The Canadian Rockies – WOW!

The Canadian Rockies - WOW!

By Linda Lovin

I recently faced a critical travel decision. My husband was approaching a very significant birthday, and at the very same time, we would celebrate 34 years of marriage. Where should we go for a one-week vacation?  My husband left the planning to me but reminded me that he hated airports, long flights, and travel in general.  My goal was to make the right decision about location/supplier partner/excursions/dates of travel and to WOW!!!! my man in the process. I am thrilled to report that the decision to travel to the Canadian Rockies resulted in the most wonderful travel week of our lives (to date).

"...the expression on my husband's face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe."

In the course of planning trips of all types for my clients, I have dealt with a host of outstanding experts in the travel industry. For this personal and most special occasion, I chose Entrée Destinations as our partner supplier. Their motto of “service and hospitality are in our DNA” are not empty words. Beginning with my first telephone call, they were attentive to my every request and honestly did “sweat the small stuff and obsess over details.” As a Travel Advisor, I felt I shared a kindred spirit with Entrée Destinations.

On September 21 our adventure began. We departed DIA for an easy 2.5-hour flight to Calgary. After breezing through a friendly international arrival terminal, we were met by Min, a long-time resident of Calgary and our greeter from Entrée Destinations. Min ushered us through the Calgary airport, insured that our car rental experience was seamless and was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Calgary and all of the territory we were about to explore. She offered a multitude of travel suggestions – one of which was Gypsy Guide. This is an incredible app that gives practical, historical, and cultural commentary along numerous driving routes not only in Canada but throughout the USA.

Tip: Be sure to pre-load Gypsy Guide in an area with a strong Wi-Fi signal.

And then – it was WOW!!! All the way. The countryside around Calgary is rolling hills of farm and ranch land with jagged mountains thrusting on the horizon. As we drove on the Trans-Canada Highway, we simply became speechless. Please understand that we are twenty-five-year residents of Colorado, have traveled the Rocky Mountain West extensively and we love our home in Evergreen. However, we were totally unprepared for the majesty that was unfolding before us.

Tip:  Pre-purchase a Discovery Pass that allows access into all of Canada’s National Parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.

After about two hours of driving through absolute jaw-dropping magnificence, I treasured the moment when the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise first came into view and the expression on my husband’s face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe. Located in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chateau was originally built over 100 years ago as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists and sits at the base of a glacial moraine that fills Lake Louise. The water is emerald green from Victoria Glacier’s sediments and is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful works of nature on the planet.

Tip: Lake Louise has been “discovered.” Each day, bus after bus stream into the area, all filled with tourists from around the world. By reserving a room at the Fairmont with a lake view, it is possible to enjoy the miracle of sunrise over the lake and glacier within the comfort of your room.

Lake Louise

We spent a day soaking up the scenery that lies within an hour’s drive from Lake Louise. Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is a jewel that offers relaxed lodging and dining in a serene setting. Athabasca Falls and the mountains and valleys

of Yoho National Park provide one breath-taking moment after another.

The next day, we took the highly recommended Ice Explorer Glacier Tour departing from the Glacier

Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway.  It was the coldest and windiest day of the season so, while we did get to take a short ride on the Ice Explorer onto the 10,000-year-old Athabasca Glacier, we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have wanted on the most visited glacier in North America.

After two nights in Lake Louise, we drove the Icefields Parkway for the trip to Jasper. This road has been described as the most beautiful mountain drive in the world. My husband and I have not witnessed all the mountain drives in the world, but it is difficult to imagine scenery more spectacular. Initially, we stopped at every vista for photographs thinking that surely this was the most beautiful view of the day. The gorgeous panoramas just kept appearing with every curve of the road.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a different experience from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Situated in Alberta’s magnificent Jasper National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comfortable cabins line the shore of a lake that often reflects the image of surrounding mountains. It is quiet and boasts a world-class golf course.

Our first morning in Jasper, we enjoyed a private walking tour of the area with Alpine Art Ecotours and learned about the history of the indigenous people in the area as well as the fauna of the forest. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with our local guide about everything from history to current Canadian politics.

That afternoon we cruised Maligne Lake with its beautiful azure-colored water. Alpine scenery, frigid glacial water from the three glaciers visible from the lake, and the haunting beauty of Spirit Island, a place of religious significance to Canada’s First Nation people, are part of our memory of that special day.

The next day, we re-traced our steps on the Icefields Parkway and took an exhilarating helicopter flight up, over, and

 

 

Spirit Island

down into the Canadian Rockies. Rockies Heli Canada also provided a short hike and lunch beside a waterfall as part of the experience. My husband remains in touch with our local guide in hopes of a future fishing trip into the wilderness areas we saw.

Our final days were in Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs. The world-famous “Castle in the Rockies” has been providing legendary hospitality to guests for over 130 years.  Once again, we experienced unbelievable beauty, fabulous food, and people so genuinely nice that we felt like we were in our own hometown. The town of Banff is a quintessential mountain town with a myriad of lodging and excellent dining options.

Our last guided tour was a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka, the second longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies.  Stunning snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the brilliant autumn colors of the trees were reflected on the water during our glorious morning outing.

Lake Minnewanka

On the closing day of our trip, we awakened to low clouds and snow showers. Reading books by local authors in front of a roaring fireplace provided us with the perfect ending to the perfect celebratory trip.  WOW!

