Thursday, 5 April 2012

Patagonia - A Jurassic World

Patagonia – A Jurassic World

Whenever I watch a Superman movie and see him travel to his Fortress of Solitude, for some reason I think of Patagonia.  This amazing place has some of the best outdoor adventure travel and scenery on this planet; it is truly awe-inspiring.  I recently came across this article from GOWAY - they have several tours with itineraries that will take you right to the heart of Patagonia.  This is definitely on my Travel Bucket List!~

Patagonia – a name forged in mystery and adventure – covers the bottom half of both Argentina and Chile and is one of the worlds most popular outdoor destinations and easily accessible from North America via Santiago or Buenos Aires. It is the home to some of the richest dinosaur fossil deposits and also some of the largest dinosaur species every found.
“Paleontologists announced that they had discovered the remains of a 105-foot-long dinosaur on the banks of a lake in the Argentine portion of Patagonia.” The region is also home to some of South Americas most famous and, Mother Natures most beautiful, natural sites – Torres del Paine National Park in Chile (pictured below)
The Moreno glacier in Argentina one of the worlds last advancing Glaciers (pictured below)
and the world famous Fitzroy National Park dotted with a multitude of glaciers and a Mecca for trekkers (again pictured below)

The most striking feature of Southern Patagonia is the look and the geography of Patagonia. It feels of what the earth would have looked like in the days of the dinosaur. No where else can you literally feel like you have gone back in time millions of years.
Centre of all this would undoubtedly be Torres del Paine National Park in Chiles Southern Patagonia, and at its centre the three towers of granite. The Park itself – over 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) – also boasts glaciers, open pampas, endemic wildlife such as Rhias, Patagonia Hare, Vicuna and the Jaguar.
The Torres del Paine circuit (pictured above) around the famous craggy mountains that crown the Park is one of the world’s classic trekking routes. Breathtaking views together with glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests and abundant wildlife provide the trip with constantly changing sceneries and experiences. This is one of the greatest scenic wonders of the world and one of those places to which all serious mountain-lovers must make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
Other options include day hikes to the base of the 3 towers, kayaking, horse back riding and relaxing based at one of our 3 choices of our all inclusive accommodation options. 5 star explora lodge, 5 star Tierra Patagonia lodge or our Eco Dome suites (pictured below)

Further north in Argentina – a short 5 hour drive away – 5 hours is short in Patagonia! – is the equally famous Moreno Glacier.
Calafate is the base to reach the Moreno Glacier. Like the many other glaciers in the region, Moreno is formed from snow falling the in the Andes over 100 years ago and slowly being compressed into ice. Over time, gravity forces this mountain of ice down towards the head land.
Views of the Perito Moreno Glacier, from the catwalks that snake in front of the glacier or the boat ride that sails up to – but not too close – to the face of the glacier or the ultimate experience – a trek ONTO the glacier – all offer an inkling of the size and wonder of this extreme example of mother natures power and beauty.
Pushing up against the head land where the catwalks are located the glacier is under constant pressure and this pressure sees a continual parade of breaking and falling ice of up to 10 stories high. The sounds of the ice breaking is a constant musical back drop to one of South Americas most amazing sites.
North of Calafate is the Fitzroy National Park. Somewhat ignored by many travelers this park – 2 hours north of Calafate – offers pristine trekking opportunities in an environment of true tranquility and remoteness – though this aspect is quickly disappearing as more and more people become aware of the beauty of the area.
Patagonian Fjords
Heading South true intrepid travelers are able to explore the Patagonian fjords and re trace the navigating steps of Magellan as you explore the Magellan straight and journey from Southern Patagonia to the tip of the South American continent and the southern most town in the world – Ushuaia – on our Southern Patagonia Cruise.
From this furthest point south – other than Antarctica – your journey can continue back north to one of the many more famous sites of South America: Buenos Aires, Iguassu Falls or Machu Picchu.

