10 Can't-Miss Sights and Activities in Kyoto

Kyoto is a top destination for those seeking traditional Japanese history, art, and culture. The city served as the imperial capital from 794 until 1868 and remains a cultural hub filled with temples and teahouses, gardens and geisha. With so much to do, see, and experience in this bustling city of 1.5 million people, here are my top experiences in the city of Kyoto. These are in no particular order ... how could I possibly rank these incredible sights?
 

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Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji
This Zen temple is accurately called "Golden Pavilion," since its top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. This shimmering example of temple architecture has burned down many times over the years and was most recently rebuilt in 1955. Its companion, Ginkaku-ji ("Silver Pavilion"), although not actually covered in silver, is also quite a sight and is located just on the other side of the city.

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Sagano Bamboo Forest and Iwatayama Monkey Park
Located about 10 minutes apart in Kyoto's Arashiyama district (about 30 minutes from the city center), the Sagano Bamboo Forest and the Iwatayama Monkey Park are both fascinating places to spend a day. The bamboo forest, with its paths through soaring stalks of bamboo, is one of Kyoto's most photographed destinations. Avoid afternoons and weekends to bypass the biggest crowds. At nearby Iwatayama Monkey Park, visitors who take the 35- to 45-minute hike up to the park can get up close and personal with more than 170 wild Japanese macaque monkeys (also known as snow monkeys). Inside the park, you can observe the monkeys (don't touch!) and purchase food to feed them.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine
If you're familiar with just one image of Kyoto, it is probably the red torii gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine. The earliest structures that make up the shrine complex were built in 711, and today, the shrine is considered the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. In addition to the thousands of torii gates, which are said to mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred, you'll find many fox statues at Fushimi Inari, as the fox is considered the messenger of Inari.

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Geisha Culture in Gion District
Although geishas can be found throughout Japan, Kyoto is considered the birthplace of geisha culture, and it is still the best place to learn about and see geisha, which are actually called geiko in Kyoto. Geisha training in the traditional Japanese arts begins between the ages of 15 and 20 and lasts at least five years before the trainee is considered a full-fledged geiko; until that time, they are known as maiko. The best time to spot a geisha out and about in Kyoto is in the evening, around 5:45 p.m. as they head to work. If you want to take a photo, be respectful, don't stand in their way, and recognize that they probably do not have time to pose for a photo.

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Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle was originally built between 1601 and 1603 as the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. Widely considered to be a monument to the power the shoguns held over the emperor during the period, it was intentionally built overlooking the nearby Imperial Palace and includes exquisite details like intricate wood carvings and decorative panels that stand in direct contrast to the stark design of the royal palace.

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Nishiki Market
If you are in search of all of the culinary delights that Kyoto has to offer, Nishiki Market is where you should head. This five-block-long street is home to more than 100 restaurants and shops where you can find everything from fresh seafood and produce to knives and cookware. You'll also find some of Kyoto's culinary specialties, including sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi in this lively market area. 

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Founded in 778 as a temple to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built entirely without the use of nails. The structure is perhaps best known for the wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 43 feet from the hillside below. From the stage, visitors can view the numerous cherry and maple trees below, as well as the city of Kyoto in the distance. If you're planning a visit in the next couple of years, note that Kiyomizu-dera's main hall is completely covered as it undergoes renovation of its roof through March 2020. The main hall will still be accessible during renovations.

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Philosopher's Path
The Philosopher's Path is a stone walkway that follows a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees. It stretches just over a mile through the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district. The path takes its name from Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japanese philosopher, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. The path is lined with restaurants and boutiques, and there are a number of smaller temples and shrines nearby. The most notable of the temples is Honen-in, with an entrance gate that is quite spectacular especially during the autumn leaf season.

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Traditional Tea Ceremony
Kyoto is the birthplace of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and thus is the perfect place to experience this highly ritualized tradition firsthand. There are many places throughout Kyoto where one can experience chado or sado, as the ceremony is known, but a teahouse called En offers an authentic tea ceremony that comes highly recommended. For a more exclusive experience, arrange for a private tea ceremony in a local temple.

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Hike from Kurama to Kibune
Nestled in the Kitayama Mountains of northern Kyoto, Kurama and Kibune are rustic villages with traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. During the moderately challenging hike of 1.5 hours between the two, you will encounter Kuramadera Temple with its bright red lanterns. The hike ends at the beautiful Kifune Shrine, dedicated to the god of rain.

