Bear Lodges Wellsboro

Exploring Wellsboro, PA, with a stay at the Bear Lodges

Sometimes we don’t have to get on a plane or travel far to get a change of scenery or escape the stresses of our day-to-day life.  Beautiful scenery, charming lodging, and a weekend of refreshing disconnect and recharging is sometimes less than half a day’s drive from us.  Such is a visit to the Bear Lodges in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, home to PA’s “Grand Canyon.”

Bear Lodges Wellsboro Overlook Trail
Pine Creek Gorge outside of Wellsboro

I’ve visited Bear Meadows Lodge in Wellsboro twice now and each time I’m struck by how every detail of your stay has been thoughtfully arranged.  From lightly heated bathroom floors, to gorgeous views of wildlife from your private patio, to the charming slow-pace of an authentic small Pennsylvanian town, visitors are sure to be delighted with this getaway. 

I would even dare to say I’m more of a city girl at heart, so the fact that I’m already thinking about how to visit one of the Bear Lodges a third time shows you how serious I am about what a magical relaxing time it can be. 

Bear Meadows Lodge

Staying at Bear Meadows Lodge in Wellsboro, or any of their sister lodges, is a very special experience. Allow me to gush a little bit…

  • Heated bathroom floors
  • Fireplaces available in most bedrooms
  • Personalized welcome messages and little thoughtful touches such as your favorite candy on the pillow
  • Contactless checkin and an emphasis on privacy: this is a lodge specifically built for a secluded getaway – your key and useful information is pinned to the front of the door when you arrive, along with a picnic tote you can keep
  • Hot tubs and private patios available in the majority of the rooms – others may have an indoor jacuzzi option
  • Well situated just outside the small town of Wellsboro – go into town for meals, or get takeout or delivery for a private evening on your own
  • Thoughtful touches like bear-shaped soaps from local artisans, separate towels for the hot tub sitting in a basket nearby, bathrobes available, a booklet with travel advice, and wonderful handwritten guestbooks where you can see other travelers’ recommendations and trip reports
  • The Meadows location looks out over a sweeping meadow where you can sometimes spot wildlife, while the Mountain location is just a little bit more remote and surrounded by forest.  The Mountain location does have a large common area to share with others, as well as a firepit, which could be a lot of fun if traveling with friends.

It’s important to understand that although you may find the Bear Lodges listed on Bed & Breakfast sites, it is a hybrid B&B model.  There is no freshly cooked breakfast available.  For each night you stay, you receive $10 Wellsboro Cash to use at a variety of restaurants or stores in Wellsboro.  Your room is also fully stocked (and restocked as long as you don’t have the Do Not Disturb sign on!) with fresh muffins, yogurt, cheese, orange juice, energy bars, fruit, Gatorade or ice tea, and a well-supplied selection of Keurig coffees and tea.

So for those who enjoy a small breakfast to begin with, the daily supply may be more than enough for breakfast – and if not, the $10 Wellsboro Cash gives you a substantial discount to use at some of the delicious options such as the classic Wellsboro Diner.  I really like this hybrid model as it allows you as much privacy and seclusion as you please.  For eager hikers or busy sightseers, it also allows you to get out the door quickly in the mornings without the formality of a sit down breakfast at traditional B&Bs.   All the lodges – Bear Mountain, Bear Meadows, and Main Street – follow this model.

Bear Lodges Wellsboro

How to Get to the Bear Lodges or Wellsboro

Here are driving distances from PA cities:

  • Pittsburgh: 4 hours
  • State College:  2 hours (if you’re driving through or near State College, consider stopping at Penn’s Cave along the way – this underground lake and cavern is very interesting!)
  • Philadelphia: 4 hours
  • Scranton: 2.5 hours
  • Erie: 3.5 hours
  • Rochester, NY: 2 hours
  • Syracuse, NY: 2.5 hours

Three Bear Lodges in Wellsboro

There are three Bear Lodges – Bear Meadows Lodge, Bear Mountain Lodge, and the Bear Main Street Lodge.   The reservation system will bring all three up when you look for specific dates, so you don’t have to run multiple searches.

Bear Lodges Wellsboro
Sunset at the Bear Meadows Lodge

 

All three lodges are open year-round – check their website for some specific booking specials such as multi-night discounts or weekday stays.

You can book directly at www.bearlodgeswellsboro.com.   If you have questions before booking, don’t hesitate to email the team – they are wonderfully responsive, and are very proud of their unique lodging.

Hint: if you like your space, like I do, the Mountain Breezes Suite is a two-room suite (one bed) with two bathrooms at the Meadows location.  It has a private patio and hot tub, but it’s on the corner so your views over the meadow won’t be as panoramic as others’.

Some highlights from my most recent trip

My most recent trip to the Bear Lodges was in June for my birthday, three nights.  And I had been a few years earlier in March for two nights, with a blustery snow storm on departure day! *Some photos in this article may be from the earlier trip if it displays something that wasn’t changed on my second trip.

Taking a covered wagon ride with Old Covered Wagon Tours:  This was an entertaining and relaxing way to venture deep into the canyon without being experienced hikers.  We even spotted a bald eagle, and the previous tour had seen a bear.  The guides on the covered wagon explained interesting parts of the canyon’s history, including the role the Civilian Conservation Corps played in preserving it.   The wagon was comfortable with padded seats, and it was an enjoyable two hour roundtrip expedition.

Wellsboro Bear Lodges covered wagon tour

Hiking the Overlook Trail at Leonard Harrison State Park

This is a fairly short trail (not even .7 miles!) but it does have one section that is rather steep if you’re going counter clockwise.  The trail offers access to a second lookout point called Otter View. It’s accessible from the visitor center area.  The Turkey Trail was closed for maintenance while we were there, but it’s quite challenging and should be taken seriously before deciding to undertake it.   Next time we plan to visit the other side of the canyon (Colton Point State Park) for different trails and lookouts.

Overlook Trail Wellsboro Bear Lodges
The “Grand Canyon of PA” from the Overlook Trail

The Lookout Tower 

We also went to find the Lookout Tower but alas, my fear of heights got the best of me and I only made it about 2/3 of the way up.  There’s an automatic turnstyle to pay the $3 entry fee.   The road to the Tower is right on the way to the west rim of the canyon, and you drive through a campground to reach it.

Lookout Tower Wellsboro
The Lookout Tower is a somewhat odd but fun attraction

Things to do in or around Wellsboro and the Bear Lodges

Festivals 

Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival  generally held in June – parades, fairs, concerts, vendors, and more!

Endless Mountain Music Festival generally held in July – worldclass performances by composers, orchestras, and musicians from notable symphonies.  Classical, jazz, celtic, choral, percussion, and more!

Train Rides 

The Tioga Central Railroad runs sightseeing routes on Fridays and Saturdays from May to October, including a Hammond Lake Dinner Train excursion. Visit their website at www.tiogacentral.com for their schedule and for reservations.

Outdoor activities

Of course, the star attraction is the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” or the Pine Creek Gorge.  Hikers and other outdoor lovers will delight in the many options available – many challenging trails are available, but shorter or flatter trails are also in the area.  It’s advisable to carefully read the trail descriptions so you can make sure you match the recommended abilities.   There are easier trails on the Colton Point State Park side of the canyon, versus the Leonard Harrison State Park side of Canyon.   The visitor center at the overlook of Leonard Harrison had maps and information.

Bear Lodges Wellsboro
Taking a covered wagon tour of the canyon

More organized activities include:

  • Covered wagon trail rides – choice of a Classic tour or a longer Waterfall tour to Little Four Mile Falls
  • Pine Creek Rail Trail – this is a flat 62+ mile trail all along the bottom of the canyon, with several points accessible by car.  Bike rentals can be arranged if you didn’t bring your own.
  • Visit Corning, NY, about an hour away for access to the Finger Lakes and the Corning Museum og Glass
  • Horseback trail rides
  •  Cherry Springs State Park – the only Dark Sky park in Pennsylvania, outstanding for stargazing.  It’s just under an hour’s drive from Wellsboro.
  • Multiple state parks nearby, some with lakes for swimming (the Potter-Tioga County Visitor Welcome Center is located on the road to the west rim of the Canyon, stop by for their expertise!)
  •  Canoe, kayak, or raft rides down Pine Creek
  • In the winter, snowshoe rentals or cross-country skies are available from various outfitters in the area.

