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Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for May, 2009

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Featured Deal: Discover Morocco

Morocco is one of Africa’s most popular travel destinations. The country offers visitors a dazzling mosaic of Arab and Berber cultures, with a dash of African and European influence thrown in for good measure.
From its beautiful Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, deserts complete with oases and towering sand dunes, magnificent imperial cities, Islamic landmarks, Joujoukan and Gnaoua trance music, fantastic food, Roman antiquities, and mountain villages, even the most experienced globetrotter will find plenty to see and do in Morocco.
And with Friendly Planet Travel, you can see and do it all in eight days for only $1,999. Our sale prices include savings of up to $600 per couple if you reserve before July 9. Of course, that includes round trip flights from JFK International, all fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, most meals, guided touring, and more.
Your adventure begins in Casablanca, the largest city and main port of Morocco. Your guide will take you through the city’s most important and historical mosques; most beautiful city and ocean views; and most splendid examples of architecture, the design style known as Mooresque, a combination of both Moroccan and French architectural elements.
From there, you’ll travel on to Rabat, Volubilis, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakesh, before boarding a plane back to the U.S. on the eighth day. Your days will be delightfully packed with bustling outdoor markets, Roman ruins, imperial cities, and busy night life.
And each night you’ll bed down in style and comfort, with some nights spent in five-star hotels. Have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information on our Discover Morocco vacation.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, no matter how small, about the Discover Morocco, or if you would like to talk to some folks who have enjoyed the tour.
If you would like to book now, simply visit our online booking engine, or call us at 1-800-555-5765.

Customer Testimonial: True love on Treasures of Thailand

Our Treasures of Thailand vacation includes 12 days of beautiful beaches and islands, exotic architecture, fascinating culture, and ancient ruins. And, as many of our travelers have attested, the country provides the perfect backdrop for an absolutely unforgettable honeymoon experience.
I was combing through our customer testimonials recently, when I came across two that particularly struck me because they were from happy Friendly Planeteers who had just returned from their honeymoons with us. At first thought, people might not consider a group tour the ideal way to spend a honeymoon, but if you’re looking for the perfect combination of fun, culture, nightlife, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a knowledgeable guide is the perfect person to show you the way. Plus, there is still ample time for couples to explore on their own and spend time with only each other.
Have a look at what these two couples thought.
“We booked this trip instead of going to Hawaii for our honeymoon. It was less expensive to fly half way around the world and stay for 3 extra days than what it would have cost to go to Hawaii. As for the trip, it was by far the best trip of my life. Lek, our guide, is a wonderful person; very accommodating, friendly and seemed to genuinely care about making our experience enjoyable. Thailand is an amazing country that combines beautiful scenery, a unique culture, friendly people, a good nightlife, and is very inexpensive. What more could you ask for? We are looking to book our next trip (Africa) and are definitely looking at Friendly Planet.
— Wade Honeyfield, Denver, CO”

“Thank you for a wonderful honeymoon experience! The Treasures of Thailand tour was very well organized. Our tour guide Matthew was a delight. He was very knowledgeable and enthusiastically helpful. We had a wonderful time getting to know our fellow tour participants. We’re definitely very happy we chose the Friendly Planet Tours as our honeymoon vacation. And as you can see from the pictures, we had quite an adventurous time! P.S. Thank you, Friendly Planet, for the extra-special treatment, for us honeymooners, at all of the beautiful hotels we stayed at.
— Kunal & Leena Bhojawala, Jersey City, NJ”

Amazing Peru: Machu Picchu and the end of the road

As the last part of my Peru series, I want to tell you about one of the most amazing sights in the world: Machu Picchu.

FP_Peru9.JPGWe woke up early for our train ride to Machu Picchu, which was a very scenic and memorable experience on its own. Once we arrived at the base village, with the Urubamba River running right through its center, we took a bus to the top of the mountain.

Once again, this bus ride alone was amazing and the anticipation continued to build on this 25-minute ride on a road that snaked its way through the mountain. As the bus arrived at the top of the mountain, we took care of the admission formalities and began our hike to the actual site of Machu Picchu.

The terrain and steps just to get to a viewable height was difficult to navigate even for me, and as we got to the knoll for our first views, it was amazing. We were level with the clouds, and could see the entire site of the ruins from our vantage point.

FP_Peru15.JPGAfter some guided touring, my girlfriend and I explored for about an hour and a half independently. There were many different trails to investigate, each of them marked with the difficulty level. We were surrounded by thousands of people walking around in awe. Llamas were also plentiful, chewing the grass and keeping the site free of overgrowth.