Want more Japan travel tips? Visit my Japan destination website for details on destinations and can't-miss experiences throughout the country. And when you're ready to start planning your trip, reach out to me at kati@mosaicworldtravel.com, and I'll help ensure it's the vacation of a lifetime!

5 Ways to Make Your Travel More Sustainable

I'm certain you've heard of sustainable tourism, but do you know what it means and why it should be important to anyone who loves to travel? National Geographic outlines the three main aspects of sustainable tourism — employing environmentally friendly practices, protecting cultural and natural heritage, and providing social and economic benefits for local communities.

So, being a part of the sustainable tourism movement really means respecting, protecting and supporting the countries and cultures you visit. But how do you do that? Read on for a few easy ways to ensure your travels have a positive impact!

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Do the Research (or work with someone who does)
One of the first things that I learned when traveling in Asia was that not all animal experiences are created equal. For example, many countries have elephant "sanctuaries" where you can spend a day playing with the elephants. You arrive expecting the experience of a lifetime, interacting with happy, well-cared-for creatures, and instead you wind up realizing you've paid money to people who clearly don't care about the elephants, use harsh training tactics and offer sub-par facilities. What could have been a life-changing experience for you ends up depressing and disturbing. One of the things I am most passionate about in my business is ensuring that every animal experience I schedule for a client is thoroughly vetted and deemed responsible by me personally when possible or by my colleagues on the ground. Be sure you look beyond claims made by the sanctuary owners and know the reality.

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Buy Local
You may think that because you see someone selling handicrafts that they were the one who made them and you're purchasing something authentic when you buy from them. However, that's not always the case! Souvenirs are very often mass-produced in other countries and shipped to tourist spots. While you may be benefiting that individual when you buy from them, you are also hurting the traditional handmade culture of a place. Buying from local artisans or in collectives where the work of several artisans is sold is a great way to buy something you know is authentic, support the local economy, and also help keep traditional artisanal techniques alive.

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Use Local Guides
Making use of a local guide not only puts money back into the local economy but also ensures a more meaningful experience for you. Well-trained local guides will have significant knowledge and bring an authenticity to your trip that you can't find by following a guidebook or going it alone. Just be sure your guides are well-trained; a tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia who offers to show you Angkor may know his way around, but he may not be qualified to fill you in on the complex history and significance of this incredible destination. So choose wisely and vet your guides.

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Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Walk or take a bike for short trips, consider a train over a plane if it's available, or make the most of public transportation. Travel isn't just about the destination, it's about the journey, and how you get there matters! Obviously, you don't have many alternatives when it comes to the flight to get to Asia, but consider offsetting your carbon footprint through a reputable organization. Beyond transportation, also take a look at the environmental practices of the hotels you choose. There are some truly amazing five-star properties throughout Asia that are also environmentally responsible, so you don't have to sacrifice your comfort for the environment!

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Give Wisely
If you decide you want to donate in some way to the communities you visit, please consider the overall impact of your donation. So many people bring candy to give to children, without thinking about the fact that those children may not have access to regular dental care. Or they bring gifts of clothing or cash to give to individuals, which can create conflict within a community. When I travel, my goal has always been to give a donation of 10% of the cost of my trip to a reputable charity doing work in the area I visit. I do my own research about which organizations have the greatest impact, but I also talk to my guides and contacts on the ground to ensure any donation I make will be ultimately beneficial and not harmful.

Don't Complicate It
In the end, sustainable tourism, to me, is about caring for and not harming the places we visit. About not barging into another country without a second thought about how our visit impacts the people who live there. It's simply a thoughtful and conscious way to travel, so don't feel like you have to overcomplicate it! 

3 Ways to Speed Through Airport Security and Customs

Check out my top 3 ways to speed through security at the airport and through customs! Two you have probably heard of, but the third might be new to you (it was to me)!

My Top 5 Dream Destinations

Everyone has one, whether it's a Pinterest board filled with images of beautiful places, a mental checklist or a written list, if you love to travel, you've got a running list of places you'd like to visit someday. I know that I had one well before I became a travel consultant, and now that planning trips to all of these amazing destinations is my job, well, let's just say that list hasn't gotten any shorter. I thought I'd share a few of the destinations at the top of my list at the moment ... I'd love to hear where you're dreaming of heading!

