If you are looking for domestic luxury this summer, consider National Parks and stellar acommodations!  Get a nature and nurture fix when you combine first class Parks and pampering – and can get a package deal.

I don’t usually pass on press releases or information for things I haven’t tried, but I am a big fan of National Parks, and luxury-oriented  J Public Relations pairs Parks with pampering digs, and suggests some tempting trip ideas for outdoor wilderness creations with indoor comforts (no camping!). Below are words, images and links provided by them.

Tanque Verde Ranch paired with the Saguaro National Park (read on for more)


Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park with 2.2 million acres of natural wonders and wild animals.  Top sights include the Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Prismatic Spring on the Lower Loop, Mammoth Hot Springs on the Upper Loop and Yellowstone Falls near the shared section of the two.  At the southern edge of Yellowstone Park lies Grand Teton National Park which boasts majestic views of the jagged peaks of the Teton Ranges and miles of hiking and wildlife-watching by Snake River.

Hotel Terra paired with the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park

Hotel Terra Jackson Hole

Located at the gateway to Grand Teton National Park and a short one hour drive to the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the LEED-Silver Certified and AAA Four Diamond luxury Hotel Terra Jackson Hole’s Passport to the Parks package provides the ideal destination for adults and families looking to explore some of the world’s most treasured natural sites.

The Passport to the Parks package includes:

·       3 nights lodging in a Terra Guest Room

·       7-day park pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park

·       $20 daily breakfast credit at Terra Cafe

·       Guidebook to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

·       Backpack for 2 children with kids guide book, reusable water bottle and camera

·       Rates start at $235+ per night; Minimum 3-night stay

·       Valid Valid May 16 – September 30, 2013

Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa

The AAA Four Diamond Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, is also steps from the entrance to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and one hour south of Yellowstone.  Located in one of the most spectacular places in the United States, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is granting guests an all-access pass to explore both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks with Teton Mountain Lodge’s National Park Explorer Package that also includes a $50 gas voucher and daily breakfast credit at Spur.

 The National Park Explorer package includes:

·       3 nights lodging at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa

·       7-day park pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park

·       Guidebook to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

·       $30 daily breakfast credit at Spur Restaurant & Bar

·       $50 gas voucher

·       Rates start at $189+ / night; Minimum 3-night stay

·       Valid May 16 – September 30, 2013 (blackout dates do apply)

The Grand Canyon National Park:

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile.  Known for it’s visually overwhelming size and intricate and colorful landscape, the Grand Canyon boasts some of the world’s most jaw-dropping and dynamic views.

L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona

L’Auberage de Sedona, Arizona

Situated just 45 minutes south of The Grand Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, L’Auberge de Sedona is just a short drive from the country’s acclaimed Grand Canyon National Park.  The experts at the luxury boutique hotel have a breadth of knowledge to share with their guests if they’d like to tackle the trails on their own, or guests can book the Grand Canyon Package.

 The Grand Canyon Package:

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring monument that must be seen. Guests can relax in L’Auberge’s beautiful accommodations, then spend a memorable day on a professionally guided tour of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The travel up Oak Creek Canyon, via luxury mini coach, is one of the top 10 scenic drives in America.

The package includes:

·       Two nights in either Lodge Room or Cottage Room

·       Grand Canyon tour for two; tour times range 10-11 hours

·       $36 breakfast credit at L’Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek

Saguaro National Park and Coronado National Forest:

Divided into two sections, called districts, Saguaro National Park is 91,442 acres, 70,905 acres of which is designated wilderness.  The park gets its name from the saguaro, a large cactus which is native to the region.  Close by is the Coronado National Forest which is spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.  Divided into five ranger districts, each consist of multiple “ski island” mountain ranges.

Tanque Verde Ranch, Tuscon, Arizona

Ideally located amongst Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest, Tanque Verde translates as the “green pool,” a name given by the Pima Native Americans due to the seasonal river that runs through the land to create a mountainous desert oasis of vibrant cacti and various unique plants. Tanque Verde Ranch offers a variety of activities that allow guests to take advantage of this beautiful landscape, including expert-guided hikes through the Sonoran Desert or rugged Rincon and Catalina ranges, mountain biking tours, trail rides on horseback, birding adventures and nature walks. All of these activities are complementary with all-inclusive rates, which also include three daily meals and accommodations in tastefully decorated southwestern styled accommodations.

Coming Soon- the Salamander Resort & Spa paired with Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park, Virgina

This 200,000 acre park is haven to deer and songbirds and is an ideal location for outdoor activities for the whole family.

