Advice

June 5, 2015

6 Great Family Hikes

There are many great reasons to go hiking. Hikes are great for both physical and mental health, it’s simple to do, it’s low-maintenance, and hiking is also a great activity for kids. Hiking is a good way to get your kids off of the computer and out into nature! The best family bonding happens while everyone is unplugged and hikes are a fun and effective way to do just that. Here are six of our favorite places to hike that are perfect for all types of families.

Irazu National Park

A couple of kids gazing into the Irazu Crater

A couple of kids gazing into the Irazu Crater

A favorite from Costa Rica, the Irazu Volcano is the tallest volcano in the country. There are few trails here and they aren’t very long or arduous- typically a vehicle takes people up most of the way. These trails are very good for young kids and grandparents who may have difficulty with long hikes. The trails all offer great views of the volcano’s crater which holds an acid lake that has changed size and color over time.

Isabela Island

The hiking on Isabela Island in the Galapagos is beautiful and leaves little to the imagination. Many of the animals you’ll see traipsing around the different paths can only be found in the Galapagos making this an extremely unique experience. Whenever on Isabela Island, we always recommend taking a short boat ride out to the smaller island of Las Tintoreras for a hike. Here, your family can hike shark canal and get amazing up close views of resting white tip sharks. You also can’t go wrong with hiking along the beach!

Macchu Picchu

A family poses for a photo in Machu Picchu

A family poses for a photo in Machu Picchu

One of the more famous destinations on our list, Machu Picchu, is popular and famous for a reason. The history and mystery of Machu Picchu leaves all of its hikers in awe. We love this hike for families because the educational aspect is almost unmatched anywhere else in the world. This massive city hidden in the mountains was abandoned for an unknown reason. The mystery of the ruins will make your kids curious and engaged through the whole hike!

Corcovado

This national park in Costa Rica was called “the most biologically intense place on earth” by the National Geographic Society. This gives hikers ample opportunity to see beautiful and rare animals in their natural habitat. The jaguar, tapir, scarlet macaw, and red-eyed tree frog are all locals in these jungles and seeing them in the wild is an education your kids can’t get anywhere else. With a countless number of trails you can find one suited best for your family’s experience level.

Doi Inthanon National Park

Just taking a break by the waterfall!

Just taking a break by the waterfall!

Bringing you out to the Far East, Doi Inthanon is an amazing hike in Northern Thailand. Parts of this hike can be difficult but, as all of our recommended family hikes, there are options available here to adapt the hike to your family’s needs! Doi Inthanon is a great place to hike not only because it is the tallest mountain in Thailand but the paths are accompanied by beautiful forests and waterfalls for you to get the perfect family picture in front of!

Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley is another great place in Peru for a family hiking vacation. We’ve included it on this list because it’s important to note that Machu Picchu isn’t the only good area to hike in Peru! The Sacred Valley is full of lesser traveled routes and beautiful landscapes that are begging to be explored. Your family can have quiet stretches of trail all to yourselves and have great conversations along the way!

Hiking can be the best way to spice up any family vacation and create great memories. With Thomson Family Adventures we make sure that you get just that- great memories at every turn!



June 2, 2015

5 Reasons Why Costa Rica Should Be Your Next Vacation

Costa Rica, one of the most magical places in the world, has an infinite amount of good qualities and almost no bad ones. Last year, Costa Rica was the most recommended country to travel to- based on a survey of 23,000 travel professionals in 26 different countries. That was no surprise to us and we won’t be surprised if it holds the number one spot for another year.  The jungles are wild and beautiful and the people are warm and genuine. Costa Rica is safe and exciting for travelers of all types and ages. If you aren’t sold yet, below is a quick snapshot of why Costa Rica is such an amazing locale for family vacations!

Eco-Friendly

Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world. In fact, it has been powering itself on renewable energy for most of 2015 and plans to be completely carbon neutral by 2021. Costa Rica is dedicated to being eco-friendly and has become a leader in eco-tourism. Many of its lodges, facilities, and companies in the tourism industry are all green and committed to leaving a small, if any, footprint behind. You can feel good knowing that you not only had a memorable vacation with your family in a beautiful country, but that you also left a positive impact on the environment.

Beaches

Gamel CR Beach

The beaches in Costa Rica are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Many beaches are incredible spots for peaceful, relaxing, and sun filled afternoons. Costa Rica has over 1,000 miles of coastline and some stretches are more popular than others, offering kayaking and snorkeling, while some are more secluded and intimate.

