Archive for the ‘Active Adventure’ Category

Hiking & Culinary Italy Adventure

Tuscany Hiking and Culinary Adventure

Today the word “Adventure” is synonymous with the term “Experiential” and the Adventure Travel Industry has expanded to include everything from golf, fly fishing, safari, yoga and other “soft”/”active” trips to culinary, wine, small ship expeditions, cultural heritage, language immersion, villa rentals, photography and volunteer tours. Even brands like Disney (“Adventures by Disney”) and Royal Caribbean are choosing the word “Adventure” while clearly targeting a boomer market group. But this isn’t new. It’s always been boomers who connected to the world through experience and it is only fitting that today the 50-70 year old “Prime Time Traveler” is driving unheard of growth in all categories of experiential travel.

Let’s face it, if you are a boomer under the age of 50 it’s likely you’re still working, raising a family, dealing with or planning for college, and in debt. I don’t know anyone in my age bracket (late stage boomers) who isn’t incredibly busy.  We’re more likely to be spending our precious “vacation” time visiting family spread across the country; escaping on a quick girl-friends get-away with our friends, mother or sister; splurging on a pampered spa weekend alone or with a partner; or, rarely, taking an all inclusive no-brainer Caribbean or Mexico vacation. It isn’t that we don’t love or dream of travel but our time and finances is extremely limited.

Looking at the other end of the market, around the age of 70 (sometimes sooner) our health starts to deteriorate and we often become more fearful of what might happen in an unfamiliar environment.  Cruises and resorts still fit the bill, however, in general this population likely is vacationing closer to home and spending more time with family.

Why the explosion?
Time to Start Living: Kids are out of the house, early retirement, part-time work options, second careers, are being considered.  Life is their oyster and Prime Timers are ready to start living for themselves and enjoying the fruits of their labor. There is a sense of urgency to live and travel NOW as they see friends and parents dealing with chronic illness.

Two years ago I worked  with Eons.com to develop a travel area of this destination site the 50+.   Assessing Eons members “LifeDreams” it’s clear that Travel occupied the top place and the 50+ are ready to start living their dreams.  Experiential Travel offers the opportunity to combine Travel with other LifeDreams (volunteer, spend time with friends and family, learn to cook etc). Creating a site that allows users to easily search by desired experiences, rather than just destination, was a natural implementation to fit this need.

Investing in Experiences: this age bracket is in the simplifying stage. They generally have enough or too much “stuff” (although investing in a 2nd or 3rd property is still enticing).  Today they’re taking regional cooking classes at the culinary institute and learning Italian.  They enjoy visiting the farmers markets as much to meet the farmers and small producers as to purchase fresh vegetables.  Rather than just writing a check, they are volunteering in their local community both for non-profits and offering their time and skills to entrepreneurs. They are taking control of their heath by learning about and purchasing natural and organic foods and have developed an increased interest in the culture of food worldwide.  They are more active; joining walking groups & targeted health clubs, training for fundraising rides and walks. Along the way they’re meeting new, like minded, friends, reconnecting with themselves and their partner.  Prime Timer’s are optimistic, interested, intersting and engaged.

Trips of a lifetime: Traveling to China, Africa, Argentina or even Italy takes on new meaning as we mature. We may return again, but it is more likely this will be our only or last visit. Prime Time Travelers are willing to invest time and money in seeing and experiencing as much as they can while they are there and they crave the best and most authentic experiences. They are likely to sign up for additional extensions or excursions, upgrade to rooms with views and fly business or first class and spend extra nights before or after the tour enjoying the departure city.  Time is short.  The “Cheapest” package is of no more interest than finding the cheapest cardiac surgeon to most and frankly a discount is of less interest than a value add (axe the fruit basket and add a guided city tour or locally made souvenir).  You can also bet that a “Trip-of-a-lifetime” might be researched online, but will be booked over the phone after speaking with a knowledgeable staff member or, better yet, a past guest.