Be the First: Salamander Resort & Spa 

Salamander Resort & Spa is set to open this August in the heart of Virginia wine and horse country in the quaint 18th century village of Middleburg and a short 2-hour scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Shenandoah National Park. Set on 340 acres of farmland, the brand new resort will offer an unparalleled luxury experience in the region with 168 guest rooms and suites; a culinary program led by Chef Todd Gray of Equinox Restaurant in DC including a two restaurants, wine bar, cooking studio and 2-acre culinary garden; a world-class spa with 14 treatment rooms and a couples suite and an array of activities including an onsite Equestrian program to rival any other in the world, with a 22-stall barn, practice ring, riding trails and instructional classes. The property boasts tennis courts and an outdoor pool complex, and guests have privileges at the nearby Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. Fifty wineries are within an hour’s drive of the resort, as are opportunities for whitewater rafting, sporting clays and raceway spectating.


Where would you like to park you and loved ones this summer? If you try any of the above this summer, please let Luxury Travel Mavens know what you think!

Submitted by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos, descriptions and links supplied by J Public Relations


02. April 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Destinations · Tags: , , ,

Austin-Lehman Adventures receives kudos from Travel and Leisure, National Geographic Adventurer, and Outside Magazine for their adventure trips. Founder Dan Austin shares insights into how you design the “feng shui” of  a trip with “Wow” moments and water-cooler bragging rights.

Kayaking amidst volcanoes and gardens, part of Nicaragua’s allure for active travelers. Photo by Lisa TE Sonne

The “ALA” team can customize an adventure trip for you in dozens of countries. Here he shares how they designed their inaugural trip offerings to Nicaragua.

How do you decide whether to add a new country as a destination? What factors do you look for?

Austin: “That is a great question!  First there has to be some level of interest.  Whether from our guests sharing their travels to an area or one of our staff experiencing it in the off-season.  Just takes someone raising their hand and saying, “hey check out”.  That just starts the ball rolling.  In this age of the internet, hundreds of hours can be spent looking at everything from key properties or hotels, to likely trails or activities.

“At some point a site visit by yours truly is typically in the cards… I know it’s a tough job.  After endless hours poring over maps, guide books and websites, we just start looking for a “route” that has plenty of opportunities to experience the region, its culture, history and activities. All without spending endless hours driving and driving to get from point A to point B.  Finding key hotels that fit the route and the region is also key.  They don’t have to be 5 star… but they do have to be nice and appropriate for the area.  And of course it has to be safe! “

Calf looks on as Dan Austin rolls up his shirt sleeves and milks a cow, part of an option one morning to help make your own farm breakfast. Gathering eggs is next.

How do you decide whether to add an activity to a given destination whether it’s cigar making or ash-boarding like on the first Nicaragua trip?

Austin: “That is a tough one, obviously you can not do everything— at least not in one visit.  We look at getting the biggest bang for the buck.  Does it fit well with the region and what people expect?  Is it a quality experience? Does it provide bragging rights back at the office around the water cooler? (Like, what did you do this weekend?  Me, I ash boarded off the top of an active volcano!)

“Does it have the makings of a “WOW” moment…  something truly memorable. Really look hard at the “feng shui” of a trip.  Does it flow well, good mix of activities, calorie burning and calorie consuming. Something for the mind, body and soul.”

Austin carried his board to the top of the volcano with others whoalso signed up for “ash-boarding” down. Photo by Lisa TE Sonne

 What do you do before you offer an activity or destination to the public?

Austin:  “We really need to see it before we can get behind it.  Maybe not every little detail, but the basics.  A quality local guide is key! A lot of time and energy goes into securing the local guide and then training on the ALA way.  With the right guide you can accommodate any and all guest requests and or surprises that might pop up.

“In the perfect world, I like to personally experience the exact trip (and have time to tweak and adjust) before our guests see it. With some 80 programs constantly evolving around the globe, that isn’t always possible.  When I can’t, I have to make sure we have the right guide and a key staff support person on the job… especially for the first few departures.  We need to represent ALA at all times.”

 How do you choose accommodations?

Austin: “The best way to put it is simply—“The most appropriate for the region,”  meaning it might be the historic Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone or an  over-the-top tent camp somewhere in Damaraland Namibia.

“On our recent trip to Nicaragua that was a good example– a balance.–historic Spanish style properties just off the town square in Granada to an award-winning Eco -Lodge complete with private beach in San Juan del Sur.  Hotels and lodges are a big part of the experience and we look for the best possible properties that “fit”.  Also key is that they share ALA’s passion for customer service and treat our guests like you would a guest in your home.

Cathedrals, museums, plazas, spas, history tours were options along with zip lining, horseback riding, kayaking and ash boarding.

Why did you choose to add Nicaragua to your global portfolio of adventures?

Austin: “It’s funny, we started working on Nicaragua long before the main stream media picked it up as an up and coming destination.  A lot has changed in Nicaragua since the 80’s and 90’s, the country has always been fabulous for its scenery, culture and such, just wrapped up in civil unrest.  So as Nicaragua started to emerge as a safe destination and open to tourism, it was just natural to keep an eye on it and look to understand it better.

“Being just north of Costa Rica was also part of the interest. If Costa Rica is so great, we better look at its neighbors.  As we dug in, we saw the value available as well. Nicaragua is still very affordable and a great value for what you get. I think I had a half dozen 25 dollar massages !”

