Jump for Jubilado

©istockphoto.com / SimonDannhauer

Government-sponsored incentives are drawing retirees to Panama.

From superior benefits for retirees and an assortment of visa options, to the captivating sights and real estate options available, there is much to see and even more to experience as a resident of Panama.

For retirees in particular, the benefits offered through Panama’s programs have crowned it as “one of the top retirement destinations in the world,” according to Stephanie Villarreal, president and Realtor for Your Panama Real Estate Connection. She notes that the government-sponsored “Jubilado” retirement program provides impressive discounts on a range of expenses, including dental/eye exams, medical consultations, restaurant bills, airline tickets and even car purchases. What is needed to qualify is an annuity/pension-like income of $1,000 USD per month. Having good, affordable medical services like, amongst others, the Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital in Panama City is another added benefit, Villarreal says. New residents find themselves taking on the Panamanian lifestyle in no time at all.

The process of immigrating to Panama is relatively simple as well, Villarreal says, and with the help of experienced law professionals, the process is straightforward and easy.

Basilica of the Mother of God is prominent in Casco Viejo, where churches dating back hundreds of years blend with activities for those of all ages.

Photo  ©istockphoto.com / rchphoto

“We work alongside attorneys to assist our clients with immigration and residency,” she adds. The Panama Friendly Nations Visa, for example, is also a popular special immigration program for citizens of selected countries who have professional or economic ties with Panama.

Those exploring their immigration options should also understand the differences in lifestyle of Panamanians, from “slower pace of life” to the fact that Spanish is the country’s main language. However, every difference also offers an opportunity to learn and experience the unique nuances of Panama. “Things in Panama move slower than in North America and Europe,” says Villarreal, “but with our team’s extensive knowledge and experience of how things work in Panama, we can assist our clients to adjust to life in the country.”

Adjusting to life in Panama can come easily with the help of the right brokerage team who will help guide potential buyers to their dream home or neighborhood. Villarreal says her team recommends that buyers should visit the country first to get a feel for what Panama is all about. “There are established ‘expat’ communities in Panama City, various communities at the beaches … there are many clubs offering get-togethers, bingo, Spanish courses and more.”

Add this to the plethora of good restaurants, cafes and bars amidst the cobblestone roads and churches of Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old quarter, and the amazing beaches and archipelagos, and there’s too much to fit into one trip. So, perhaps, make it a trip to last the rest of your life?

 

This article originally appeared in the Unique Homes Spring ’20: Elite edition

Photo by Sally Guillaume.

These three travel companies offer sustainable opportunities to see — and even help save — the planet.

Aracari

Ahead of its time when it was originally founded in 1996, South American travel operator Aracari is highly regarded in the sustainable travel industry. Founder Marisol Mosquera defines sustainable travel simply as travel that does not destroy the
destination, which in today’s standards means low impact, low-volume tourism. These pillars of tourism have been part of Aracari’s mission since it began, in order to promote natural landscapes.

One of the most important ways Aracari maintains such high standards of sustainability is by educating guests throughout their trips, to “treat the local communities and sensitive environments with great respect,” Moquera states. To follow through, the company works tirelessly with the other businesses they work with to help ensure their self-imposed regulations are effective across the board. For example, Mosquera says the company seeks boutique hotels that are more stringent on standards like waste management, energy consumption, community involvement, et cetera. With these methods incorporated into their business model, Aracari is able to fulfill
clients’ travel needs while making a smaller impact on the surrounding environment.

“People travel to learn and experience new things, and our region is very rich with cultural and natural attractions,” Mosquera says, attractions that they strive to find new ways of highlighting through their bespoke travel tours. One upcoming tour in May 2020 is an eight-day excursion in Bolivia, hosted by National Geographic photographer Max Milligan, based in Kachi Lodge which is located on Sachar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Nestled next to Tunupa Volcano, these transparent igloo tents afford wonderful views and a unique sense of isolation while guests enjoy delicious food, hot water and comfortable accommodations.

Kachi Lodge | Bolivia

Kachi Lodge is located on Sachar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.

Photo courtesy of Aracari.

Machu Picchu

Guests can travel to archaeological sites like Machu Picchu with Aracari’s Peru tours.

Photo by Marcella Echavarria.