Wildlife

This is one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet making wildlife viewing in Costa Rica amazing. There are over 500,000 different wildlife species in Costa Rica and this makes up 4% of the total amount of species worldwide. This is quiet incredible considering that Costa Rica is no larger than West Virginia! Some of the notable wildlife in Costa Rica is the sloth, scarlet macaw, iguanas, red-eyed tree frog, mantled howler monkey, and many more.  But most of these species are endemic to Costa Rica which means you’ll just have to visit to see them!

Surf

It would be impossible to talk about Costa Rica and not talk about the surf. For decades now, surfers have traveled from all over the world to ride the Costa Rican waves. Spots like Playa Tamarindo are great for beginners and people looking to take lessons and try surfing for the first time. If you have a bit more experience though, you can search out “secret” locations that can only be reached by boat. If you or your kids have had any interest in surfing- then Costa Rica will be a perfect vacation spot for you!

Hiking

CR waterfallBeing outdoors in Costa Rica is a must. The natural beauty of the country is its heart and soul. About 30% of Costa Rica’s land is protected by national parks, wildlife refuges, and preserves. What this means for you, tons of clearly marked and safe trails for hiking. Hiking in Costa Rica is never boring and the scenery never gets old.  On a single hike, you could find yourself in three different ecosystems!  A couple of our favorite places to hike are Corcovado National Park and Arenal Volcano Park.

 

The great features of Costa Rica don’t stop here. Some of the most wonderfully curated flavors come from Costa Rican dishes and their salsa and merengue music can keep you dancing and having fun all night! There is a little something for everyone in Costa Rica and it is a great destination for a family vacation!



October 13, 2014

Tips for More Pleasant Bus Travel

By Noemi Gamel

Bus Ride

Kara and Tristan – 12 hours into a 13 hour bus ride in Argentina

Growing up in the United States, we tend to view bus rides with trepidation. They are uncomfortable, slow, and rarely seem to run at  the time or along the route we need. We knew that buses would be part of our around the world trip, but it wasn’t a form of  transportation we were looking forward too.

Imagine our surprise when we boarded our first extended bus ride in Peru (20 hours).  Many of the buses in South America are  amazing. Huge, comfortable seats that recline a full 180 degrees (think first class on a plane and you get the picture of what a “cama”  seat is like). They even provide decent food service.

After three months of using buses in South America, we have some tips to make bus travel more comfortable. These will be especially useful if you have kids.

Use a backpack instead of a suitcase. A backpack is easier to maneuver around bus stations that may not have elevators or ramps. It is also easier to carry in case you can’t use the luggage compartment under the bus, which sometimes you can’t do if your final destination is not that route’s end of the line.

Pack entertainment. Chris and I have a “carry-on” bag where we make sure to keep materials to keep the kids (and us) entertained on the bus, especially the long ones such as our 20 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru or our 12 hour ride to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. We carry Uno cards, a standard deck of cards, and yes, their iPADs (loaded with books, movies, and games). Make sure those electronics are fully charged before you get on the bus, as most of them do not have plugs.

Pack snacks. Many of the longer, upscale buses will provide meals, but options are limited and they can be unappealing to kids. Other times, you will not have time to buy food at the bus stops or your options may not be good. Pack snacks like fruit, crackers, or empanadas to prevent hunger-related meltdowns.

Bring antibacterial gel and toilet paper. In countries outside the United States, sometimes you will not find soap or toilet paper in public bathrooms such as the ones in bus stations. One time, in Bolivia, the bus stopped at a remote rest area and when I asked where the toilet was, I was directed to an open field with grazing llamas. It helps to have a sense of humor.

What useful tips do you have for using public transportation in Latin America? Share your advise, tips, and tricks in the comments!



August 13, 2014

An Abbreviated Guide to Seasonal Galapagos Wildlife

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A blue-footed booby performs his ritual mating dance on North Seymour

If you’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, you probably know they’re famous for their spectacular wildlife, as unique as it is abundant. This staunchly protected archipelago was Charles Darwin’s ecological playground – the place where he made discoveries that led to our modern understanding of evolution and natural selection.

So, in terms of wildlife, which months are best for seeing which animals? There’s no bad time to visit the Galapagos, but here’s a quick breakdown of some key seasonal wildlife trends:

January:
Green sea turtles begin laying eggs on the beaches of the Galapagos, land birds start their nesting process, Isabela Island’s land iguanas begin their reproductive cycles, and adult marine iguanas become brightly colored.

February:
Flamingos start nesting on Floreana Island, marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz, and nesting season for Galapagos doves is at its peak.

March:
Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina, the waved albatross begins to arrive on Española, and the snorkeling is excellent – waters are warm, and tropical fish can be observed right next Galapagos penguins.

