June 16, 2015

Machu Picchu: What You Need to Know

There is a reason that Machu Picchu is on the bucket list for almost all travelers- it’s quite marvelous. The stone architecture of this deserted city is fascinating and after you remember that this entire complex was built before the invention of any machinery, it becomes that much more impressive. Although a well-known site, here are a few things you should know before embarking on your trip to Peru and the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Background

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site found just outside of Cuzco on the edge of the Sacred Valley. The complex was abandoned around the 15th century and remained hidden until 1911 when an American historian, Hiram Bingham, came upon the ruins and spread the word about what he had just found. There is no definitive answer as to why the city was abandoned or what it was used for in the 15th and 16th centuries. All we know is that the mystery is part of the fun when exploring the ancient grounds!

Be Ready for an Early Start

Waking up early to start your exploration of Machu Picchu is essential to making the most of your time there. Machu Picchu is popular and gets very crowded throughout the day. The earlier you can get there the more you’ll be able to see before the congestion gets too bad. Don’t get set on the idea that you and your family will have the ruins to yourselves, but getting there early does give you more options and less of a crowd!

Sites Not to Miss

There is a lot to see in Machu Picchu and it’s good to go in with a plan because it can be easy to get overwhelmed. A couple of the main sites you won’t want to miss are Huayna Picchu and the Gate of the Sun. These are two of the more popular landmarks that are sure to be full of people. If you want to see incredible sites that see a significantly lower amount of traffic…

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How to Get Away from the Crowds

You can hike Machu Picchu Mountain or go to the Temple of the Moon. Machu Picchu Mountain is at the end of the complex opposite Huayna Picchu and sees fewer visitors. This is because the trail is a tougher climb and at 1,640 feet, the peak is twice as high. For those inclined and able, this is an opportunity that should not be missed! The Temple of the Moon on the other hand is tucked away in a set of caves hidden away from the main site. Taking the time to find it will give you a unique Machu Picchu experience that not many people have.

Now you have the basic information to get excited about your next family vacation to Peru where you and your family will make the memories of a lifetime hiking around Machu Picchu!



June 12, 2015

Four Unlikely Places for Great Wildlife Viewing

Taking time to explore the wildlife in countries can be an amazing experience. We share this world with beautiful creatures that live in the forests, jungles, mountains, and oceans. Seeing animals in their natural environments is breathtaking. Once you have seen some of these places, the importance of conservation efforts and responsible travel can’t be ignored. Viewing wildlife on a family vacation isn’t just good in the Galapagos and Tanzania. Here are four places that aren’t traditional destinations for wildlife and they are all part of North America!

Baja

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Baja is the western most part of Mexico, just to the south of California. If ocean and marine life is of the slightest interest to your family, then Baja must be on your bucket list of places to visit. Baja is the best of the best when it comes to life below the sea. The Sea of Cortez is home to the largest variety of whales in the world and every year gray whale mothers and their calves migrate to Magdalena Bay where they come close enough to visitors that you can touch them! This isn’t even to mention the thousands of fish that swim in the waters- and sea lions!

Panama

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When you neighbor Costa Rica it’s hard to compete in the wildlife department but, Panama does very well. It is home to over 200 mammals, 200 reptiles, 150 amphibians, and 900 birds (the most of any Central American country). Darien National Park in Panama is one of the best places to go bird watching in the world. A few of the birds that people travel to see are the harpy eagle, quetzals, macaws, parrots and toucans. Panama also has a great monkey population in spider monkeys, white-faced capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and the Geoffroy’s tamarin which can’t be found anywhere else in Central America.

 

Cuba

When thinking of Cuba, it is hard to think of it as a place great for a wildlife adventure. But the truth is that Cuba has the most animal species in all of the Caribbean. One of the more fascinating animals in Cuba is the bee hummingbird. Many believe that this is the smallest bird in the world, just over 2 inches long and weighs less than an ounce! The locals say it is a symbol of love and call it a “zunzun.” Cuba is also home to crocodiles, flamingos, butterfly bats, reef sharks, and the emerald humming bird and much more!

