Tag: Small Group

La Paz, Bolivia
Latin America

La Paz & Santiago: South America’s Dynamic Duo

At first glance, the difference between La Paz and sprawling Santiago is their scale. The compact size of the Bolivian capital is dictated by its geography; its dense position within dramatic canyon walls makes it seem far smaller than its 472 square kilometres. The metro area of Chile’s capital, on the other hand, spreads out over 15,403 square kilometres in a vast valley in the shadow of soaring Andean peaks. One-and-a-half million people call La Paz home, while there are five times as many Santiaguinos.

Visiting them both on one trip—as we do during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour—provides an enlightening glimpse of how two cultural centres have adapted to and been influenced by their Andean locales. From arts and leisurely urban pursuits to cuisine and dress, here’s how these two remarkable cities compare.

The low-down on high altitude

  • La Paz: Your 12,000-foot elevation may require a cup of maté tea to combat altitude sickness.
  • Santiago: At an average of 1,700 feet, Santiago lies in the centre of a massive basin encircled by mountains.

Bird’s eye views

  • La Paz: Ride the Mi Teleférico cable cars, the world’s highest and longest aerial public transit.
  • Santiago: Ascend San Cristóbal Hill and share the view with a stunning statue of the Virgin Mary. 

Unique, culture-rich shopping and browsing 

  • La Paz: El Mercado de Hechiceria, or the Witches’ Market, boasts a curious collection of potions, talismans, and more.
  • Santiago: The bustling Mercado Central, a confluence of fishmongers, butchers, and greengrocers, invites wide-eyed wandering.

A snack break 

  • La Paz: Tuck into a delicious salteña, a meat-filled pastry.
  • Santiago: Go for a savory, cheese-filled empanada de queso.

A locally inspired cocktail 

  • La Paz: Try a yungueño, a mixed drink of local brandy, simple syrup, 
    and orange juice created in the valleys.
  • Santiago: Sip a pisco sour, a blend of brandy and tart pica lime juice.

Wine from nearby vineyards

  • La Paz: Sample Singani, distilled from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes in the high valleys.
  • Santiago: You’re in Chilean wine country, so uncork your favourite wine from any of numerous wineries.

The skinny on fashion 

  • La Paz: Try on traditional alpaca knitwear and bowler hats.
  • Santiago: Find 21st-century chic and sophistication at boutique clothiers in Bellavista.

Fascinating people-watching 

  • La Paz: Meander the cobbled streets around the San Francisco Cathedral.
  • Santiago: Grab a bench by the Simon Bolivar fountain in the Plaza de Armas.

Distinctive neighbourhoods

  • La Paz: Explore Jaen Street, the remarkably restored colonial district home to notable museums.
  • Santiago: Wander among the boutiques and avant-garde galleries of bohemian Bellavista.

Souvenirs and take-homes

  • La Paz: You’ll find ample offerings of coffee, alpaca sweaters and scarves, and silver.
  • Santiago: Duck into a bookstore for poetry by native Pablo Neruda, 
    or find copper trinkets in local markets.

Gaudi & Dali: Spain’s Modern Masters

Among the many pleasures of visiting Spain, art lovers especially revel in the ability to witness a millennium’s worth of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Two masters stand out—famed modernista Antoni Gaudi and surrealist Salvador Dali. The former was an architect and the latter a painter, and their work seems dissimilar at a glance. But Gaudi’s influence on Dali, and the fact that both created work that shattered conventional ideas of what art could be, link them in art history as Spain’s rebellious artists.

Gaudi: The Singular Saint

Gaudi was part of the modernistas, Catalan modernists who believed art played two roles: to defy bourgeois conformity and to create change in society. Gaudi created works that elevated the influence of nature in the man-made, reflected his faith, and resist rules of symmetry and restraint that had previously defined “good taste.”

