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.

Exploring Scotland, Something for Everyone!

At the northernmost tip of the British Isles lies Scotland. Home of golf, Scotch Whisky and Haggis, Scotland has a little something for everyone.  Whether you are looking to spend a night sleeping in a castle, go hiking across the lush, green countryside, or speed across the lowlands on a scenic train trip, Scotland will not disappoint.

Foodies tend to find that Scottish cuisine, which shares much of its background with typical English fare, is more varied and flavorful than the traditional foods of its southern cousin. With a wide array of seafood, dairy, game and breads, special delights such as Marmalade pudding, Dunlop cheese, Scotch pie and Rumbledethumps are always a treat. Accompanying beverages run the gamut from Scotch Whisky (no e in Whisky for them) to Ginger Wine along with Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-Bru, a non-alcoholic carbonated soda that stands up to competition with more ubiquitous global brands.

Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, is home to the country’s most famous fortress, Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which “opens the doors, streets and alleyways of an entire city to an explosion of creative energy from around the globe” every August. Started in 1947, the Fringe was created to celebrate and strengthen Europe’s rich cultural life post-WWII. Anglophiles will also find visits to Holyrood Palace, St. Giles’ Cathedral and the dormant volcano known as Arthur’s Seat quite fascinating.

For those seeking more high adventure, summers off Scotland’s Oban coast afford the opportunity to go snorkeling with the world’s second largest fish, the basking shark. Perthshire, Aviemore and Fort William’s narrow gorges and fast-flowing rivers are perfect for visitors who want to experience canyoning — sliding down naturally formed water flumes, cliff jumping, rappelling down rocky cliffs and climbing under thundering waterfalls. And for those seeking a little competition, there’s always land yachting, where you can race your friends across a beach in sail-powered three-wheeled scooters.

Fantasy and fiction lovers will find their heyday in both the lowlands and highlands as they explore Inverness’ Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle in search of Nessie, ride the Jacobite steam train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct featured in the Harry Potter movies, or storm the Castle of Guy de Lombard just as Arthur and his knights did in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Bonnybridge, in Falkirk, has become the UFO capital of the world with more than 300 sightings every year. Not to be outshone by the mainland, the more than 790 Scottish Isles have their fair share of legendary locations as well. The Isle of Skye’s Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr make up the landscape of MacBeth. And the Isle of Lewis’s Calanais Standing Stones inspired a similar setting in Brave. Also, how can you truly go wrong in a country whose national animal is a unicorn?

Recommended Reading:

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

Inspired by true events, the New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home is a touching story of a group of Irish emigrants who sailed aboard the RMS Titanic. Blending fact and fiction seamlessly, the book explores the impact and lasting repercussions of the Titanic tragedy on its survivors and their descendants.

Blog written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel.

Exploring Norway, From Fantastic Food to Opera and Vikings

The Kingdom of Norway is the westernmost country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwestern Europe. With a land area slightly less than that of California, it boasts a coastline that is over 15,000 miles long lined with thousands of islands. The majority of its five and a half million inhabitants live along the coast and in the southern portion of the country where its capital, Oslo, is located.

Founded in 1070, Oslo is both a city and a county, serves as the economic and governmental center of Norway, and has been ranked number one for the quality of life compared to other large European cities. A modern cultural nexus labeled one of the ten best cities in the world to visit, visitors find museums, galleries, music festivals, theaters, sports arenas, and the world-renowned Operahuset, or Oslo Opera House.

Clad primarily in white granite and white Italian marble, the main auditorium stage tower evokes old weaving patterns with its white aluminum sheath designed by Løvaas & Wagle. It is the Opera House’s roof, however, that earned the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2010. Sloping gently to ground level, the roof creates an inviting plaza encouraging visitors to walk to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Oslo. Nothing beats a cocktail on the rooftop as you watch the sunset!

Foodies are always thrilled to explore the many Oslo food markets, especially Mathallen Food Hall at Vulkan which is home to more than 30 cafes, eateries and specialty shops. The areas around the center of the city all have a high concentration of cafes and restaurants, and for the discerning palettes, there are six Michelin Star restaurants located within the city. Traditional cuisines vary from classic Norwegian fare such as lamb and cabbage stew (fårikål), brown stew (lapskaus), Norwegian meatballs (kjøttkaker), and steamed salmon or fish soup to specialties such as moose, reindeer and lutefisk (cod cured in lye). But while you visit, be sure to try the traditional heart-shaped waffles and their assorted toppings such as current jam or sugar and butter.

Bus and rail transportation will get you from place to place in Oslo, and the daily bus ticket also covers the inter-island ferry allowing tourists to explore some of the nearby islands for hiking, swimming, or sea views of the city skyline. Ikea, the Swedish home goods store, also offer quite popular free buses around town to encourage people to visit for shopping and food. And for those who want a bit more flexibility, bike rental stands can be found throughout the city if you want to take one out for a few hours to see the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace.

No visit to Norway would be complete, however, without a bit of Viking history. It is quite simple to take a train or rent a car to head south to Sandefjord, the richest city in Norway and home to Europe’s only whaling museum. Known as the Viking Capital of Norway, it is also known as the Whaling Capital and has also been dubbed Badebyen (Bathing City) due to the many beaches and spas. History buffs can also visit the Gokstad Mound (Gokstadhaugen), which is a large burial mound at Gokstad Farm. Gokstadhaugen is also known as the Kings Mound (Kongshaugen) and is the discovery location of the Gokstad Ship, which is now in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

And finally, for the well-read visitors, Norway is home to literary greats such as playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Nobel Laureates Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun. The Ibsen Museum in Oslo is always a treat, his restored apartment is open for visitation, and if time permits, you can even take a day trip to his childhood home in Skien. If you are traveling in late May or early June, be sure to check out the Norwegian Literature Festival in Lillehammer and don’t forget a trip to the Litteraturhuset, or House of Literature, the national arena for literature, culture and debate.

Southern Norway abounds with treats for all the senses. Find out what else is in store with a visit arranged by Endless Travel.

Post written and photos provided by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.