Charming small town stores in Wellsboro 

I particularly enjoyed our visit to the olive oil store and the bookstore with two resident cats.

Pop’s Culture Shoppe is a highlight as well, with a large selection of board and card games and a community area in the back to try out the games yourself or participate in their activities.  I suggest stopping by this store earlier in your visit so you can be sure to see their schedule of events in case you want to incorporate it into your agenda.

For those who like wine, Oregon Hill Winery has a storefront on Main Street.

Restaurants 

For such a small town, a surprising number of restaurants abound.  Country cooking is proudly embraced here, and there are also a variety of smaller cafes offering hot drinks and bagels or treats to go.  The menu at  The Steakhouse was particularly outstanding, but I also enjoyed our meals at the Penn Wells Hotel and The Naked Bagel for breakfast.  We also liked the Wellsboro Diner, but on our most recent trip it was closed during our stay.

Don’t miss the Mainstreet Creamery, next to the Wellsboro Diner, for delicious ice cream.

Lodging

Options abound, from bed&breakfasts to small hotels to camping.  This is a town and area that is very proud of its proximity to the Grand Canyon and is very welcoming to visitors.  Whether you want a traditional hotel or a self-catering camping experience, you will be sure to find an accommodation that suits you.

Explore the USA!

There’s no doubt that there are amazing travel destinations both near and far.  Some, like Wellsboro, are easily accessible by driving for both Pennsylvania and New York residents.  Whether you’re looking for a relaxing weekend or if you’re a keen outdoors person, you’re sure to leave the Bear Lodges in Wellsboro already planning your next trip.

Enjoyed this article?

You may like this other one:  Six Marvelous Trip Ideas from the East Coast.

If you’ve been to Wellsboro and would like to add your own recommendations to this article, feel free to contact me!

 

 

AMA Waterways River Cruise

How You’ll Spend Your Time Aboard a River Cruise

I love advising picking a river cruise for both experienced and new travelers alike.  River cruising can often be incredible value given its all inclusive nature (read my blog post comparing costs here) and sailing the storied rivers of Europe or other continents is a fantasticly immersive way to travel.

On an AmaWaterways river cruise, you’ll say goodbye to your standard routine and hello to outdoor activity, fine dining and relaxation. My goal is to match you to a luxurious but affordable vacation experience that is both comforting and adventurous.

When you’re not touring a destination, you’ll be enjoying the many amenities offered on the ship, as well as breathtaking views from the Sun Deck. With a smaller number of passengers on board, you’ll have more time to enjoy the amenities in a more personal way.

 

After their river cruise, John and Debby say AmaWaterways “is a first-class operation and we felt more like honored guests than passengers.”

Interested in what a typical day may look like on your river cruise? All cruises offer the below amenities for you to take advantage of throughout the day.

Fitness Center & Classes

Each ship offers a fitness center to help you stay active between excursions. And if the treadmill isn’t your preference, there is also a professionally trained Wellness Host offering daily classes. Start your day with a yoga session on the Sun Deck, a spin class on the back of the ship, or a light stretch class, and set the tone for a relaxing day.

AMA Waterways River Cruises

Award-Winning Meals

Enjoy coffee and the breakfast buffet each morning, light lunches and refreshments throughout the day and exquisite meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients for dinner. AmaWaterways is especially known for its fantastic meals on board.

AMA Waterways River Cruise

We recommend booking The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant for at least one evening and would be happy to take care of those details for you. John and Ken write:

“The Chef’s Table was an evening to remember! Watching the preparations throughout the evening, and then getting to enjoy them was great fun! We have actually re-created a dressing that he used on the Watermelon and Seared Goat Cheese salad!”

Need more convincing? Unlimited wine, beer, and soft drinks are also offered with each meal.

Salon & Spa

No vacation is complete without a bit of pampering. The spa on board offers massages throughout the day so you can relax on your own schedule. With fewer guests on board you won’t have to fight for an appointment.

Feel like going out for the evening while we’re in port? Let the stylists at the salon give you a new look or simply help you look and feel your best before heading out.

Deck PoolAMA Waterways River Cruise

 

You may not choose a tropical cruise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relax and enjoy the sun on the top deck! All ships have a heated pool (some with a swim-up bar for optimal enjoyment) or a jacuzzi, perfect for relaxing any tired muscles while cruising past the graceful, castle-filled countryside of Europe.

Feel free to come back out when the sun goes down. As you cruise past larger cities, the views of bridges full of lights or cathedrals lit up under the stars are extraordinary.

This is the perfect atmosphere to socialize with your party and other guests. Many cruisers have truly built long-distance and lasting friendships and even return time and time again to cruise with people they met on previous sailings!

Excursions

Regardless of which cruise itinerary you choose, you’ll have a variety of excursions to choose from. Activity level varies to suit your preference for the day and bikes are available on the ship for you to take into town. There is even a tour option for “late risers” if you’d like to take advantage of your lush bed and catch a few extra zzzs.

Remember, almost all excursions are already included in your fare!  No need to pay extra for these options. 

Ama Waterways Rhine River Cruise

 

During some stops, you may prefer a mild hike; on others, wine tasting or touring a Kölsch brew pub. Alternatively, you may wish to take on some free time with your group and explore the city. Some of our clients’ favorite days are strolling through the cobblestone streets of obscure cities, feeling out the local culture.

Best in Class Service

If there is anything that could make your time on board the ship better, let the AmaWaterways team know! The only thing better than their dining is their service. The team truly prides itself on building relationships with each guest and creating a family-like feel for your journey.

AMA Waterways River Cruise

“Service was awesome. The crew was great. Truly for us, it was the “trip of a lifetime” kind of thing…”

So, what are you waiting for? I’m on standby to book your next European vacation. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about traveling through Europe by river and get your end-to-end travel confirmed. All you need to decide is when you want to go and who you’d like to travel with!  Head over to my travel consulting information page for more information.

 

Rhine River Cruise

4 Incredible Countries You’ll Explore on the Rhine

Whenever I advise my travelers on choosing a river cruise, I pay special attention to their interests, such as art, culture, food, active or wellness programs, history, and destination wishlist. One of the more popular rivers for first time river cruises can be the Rhine – here are some tips on what you’ll see if you choose a Rhine river cruise!

With their fabulous rooftop pools, jacuzzis, and wellness programs—plus their exquisite cuisine and delicious cocktail drinks available around-the-clock—it’s tempting to many to never leave the ship. But as much as they take pride in their impeccable service, we know that the main reason travelers choose a river cruise is because of the adventure—the amazing, breathtaking stops along the way. With that in mind, the countries you’ll explore with AmaWaterways on the Rhine are historic, romantic and truly awe-inspiring.

Rhine River Cruise

On an AmaWaterways cruise, you can choose from a selection of amazing tours, all of which highlight a unique aspect of Europe. With 25 incredible river cruise options throughout Europe, it can be a tough decision…but I know that we’ll find something that fits your budget, taste, and sense of adventure.

Do you want to spend more of your time in Switzerland, Germany or France? What about the Netherlands? Let’s take a closer look at some destinations on the Rhine River and you’ll see why my clients keep coming back for more.

Switzerland

A pristine alpine wonderland, Switzerland is beautiful any time of year.  It’s known for its snowy mountain caps in the winter and lush green hills in the summer. Whether you’re taking a scenic train ride through the Alps or traveling the Rhine by ship, Switzerland will have you wondering if you’ve walked straight into a fairytale.

Basel

Many river cruises on the Rhine start or end in Basel, a city known for its love of art and museums. The city has the highest concentration of museums in the country and is centered around a market square, making it perfectly easy to tour.

Basel is a fantastic representation of Switzerland as it’s situated right between France and Germany, two countries which have significantly influenced Swiss culture. Enjoy this melding of cultures as you dine alfresco at a cafe along the banks of the Rhine.

But why stop with Basel when there’s so much more of Switzerland to see. We’d recommend tacking on a trip to Lucerne or Zurich.

