Is Machu Picchu Closing?

The “Lost City of the Incas” is arguably one of the most awe-inspiring sites in the world. A World Wonder, I’ve been twice and it remains on my list – I’m not sure it will ever be removed!

Machu Picchu overloads the senses. Breathtaking views. A spiritual tranquility for quiet reflection and introspection. Llama gardeners working and entertaining. An adrenaline high felt after the achievement of hiking the Inca Trail. Sense of marvel at the engineering, astronomical, architectural, and agricultural accomplishments of the Incan people. Whatever your appetite, Machu Picchu is sure to fuel it.

It’s been in the news lately about limits being placed on visitors to Machu Picchu. New restrictions plus previous closures of the trail have resulted in a bit of misinformation.

Unfortunately, Machu Picchu has become an endangered site. Since it’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Peruvian government has enacted many rules for visiting the site to try and mitigate the effects of thousands of visitors tromping about.

Advanced planning is a must. Permits to hike the trail are extremely limited and sell out months in advance. The number of admissions to the citadel are also limited, but with more availability than hiking permits. These too sell out during busy times, so it is well worth the effort to plan and purchase tickets in advance.

For several years, the trail has been closed for the month of February, to give it a “rest” and perform maintenance, but the citadel is open year-round.

Beginning July 1 of this year, the government has added additional limits. Admissions to the citadel will be timed and visitors will no longer be able to wander at will – no off-path traffic. The requirement for an official guide will be enforced and re-entry will not be permitted, unless you purchase a second ticket. They will also be enforcing walking stick, luggage, and other rules that have previously been haphazardly enforced.

Bottom line, the site is not closing – but to preserve this legacy, the restrictions are getting tighter.

Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list?

Venice - Living Legend or Tourist Trap?

Venezia, is a love it or hate it destination. OK, maybe love/hate is a little strong. But, there doesn’t seem to be much middle of the road opinion. Everyone I know who has been to Venice either can’t wait to return, or swear they’ll never go back.

I am a lover. I find it captivating. The history is fascinating – from its Roman origins, through its cruel medieval era, its excellence as a thriving Renaissance period, to designated UNESCO heritage site. Art and architecture to die for – Piazza San Marco, Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Italian opera houses. Not to mention the entire city is built over water. Plus, it’s a foodie heaven – Northern Italian cooking and wines, even if cuttlefish isn’t your thing. (Cuttlefish is both a required and an acquired taste!)

The best part about Venice is getting lost. It is so easy to get lost. The city has no apparent street plan. The streets are narrow (the narrowest is 21 inches wide!), unmarked and intertwined with the infinite canals. If you move just a couple of streets away from the piazza, you’ll find small shops, cafes, gelato stands, and restaurants all intermingled and with a local flavor, as opposed to the chain stores found near St. Mark’s Square. They crisscross and meander and before you know it, you are lost. People are friendly and helpful to point you back in the right direction. The city is small enough that no matter how lost you get, you aren’t too far from home.

Yes, the city struggles with the balance of kitschy tourism and cultural icon. Some days the Piazza San Marco can become so crowded with tourists that there isn’t even room for the resident pigeons!  But, the touristy things are also part of its charm. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, being a tourist isn’t a bad thing. We travel to experience and sometimes we want to experience what we’ve read about or heard about from others. i.e. gondola rides, crossing (and posing on) the Rialto Bridge, and coffee on the Piazza San Marcos to name a few.

Example: my friends and I decided to take a coffee break and indulge in some pigeon watching at Piazza San Marco. Café choices abounded around the plaza. We decided on one that wasn’t too crowded and inquired about pricing and seating. Price for an espresso inside – two euros. Price for an espresso outside on the plaza? Twelve euros. We paid!

Are you ready to return to Venice or experience it for the first time? Or is it your idea of a tourist trap?

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Exchanging Currency

It used to be that local currency was the only acceptable means of payment. And the primary way of obtaining that currency was to exchange cash or traveler’s checks at local banks, airport exchange kiosks, or hotels while on the road, or purchasing foreign currency prior to departure. Getting the best exchange rate was the traveler’s version of a scavenger hunt.

Today’s options are not only more convenient and safer, but cheaper. Debit and credit cards reduce the need to carry large sums of cash, allow travelers to make purchases and obtain cash at or nearly close to the interbank exchange rate, and eliminate the guessing game of how much foreign currency you’ll need.

Debit cards are an excellent way to get cash.  ATM machines are open 24/7, they issue money in local currency, and the exchange rates are close to wholesale, much better than hotel, airport, and even local bank rates. Call your bank before you leave to notify them of your travels and ensure your PIN number will work outside the country. Also, get the phone number to call from outside the US if your card is lost or stolen.  Know your daily limits and don’t wait until you are out of cash to go to an ATM.  They run out of money and break down in other countries, also!

