Restrictions on the numbers of tourists allowed to visit Bhutan have helped preserve the country’s natural assets and unique way of life. Visitors can see monasteries perched at the tops of mountain peaks and alongside river valleys, ancient Buddhist art and sculpture, dense forests and flower-strewn roadsides, yaks and langurs, green terraced fields, and traditional farmhouses. The per diem fee ($200 – $250 USD per person per night) that Bhutan imposes on visitors includes accommodation in 3-star facilities, food, guides, and transportation. $65 USD of that per diem is directed to social infrastructure, including health and education – a true ecotourism practice. April 2023 will be my fourth visit to the Buddhist Kingdom, and I look forward to that return as it is a destination like no other. Our past trip participants have expressed an overwhelming pleasure from their own journey to what is perhaps the world’s most exclusive tourist destination. A luxury stay at Amankora resort can be arranged with a surcharge, with promises of “seclusion and privacy in locations of unprecedented serenity and cultural heritage”. Some of the highlights include Bumthang in Central Bhutan, Thimphu the intriguing capital, Punakha with its impressive winter palace, Gangtey lying in the Valley of the Black-necked cranes, and Paro – the base to hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
“This is indeed India!
“…. The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday’s bear date with the modering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.”
When I first started to work in the travel industry in the late 1980’s, India was one of the most desirable and fabled destinations, offering styles of travel and site options for the widest spectrum of visitors. Some of the grandest options were the Palace on Wheels week-long rail journey and the opulent rooms of the Palace Hotels. The Palace train welcomed guests in refurbished replicas of the original carriages of the Maharajas, completed with ornate wood carvings, silk and velvet beddings, and delicious cuisine while covering some of India’s greatest destinations in Rajasthan. The Palace on Wheels leaves from Delhi and takes in Jaipur (the Pink State capital), Udaipur (home of the Lake Palace as well as grandiose museums and temples), Jaisalmer (in the heart of the Great Indian Desert), Agra (home of the Red Fort and Taj Mahal), the National Park of Ranthambore to look for tiger and other wildlife, Bharatpur bird sanctuary, and the blue royal city of Jodhpur. The sites are explored during the day with a return for dinner and overnights spent in the Palace on Wheels.
On the other side of the world, Peru has long been one of South America’s most popular adventure destinations. No trip to the country would be complete without a visit to Cusco, the sacred Valley and iconic Machu Picchu. The top choice for luxury in Cusco might well be the Monasterio. Location-wise, it is hard to beat being near the Plaza de Armas. Inside the hallowed halls reveal ambience and intrigue. The ancient monastery, now hotel and museum is a treasure trove of art and antiques. After a few nights exploring the sites near Cusco and the sacred valley, most upscale explorers jump on the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu. Of all the hotel options there, my recommendation is to stay at Inkaterra for two nights. After a day of exploring and hiking around the archaeology site, one can relax in tropical eco-luxury with fine dining and spa services. The grounds of the hotel are secluded and lush with many hiking trails that reveal a myriad of birds, butterflies, orchids, other rainforest plants, and if fortunate – a family of capuchins. Both self-guided and guided options are available.
Currently, I am dreaming of a return to French Polynesia and will make sure Bora Bora and Taha’a are on my travel list. The South Pacific is where I first learned to scuba dive. It is hard to replicate the magic of the undersea world here of corals and fish, giant clams and sea turtles, and the odd reef shark. Polynesian feasts are memorable as is a glimpse into island cultures that vary from region to region. While my own journeys through French Polynesia, Fiji and the Cook Islands were more on the moderate side, many of my clients have partaken in ultimate luxury experiences. Among the favourites in the 5 star luxury class is Le Taha’a Resort. Over-the-water bungalows are nestled on secluded Motu Tautau, facing the idyllic island of Taha’a on one side and stunning Bora Bora on the other side.
A little closer to my home in British Columbia one can easily pamper themselves in Vancouver. My personal favourite is the Fairmont Pacific Rim. The hotel has great service, comfortable rooms (many with a view of the harbour), and fine dining options, but the best aspects I find is time at the Willow Stream Spa. You could easily stay an extra day just for a full spa experience. Others seem to agree as it was named one of the Best Spas in the World by CN Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2015. Vancouver is a gateway to Vancouver Island, Whistler and further afield to wine country in the Okanagan. With so many upscale options, the world is truly a place of dreams and romance.
Catherine Evans is owner of Tours of Exploration, a licensed agency in British Columbia and an instructor in the School of Tourism & Hospitality at Royal Roads University.