April:
Española sees a massive influx of waved albatrosses, and they start their courtship. Giant tortoise hatching season ends, green sea turtles and land iguanas begin to hatch, and visibility is high for snorkeling around the islands.

May:
North Seymour’s blue-footed boobies begin courting, sea turtles are still hatching at Gardner Bay, Punta Cormorant, and Puerto Egas, and most of Española’s waved albatrosses start laying their eggs.

June:
Santa Cruz Island’s famous giant tortoises migrate from the lush highlands to the drier, warmer lowlands in search of nesting sites, and nesting season begins. The frigate birds of North Seymour start to puff up their red neck pouches in order to attract mates.

July:
Blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and other birds around the Galapagos perform courtship rituals and breeding/nesting activities.

August:
Galapagos hawks court, Nazca boobies nest on Genovesa, and migrant shorebirds arrive on the island, where they’ll stay until March. The giant tortoises of Santa Cruz return to the temperate highlands, and sea lion pupping (birthing) season begins.

September:
Galapagos penguins are very active on Bartolomé, sea birds are active at their nesting sites, and sea lions throughout the islands are abundant, playful, and competitive.

October:
Lava herons start nesting, Galapagos fur seals (actually a type of sea lion) begin mating, and blue-footed boobies raise their chicks.

November:
Sea lion pupping season continues, and the adorable pups swim playfully next to snorkelers.

December:
Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch, and green sea turtles begin mating. With the start of the rainy season, the Galapagos Islands become beautiful and green, as the plants in dry zones produce leaves. The first young waved albatrosses fledge, and the weather in the islands is ideal.



August 4, 2014

A Few Handy Galapagos & Ecuador Tips

130The cornerstone of many a traveler’s bucket list, the Galapagos Islands archipelago provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any nature or wildlife enthusiast. And the gorgeous, culturally rich, and vastly underrated Andean highlands of mainland Ecuador deliver family adventure memories unparalleled by any other place on earth.

A trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos is much different from anything else most people have done before, and travelers may find themselves wondering how and what to pack for such a journey.

Firstly, forget fashion – dress on a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos is casual, and functionality is key. You may want to pack one or two nicer outfits for dinners, such as a dress or skirt for women and khakis for men. Otherwise, bring comfortable, lightweight, and fast-drying clothing with fabrics designed to wick away moisture. While days can be warm and sunny, nights tend to be cooler, so it’s imperative to dress in layers and to always have some dry clothes available – camping or outdoors stores like L.L. Bean, Patagonia, EMS, and REI tend to carry some great stuff for this. Footwear is awkward and bulky to pack, so you’ll want to avoid bringing too many pairs, but count on one pair of boots/shoes getting wet or muddy during the day and have a dry pair available for the evening. Some essential items to bring along include: an assortment of plastic and zip-lock bags to keep gear clean, dry, and sorted; plenty of sunscreen; a wide-brimmed hat; plenty of socks and underwear; bathing suit; comfortable, sturdy walking or hiking shoes; a fleece or light jacket; and water shoes or similar shoes that will be safe and effective for wet landings in the Galapagos. Also, you’ll certainly want a camera for all the spectacular wildlife and scenery you’re sure to come upon!

In addition to smart packing, another useful way to prepare is to get at least a basic grasp of some common Spanish words and phrases:

Buenos días = Good morning (said before noon)
Buenas tardes = Good afternoon (said after noon)
Buenas noches = good night (said after 5 or so)
= Yes
No = No
Hola = Hello
Hasta luego = See you later (literally “until later”)
¿Cómo está usted? = How are you?
Por favor = Please
Gracias = Thank you
De nada = You’re welcome
¿Habla usted español? = Do you speak Spanish?
¿De dónde es usted? = Where are you from?
Los Estados Unidos = the United States
¿Qué hora es? = What time is it?
¿Dónde está el/la…? = Where is the… ?
¿Cuánto cuesta esto? = How much does this cost?
Muy caro = Very expensive

If people speak too rapidly for comprehension, try saying, “Más despacio, por favor,” which means “Slower, please.”

There are many more helpful tips to help you get the most out of a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – just call and ask (800-262-6255). And remember, space is limited, so book soon!



July 31, 2014

Peru’s Delicious Huancaína Sauce

Watch this video to see how Huancaina sauce is made!

Watch this video to see how Huancaina sauce is made!

Peruvian cuisine is quickly gaining worldwide esteem for its bold flavors and the increasing diversity of international influences. Despite recent culinary innovation, the traditional staples are still a huge part of daily life in Peru; authentic dishes combining native ingredients with both indigenous and colonial cooking methods remain common fare.