Born in 1852, he studied architecture but never managed to impress his teachers. He had the last laugh, as he designed the otherworldly Sagrada Familia Cathedral (a work still in progress!), the vividly tiled Parc Guell, countless mansions, and even the ornate signature streetlamps of Barcelona. Seven of his creations are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Unfortunately, his face was not as easily recognized as his buildings. In 1926, after he was struck by a streetcar, he was mistaken for a beggar and couldn’t convince a taxi to take him to the hospital. When a policeman finally removed him from the scene, he was left at the pauper’s ward, and his friends couldn’t find him until the next day. But as a display of solidarity with the poor, he refused to be moved to better conditions.

He died there a few days later, and the outpouring of grief was profound: it was reported that half of Barcelona’s citizenry donned black and took to the streets on the day of his funeral.

Dali: The Surreal View

Salvador Dali was born a half-century after Gaudi, and by the time he was studying art, the influence of the modernistas was waning. Expelled from art school, he threw himself into experimenting with cubism and dadaism, and met kindred spirits in Miro and Picasso. It was in Surrealism, a movement which revived and reframed the values of the modernistas, that he found his visual language.

With the melting clocks of his most famous work, “The Persistence of Memory,” he put surrealism on the global map, joining the pantheon of Spanish masters. He was exhibited in Paris and New York and beyond, and held a special affinity for the US: The artist lived in the states during World War II, worked on a scene for Albert Hitchcock, and even appeared in a US film commercial.

His time away from his native Spain allowed him to escape controversy at home. Dali was a staunch supporter of fascist leader General Francisco Franco, who he said brought “clarity, truth and order” to Spain. Despite the limited success of his paintings in the final decades of his life, he was indeed seen as one of the most important artists of the century.

A few years before he died, Dali was asked to write the foreword to a biography of Gaudi. In doing so, he paid tribute not only to his predecessor but to his own work, and he wasn’t a bit modest in his assessment. He wrote, “Gaudi is a genius; so am I.”

Learn more about these fascinating artists during our new France & Spain: History, Culture & Wine small group trip.


Black Sea Treasures of an Ottoman Past

When you journey along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, you are tracing the routes of ancient traders. The Silk Road wound its way through this scenic region, linking the West and the East. Merchants stopped along the way to exchange goods such as spices, amber, leather and metal trinkets forged in fire. Some passed through on camel or horseback with their sights set on long treks over vast lands. Others headed to Black Sea shores to embark northbound ships to Crimea, Russia, and beyond. Today, this history-rich area reveals numerous secrets of its past, while boasting extreme natural beauty.

Our small group can explore this intoxicating region on an intimate scale. Our base is the small city of Safranbolu, named after the coveted saffron spice that is grown here still. Its Old Town, also known as Çarşi, is a treasure trove of remarkably preserved, red-roofed Ottoman-period houses. Their authenticity has earned the city its prestigious status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Browsing the timber-framed facades here and strolling its cobbled streets transports you back to an enchanting time. For an up-close look at daily life, we stop at the Kaymakamlar Museum House. The former home of a lieutenant-colonel, it is a showcase of typical Safranbolu living adorned with pretty ceiling decoration.

You’ll get a sample of Safranbolu’s days as a stop on the Silk Road during a visit to its thriving bazaar. Ironsmiths, shoemakers, weavers, carpet makers, wood carvers, and countless other vendors have set up shop here for centuries. To help both ancient and modern visitors find their way, many streets are named for the merchants that line them. The indoor Cinci Han Caravanserai, too, is steeped in the city’s market history. Today, this imposing structure is a hotel boasting vaulted ceilings and a fine courtyard. But it was originally built as a stopover where travelling merchants showed off their goods and rested from long journeys.

We witness another facet of local life during a visit to a Yörük Village, a living museum of residential structures originally inhabited by the nomadic Yörük people. This fascinating collection of houses, many of them quite grand, stand two or three stories tall. Upper floors were used as living quarters while the lower floors feature the kitchen, storage, stables, and the hayat, an open area where domestic tasks were performed.