Another tour featuring Milligan is an adventure through the mountains of Peru at El Albergue Ollantaytambo, where guests can visit local communities, archaeological sites like Machu Picchu, and an organic garden that stretches from the glacial snowline to the tropical cloud forest.

Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp | Kenya

Photo by Stevie Mann.

Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp | Kenya

Cottar’s Safari Camp provides an authentic and individualized safari experience by ensuring a legacy of wilderness, wildlife, comfort and security.

Photo courtesy of Steppes Travel.

Steppes Travel

Steppes Travel creates eco-luxury holiday trips that are tailor-made for people who are interested in wildlife. While it highlights giving a behind-the-scenes look into many different sensible wildlife environments and discovering different cultures, at the core, Steppes Travel focuses on giving back to the environment and communities their teams visit. An avid traveller himself, Rob Gardiner fit in perfectly at Steppes Travel as the Commercial Manager for the Africa sector with his overall knowledge and love for travel. “I love the people that you meet, I love the lessons that you learn from it, and I think it breaks down barriers, changing our perception of different places and alters our prejudices,” Gardiner says.

Gardiner says that the company’s focus on sustainable travel is driven by a need to look after the communities they visit and keep those wilderness areas as pristine as possible. Steppes Travel also works with community members and conservation groups to ensure proceeds are given back to those areas, noting that, as a whole, travel can be a force for good. “If you’re lucky enough to go to Zambia, Tanzania or Botswana on safari, for example, there should be money that goes back into the local economy so they too are incentivized to look after what they have.”

Regarding the tours, Gardiner says that the wildlife aspect is what helps keeps sustainability in mind for both guides and travellers. He notes that often these trips provide a unique educational experience, granting travellers a new, real perspective on conservation while taking part in projects like tracking rhinos in South Africa or working on a jaguar safari project in Brazil. Tourists can go further by becoming ambassadors for certain regions and work with communities around the world to be more conscious of endangered environments.

“As much as possible, we don’t believe in cocooning our clients away from the streetlife in Delhi or living with a nomadic family in Mongolia,” Gardiner affirms. “I think it’s about getting to know the people and about having that personal human connection.”

Undiscovered Mountains

According to Sally Guillaume, owner and founder of sustainable travel company Undiscovered Mountains, her reasons for starting the company were driven by a personal drive to create a better world, “to do things in a way that everyone benefits without exploiting people or environments.”

Focusing on trips located in and around the French Alps, Guillaume wanted to steer away from mass tourism and “build a sustainable approach to tourism both for the communities and the rich natural environments they live in.” In doing so, she built a business that not only focuses on preserving natural environments, but also helps clients to discover authentic Alpine communities, not usually found in mainstream Alpine travel.

Guillaume’s vision of a sustainable world includes less consumerism and a deeper appreciation for experiences. And while Undiscovered Mountains, Steppes Travel and Aracari are all model companies, there is a long way to go in sustainable tourism — from updating local infrastructure to promoting lower-impact travel methods such as train or “green” vehicles. She notes, however, the ethical standards of travel companies have become more and more important consumers in recent years, as well as the destination and activities involved.

From touring preserved natural environments with abundant wildlife and flora on the southern French Alps, to immersive tours in both Nepal and Norway that are launching soon, Undiscovered Mountains will continue to make its mission about serving the environment, which has always shaped the culture around them. “The type of food people eat, the architecture of old buildings, the choice of where villages are situated is all to do with how people have survived living off the land of the mountains for centuries.”

The French Alps

Travelers can learn to paraglide and fly above the mountains on one of Undiscovered Mountain’s paragliding courses.

Photo courtesy of Undiscovered Mountains.

The French Alps

From ski touring to dogsledding with huskies, …

Photo courtesy of Undiscovered Mountains.

The French Alps

Undiscovered Mountains offers a wide assortment of winter activities that are fully customisable, all in the French Alps.

Photo courtesy of Undiscovered Mountains.

The finest property in Portugal, in the most prestigious location in the country, has been put on the market – and it could be yours! 

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Portugal offers Quinta de Lago, one of the most exciting and exclusive resorts in Europe, boasting some of the most spectacular and beautiful villas in the Algarve. Founded in 1972, this 800-acre residential estate borders miles of golden coast along the Atlantic Ocean, with views of sprawling pine forests and some of the world’s top golf courses. You can rest assured this area will remain pristine, with a strict 8 percent building restriction as part of the UNESCO Ria Formosa bird sanctuary, ensuring your investment will prosper for years to come. 