Need help with your travel arrangements?  Please contact me, Lisa Kraiger at - I have over 7 years experience putting together complicated travel itineraries, and I would love to help you plan your dream vacation!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Mexican Celebrations: Part Two - Oaxaca: La Guelaguetza

 I would love to tell you about an amazing festival that I am sure many of you have never heard of.

La Guelaguetza (gell-ah-get-zah) or locally referred to as "Lunes Del Cerro"(Monday on the hill).  This festival is celebrated every July in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca Mexico.  I have had the absolute privilege to experience this festival for myself and it was unforgettable!

A brief history of the festival:  The state of Oaxaca is located in the South-West part of Mexico.  The Zapotecs are the indigenous people who inhabit this region.  Guelaguetza was the word the Zapotecs used to describe the ceremony and celebration held each year to appease the gods in return for sufficient rain and a bountiful harvest.  More than three thousand years ago these indigenous people began to cultivate plants to supplement their hunting, fishing and gathering.  The most important of these plants was corn which formed the basis of their diet.  The feast of Xilonen, goddess of tender corn, falls on July 16 (in today's calendar) and is the signal to begin the two weeks of celebration.  When the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca in 1521 they attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism.  Part of their strategy was to re-interpret their customs which honoured pagan beliefs.  In the case of the Guelaguetza, it was changed into a celebration of the feast of the Virgin of Carmen.

Today's Celebrations: The festival now combines precolonial celebrations of the corn goddess, Centeotl, and the Catholic feast day of the Virgin of Carmen.  Every year a young woman from one of the communities of Oaxaca is chosen to represent Centeotl, the corn goddess.  Part of this tradition is a contest to see which young lady is the most knowledgeable about her communities' traditions.

Since colonial times, the Guelaguetza festival has been celebrated on Cerro del Fortin (Fortin Hill) in Oaxaca.  An amphitheatre seating 11,000 people was specifically built for the celebration in the 1970's.  It was designed to allow people to have a clear view of the stage, but also to have a view of the beautiful city sprawled out below -and the view IS truly breathtaking!  During the festival, members of the 16 different ethnolinguistic groups** come to the festival, wearing their traditional clothing, and perform dances that are particular to their region.  At the end of the dancing they throw items to the crowd, products that come from the region they represent.  The festival culminates with the spectacular "Danza de la Pluma" which is a re-enactment of the battle between the Spanish and the Aztecs.
Incredible views from the amphitheater, looking towards the capital city of Oaxaca
**Oaxaca is the most ethnically complex of all of Mexico's 31 states.  The Zapotecs and the Miztecs are the two largest indigenous groups but there are many more groups than just these two.  It is believed that half the population of Oaxaca still speaks an indigenous dialect.  One of the most fascinating things I found while travelling in this region is if you take three separate villages that are each 5 kilometres apart, they will all speak a slightly different dialect.  Village "A" will understand the dialect of village "B" which is next to them, but if they were to travel two villages over to village "C", they will not be able to communicate with them.
Dates for Guelaguetza 2012: In 2012 the Guelaguetza festival will be held on Monday, July 23 and Monday, July 30.

This is a description of the official part of the festival. While it's worth seeing in it's own right, it is the unofficial celebrations around the city that really add to the festivities and make it an item that needs to be on your "bucket list."  During the two weeks of the Guelaguetza, you can attend different concerts, and exhibits. The mezcal fair is also a big draw at this time.