Nearby, the region’s natural beauty is on display at the Incekaya Aqueduct. The canyon’s latest attraction is not for faint-hearted, a glass Crystal Terrace fans out over a cliff face some 260 feet above the canyon floor. A considerably older structure, the magnificent Incekaya Aqueduct, also seems to defy gravity as it spans the equally beautiful Tokatli Canyon. Built in the 1790s at the command of the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, this towering bridge once supplied water to Safranbolu.

Turkey’s Black Sea region is a feast for the senses, a fascinating corner steeped in Ottoman culture, tradition, and history. We hope you will join us during our Turkish Odyssey adventure so you can experience it for yourself! Plus, book by 31 January 2019 to save $300 per person on our published prices. Enter or quote promo code: CNDSCV300A at the time of booking.



Cruise the Magnificent Turkish Riviera

Spectacularly scenic with deep blue waters ringed by jagged mountains, the coastal city of Fethiye is one of Turkey’s true gems. During its 12th-century heyday, when it was known as Makri, it was a producer of perfumes and a major commercial centre with an active port of cargo ships coming and going. Even farther back, the ancient city of Telmessos was here. Suffice to say, Fethiye’s monuments to its rich past span the ages. Echoes of its history are present in the city’s scenic marina and in the aromatic bazaars overflowing with lokum (Turkish delight), dates, and spices.

But it’s Fethiye’s coastal splendour that keeps visitors coming back. Little wonder: Sailors, fishermen, and traders have been basking in in its intense beauty for millennia.

In our Discovery Tours small group, we explore these spectacular shores to full advantage on a traditional wooden Turkish yacht, or gület, privately chartered just for us! Our full-day cruise on this beautiful sailing vessel sets out into the Gulf of Fethiye, sailing among an archipelago of 12 breathtaking islands.

All you need to do is settle in, relax, and drink in the splendid vistas from the uncrowded deck. Because our gület is small, we can duck into small coves lined with sandy beaches and dive into the warm waters for a swim or a snorkel, as we may do off of Yassicalar (Flat Island) or in Akvaryum Koyu (Aquarium Bay). We drop anchor at Tersane Adasi (Shipyard Island) to explore some fascinating ancient ruins and indulge in the mud baths of Kizilada (Red Island). Plus, you’ll savour a delicious lunch of local delicacies as you explore. It’s the most relaxed and unhurried way to take in one of the world’s most picturesque coastlines.

For your comfort and convenience, all snorkelling equipment and towels are provided by the crew and you can choose a deck seat in a sun-lounger or enjoy the shade under a canopy.

Join us for a coastal adventure unlike any other! We invite you to explore the stunning Turkish Riviera during our 13 Day Turkish Odyssey adventure!

Asia & Pacific

Why Sri Lanka should be at the top of your list this year

There’s a reason why Sri Lanka has been named the number one destination to visit in 2019 by numerous travel experts and connoisseurs (most recently by Lonely Planet). Shrouded in mystery and beauty, this island packs a punch.

Rich with cultural experiences, join us on our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka small group tour in 2019 and witness a surprising blend of timeless temples and edifices, wildlife reserves, and spectacular landscapes including the misty tea-covered hills of Nuwara Eliya. View the island’s wild elephants, gaze up at the ancient city of Sigiriya, and learn about one of history’s most thriving and vibrant ancient societies. Seek out Sri Lanka’s astonishing wildlife in Yala and Minneriya National Parks and along the Madu River. Plus, absorb the local culture in the cities of Kandy, Galle, and Negombo.

On tour, you’ll experience the heart of Sri Lanka with highlights including:

  • Immerse yourself in local culture during visits to the lively Negombo fish market and a Tea Estate Factory.
  • Search for the island’s magnificent elephants and other wildlife during tours and safaris in Minneriya and Yala National Parks and during a Madu River cruise.
  • Meet today’s Sri Lankans during home-hosted meals and sample local specialties.
  • Marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage Listed sits of Sigiriya, Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Golden Temple of Dambulla.

With new dates just added to our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka now’s the perfect time to start planning your visit to this alluring country. Plus, book by 31 January 2019 to save $300 per person on our published prices, including Book By rates. Enter or quote promo code: CNDSCV300A at the time of booking.