For larger purchases, hotel charges, etc. consider a credit card. This cuts down on the amount of cash you’ll need and there are some purchase protections offered with some cards. Notify the card issuer before you travel so they will be aware that you will be making charges from another country. Use a card issued by a company that doesn’t charge “currency exchange fees” such as your local credit union or Capital One. If you don’t have such a card, choose the one with the lowest rate.

I recommend traveling with a VISA or MasterCard, as they are the most widely accepted. AMEX sometimes has challenges – especially with small local merchants. And Discover is not internationally accepted. If you prefer AMEX or Discover, have a VISA or MC for back up.

My personal MO is to take a debit card for cash and a major credit card for everything else. I don’t purchase currency in advance. I hit an ATM at the airport upon arrival for local currency. If there isn’t an ATM at the airport, I buy a minimal amount of currency at the exchange booth and find an ATM or bank later to supplement, as needed.

When do you exchange currency?

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Chilean Wine Travel

So much wine and so little time. Wine and travel go together like yin and yang, Rocky and Bullwinkle, or peanut butter and jelly. Part of the adventure of travel is learning and trying local cuisine. And shouldn’t that experimentation include enjoying the local wines? I love wine tasting. It’s not just trying new wines, but visiting wineries and meeting with winemakers’ is a wonderful way to learn more about the local people, history and culture. One of my favorite wine tasting destinations is Chile.

Chile is one of the top wine producing countries in the world. The hot summers and cool ocean breezes make it an ideal grape growing region. And like California, France, Australia and other wine producers, there are numerous wine regions and micro-climates that influence the type of wine produced.

That unique viticulture combined with it's incredible sites and activities and Chile is a perfect destination for wine lovers.

Would your wine group like to do some in-depth wine exploration? Just like the San Francisco Bay Area, Santiago is close to numerous regions and wineries. The Maipo Valley, Aconcagua Valley, Casablanca Wine Region, Colchagua Valley to name a few are all within easy driving distance of the Chilean capital. Whether you want to stay in Santiago and day-trip it to various wine districts, or spend a few days in each region on an in-depth tour, your wine group will find lots to love and sip!

Have more adventure on your mind or want to experience more of this diverse country? Chile has something for everyone.

Are you a ski group? Top rated ski resorts in the Andes will keep you busy during the day and your group can enjoy Chilean wines après ski.  Where else can you ski on active volcanos? And bonus - you can ski year-round, since Chile’s winter is our summer!

Do the wilds of Patagonia appeal to you? Whether it’s jaw-dropping beauty or an adventurous spirit, the icy glaciers plunging into emerald lakes and the Andes' dramatic peaks ascending into swirling clouds and mist will attract Spend a day getting acquainted with the quirky Magellanic penguins congregating on Isla Magdalena, hike or bike the forests of Tierra del Fuego or kayak through the Lake District. And a lakeview balcony is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a busy day.

Is your group interested in history and culture? Chile’s cultural scene is as diverse as it’s landscape. Check out the bohemian lifestyle of Valparaiso, explore the museums and galleries of old Santiago, learn about Chile’s state-sponsored German immigration in the Puerto Montt region. And, enjoy the region’s wine (or German beer!).

Whatever your passion, you’ll find so much to experience. And you can pair your adventure with scrumptious wine.

What part of Chile would your group like to explore?

Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to get started. Remember, we manage the details – you experience the details!

Your Dream Vacation for Free!

Would you like to experience your dream vacation for free?

A wine cruise through France? Experiencing the Australian Outback? A luxury cruise on the Mediterranean? Exploring the Great Wall?

Whatever your dream vacation is, you can travel for free… just pull a group together!

Cruise lines, hotels, and tour operators offer complimentary travel and/or credits when there is a group (the minimum varies depending on the trip, but usually 10 - 15). An expert, group travel planner can help you maximize these incentives to result in free travel.

Here are some ideas to get a group together for your dream destination:

  • Plan a vacation with friends (just for fun!)
  • Suggest a trip with your clubs or places you frequent (golf, book or wine club, yoga studio, cooking school, theatre, etc.)
  • How about a class reunion or alumni gathering at a destination other than the old campus?
  • Propose a family reunion (your family members will love you for it)

People with similar interests love to spend time together and what better way to bond than during an unforgettable vacation. Your group can share experiences wherever you want to go in the world and enjoy the activities you like to do – cooking, wine, adventure, art, sports, relaxation.

Amenities and free travel for you, the trip of a lifetime for you and your group.

Where do you want to go for your free dream vacation?

Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to get started. Remember, we manage the details – you experience the details!