Lucerne

Lucerne is the ideal pitstop on your trek through Switzerland. Wandering through its majestic streets, you’ll encounter a city dotted with beautiful bridges, cafes and chocolate shops that will satisfy your sweet tooth.  A summer evening in Lucerne will make you never want to leave. Let’s book a ride on Lake Lucerne while we’re at it!

Zurich

The banking capital and economic hub of Switzerland, Zurich combines pre-medieval roots with modern-day business and entertainment.

In addition to its world-class shopping venues, there is plenty of sight-seeing to do.

From the Hauptbahnhof—Switzerland’s largest railway station—you can catch a train and be on a crisp, glistening mountain peak in a matter of minutes.  You can also explore the city’s incredible rivers and magnificent lake, which has superior water quality for swimming.  Whether its fine dining or hiking trails up Uetliberg, the perfect adventure is waiting for you in Zurich.

France

Parlez-vous français? Non? Well, no worries. A good translation app can do wonders to help you navigate the luscious countryside of France, and its mouthwatering cafes and menus. For its food, wine, and historic sights, we love this country for all the right reasons.

Wine & Dine

Wine and France go hand-in-hand, and if you haven’t had a bowl of French onion soup, you’re seriously missing out. Whether you’re stopping at a bakery in the morning for a fresh croissant and cafe au lait, a light lunch of a croque monsieur or a full 3-course French dinner, you will not be disappointed.

Book a Rhine River cruise with us and you’ll stop in Strasbourg, the capital city of the Alsace region and a charming city for a day trip. We’d recommend the Cave des Hospices for a wine tour and light beverage during the afternoon.

Rhine Strasbourg river cruise

Leisure

If wine tasting isn’t your idea of a relaxing afternoon, there is no shortage of other soothing activities in Strasbourg. The Parc de l’Orangerie, Parc de la Citadelle and the botanical gardens are all equally serene places for an afternoon walk or bike ride.

Shopping

Are you looking for modern stores, local boutiques or street markets? You can find them all in Strasbourg.  Most of Strasbourg’s old town is centered on Grande Île, an island in the middle of the city.

Christmas markets in Strasbourg are so popular you can find them any time of year. Make your way to the southwest corner of the Grande Île to Un Noël en Alsace to browse Christmas decor. And if you happen to be in Strasbourg during the holiday season, we recommend a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine) to keep you warm along the way.

Germany

Traveling to Germany usually takes tourists to Berlin, Munich and other metropolitan areas. On a river cruise with AmaWaterways, however, you’ll experience a whole new side of the country—one that is more traditional and inviting.

Rhine River Cruise

Cruising down the Rhine, you’ll see cultural hubs as well as quaint cities you may not otherwise experience. Rüdesheim and Cologne both offer a variety of entertainment including local musicians and museums, providing for a well-rounded German experience.

Rüdesheim

Rüdesheim is a charming little city on the Rhine known for its production of Reisling wine. The first thing you’ll notice here is the beautiful combination of history and modern winemaking. Cobblestone streets and medieval-style castles lie just outside the vineyards and tasting rooms of Rüdesheim.

During the stop in Rüdesheim, you can choose between Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, a gondola ride or a wine tasting hike through the vineyards.

My favorite way to spend time here is to take the cable car over the vineyards, up to the Niederwald monument and then stop at the local shops on the way back to the ship.

Rhine River Cruise Trier

Cologne

A 2,000-year-old city, Cologne is best known for its colorful rows of houses and its famous Christmas markets.  In contrast to the small-town charm of Rüdesheim, Cologne is a much larger city and cultural hub of this area of Germany.

Where Rüdesheim is medieval and rustic, Cologne is more Gothic and modern. Visible from the Rhine River, the Cologne Cathedral is a must-see landmark. Its two towers are still some of the largest peaks in the city.

The stop in Cologne offers the options of a Holy City walking tour and cathedral visit, Kölsch Beer tasting or Cologne bike tour.

The Netherlands

What better way to end the Enchanting Cruise than right in the heart of the Netherlands- Amsterdam.

A city known for its red-light district and overall carefree way of life, Amsterdam offers an incredible array of cultural experiences. Cruising one of the world’s most elaborate canal systems will show you much of the beauty this city has to offer.

Amsterdam Rhine River Cruise

If you prefer to observe the canals by land, you can opt for a tour through the bohemian neighborhood of Jordaan, which boasts trendy cafes, eateries, and shops. After grabbing a coffee, head to one of the many historical landmarks in this part of town. The Anne Frank House is located just outside Jordaan and across from the historical Westerkerk Cathedral where Rembrandt was buried in 1669.

The People

The people in the Netherlands are truly some of the kindest and friendly people in Europe. Described as modest, direct and very prompt, don’t be surprised by how welcomed you feel in this city.

The Food

One of the most pleasant surprises of a trip Amsterdam is the food. If you’re craving something with a pinch of salt, we would recommend Bitterballen (deep-fried meatballs), kibbeling (deep-fried fish) or snert (split pea soup).

After dinner, enjoy a variety of different sweets including Dutch licorice, poffertjes (puffy pancakes) or stroopwafels (remember to eat them hot and gooey).

The Creativity

You will find more peculiar shops and art displays in Amsterdam than almost anywhere else in the world. From stores with cows on the ceiling to mouse mansions and displays dedicated entirely to tulips, entertainment in Amsterdam lies around every corner. 

Are you ready to sail along the Rhine?

These are just a few of the amazing destinations on a Rhine River cruise. Which country is calling your name? Send me a message to talk about all the options available!

24 Gliding on the river

10 Reasons Why Ocean Cruisers Will Love River Cruising

10 Reasons Why Ocean Cruisers Will Love River Cruising

One of my favorite things as a travel advisor is matchmaking my travelers to experiences they may not have considered before.  It’s so rewarding to have my clients try new things and come back “hooked” – just like so many of my clients do once they try river cruising!

Ocean cruises have been a popular way to vacation for decades, and for good reason. They’re affordable, convenient and offer travelers peace of mind knowing that everything they need for a fantastic getaway is all in one place. What could be better than that? Well, consider a river cruise.

You might think that the words “inland” and “cruise” are incompatible. Well, let me show you on AmaWaterways just how superbly well they go together. AmaWaterways river cruises combine all the comfort and convenience of an ocean cruise with the excitement of European excursions at each port of call.

To all cruise-lovers, perhaps it’s time to shake up the ocean liner experience for an entirely new way to explore the world’s waterways. Let me book you on an AmaWaterways river cruise that will take you inland for a unique and relaxing tour of Europe.

Here are the top 10 reasons I know why you’ll love river cruising, specifically on AmaWaterways!

1.     Expand Your Options

While ocean cruises take you to countries, river cruises take you through them. There simply is no way to reach river cruise destinations on mega cruise ships.

2.     Intimate Experience

River cruising offers a more intimate setting. Most ships range from 144 to 196 passengers. This means that you’ll never have to wait in line, which means you’ll have more time to enjoy all the amenities and have a more personal experience with other passengers and crew. From ordering a beverage to getting on and off the ship, you’ll enjoy the absence of long lines.

3.     Dive into the Local Culture

Get away from the touristy ports and explore hidden gems. Large ocean liner ports can receive up to 20,000 visitors on the same day but with a river cruise, you’ll arrive into port with only a few hundred visitors. Not only will you avoid long lines at your destination, but you’ll also enjoy leisurely excursions at each incredible port of call.  You’ll be able to take in the local culture and history of every unique town that you visit.

River cruising small towns

4.     No Need to Rush Back

With many departures from the destinations being later in the afternoon or evening, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the nightlife in select ports of call. Whether you choose an evening walk through cobblestone streets, a local show or performance, or one last glass of wine after dinner while listening to a local musician, immersing yourself in the evening culture together with the locals is a unique experience.

river cruises bikes

5.     Castle Views

That’s right, castle views. From Amsterdam to Basel along the Rhine River, and in Budapest, Bratislava, Dürnstein and Passau on the Danube, you’ll see colorful architecture and castles that will blow you away. But don’t stop at just viewing the castles, why not hike or drive to them and then explore their fabulousness with a knowledgeable guide? You’ll literally be walking in the footsteps of world history.

river cruising castles

6.     5-Star Reviews

5-star reviews are only earned through 5-star service. When you’re relaxing with a glass of wine on the Sun Deck, enjoying a night under the stars, or having an unexpected encounter with kind locals that your tour guide has arranged for you, you’ll know where our their 5-star reviews come from. See what people are saying about AmaWaterways’ flawless service.