Local Guide Julio points out the landmarks from a cathedral rooftop.

Why do you use local guides and how do you assure that the local guides will provide a memorable, safe experience when you aren’t there?

Austin: “This is a personal decision.  I know it’s not what all companies do.  I just know if I travel to an international destination, I want to get to know it from a “locals” point of view. I want to hear about growing up in the country, the issues they face today, where they are going, etc.  Locals also add an element of safety you can’t duplicate, they know where they should and should not go.

“We look for experienced, professionals with a passion for sharing the best of the best their country or region has to offer.  We then “train” on the ALA way.  We work on everything from the “extra wows” to problem solving and first aid.  We look at is as a partnership and we chose our partners carefully. “

 I really enjoyed your company’s inaugural trip to Nicaragua.  You mentioned that you wanted to tweak it for future groups.  How? 

Austin: “I think we will just look at the highlights and how they were received.  We will look at what we missed and why? Maybe try and cut some of the drive times down.  I am actually considering just two moves—Granada and San Juan del Sur–leaving more time to explore a bit deeper at each. Visitors can easily do “add ons” if we say drop Leon.  Also looking at adding the hotels for the first and last night in Managua near the airport.  This will just help take a bit of the stress out of arriving and departing with a wide range of flight schedules.

“It often takes years of “tweaking” to make a good trip great or a great trip incredible!  Always looking to improve, new properties are always coming on line, new restaurants or even new trails or activities.”

How will you make the Nicaragua trip more “luxurious” for those who want to pay more for extra amenities? For example, can they opt to fly into the airstrip near Morgan’s Rock, the upscale (for eco-lodges in Nicaragua) sanctuary?

Austin: “Interestingly enough while Morgan’s Rock is amazing and I don’t see switching, there is a new “over the top” 5 star property coming on line in the same area..  (good article in WSJ   Really it’s just a matter of keeping our eyes open and continually researching options.  Dang, I may even have to go back soon and do site visits on the lookout for new properties.”

Dan Austin (far right) joins fellow travelers in a smoke after helping make the cigars.

 What do you say to people who are worried about the political past of Nicaragua and how safe is it now?

Austin: “I think everyone on our recent group would agree, we never felt safer!  I spent a week traveling before the group and went well out of my way to get off the beaten path and again, never felt safer in any region of the globe.  The country sees tourism as a key to a prosperous future.  Typically tourism jobs pay more than other industries and embracing it can only create more and more opportunities.

“I have found that once a country understands the value of tourism, they have a tendency to start policing themselves.  The last thing they want is for some random act of violence set them back and it will. “

 What would you like people to know about you and your company?

Austin: “I think just that we are not the biggest and never plan to be.  We are family owned and operated.  We have put a lot of time, effort and energy into creating and living by both a mission statement as well as a vision statement that sums it up best.. I will share those with you here.”

Mission Statement:

o   Design and operate incredibly fun and deeply memorable outdoor adventure vacations in the Americas, Europe and Africa for adventurous, caring and curious individuals, families and groups led by the company’s extraordinary guides;

o   Exceed guest expectations via highly personalized ‘above and beyond’ service, smaller group sizes, great food, best-in-class accommodations and signature ‘wow moments’;

  • Allow its guests to experience destinations, wildlife, and communities in a deeper and richer manner than they would on their own; and
  • Inspire guests to become clients for life.

Vision Statement:

  • To be the most respected, trusted and best loved tour operator by our guests, employees, partners, and the communities we serve. To be recognized and respected for our collection of pre-set itineraries and custom trip planning services…and the extraordinary ‘above and beyond’ personalized service we provide to all our guests. To deepen and expand our passionate and active commitment to philanthropic initiatives that enhances our guests’ experience, improves the lives of people in the places we visit and propagates the importance of traveling with an open heart and small footprint.

More Luxury Travel Maven Q & A with the Austin Lehman founder who walks, ash-baords and kayaks his talk in in Nicaragua.

What adventure would you like to design?

- Lisa TE Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by (c) Lisa TE Sonne from ALA Nicaragua trip, except for feature  home page photo of Yellowstone, provided by Austin-Lehman Adventures.

The Zen of Ziplining with Dan Austin, founder of Austin-Lehman Adventure now Austin Adventures

Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures, not only walks his talk.  He ziplines it, kayaks it, and  ash-boards it. He makes the world his office and playground, as he aims for each AA adventure travel vacation to be “incredibly fun and deeply memorable”, (part of the company’s mission statement.) Not an easy feat, with 80 programs “evolving” in the Americas, Africa and Europe, but his family- run company keeps getting top awards and high praise.