FP_Peru16.JPGIt felt as if we were literally a five-minute walk from the surface of the sun, and I had the sunburn to prove it (even though I did use lotion).

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay forever, and we made our way back to the bus which took us back down the mountain.

We were off to Puno. On our drive, we again experienced the vast differences in the regions of Peru. Some of the areas we traveled through were desolate. And some were roughly populated by humans who raise of llamas or cows. We also saw the ice caps on some of the distant mountains.

Once we arrived in Puno, we went out on Lake Titicaca and visited the floating islands of Uros. This island floats 30 meters above the bottom of the lake, and is made of woven weeds and naturally floating vegetable roots.

We continued on deeper into the lake to visit Taquile Island, close to the border of Bolivia. Again we saw many ice-capped mountains in the distance. On Taquile Island, there was a huge festival with music, drinking, and food. We ate lunch on the island, enjoyed the views from high above the lake, and eventually headed back to Puno by boat.

My Amazing Peru trip was coming to an end, and it was bittersweet. After 11 days on the road, I was happy to get back to my own bed, but I was sad to leave the beautiful country, friendly people, and wonderful scenery that I had the privilege of visiting.

If you have any questions about Friendly Planet Travel’s Amazing Peru trip, I’d be happy to answer them. You can leave them in the comments here, or send me an e-mail. And for some more photos of my incredibly journey, have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Flickr page.

More Amazing Peru

Yesterday I told you a little bit about my recent trip to Peru with Friendly Planet Travel, and I have so much more to tell. When I left off, we were at the incredibly beautiful Ballestas Islands.

The next day we flew into Cusco. The high altitude began to take effect, but I chewed on cocoa leaves that I bought at the airport, which helped somewhat. After checking into a hotel in the middle of town, we had some time to relax and acclimate before taking a walking tour of the city.

During the walk, we visited an old Incan temple converted to Spanish. We continued to walk to what we were told is the “most important church” in South America.

After the tour, we stayed up and enjoyed some authentic Peruvian wine with our guide and some of our group members. Helpful hint: Wine in the hotel is about 8 USD per glass, but there is a store around the corner where you can get a bottle for 5 USD.

From Cuzco, we headed to the Sacred Valley, stopping at the Pisac market on the way to pick up some souvenirs. Then we were back on the bus for a drive to the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo, located at the foot of a spectacular mountain. These buildings are what protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley, also known as the Sacred Valley.

The temple area is at the top of a series of steep terraces, which helped provide excellent defenses. Stone used for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba river — an incredible feat involving the efforts of thousands of workers.

FP_Peru6_small.JPGThe complex, still under construction at the time of the conquest by Spain, was never completed. This was a very interesting sight, which was also discussed in the book that I read while on trip (and I’m still reading: “The Last Days of the Incas”).

After visiting the ruins, we had lunch in the small village below, and I also saw one of my favorite sites on the whole trip: a small monkey riding on a dog’s back! Even our tour guide said he had never seen anything like it. Looks like one of the town’s many strays was adopted … by a monkey.

FP_Peru14_small.JPGWe then headed back to our hotel in the middle of the mountains for the remainder of the evening with the anticipation of visiting Machu Picchu starting to build … which seems like the perfect spot to leave you today. So make sure you come back tomorrow to hear all about it!

Amazing stories from Amazing Peru

As many of you know, I just got back from an incredible two-week trip to Peru on our Amazing Peru.

While I was there, I kept Friendly Planteers back home abreast of our adventures through Twitter.

And of course, I took a ton of photos, a few of which I posted on the Friendly Planet Travel Flickr page. Now that I’m back, I can’t wait to tell you all about it. So keep your eyes here on the Friendly Planet Travel blog this week, because I’ll be sharing a new experience each day, beginning today!

During my two-week travel experience of Peru with my girlfriend Kelly, I truly got a sense of many different parts of the country and the different people that make up the unique Peruvian culture.

Starting with Lima, there was a great urban atmosphere that changed slightly as I traveled through the different boroughs that make up the city.
With English as my only verbal form of communication, and Spanish as the Peruvian language, hand signals and laughter were a universal way to correspond between nationalities; and I never felt uncomfortable or out of place.

As an American in a foreign country, I was still able to take public taxis, walk the streets at night, and thoroughly enjoy myself in Lima.
A bike tour of the city, facilitated by Bike Tours of Lima gave me a better sense of the history and different aspects that make Lima the city that it is now.

