane, pineapple, and lemon juice) and Havana Club 7 Anos Rum garnished with sliced lime and a pineapple wedge.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Life came full circle when I had the pleasure of seeing members of the Buena Vista Social Club perform at Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro. For nearly two hours, a whole cast of performers sang songs about romance, working the sugar cane fields, and the many towns and villages across Cuba. With a cortadito in hand, I finally began to understand why “home” was so special.

AFAR - Cuba/ Ben Schuyler

Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out smarTour’s The Best of Cuba tour.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


 

When you think of South Africa, safaris and exotic wildlife come to mind, but our members are encouraging travelers to explore six additional reasons to travel to the fascinating destination of South Africa. Africa’s southernmost country offers holidaymakers a diverse selection of experiences within a close proximity, stunning natural beauty, a temperate year-round climate, welcoming local people, a strong current economic value for American tourists, and an unexpected culinary and wine scene.

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Credit: Austin Adventures

Here is just a sample of itineraries from USTOA member tour operators to explore these aspects.

Swain Destinations’ Swain’s Southern Africa itinerary explores the country’s many natural wonders. Guests will enjoy a Cape Peninsula tour, a trip to Victoria Falls, and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. Adventure seekers can white water raft on the Zambezi River and spot the Big Five at Sabi Sands. Tours of South Africa’s most famous cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg also are included in this 12-day trip. Available on select travel dates through December, 19, 2017 from $3,725 per person. www.swaindestinations.com

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 Credit: Swain Destinations

Ascend to the top of Tabletop Mountain by cable car then hike back down while on the lookout for South African wildlife during Austin Adventures’ Southern Africa – Cape Town to Kruger itinerary. Then guests can bike through the historic town of Stellenbosch stopping for a wine tasting at nearby wine estates. Whale watching, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s maximum-security prison cell, Cape Town’s Green Market Square, and kayaking to Boulder Beach’s colony of African Penguins round out this diverse trip through South Africa. The 11-day itinerary is available year-round from $8,498 per person. www.austinadventures.com

South Africa Tours - Wine Tasting (2)

 Credit: Austin Adventures

Guests on smarTours’ Cape Town & Safari Express can save $500 per person on a nine-day South African vacation. An abundance of free time in Cape Town allows travelers to explore the vibrant city at their own pace. Options include beaches, shopping, taking a cable car to the top of Tabletop Mountain, and a boat ride across Table Bay to Robben Island. Then guests will go on an unforgettable game drive in Kruger National Park to spot the Big Five and other African wildlife. Savings of $500 per person available on the following departures: October 28, 2017, March 3, March 10 and March 24, 2018. www.smartours.com

Travel with a purpose on Collette’s South Africa Impact Tour to Make a Difference itinerary. The nine-day tour gives back to the Knysna Community through a selection of volunteer opportunities in the community and in a local school. Guests also will participate in a Hippo Roller delivery helping make water more accessible to a remote South African village. The trip also includes a cable car ride to the top of Tabletop Mountain, sample of the flavor of the region during a wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and learn the local beat with a lesson on the djembe drums. Available September 1-9, 2017 from $1,349 per person. www.gocollette.com

Adventurous travelers can swim with a great white shark during go-today’s Cape Town Escape with Great White Shark Encounter. The six-day itinerary is centered around the daring encounter and allows for ample free time to explore the vibrant city of Cape Town. Available July – August 2017 from $$1299 per person after $100 per person discount with promo code SUMMER. www.go-today.com

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Credit: go-today

Tauck’s South Africa: An Elegant Adventure 12-day itinerary through South Africa is a Tauck Earth Journey offered in partnership with the nature documentary filmmakers at BBC Earth. During the tour guests will visit Boulders Beach to meet Africa’s indigenous penguins, hear a presentation by a gemologist in Johannesburg discussing the region’s role as one of the world’s leading source of diamonds, enjoy a wine-tasting dinner in the Cape Winelands, and more. This adventure is available year-round from $7,090 per person based on double occupancy. www.tauck.com

Guests looking to experience South Africa’s culinary delights can join Abercrombie & Kent’s South Africa: The Royal Portfolio Edition. The 12-day itinerary includes foraging for mussels with the Birkenhead House’s executive chef in preparation for your four-course gourmet dinner, a vertical tasting of South Africa’s premier Pinot Noirs and a private blending experience. Travelers also will visit a local family-run butchery and sample their traditional dried meat and of course spot the Big Five at Royal Malewane on Thornybush Private Game Reserve and much more. Available September 22-October 3, 2017 from $13,495 per person based on double occupancy. www.abercrombiekent.com