On over 44,000 square feet of land, with over 16,000 square feet of living space, this 8 bedroom villa includes high-quality kitchens with full equipment, a 4-level glass electric elevator, and full fitness equipment. Enjoy a movie with friends and family in the 12-person theater with 4 Control system touchpanels, and Lutron light switches and thermostats. A wine gallery freezer in the basement is stocked with top Portugeuese wines and champagne, and drinks can be enjoyed in the basement bar lounge.

.Six indoor and outdoor gas fireplaces provide ambience, and the villa is decorated with top indoor and outdoor furnishings. Enjoy the luxurious outdoors with 3 heated pools and an outside lounge, and top garden Quinta landscaping. With spectacular views, amazing amenities and dazzling details, this luxurious villa is sure to impress. €20,000,000

Photos courtesy of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Portugal.

All photos courtesy Tourradar.com

Now that the holidays are over and business is back to usual, it’s time to get excited about where you’re traveling in 2020.

Unique Homes and Tourradar.com have rounded up all the buzziest destinations for the year ahead so you can start planning your next great adventure!

Costa Rica

If you’re hoping to reconnect with nature this year, Costa Rica is the answer. It’s where tropical backgrounds are the norm, as is exotic wildlife, robust coffee flavours and the relaxing wellness retreats waiting for travellers beachside.

Stroll across suspension bridges up in the forest canopy and find yourself completely and utterly face-to-face with Mother Nature while in the dreamy cloud forest region of the country in Monteverde. 90% of Costa Rica’s energy is created by renewable sources, and they’re on track to become one of the first carbon-neutral countries this year. Play your part by choosing to spend vacation time in a country that’s going above and beyond to make a difference to our global climate crisis.

Just in case activities like hiking volcanoes, surfing and zip-lining through lush hilltops isn’t your thing, Costa Rica is also home to cities tailor-made for an escape, from San Jose to Puerto Viego. While there’s something for everyone in Costa Rica, the natural beauty and jungle life definitely come first place.

Bhutan

It’s been a couple of years now that people have been talking about Bhutan and for good reason. The country proudly boasts a nearly untouched natural landscape that will stun even the most well-travelled among us. Already the world’s only carbon-negative country, taking a breath of fresh air means something entirely different in Bhutan.

Nestled tightly in the Himalayas, you’ll find plenty of mountain trails capable of delivering you some awe-inspiring views in Bhutan, like those of Paro Taktsang – also known as Tiger Nest – it’s an iconic sacred Buddhist monastery that sits cliffside. There’s also the chance to see ornate palaces from as far back as the 17th century and national parks that are home to rare and exotic wildlife like the Himalayan black bear and red panda.

If you’re hoping to make 2020 the year for some spiritual respite, a visit to the world’s real-life Shangri-La is in order. 

Ireland

Easily enjoyed in under a week, the Emerald Isle is full of pursuits that balance adventure, nature and history with ease. 

The only road trip you’ll need for 2020 is along the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500-kilometer route that you can tackle in parts during your first visit. Embrace the elements along this sprawling route and enjoy discovering small-town life, coastal landscapes and secluded beaches across the country.

The sooner you visit, the faster you can start conquering your resolutions. Just make sure your trip itinerary includes a stop at the Blarney Castle where the famed Blarney Stone is located. As the legend goes, those who hang upside down and lay their lips on the stone is bestowed the gift of gab, which will help to ensure you get everything you want and more out of 2020.

Argentina

Home to one of the world’s most impressive networks of waterfalls, Argentina is teeming with extraordinary natural wonders that put travellers in the centre of it all. For example, visitors to the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls can enjoy kilometres of trails that will take you in and out of lush forests and within arm’s reach of the waterfalls themselves. If you’re in search of something a little cooler, then Glaciar Perito Moreno will not disappoint. You can witness the soaring beauty of this glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. And thanks to the park’s extended network of steel catwalks and platforms, Perito Moreno is one of the world’s most impressive and accessible glaciers.