 He credits his family, AA team and the hand-picked local guides. It’s also clear, he is all-around hands-on (both paddles and plans,) and is comfortable with a variety of Boards ( executives and sports.) He even ash-boarded down a young volcano with fellow travelers and me on AA’s inaugural trip to Nicaragua-

Dan Austin stays plugged in (with camera, smart phone and smiles) so guests can stay unplugged if they want.

enjoying the field research with his wonderful enthusiasm and observant eye.     He  slipped in some texting to his family and AA team  between zipline stations in  jungle canopy, from a kayak, and between courses to help keep things “fun and memorable” on this trip and dozens of others.

How do you define “adventure travel “?

Austin: “That is a tough question Lisa, Adventure Travel can be anything from climbing Everest to a walk in your local dog park.  It really comes down to what it means to the individual (or company in our case).  To AA it simply means staying active and exploring a bit more off the beaten path in each and every region we visit.  Definitely not a “typical bus tour.”

Family adventure travel by an award-winning, family-run company

“As you experienced in our recent trip to Nicaragua, we tried to balance seeing the country and cultural activities, with a bit more calorie burning modes of transportation like kayaks or hiking along with some heart pounding activities like ash boarding off a volcano.  Key is knowing what adventure is to you and making sure your goals and ideas are in line with your fellow travelers or an outfitter if you so choose. Also key to trust you always have options and that everything is introduced in a way that is as good for a novice as a veteran.”

 Why did you found your company?

Austin: “Now that is a bit of an adventure on its own.  I had a bit of experience in the industry back in the late 70’s.  I was a passionate rafter and thought it would be great to get people to pay to join me. Then some 25 years later my wife talked me into joining an “adventure vacation” to the Tetons with what was then Backcountry Tours.  I reluctantly agreed. I mean I was one of those macho do it yourself guys that looked at group travel, led by a couple of young guides as it had to be painful.

LTM Adventure Travel

River Rafting continues to be part of the Austin story. Rafting the Yellowstone River on ALA’s Montana Adventure. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehman

“Boy was I wrong!  It took all of the first day for me to realize this was my first true vacation.  Everything from someone else fixing the flat on my bike, to deciding where we would eat or what trail we would hike.  That and they carried by bags to our room and were a wealth of non-stop energy and learning’s.  After that week, a group of us approached the owners and ended up buying the company.  That was back in 1995, I have had no regrets since!”

 What are some of your most popular trips over the years and what is your rate of customer return?

The lower falls of Yellowstone River, a popular Austin adventure destination. Photo courtesy of Austin-Lehman.

Austin: “Yellowstone continues to be our #1 selling trip as it has for decades!  It is simply sensory overload and offers something for everyone. From the rich history (our country’s first National Park), to its spectacular geography (a giant caldera and more geo thermal features then the rest of the world combined) and of course the wildlife!  But that is just one of many tried and true favorites.

“Year after year Alaska continues to shine, as do the Canadian Rockies.  In Europe, Holland, Germany and Italy are always at the top of the list. Heading south, Costa Rica is our #2 selling program overall, with Peru and the Galapagos not far behind.  In Africa, my favorite and that of many of our guests, has to be Namibia, with South Africa a close second.

“About 70% of our guests are either repeat travelers or direct referrals from repeats.  One of our favorite alumni couples Chuck and Judy will be taking their 52nd and 53rd trips this year. In fact they will be repeating a trip the first trip they ever did to the Loire Valley, led by our Europe Operations Manager Ron van Dijk who was their guide on that trip so many years ago.”

Do you have anything particularly exciting coming up that you want to share?

Austin:We are always “cooking” up new trips.  We just finished putting the final touches on a new Inca Trail Luxury Camping program (Glamping)  combining hiking the Inca Trail with over- the-top services and amenities like massages and down comforters. We also are just finishing up a new Montana Based Best of the West family program.  Best bet is to sign up for our E-News letter and or catalog, of course that and Facebook. We are always communicating what we are up to.

 How can your company tailor things to be more luxurious if the client wants? Can you give some examples of things your company has done along those lines?

Sweet Adventure Travel, photo from Austin-Lehman

Austin:” Now that is clearly the fun part of the business!  About 25% of our guests choose “custom or exclusive” adventures.  Fact is if you can dream it, we can create it.  I love sharing these stories.

“There was the guest that had a vision of his wife standing knee deep in the surf off the coast of Kauai on her 60th birthday, cocktail in hand, Hawaiian trip playing as the sun set, topped off with rose petals falling from the sky!  Or the grandparents that wanted to treat their six- year-old twin grandsons to five National Parks in six days by private jet!  Then there are a lot more conventional adventures where a multi-generational family just want to get together for an adventurous family reunion.

Would you say you have a “family company”? What difference does that make?

Family Adventure: Austin guests hike up Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada. Photo Credit: Austin-Lehma

Austin: “You bet I would or could say that. We are family owned and operated.   But I actually think the readers –and our guests– said it better when they awarded us the #1 Family Tour Operator in the world recognition in 2012! And  #2 overall !  It just helps that we know families!