Discover South Africa’s Winelands region, tour the country’s most vibrant cities, and enjoy a full day Peninsula Tour during Goway Travel’s Secrets of the Cape itinerary. Scenic highlights on this trip include Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, and Robben Island. Guests also will participate in a full day safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. This 10-day trip is available on departure dates June October 31, 2017. Travelers can save $2,000 per couple on select dates. www.goway.com

Feel the power of Victoria Falls, experience the classic luxury of Rovos Rail, and marvel at three UNESCO World Heritage Sites while on AHI Travel’s Southern Africa – Luxury Safaris, Rovos Rail and Cape Town itinerary. Guests also will have the opportunity for morning and afternoon game drives at Thornybush Nature Reserve, Chobe National Park and Hwange National Park. Now until July 25, 2017, guests can save $500 per person on various 2018 depatures from January-March 2018 and September-October 2018. Available from $6,745 per person including the discount. www.ahitravel.com

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 Credit: AHI Travel

Join SITA World Tours on its Affordable South Africa In-depth tour to discover South African favorites like an open-vehicle game drive at the Greater Kruger Park, city tours of Cape Town and Johannesburg, and the famous Cape Peninsula. During the itinerary guests also will feel the energy of the “Rainbow Nation” as they take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain then drive by the Malay Quarter, city center, Company Gardens and Castle of Good Hope. Travelers can book by August 31, 2017 and save $200 per couple. Departure dates available June 28 – December 19, 2017. Prices from $3,175 per person based on double occupancy. www.sitatours.com

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 Credit: SITA World Tours

Adventures by Disney’s 10-day South Africa Destination package. This African adventure gives families a chance to take a three-day safari through the Kapama Game Reserve, hike in the Featherbed Nature Reserve, and more. Guests also can meet the African penguins at the Cape of Good Hope. Departure dates are available from October 7, 2017 to Dec. 22, 2018. Prices start at $7,099 per adult and $6,719 per child. www.adventuresbydisney.com

South Africa Tours - Adventure by Disney

 Credit: Adventures by Disney

Marvel at South Africa’s natural wonders on Globus’ 12-day Splendors of South Africa & Victoria Falls itinerary. Table Mountain, Cape Point Nature Reserve, and Victoria Falls are some of the stunning sites that await guests during this trip. Guests also will visit Bo-Kaap, an area founded by former slaves to learn more about their culture and visit Johannesburg’s unforgettable Apartheid Museum and more. Available January 7 and February 11, 2018. Visit www.globusjourneys.com for pricing information.

Monograms’ South African Sojourn brings travelers on an adventure to some of South Africa’s most iconic sites. Guests will stay in a lodge on a private game reserve while heading out multiple times in search of Africa’s Big Five. Additionally, guests will visit the beautiful Cape Point Nature Reserve home to Cape Point, the southwesternmost point on the continent and Boudlers Beach to see a colony of African penguins. Available for daily departures from October to December 2017 excluding September from $2,399 per person. www.monograms.com

CroisiEurope America’s new ship, African Dream, will be inaugurated December 2017 and will offer a nine-day journey on its Southern Africa: Travel to the Ends of the Earth itinerary. The land, cruise and safari trip will feature land and water safaris, and the opportunity to hear a local storyteller as they entrance guests with the legends of the region. Travelers also will enjoy a traditional dinner under the African skies on Impalila Island. This trip starts at $6,319 per person and is available in December 2017 and various dates throughout 2018. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com

Inspiration awaits guests on African Travel Inc.’s In the Footsteps of Mandela itinerary. The eight-day journey through the vibrant “Rainbow Nation” takes travelers through the history of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa with a collection of moving encounters with the people and places he touched. While exploring Nelson Mandela’s legacy, guests also will see the award-winning museum at Liliesleaf, once a secret nerve center of the liberation movement, along with the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The trip will end with a safari in Kruger Private Reserve. This itinerary is available from $3,095 per person with departure dates throughout 2017. www.africantravelinc.com