You want a city escape with fiery music, and experimental takes on classic dishes, Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, is an essential stop on your 2020 adventures. Argentinians know their way around beef, and their steaks will wow your tastebuds. You can end your night in Buenos Aires by visiting a tango bar and working off your dinner in a flurry of dance moves taught to you by local experts.

Looking to include world-class wine? Just head to Mendoza (Argentina’s wine country). You can learn how the grapes are grown and cared for in the thick of it all. We promise once you’re walking alongside the farmers, hearing their stories firsthand, a glass of Malbec will taste all the more satisfying.

 

 

Want to learn about other potential travel destinations? Visit Tourradar.com for more opportunities!

 

Courtesy of Explorer Chick.

Women are influencing all facets of the travel industry as they acquire more spending power.

Not only are women earning and spending more in 2019, but they’re traveling differently — from the activities pursued, to the destinations visited, to the companions chosen. And they’re making an impact. Women currently make 70 percent of all travel decisions, according to Bridget Brennan’s “Why She Buys.”

“It’s a really interesting time for women globally — more and more women are getting an education, having careers, managing their own finances and disposable income. As a result, these women are beginning to seek travel experiences that are purely for themselves,” says Lauren Bates, founder
of Wild Terrains — a women-only group travel company that supports female-owned businesses.

Although it’s not the case for all women, more female travelers are breaking away from “stereotypical” female-catered trips. Instead of yoga retreats, spa weekends and relaxing getaways, women are pursuing high-intensity travel experiences, driving the rise of Adventure Travel — travel that typically involves physically challenging outdoor activities.

Seventy-five percent of travelers pursuing nature, adventure, or cultural trips are women between the ages of 20 and 70, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.

“Women have always been a force in the travel industry, but social media has really brought that to light,” says Nicki Bruckmann, founder of Explorer Chick, an adventure travel company for women. “It’s moving from a dream to a reality for many women. Women who may have daydreamed about world travel are seeing that yes, they too can travel the world and have incredible experiences.”

Whether it’s supporting women who want to explore the Grand Canyon, cruise along the Nile River or float in the Dead Sea, the travel industry is shifting as it begins to focus on women, and their increasing desire for exploration. A growing number of female-catered travel companies are popping up, curating female-focused group travel experiences.

“A generation ago, women-only travel was an oddity,” says Debra Asberry of Women Traveling Together, a female-
catered travel tour company. “That is no longer true, but it is not widely known that 
women-only travel exists. Only when a woman starts searching for a travel solution for herself does she discover the myriad of choices out there.”

The growing desire for female-catered travel is closely tied to the type of trips women are pursuing.

“I could only find women’s group trips that were activity-specific, focusing on things like yoga and trekking,” says Bates, of her experience prior to launching her business. “That frustrated me on a personal level, because I’m a more dynamic traveler…. It also frustrated me on a broader level, because I believe globally we tend to market to women in a very one- or two-dimensional way that misses the mark on what women are really craving in terms of experiences.”

Mexico

“Nothing like [Wild Terrains] existed when we started. There were women-only travel companies, but none of them were actively supporting women hotel owners, artists, chefs, designers, architects, and historians in the destinations they visit. We’ve seen a surge in women-owned businesses globally in the last decade. The only way to ensure they keep growing is to support their businesses.” — Lauren Bates

Photo courtesy of Wild Terrains.

Horseshoe Bend, Utah

“In 2014, I found myself in the wake of a divorce. My break-up presented me with ‘the greatest gift of all’ — a do-over. There I was, an athlete, an adrenaline junkie, and rearing to go experience the world but I was out a travel buddy…. I chose to use my second chance at life to create a company that empowers women to be adventurous. There was no way I was the only other woman out there in this predicament.” — Nicki Bruckmann

Photo courtesy of Explorer Chick.

Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland

“I wanted to do more than just offer trips for women. I wanted to focus exclusively on the woman traveling solo. I wanted her to feel like a priority on our tours, not an afterthought. I had been a solo traveler on a traditional couples tour and felt like a 5th wheel. It was depressing and lonely, but my other option at the time had been to plan my own trip and go by myself, something I did not feel safe doing alone.” — Debra Asberry

Photo courtesy of Women Traveling Together.

West Virginia

Courtesy of Explorer Chick.

Old Havana, Cuba

Courtesy of Damesly.