7.     Entertainment for the Whole Family

With a variety of activities and plenty of stops along the way, we’re sure everyone in the family will have an unforgettable experience. River cruising is perfect for multi-generational families. From grandparents to teenaged grandchildren, the entire family will bond over a range of topics and activities from food to history to countryside excursions. There really is something to do for everyone on board at each destination. Some members of your group may choose to take advantage of spa services, or the sundeck pool, or cultural activities, while others may prefer to seek out a quiet space with a book. Mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for everyone to come together again as a family. It really is the perfect multi-generational vacation for your family or group of friends.

river cruising pool decks

8.     Taste the Difference

Whether you’re into wine tasting or local street food, a river cruise provides an exceptional culinary experience both on the ship and at every destination. The onboard culinary team focuses on utilizing fresh local ingredients. Dishes are paired with local wines. There’s absolutely no mass-produced and basic buffet food when you cruise with AmaWaterways!

river cruising bordeaux france

9.     Variety of Experience

Let’s not forget just how special every European country is! The towns and cities may be close in proximity along the river, but don’t be surprised by the unique feeling and experiences that each destination gives you. Choose from visiting local breweries, hiking to castles, biking through trendy neighborhoods or visiting museums that highlight the local culture.

River cruising small towns

10.  World-Class Accommodations

One of the reasons we love river cruises so much (and we know you’ll agree) is the feeling of walking into a luxurious suite or twin-balcony stateroom that will be your home away from home for the next 7, 8, 10 days or more. Each of AmaWaterways staterooms is tastefully decorated and is river facing. Whether you choose to have a window view, a private balcony, or even a twin balcony (with both a French and outside balcony), you’ll always have a room with a view.

So, there you have it. 10 great reasons why you’ll love your first river cruise on AmaWaterways!

I’d love to match your travel style with the right itinerary and ship. Reach out to me today and be sure to mention if you’re planning a romantic getaway, bachelorette trip or a friends’ reunion and I’ll let you know the add-ons available that will make your experience truly special.  

And for more river cruise details check out my other posts:

#2 Sydney Harbor Bridge fun facts

Where to Go in Australia

Australia is often a “bucket list” travel destination for my clients but they keep putting it off! “Maybe one day…” or “Someday I’d like to…” are some of the phrases they send me. I’m here to encourage you to stop thinking of Australia as a “someday” destination and urge you to make it a “this year” destination. Sure, the flight is long (let’s talk about the elephant in the room!) but once you’re there, you will fall in love with Australia and want to return again and again. I’ve helped clients plan trips to Australia with a variety of travel styles:

  • a luxury train trip across the country
  • a self-drive itinerary
  • a romantic honeymoon focused on relaxation and wine-tasting
  • a guided adventure tour focused on adrenaline activities
  • and an animal lover’s route to some of the best kangaroo destinations!

Visiting the Land Down Under and experiencing all that it has to offer is hardly possible in one trip, yet overdoing the itinerary for your visit to this island nation is not advisable. Before you stack your list of “things to do” up too high, I’d like to provide some further insight on the highlights of Australia. That way, as you and your travel agent (that’s me!) discuss your itinerary, you can fill it full of exploration without feeling pressed for time and causing more unnecessary stress. 

Sydney

Sydney Australia

Sydney is one of Australia’s largest and most beloved cities. It is a beautiful place to begin your first 4 to 5 days on the island, especially if you are traveling between June and August. With lots of natural beauty and invigorating city life, there’s so much to explore. Some places you should visit include the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Blue Mountains, Circular Quay and the Harbour, Royal Botanical Gardens, and, last but not least, the beaches.

Melbourne

It’s easy to feel captivated by the beauty of Melbourne, so we suggest spending at least 4 to 5 days here, too. You could honestly get lost forever in all of its wonders. Although it’s nowhere near as busy as Sydney, Melbourne has a bustling scene of its own. In the city, you can dine at one of many delightful restaurants or shop at any of the unique boutiques. However, the best way to get a feel for it all is by touring the entire city. Be sure to visit Federation Square, Flinders Street Train Station, the Yarra River, Chinatown, Bourke Street Pedestrian Mall, and the ever-so-popular Queen Victoria Market.

Great Ocean Road

Travel along Great Ocean Road for some of the most amazing sites in Australia. This coastal road stretches for 151 miles and makes the perfect 2-day trip. Take your time to soak in the views and be sure to stop at the 12 Apostles, London Bridge, all of the beaches and forests situated alongside the road.

Ayers Rock (Uluru)

Ayers Rock, Uluru, Australia

Take 2 or 3 days to visit Ayers Rock if you can squeeze it into your itinerary. Unless you fly, it will take a few days to get to the famously massive sandstone, but it’s well worth it. Some of the most magical moments can be experienced at Ayers Rock, including sunrise, sunset, and stargazing.

Great Barrier Reef

One of Australia’s most quintessential tourist attractions is the Great Barrier Reef. Since the reef stretches from below the Tropic of Capricorn way up to the northern tip of Queensland, there is plenty of opportunity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Plan to spend 3 to 4 days here, visiting Cairns, The Whitsunday Islands, Lady Elliot Island, and Cape Tribulation.

To come up with an itinerary that matches your budget and interests for a trip to Australia, send me an email, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. I would love to discuss all of the possibilities and great things there are to explore this gorgeous Oceania island. 

CONTACT ME


IMG_20190529_145454

My Alaskan Day-Cruise in Prince William Sound with Lazy Otter Charters

Have you ever wanted to come face to face with a glacier closer than what you’d get with a mass-market cruise?  Want to feel like you’re the first explorer in the channels of the Last Frontier? Are you spending time on land in Alaska but really want a glacier experience?  Then take a day cruise in Prince William Sound! 

 

Whittier is a small port town used by Princess Cruises for many of their one-way Vancouver-Anchorage itineraries.  (Most other cruise lines will disembark in Seward instead.) The railway is right across the street from the Princess cruise dock, so travelers coming from Denali National Park or even Anchorage can take the train the same day if they prefer and be on the cruise ship within 5 minutes of getting off the train!  Most travelers view Whitter simply as a whistle-stop… but there’s another reason to visit Whittier, though, and that’s for access to Prince William Sound. 

Prince William Sound is a beautiful marine wilderness, with 3800 miles of coastline,  to the east of the Kenai Penisula and to the south of Anchorage. It has over 150 glaciers including 17 tidewater glacier.  As the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says, “More than 220 species of birds, 30 species of land mammals, and at least a dozen marine mammal species are found in the region. Bald eagles are plentiful along treetops and shorelines. Among the estimated 200,000 seabirds that summer in the sound are marbled murrelets, black-legged kittiwakes, and glaucous-winged gull.”  

We stopped at this rookery whilst on the Lazy Otter cruise.

There are two major companies that will take you on a cruise of Prince William Sound, but I chose Lazy Otter Charters for my May 2019 trip because of their small groups (6 people – they do have another boat for 27 if your party is larger) and I was not disappointed!  Despite their name “Charters,” they run small group tours, which I didn’t realize initially so I didn’t contact them at first. I’m so glad I found out more about them before crossing them off the list — so my mission is to assure you that yes you too can experience this wonderful trip without hiring out a whole charter!  

 They do need a minimum of 4 people to run,  so if you’re only 2 people, they will tell you if anyone else has signed up for that day already, and combine groups.  For instance we joined a party of 4 people who already knew each other. Corresponding with Lazy Otter Charters was very easy.  Their typical day tours are listed on their website. (By the way they also transport kayakers and hikers as a water taxi service – seriously, is there anything they can’t do?)   If you have any questions about what’s “better” or what fits your schedule, just ask them – they are so helpful and kind! (Hint: the longer you can stay on the boat, the more you will see.  Puffins, for instance, are a little further out, so we didn’t see them on the 6.5 hour tour.)  

Icebergs!