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Africa
I am a little bit obsessed with the distinct beauty and unique cultures of the many countries of Africa. Of course I want to spend time seeking out the Big 5, but I also want to see the grandeur of Victoria Falls, and I want to trek through the jungles of Rwanda or Uganda in search of the world's largest primates — gorillas. Plus, I want to see the dramatic sand dunes and meet the beautiful Himba of Namibia. Oh, and of course I want to see the lemurs and baobabs of Madagascar! And spend time lounging on the breathtaking beaches of the Seychelles! Seriously, Africa is a bucket list in and of itself for me.

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Cambodia and Angkor Wat
This is one long-term dream destination that I'm knocking off my list this October. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and an incredible sight to see, and it has been near the top of my list for quite a while. But Angkor Wat and the other temples of Angkor are not the only reason to head to Cambodia. Unfortunately, I only have a few days to spend in this amazing country, but I'm looking forward to seeing the stilted Khmer village of Kampong Phluk, built within the floodplain of the Tonle Sap; visiting the Phsar Chas (Old Market) of Siem Reap; learning about the country's art and artisans at Artisans Angkor; experiencing delicious Khmer food and nightlife on a Vespa tour; and enjoying an evening at Phare, the Cambodian circus. After my time in Siem Reap, I also made sure to plan some time in Phnom Penh where I'll spend some time at the National Museum, the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, where I hope to better understand the country and its troubled past.

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The Galapagos Islands
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not (yet) an expert in the Galapagos Islands, but I have been doing quite a bit of research about this amazing destination, and it has snagged a spot in my top five for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is the diversity of wildlife. Being able to see species of animals that exist nowhere else in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I definitely want to experience. Second is the beauty of the land itself, which is sometimes overshadowed by the animals that inhabit it. These volcanic islands harbor some incredible hiking and breathtaking vistas. For example, did you know that Isabela, the largest island, is home to Sierra Negra, the world's second largest caldera? Hiking this active volcano (one of five on Isabela) is definitely on my list!

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The Taj Mahal
OK, yes, this one is very specific and I'm not going to go all the way to India just to see the Taj Mahal, but I think the building can stand alone on my list for now. It is, of course, one of the most famous monuments in the world AND one of the New Seven Wonders of the World that I haven't yet visited, so there's a good enough reason for me to want to take a gander. Plus, the architecture and history are fascinating, and it's a monument to LOVE, and we could all use a little more love in our lives, am I right? 

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Croatia
I'll admit that it was Rick Steves who turned me on to the beauty and splendor that is Croatia. When I saw an episode of his show featuring his travels in Croatia, I remember Googling the country immediately and babbling on to my husband about how we HAD to visit. This was many years ago, before Croatia was a hotspot for travelers looking for a different sort of European seaside vacation. The hook for me is really Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a wonderland of terraced blue lakes joined by waterfalls and crisscrossed by boardwalks. It's something out of a fairytale, and while I know there are significant crowds to contend with these days, it's perhaps the destination I'm most excited about within Croatia. There is also incredible history, hilltop castles and fortified cities, island hopping, kayaking, hiking, and caving ... even Game of Thrones connections to explore!

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So where do you want to head next?
Those are my Top 5 dream destinations ... for the moment. Are any of them on your list as well? 

Just a quick note that one of my specialties is custom-designing these once-in-a-lifetime journeys so that you can finally visit the places you've wanted to see your whole life. If you want to stop dreaming about these destinations and start planning your trip, let's chat! You can set up a time for a complimentary planning session with me or you can share all of your travel dreams through our travel interest form. I'd love to help make your next trip amazing!

Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Long-Haul Flight

I haven't been on an ultra-long flight since I was about 15 ... and let's just say that was MORE than 20 years ago. Obviously, flying has changed significantly in that time (I mean, back in those days, you could take water on a plane!) and as challenging as long-haul flights were back then, I have to say, things haven't exactly gotten LESS AWFUL over the past 20 years.

As I've mentioned once or maybe a million times lately, I'm heading to Myanmar and Cambodia in early October, and since it has been (ahem) a little while since I've flown more than 5 or 6 hours at a stretch, I've been brushing up on some ideas for staying sane on a long flight and arriving as a functioning human.

My first piece of advice is to upgrade as much as you possibly can. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be a little tricky (because airlines are the worst). If you can afford those lie-flat seats in the first-class cabin, go for it, and you can probably ignore the rest of this blog post. Despite my dislike for long-distance flying, though, I personally couldn't justify the extra five grand for this particular trip. I was, however, able to upgrade to Delta's Premium Select cabin. It'll give me a bit more legroom and hopefully an overall more pleasant experience than Standard Economy, with the added bonus of flying first class on my domestic legs.