Driving south along the Pacific coast, from Lima to Ica, the landscape changed from urban to desert after only a few miles. Having never seen a desert before, I enjoyed the great views and the vastness, with constant views of the ocean along the way.

Just south of Ica, we visited the ancient city of Nazca: home of the famous Nazca lines.
I sat in the co-pilot seat as a five-person prop plane flew me over the Nazca Desert so that I could witness, first hand, the unique qualities that make these vast drawings, of unknown origin, such an attraction.

Further north, I visited the town of Paracas so that I could see the Ballestas Islands, a.k.a. “the mini Galapagos.” In a speed boat, a few miles off shore, I witnessed many different birds, seals, and even penguins. There were literally hundreds of seals, swimming, sunning, and sleeping amongst the thousands of birds and dozens of penguins. Besides the amazing wildlife, the islands themselves also had beauty and uniqueness as the current and waves splashed through the tiny caves and crevices.

For more incredible photos of my Peruvian adventure, don’t forget to have a look at the Flickr page. And stay tuned, because tomorrow I’ll fill you in on more of my trip to Amazing Peru.

My family story in National Geographic

As part of a Mother’s Day special, National Geographic published a short story I wrote about a wonderful trip to Israel with my family in their Intelligent Travel blog. This was certainly a belated Mother’s Day gift for me! I hope you enjoy.

Another lens through which to see the world

Last week my wonderful and talented son wrote up some of his favorite memories of a trip that we took together to British Columbia, Canada. While this particular trip didn’t have anything to do with Friendly Planet Travel, I thought it would be a wonderful experience to share with you that describes how travel truly can be a life-altering, perspective-bending experience (no matter where you’re traveling to).
So without further ado, here it is, in his own words:

I’m not sure how I ended up here. It has been an amazing journey, but this is not how I was supposed to end up. In fact, there are only two things that I can depend on. The first, that I can’t predict the future.
I grew up a nice Jewish boy in Philadelphia. I remember knowing that I would go to Harvard, become a lawyer, get married to a nice Jewish girl, have nice Jewish children, and go hiking and maybe fix stuff on weekends in my house in Philly. I am writing this from my one room cabin in the woods, cooking road kill soup with my partner in the Pacific Northwest.
I understand that most people change, and that we rarely grow up to be who we thought we would. But most people at least recognize themselves. They can see how it happened.
This feeling seems a bit true for my mother as well. The likelihood of her having been born at all seems pretty slim. Her parents were among the very few people in their families who survived the Holocaust. In the ten years between her splitting up with my father and my going to college, I can only remember her wearing one outfit, a loose-fitting sweat suit that was all one solid, soft color. She worked hard as an upstart travel agent for little money to pay the rent on our small apartment. She has been working hard ever since.
In addition to running her successful travel business, she has taken care of two aging parents for the past 20 years. She is one of the busiest people I know. These days, she treats herself and those around her to the fancy meals and adventures that she couldn’t have dreamed of in her youth.
Last summer, my mom and I met up for a travel adventure in British Columbia. We each brought our partners, who politely smiled and responded with the obligatory “yes dear” as my mom and I dragged them along on a whirlwind tour of Victoria and Vancouver. Throughout those days I often wondered, “How on earth did we end up here?”
It was an experience that yanked me from the reality of my current life. We ate amazing foods at restaurants, stayed in hotel rooms whose bathrooms were bigger than my cabin. We took the Clipper from Seattle to Victoria, and spent three days exploring museums, eating delicious foods, and catching glimpses of Barbara Streisand’s yacht in the harbor.
We took a ferry from Victoria to Vancouver, and walked through a forest canopy and over the dramatic suspension bridge, went to museums, and explored the city as tourists. I had been to Victoria and Vancouver many times, but had never seen them this way.
This brings me to the second thing that I can depend on. While my mom is extraordinarily supportive of me following my dreams, every once in a while, she swoops in and pulls me out of my shoes and takes me on an adventure. I can count on her to remind me that there is always another perspective, another adventure, and another lens through which to see the world.