Shamwari Game Reserve Guest Experience

 Credit: African Travel

Worldwide Traveler is taking guests on a culinary trip through South Africa on its Wine and Dine in South Africa itinerary. Foodies will enjoy a Cape Malay Cooking Safari before heading to the Winelands Region where they will taste wine from local farms Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Guests also will take a Franschhoek Wine Tram Tour and includes visits to Table Mountain, Robben Island and Kruger National Park. The 13-day adventure is available through December 31, 2017, this culinary trip starts at $1,419 per person land only. www.worldwidetraveler.com

Swim with great white sharks off the South African coast for a bucket list worthy experience during Great Value Vacations’ Coastal Adventure: Shark Cage Diving & Safari. Offering a wide variety of excursions during the 12-night itinerary, guests will visit wineries, stroll through the streets of Cape Town, whale watch and do a shark cage diving tour and safari. This mix of South Africa’s best land and sea activities is available from $3,963 per person for various departure dates throughout 2017. www.greatvaluevacations.com

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 Credit: Great Value Vacations

Cox & Kings, The Americas offers guests a chance to experience the luxurious side of South Africa on its Southern Africa: Winelands, Safari & Falls private journey. Explore Cape Town, set between two oceans and stunning mountains, before setting out on a game drive in Kruger National Park. Guests also will enjoy a private tour of Victoria Falls and a thrilling helicopter flight along the Zambezi River and over the cascades. Guests can save $1,000 per couple on this itinerary for bookings made September 1 – 30, 2017 with travel completed by March 31, 2018. Prices from $7,345 per couple land only. www.coxandkingsusa.com

South Africa Tours - Cox & Kings

 Credit: Cox & Kings, The Americas

Travelers can soak in the natural beauty of South Africa’s most iconic sites during Ritz Tours’ South Africa Highlights & Safari Experience. Guests will enjoy the splendor of Table Mountain, panoramic views of Cape Town and the country’s dramatic coastline. A trip to the Entabeni Private Nature Reserve will showcase the conservatory’s multitude of landscapes including grassy plains, wetlands and ravines. The trip will conclude with a trip to Johannesburg to learn about the city’s history at sites like the Apartheid Museum or Constitution Hill and the Old Fort Prison Complex. This nine-day trip starts at $1,900 per person and is available on departure dates through the end of 2017. www.ritztours.com

South Africa Tours - Ritz Tours

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


By: Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

 

The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) recognizes the power of giving back, learning from different cultures and using travel as a tool for transformation. USTOA is proud to be a Strategic Association Partner of Tourism Cares, a non-profit organization that works to protect and restore attractions and destinations around the world. Last year, hundreds of industry professionals gathered to restore, refurbish and replant at four national parks throughout the country. This year, Tourism Cares will be spearheading urban renewal projects to revive tourist sites in Oakland, CA, Detroit, MI, Providence, RI and Toronto, ON.

Similarly, many of our Tour Operator members offer cultural immersion programs for travelers that allow them to participate in community-driven efforts as well as different kinds of transformational travel experiences.

The ME to WE Foundation, a charitable organization, works with a number of USTOA tour operator members including Uniworld River Cruises, Lion World Travel, and Insight Vacations to help travelers leave a positive footprint and give back with their purchase.

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Credit: Insight Vacations

Uniworld River Cruises offers guests the chance to travel with a purpose during its ME to WE India Pre-Trip Extension. Travelers will work alongside local families in the Rajasthan region on a community development project in partnership with WE Charity. The extension also includes a guided walk through the Aravalli Mountain Range and daily yoga sessions. This five-day extension is available on Uniworld’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges 13-day river cruise on various dates throughout January, February, March, September, October, November and December 2017 and 2018. Prices range from $2,075 – $2,850 per person for the pre-tip extension only. www.Uniworld.com

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 Credit: Uniworld River Cruises

During the ME to WE Volunteer Adventure to Kenya, Lion World Travel and ME to WE offer travelers a chance to make a difference in the Maasai Mara community. Participants will help build a new school with the area’s indigenous people and join the women of the Maasai and Kispigis communities to learn the craft of beading. This tradition is passed down through generations, empowering them to earn a sustainable income and provide for their families. Additionally, ME to WE donates 50% of its net profits to WE Charity, meaning every trip contributes to international development efforts in the community guests visit. Available year-round and can be booked as an extension to another Lion World Travel itinerary in east Africa or as a custom trip. Prices from $2195 per adult. www.lionworldtravel.com