Dominican Republic

Courtesy of Explorer Chick.

“I often hear (and as was my case as well), that women just don’t have friends or family they can travel with in the way in which they want to travel,” says Bruckmann. “This is especially true for our adventure trips, since the itineraries are more challenging. So, instead of downgrading their vacation or compromising, women are booking group trips that meet their travel needs.” 

Plus, these female-led businesses are not simply offering one-of-a-kind travel experiences, they are connecting and empowering women across the globe.

“When you have the non-judgemental support of 10 cheering women as you stand on the edge of a waterfall 35 feet in the air, your fears shrink, your courage grows, and you make that leap,” Bruckmann says. “Women overcome their fears on these trips, which often carries over into their daily lives.”

Kelly Lewis, CEO of Damesly — a boutique tour operator for women, says “it is very rare, in my experience, that women will find us just because they want to go to a specific destination. I think women find us when they need to, because they want to travel and they want to make friends.”

“Wild Terrains exists for women from all walks of life, in all stages of life. We want to give women not only a safe space to explore the world, but also a space to nourish their creativity and build relationships with each other,” Bates adds.

 

Formerly owned by tenor Titta Ruffo, this astonishing penthouse in Rome, Italy was recently redesigned by “starchitect” Dante Benini to grant the comfort of a yacht.

“The home offers an ancient atmosphere on top of Monti Parioli with modern furnishing mixed with an overall touch of elegance, all of which make you at your ease,” says Andrea Barbera of Coldwell Banker Barbera Group International Real Estate, who is listing the property for 6 million euros.

Offering smashing views, this home features three levels with a private elevator, four bedrooms, five baths and a terrace that is nestled between the rooftop loggia and the turret.

“Visitors enjoy the view of the city because the terrace overlooks the north side of Rome, including Flamino Stadium and Monte Mario,” says Barbera.

 

 

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Direct Oceanfront in Massachusetts

Sophistication abounds in this property, which has sweeping views over all of Plum Island sound and the Atlantic Ocean in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

One-of-a-Kind Residence on Lake St. Clair in Michigan

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A Unique Country Sanctuary in Dublin Hill

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World-Class Retreat on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire

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A Priceless Mount Rushmore View

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Finish This Castle in the Sky

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Jump for Jubilado

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ELITE 2020: Custom Spring Lake Home in Michigan

This David Bos smart home estate epitomizes luxury and boasts five bedrooms, four full and two half baths, and over 9,000 square feet of living space.

 

In a quiet, gated community in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, this grand home offers 24-hour security. Inside, the welcoming stairway at the entry leads to the great room and main living, which open to the pool area.

As you walk down the stairway entrance you feel like you are walking into a grand ballroom,” says listing agent Jaime Gould of Coldwell Banker St. Croix Realty.

The home also features three bedrooms, three full and one half baths, a one-bedroom apartment and a two-car garage.

This home is good for people who like to entertain and have guests stay with them,” says Gould. “Each bedroom has its own area, so if you need to get away or have peaceful quiet time you can.”

 

 

Elegant and Opulent Waterfront Estate in Sarasota

Grand estate features extravagant design and dazzling views of Sarasota's Intracoastal Waterway.

Waterfront Bliss in Florida

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Bayfront Estate in Florida Offers French Charm

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Lagoon Transports You to the Caribbean

For those who love consistently warm weather throughout the year, Florida is known for its tropical, relaxed atmosphere. The palm trees and sunny days transport you to the Caribbean — especially in a residential amenity like Laguna Solé.

Okan Tower Launches in Downtown Miami

Uniting a diverse collection of mixed-use elements in one vertical destination, the project will present a 316-key hotel by Hilton Hotels & Resorts, 64,000 square feet of ‘Class A’ office space, 236 additional condo-hotel units starting on the 36th floor, and 149 condominium residences, plus 4 penthouses, starting on the 51st floor.

A Closer Look at Florida’s Luxury Offerings

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One-of-a-Kind Residence on Lake St. Clair in Michigan

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Elegance, Luxury and Sophistication in Michigan

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Elite 2020: Stars of Santa Fe

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A Peaceful Paradise

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A Modern Masterpiece: A Village of One’s Own

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One-of-a-Kind Residence on Lake St. Clair in Michigan

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You Have Arrived: Frank Aazami and the Private Client Group

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Rise to the Top

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Under the Radar: North Cyprus and Canada

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Selling Near the Stars

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The Abundance of Aspen

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Footloose Fortunes

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A Castle in Tuscany

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All photos courtesy Balcon Media Group.

