The Islands of Tahiti – Pick Your Paradise!

By Alison Barnes

La Orana! As you may or may not remember, I began my Colorado Serenity article about Guatemala with a little history lesson. Well, I have another one to preface my December 2019 trip to The Islands of Tahiti. My desire to visit Tahiti was born of a grade school project in the American Midwest. Tasked with researching an exotic destination, I chose the most faraway, unreachable place I could think of - Tahiti. Now, this was in the days before the Internet and I used the resources at my disposal: the library and “Snail Mail”. I wrote to the Board of Tourism and to my surprise and great delight, I received a hand-written response along with informational materials in return. Right then, I knew I would have to visit Tahiti during my lifetime.

Think French Polynesia is too far, too hard to get to? Think again. The Islands of Tahiti are located equidistant south of the equator as Hawaii is North, and in the same time zone as Hawaii. From Los Angeles International Airport, the flight on Tahiti Nui Air is only two hours longer than Hawaii, at eight hours. I was able to relax on a brand-new Dreamliner aircraft complete with a well-appointed travel kit and reclining seats. A pleasant surprise on my flight also included a lovely flower greeting, Tahitian food, and staff who changed from uniforms to traditional Tahitian dress during the flight.

All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (Papeete), located near the city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. The airport also serves the domestic airline, Air Tahiti, for further service to the other islands and atolls. Upon arriving in Papeete, I was treated to traditional song and dance and swiftly escorted through the VIP Entrance at customs - must do for anyone because it bypasses the lines!

The Islands of Tahiti are comprised of five main archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotu Atolls. An archipelago is a sea or stretch of water containing many islands; 118 for Tahiti to be exact. The islands are made of atolls, tiny ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed by coral. The coral rings around the islands form the beautiful, calm lagoons of French Polynesia. The older the island, the flatter it becomes, eventually enclosing the lagoons entirely with coral.

My first (and last) stop was the largest island, Tahiti. It was a quick overnight at Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort by Sofitel in the capital, Papeete. The next morning, the air was crisp and the sky was clear aside from a few clouds catching on the peaks of Moorea as we approached Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, via the Terevau Ferry. My day was spent touring famous sightseeing points of Le Belvedere overlooking Cook and Opunohu’s Bays, the volcano’s crater and the Plateau de la Bounty. Moorea boasts mountainous landscapes with pineapple farms, vanilla plantations, and a fruit juice factory. Moorea’s claim of “the best pineapple in the world” is no joke - I had a freshly picked sample from the fields that day and it was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. I dare say it surpasses the pineapples from Hawaii!

My next stop was the Island of Taha’a. As with the Hawaiian Islands, the Islands of Tahiti each have their own personality. Taha’a presents with a more agricultural feel. The island produces 80% of all vanilla exported from the country. In addition to a vanilla plantation tour and demonstration, I visited Iaorana Pearl Farm and learned what is involved in creating some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. One of the atolls of Taha’a is home to Vahine Island Resort & Spa where I toured the boutique property and enjoyed a beach luncheon. It was so quiet, I found myself whispering with my traveling companions so as not to disturb the palm trees and fish! The star of my stay on Taha’a was at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in an overwater bungalow for two nights. A fun fact for you is that The Islands of Tahiti are the birthplace of overwater bungalows! My bungalow included a beautiful deck with access to the lagoon below, floor to ceiling windows and, best of all, a clear, glass coffee table to watch “Polynesian Television”. Beautiful tropical fish are attracted to the lights from the bungalow and I spent quite a bit of time just watching them swim by.

The final island visit was to the famous Bora Bora and it definitely did not disappoint. Bora Bora’s personality is all about taking advantage of the multitude of water activities available. Calm lagoon waters make the perfect setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, fishing. I experienced first-hand the breathtaking colors of a coral garden surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks while snorkeling. Most of my time in Bora Bora was spent touring the luxurious resorts and their amenities all designed with the ultimate vacation experience in mind. The Le Meridian operates a turtle sanctuary and has a wonderful family feel, the Intercontinental Thalasso & Spa Resort uses cold waters from the depths of the ocean in their spa treatments and the overwater bungalow at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa was possibly the softest place to land that evening.

I could continue writing another complete article talking about the fresh cuisine, the people and their culture, the animals, etc., but I guess you’ll just have stop by! After seeing only a portion of what The Islands of Tahiti have to offer and realizing they are not an unattainable destination, I am eager to return and explore more. My next visit’s goals are to spend more time on Bora Bora and discover the Marquesas Islands. I dare you to visit French Polynesia too!

Kristin O.

Fountain in Rome

What does one do when your daughter calls you at 2am to say, “IT problems at the Heathrow airport and I’m stuck, flights cancelled, no lines moving and no phone calls going through!”? This is why you need Alison Barnes as your travel agent! Alison went above and beyond answering her phone in the middle of the night and finding a flight out for Faith Owen later in the day.THANK YOU! Faith was able to get to Rome with enough time to enjoy the sights.

Kristin O.