Transformational Travel- Kenya

 Credit: Lion World Travel

Insight Vacations and ME to WE partner to take travelers on a transformational journey to India is the ME to WE Volunteer Adventure to India extension to Insight’s Imperial Rajasthan itinerary. Guests will dive deeper into the rural culture of Rajasthan during the four-day excursion as they work with a local community in Udaipur on a development project like laying the bricks for a school or digging a new clean water system, try your hand at age-old traditional crafts like tie-dying and block printing and much more. Travelers also will explore the Aravalli Mountain Range and participate in local sightseeing excursions. Available year-round from $1,375 per adult. www.insightvacations.com

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 Credit: Insight Vacations

Transformational travel can take many different forms, and our Tour Operator members provide guests with truly immersive local experiences that enhance a trip with deeper insights in cultures and customs. For example, during Trafalgar’s Secrets of Myanmar trip travelers take part in a traditional lamp lighting ceremony at the Shwedagon Pagoda, and get to know three generations of family members over a home-cooked meal in Bagan. Guests also can participate in a hands-on cooking class using vegetables they gather for a traditional lunch. Available May 31 – June 10, September 27 – October 7, November 29 – December 9, December 20 – 30 2017 starting from $3,150 per person. www.trafalgar.com

Trafalgar - Transformational Travel

Credit: Trafalgar

Guests of Tauck’s Essence of Japan itinerary will go beyond learning about Japanese history and culture and will join in as they learn how to make sushi, and attend workshops on Japanese flower arranging, ceramics and glass-blowing. The trip also includes a traditional tea ceremony, a sumo wrestling demonstration and a sake tasting. The 13-day immersion into traditional Japanese culture starts at $9,990 per person based on double occupancy, plus airfare. Available in May, June, August, September, October, and November 2017. www.tauck.com

Transformational Travel

Credit: Tauck

Visit a local farming village in rural Hoi An to learn traditional farming techniques or go paddling in bamboo basket boats on Wendy Wu Tours’ Vietnam & Cambodia 21-Day Discovery Tour. Guests looking to open their minds to new skills also will get the chance to learn how to make a fishing net before staying in a local homestay in Ben Tre. This itinerary starts at $5,090 per person (air-inclusive) and is available in September, October and November 2017 and throughout 2018. www.wendywutours.com

Adventure meets education on Quark Expeditions’ Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the seventh Continent itinerary. Guests will explore the Antarctic Peninsula and learn about its environment and wildlife from on-board lecturers and specialists. Camping, kayaking, hiking, snowshoeing and more is available in Antarctica during this trip to the southern tip of the world. Discover the seventh continent from November 2017 to March 2018 from $5,595, with up to 25% discount on select voyages. www.quarkexpeditions.com.

Travelers can put a spring in their step during Brendan Vacations’ The Irish Experience itinerary as they traverse north and south through Ireland. Educational and interactive, guests will learn the history of Belfast from a local Cabbie before visiting the Cliffs of Moher, and the UNESCO World Heritage site at the Giant’s Causeway. A city tour of Dublin and a scenic drive along the Ring of Kerry also await guests on this 11-day trip. Available July 26 and 30, August 13, September 24 and 25, October 1, 8 and 15, 2017 from $2,150 USD per person. www.brendanvacations.com

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


By Intrepid Travel

 

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There is a certain allure to Colombia that is undeniable. Its rough past paired with the vibrant nightlife of Medellin, graffiti lined streets of Bogota and romantic colonial vibes of Cartegena have placed Colombia on everyone`s must-see list for 2017. But one destination that is often overlooked (and shouldn`t be) is Colombia`s Cocora Valley. Nestled away in the Eje Cafetero region – a coffee growing region, this natural cloud forest is home to the world`s tallest wax palm trees reaching 60m (196 ft.) tall, offers hours of hiking trails and is an entry point for travelers looking to explore the Los Nevados National Natural Park.

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Just a quick jeep ride outside of the picturesque town of Salento, the Cocora Valley is an increasingly popular paradise for travelers looking to escape the bigger cities and explore the rolling hills of the Colombian Andes. Boasting altitudes between 1,800 to 2,400 meters (5,900 – 7,874 ft.), the main hiking loop can take up to 6 hours and will guide you through the cloud forest to some of the best vantage points in the Valley. The combination of the scenery and altitude in this protected area is sure to take your breath away. It is best to start your days early and prepare for rain and muddy trails as the climate here can be quite temperamental.