Treading Softly: Global Connection & Concern:
Geotourism is a term recently defined by National Geographic as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents”. You might remember Eco Tourism was a buzz in the 90’s. The new term aligns EcoTourism, Green Tourism, Travelers Philanthropy, and Sustainable Travel. Basically,  how we go, where we go, why we go, what we do while we are there, and what we do when we return, all matter.  From offsetting a trips carbon footprint to choosing tour operators who stay at local lodges, hire local guides, recycle and purchase local foods to creating or investing in non-profits in the areas they travel these features all are becoming a priority for well traveled PrimeTimers who were alive and active in the 60’s. They are also willing to pay a bit more to companies who have made these commitments.

What’s Experiences are Hot and Why

Volunteer Vacations are no longer made up of teenagers sleeping on the floor of a local school at night and working during the day. Today 50+ year olds swarm to projects around the world including teaching English in Xian China, conserving frescos in Italy, counting sea turtle eggs in the Great Barrier Reef.   What is different? Prime Time Travelers require a higher level of comfort (simple hotels or homestays are often appropriate) & consideration for health and medical needs.  They also often want a shorter program (1-2 weeks) and frequently add language immersion program prior to the volunteer project and cultural/natural tour the area after the project.

Intergenerational Travel
As they clean out the homes of their elderly parents they swear not to put their own children through this.  They tire of buying presents for kids and grandkids who have everything or don’t hesitate to buy it for themselves. With busy lives the solution to get together has now become the family reunions…it just looks quite a bit different than it did 40 years ago.  Today family vacations are intergenerational and often take place not at Grandma’s house but at a Dude Ranch in Colorado, a villa in Tuscany, a ship in Alaska, or under the Serengeti Stars on Safari.

Prime Timer’s are interested in taking their passions on the road.  Why not learn to cook IN Italy, Photograph Polar Bears IN the Artic, Speak Spanish IN Guatemala, or Paint IN Santa Fe.

Active & Adventure: walking, cycling, golfing, yoga vacations are filled with active 50+ folks. Daily options addressing a variety of fitness levels,  guiltless enjoyment of local food and wine, bragging rights of completing the Inca trail or cycling through Ireland still top cocktail stories.

Culture & Nature:
connecting with traditional cultures and the natural environment, especially those most vulnerable to extinction, continue to drive unheard of travel to destinations like Bhutan, Myanmar, Antarctica & Kilimanjaro. Vietnam, Japan and Germany are attractive to this age group for historical reasons.”


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one of my favorite villages

Komiza, one of my favorite villages

Just back from an amazing 2 week cruise through central Dalmatia.

June/July is really not the best time for an active land vacation but for an active cruise it worked out fine.
5am walks through villages and vineyards followed but gellato or espresso…then back to the boat for a swim before lunch.

Afternoon Kayaking, swimming, visiting the small villages, touring Roman ruins and Romanesque churches.
Time for evening Pivo (beer!) before dinner. Late night stroll through the small cafes and bars on each island.

Incredible local food and wine, amazing people. Can’t wait to go back….in September!

Komiža, Isle of Vis, Croatia

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Travel Time:
January-February 2008

Peripheral Information:
It was a strange journey to Kilimanjaro as I flew into Nairobi and expected to take the 6 hour bus ride to Moshi. However, the political situation in Kenya was rocky and though it best to get out of dodge without driving through the countryside on a bus. I took the Precision Air flight (rather scary planes) which take about 45 min.

This was the end of one of the fairly good hiking seasons. Weather was humid but once on the mountain it was cool/dry/sunny…much like Colorado. Day off the mountain (Feb 6th) it POURED and quite a bit of new snow on the mountain. Rainy season means SNOW, lots of it, on the mountain as well as muddy trails.

I’d been on the road for about 4 weeks before starting Kilimanjaro….two weeks in Argentina and Chile leading a Dragon’s Path hike with 14 great folks from Breckenridge, then back to the US for 10 hours and connect to Capetown for my International Organization Systems Development program..then a couple of days with my foreign exchange sister in Cape Town.

When I finally arrived in Moshi I was a bit ready for a break…which wasn’t going to happen!

Reviewer Background:

I’ve never been too interested in climbing Kilimanjaro…not too into ascents. I’d rather do point to point, long distance trips with interesting cultural features. However, I was going to Africa and thought I needed to try it. It was sort of a big birthday and needed a physical challenge.