No matter the destination, travel can often leave lasting impressions on visitors who want to experience new things. For those inclined to travel coast-to-coast, Trails of Indochina has become one of the most pioneering boutique tour operators in Southeast and East Asian countries. Having just marked its 20th anniversary, the firm continues to stay true to founder John Tue Nguyen’s approach to tourism by highlighting immersive experiences for a high-end audience. 

Hang En cave, Quang Binh province.

When Nguyen was a young boy growing up in Hue, Southeast Asia barely had a tourism industry. These days, the region ranks among the world’s most sought-after vacation destinations with travellers flocking from all corners of the globe to sample its diverse array of experiences: a compendium of offerings spanning everything from culinary-themed discoveries and rip-roaring adventure to idyllic honeymoons at bucket-list resorts.

“Since the start we’ve been focused on delivering unique tailored tours in Asia,” Nguyen says. “What sets us apart from other tour operators is that we really believe in developing exclusive products and aim to deliver those to our customers in the most personalized way possible.”

Nguyen has been widely credited for popularising unique trips and selecting endeavors that are unforgettable, from watching a master artisan weave kimonos in Kyoto and private lessons in Shodo, an ancient Japanese calligraphy style exemplifying his innovative approach.

Experiences — many of which are exclusive to Trails of Indochina — might include a master class on Hue’s imperial gastronomy with a recognized authority on the cuisine. Or an audience in Hanoi’s backstreets with one of the few remaining practitioners of Hang Trong, a traditional genre of Vietnamese woodblock printing.

Trails is the anchor to an organization that also includes Heritage Line (river cruises on Mekong, Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers), Indotrek (adventure travel) and Ancient Hue (a collection of beautifully realised traditional-style garden homes in Vietnam’s imperial capital Hue).

Heritage Line cruise to Myanmar.

Over the course of the past two decades, Trails of Indochina has notched several prestigious industry accolades at awards events such as the World Travel Awards and the Luxury Lifestyle Awards, and has expanded its destination portfolio to cover most of Asia.

“Today, travellers are more willing to explore and they have certain expectations. That’s why it’s just as important for us today as it was in the beginning to really learn, understand and to innovate with the ultimate goal of delivering unforgettable experiences to our travellers,” Nguyen says.

Imagine traveling to anywhere in the world for the most incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip. Imagine experiencing the culture of the community that resides there, the thrill of seeing a new corner of the world, and the beauty of nature around you. Now imagine being able to give back in the process. Companies are sprouting up, giving individuals the opportunity to have an exceptional trip while giving back to the community they travel to.

Photos courtesy of Off Season Adventures

Off Season Adventures allows clients to travel to destinations such as Uganda, Tunisia, Ethiopia and more — all while being immersed in the communities they’re giving back to. Tanner C. Knorr, the owner and founder of Off Season Adventures, has always had a vision of giving back, saying that “if we all contribute just a little bit to the communities and environments while we’re traveling, the world would be a better place.”

Off Season Adventures is unwavering in its belief of making the communities its clients travel to a better place than before. Earlier this year, the company installed a solar panel water pump system in the village of Kakoi, located in Tanzania. Because of this work, 15,000 people now have access to clean drinking water.

Photo courtesy of Off Season Adventures

Photo courtesy of Elevate Destinations

Not only do these companies give back in considerable ways, but the extraordinary landscape of the destinations and the connections made with the communities that reside there are already reasons to book a trip. Dominique Callimanopulos, the founder and president of Elevate Destinations, believes the most rewarding aspect is simply the connections made between the travelers and the community members of the area. “It tends to be really an exchange, it’s not just one way,” she says. “I think the travelers get at least as much out of the exchange.”

She recommends Africa more so her clients than any other destination, as she describes it as “just like nowhere else. There are very few places you could see such amazing beauty of untouched landscape.” She emphasizes, however, that Elevate Destinations is not into “one-off” visits and investments — and that the company is deeply invested in long-term community development of the destinations clients travel to.