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After a few short hours on the trail you`ll arrive at Acaime, an unexpected highlight of the hike. Featuring a small estate, this hummingbird sanctuary makes the perfect place to break during your day and grab a snack – the hot chocolate and cheese here is a delicious treat and come highly recommended. Hummingbirds are difficult to snap a perfect photo of because of their impressive speed, so put your camera down and just enjoy the views before continuing onwards.

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After trekking a few more hours along the narrow trails, balancing carefully across river crossings and wooden suspension bridges and climbing the steepest section of the hike, you`ll reach the best views the valley has to offer. The lush green rolling mountains are dotted with hundreds of spindly wax palms for as far as the eye can see. The clouds sit heavy in the air and roll in as they please, adding an element of mystery to this already dramatic landscape. Take your time walking back to the entry gates, this is the only place in the world you can find views like this so enjoy them for as long as you can.

 

You can escape to the Cocora Valley on Intrepid Travel`s 9-day Café Colombia tour.

 

About Intrepid Travel

We’ve been running small group adventures for over 25 years, so we’ve got a fair few travel tales to share. Likes: exploring, getting lost, eating, drinking, hiking, driving, flying, sailing, dancing, meeting new people, getting outside of our comfort zone. Dislikes: staying still for too long.


Israel is known as a historic and religious hub, but this diverse destination also offers awe-inspiring landscapes, adventure and a growing culinary and cosmopolitan culture in cities like Tel Aviv. Whether you’re interested in following in the footsteps of Jesus in Jerusalem, taste local flavors during lunch at a kibbutz, or float in the buoyant salt waters of the Dead Sea, now is the time to uncover everything the diverse destination of Israel has to offer travelers.

Jerusalem Old City Skyline

Credit: Insight Vacations

The following is a sample of itineraries from USTOA member tour operators to explore Israel’s past and present.

Tauck’s Israel and Jordan itinerary brings travelers on a journey to Israel’s most iconic sites, including the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and more. Guests also will cruise on the Sea of Galilee aboard a working replica of a 2,000-year-old fishing boat and will explore Israel and Jordan’s antiquities guided by local experts and Tauck Directors. This 14-day journey is available for various departures in September, October, November 2017 and throughout 2018 from $5,790 per person based on double occupancy. www.tauck.com
Jerusalem - Old CIty view

Credit: Tauck

Goway’s The Great Israel Adventure offers travelers an adventurous escape with the opportunity to partake in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem, kayak down the River of Jordan, a 4×4 Jeep ride at the Golan Heights and more. Guests also will travel to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, where they can enjoy the mineral-rich waters. The itinerary includes visits to the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s New and Old City and the Jewish Quarter. This 10-day trip is available July 18, 2017 and December 12, 2017 starting at $2,578 per person. www.goway.com

Jerusalem - preferred pic of IGTO

Credit: Goway

Globus’ Journey Through the Holy Land nine-day itinerary brings travelers on a faith-based tour, through some of Christianity’s most important sites. Journey through the city of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his arrest, and the Upper Room, where Jesus and his disciples had the Last Supper. Guest also will visit the village of Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine and more. Available May through November 2017, from $2,442 per person. www.globusfaith.com

Discover some of the most significant sites in the ancient world during Collette’s Israel-A Journey to the Holy Land 10-day trip. Bethlehem, Nazareth, Caesarea and the oldest city in the world, the ruins of Jericho, await history buffs as well as UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Baha’i Shrine and Gardens, Acre, and Jerusalem’s Old City. Guests also will taste local flavors during lunch at a kibbutz, a communal settlement, and enjoy a dinner at Jerusalem’s most popular restaurant. Departures are available September 6, October 25, November 8 and November 29, 2017, and February-October 2018 from $2,249 per person. www.gocollette.com

Go Ahead’s The Wonders of Ancient Israel brings guests on a tour of the cosmopolitan Tel Aviv before traveling to holy lands that set the foundations for many faiths, including one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem. In Jerusalem travelers will visit the Holocaust History Museum and the Israel Museum. The trip also includes visits to Mount Zion and the Dead Sea. The nine-day trip is available for departures throughout 2017 and 2018 from $1,839. www.goaheadtours.com

Travelers are treated to a Friday night Shabbat dinner in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv during Insight Vacations’ Israel Discovery itinerary. Guests also will visit important religious sites like King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, and journey through the ever-changing landscapes of the Jordan Valley, past ancient Jericho to take a dip in the dense salt waters of the Dead Sea. Available from $3,050 per person on various dates throughout 2017. www.insightvacations.com