Keep in mind as you book your flight that all airlines are different, offer a confusing number of cabin/ticket options, and sometimes you might have to work a little magic to get what you want. For example, the Premium Select cabin was an option when I flew into Yangon, but not on a return flight from Siem Reap. So I instead found a $22 ticket from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, I get to spend a day sightseeing in Phonm Penh AND I get to fly in the upgraded cabin on the way home. But it took some research! 

Now, on to the REAL advice!

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  1. Try compression socks - These things are all the rage these days to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and just to overall make your legs and feet feel more comfortable during long spells of sitting. I have a few pair and will be trying them out for this trip, so I'll report back!
     
  2. Pick your personal item carefully - I always travel with a backpack as my personal item because I find it easier to maneuver airports with my hands free, since I generally check my other bags. If you prefer to travel with a large carry-on rather than (or in addition to) a checked bag, choose a personal item that will attach to the large carry-on so that it can hitch a ride and keep you from fumbling.
     
  3. PACK your personal item carefully - For a long flight, there's a lot that you want to have within arm's reach at all times. To keep everything organized and easily accessible as I dive under the seat and try not to elbow my seatmate, I use a bag with one large compartment and then add my own packing cubes for organization. Cords and chargers in one, snacks in another, toiletries in a third, change of clothes in a fourth, tablet in the main compartment. It means no more digging through a bag with your necessities jumbled in the bottom. (Stay tuned: Next week I'll give you a rundown of what I pack in my personal item!)
     
  4. Try to sleep - You know that you should try to sleep on these flights, and there are a number of things that can make it easier. I pick a window seat because I can rest against the side of the plane and only get up when I have to go to the bathroom. But some prefer the aisle seat so that they can stand up and move around without disturbing anyone - your choice! My biggest tip for sleeping is don't try to stay up late the night before thinking it'll exhaust you to the point you'll have to sleep on the plane. All that will guarantee is that you'll have two crappy nights of sleep under your belt to start your trip instead of just one. If you're looking for some sleep accessories, you could try a neck pillow, eye mask, and/or noise-cancelling headphones.
     
  5. Be comfortable but not sloppy - I know that comfort is king for many travelers, but I've never quite gotten into the whole "roll out of bed and head to the airport" style. I generally have things to do when I arrive (even if it's just checking into a nice hotel), and I want to look like a seasoned traveler, not a college student on Spring Break. Loose pants that don't look like sweatpants and a few layers on top can ensure you're ready to conquer the plane and whatever's on the other end for you! I personally have a casual blazer that I like to travel with. It's a great additional layer, blanket or lumbar support, but it helps me feel pulled together and professional when I arrive.
     
  6. Bring your own snacks and water - If you're flying first class, they'll probably give you more food and drinks than you need, but back in the cheap seats, you'll want to be armed with options. I know that I sometimes eat out of boredom, and it's definitely a bad habit that I indulge when I'm on a long flight. So I try to pack a few granola bars, nuts, and other easy snacks so that I'm not waiting for the snack cart to come around. They also will almost certainly come in handy sometime during your trip, so pack more than you think you'll need. Same goes for water, bring your own! You'll get dehydrated and it's no fun waiting around for the next beverage service to quench your thirst.
     
  7. Hydrate! - Speaking of hydration, beyond just drinking water, be sure to bring some lotion and chapstick to soothe dehydrated skin and lips. And if you're fancy, consider a hydration face spray, which can be extremely refreshing.
     
  8. Refresh yourself - After sleeping and eating and sitting in the same spot for hours, it can feel like an incredible luxury to wash your face, reapply deodorant, even change your clothes. Make sure you have face wipes or face wash, deodorant, and toothpaste and a toothbrush (in appropriate travel sizes) on hand for those times when you start to feel just plain gross. 
     
  9. Plan ahead for jet lag - The best tip is to start your trip well-rested, but some travelers also swear by prescription or non-prescription sleep aids to help them get the sleep they need on the plane to arrive well-rested. Just be careful, because the last thing you want is to wind up groggy when you arrive. If your schedule allows, you can also try adjusting your internal clock ahead of time, gradually shifting your sleep and wake times to those you'll experience in your destination. One site that I've found to help you make a plan for this is www.jetlagrooster.com, and I'll be trying out their recommendations before my trip.
     