Guatemala – Land of Eternal Spring

By Alison Barnes

This past January, I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala in Central America. Why Guatemala? First, a little history… In Summer 2018, I was in Cabo San Lucas researching hotels and met a fellow travel advisor from Guatemala. The pictures, stories and enthusiasm he shared about his country were contagious and I was determined to visit and experience Guatemala firsthand. Fast-forward to January 2019, and a colleague and I were on our way to Guatemala, also known as the Land of Eternal Spring.

We spent our first night at the AC Hotel by Marriott in the city. We had a gorgeous view of the bustling city from our ultra modern room. The next morning, we left early to avoid traffic and started our tour of the countryside. On our way, we stopped for a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of cheese-stuffed tortillas, beans and fried plantains along with a steaming cup of sipping chocolate.

Our first stop was the small village of Chichicastenango (ChiChi) for shopping in the local market. It was mid-morning and already bustling with residents and a few tourists. Everything you could imagine was on display in blocks and blocks of booths manned by entire families selling their handmade and homegrown goods. The colors and weaves of the clothing differed depending on the village they were from. Vibrant reds, pinks, blues and even black mixed with all of the colors of fruits, veggies and spices made for a fantastic sensory display! Negotiating is encouraged when purchasing, but we did not feel any pressure to buy.

After a refreshing cup of papaya, mango and pineapple, we continued through local villages until we arrived at Lake Atitlan, one of the crown jewels of Guatemala. It is

Guatemalan Market

the largest lake in Central America in a volcanic valley basin. The lake is surrounded by small villages, each with its own culture and traditions, with Mayan and Spanish influences. There is no road connecting villages around the lake, but you can take water taxis to each one for a unique experience. We stayed at the lakefront Hotel Posada Don Rodrigo in Panajachel (Pana) where the afternoon was spent in a hammock with a drink and a snack. That evening, we listened to the waves lapping at the shore while watching the sunset. Ready for more adventure, the next day we ventured onto the lake in kayaks. Once on the lake, we felt the true enormity of the landscape; surrounded on three sides by towering, extinct volcanoes and green, terraced-farmed mountains opposite. Just like the village before, Pana was filled with the warm, friendly faces of the Guatemalan people. In addition, and true to its claim of the Land of Eternal Spring, the weather was gorgeous—cool in the morning and evening with a nice warm-up during the day. The majority of the restaurants were open air and the food is full of flavor, yet not spicy. A daily afternoon coffee and dessert kept us going for a later dinner at a taco stand along the main street.

The next morning, we said goodbye to Pana and arrived in Antigua, one of the more popular tourist destinations. Antigua qualifies as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) city by the World Heritage Convention (WHO) for its cultural, economic, religious, political and educational influences in Guatemala. As a UNESCO city, Antigua is full of a variety of museums, activities, tours, restaurants, markets and experiences.

We checked into our hotel, Hotel Camino Real. The interior reveals beautiful, lush courtyards with fountains, flowers and luxury accommodations. However, sunsets in Antigua are an event not to be missed. The first part of the evening was spent at Cerro San Cristobal (with coffee and dessert, of course) watching the sun set behind one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes, Fuego. During our time in Antigua, we actually heard Fuego “talking” a bit with small booms and puffs of smoke—quite a unique sound for someone from the Rocky Mountains!

 

Guatemalan Countryside
Guatemalan Countryside

The following day, we took advantage of the cultural offerings of Santo Domingo del Cerro Museum and Sculpture Garden. What a gem! We enjoyed the peaceful displays both inside and out. They also had an exhibit of influential Guatemalan artists through the country’s history including the artist who designed and decorated many of the government buildings we saw in Guatemala City. We had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, El Tenedor del Cerro, that included a lovely view of Antigua’s hillsides. Another highlight of Antigua was a visit to Filadelfia Coffee Resort  &  Tours.   The  tour was informative and included a tasting of freshly dried, roasted and brewed coffee. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained how the volcanic soil lends to a unique flavor of the coffee in Guatemala. I think they may have created a coffee aficionado!

After Antigua, it was back to Guatemala City for a night on the town with dinner and dancing! After seeing the Mayan and Spanish influences in the country and so much history in Antigua, it was wonderful to see the connection in the city. Guatemala’s history, people and landscape now hold a permanent place in my heart, and I am anxious to return. Next up—the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Who’s with me?! Call Endless Travel to book your experience to Guatemala or any of your travel needs!

Antigua Sunset

 

 

Jan T.

Flowers in Scotland

Alison Barnes was AMAZING to work with!!! We told her what we wanted in a vacation and she went above and BEYOND our expectations! Alison made everything work out seamlessly and answered all of our questions. She scheduled all our flights, excursions, hotel stays, and transfers to and from the airport. She took all the stress out of traveling out of the country. We would love to have her plan our next vacation! Thank you!

Jan T.

Pat C.

riverboats sailing

What a wonderful and exciting experience we had yesterday at Endless Travel with Alison! We booked our cruise for our family, and she was prepared with every detail we could have thought of, so meticulous. Alison made it extremely easy and fun, we couldn’t have asked for more. Can’t wait to finish the plans and set sail! Thank you Alison and Endless Travel, you have our business always!!!

Pat C.