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

Credit: Insight Vacations

Guests on Abercrombie & Kent’s Israel: Crossroads of History itinerary will explore Biblical and historic sites in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, and will enjoy a private cruise on the Sea of Galilee. Guests will learn about life in these iconic cities and will visit iconic sites like the Sermon on the Mount. This eight-day trip is available on various dates throughout 2017 and 2018 from $5,695 per person. www.abercrombiekent.com

IL011538Credit: Abercrombie & Kent USA

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

 

Safety and security have always been the top priorities for The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and our members.  The unparalleled knowledge and relationships built within each destination our members take guests help build engaging and memorable experiences, but also ensures an informed and swift reaction should an emergency situation occur before, during, or after a scheduled trip. Keeping passengers safe while communicating necessary information creates a priceless peace of while traveling.

As avid travelers and global citizens, the presidents of our tour operator members are laser-focused on the security and safety of all travelers, both at home and abroad. We’ve commissioned a couple of them to share their thoughts on how traveling with a tour operator provides security, knowledge and peace of mind to travelers in today’s sometimes uncertain world climate.

 

Here’s what they had to say:

 

Stephen Birkett, Co-President & Co-Owner of Premier World Discovery:

One of the main reasons travelers traditionally select tours is to have all the unknowns taken care of for them. Hotel selection, meals, sightseeing and transportation are a big part of what a tour operator provides. Given the current world climate with safety concerns, the tour operator is again taking care of another unknown aspect of travelling to another country. Obviously, we cannot cover every scenario regarding safety, but we are not going to take passengers into questionable areas and we have proven experience in the places we are travelling to.

Additionally, on all of our tours we have an experienced guide leading the group and their experience should provide that peace of mind that travelers seek and in case of emergencies they are right there to help and guide.

Ian Swain, President and Owner of Swain Destinations:

Last month, a cyclone barreled through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Islands. As soon as the cyclone made the forecast, our response team began preemptively rearranging itineraries, hotel arrangements, experiences and flights for active and upcoming travelers, to ensure their journeys would be uninterrupted and safe. This is the benefit you receive when working with travel company members of USTOA.

Travel companies like Swain have teams on the ground that intimately know a destination, allowing them to proactively address any travel challenges. Their destination network becomes your network, providing the security and peace of mind to truly enjoy your experience. Swain Destinations has spent over 30 years curating trips, acquiring destination knowledge, and setting up the support infrastructure and the proactive policies to effectively communicate with our travelers.  Regardless of the current world climate, traveling with a travel company instills confidence that you always know who to contact in any event.


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

 

Summer is around the corner but there’s still time to book an unforgettable summer family vacation! With 80% of USTOA tour operator members offering multi-generational/family travel, travelers looking to get away with the ones they love the most have plenty of options. Here are a few itineraries spanning the globe that are sure to please even the pickiest of family members.

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Credit: Austin Adventures

Families looking to cross something off their bucket list can journey to Peru on Adventure by Disney’s Peru and Machu Picchu Family Vacation itinerary. Adventure awaits on this nine-day journey through Peru visiting the Peruvian Andes, river rafting down the Urubamba River, and of course, a tour through the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Delicious Peruvian food and local experiences like a visit to the local market are also available on this trip. Departure dates are available from June 7, 2017 to December 24, 2017 starting at $5,129 per adult/ $4,879 per child. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Families can join Austin Adventures on the six-day journey through the Land of the Midnight Sun with its Alaska Family Vacation package. Kids and adults can pan for gold, kayak through Resurrection Bay and hike to the Harding Ice Field during their summer break this year. Austin Adventures encourages families to enjoy America’s last frontier while also connecting and creating memories as a family. Available on various dates June-August 2017 and starts at $3,698 per person and $2,958 to $3,328 per child. www.austinadventures.com

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Credit: Austin Adventures

Tauck Bridges offers families the chance to discover the history of Western Europe during its eight-day Castles & Kings: London to Paris itinerary. Guests are invited to kick off their vacation with a classic double-decker bus ride through London before embarking on a speedboat adventure along the River Thames. A visit to the infamous Château de Versailles, Musée du Louvre and more await families in Paris. Departures are available June-August 2017 starting at $4,630 per person. www.tauck.com