Mezcal Fair (or the "Feria Nacional del Mezcal)- I need to highlight this part of the festival because it is truly spectacular. The state of Oaxaca is arguably the biggest producer of the alcoholic beverage, Mezcal, in Mexico-and the world for that matter. Many years ago when I experienced this festival for myself, the fair consisted of dozens of booths set up along several blocks of a downtown street. Each booth represented one of the hundreds of mezcal producers from around the state. It was free to enter, and every booth handed out free samples of their product. You could find any type of flavor imaginable, from coffee to cinnamon, to a creamy concoction-it was all there! Not surprisingly, my recollection of the mezcal fair is a bit hazy, but I do seem to recall that the booths were manned by scantily clad women and if you were daring enough, you could also sample a true Mexican delicacy; the mezcal worm!
The fair has gone through some changes since I was there. Due to noise complaints from the surrounding hotels where the fair was held, they have moved the location to the largest park in town, Paseo Juarez el Llano. This location is an easy walk from downtown hotels.   Also, there is now a fee for admission which is 35 pesos, or roughly $2.75 USD (so worth it!!)  In addition to the mezcal vendors, the fair also now has a diverse number of booths selling authentic crafts that are produced in this region.  There are also many food booths doling out mouth-watering dishes such as tacos al pastor, carnitas, memelitas, different moles, salsas, and more (oh how I love true Mexican food!)  Renowned Oaxacan artists have been contracted to produce works of art (using all types of medium) of anything and everything to do with the agave plant (which mezcal is made from) and mezcal.  There is also a gigantic band shell in the park and during the fair, the stage is host to amateur artists competing for prizes (performances include singing, playing an instrument, telling stories, etc...) Local bands also take their turns entertaining the crowds.

Apart from all of these organised activities, the city of Oaxaca itself is vibrant, exciting, and a fantastic destination to travel, how can you get here to enjoy it for yourself?

Travelling by air:
Oaxaca does have an airport, however it is small-ish in size so there aren't alot of flights and it can be a bit pricey.  Flights from Western Canada typically cost around $1200.  If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can fly into a bigger hub, like Mexico City (see my previous blog post for this cost) and then take a bus to Oaxaca.  There is also an airport in Huatulco, which is a resort town on the coast of Oaxaca Mexico.  A roundtrip flight from Vancouver/Calgary/Edmonton is approximately $950 and you can catch a bus from here.***

Travelling by bus:
It is a LONG bus ride from Mexico City to Oaxaca, (around 7 hours) Luckily, there are overnight buses so you can hopefully sleep on the way there.  Once you get to the airport in Mexico City, you will need to then get to the bus station (PLEASE ONLY TAKE REGISTERED TAXIS IN MEXICO CITY!)  There are a few different classes of bus - for a long bus trip I would recommend taking first or deluxe class, as they will either be direct to Oaxaca, or have limited stops.  Also, the seats are comfier, they are air conditioned, they have movies and bathrooms on board, and sometimes they will even sell pop and snacks.  A one way first class ticket between Mexico City and Oaxaca is 452 pesos, or roughly $35 USD.   If you are comfortable with Spanish, you can pre-book your ticket here or contact me, (a Travel Agent!) for help.

***The night I almost died:  I have never felt closer to death than during my bus ride between the City of Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido (Huatulco) Mexico.  Oaxaca is mountainous and to get to the coast you must travel down the steep Sierra Madre Del Sur mountain range.  Another factor which makes this very dangerous is that the Guelaguetza is in July, which is smack in the middle of the rainy season.  The roads and bridges actually get washed out, so do the buses stop running?  NO!  The bus driver brings a helper on board to guide him around and over washed out roads. Picture this...the bus stops and the helper jumps out.  There is a cliff on one side and steep mountain on the other. Water and mud cover this passageway that barely resembles a road.  The helper signals to the bus driver to slightly move this gigantic 20,000lb vehicle either a smidge left or right so that we do not plummet off the side of the mountain.  Meanwhile, the passengers on board are white-knuckled, gripping the seat ahead of them, and praying like they have never prayed before!  This beautiful experience costs about $20USD. In case you think I am exaggerating, here is a picture of the road from the air:
Oaxaca is extremely crowded at this time because of the popularity of the festival.  It can be very difficult to find a hotel room, as well as expensive as the hotels tend to raise their prices at this time.  Please book your hotel before you travel, it may be difficult to find a place to sleep once you are there.   I would recommend staying near the main Zocalo in the city.  The zocalo is surrounded by beautiful open air restaurants, which are great for enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the sun.  The hotel Gala Oaxaca is in this area and the cost during the festival is around $100 per night.  It is a clean hotel, but plain and not fancy.