“My kids grew up in the business as my crash test dummies (just kidding.)  We have always put a focus on doing family adventures right, not just calling an adult program “family” to sell more spots.  They are truly built for families, by families.  Here is a link to a fun webinar we did just to learn more from kids as to what kids wanted out of a family vacation.

 How would you define “Sustainable” or “Green,”  “Eco-travel?”  How important is it to your company?  Can you give examples of how you implement/ integrate it?

Austin: “Another great question and like the question on defining adventure travel, its all about what it means to you. I like to look at it in its simplest form.  The triple

In the middle of the hike, guide extraordinaire Julio Flores surprises everyone with Nicaraguan pastries. Ken sets a good example.

bottom line:

  • People
  • Planet
  • Profits

“All working together.  Another helpful definition is that of Sustainability: “ The ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.

“We look to work with hotels and restaurants that follow these beliefs.  Is the produce local or flown in?  Do they practice recycling? Conservation?  But also things like hiring locals (starting with our guides).  Are they giving back to the communities they reside?

“One of our more significant programs that we are exceptionally proud of is our own nonprofit Wheels of Change.

Also check out www.austinadventures.com  for more.

What kind of awards have you gotten? What moments are you most proud of?

Austin: “We truly have been blessed in this arena. As I mentioned Travel and Leisure recognized us as the #1 Family Travel company in 2012 (beating out companies with names like “Disney”, that same year we were ranked #2 overall.  We have finished in the top 3 since we were first announced as #1 overall Tour and Safari operator in 2009.  But that is really just a start.

Austin-Lehman Awards

“National Geographic Adventurer listed us as one of the top companies in the World, several times as well as recognizing specific trips in the top trips category, year after year.  Outside Magazine gave our Cuba program the 2012 Hall of Fame award and so much more.  You can see more. You asked what award am I most proud of.. that has to be the Global Vision Award for our efforts with our bike program Wheels of Change.”

What else should potential travelers know about Austin Adventures for luxurious, adventure travel?

Austin: “I think it is not so much Austin Lehman –although we would love all your readers to join us– it is just travel itself.  As I recently penned for an email broadcast, travel is good for the soul!

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, photo thanks to Austin-Lehman

“I think Mark Twain said it best ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  

“You can of course start with our website  or on Facebook.  I also just encourage all to just call or email.  1-800-575-1540 or even better yet.  email me direct at dan@austinlehman.com  Yes, you will get a personal response.

“We are all eager to talk about travel and adventure anytime!  And if we don’t go where you want, we probably know who does and does it well, and are just thrilled to help you on your way!”

by Sonne

Dan Austin in the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua

(c)Lisa TE Sonne,  Luxury Travel Mavens

Photos by Lisa TE Sonne, unless credited to Austin-Lehman or Austin Adventures

Stay tuned for more Q & A with Dan Austin about how to Design an Adventure trip and for more on ALA’s innovative travel philanthropy

What do you think “Adventure Travel” is? Do you have Austin-Lehman trip stories to share in the comments below? Here’s my Luxury Travel Maven story and photos of the Austin Adventures Trip to Nicaragua


The adventures of the known and unknown…

Are you itching for a travel experience that is rare and “hot”? Or looking for a trendy trip for a great luxe gift to someone wonderful? Customized travel group Kensington Tours shares their top ten travel trends for 2013 with vacation adventures that include dragons, lemurs, soccer, white sand beaches in Africa, the land of the Hobbit, and the best Northern lights in 50 years.   They polled people they call Destination Experts  i.e.  in their own words “Kensington’s team of seasoned nomads, globetrotters and adventure enthusiasts.”  I have never experienced a Kensington trip so the specific adventures linked below are not personally vetted,  though I have enjoyed exotic river cruises, safaris and night-time lights shows in other ways and recommend the concepts ! Read on for the top travel trend results as Kensington sent them to Luxury Travel Mavens:

Trending Wonders in their Words:

1. Asian Safaris – Dragons, Tigers, Orangutans & More
One wild trend that is on the 2013 hotlist – More families are requesting animal safaris in Southeast Asia than ever before!  Borneo’s orangutans, Cambodia’s elephants, Thailand’s tigers, Laos’ gibbons and Indonesia’s komodo dragons, these animals add another dimension to the temples and treasures of these culturally rich countries.

2. Glamping – The Glam In Latin American Camping
Take some of Latin America’s wildest destinations, a large dose of fresh air, mobile tents and evening campfires, add porters to carry your gear, breakfast mimosas, and a personal chef – this is what glamping is all about! Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Patagonia all have a growing collection of luxury mobile camps for those who love the great outdoors but don’t want to miss out on prerequisite holiday pampering.



3. River Cruises – From Europe To The World
The popularity of European river cruises in past years has gone global.  Quickly cruising their way on to the top of 2013’s travel hotlist are small ship adventures along the Irrawaddy in Myanmar, South East Asia’s Mekong, the Brazilian Amazon and Botswana’s Zambezi.