Canada

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While hiking in the Canadian Rockies you are bound to see some incredible and massive animals. Numbering in the thousands, there are plenty of opportunities to see elk. These creatures are majestic and you may want to get as close as you can to them, but remember they are wild and you need to stay at least a couple of hundred feet away. Your family will also have the chance to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep in action climbing the sides of mountains! There is also a scarce population of wolves and cougars that are rarely seen. Canada is truly a wild adventure and these animals only help add to the ambiance!

Taking your family vacation to any of these destinations is bound to be filled with excitement and great wildlife. Get out there and see the beauty that nature has to offer!



June 9, 2015

The 7 Best Things About Baja

There are many different parts of Mexico that make for good vacation spots. The truth is that not all of these places and resorts are family friendly. Despite that fact, one of our favorite family vacation spots in the world is Mexico’s Baja. Baja has a safe, warm, and welcoming environment that makes it hard to leave! Here are a few of the best parts about Baja that make it perfect for a family vacation.

1: Best Whale Watching in the World

Just popping up to say hello!

Just popping up to say hello!

One of the best places in the world for whale watching is Baja. You can find one third of the whale species in the world in Baja’s waters; including blue, gray, humpback, and minke whales. Whales are fascinating creatures and a true delight to see. The best time to go to Baja for whale watching is during the winter when gray whales frequent the lagoons for mating season. The whales are friendly and, often, you’re able to pet them as they come out of the water to say hello!

2: Incredible Weather

Baja has what very well may be the best weather in the world. It sits right on the Tropic of Cancer giving it perfect weather for a minimum of 8 months out of the year. The sun is always kind enough to kiss towns like La Paz and Todos Santos to make for great family vacation experiences. When the sun is out there is always something to do- like going to the…

3: Beautiful Beaches

Taking a stroll down the beach on horseback!

Taking a stroll down the beach on horseback!

The small town of Todos Santos alone has 70 miles of beach. With so many beaches your family can find a great location to relax or explore. You can find several coves or stretches of soft white sand that go as far as the eye can see. While relaxation is always a top priority, many stretches of beach in Baja are great for trying out horseback riding, surfing and other water activities that your kids will love. In the National Marine Park, Isla Espiritu Santo, the snorkeling and hiking are unmatched!

4: The Sea of Cortez

Jacques Cousteau called this UNESCO World Heritage Site “the aquarium of the world” and it is no wonder why. Between the marine life that is endemic to the body of water and its use as a popular migration route for many species, there are well over thousands and thousands of different marine species in the Sea of Cortez at any given time. Imagine the look on your child’s face when they see a giant manta ray jump out of the water!

5: A Culture Based on Being Friendly

Unlike the rest of Mexico, the Jesuits were the first people to settle on the Baja peninsula. The Jesuits hand selected the people they sent to Baja based on their trustworthiness, honesty, strong family values, and their ranching and farming skills. Through the course of history, the Jesuits left the land and mainland Mexico left Baja to operate independently for over 100 years. During this time a strong culture of hospitality and honor was forged and that culture is still strong in Baja today.

6: A Great Arts and Music Scene

Several creative types from all different fields have made their way to Todos Santos over the past few decades. This includes many artists, chefs, musicians, surfers, and writers; because of this Todos Santos has become home to wonderful art galleries, incredible restaurants and many festivals. A few of the celebrated festivals are the Todos Santos Music Festival (founded by Peter Buck of R.E.M), the Todos Santos Arts Festival, and the GastroVino Festival de Todos Santos which celebrates all local wines and foods.

7: Delicious Food

Delicious ceviche!

Delicious ceviche!

The food in Baja is traditional Mexican and almost all dishes are based on a few simple ingredients: beans, corn, squash, and onions. From there you can let your imagination and creativity go wild. The seafood is some of the freshest in the world and of a wide variety. While the food is similar to what you’ll find in Mexican restaurants in the U.S., it doesn’t rely as heavily on cheese or sour cream making it full of more local flavors and it’s also much healthier!

Baja has a great personality that makes it fun and friendly for family vacations and Thomson Family Adventures can help you get there!



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

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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!



May 26, 2015

The Best Regions to Vacation in Thailand

Thailand very well may be one of the most interesting and diverse countries in the world, making it a great destination for families. It is home to a long history, rich culture, dense rain forests, and beautiful beaches. Thailand’s unique culture comes from bordering four other countries, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia, and its large expatriate population. Thailand is a true international crossroads and each region is special in its own way. Here are three different regions in Thailand that we love and are perfect for family vacations!