Families looking for a luxury safari experience will enjoy Abercrombie & Kent’s Family Tanzania Safari itinerary. Guests will participate in game drives in Tanzania’s greatest wildlife refuges while staying in family-friendly safari lodges and a luxury tented safari camp. A family treasure hunt through a local Tanzanian market and a visit with a Maasai village elder will also delight family members of all ages. The eight-day Luxury Small Group Journey is limited to 18 guests and is available for various departure dates July and August 2017 starting at $6,495 per person. www.abercrombiekent.com

Summer vacation already booked? Travelers can join a once-in-a-lifetime winter vacation trip to the southern tip of the world on Lindblad Expeditions’ Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent. Families will spend six days on the world’s most remote continent enjoying almost 24 hours of daylight, perfect for admiring huge icebergs and photographing thousands of Gentoo penguins with photo tips from a National Geographic photographer. Guests also have the chance to see a 40-ton whale surface off the bow of the ship. Expeditions available in January, February, November and December from $13,760 per person. www.expeditions.com

What are you waiting for? Click here and plan your dream vacation now!

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

 


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

 

Whether it’s trekking through the Himalayas, sea kayaking in Croatia or zip lining through Costa Rica, a recent survey of USTOA tour operator members showed that more than half of the membership offers adventure itineraries diverse enough to fit all levels of thrill-seeking travelers.

Ready to get your adrenaline pumping? Be inspired by these adventurous itineraries from USTOA members…

 

Perillo’s Learning Journeys offers an otherworldly journey to some of the most sacred sites in the Hindu religion on its India Himalayan Spiritual Adventure-Source of The Ganges. Travelers will trek through the Himalayas on a quest to Gomukh at the Gangotri glacier, the source of The Holy River Ganges. Daily morning yoga sessions and a pilgrimage to the Badrinath Temple also await guests on this itinerary. Starting at $2,850 per person, this 17-day spiritual journey is available in May, June and September 2017. www.learningjourneys.com

Perillo's Learning Journey India Himalayan Spiritual Adventure-Source of The Ganges

Guests climb high into the Costa Rican forest for their choice of a “Hanging Bridges” tour or a zip line course during Collette’s nine-day Tropical Costa Rica trip. Also available is the chance to explore the world’s largest butterfly gardens and participate in a nature walk through the Monteverde Cloud Forest surrounded by trees up to 100 feet tall. This South American adventure is available on select dates June-November, 2017 from $1,749 per person. www.gocollette.com

Travelers on Grand American Adventures’ Alaskan Highlights itinerary will discover some of Alaska’s most enchanting destinations including Denali National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Guests also will participate in a guided wildlife cruise through Kenali Fjords National Park and can see a dog sledding demonstration and the Talkeetna Ranger Station to perhaps taste a local specialty, reindeer sausage. Available on select dates in June-August 2017, this 11-day trip starts at $2,807 (after 10% discount). www.grandamericanadventures.com

Grand American Adventures’ Alaskan Highlights

Adventure seekers can head east for Wendy Wu Tours’ China Trailblazer itinerary. On this expansive 21-day trip, guests will hike along the Jinshanling Section of the Great Wall of China and through the picturesque Bifeng Gorge to visit the Duijangyan Panda Base. Additionally, travelers will come face to face with the infamous Terracotta Warriors and enjoy daily Tai Chi sessions. Available for select departures in April, May, September and October starting at $5,590 per person. www.wendywutours.com

Why drive through the Irish countryside when you can cycle through the incredible landscape on VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations’ Cycling Ireland’s South: Counties Waterford and Tipperary? This easy/moderate biking journey immerses travelers in the spectacular cycling routes around Dungarvan Bay and along quiet country roads through quaint villages. Travelers can save $400 per person on the June 3 departure of this 10-day itinerary. Additional departures May to October 2017 starting at $3,395, including international airfare. www.vbt.com

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations’ Cycling Ireland's South: Counties Waterford and Tipperary

Discover the adventure of Botswana like never before during Abercrombie & Kent’s Botswana Safari in Style. During this luxury safari guests will cruise along the Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe), observing aquatic life from massive hippos to tiny frogs. Travelers will stay in intimate camps and lodges and get tips on capturing images of the “Big Five” during a private lecture from a professional photographer. Available on select departure dates throughout 2017, rates start at $6,995 per person. www.abercrombiekent.com