There are three major itineraries – “Full Day” (8-9 hours), Harriman Fjord (6-6.5 hours), and Blackstone (4-5 hours).  We were on the Harriman itinerary – we were definitely tired at the end of it so a small part of me was glad we didn’t have another 2 hours with the longer tour,  but I do wish I’d gotten to see puffins and had time for a beach landing/hike. I think the 9 hour tour would have been perfect if I was spending the night nearby,  or if I hadn’t just gotten off a 7-day busy cruise and been up late packing the night before. 😉

You can do these tours either before or after your Princess Cruise, because generally the Princess ships depart quite late from Whittier.  So you could leave Anchorage in the morning, spend the day with Lazy Otter, then walk over to the cruiseship and finish the boarding process and start your 7-day southbound cruise.  

After disembarking our Princess cruise we telephoned Lazy Otter who sent Captain Mike with the truck to take us and our luggage to their cafe.   It really is close to the port so I wouldn’t have minded walking once I realized how close it was (about 10 minutes walk) so this will depend on the amount of luggage you have.   Lazy Otter Charters welcomed us and invited us to have a coffee on the house while we waited for the tour to start. Their cafe is delightful and plenty of people were popping in to grab snacks and hot beverages.  Our tour was slated to start around 11am, so we had plenty of time to charge our phones and enjoy the delicious coffee. There’s also a restroom in the cafe if you prefer to limit your use of the tiny restroom onboard. 

You’ll want to dress in layers and bring rain gear for sure, and bring a small backpack for your extra layers, binoculars, and anything else you need for the day.  It was raining pretty steadily when we left, so I was glad for my raincoat and waterproof boats, but it did stop later on that day; at times close to the glaciers the temperatures did significantly drop so I was glad to have a winter hat, gloves, and scarf in my backpack too.  Like any trip to Alaska, you have to be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and dampness all on the same day! You can stay inside the boat if it’s raining, but there’s also two outdoor areas and you can switch indoors/outdoors as you like. I was also glad I brought an external charger for my phone so I could take as many photos as possible without worrying about battery life. 

Our home for the next six hours!

Once everyone was there, our captain Gabe arrived and introduced himself and led us to his boat, which was also loaded up with coffee, hot water for tea, and plenty of snacks. 

Because it was a small boat and is customized to your interests, we could ask the captain to detour anywhere we wanted, so we could explore different channels and passageways as we kept our eyes out for bears.  Captain Gabe had tons of stories about exploring the Alaska coastline and we could ask him whatever we wanted and it was so wonderful getting to talk to native Alaskans and continuing to learn more about this Great Land. 

Rare Golden Eagle!

The other travelers in our group were very friendly and well traveled and it did not feel awkward at all sharing the boat with them.  They were very kind towards us and generous in sharing their experiences of the land tour they had just finished (since we were headed to the interior of Alaska ourselves soon).   I think travel and experiences can really connect strangers!

We spent the day exploring Prince William Sound, found a young female whale feeding, spotted a rare Golden Eagle, photographed lots of birds, raced dolphins in the water, saw many families of sea otters, and got to see Cascade Glacier calving. The small boat got us so much closer to the glaciers than any large cruise ship could, and we were even supposed to have a glacier beach landing for a small hike but the tides weren’t cooperating.  Most of Lazy Otter’s charters do include a glacier beach landing though. 

 

 

We had a picnic lunch and plenty of coffee and tea onboard too.  Lazy Otter Charters was also very accommodating in making sure there were no nuts for Mr TravelObservations’ allergy;   we had bagels and homemade salmon dip for snacks and then there were also Kaiser buns with lunch meat and cheese and condiments for lunch,  along with delicious chocolate chip cookies. We were not hungry at the end of the trip, that’s for sure. I wish I could have some of that salmon spread right now!

 

Approaching Cascade and Barry Glaciers

We got back to Whittier before the Lazy Otter Cafe closed, so we were able to collect our baggage and then we walked back to the train station (it’s literally a tent instead of a brick-and-mortar-station… so don’t worry about being there exceptionally early).  Lazy Otter will get you back on time! Then we took the 6:45pm train to Anchorage, which was also a beautiful ride as well! We arrived in Anchorage around 9pm and took an Uber to our hotel, before flying to Fairbanks the next day to start a land tour of Alaska. 

I highly recommend making Lazy Otter Charters part of your budget and itinerary for a free day in Whittier, either before or after embarking an Alaska cruise.   The surreal experience of being the only boat within miles, gently pushing by huge slabs of ice as we approached the glacier, filled with the forest silences as an otter popped its head above the water,  was an incredible one that I’m so glad I partook in. Or if you are only exploring Alaska on land and have no plans to take a 7 day cruise, this is an amazing day trip to get you up close to glaciers and wildlife.     Also, they are one of the few tours that operate all year round! 

 

You would easily be able to do this as a daytrip from Anchorage or Aleyska or any other close towns.   I have no hesitation in recommending Lazy Otter Charters for an upclose Alaskan experience!  

Their website is: https://www.lazyottercharters.com/

Please note:  I did not receive any compensation from Lazy Otter Charters for writing this post, I simply enjoyed my experience and want to share them with other travelers! 

 

Interested in more Alaska travel? Curious about other Alaska trips?

Check out my article on different ways to explore this beautiful state.  Make sure to contact me if you’d like some help;  Alaska is one of my favorite itineraries to design as part of my services as a certified travel agent.

kasbah

Trip Report – A Week In Morocco: Marrakech, Essaouira, and the Atlas Mountains

In November I visited Morocco for the first time (if you don’t count previous layovers in the Casablanca airport!).   It was one of my favorite trips in all of 2018 and I already have plans to return.  I’ve also sent many clients to Morocco,  including honeymooners, and I definitely thought it was a very romantic, adventurous location after I visited it for myself.

What about language?

I do speak French, and I used local Arab greetings when shopping (please note Moroccans are very proud of their Berber culture and at least 3 different people made sure to bring up that they are distinct from Arabs, however we were assured that for basic greetings, Arabic is perfectly acceptable and everyone uses Salaam Alaikum for greetings and Shukran for thank you.)   I do think knowing the basics in French will help travelers enormously,  and I think my positive experience was definitely influenced by not having major communications problems, but the tourism industry is strong enough that as long as you are respectful and open,  English speakers will do fine in the cities.   (Once we got into rural areas there was barely any French, it was all Berber.)

However,  I’ve asked other non-French speakers and they agreed that they had a great time in the major cities,  and that having a guide or a small group tour does help immensely (you’re also supporting the local economy by doing so).   Please don’t let lack of French/Arabic/Berber prevent you from visiting this beautiful country!

Day 1 – arrival

We got into Marrakesh late and had quite a long delay in customs.  Here’s my first insider tip (and I plan to do this for my clients moving forward) – there are priority services you can purchase ahead of time that will whisk you to the front of the line at customs and passport control.  It’s worth it – we waited over 2 hours just to get through passport control, and I wish I had known about the priority services ahead of time!  Once we found out about it,  we ended up getting the priority services for our departure and it was extremely efficient and we even had our own private security line at passport control.

Our hotel arranged a driver to pick us up at the airport, which I recommend since they will know where the hotel is located exactly – I didn’t want our first night to be spent lost in the winding backstreets during a dark and rainy night!   The driver got as close as possible to the front door and then called the hotel who came and escorted us the rest of the way- there are lot of places like these in Marrakesh where cars just can’t go any further so it’s wise to read reviews ahead of time to see if your hotel is easy to find or if you should ask them to send someone to meet you the first day.

Our hotel – or riad, as these traditional buildings are called – was just delightful.  In the summer, I’m sure that pool is absolutely refreshing in the midday sun.   Riads are designed around a courtyard and a water feature,  and rooms often open up directly onto the courtyard.   Our hotel was named Riad Alili and it was perfect.

We had arranged for dinner ahead of time (many riads will offer this service – I recommend it for your first night if you think you’ll be too tired to go out and explore) and even though we were extremely delayed,  a feast was waiting for us.   After serving us the traditional welcome mint tea, the night manager Reddah lit a fire for us in the dining room and brought us a 3 course meal of soup,  chicken tangine, and the most fantastic pomegranate-based desert ever.   Even though it was almost 10pm, sitting next to this wonderful fire,  with the flavorful meal, surrounded by beautiful architecture,  made us feel like we had started our trip off right!

We were here for 3 nights and I should add our last night we chose to eat dinner at the riad again – we just loved the service and the intimacy of sitting in the various living quarters, often near a fireplace.