Tickets for La Guelaguetza:
You can get tickets for the Guelaguetza once you are there, but the tickets will probably be in the nose-bleed section.  If you are travelling all that way to witness the event, you will probably want to be closer to the stage.  You can buy your tickets ahead of time on the Ticketmaster Mexico website: and the cost is approximately 400 pesos or $32 USD

Guided Tours:
If you are not comfortable "backpacking" around Mexico on your own, there are several tours that will take you to this region.  Intrepid Travel offers a tour called "Mexico Unplugged" This 15 night tour starts in Mexico City and dips down to Oaxaca before ending on the beach in Cancun.  The tour which departs on July 14th would have you in Oaxaca for La Guelaguetza.  The cost for this tour is $1045, it includes hotel and transportation, as well as some sightseeing.  It does not include food so please budget around $300 for this cost.

Day Tours:
Pyramid at Monte Alban
There are a couple of must-see day trips from the city of Oaxaca that you will not want to miss!  The first one is "El Tule: Tree of Life, Teotitlan Village, and Mitla ruins" tour.  The tree of life is one of the oldest, largest trees on earth.  You will also visit a Zapotec village and archaeological site, as well as an artisan market and a mezcal factory.  The duration of this tour is 5 hours and costs $33 per adult.  The second trip that I highly recommend is the Monte Alban, Zapotec ruins tour.  This tour will take you high up into the mountains to a very impressive archaeological site.  The tour is 4 hours and costs $28, includes pick up and drop off from your hotel.

I hope you find this blog post informative, and that it might inspire you to go on an adventure of your own!  If you have any questions about this destination or the travel products that you have seen here, please e-mail Lisa at  Or if there is another trip you need help planning, please don't hesitate to contact me!
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Monday, 23 January 2012

Mexican Celebrations: Part One- Dia De Los Muertos

Mexico is a country that is very near and dear to my heart. I have spent so much time there and I could write forever about the warm people, captivating historical sites, the delicious food, the beautiful beaches...well you get the picture.

I recently had an enquiry from a client who wanted to travel to Mexico to experience Dia De Los Muertos or in English, Day of the dead. This is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other Latin American cultures. The Mexican people celebrate this day by paying homage to their loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally they celebrate by building altars to honor the dead. They build these altars using marigolds, sugar skulls, and the favourite foods and drinks of the deceased. Next they visit the gravesite where their loved one is buried and they bring the altars they have made, and offer it as a gift. This holiday is celebrated at the beginning of November, which is probably the only time of year that I haven't travelled to Mexico, so I had to do some research.

I wasn't even sure what part of Mexico my client should be in to participate in the celebrations, so I decided to ask some advice from a good friend of mine, Mark Winter. Mark told me, "(this year) the Dia de Los Muertos is on November 2nd 2012. It is celebrated throughout Mexico in all of the zocalos in the major cities."(zocalos are a public square, usually in the city centre). Mark continues, "the celebrations in the state of Michoacan are especially colorful and 100% traditional. They have great celebrations in the riviera of the Patzcuaro Lake at Ihuatzio and Cucuchucho towns as well as the other Pueblitos around the lake." (A pueblito is essentially a little community)

The problem is that Mexico's huge drug war is especially bad in the state of Michoacan, and it's not a place that I would even send my worst enemy! Mark expressed this concern to me as well, and advised me that I might want to instead send my client to Mexico City where they also have a big celebration.

Aaah Mexico City, a gigantic hustling and bustling metropolis. The first time I flew to Mexico City it was at night and I was gob-smacked by the seemingly never ending lights; this city is monstrous. The Zocalo in Mexico City is a huge square, surrounded by buildings and a very large cathedral (Catedral Metrapolitana de la Asuncion de Maria) A gigantic Mexican flag waves in the middle - a reminder that this very spot was once the ancient marshland where the Aztecs decided to build their capital city; Tenochtitlan.