I’d been in Africa (South Africa) for about 10 days before my arrival in Nairobi. All actually went well there but the political situation was very much effecting not only tourists but all associated businesses. Flights were canceled and their was a feeling of anxiety in the air. I ended up spending a night a the small lodging of a great Spurwing Tours and then the following day visiting an orphanage near, the Giraffe Center and then the Norbie Game Park. My flight left relatively on time but the airport, wait and long long day left me exhausted.

The tour didn’t start out well. I obtained my visa at the airport ($100) and need to show my yellow fever proof of vaccination…(which I had decided to get though I was told it was not mandatory) in Denver during my few hours home. Thank God and they would have given me the shot at the airport. After picking up my trekking bag I exited to find no sign with my name (always dreading that) and then the only person there with a “Zara” t-shirt (the company I thought I was traveling with) told me I was not with Zara though he did know Robin, owner of Adventures Within Reach, a friend from Boulder who I booked the tour with. I then learned that Robin wasno longer working with Zara.

Fortunately I guy I met on the plane was going to the Keys Hotel (the name of my hotel..so I thought) and he offered to let me ride with his transfer taxi the hour to Moshi. All was good!! Until I arrived at the hotel and realized there were two keys hotels and i was at the wrong one (the Keys II was the one I had been dropped at and looked much nicer than the one I ended up at.
Finally got dropped at the Keys…which I must say is quite a depressing set up but don’t have time to go into that other than to say I would not stay there again.

Eco Tours (Phillip-Owner) ended up being at the hotel to meet me and tell my of course someone was at the airport (no, they were not…empty…) and that his company would be running my tour.

On to the Trek: I ended up doing the trek Solo…well, me, three porters, a good, assistant cook, guide and me…7 of us…for 5 nights 6 days. That is a lot of time.

The Rongai route was good. I would definitely recommend it. However it is easy…my days up until the summit were basically 1.5 to 2.5 hours of walking…tried to do extra in the afternoon but nothing like the 6-8 hours I was expecting. I’m a fast walker but really could have trail run the first four days in about 3-4 hours. I know…acclimatize!!

The best was that it was quiet..only 2-4 others at the same camp each night vs 200+ on many of the other routes. The weather was great…sunny, dry, hot during the day (like summer in Colorado mts) then cold at night…generally clear.

So here is the itinerary:
DAY 1: To Simba Camp (First Cave)

1950m to 2880m
6400ft to 9450ft
About 2 hours / 4 miles
Transfer by Land Rover (about ROUGH!!!! 4-5 hours) to the attractive wooden village of Nale Muru. After signing in and preparing the porters, you will begin the hike on a wide path that winds through fields of maize and potatoes before entering pine forest. The track then starts to climb consistently, but gently through attractive forest that shelters a variety of wildlife. The forest begins to thin out and the first camp is at the edge of the moorland zone with extensive views over the Kenyan plains. (2 hours)…there is a lodge near the start …can’t find it but I would rather drive, get there, spend the night, and do the first two days from there in one day….we didn’t start until 3pm or so.

DAY 2: To Second Cave

2880m to 3450m
9450ft to 11,320ft
About 1.5 hours / 4 miles
Temperatures: low 40’s to high 60’s F
The morning walk is a steady ascent up to the Second Cave with superb views of Kibo and the Eastern ice fields on the crater rim.

DAY 3 To Third Cave

3450m to 3870m
11,319ft to 12,700ft
About 2 hours

DAY 4 To Kibo Camp

3870m to 4750m
12,713ft to 15,600ft
About 2.5 hours

Hike to Kibo campsite at the bottom of the Kibo crater wall. The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent before a very early night!
This is the first place I saw the masses of hikers. I asked to camp away from them and had a quite camp close to the lower rocks. In hindsite it might have been good to actually go up the mountain mid day rather than at night. Weather changes and you don’t get sunrise but if you get cold…well.