The Urban Epicenter

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Bangkok is home to over 8 million people, which accounts for over 12% of the nation’s population. Nearly 720,000 people living in Bangkok are expatriates, making Bangkok a truly global city. Bangkok was also once referred to as “Venice of the East” because of its intricate canal system and because its buildings used to sit on stilts. Most of the canals have been filled in and the buildings now sit on solid ground, but the incredible architecture of the city remains. One of the best viewpoints of Bangkok is from the Chao Phraya River. The breeze you catch while on a long-tail boat is cooling and welcoming as you sit in the sun! You can even take a boat right to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, two of Thailand’s most marvelous structures. It is highly possible and probable that Bangkok is one of the most vibrant, busy, and exciting cities in the world. Your kids will be in absolute awe taking part in the daily hustle!

The Rose of the North

While Bangkok is indisputably the most famous, popular, and important city in Thailand, Chiang Mai cannot be overlooked. Historically, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from 1296-1768. Although the Lanna Kingdom no longer exists, its traditions and culture still do and there is no place they flourish like in Chiang Mai. The speed of life in the North is much slower and more relaxed than Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a great place for the arts (it’s in the middle of a bid to be named a Creative City by UNESCO) and it’s great for nature lovers- most of the Chiang Mai province is forests and parks. The highest point in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, is just outside of Chiang Mai and offers a gorgeous climb for hikers! Our favorite part of Chiang Mai though is the elephant conservation and rehabilitation farms. Not only do they do great work, but they teach you to train, bathe, feed, and ride elephants over the course of a day. These smart creatures are friendly, take great pictures, and won’t ever forget you!

The Islands of the South

If you take the laid back nature of Chiang Mai and multiply it by ten, you’ll get a sense of the pace of island life in Thailand. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are on Thai islands. The most famous and possibly most scenic is Phuket. This is the largest island in Thailand and perfect for the family trying to relax on the beach and play in the water. The sand is soft, white, and not too hot. The beach disappears into emerald Phuket1and teal waters that seem too beautiful to be real. Dotted throughout Phang Nga Bay are limestone islands that stand tall out of the water and make for a surreal view. This backdrop makes for the holiday card of the century! There are also plenty of places for snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, boat rides, and searching for hidden caves and lagoons- the kids won’t ever get bored!

These three areas of Thailand are all very different and unique in their own way. Going to one is memorable- going to all three is unforgettable! Thailand has all of the ingredients to make for the family vacation of a lifetime.



May 20, 2015

An Emotional Tour of World War II

By Noemi Gamel

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We have been home schooling, with various degrees of success, during our RTW trip. In addition to more or less structured grammar and math lessons, they have been learning history by visiting museums and sights that have historical significance. For our WWII unit, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan, the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands, and the beaches of Normandy in France.

The Hiroshima Peace Park is a stark reminder of one of the events that led to the end of WWII: the dropping of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. After sitting down with the kids under the shade of a tree in the park to explain the rationale and events leading to the bombing, we visited the various monuments in the park dedicated to peace and remembrance. I found the display of one thousand paper cranes very emotional, especially because it is dedicated to the children who died in the bombing and the project was started by a young girl who died of leukemia due to the effects of the radiation. Tristan walked away in tears from the exhibits demonstrating the acute burn and radiation injuries displayed by the wax statues, and a kind museum guide offered him a paper crane, a sign of peace. We were very moved by the gesture.

 
In Amsterdam, we waited for over one hour to enter the museum dedicated to Anne Frank. This was the one place Kara was most looking forward to in our RTW trip, because she read Anne Frank’s Diary a few years ago and was deeply affected by it. We were all very emotional during the visit, and at the end we had a discussion about prejudice and the importance of speaking out against injustice, whether it affects us directly or not.

 
We ended our unit on WWII with a D-day tour in Bayeux, France. We saw the bunkers and cliffs of Point du Hoc; the beaches of Utah and Omaha; and the Saint de Mere church and museum dedicated to the American airborne divisions. We were able to tie in what we learned at the Anne Frank house with what we learned about D-day and the liberation of Western Europe, which unfortunately came too late for Anne and most of the people who lived in the Secret Annex.