The country’s Andean highlands benefit from an unbelievable variety of potatoes and corn, as well as grains like the quinoa that has grown so popular among health nuts in the U.S.

But one particularly delicious staple of traditional Peruvian cuisine is Huancaína (wahn-kah-ee-na) sauce. It’s a thick, spicy (due to yellow aji peppers), yellow cheese sauce that every Peruvian knows intimately and every visitor falls in love with. The name just means that the sauce originated in the Huancayo region in the central highlands, but it’s now typical of the country in general.

The most common usage of Huancaína is in the dish “Papa a la Huancaína,” which consists of boiled and sliced potatoes, placed atop a salad and smothered with a generous helping of the addictive sauce. It would be difficult to find a home or restaurant in which Papa a la Huancaína isn’t served.

On her recent Peru Family Trek, our Family Travel Advisor Grace was lucky enough to watch our friend Cristina preparing the classic sauce — check out the video she recorded of the process!



July 16, 2014

5 Reasons Guatemala is Ideal for Traveling with Children

agua volcano- antigua

Antigua Guatemala

The travel bug is incurable – that’s a simple fact. So when you’ve lived a life of exploration and can’t imagine it any other way, you’re not going to stop when you have children. Sure, the dynamic of your adventures with change, but family travel is an absolute blast with its own invaluable benefits.

Does having kids mean you have to shift from off-the-beaten path journeys around the world to purely domestic travel and uneventful beach vacations? NO WAY. Bringing your children along makes international travel and meaningful cultural interactions even better than they were when you were single.

One destination that’s particularly well-suited for traveling with children is Guatemala. Why? Here are 5 reasons (There wasn’t enough space for infinity):

Endless opportunity for outdoor activities and hands-on engagement: Every parent knows kids need to be actively involved to be entertained; Guatemala is the perfect place for that sort of involvement. There’s an opportunity at every turn for you and your kids to explore the wild outdoors and to roll up your sleeves and jump into the action, from kayaking around Lake Atitlan to hiking a path to Pacaya Volcano, learning to make chocolate from scratch and enjoying painting workshops to ziplining through lush jungle… and so much more!

Warm people and rich local culture: The most rewarding aspect – by a longshot – of introducing your children to a new culture is through unplanned interaction with regular people. Guatemalans are a pleasant, inviting bunch, eager to share their customs and traditions with visitors. Impressionable kids soak up these experiences in a way adults just can’t do quite as well, and every little encounter can make a world of difference in their development as open-minded citizens of the world. Whether they’re meeting local children they’ve written to ahead of time, taking a Spanish lesson in Antigua, or helping their parents barter for indigenous crafts at Chichicastenango Market, the little interactions will mean the world to them.

Excellent nature and wildlife: A child that isn’t fascinated by monkeys is about as common as an ice cream shop that doesn’t carry vanilla. Not to worry – Tikal National Park’s dense rainforest is teeming with spider monkeys and howler monkeys, as well as 52 other species of mammals and 333 species of birds, including a whole host of vibrantly colored exotic birds.

Amazing landscapes: In addition to the aforementioned rainforest in Tikal, Guatemala boasts a myriad of other enchanting landscapes. The brilliantly blue Lake Atitlan is the deepest in Central America and is considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in the world. Atitlan was formed by volcanic activity long ago, as evidenced by the three striking volcanoes that still surround it. If the kids are enthralled by the papier-mâche and baking powder volcanoes they make in class, they’ll be blown away witnessing the real thing!

Ancient Mayan archeological sites: A child’s imagination is powerful and limitless. Kids have a certain something many of us adults have somewhat lost along the way – an ability to put themselves in a vivid imaginary moment. When an adult stumbles upon the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal or Iximche, he/she will be thoroughly impressed and probably cherish the moment forever. But when a child discovers a site like this and learns a bit about the history of this once-glorious civilization, it resonates in a realer, more poignant way. Visions of the elaborate ceremonies, games, and rituals that once took place here will take over and bring that little mind on a journey us grownups may be too jaded to experience in quite the same way.

Let those 5 reasons hold you over for now… if you want to discover the rest of the infinite list of reasons Guatemala is the ideal spot to bring your kids, you’ll have to go see for yourself!

 



June 3, 2014

Cap and Gown—and A Map of the World

rodica daughter graduation

Rodica and Emily at graduation

As I watched my daughter Emily walk across a flower-bedecked stage in New York last week, dressed in cap and gown and surrounded by fellow students and professors, I flashed back to her very first steps… taken in her grandparents’ backyard at a barbecue, to the similarly excited applause of our family. Twenty years between these two momentous “first steps”—–a blink, it suddenly seemed.