 

Day 2 – Photography and Exploring

 

Hotel Morocco

We woke up excited for our breakfast – and were not disappointed!  You can tell the staff in the morning where you’d like to eat and our first morning we ate outside by the pool (by the second day we admitted it was a little chillier than we were expecting and moved to the living room to relax!).  A full breakfast is included with Riad Alili and each morning we were served fruits, yogurts, breads, omelets, Moroccan pancakes, fresh orange juice…  Hearing the birds chirping and listening to the sounds of the city waking up while surrounded by this beautiful riad was a wonderful way to start the day.

On our first full day in Marrakesh I had arranged to do a half-day photography tour with VM Photography.  (I can post a separate blog post but in the meantime,  many of my photos taken on this day are on my Instagram page!)   It was an absolutely fantastic way to explore residential neighborhoods in one of the most photogenic countries I’ve ever visited.  It’s not a walking-tour per se,  as you are not necessarily near any tourist sites,  but it is a wonderful morning spend in the streets “where ordinary people live” and being able to photograph the real Marrakesh.

Here are some of the photos I took during this morning workshop:

Later today we went to the Secret Garden (yes, it’s actually called that).  It was a lovely, quiet peaceful spot.  It’s small, but seems very removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.  It’s a historical palace that only recently reopened to the public.  I recommend paying the extra couple of dollars to climb the tower there.  There’s a café where we sat for a bit and had mint tea and just enjoyed the peacefulness.

(Note:  there are lots of other wonderful places to visit in Marrakesh such as the Majorelle Gardens and the Saadian Tombs but we were being very cognizant of not trying to cram in too much – we’ll just have to return and finish the traditional sightseeing later!)

Morocco Secret Garden

We also stopped at a market eatery for lunch which involved pointing to a fresh fish and having it grilled to order (then finding out that we still had a whole second half to eat when they brought it to our table just as we were slowing down) and to Jemaa El-Fna, the vibrant town square with street vendors, monkey handlers, and snake charmers (no photos – people will expect tips and we were also trying not to attract the attention of pickpockets).

Jemaa El-Fna is extremely lively and it also is a great evening location, there are restaurants with balconies overlooking the square or you can do a With Locals tour like this one that takes you around the various market vendors and gives you insight into the city.

I will say that this could feel overwhelming if it is your very first introduction to an African market and if you want to ease into it,  go in the morning when it’s still waking up or go right before nightfall so you feel comfortable walking around.

I was definitely planning on coming back here during the night to sample the street food but I think this was the night we fell asleep early from jetlag so we never ended up returning.

Special note about the square: If you’re an animal lover, the monkeys on chains and the cobras with snake charmers may be upsetting.   Don’t make eye contact with their handlers (in case they think you want a photo holding the animals) and just go a little deeper into the square, the animal handlers are mostly around the periphery.  Do also be a little bit more on alert here, crowds always attract pickpockets.   Many people may try to talk to you because culturally it’s appropriate for a restaurant owner to approach you with their menu and ask if you want to try their food.  Just smile politely and say no,  and keep walking – they are not meaning to be harassing and they do mean well.

Embrace getting lost…

I have Google Fi as my phone carrier and having free international roaming was invaluable as I was able to use the walking directions on Google Maps to find our way out of the medina (market).  I loved the medina because it reminded me of the great markets in West Africa where I used to shop,  but I can understand why some people might be uncomfortable if you’ve never experience the twisty, turning alleys and have never gotten lost in a foreign country before.   If you don’t have Google Maps,  you’ll inevitably feel a little lost,  but just slow down,  take a deep breath, keep a sharp lookout for landmarks (you’ll quickly find yourself saying “we turn left at the butcher”…) and just accept that you’ll find your way out eventually (or if someone guides you out, give them a small tip).   Part of the fun is just exploring and embracing the vastness of the medina.

Day 3- Cooking Class!

Morocco cooking class

Today we had one of our favorite experiences so far… A day with Souk Cuisine’s cooking classes!  This was one of the highlights of my trip.  It was all day (about 10am – 3pm) but didn’t feel long at all,  and was one of my favorite activities in all of my travels.  I highly recommend this activity!

 

Day 4 – On to Essaouira

Today we took a bus to Essaouira, “the windy city”, 3 hours from Marrakech on the Atlantic coast. It’s a gorgeous little beach town with bright doors and fortified ramparts you can walk on. Many films, such as Kingdom of Heaven and Game of Thrones, were filmed here. We were just able to spend one night before going up to the mountains, but I wanted to see Essaouira and also Mr TravelObservations loves the ocean so I wanted to be sure to add it in.

If you want to know how we took the bus from Marrakech to Essaouira,  I’ve written a blog post on this exact topic here.

I have to say the bus was extremely comfortable and very easy to take.  It was safe and enjoyable and the road was in excellent condition between Marrakesh and Essaouira.

Morocco bus

Our hotel offered to send what they called a “luggage mover” to meet us at the bus stop.  To our surprise this turned out to be a man with a wheelbarrow who put our luggage (and some other passengers’) into his barrow and took off at a brisk pace to lead us to the hotel.  The hotel had told us ahead of time what the cost would be (30d) but we weren’t sure whether to pay the man or the hotel,  but in the end we paid the man and this was the correct thing to do. You might want to clarify with the hotel ahead of time.  I believe these types of porters do regularly wait at the bus stops and you can negotiate them yourself, but it was nice knowing the hotel had already pre-bartered the cost.     Much of Essaouira is actually car-free,  so be prepared to either walk to your hotel with your suitcases or to negotiate with these wheelbarrow porters.

Morocco Essaouira
This is the “luggage mover” the hotel sent!

Our riad in Essaouira, called Riad Baladin, was absolutely adorable.  We were on the third floor (not recommended if you have problems with stairs!) where ours was the only room so it felt completely private.  There were multiple hidden terraces and unique rooms, and our room had a gas fireplace which came in handy this evening as the rain made it quite damp and chilly.

Once you get your bearings you realize that the town is very small and it is easy to wander around and retrace your steps and just enjoy exploring. There are many restaurants and small shops near Riad Baladin and it was a very hospitable riad – for example, we checked out early but left our luggage there as we were taking a tour and then returning in the afternoon; they gave us a spare key to get back in and offered us the use of a private shower even though we vacated our room. I am glad we stayed in this lovely little riad full of character.

Morocco Riad Ali

Today was quite rainy, but we did get a chance to walk around the harbor and see the fisherman bringing in their boats.   We got caught in a very strong downpour at one point, and spent a couple hours in a beautiful café having tea and snacks.   Later, we were told by the hotel architect that we happened to be visiting during one of the rainiest weeks in recent history, so we didn’t feel quite as foolish for being ill-equipped for dealing with the weather.

Morocco Essaouira

Essaouira does have a bit of a “hippy” vibe and Jim Morrison comes up a lot. However,  if you stay at a wonderful hotel like Riad Baladin they will give you plenty of inside tips and knowledge to experience the local culture.    This was our first small town since leaving Marrakesh and it was a wonderful contrast of sleepy little tourist town with the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

Morocco Essaouira Boats

After spending the night in Essaouira, I’m not sure how people do it in a day trip!  It was raining when we arrived and if we had had to leave that same evening we would have barely seen any of the town.  I suppose if you have no other choice you could do the roundtrip 6 hour bus ride,  and I know many tour companies do offer a day trip to Essaouira,  but I myself really enjoyed spending one night here and just relaxing.   I’d recommend 1-2 nights here for your trip if you are the type that likes beach towns and photographic opportunities.  There are some foodie tours and I believe even some more cooking classes you can take.   There isn’t a lot of “tourist” stuff to do after the first day or so I wouldn’t spend a whole week here unless you truly just want a beach vacation, and even then be aware that it is known as The Windy City for a reason and it’s more for surfing, not swimming.

 

Morocco trip report

Day 5 – Horse Back Riding in Essaouira!

We had a wonderful morning with Zouina Cheval, an excursions company who picked us up and took us about 15 minutes outside the town. Mr TravelObservations got his wish to ride a camel, and I rode an incredible Arabian stallion named Salim.

