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Vacation wonderland awaits in Machu Picchu

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 02/01/2008 03:11:26 AM PST

            Forget Costa Rica, South America’s Galapagos Islands and Peru’s Machu Picchu seems to be this year’s hot spots for Lamorinda travelers.  Craig and Margaret Isaacs, along with Campolindo’s Maureen & Eva, spent eight days at the Eco Hotel Finch Baywith an all inclusive package.  Margaret described their trip as, “luxury day camp for adults.  Each day was led by a naturalist, with excursions, snorkeling and lunch.  After an adventurous day, you returned to the hotel for five star dining.” 

Margaret noted that although Ecuador does accept US currency, they are reluctant to take worn or torn money because their banks won’t give them full value for “damaged” dollars.  Bring crisp $1, $5 and $10 for easy transactions.  

“For being so close to Peru, Machu Picchu was a wonder of the world that we didn’t want to miss,” added Margaret.  “We flew into Cusco to tour the area before taking the train to Aquas Calientes at Machu Picchu’s base.”  The Lafayette family cautioned to allow enough time to adjust to the extreme altitude before exploring.  Their final stop was Lake Titicaca where the highlight was visiting the floating islands of Uros.


Orinda’s Michael Chinn and Mari Kay Breazeale began their trek in the Amazon rain forest and ended in the Galapagos.  They wanted to visit the rain forest prior to the end of November when the rainy season begins.  Canadian-based Tours of Exploration put together their 15 day adventure.

“We went to an ecology research lodge, Posada de Amazonas, for five days,” remembers Breazeale.  The lodge is run jointly by the local indigenous community and a Peruvian rain forest expedition company. The intent of the lodge is to keep tourism going, educate the visitor and respect the local culture.  Part of the reason for the poverty in the area is that tourism is one of the only revenues.  In order for the community to succeed, it is vital to keep the people in the rural areas employed with joint ventures like the eco-lodge on the Tambopata River.

Next, the couple flew to Cusco and visited Machu Picchu before landing in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  There they boarded the M.S. Anahi, a 90-foot catamaran, housing eight rooms and 13 travelers. For the next five days they explored the Galapagos Islands with two zodiac equipped guides taking them to see the animals each day.

“The Galapagos wildlife is totally unafraid of humans,” marveled Breazeale.  “The snorkeling was wonderful with turtles, sharks, stingrays and lots of wonderful birds to watch.”

Unfortunately, the Galapagos is on the “World Heritage in Danger” list.  With fewer than 4% of UNESCO’s sites on this list, it could lose World Heritage designation and the accompanying tourists.  To preserve the fragile ecosystem, each tourist must be accompanied by a guide and pay $100 to enter the park. 

Campolindo Biology Teacher Amanda Renno will be leading a group of students to the Galapagos June 23 for nine days.  There are several spaces available.

Closer to home, my husband and I celebrated my birthday at Napa’s Blackbird Inn.  This was our fourth B&B adventure with the Four Sisters family of inns.  We dined at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville.  If you are looking for an affordable alternative to dinner at Keller’s French Laundry this is the place.  Call 707.944.2259 to hear the $48 nightly fix price menu. 

In other wine country news, the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza is joining with Cyrus Restaurant to offer an epicurean indulgence package until April 30.  The $340 per couple package, offered Sunday through Thursday nights, includes a king room and five-course dinner for two.  Visit the Four Sisters Inns for more information.