Day 5: Asscent: I left camp at 1:00 am and began the long hike slowly in the darkness on a switchback trail through loose volcanic scree to reach the crater rim at Gillman’s Point (5685m,18,650ft).Though I started an hour later than most I still made it to Gillman’s far too early and very cold. Not what I needed to be told to slow down in order to make the summit for sunrise at Uhuru Peak. At that point I could have cared less about the sunrise and just wanted to hit the point and go back down. However, I slowed down, froze further if that is possible, and arrived at the peak at 6:20am. The sunrise is incredible and definitely the highlight of the hike. The glaciers of course make it all worthwhile. Less than two weeks earlier I had been viewing the Patagonian Ice-field Glaciers and now here I was in Africa.

The route back to Gillman’s allows for photo time and ideally to let the sun start to warm you. The descent, about 2 solid hours surfing scree, seemed endless. Back to camp for 45 min then a 6 miles walk to Horombo that seems pleasant at the start and then unending two hour later.

Day 6: one of my favorite walks…through rain forest. A steady descent takes us down through moorland to Mandara Hut (2700m / 8858 ft), the first stopping place at the Marangu route. Great path to the National Park gate at Marangu. At lower elevations, it can be wet and muddy.

A vehicle meets us at Marangu village to drive you back to your hotel in Moshi …POURING RAIN all the way back …about an hour or so drive.

Full day in Moshi which I could definitely do without.

Best Time to Travel:

December, January, July, August, September


Adventures Within Reach (US booking agent/Tour Operator)
Eco-Tours: Moshi based company


Great experience, not sure if I would do it again but glad I did. Only downside other than the hotel really was that I ended up working/consulting for free most of the the trip training the staff and owner of EcoTours on how to run a better trip. I generally don’t mind helping folks out but this is what I do for a living and I was paying for the trip. I was somewhat disappointed that they really didn’t have a lot of experience how to create trips targeting the type of guests (boomer and beyond, North Americans) I take. The guide and cook were more than happy to take all my suggestions and everyone seem thrilled that I was helping them create better trips that they felt could differentiate themselves from the 100’s of tour operators. Yeah, seems like everyone runs pretty much the same or similar operation.

Compared to Peru and Nepal this operator has a lot to learn

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As a frequent guest on my tours once said, before you travel anywhere else you always have to ask yourself, “why not Italy”. With incredible diversity of scenery, terrain, food, wines, and SHOPPING take a look at some of our favorites when planning your next visit.

A few places we recommend.. In Florence: Great small B&B/family residence with beautiful rooms in the heart of Florence (no elevator so light on the luggage) Locanda de Ciompi For more of a hotel experience, we recommend the Hotel Silla, excellent service, rooms, terrace and good location. Good restaurants in the area for a local experience: Osteria dei Benci, Osteria del Bricco.

Off to the Hills! Great hill villages in Tuscany away from the crowds: Montefollonico: very small but with 2-3 EXCELLENT restaurants, wine bars and shops. Our good friends property outside of Montalpulciano, you can walk to Montalpulciano for lunch (about 2 hours), come back for a nap, have an aperitif on the deck and enjoy some of the best food we have tasted in Italy. Locanda la Costa Manager: Paolo & Paola Masini For a bit more action, try the home of Brunello Wines: Vino Brunello di Montalcino!

In Montalcino: more Italians vacation here than americans so it is a lively, delightful hill village. Great restaurants, wine bars, shops, a castle (with Burnello tastings offered) and great access to all the more popular tourist villages (Sienna, Montalpulciano, Pienza etc) We enjoy Hotel & Restaurant Il Giglio or Hotel Vecchia Oliviera

And finally, for a fascinating unique stay visit the town of Bagno Vignoni (old Roman Spa town with the water-filled square) here we recommend Locanda del Loggiato Very small B&B with 6 wonderful rooms. Owned by two sisters. At night enjoy their wine bar across the street.
Send us you personal favorites: Tour companies, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, places you would tell your (good) friends about…

Best Time to Travel:


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Travel Time: July 2005

The village of Trakai, the medieval Capital of Grand Lithuanian Dukedom situated among lakes, is one of the most popular attractions in Lithuania. Our small group enjoyed the evening outdoor opera that takes place within the castle during summer evenings.