4. Island Hopping, African Style
Mozambique’s Benguerra, Zanzibar, Seychelles and Mauritius. After a week of going wild on game drives, safari-goers aren’t shy to ask which way to the beach? While the white sands of these African isles aren’t near as busy as Miami, Phuket, Bondi or Rio, 2013 sees them drawing more North American sun-worshipers than ever before.

5. Set Jetting – Lights, Camera, Travel
A blockbuster hit in this day and age can play a real role in driving tourism. Hollywood movies inspire people to visit far off lands and can arouse a strong sense of wanderlust for the destinations showcased on film. For 2013 we anticipate fans building trips around New Zealand’s The Hobbit, India’s Life of Pi and the Wild West’s The Lone Ranger.

6. 2013 Year Of The Northern Lights
Give into the call of the north as the dancing green glow of the Aurora Borealis will be shinning brighter than ever for winter of 2012-2013. NASA has predicted a 50-year peak in the auroral cycle and there’s no finer place to see this natural phenomenon than now through to the end of March from Sweden, Norway or Iceland.

If your dreams take flight, where will you go?

7. Last Call For Untouched Sri Lanka
With publications like Lonely Planet and the New York Times putting Sri Lanka on the top of their 2013 bucket lists, the time is now before crowds hit and prices rise.  Go at your own pace with a private guide and driver for a more personal experience and discover Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, elephant sanctuaries, wild jungles, divine temples, sun-kissed beaches and more.

8. Brazil World Cup Warm Up – 2013 Confederations Cup
Held the year before World Cup, Confederation Cup is regarded by football aficionados as the dress rehearsal for the big event and will be drawing travelers in droves to stadiums across Brazil June 15th- 30th 2013. Die-hard fans who want to experience Brazil and World Cup without the high prices are making travel plans for 2013 as they know this is the perfect kick-off

9. Lemur Fever! Madagascar
Bizarrely beautiful, this eco rich isle’s playful lemurs, phenomenal beaches, baobab trees and outlandish creatures are quietly climbing their way to the top of every globetrotter’s hit list. The country is only now beginning to embrace tourism after years of being off the map and it’s an exotic add-on to any African safari.

10. Travel Smart – With A Smartphone
HD cameras and travel apps on smartphones are bringing the days of lugging around heavy gear, books and other gadgets to an end. With apps such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, you can share their travel moments those instantly as opposed to weeks later when the postcard arrives.


What are you own predictions for travel trends?  Which of the above would you add to your bucket list? Which have you already enjoyed? What was it like? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below the field of wildflowers.  Happy Travelling!

Posted by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by (c) Lisa TE Sonne Please contact her for permission to re-use.

Paddleboarding in a lagoon near the Atlantic Ocean

“Don’t look at your feet. Look forward.” That was the main advice for our first foray at stand-up paddle boarding or “SUP.”

A few of us newbies gathered on a sandy patch near Aquadilla in northwestern Puerto Rico for a lesson from Aquatica Dive & Surf which also offers surfing, diving, and snorkeling.  Arcing in front of us lay a beautiful natural classroom and playground:  to the left,  the Atlantic Ocean, straight ahead, a placid lagoon; and to our right, an inviting, meandering, calm river,  flanked by lush jungle growth.

All the waters were warm compared to many other places in the continental US where  paddleboarding is taught, and the conditions were gentle for optimal beginner’s luck.

First attempts in the warm lagoon.

“It’s all about balance” was the other advice given as we pushed our long boards out into the lagoon. Guides were nearby to help steady us if we needed it. I got into a kneeling position in the middle of my board, placed the single paddle perpendicularly in front of me, and then used it to push myself first to squatting, then to standing position.

Wow! I was up on a paddle board! Things felt tippy at first, until I found my own sweet-spot on the board. From  then on,  it was relatively stable. For me,  paddling was easier than just standing still.

The long pole with a curved paddle at one end had been adjusted to my height, so that one hand could push down on the handle, while the other hand mid-pole pulled it toward me. Pushing and pulling the paddle in the right amounts is one form of balance. Being in the optimal position on the board is another.  Finding the body posture that works is also a key element of balance – not leaning back or forward too much, knees slightly bent. Most of that, the body seems to do automatically.

Lesson One: Look Ahead and Practice Balance

To control direction, you can back-paddle the way you might while kayaking. You can also switch the paddle over to the other side, which also means switching which hand is on top and which is in the middle of the paddle.

It was about the shortest learning curve of any new sport or recreation, I can remember– certainly easier than anything involving a ball or wheels.  Soon, we were heading up the river, first-time paddlers (ages ranging from the 20s to 60s) relishing the pleasure of something new.

Paddling offers solitude or good company.

We could be close enough for conversations or find our own niche in nature to listen to the wildlife and enjoy the jungle fauna.