  10. Entertain yourself - This one is pretty obvious, but while sleep is generally the priority, if sleep just doesn't come or if you've already slept for eight hours and you still have five hours to fill, be sure to prepare with plenty of downloaded podcasts, music, audiobooks, ebooks, etc. I'm generally a fan of actual paper books, but they add extra weight to your carry on and can easily get wet/torn/lost during your trip, so I stick to my Kindle and ensure I have plenty of backup batteries and chargers just in case.

So, now it's your turn ... do you have any tips that will help me survive my 21 hours and 8 minutes of flying time (not counting 4 hours and 36 minutes of layovers) coming up?

5 Quirky Facts About Iceland

I love Iceland ... have I mentioned that? The landscapes are expansive and surreal, the seafood is delicious (fermented shark very definitely aside), and there is a real sense of adventure to exploring the whole country. One of my favorite things about Iceland is what a quirky country it is (at least to Americans)! So, for those of you considering a trip to Iceland, I thought I'd share five of my favorite quirky facts about the country!

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Cash is rare
This may not seem particularly quirky, especially if you're mostly a credit or debit person at home, but Iceland takes their love of plastic to the next level. Small hut near a deserted beach serving fish stew? Of course they take cards. Bathrooms that charge a few cents to use the facilities? Swipe your card before you head to the stall. I don't think I found a single thing that couldn't be purchased with a credit or debit card while we were in Iceland. We did get some cash just to see what it looks like, but we could have easily done without.

 

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Icelanders believe in elves ... sort of ...
Elves and elf-related lore definitely play a huge role in Icelandic culture. One survey in the late 90s even found that more than 50% of Icelanders claim to believe in the fairy tale creatures, and reports of elves being blamed for failed construction projects led the rest of the world to get the idea that Icelanders are a bit ... kooky. But Icelanders aren't dumb or illiterate (in fact, they have among the highest literacy rates in the world), so it's foolish and more than a little dismissive to suggest that more than half of a highly educated country literally believes in the existence of mythical creatures. Clearly, there's more to the story! For example, the tales and beliefs helped early Icelanders survive long, cold winters, and references to "hidden folk" eventually became woven into the fabric of the country. No matter the reality, elves are part of the culture and tradition in Iceland, and that doesn't hinge on belief. 

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Their water is a point of pride
I imagine if my crystal clear tap water came straight from melting glaciers filtered through lava rocks, I'd probably roll my eyes when I saw someone drinking a bottle of water, too. If you're SCARED of drinking tap water when you visit foreign countries, that's one fear you can set aside in Iceland. The water is not only clean and pure, but it also isn't chemically treated, so you'll avoid that chemical tap-water taste. However, even knowing this, sometimes in Iceland I did grab a bottle of water. I didn't have my reusable bottle with me (pro tip: don't forget yours), and sometimes it just wasn't convenient to lug around a cup of tap water. I did refill my plastic bottle several times, though, including once with glacier melt as we hiked on Vatnajökull. (If you're wondering: It was the most amazing water I've ever tasted.)

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There's a lot of open road
One of my favorite things about Iceland (and, yes, I have a lot of favorite things) was the fact that we could drive for hours without seeing anyone. We were on an adventure all our own and blazing our own trails! But, erhm, after all that delicious glacier-born, lava-filtered water, where does a girl use the bathroom in the middle of nowhere? The answer for me was to go every chance I got and, otherwise, just hold it. Same idea with gas fill ups — it's best to fill up when you can, even if you don't think you need gas. Plus, most gas stations are only open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (some close as early as 7 p.m.), so don't expect to pop out for a midnight snack, and don't rely on an early-morning fill-up on your way out of town. Of course, there are many gas stations and bathrooms in Reykjavík, but once you get off of main roads or out of a town, you can go miles with no buildings in sight, so just keep it in mind! 

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You have to get completely naked to shower before entering hot springs
You heard me. I'm not talking about a quick rinse with your bathing suit on. I'm talking full shower, no swimsuit, use soap. For shy visitors this could be uncomfortable, but at upscale spots like the Blue Lagoon you can at least take your shower in the privacy of a stall. This isn't a requirement because Icelanders are weird or nudists; they just want to keep their swimming spots and hot springs clean and unpolluted. So, just do it!


Top 5 Things to Do In Iceland

Since this is the official "Month of Iceland" here at Mosaic World Travel, I thought I would share my Top 5 list of things to do while you're in Iceland. You know that I L-O-V-E Iceland (and if you didn't know that, then you do now!), so it's extremely hard to narrow it down to a Top 5. I have my favorites, but I'd love to help you plan a trip filled with the attractions and sights that best fit your interests!