The castles of Trakai are the best known works of defensive architecture in Lithuania. The old town of Trakai, which includes the Island and the Peninsula Castles, surrounded by lakes, is one of the most impressive and picturesque locations in Europe. Here still reside small national minority of Karaites, who were brought from the Crimea by the Grand Lithuanian Duke Vytautas. Vytautas the Great is considered the national hero in Lithuania mainly due to his victorious commandment of Grunwald battle (Zalgiris) in 1410.

After visiting Trakai Island Castle, which contains the Museum of History and exposition of Applied Arts, we walked to Uztrakis Park on the bank of the lake and joined locals for a swim. Our walk continued along the banks of the lake Galve to the Uztrakis Park where we hitched a ride from a restored medieval vessel Kurenas waiting for us and sailed around the castle and islands.

Our afternoon adventure included an trip by airboat to the bog and then a VERY muddy bog exploration…well, that will have to be another entry as the Bog Adventure now goes down in history as one of the strangest events I have ever taken part in grin

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Travel Time: September

Reviewer Background: This was my first visit to Vietnam.


I spent a week in Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Sa Pa and Halong Bay) traveling with a guide from HandSpan and checking out the area for a potential tour. The beginning of my trip was an overnight train to to the SaPa region. The train journeys itself was an experience. Fortunately I was moved to the new Tulico Carriage and avoided sharing a small train cabin with 3 men. I guess I’m getting a bit spoiled and prefer some level of privacy or at least to share with people I know or other women grin. Most higher end western tourist book the Victoria Express (Orient) carriages. However, you need to stay at the Victoria Hotels (the package is for the hotel and the train (and very expensive).

SaPa is a wonderful area though I realize the term “eco-tourism” is used a bit too lightly. There are many issues to consider around homestays and touring local villages to “visit” some of the fifty-four distinct ethnolinguistic minorities recognized in Vietnam. The walks, through local paths used to connect villages and rice fields, are great as long as you jump out of the way of motor-scooters which make their way through even the muddiest of trails and have become the mountain bikes of the hill country.

My homestay experience was good though I am not confident that this is an experience my guests (generally boomers) would enjoy. The family was wonderful (the mayor of the village and his wife hosted me for dinner). The accommodations very basic. What I find lacking is the education around what to expect and what is appropriate behavior while staying at these homes. How to use the bathrooms, eating protocol, greetings etc. The EcoLodge I stayed at for one night was lovely yet had it’s own issues to deal with: how are they really interacting and supporting the local community and the environment? Is building a spa and offering European food (the bread was great!) appropriate?

The people in the area really are lovely….and the further away from the villages you get the more authentic the experience.

The Red Dzao is one of the ethnic groups that live in the north of Vietnam. Their name denotes the use red to decorate their clothing. There are two unique features of this tribe. The first is that you can know how rich a woman is by the size of her hat. The second is that to be beautiful it is thought that women should have as little body hair as possible…thus they often shave their hair and eyebrows.

Black Hmong and Red Dzao live in neighboring villages in this region. An interesting feature of Black Hmong women is to bind the calves with material and leather string to hold it in place. This is thought to prevent this area from growing large and muscular. Small calves (and feet) are a sign of beauty for women. Black Hmong like to wear their hair over the crown of their heads. Often wigs made of horse’s tail are used to add more body to the bun and then wrap it to form a tall “pin box” type hat.

It was told to me that women generally marry around the age of 16, at that time men often “steal” these young women and bring them to their homes. If the woman refuses to eat for three days she is let go to return to her home. Should she take food, she is “accepting” of the man and will likely marry.

This minority group is also said to pick up languages very quickly. Many of the women selling textiles in town have picked up English and possibly French from the tourists and may end up becoming local guides.

I met this woman during a walk to the village of Ta Phin,Ta Phin, a lush valley nine miles out of Sapa near Sapa and spent the morning with she and her friends, visiting one woman’s home and watching the rice harvest.

Best Time to Travel:

During the Rice Harvest…I hit it just right!


HandSpanTopaz Eco Lodge


Lodging Details:

In Spa I stayed at Chau Long Hotel (new wing) in Sapa before heading out for my homestay experience in the Tay village. I then on to the Topaz Eco Loge (aprox one hour drive from Sapa).

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