It took just enough effort and attention that my mind was cleared of other worldly things. But not it did not require so much concentration that I couldn’t hum a spontaneous paddling tune, take photos with my waterproof camera, or just make up a jungle adventure.

Beautiful orange flowers floated. Coqui frogs added to the chorus. Occasionally a bird would swoop nearby. The river was so gentle,  it was encouraging for practicing different speeds and directions. The water was so warm that the idea of falling in was not intimidating.

We had seen stand-up paddle boarders out at sea where conditions can be much more challenging.  Those paddlers may also have the thrills of catching waves.  Kneeling or laying on long boards to catch waves goes way back in Hawaiian tradition.  The kind of recreational stand up paddle boarding or “SUP” we were learning has been growing in the last few decades with the advent of new board designs.

Boards left while paddlers hike.

Shore Leave

Our little quasi-intrepid group spread out and paddled under a bridge, and past a rope swing until we were gathered near a muddy shore where some branches hung low.  We helped each other ashore for a land hike.

The cleared jungle trail lead through thick growth to an early railroad tunnel in Puerto Rico, built in 1906. Naturally we felt compelled to walk through the dark passage until we saw the light again.

Paddling back to our original shore, I thought about how much this “lesson” had been like my first surfing lesson in Waikiki on Oahu- the warm waters,  gentle conditions and beautiful scenery there had made it an optimal place for a sense of fun and success the first time out. The same was true here for my first SUP chapter.

At  the end of our group journey, one person said she  thought it was boring as a sport. She was teased that she should try it in the ocean before reaching any conclusions. Two other people said they thought paddleboarding was more fun than kayaking. One because he likes being up above the water, the other because it uses legs as much as arms. A fourth person said she really loved it and would pursue it more when they got home.

All  were all glad we had tried a new way to enjoy Puerto Rico’s natural beauty and man-made features.

The Luxury Elements:

The view from the Eclipse Restaurant, part of the Villa Montana Beach Resort in Puerto Rico. The Resort can help arrange horseback riding on the beach, paddleboarding, and massages.

To make paddling in Puerto Rico a more luxurious experience, you could stay at Villa Montana Beach Resort, not far from the International airport in Aquadilla, (or find out what the Heliport sign is all about.)  The spacious villas can be your  home base for biking, horseback riding on the beach, tennis, golf, pool lounging, and tide-pooling.

The resort’s alfresco seaside restaurant, the Eclipse,  offers wonderful food and views, and delicious fuel to start your paddling day off with gusto.

Villa Montana Resort

To end your day with soothing luxury, arrange in advance for a private massage by the shore or in your own villa.

You could open the door to your place and be greeted by dozens of candles, sweet smells, and a talented masseuse ready to ease any muscles you challenged while enjoying paddle boarding and hiking. If you want romantic ambiance for yourself or mate, trails of rose petals can be arranged, too.




Some Practical Tips for PaddleBoarding:

*Wear water shoes with good support and grip (although some people prefer barefeet to help their balance.)

*Secure your glasses/sunglasses with a strap that floats

* If you want to wear a hat, make sure it has a strap

*Pre-spray bug spray on yourself,  and your hat

* Bring/borrow a waterproof bag for your camera and anything you want to keep dry

*Bring water with you to stay hydrated. Make sure the guide has  plenty before you start out.

* And, of course, check  with your doctor first, if you have any relevant medical conditions!

Thanks to Aquatica for a good first lesson.

Tips While There:

*Watch others to observe what works and what doesn’t

* Listen to the guides– they should know where it’s safe to get off near shore and where the submerged logs are,  etc.

*Ask for a “dry bag” if you want to bring your camera and keep it dry, then use it on the hike. Make sure you learn how to close the bag properly.

*There are some elastic ropes at the front of the board for securing things like the dry bag

*Ask what the plan for the paddle is. If you are going to stop and hike like we did, you might want to make sure you bring dry shoes and put them in a bag. (Fire ants like exposed feet.  Exposed feet usually don’t feel the same way about fire ants.)

*Remember to ask others to take your picture on the board, if you want a memento of your good time!

Puerto Rico- the Place!
Puerto Rico is a US territory,  so if you are a US citizen, you don’t need to worry about passports or customs or international cell phone charges, the way you would with many other Caribbean islands. US currency, and both English and Spanish prevail, and driving is on the right side of the road unlike many other Caribbean islands. You can fly into the capital of San Juan on the northeast of the island, and enjoy Old San Juan’s rich history, great restaurants, party night life, and wonderful museums. After a couple of days, drive west to the Isabella area of Puerto Rico, or you can fly straight to Aquadilla airport.

If you opt to take the east to west road trip, and are willing to go a little inland, two memorable attractions in Puerto Rico are the Arecibo Observatory, and the Rio Camuy Caves (787-898-3100.)

For more help planning a great trip, check out www.SeePuertoRico.com

What more can you share about Paddle Boarding or about Puerto Rico? Please add your comments below.    Viva the good life!