Tiwanaku ruins of Bolivia
Latin America

Bolivia: Straddling Past and Future

Deep in the historic centre of La Paz, Bolivia’s bustling and thriving capital, the Mercado de Brujas, or the Witchcraft Market, clings to centuries-old traditions. Its herbal tea infusions, coca leaves and colourful alpaca jumpers place it on par with many other Andean marketplace. But closer inspection reveals the more peculiar items that have helped to give this unusual emporium its name.

Dried toucan beaks and snake skins might help the buyer cast spells. And sullus, dried llama fetuses, can be purchased as traditional offerings to the earth goddess Pachamama. There’s a reason this most unusual of markets still thrives after centuries of calming the spirits. Bolivia, though moving ever-forward into the 21st century, holds fast to the history and traditions that have helped shape its cultural identity.

People of the Gods

Though Bolivia has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years, the first society emerged here with the arrival of the Aymara people in 1500 BC. By 300 AD, these settlers had grown into a regional powerhouse as the Tiwanaku Empire. Because they had cornered the llama market and controlled the flow of food trade, they were able to bring dozens of indigenous cultures under their rule. Its capital city, also named Tiwanaku, was home to 30,000 people at its peak.

You may still see evidence of that era’s grandeur in La Paz, where an open-air museum reveals some of the highlights of the Tiwanaku. Chief among these is the 10-ton Gate of the Sun, an impressive arch carved from a single slab of stone and etched with condor heads and the mythic Lord of the Walking Sticks. Here, it’s easy to sense one of the earliest expressions of Bolivia’s belief in the spirit world. But even as Tiwanaku fell, otherworldly beings maintained their influence.

In the late 14th century, the Incas wrestled control of the region away from the Aymara and Bolivia became part of the Incan Empire. Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca is perhaps the most memorable place to soak up the spell of that time. Crossing the shimmering water by boat to the Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun), you can discover the spot where, according to Inca legend, the creator of the universe rose from the lake and threw the sun into the heavens. The island, unpaved and wild, remains dotted with mysterious pre-Columbian ruins to this day.

Colonial Highs & Lows

The Inca period didn’t last long. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century led to a European-style building boom, as salt and silver mining yielded great wealth. The epicentre of the Spanish heyday was Potosi, perched at 13,400 feet above sea level. At one point, Potosi produced 60% of the world’s silver, had its own mint and boasted 200,000 residents. A saying that spread across South America spoke to the growing city’s prosperity: “to be worth a Potosí” meant to really be worth something. Seeing its grand churches and ornate colonial architecture now, it’s easy to imagine the era. The same may be said of elegant Sucre, Bolivia’s original capital city. Here, all buildings are whitewashed by government decree and stone patios call to mind the architecture of Catalan.

Sadly, the wealth of Potosi and Sucre flowed only into the coffers of Spain and Spanish descendants. Indigenous people reaped no wealth from the fruits of their land. You might think the brujas from the Witchcraft Market would have cast an evil spell on the colonialists. Instead, the indigenous people turned to Simon Bolivar, the American revolutionary who led the battle for independence in 1825. Their sovereignty won, the people named the country for their national hero. In Sucre, the 17th-century Liberty House preserves the signed independence documents which you can still view today. As for Bolivar, he didn’t stay – the newly free people offered him the presidency, but he was already president of Colombia.

Bolivian Tradition Lives On

Today, Bolivia is a democratic republic, ruled by its first-ever indigenous President, Evo Morales. As you can tell from its Witchcraft Market, the nation continues to embrace its many cultures. Thirty-six languages are officially spoken here. Other traditional goods are on display in the village markets of Candelaria and Tarabuco.

In a small group, we can fully experience the singular story of Bolivia, from remote ruins and witches’ stalls to colonial-flavoured towns and modern cities. Explore the cultural and historic wonders of Bolivia during our Bolivia & Peru: Andean & Amazonian Culture trip.