 
While we visited the sights a bit out of order, the children were able to learn about different aspects of the war and its impact throughout the world. I hope when Kara and Tristan study WWII in school, they can remember with reverence the sights we visited.

 



May 18, 2015

Sextant, Compass, and GPS

Did you know the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador… and Ecuador has the equator running smack through it? Yup, Zero Latitude.

What better place to feed your fascination with the whole idea of aligning stars, managing agriculture, calculating time and distance, and navigating directions? Imagine hanging out right where the center of the world is, under the Southern sky full of stars you might never have seen before (unless you’ve been to South American before!). Learn about navigational forces and sundials. Be astounded at how the ancient civilizations perfected their skills. Straddle the equator! Then after hiking, treasure hunting, and star gazing in the highlands, fly out to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of the mainland.

In these volcanic islands you’ll still enjoy star lit skies at night, but from a completely different landscape than the mainland. Swim, hike, and kayak amongst breathtaking wildlife , bioth at your feet and soaring overhead.



May 15, 2015

Family Vacation in Historic Ireland

 

 

Ireland seems to have a voice that reaches out to you, calling you home to the rolling hills that sweep over the countryside in a color wheel of green. Every so often you might see the ruins of a castle or a whitewashed cottage bordered by a stone fence. The heart of every village is the pub, and it’s usually filled with friendly people sharing the day’s news, sometimes while listening to an impromptu seisun of traditional music.
Ireland is a small country with not even 5 million people. In fact, the United States has seven times more people of Irish ancestry than people actually living in Ireland! This may be one reason Ireland has become a top family vacation destination! Despite its relatively small stature, Ireland fills some pretty big shoes with so many wondrous natural and manmade sights. However, its biggest treasure is its people, who are among the friendliest and most welcoming in the world.

 
Almost a fifth of Ireland’s population lives in Dublin. It’s a large city with a small feel and you can see all of the best sites by spending a day walking around. Dublin is full of history and you can see it in its streets. From the Book of Kells on display at Trinity College to O’Connell Street and the General Post Office, headquarters of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin begs to be explored. It’s not just ancient history in Dublin. Ever hear of a little band called U2? They got their start right on the edge of Dublin’s Temple Bar district!

 
Heading west out of the city, you and your family will find yourselves in a completely different world. The Irish countryside, Connemara specifically, is adorned with small villages, rolling hills, green pastures, and roaming sheep. Connemara also has its own slice of pop culture fame. The famous 1952 movie The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in the village of Cong in Connemara. There’s a statue in the town of Wayne holding O’Hara just like in the film!

 
While Ireland may not be world famous for its cuisine, it’s difficult to find a bad meal. The stews, bangers (sausage), potatoes, and fish all make for a hearty meal- not to mention the soda bread and brown bread. At the end of your meal, when there is only a bit of bread left, you can dip it in the what remains of the stew for the perfect finish to what is sure to be an incredible and flavorful delight!
There are so many reasons to take a family vacation to Ireland, and really none not to. Plus, we’ve taken into consideration everything that makes Ireland the amazing place it is, and we’ve incorporated activities, sightseeing, cuisine and culture to make your adventure one that you’ll hold deep in your heart for many years to come.

 

 

 



May 13, 2015

Tulips in Amsterdam

By Noemi Gamel

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What do you think of when you hear of Amsterdam? Call me a total geek, but I think of tulips, windmills, the Anne Frank House, and The Fault In Our Stars book. To recover from our emotional but uplifting visit to the Anne Frank House, we headed to Keukenhof, one of the largest tulip gardens in the Netherlands (more then 800,000 tulip bulbs are planted each year).
The history of Keukenhof goes back over 500 years when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria gathered fruits and vegetables from the woods nearby for her kitchen. The landscape architect father-son team by the name of Zocher designed the castle gardens in 1857, and for the last fifty years the estate has served as the main platform for the Dutch floriculture section.
As you walk into the gardens, you feel like you are in a Dutch version of Disneyland, where the theme is tulips instead of fairy tales. Everywhere you go, you see, smell, and feel the flowers. In addition to numerous paths, gardens, and ponds, you will also find a maze, green houses, tulip fields, a playground, and a petting zoo. Prepare to spend the whole day here!

 

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