Photo courtesy of Elevate Destinations

For some companies, there is also a focus on the environmental impact of traveling to the provided destinations. andBeyond, a company dedicated to providing luxury travel with a deep focus on environmental sustainability, offers private tours of the stunning landscapes in Africa, South America and Asia. 

Photos courtesy of andBeyond

Clients are finding these trips to be evermore fulfilling and meaningful. Not only are they giving back to the communities they travel to, but there’s an underlying consensus — they get back even more in return.

No matter the destination, cuisine has become a destination itself within the world of travel, giving tourists another opportunity to indulge in the delicious delicacies that define the region.

When it comes to food, travel company Brown + Hudson aims to integrate a country’s cuisine into a client’s overall experience, to the effect that guests feel like they’ve been on a culinary tour without necessarily realizing it. The same integration is seen and felt in every aspect of the “Heart of Darkness” tour through the cities and jungles of Ecuador.

Coined a luxpedition, the tour means to tell the “untold story of chocolate through exclusive access to areas few visitors have set foot in before,” all while experiencing utter luxury and insider access.

In partnership with To’ak Chocolate, the tour highlights several natural and cultural sights, particularly within the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve, where co-founder Jerry Toth originally became passionate about cacao farming. By way of rainforest conservation, Toth lived in the middle of the forest preserve in Ecuador for many years cultivating cacao trees, deciding after some time that he wanted to take the obsession to another level.

From the beginning, he says the goal of To’ak Chocolate was to “elevate dark chocolate to the level of vintage wine and aged whisky.” To’ak Chocolate is made with the rarest cacao beans in the world, which guests on the tour have the opportunity to experience at almost every level of crafting.

At the archaeological site of Santa Ana La Florida, travelers can explore the evidence left of the first domestic use of cacau among the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, dating back more than 5,000 years ago. With a visit to To’ak’s cacao plantation in the Valle Piedra de Plata, guests can roam the forest of nacional cacao trees, one of the most prized cacao beans on Earth and a species that was almost wiped from existence.

Jerry Toth

Photos courtesy Brown + Hudson.

Most appealing, though, will be the exclusive after-hours chocolate tasting in the Guayasamin Museum, creating a collective journey that acts as a portal into the culture, philosophy and emotions of the region.

Just as importantly, chocolate tends to play a complementary component in travel as well as dessert. Artisans of Leisure’s Food and Wine excursions provide in-depth private tours that couples the very best wine with other culinary and cultural highlights of the region, including chocolate.

For example, the “Bordeaux to Basque Country” tour includes sampling local wines, touring vineyards, viewing the architecture of several winery buildings, and sampling delicacies like chocolate found in the area.

This journey takes guests through cities and regions known for authenticity and tradition, from the half-timber houses and charming shops of Bayonne in southern France to the gastronomic capital of northern Spain, San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain

Photo courtesy Artisan of Leisure.

While chocolate may not be thought of as the perfect complement to exercise, tour operators at UTracks have designed a self-guided bicycle tour that rides through the mountains and quaint cities of Switzerland, with special access to chocolatier shops and stops along the way. Tour Operator Kate Baker says the “Swiss Chocolate Cycle” tour offers the perfect balance of both travel and exercise. “Being active on holidays means you can indulge guilt free — a much better proposition than eating chocolate without being active.”

The tour will have participants cycling between cities throughout Switzerland, starting and ending in Zurich. Baker notes that “of course being in Switzerland, there are opportunities throughout the tour to taste artisan and more mainstream brands of chocolate.” In the town of Buchs, travelers will meet with chocolatiers at the Frey Chocolate visitor center to make their own chocolate bar. And after a peaceful bike trail along the Reuss River to the town of Root, travelers can experience the exciting world of Chocolatier Aeschbach, known for its tradition-conscious methods and high quality.

Other cities and destinations on the tour include the relaxing spa town of Baden, known for its thermal springs; views of the Swiss Alps through orchards and fields to the town of Sursee; a yacht trip around the bay of Lucerne; and so much more. The active aspect of the trip, Baker says, helps travelers to further witness the infusion of chocolate in many aspects of these cities. “A cyclist looks forward to every food experience, and moving between towns allows one to discover a range of cuisine.”

Top: Baden, Switzerland

Right: Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Photos courtesy Switzerland Tourism.

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