Beautiful Bhutan – Festivals Tour

In yesterday’s post, I started to tell you a little bit about the untouched beauty and fascinating culture of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
FP_Himalayans.jpgBhutan is a destination that even the most experienced travelers consider a privilege to visit. Perched high atop the mighty Himalayan range, the Kingdom of Bhutan has defied globalization and chosen to remain a hidden paradise. As I mentioned, even though it consistently ranks as one of the world’s top destinations, its remote location and strong preservation efforts make it accessible to only a fortunate few, and Friendly Planet Travel is honored to be included.
Our Beautiful Bhutan program makes it possible for our travelers to not only visit this exotic land, but also immerse themselves in its rich cultural traditions. Throughout the 18-day tour, Friendly Planeteers experience the enchantment of Bhutan’s ancient fortresses, monasteries, and temples; the richness of its artisan traditions; and the beauty of its pristine natural landscape as you traverse the country’s mountainous terrain.
FP_Bhutan.jpgOur unique program gives travelers plenty of time to interact with the friendly people of Bhutan, including a very special opportunity to join hundreds of Bhutanese in their celebrations of the spiritual festivals of Ura (April departure), Nimalung (June departure), Tamshing (September departure), Jambay Lhakhang (October departure), and Trongsa (December departure).
Vacationers gain an enlightened understanding of the country’s national philosophy of Gross National Happiness. But be sure to reserve your space quickly, as this once-in-a-lifetime trip is sure to sell out quickly! There are four 2009 departures left, which are listed below. For more information, be sure to have a look at our Web site.

Remaining 2009 departures:
June 23 – July 10
Sept. 18 – Oct. 5
Oct. 26 – Nov. 12
Dec. 17 – Jan. 3

An incurable optimist in Bhutan

Last week, Michael J. Fox’s "Adventures of an Incurable Optimist" aired on ABC. The special chronicled his decision to battle the effects of his Parkinson’s disease through optimism and hope. And it coincides with the release of his new book, "Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist."


Nick, one of our Friendly Planet Travel team members, saw the special, and wanted to share some thoughts with the entire Friendly Planet team. And I thought those points would be wonderful to share with you here on the blog.

During the program, Michael J. Fox travels throughout the country speaking with people from all walks of life, each choosing to live a life full of hope, even in the face of various forms of adversity (such as the small dairy farmers struggling through the economy).
His journey eventually takes him to the Kingdom of Bhutan, which lies between China and India, atop of the Himalayan Mountains. Bhutan is an extremely unique country, basically cut off from the rest of the world due to its remote location and desire to keep its culture and environment "unspoiled" by modernization and globalization.
While Bhutan does track its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it value its Gross National Happiness (GNH) even more. GNH measures the quality of one’s life in terms of happiness, as opposed to wealth and material goods.
The King of Bhutan proposed the Gross International Happiness Project (GIH), based on the insight that conventional development concepts such as GNP and Per Capita Income do not properly reflect the general well being of the inhabitants of a nation. With this project, Bhutan puts the well being of individuals on top of the national development agenda.
While in Bhutan, Michael J. Fox noted that the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease had greatly subsided, attributing it possibly to the altitude sickness medication he’d taken, or just being in Bhutan in general, which he referred to as "happiest place on Earth."
Parkinson’s affects the brain’s communication with the body, greatly impairing one’s motor skills. I watched as Fox walked throughout the rugged terrain of the country in a manner that showed no signs of his disease. It was quite amazing. Fox attended the Punakha Festival, one of the many festivals held in Bhutan throughout the year.

Bhutan allows only a small amount of travelers to enter the country each year, and Friendly Planet Travel is honored to be one of the few U.S. tour operators that offer Bhutan as a destination, with each departure including the opportunity to witness a different seasonal festival. Make sure you come back tomorrow for the full scoop on Friendly Planet Travel’s Beautiful Bhutan vacation.

A look at Herzlia, Israel

Earlier this spring, I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a trip to Israel with my husband. For me, trips to Israel are not only about visiting family and learning about the timeless history of my people, but they are also a time of fascinating culture, luxurious spas, and dazzling coast lines.
Herzlia, Israel is the perfect vacation target. Herzlia is a small resort town outside Tel Aviv, situated along the stunning Mediterranean coast, and just a short trip from some of the oldest cities in all of civilization. Most of the town’s hotels offer elegant spa packages, and are a short walk from the breathtaking Mediterranean Sea.
Cities such as Caesarea, Megiddo, and Tiberias, among others, are close enough for day trips, and offer fascinating glimpses into our ancient past. See the beautifully restored theater, and extensive (and ongoing) excavations of the ruins of ancient Caesarea. Travel inland to Megiddo, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. And discover Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
You can see all of this and much more on Friendly Planet Travel’s Classic Israel vacation. But I don’t think our Web site could do Israel complete justice. So while I was there, I shot some videos to give you a little peak at the beauty and culture found in one of my favorite countries. I’ll be posting the videos here on the blog, starting with this one: a video of a beautiful beach on the coast of Herzlia. Enjoy!

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