-Lisa TE Sonne for LuxuryTravelMavens

 Photographs © Lisa TE Sonne,

Malcolm looks to the future of Luxury Travel

Alex Malcom in Africa
Photo provided by Jacada Travel

Heli-surfing in Chile? Private picnics above Angel Falls in Venezuela? A tailored-to-you luxury safari honeymoon in Africa? Jacada Travel prides itself on originality with its luxury adventure trips. The founder, Alex Malcolm, started life in Oxford in the United Kingdom, but found his passion for unique travel in Brazil. Since founding Jacada Travel in 2008, he has aspired to share some of the best of South America and Africa with personally crafted trips. He shares recommends and trends in this cyber interview with Luxury Travel Maven Sonne while he was in the  Amazon.

Q: How do you define luxury travel?

A: Where one has space and time. Settings and experiences which take us far from the everyday as such to renew and replenish us. The ability to experience something completely unique and beyond the reach of the crowds.

Q: How is South America different than other continents for discriminating travelers?

A:I am a great fan of the landscapes of South America. There’s such variation, even within each country. However, what I think really makes South America stand out as a destination is how one can really interact with people and the cultures of the area. The people of South America really are open to outsiders, so it’s a great place to engage with the local people.

Q: What are the unique luxuries in South America for travelers?

The variety of experience, being able to stand atop a glacier one day and to be in a tropical rainforest the next. Remote private lodges tucked between mountains where one can experience true solitude.

Jacada Travel

The remote Atacama Desert in South America
Image provided by Jacada Travel

Q: What shouldn’t be missed in South America?

A: Taking a more private experience of Patagonia and visiting the glaciers where the crowds don’t visit. Experiencing the unique atmosphere of Trancoso in Brazil, or flying over the Amazon by hydroplane to reach your luxury riverboat deep in the pristine rainforest.

Q: What are some of your favorite luxury memories in South America?

A: Watching the sunset in the Colca Valley of Peru on my own with not a sound around me. Flying over the amazing landscape of the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, a lattice of green and blue with brilliant white light shimmering on the top.

Q: What are some of your favorite luxury moments elsewhere In the world? 

A: Outside of Latin America, it has to be my time in Africa. Lying in my large tent in the Okavango Delta listening to the sound of the elephants right outside of the tent or watching the sun set from a coppice in the Samburu area of Kenya, joined by the local Samburu people as I relaxed and took in the landscape.

Q: What’s still on your dream list of luxury experiences in the world?

A: I would really very much like to get up close with the gorillas.

Q: What does Jacada offer that other travel services don’t?

A: An amazing attention to detail, from start to finish. We’ve all lived in the places that we work with, so we have a unique insight into the way the country works and how to genuinely get the best out of your time there. It’s very much like plugging into a vast network of friends.

We’ve always felt that travel is a very personal experience so we listen well and ensure our guests have the trip they are looking for. We hand pick our guides and select the right guide for the right client. We know many of the lodge/hotel managers personally and are in touch before the arrival of every client to ensure they get a special welcome on our behalf.

Jacaa Travel in the Galapagos

Galapagos Penguins are the only penguins that live in the wild north of the Eguator. Image provided by Jacada Travel.

Q: Your company sent out a press release predicting that your Travel Designers will be the future of luxury travel. What is a Travel Designer?

A: We put together a complete experience from an intimate, personal knowledge of the area the guest will be travelling to. There’s so much detail involved, from choosing the correct guide, to selecting a restaurant you will like for your trip. Or even adding in little touches and surprises.

Q: How is it different than a travel agent?

A: First of all we are not selling an “off-the-shelf product” and are really not just a booking service. The knowledge and the depth of planning that is involved from our end is exhaustive. We go the extra mile to ensure our guests have a trip that is perfect for them and it is something that we can personally vouch for on a first-hand basis.

Q: What do you predict is a trend in South American and African luxury travel?

A: We are trying to push the boundaries ourselves for our clients, creating brand new ways of experiencing the most remote, pristine, and beautiful areas away from the crowds for a privileged few.

Q: What will be offered within five years that isn’t now?

A: I think more “experience-based” properties are likely to spring up in remote locations, where clients can experience comfort in a unique, pristine environment.

Q: What are the three most popular Luxury Jacada trips?

A: In South America

  • Luxury Peru Explorer, which takes in the Amazon, Machu Picchu and Cusco
  • Luxury Argentina Explorer, which takes in Patagonia, the wine Region, and Buenos Aires

In Africa

  • Safari Wine and Waterfalls Tour, which takes in Cape Town, Wine Lands, Safari and Victoria Falls.

Q: Do you have any stories to share about how a Jacada trip changed someone’s life?

A: We had a couple on their honeymoon in Argentina. They were actually lodge managers of a safari lodge in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. After their trip, they enjoyed Argentina so much that they moved there!

by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

 Photographs provided by Jacada Travel

Jacada Travel in Africa

Rhinos in Africa