Morocco Essaouira horse

The guides were surprised that in the USA we don’t normally ride stallions except for racing or breeding. The Arab horse was one of the strongest and most spirited horses I have ever ridden and you could definitely see why the Bedouins have prized their horses for centuries and will spend days trekking across the mountains and forests.

Morocco Essaouira riding

It was a lovely experience and I’m so glad I got to do this! The same company offers overnight horse trekking and I wouldn’t have any hesitation in recommending them.

Afterwards we had lunch and in the early afternoon our driver picked us up for a three hour drive to our new hotel, Kasbah Angour.   I arranged the driver ahead of time with a company called Med Taxi Essaouira.    They communicated with WhatsApp the day of the transfer but do be aware it’s likely that companies like this will send a “luggage mover”, again, the men with wheelbarrows that I mentioned the previous day, to collect you from the pedestrian area.  We walked right past the wheelbarrow man and he waited for twenty minutes cause we were expecting a more official-looking taxi man to come to the hotel door,  and then the hotel owner went outside and spoke to the porter and found out he was supposed to lead us to the taxi.  So just be aware of this type of situation and be flexible.   Since we had paid the previous porter 30dh,  that’s what I tipped this porter today.

Upon arrival to Kasbah Angour, we were personally greeted by the owner who gave us a tour.  The hotel is just stunning – it looks old but is actually newly built, in the traditional style.   Tons of tiny details like heated floors in the bathrooms!  There are lots of terraces and sitting areas to just enjoy the scenery and relax. My honeymooners also spent a couple nights here and l loved it too.    It was the perfect oasis of culture, beauty, and access to the Berber countryside.

Morocco Kasbah Angour

Day 6

We spent this day as a free day – initially we had planned on doing some hiking but woke up to rain and decided to just enjoy the delightful amenities at the hotel.   We read books by the fire, drank copious amounts of mint tea, explored the grounds,  and also went for a short walk in the afternoon in the area – we stayed on the main road as it was quite muddy but I can see how you could really have a wonderful day hiking if it was drier.   We saw shepherds minding their flocks and beautiful streams with argan trees.  We met some other hotel guests and they raved about the hikes with the local guides that the hotel had organized – the guide even brought a donkey for the children to ride when they got tired of walking.   I do recommend using the hotel’s local guides as most people in this area will only speak Berber.

Kasbah Angour feels very remote but is very luxurious and is the perfect antidote if you’re feeling rushed – if it had been warmer I would have loved to just enjoy the pool as well!  I will definitely continue to recommend it to all my clients.   I like its location as you’re really only an hour from Marrakesh airport as well, so it’s not inconvenient to get to.  If you really like country stays you could even use this as a base and go into Marrakesh just for the day (they will arrange a driver to take you and wait to bring you back).

Day 7 – exploring the Atlas Mountains

Morocco Atlas Mountains

Our last full day in the Atlas Mountains we used a driver from the hotel for an excursion to the Tinmal Mosque and to Imlil (and stopped in Asni as it was market day).  The hotel has a list of these types of excursions for which it can provide drivers,  and although the drive to Tinmal was pricer than the others I was very excited about this opportunity to explore the mountains even more deeply.    It was a very unique experience – if you don’t have the opportunity to spend the night in the Atlas Mountains you can still do this type of excursion from Marrakesh so I do recommend considering it.

Morocco drive

The city of Tin Mal was established by Ibn Tumart, the founder and mahdi (spiritual leader) of the Almohads, around 1124, and was the cultural and religious center of the empire until the city’s destruction by the rival Merinid dynasty in the 1270s. All that was spared, apart from a few fragments of wall, was the monumental mosque constructed in 1156 in honor of Ibn Tumart, according to official Almohad doctrine.

Morocco mosque

The mosque was abandoned for many years, but partially restored in the 1990s. It is one of the very few mosques in Morocco that non Muslims are allowed to enter.

Morocco mosque

Morocco mosque tour

Kasbah Angour packed us a picnic lunch as well, and we could have bought more snacks in Asni as it was market day.  The driver showed us the market (this part was a bit random, we were left to walk around the market on our own but honestly since I used to go to African markets in my Peace Corps days it wasn’t anything “shocking” or “surprising”, and I think Mr TravelObservations was also wondering what we were doing here since we weren’t buying anything) and we also sat at a restaurant and ate our picnic lunch and people-watched.  Asni was interesting – and it also turns out it’s the same town The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited on their Royal Tour of Morocco a few months later so that was cool – but unless you have a guide with you for the market portion or want to barter in French/Berber for some of the items I’m not sure if it’s really a highlight for most people.

After our stop in Asni we headed up a mountain pass to Imlil.   Imlil sits at the base of the highest peak in North Africa in Mount Toubkal National Park. As the last stop on the tarmac road, it has become the heart of Moroccan mountain tourism as this is where many visitors pick up mules and guides to lead them up into the mountains.  We had a small stop here,  but the hotel could have also arranged a full-day trip here if you wanted to focus on Imlil,   we had just wanted to add on the Tinmal Mosque so that didn’t allow that much time for Imlil.   The mountains were extraordinarily beautiful and you could hire mules for trekking or go on guided hikes.

Morocco Imlil

Day 8  – Departure  (with an overnight layover in Paris!)

Goodbye Morocco! I’ll be back for sure!  The hospitality, deep culture, incredible history, gorgeous architecture, delicious food, and absolute stunning scenery made for a wonderful trip.

 

Do you want to visit Morocco? 

I’ve shared this post as a useful guide if you’re considering your own trip to Morocco,  but if you like additional help planning your trip,  be sure to contact me. I am a certified travel agent and if you’re interested in a guided group tour I can let you know which guided tour packages I recommend and/or which ones fit your travel style — or I can build a customized itinerary from scratch just like this one in the blog post.

 

 

IMG_20181121_092417

Taking the Bus in Morocco Between Marrakesh and Essaouira

This is an expanded explanation from my trip report, One Week In Morocco.

We researched ahead of time and found there are two main bus companies – CTM and  Supratours .  I had actually decided on  CTM but since our hotel was kind enough to send a guide to accompany us to the office to buy tickets, and he took us to Supratours,  I just went with the flow and got tickets from Supratours instead.   Do try to buy your tickets ahead of time in case they sell out .   Supratours has “Comfort Plus” buses with reclining seats and smaller passenger count, but we didn’t take one of those buses cause we wanted the 10:45am departure, not 9am.    Supratours does have a more convenient drop-off location for Essaouira so you’re planning to walk to your hotel in Essaouira, you might want to look up the distance on Google Maps ahead of time.

You don’t have to go to the stations themselves to buy tickets – each bus company has a ticket-selling office closer to the central area, so ask your hotel or look online where the best place is to get tickets.  Almost all the hotels/riads that cater to tourists will be very used to this request. 

This is what your bus ticket looks like. In the upper right corner, your “Place” is your seat number – very important!

A couple tips:

  • Your tickets have seat numbers and people will insist on sitting exactly where they are assigned, so don’t try to sit somewhere else until you see how full the bus is.  In the photo above, the seat number is in the upper right hand corner labeled “Place”.
  • Both CTM and Supratours will offer a 15 minute rest stop about halfway through the trip,  you can buy snacks, water, and use the restrooms.  There aren’t any restrooms on the bus.   
  • When you get to the bus station in Marrakesh to check in, look for a counter to pre-pay for your checked bags.  At the Supratours station in Marrakesh, this was an open room to the LEFT of the main entrance to the station and had a long counter.  So we didn’t have to go inside the main station cause we already had our tickets, we just had to go to the luggage office.  You will show them your bus tickets and they will ask you how many bags you have.  You have to pay per bag.   They’ll give you a receipt and look carefully – this will actually be a sticker that you must put on your baggage before putting it under the bus.    This tells the staff you paid for your bags correctly.
These are what your luggage tags look like – I didn’t realize they were tags but if you look closely they are stickers and you can peel the backs and put them on your baggage before storing them under the bus.
  • You can put small bags or back-bags over your head on the bus if you don’t want to check them,  but on the regular bus there isn’t a whole lot of leg room (just average bus legroom) so don’t try to carry all your bags with you, you’ll only annoy your seatmate.  Take a small bag to keep at your seat and then check the rest for convenience.
  • Everything was very punctual so be sure to allow enough time to take a taxi from the hotel to the bus station and to sort out your luggage.   The bus stations tend to be further away from the central Marrakesh hotels,  so make sure you’re aware of travel times. The bus won’t wait for you!
  • The bus may not be at the station if you arrive early.  Don’t worry,  everyone will cluster around the correct loading bay (you can ask someone if you’re not sure) and when the bus does arrive,  it should say its destination in the front window. When in doubt just ask the bus driver.   Once the bus arrives and they open up the luggage compartment, give your checked bags to the staff to put underneath.  When you board they will often have a person with a clipboard checking your tickets, instead of giving them to the bus driver.