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Visit a Black Sand Beach
Don't head to one of Iceland's beaches expecting sunbathers and beach volleyball. These aren't those kind of beaches. These are brutal forces of nature that are amazing to behold. These are home to waves that are so surprising and strong that if you get too close, they just might sweep you out to sea, never to be seen again. These beaches are not about relaxation, they're about experiencing the raw power of nature. So, if that sounds like your kind of thing, try a visit to Djúpalónssandur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland. When we visited, we were the only people on this incredible deserted beach for nearly an hour. It was amazing. For another type of black sand beach, try the popular Reynisfjara on the south coast, which is home to towering basalt stacks and powerful "sneaker waves."


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Chase Waterfalls
Iceland is home to more than 10,000 waterfalls, many of which are easily accessible from the Ring Road. Gullfoss is an impressive and can't-miss waterfall, usually included as part of the Golden Circle route. At Seljalandsfoss you can walk behind the falls for an impressive view, and you can climb 527 steps to the top of Skógafoss, one of the country's largest falls where you're sure spot a rainbow or two.


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Seek Out Whales and Puffins
Iceland is home to the world's largest population of puffins, which nest in a number of locations along the coast. Choose a tour that combines an opportunity to view the whales that cruise the waters of Iceland with visits to the top puffin-viewing spots in the country. Tours depart from a number of locations throughout the country, but Húsavík, in the north of Iceland, is considered the whale-watching capital of Europe.


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Dive Silfra
Silfra is an amazing diving spot located in Thingvellir National Park. Here, you can dive between the tectonic plates of the North American and Eurasian continents. The plates shift roughly 2 cm every year, creating new caverns and tunnels to explore. There is also plenty of wildlife to see on your dive/snorkel, and the water is the purest in the world, so you can feel free to take a sip while diving.


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Hike a Glacier
Get up close and personal with the glaciers that cover about 11% of Iceland's surface area by taking a glacier tour. Glacier tours take you hiking, sightseeing and exploring Iceland's staggering ice caps, providing a thrilling means of discovering some of the country's most stunning natural features, such as South Iceland's Sólheimajökull glacier and Vatnajökull glacier.


If you'd like to visit Iceland and would like my help building your own unique trip to Iceland, send me a message! CLICK HERE to set up a time to chat on the phone or scroll down to fill out our Travel Interest Survey to start the conversation!

FREE DOWNLOAD:
Click the image to the left to download your free Iceland travel guide, which will give you some key tips for your next trip!

Hotel Spotlight: Belmond Hotels and Lodges

Are you familiar with the Belmond brand? I first encountered it a couple of years ago when planning my own trip to Peru. The Belmond name is inescapable in Peru, where they own six hotels (one of which is located right at the entrance to Machu Picchu) as well as two trains — The Belmond Hiram Bingham, which offers luxurious service from Cusco to Machu Picchu, and the Belmond Andean Explorer, which offers a variety of multi-day excursions throughout the country.

Because I was planning our trip only five months out from our departure, I had no hope of finding an available reservation at any of the several Belmond properties that were along our route, but we did take the once-in-a-lifetime journey on the Belmond Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu. Because, if you’re going to see the Lost City of the Incas, you might as well do it in style, right?

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Since I returned from Peru, I’ve been fascinated with the luxury, service and history that is inherent in the Belmond name, and so I thought I’d share with you some of the Belmond properties that sit at the top of my drool-worthy travel list.


Belmond Palacio Nazarenas
Cusco, Peru

Since my personal experience with Belmond began in Peru, I thought that’s where I should start this list. Belmond has six hotel properties in Peru — two in Cusco, one in Lima, one at Machu Picchu, one in the Sacred Valley and one at Colca Canyon. It’s tough to pick a favorite for this list, but I’ve decided to choose Belmond Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco.

Featuring original Inca stonework combined with a cloistered courtyard with an ancient fountain at its heart, the Palacio Nazarenas is the height of understated elegance. This former palace and convent is set in a plaza just behind Cusco’s main square and features 55 suites, each enriched with oxygen (to help prevent altitude sickness) and featuring a private bar.

Belmond Palacio Nazarenas is also home to an amazing spa, the city’s first outdoor pool and restaurants featuring elegant local cuisine. Learn from my experience and book well ahead of time if you want to snag a room at this luxurious establishment.