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

 

 

The Yukon: Larger than Life

By Susan Hammond

Last month, I was invited by Anderson Vacations and Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture to experience the spectacular and truly unique place they call home: Canada’s Yukon. With pristine landscapes, abundant wildlife, a rich cultural heritage and outstanding services, I quickly found out that the Yukon has something for absolutely every kind of traveler—even in the winter.

So, off I went with six other travel advisors (I was the only American) and our hosts to Whitehorse, Yukon (the territory’s capital) to hunt the dancing aurora, snowmobile through the woods, experience a dogsled “limo” and try to ice fish for the first time. Working in the travel industry for most of my adult life, I really thought I was pretty good in geography, however since I have never been to Northern Canada, I really didn’t know exactly where Whitehorse was located in North America. After spending my first night in Vancouver, we all took an approximate 2-hour nonstop flight the next morning on Air North, which is the Yukon’s airline, headquartered in Whitehorse. Now I know that this small city of approximately 28,000 in population is a couple hours north of British Colombia and a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Skagway traveling along the Klondike Highway.

After visiting Air North’s headquarters and their brand-new hanger near the Whitehorse airport, we checked into our hotel for the next five nights, anxiously awaiting the adventures ahead. Well, I would like to let you in on a little secret—the Yukon gets even more intriguing in winter. Almost 80 percent of the Yukon is pristine wilderness. That’s over 350,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of mountain vistas, boreal forests, wild rivers and crystal clear lakes. And since there are 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people, there’s the possibility of seeing wildlife around every bend. We actually saw a lynx quickly creeping across a frozen lake our first day out. I can now say the Yukon compares to Alaska—without all the people and it’s more laid back with less tourists.

The Yukon River winds through Whitehorse, which is nestled in a broad, forested valley, with mountains flanking either side. The Yukon’s capital city is steeped in culture and history, with wonderful restaurants, vibrant arts community, world class attractions and top-notch tourist services. I found all the amenities of a large city with an endearing small-town personality. Whitehorse doesn’t come without its characters though. As we took a quick city tour, we stopped at the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club at 10 am one morn-ing to visit with some of the local characters. This bar is home to the famed breakfast club, a badge of honor worn by morning drinkers; he establishment opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm. There’s an air of mystery around the place.

“People will either tell you to avoid the 98 like the plague, or make a point of going for an authentic Yukon experience,” says General Manager Angel S. “We’ve got the most colorful people in town. There’s nothing fake in this place.” I personally love this experience!

Our first day started around 8:30 am with a hearty breakfast as we prepared to drive about 45 minutes south of Whitehorse to an area called Carcross in the Southern Lakes region. The vilage of Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It boasts incred-ible scenery, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and a variety of visitor’s services. Some of the Yukon’s oldest buildings dating back to the days of 1898 are located in this community. The year 1898 is significant in the Yukon because that is the year that the Klondike Gold Rush was coming to an end. Carcross got its name years ago since it was a major migration crossing for woodland caribou prior to the gold rush. It’s easy to feel the draw to Carcross because the compelling First Nation culture invites you to experience their heritage. We had the opportunity to stand in the presence of totem poles master carver—Keith Wolfe Smarch, as we were invited inside a carving shed to watch and learn the significance of his artwork’s shapes and colors. I quickly learned that wherever you travel in this territory, Yukon First Nation’s history and culture is part of what makes the Yukon the special place it is.

Upon sunrise (around 10 am) the next morning, we headed over to the start of the 36th annual Yukon Quest. This event is a dogsled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the last 36 years, dog teams have answered the call to endure 1,000 miles of rugged terrain across the heart of Alaska and the Yukon. The Yukon Quest poses challenges that no other race on Earth can boast. Extremely cold temperatures are guaranteed, and long distances up to 200 miles between checkpoints means a musher and dog team must be mentally and physically prepared for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. As we all were waiting for the race to start, the temperatures were hovering around -33 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, our hosts provided us all cold weather gear to keep us warm in the extreme

dogsledding3
Carcross Visitor Center

temperatures, however my heart went out to the dogs that were so eager to take off and run! This year, they had 31 teams that took on this challenge, representing six different countries. The race takes preparation, knowledge, skill and strategy just to finish and was a once in a lifetime experience for all seven travel advisors that attended this event for the first time!

After watching most of the teams head out on their journey, we were taken to the Lumel Studio in downtown Whitehorse for some hands-on glassblowing. Upon entering the warm studio, we each were allowed to select a piece we wanted to make and take home. I chose to make a small bowl with assistance from one of the apprentices of the studio: Angus. Angus was very patient as I selected the colors of my personal piece and success-fully made a bowl that is actually round and sits level on my desk holding candy for my clients’ enjoyment.

The following days we encountered snowmobiling through the woods, ice fishing on a lake for trout, conducted site inspections at a few local hotels/inns and spent a couple evenings hunting for the northern lights. Leaving at 10:30 pm both evenings and driv-ing 30 minutes south of Whitehorse to get away from the small city’s lights, we came upon three very comfortable and warm yurts and two teepees with bonfires roaring inside. These outer buildings offered hot chocolate, tea and s’mores fixings while we waited for the weather to gift us with this other light source. Unfortunately, we did not get a break in the clouds either of those nights, however we loved the hospitality from our hosts and Aurorae guides.

As I look back at my short journey in Northern Canada, I am already thinking about taking my family back in the summer for some hiking, canoeing down the Yukon River, attending one of the many festivals offered each season and enjoying the midnight sun. The creative spirit is strong in the North, and any of our professional advisors at Endless Travel can assist you experience this territory’s wildness, beauty and contradictions.