The bus will stop about halfway through the 3 hour trip to allow you to stretch your legs for 15 minutes, use the washrooms, and buy a snack.  

I used a private driver for the return to Marrakesh as I was going straight to a new hotel in the Atlas Mountains, but for a direct journey,  the buses were comfortable, cheap, and very easy.   I would definitely take this route again with either Supratours or CTM!

Montana6

5 Reasons To Visit Glacier National Park

If Glacier National Park is on your bucket list, you’re not alone – thousands flock to Northwestern Montana every year between spring and fall to explore the glacier-carved lakes and valley. While less than 30 actual glaciers remain, the soaring mountains and sparkling lakes are enough to leave a last impression in your mind. If you haven’t added this to your next “make it happen list,” here are five reasons I fell in love with Glacier last summer.

1. It’s a hiker’s paradise.

With 700 miles of trails and hikes, there’s something for everyone at GNP. Stroll less than a mile to sweeping vistas and waterfalls, or pack your bag and take a two day backwoods hiking trip (permits required). Tip: Like popular trails in other parks, it’s always best to start early to avoid casual crowds and the hotter part of the day, but don’t underestimate the allure of exploring some trails in the latter part of the day when most people have started heading back to the lodging – just make sure you’ve given yourself time to get back to your car before dark.

 

2. Even if you don’t hike, there is something for everyone: the drives are fantastic – and so are the views from the water.

The Going to the Sun Road, which only opens in late June due to snow, is 50 miles of jaw dropping vistas between the east and west side of the park. You can also take boats across the lakes for scenic alpine views. (Just remember, some of those boats also serve as “shortcuts” for hikers in certain parts of the park, so the early morning ones will most likely fill up ahead of time.)

 

3. You really can get away.

We all claim we want to disconnect from our cell phones a little more. With limited to no cell phone service in many of the areas of the park, we’re forced to enjoy the moment instead of instantly trying to show everyone else back home. Use your phone to take all the photos you want to look at later– but you won’t be able to instantly post to social media, so put it away after snapping your memories and just soak it in. (Never fear, there is internet back at the lodge lobbies if you need to do some quick checks back with the real world – but you’ll find yourself caring less and less about that).

 

4. Huckleberries

Ok, maybe you don’t know if you are into huckleberries, but don’t count it out until you experience the pure joy of changing your shoes after a day of exploring, getting some freshly made huckleberry ice cream from your lodge, strolling down to the lake, and watching moose feed in the dusk. 

 

5.  Your day might be unpredictable – and that’s a good thing.

Maybe you were planning to tackle a certain trail but it’s closed, so you find a new trail nearby a hiker told you about yesterday, and you end up loving it. Maybe you go exploring on the first day and see a bear and her cubs off in the distance. Maybe you meet a park ranger who’s worked here for 50 years and tells you all sorts of stories about what they’ve seen over the years. Maybe in the lodge at dinner, you might find yourself talking with other visitors from all over the world – or you end up sitting next to someone who’s from the town down the road from you and you strike up a conversation about how this has always been a goal of yours. Maybe your husband is wearing a Super Bowl 52 Champions hat the whole time and people on the trail can’t help but smile and high five you – every single day no matter what trail you’re on.  Maybe you go in August and see lightning strike across the water – fueling a months-long forest fire which involves you evacuating the lodge one night and adjusting your plans for the rest of the trip. Maybe you turn a corner and see a mountain goat posing against sky like he’s just waiting for you to take a photo (you do). Or maybe you tackle a trail you never thought you would go to the end of – and conquer it. Life is full of maybes – Glacier Park will turn those into realities.

Thank you to guest poster Sophia Curcio for submitting these tips!  I helped book her accommodation in Montana for this trip.  If you’d like to read more about me, be sure to check out my travel agent services

 

Banos hiking

Three Days in Banos, Ecuador: Waterfalls and Hot Chocolate

Try to add on a trip to Banos if you’re traveling through Ecuador! Here, a client kindly submitted a guest blog after I planned a trip for her to Quito and Banos. (To see the itinerary for that trip, click here). Read on to find out why Banos is a fantastic place to end your trip to Ecuador!

Banos hiking

Thanks so much for suggesting we spend the last two nights of our Ecuador trip in Banos! It was the perfect way to finish our week there – and it was awesome to have the options for either “adventure” or “relax” since Banos has both!

Day One: Explore Banos

In Banos, we stayed in the beautiful Samari Spa and Resort, which was a short walk or $2-3 taxi ride from the center of town. Although it was not in town, it was nice to end our trip with such a beautiful hotel – you can wander the grounds and find lots of little hiding places to relax and read a book, or sit by the pool, or have a spa day (more on that later).  Banos is known as the “Adventure Capital” of the world, so we also had plenty of options in town for zip lining tours and similar activities, for those who are interested.

We stumbled upon the local church by accident, and learned that this was a place of pilgrimage for many in the area. Legend has it that the town is protected by the Virgin Mary from the volcano above it, and many visit here to bathe in the waters and ask for healing.


Besides coffee, Ecuador is known for amazing hot chocolate, and Banos didn’t disappoint. Regular hot chocolate will never be the same! It was the perfect excuse to slow down in a sidewalk cafe and people watch in the Banos square for a little bit.

Banos Ecuador

Day Two: The Waterfall Route & The Swing At The Edge of the World

Banos hiking waterfall

The Waterfall Route (or the Ruta de las Cascadas) is a very popular “to do” in Banos.  You can rent bikes and do this yourself, or sign up with a variety of tour companies offering it in town. We opted for an awesome driver/company that you recommended!

The Waterfall Route is a series of 7 different waterfalls along the way, ending with Pailon del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron), a world famous series of three waterfalls set in a beautiful gorge. If you’ve brave (and flexible!) you can clamber through a series of smaller staircases (aka tunnels – we had to crouch to get through!) to get very close to the top of the falls for a more up close view.

Banos hiking waterfalls

The best part about doing a private or semi-private tour is the earlier start time: the first part of the morning, we barely saw anyone else on the road; on the way back, there were a ton of lines and tour buses crowding around the different attractions on the way. The reason there are lines is that the the attractions include not just the waterfalls, but different options for adventures – ziplining, bungee jumping, etc. We opted for just a gondola ride to see a waterfall up close (which was high enough of for me!), but again, for those of your clients more adventurous, they could have their fill of thrills here!

The Waterfall Route took about a half day, and in the afternoon our guide took us to “The Swing At the Edge of the World,” which is a little touristy but we decided to just embrace it. The day we visited, heavy clouds obscured the views of the mountains, but we still had fun. We also headed up to various viewpoints to enjoy the views and learn more about Banos’ history and topography.

Banos swing

 

Day Three: Relax!

Banos pool hotel

We had a late flight departing from Quito, so we decided to make our last day in Banos a “relax” day. There are no shortage of spa/massage options in Banos, and you can also visit the public thermal baths too. We decided to treat ourselves to a spa day right at our hotel, which was an awesome way to end our time in Ecuador. Our spa was considered “expensive” but at $100 each for a 4-5 hour spa day, it felt like a bargain compared to prices back home!

Banos Samari hotel

The same small family-owned company provided the transfers back and forth from Quito as well as our tour of the waterfalls. Had we wanted to be more active on the last day, we could have gone hiking, horse back riding, zip lining, and so forth.

Banos Samari hotel
Can you see the peacock?

Thank again for recommending Banos – it was the perfect finish to our Ecuador trip, and we look forward to visiting again one day!

If you’d like to see how these clients spent the rest of their time in Ecuador, you can read more suggestions here.   And don’t forget to check out my other itineraries and services on my About Me page.