Mosaic World Travel special: Book the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas with us and receive exclusive rates as well as $100 spa services credit and complimentary WiFi. Book a suite and receive a complimentary airport transfer in addition to the other exclusive amenities.


Belmond Hotel Caruso
Ravello, Italy

Belmond also has a significant presence in Italy, with six hotels and an iconic train. Again, nearly impossible to choose just one of their properties as a favorite in Italy, but the breathtaking Belmond Hotel Caruso, set on a cliff edge 1,000 ft. above sea level, over groves of lemon trees and olive vines, is a top contender.

A former 11th-century palace, the Hotel Caruso was originally built by a wealthy family shipwrecked on their way to Constantinople. Today, its marbled hallways and vibrant frescoed salons feature antiques and paintings by old masters and invite exploration.

The hotel’s 51 rooms feature hand-crafted terracotta floors, neo-classical antiques, fresh flowers and breathtaking views of the coastline. You can snag some amazing views from the infinity pool as well, which seems to be suspended out over the ocean. An in-house boutique features both hand-picked items and items exclusively designed for the hotel. The Wellness Centre offers an opportunity indulge yourself even further — perhaps try a massage in the privacy of the hotel gardens, surrounded by enchanting vistas of the sea.

Mosaic World Travel special: Book the Belmond Hotel Caruso with us and receive exclusive rates as well as one lunch for two at the pool/bar restaurant, fresh fruit and flowers upon arrival, and complimentary internet access.


Belmond Eagle Island Lodge
Maun, Botswana

Situated on a private island in the Okavango Delta, Belmond Eagle Lodge is no typical hotel and sits head-and-shoulders above many safari lodges. The lodge is comprised of just 12 luxurious tented rooms, each with its own private plunge pool and private views of the savannah. And, as you might have guessed, these are not your average tents; they feature air conditioning, fully equipped bathrooms with large tubs and both indoor and walled outdoor showers, a stocked minibar and daily laundry service.

The lodge is one of Botswana’s original safari lodges and was recently fully renovated to provide a sleek new look. Public areas include a dining area with pizza oven, lounge area with an artisan-style bar, a library, a separate campfire area and the Fish Eagle Bar located directly on the water.

This is the perfect spot to start your exploration of the delta, and the lodge offers motorboat safaris, barge cruises, mekoro safaris (in a local canoe), fishing, walking safaris, and an air safari by helicopter.

Mosaic World Travel special: Book the Belmond Eagle Island Lodge with us and receive exclusive rates as well as a complimentary welcome drink on arrival and a complimentary champagne mekoro excursion. Also ask about our special multi-day packages with Belmond in Africa. 


Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa
Riviera Maya, Mexico

In addition to its amazing historic properties around the world, Belmond also offers an incredible beach escape. While the company’s two properties in the Caribbean are closed for repairs after recent hurricanes (they are scheduled to reopen Dec. 2018), the Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya is open for business and dazzling visitors with its signature combination of pristine beaches and lush jungle.

The height of barefoot luxury, the resort features 63 rooms that range from elegant to breathtaking and open to either the Caribbean or the jungle. A variety of contemporary Mexican cuisine and international specialties are served at the resort’s restaurants, which can be enjoyed a la carte or by purchasing an additional dining package.

Relax on the powdery sand beach, gazing out over picture-perfect turquoise waters, or spend time at the resort’s Kinan Spa, where both traditional botanicals used in ancient ceremonies and more typical massages, sauna and nail services are on offer. For active visitors, the Maroma Resort & Spa is the perfect home base for sailing, biking, exploring ancient Mayan sites, swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling in a cenote, scuba diving, golf and more.

Mosaic World Travel special: Book the Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa with us and receive exclusive rates as well as a complimentary 30-minute massage for two and fresh flowers in your room upon arrival. Upgrade to a suite and add a complimentary airport transfer to the list of amenities. 


Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor
Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

The archeological wonder that is Angkor is a destination that tops any number of must-see lists. The sprawling complex draws more than 1 million tourists every year, and the Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor is the perfect spot to escape the crowds and cool off in exotic luxury.

Located on the river about 15 minutes from Angkor Wat, this leafy retreat combines traditional Khmer tradition with contemporary style. Tucked among lush gardens, the retreat’s décor highlights local woods, laterite stone and decorative carving. The central pool is the perfect, quiet spot to cool off after a long day of exploring the ruins.