We traveled a lot as a family during Emily’s childhood and teen years—to national parks, Alaska, the Sea of Cortes and Baja, Costa Rica, and to Europe to visit family. My work took me traveling, too, and whenever I could, I brought her with me. It was part of my goal as a parent to show her that she was part of a larger world, that travel builds bridges and friendship, and that the goodness of people prevails in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

A few months ago, she told me that she and a friend were planning a trip to Thailand shortly after graduation and when I asked if there was something I could contribute as a graduation gift, she grinned at me sideways and said, simply: “miles.” Girl after my own heart!

It made me so happy that our earlier travels together whetted her appetite to explore and learn more about our big, beautiful world… those of us addicted to wandering share a special secret: the world doesn’t get smaller the more you travel, it gets bigger. Traveling with our children opens up their world to them—with the added bonus for us of that tried, and ultimately true, cliché, “a lifetime of family memories.”

There are many milestones between that first step as a child and the one that leads to the edge of the known world that Shel Silverstein so marvelously described as, “where the sidewalk ends.”  And that’s where I expect my own daughter’s story awaits to unfold … where her imagination meets the horizon, somewhere out there on the map we all call home.



December 5, 2013

Family Reunions – Five Ways to Make it Work

Together in Peru

Together in Peru

The holidays have always been a time for families to come together, and more than ever families are meeting up in a new location, to share new experiences as well as each others’ company.  Whether it’s holiday time, a hard earned graduation, a milestone anniversary or birthday or just an excuse to get away, a family reunion can be a legacy trip of a lifetime. So how do you ensure your time and financial investment don’t go to waste?

1) Plan ahead! If your family is flexible and has an excellent sense of humor, a regrettable last minute decision to ‘wing-it’ may give you material to laugh about for years to come.  But if you prefer to not spend your vacation troubleshooting and negotiating every day, you’ll take your time and start planning for next year. The perfect villa, the right hotels, the ideal guide – those things don’t wait for late planners.

2) Support, Support, Support . Leave yourself unfettered to nonstop planning. Whether your familiy is 6 people or 26, knowing someone else is managing tasty on-time meals, arranging safe and reliable transportation, and showing you the best things to do – this is the gift of freedom to enjoy every minute with your family without a care in the world.

3) Use local expertise on the ground. Don’t try to guess how long it takes to get somewhere or what activity will be best when, or how to find the special secrets of your destination. Make use of a local guide experienced in family, and committed to showing you the way while managing every detail in advance. An unexpected plus: a terrific guide makes everything more fun!

4) Make every day count. Instead of unscheduled days wandering aimlessly while bored kids glue themselves to their video games, try experiencing new things together.  One terrific group outing to start each day gives you a framework, and something to talk about forever. Your afternoons can be more restorative or more active, depending on each person’s desire – hang by the pool, playing board games – or head out shopping or hiking. Then everyone unites again over a wonderful dinner, to reflect on the day. Plenty of together time, plenty of flexibility!

5) Consider a thread of special meaning to weave throughout your vacation. For some it’s a community project, or starting a family journal together. It might mean creating a treasure hunt (we can do this!), or a quest to check off your list of flora and fauna. With the help of your reunion planners and guide these things can be simple for you to include, and inspiring for your family to do together.

During this 2013 holiday season start dreaming of what can blossom for you and your loved ones in 2014. Maybe it is hiking at Machu Picchu, zip lining in Costa Rica, or snorkeling in the Galapagos.Imagine the flora, fauna and music of Brazil, the souks and mountains in Morocco, or breathtaking wildlife in Tanzania… Whatever your dream, enjoy it with your family!



November 4, 2013

Chris Gamel Pro Photo Tip – Rule of Thirds

Capuchin monkey in Costa Rica, by Chris Gamel

Quick Tip for better photographs: Use the rule of thirds.

When creating a picture, many photographers place the subject right in the middle of the frame.  It’s easy, but it is rarely the best option.  Instead, consider using the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a simple, yet powerful way of placing a subject in the frame.  To apply the rule of thirds, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over your image.  This gives you 4 intersection points; places where two lines intersect each other.  Photographers call these intersections “points of power.”  The key to the rule of thirds is to place the most important part of your image on one of the points of power.

This image of a capuchin monkey (taken in Costa Rica) is a perfect example of the rule of thirds in action.  The monkey is the most important part of the image, so I placed her directly on top of the top, left point of power.  Why does it work?  I have no idea, but artists have been using the rule of thirds for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

So, how can you use the rule of thirds to improve your next photograph?

Join Chris on a special family photography adventure in Costa Rica or Peru and put the rule to use!

For more photography tips and wildlife images, visit Chris Gamel’s website.