Adventurous travelers can explore the winter wonderland of Finland on Alexander+Roberts’ Finland’s Lapland – Winter Adventures in the Arctic Circle trip. Guests will spend four nights above the Arctic Circle in a private log cabin with attached glass igloo, enjoying outdoor activities such as dog-sledding, nighttime reindeer sleigh rides, and snowmobiling in search of the Northern Lights. Starting at $5,899 per person, the itinerary is available from October 30, 2017 to March 28, 2018. www.alexanderroberts.com

Alexander + Roberts Finland’s Lapland – Winter Adventures in the Arctic Circle

Avanti Destinations’ five-day Croatia: Split Adventure excursion offers travelers the chance to explore the city of Split through exhilarating activities such as sea kayaking, river rafting and zip lining tours. Available to book now through September 15, 2017 for travel from May 1 to October 15, 2017. Rates start at $845 per person, based on double occupancy. www.avantidestinations.com

Avanti Destinations’ Croatia: Split Adventure excursion

Escape the summer heat on Holland America Line’s 10-day Denali Alaskan cruise. Experience salmon fishing along the Alaskan port of Ketchikan, be enraptured by the sights of Denali National Park, cruise Glacier Bay’s ice-studded fjords, and more. Available on select dates from May to September 2017, rates start at $999 per person. www.hollandamerica.com

Chase the Northern Lights by husky sled, reindeer safari or horse sleigh ride on Europe Express’ action-packed Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Winter Escape. For four nights, guests will ski, snowshoe or sled through snowy forests and stay in a glass igloo for Aurora Borealis spotting. Available from November 2017 through April 2018, prices start at $1,599 per person. www.europeexpress.com

Europe Express’ Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Winter Escape

Traverse to the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain on Goway’s seven-day Kilimanjaro Climb – Marangu Route expedition. The journey features treks through the rainforest and awe-inspiring views of waterfalls before the final ascent to Uhuru Peak. During the demanding climb, trekkers will stay in dormitory style huts scaling almost 20,000-feet. Available throughout 2017, prices start from $2,155 per person. www.goway.com

Discover Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand on two wheels with Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Indochina 13-day itinerary. On this trip through Indochina, riders will cycle 37 miles each day along sites such as the Mekong Delta and Khun Dan Dam, Thailand’s largest dam. Available on various dates from April to July 2017, rates start at $2,230 per person. www.intrepidtravel.com

Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Indochina

Explore the remote country of Greenland by water on Quark Expedition’s East Greenland: Northern Lights 14-day itinerary. Guests have the opportunity to visit Northeast Greenland National Park and either hike through the Arctic tundra or journey Greenland’s waters via kayak. Prices start at $8,395 per person. An additional discount of up to $3,500 per person is available on the August 16, 2017 departure. www.quarkexpeditions.com

Quark Expedition’s East Greenland: Northern Lights

Families looking to spend quality time together are invited to experience Austin Adventures’ six-day Yellowstone Grand Teton Family Vacation Trip Solar Eclipse Departure. The trip includes views of the solar eclipse, whitewater rafting down the Snake River, a visit to Old Faithful, and a dip in a secret swimming hole. Families will also get the chance to spot a variety of wildlife, including moose and bald eagles. This special departure is available August 20, 2017 and rates start at $3,098 per adult and up to $2,788 per child. www.austinadventures.com

Austin Adventures’ Yellowstone Grand Teton Family Vacation Trip Solar Eclipse Departure

Head south during Adventures by Disney’s 10-day South Africa Destination package. This African adventure gives families a chance to take a three-day safari through the Kapama Game Reserve, hike in the Featherbed Nature Reserve, and more. Guests can also see African penguins at the Cape of Good Hope. Departure dates are available from June 10, 2017 to December 23, 2017. Prices start at $8,679 per adult and $8,249 per child. www.adventuresbydisney.com

Adventures by Disney’s South Africa Destination

Travelers looking for Canadian adventure can find it on Tauck’s Bugaboos Adventure Featuring Heli-Exploring. Invented in the Canadian Rockies by Arthur Tauck Jr., Heli-Exploring brings guests by helicopter to Bugaboo Lodge, high in the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia to participate in daily helicopter-assisted hiking excursions. Passengers also will discover the town of Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta. Departures are available in July and August 2017 from $5,990 per person based on double occupancy plus airfare. www.tauck.com

 

Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.