The hotel is also home to two remarkable restaurants – Ember, which serves up Asian dishes with Latin flair, and Spice Circle, which offers a hawker-style dining experience that celebrates Khmer cuisine. The Martini Lounge is the perfect spot for sunset cocktails and tapas.

Because the full experience of Angkor is important to guests, the hotel organizes tailor-made tours that enable each guest to have a unique experience and to take a step into the history and culture of Cambodia.

Mosaic World Travel special: Book the Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor with us and receive a complimentary 50-minute massage for two during your stay.


If (somehow) none of these hotels pique your interest, take a minute to click here and peruse the full collection of some of the world’s finest hotels, and find out what exclusive benefits I can offer as a member of the Signature Travel Network.

Five Up-and-Coming Destinations for 2018

For many people, travel is all about experiencing something totally unique, about stepping outside of their comfort zone and diving into a new culture. These travelers want to experience the unfamiliar and unique when they travel. They’re seeking the hidden gems, the undiscovered destinations that will really change their worldview. Uncrowded, unspoiled, undiscovered.

I’m one of those travelers, so I understand the urge. There’s nothing more disappointing than flying halfway around the world and being greeted by the Golden Arches and crowds of tourists with cameras and backpacks spoiling your view. For those travelers who seek the less-traveled, I have a few suggestions. But please, go now, before they’re completely overrun!

 

Mongolia

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But why? It’s rugged. It’s adventurous. It has a thriving nomadic culture and deeply ingrained traditions.

What can I do there? Visit the Gobi Desert and take part in a dinosaur dig. Spend the night in an authentic Mongolian ger. Experience the elaborate annual Naadam Festival. Learn to ride a camel and a horse. Explore a Buddhist temple. Visit the alpine mountains of Terelj National Park and search for the once-extinct wild horses in Hustai National Park. Experience the land of Chinggis Khan.

Who should go? Outdoorsy types, horse-lovers, those who don’t mind roughing it.

 

Vanuatu

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But why? It’s like Bora Bora without the crowds. Plus, it’s known as one of the happiest nations in the world.

What can I do there? Experience the turquoise blue waters of Champagne Beach (or, its less-crowded neighbor, Lonnoc Beach). Snorkel through well-preserved reefs and mail a waterproof postcard from an underwater post office. Play Tarzan and swing into the crystal-clear waters of Matevulu Blue Hole. Dive to explore the wreck of the SS President Coolidge. Stare into the mouth of Mount Yasur, the world’s most accessible active volcano. Visit the Louinio Cultural Village and learn about the Yakel tribe.

Who should go? Beach-lovers looking for an undiscovered gem, cultural adventurers who want to experience traditional ways of life.

 

Rwanda

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But why? Well, because, gorillas. Do you need more than that? (There's way more than that.)

What can I do there? Trek through the jungle to come face-to-face with gorillas. Learn about the 1994 Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Haggle over beautiful African fabrics at the colorful market in Kimironko. Spend the day at the pristine beaches on the shores of Lake Kivu. Hike through the rainforest at Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Who should go? Gorilla-lovers and outdoor adventurers who love a good hike. 

 

Bolivia

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But why? This less-traveled neighbor of Peru boasts amazing scenery, world-class adventure and serious cultural experiences. 

What can I do there? Watch the sky and earth meld at the Uyuni Salt Flats. Uncover the pre-Colombian, pre-Incan history of Tiwanaku. Visit Copacabana along the shores of Lake Titicaca. See the birthplace of Inca civilization on Sun Island. Reach new heights at Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world (13,420 ft.). Experience the less-crowded, yet no-less-biodiverse side of the Amazon rainforest. 

Who should go? Instagram fanatics looking for some amazing natural shots, lovers of Incan and other pre-Columbian history, altitude junkies, and nature lovers seeking the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest. 

 

Cambodia

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But why? Angkor Wat alone is bucket-list worthy, but the culture and history make the trip worthwhile. 

What can I do there? Explore the Angkor Wat temple complex, the largest religious monument in the world. Visit Banteay Chhmar, a hidden temple complex that rivals Angkor, minus the tourists. Learn about the brutal history of the Khmer Rouge at the S21 Genocide Museum. Take a cruise down the Mekong. Spend the day on the pearly white beaches of Koh Rong Samloem. Experience the buzzing energy of the Crab Market in Kep. Totally unplug from the world on Rabbit Island. Visit Phnom Kulen National Park for beautiful waterfalls and impressive archeological sites. 

Who should go? Temple-enthusiasts and bucket-list junkies as well as beach- and nature-lovers.


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