custom touring newsletter nov 2019

Is it really November already? How this year has flown and left us with a myriad of treasured memories collected from our escorted tours around the world. This year our focus has been on exclusive small groups and all our travelers thoroughly enjoyed the intimacy of this style of travel. No huge coaches and unwieldy numbers for us. So much more enjoyable to be able to really get to know ones fellow passengers and develop precious new friendships.

28 April - 12 May saw us in Peru, where we enjoyed the old and the modern in Lima - such a variety of architectural styles but all quite beautiful. And a lovely park where the locals care for about 1,200 cats! In and around Cusco, we immersed ourselves in ancient ruins, despite feeling a little breathless due to the altitude. The grandeur of Machu Picchu cannot be described in mere words, but must be experienced to be understood. We marvelled at the exquisite textile weaving in the Sacred Valley where we fed the alpacas and enjoyed a superb meal of Peruvian specialties. Then a long train journey to Lake Titicaca where we visited the ancient Uros people on their floating islands.

Colourful embroidery done by the Uros people
A giant ceiba tree on the banks of the Tambopata River
Textile weaving in the Sacred Valley
Iconic Machu Picchu

A short flight to Puerto Maldonado, a 45 minute bus ride and a 2 hour motor launch ride brought us to Refugio Amazonas Lodge in the Amazon jungle.  Here we spent 4 nights and took part in many different activities on offer, from jungle walks to climbing a canopy tower, to learning about jungle plant medicine and enjoying the beautiful macaws at a clay lick.
What an amazing 15 days our clients had, with Judy Vos as tour leader. One of our group went on after Peru to explore Ecuador, including the cloud forest, a short time in Quito and a wonderful Galapagos cruise. All the perfect places to satisfy an avid bird watcher.

02 – 13 September saw Graham Vos as the tour leader on our Japan by Rail tour. Here all the inter-city commuting was by train, including the iconic Shinkansen bullet trains.  Over 300km per hour and the wi-fi worked perfectly onboard! Long soaks in the onsen hot spring baths was a highlight and the wonderful array of food very tantalizing, although it was not always certain what was being eaten!  The set menu meals came with an hour of “all you can drink” which went down very well with everyone!  Much sake was imbibed, as well as very good Japanese whisky. An area high up in the mountains, known as the Japanese Alps, offered the most beautiful scenery on the trip and a sense of peace prevailed in the Kenroku Garden in Kanazawa and the serene Zen gardens in Kyoto. Hiroshima brought a sobering remembrance of the tragic event of over half a century ago, but the city itself was delightful with its relaxed atmosphere, wide boulevards, galleries, variety of foods and welcoming locals. 

Village in the Japanese Alps
Beautifully presented set menu
Sometimes very colourful bullet trains

A private guided tour in Tokyo took our travellers to Meiji Jingu, a famous shrine which is a popular Shinto site for local weddings. While strolling down Omotesando Avenue, the group was sure they had been transported to Paris and were walking down the Champs-Élysées – an almost identical replica, even to stores such as Louis Vuitton and Prada!  

This was indeed a wonderful tour which offered shrines and temples, UNESCO sites, quaint old towns, local markets, cable way rides up mountains, a glimpse of the ever shy Mt Fuji and unbelievably punctual trains and public transport.  Japan is a “definitely to be repeated destination” for Custom Touring.

From 24 September - 07 October, Judy was again the tour leader for our Polish Golden Autumn tour.  And indeed the autumn colours were beautiful and the weather very kind with only one day of rain. All our guests were from Canada so were well prepared for some cold weather.

The tour started in Krakow, with its lovely “Old Town” and Market Square where everyone could have spent all their pocket money in the exquisite stalls in Cloth Hall.  Swarovski crystal, hand painted Polish ceramics and a stunning array of local amber almost took the breath away.

Next stop was Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains where Poles go to ski in the winter. A ride in 6 seater ski lifts took us to the top of the mountain from where we had glorious views of Zakopane and the valley below. Here the stalls offered cosy warm socks, gloves and scarves for the coming winter and there were tempting aromas coming from the many food stalls. A quick ride in a rack-rail brought us back down to earth and we enjoyed some free time in Zakopane in the afternoon.

A real highlight in Krakow was Wieliczka Salt Mine with its amazing Kinga Chapel carved entirely from salt, even to the huge “crystal” chandelier. It took three men seven years to complete the chapel, including life size frescoes and Biblical scenes, the walls and the floor tiles which look like granite but are actually squares of salt.  No wonder it is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Old town in Krakow
Ski lift in Zakopane

A visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau cannot be described as enjoyable, but should not be left out of a tour to Poland. As heart wrenching as it is, the story needs to be told, “lest we forget” and to ensure it can never happen again.

In central Poland we visited the beautifully preserved Ksiaz Castle and the Church of Peace in Swidnica. Then on by train to Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. Here we enjoyed an organ concert in a Gothic cathedral, admired the beautiful buildings in the old town and ate delicious fresh fish from the Baltic Sea.

En route to Warsaw we stopped at Malborg Castle, the largest brick castle in Poland and possibly in Europe. Highlights in Warsaw were a city tour and a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Kinga Chapel in Wieliczka Salt Mine
Reflections in Gdansk

Apart from our escorted tours, we arranged some exciting itineraries for clients who travelled privately.

One family of grandparents, parents and two young lads enjoyed a safari in Botswana. In the Okavango Delta we chose Footsteps Camp for them where the boys took part in the Young Explorer’s programme.Glowing feedback from the family: “We have had a really incredible time in Botswana!!!! Chobe was the perfect starting point for our trip and we all agree ending at footsteps was the right decision. We were ready for the bush and we had the most incredible guides! So many adventures I can’t even begin to write them all down. Our bucket is full! I am so impressed with the travel itinerary you organized for us and would recommend you highly in the future!!”

A second multi generational family enjoyed the Victoria Falls and a safari in Botswana. This trip has been wonderful!  The choice of locations,  the hotels and the perfectly working organization, simply perfect!” 

Another family of four traveled to South America, especially to experience Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires and the iconic Iguazu Falls.  Although this was quite a short trip, it certainly paved the way for a more extensive tour to this fascinatiing destination in the future.

Short interludes in Istanbul and later in Athens were arranged as pre-tours for a client's ongoing travel. “Just to say that everything went to plan on my stay in Istanbul and I had a fabulous time. I arrived as Ramadan came to an end, as a result of which  there were fewer tourists. On most of my tours I was the only participant, or maybe one of three or four, and thus I virtually had private tours and met the Turks themselves.” 

Towards the end of the year we are sending a couple on a wonderful Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, followed by a few nights at the Falls in the grand old Victoria Falls Hotel. What a wonderful way for them to celebrate their wedding anniversary and a fitting conclusion to our year of touring.

As the year draws to a close and our wish for all our travelers is for a peaceful Christmas season, we have already turned our minds to travel plans for 2020. Awaiting bookings are our escorted tours to Turkey, Jordan and Bali including a cruise. Pop over to our Escorted Tours page and "Dare to Dream" with Custom Touring in 2020!