Flights: Travelling from Western Canada to Mexico city, you should budget approximately $525-$860 depending on the time of year, how far in advance you book, and the airline.  There are several airlines that fly there; Air Canada has a direct flight from Vancouver which is nice because you won't have to stop in the U.S.A.  Other airlines have connections in destinations like Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Transportation from the Airport:When you arrive in Mexico City, as soon as you come through customs and pick up your luggage there is a little booth to buy a ticket for the taxi.  After you purchase your ticket for the taxi you will walk out to the right where the line of taxis awaits.  If you are not confident that you will be able to purchase tickets (in Spanish) for a taxi, you can also pre-book hotel transfers with Grayline.  One way shared shuttle transfers are $27, or if you want to get fancy, you can book a private car transfer for $284!

Hotels: I know of an excellent hotel that I can recommend to my customer, The Best Western Majestic. I have stayed here before and I love this hotel because it is right at the zocalo. The rooms are clean and I can always find great rates with my travel suppliers. It has a beautiful rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of the zocalo; a great spot to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. This hotel would work well for my customer, but I would not recommend it to someone with mobility issues as there are lots of stairs to climb. The hotel rates at the Best Western Majestic are typically around $85 USD per night.

Packages: Air Canada Vacations offers air and hotel packages to Mexico City.  A 7 night package, staying at the hotel mentioned above, starts at $750 plus taxes per person from Vancouver, and $980 plus taxes from Edmonton, Calgary, and Kelowna.

Day Tours: Without straying too much from the topic of travelling to Mexico City during Dia De Los Muertos, I cannot in good conscience write about travelling to this destination without letting you know about some "must see" day tours.  One of my absolute favourite tours is the "Teotihuacan Pyramids and Shrine of Guadalupe"  I usually book this tour with Viator, and the cost is $37.99 USD for the 7 hour tour.  It includes pick up and drop off from your hotel.  For full details of the tour please visit: 
Fully Guided Tours:  If you do not speak any Spanish, you may find Mexico City a little difficult to navigate.  This is not your typical Mexican-beach-resort vacation where everyone speaks English.  In this case, you may want to book a guided tour instead of traveling on your own. For a basic no-frills tour, Intrepid Travel offers a great 15 day tour called Mexico Unplugged. It starts in Mexico City, and then visits several colonial cities and historic sites. The tour culminates on the beach in Playa del Carmen. The cost for this tour is $1045 per person and includes transportation, 13 nights hotel, and sightseeing. It does not include any meals, so budget around $300 for food.  You will find the full-itinerary here:

If you have any questions about travel products you have seen here, or would like to enquire about booking a trip, please e-mail me at

Stay tuned for my next blog post - Mexican Celebrations Part Two: Oaxaca - Dia De Los Muertos and La Guelaguetza

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Kick My Travel Bucket - Introduction

Creating those truly unforgettable and life changing experiences - that's what I love about being a Travel Agent!

Short Vegas jaunts, domestic flights, and all-inclusive sun vacations are the bread and butter of every travel agency, but it's planning those unique and off-the-beaten path adventures that I am really passionate about.

I have designed this blog to highlight some of those adventures, and give you an idea about what type of travel products are offered, and their approximate cost. I hope this blog will inspire you and awaken the travel bug within!

If you like one of the trips that you read about on my blog and would like some more information please contact me at Or if you would like some help organizing a different trip, I would be happy to help with that as well!

If you are one of those Internet savvy people who would rather plan their own trip, I also have a website that offers cheap hotel, flight, cruises, and more;
And I also post different travel specials every day on my Facebook page; Lisa's Travel Page with Expedia Cruiseshipcenters.
Of course if you enjoy my blog please feel free to share it with a friend!