• Sydney Australia - credit Jackie Appleton

On Board the American Queen Steamboat

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Picture Copyright American Queen Steamboat Company

Jackie has just got back from a tour of the south of the USA following the music – look out for her blog and new page on the website coming soon – and while she was there she visited the American Queen Steamboat and loved it.
This Steamboat is a genuine paddle wheeler that sails the American mid west river system throughout the year, heading south during the winter. Some of the places it visits are; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, St. Paul, St Louise, Memphis and New Orleans. Cruising on this steamboat must be one of the American “must do” trips. Their food has just won a Best on Board award confirming their saying that “the food alone is worth the trip”.
The boat and the furniture reflect the hey day of the paddle staemer era, taking you back in time but still keeping the advantages of our own age.
So if you are thinking of exploring the south or mid USA, why not think about booking a week aboard this iconic vessel. As you would expect, the entertainment reflects the region – jazz, blues, six piece orchestra and lectures covering the culture and history of the journey and vessel. They also include beer and wine with your dinner!
A piece of American history on the go and at a cost from $250 per day it is a great way to relax and keep moving.
To learn more about the American Queen Steamboat please give Jackie a call on Tel: 01323 446550 or email: jackie@experienceholidays.co.uk

MEXICO – Yucatan Peninsula & Riviera Maya

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Kirsty Saunders


Our colleague at SASPO recently shared her experience along with her photos of her family trip to Mexico. If you are inspired from this blog then please contact us to start your own Mexican adventure.


When planning our family holiday destination, this year the compass pointed us to the multi-coloured country of Mexico.  With a 9 year old boy, we concentrated our 2 week trip on the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan Peninsula, flying in and out of Cancun International Airport with convenient direct flights from the UK and Europe.

With Tulum as our base on the Riviera Maya, we explored ancient Mayan cities and swam in secluded cenotes before venturing inland to the Yucatan Peninsula to Chichen Itza (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and to the beautiful colonial city of Merida, ending with beach time on laid back Holbox Island.

As a family trip, Mexico has lots to offer and I wish to share with you my experience and personal input on suggested do’s and don’ts…


Flights from Europe generally arrive late afternoon/early evening so I would recommend an overnight stay in Cancun.  We stayed at Beachscape Kin Ha Hotel which is a mid-range hotel just 25 minutes’ transfer from the airport and situated on the best beach in Cancun, facing the turquoise, tranquil Caribbean Sea.

The hotel is low key and offers great value.  Rooms are arranged in blocks set within a tropical garden.  There is a pool-side restaurant and a beach-front restaurant as well as nice communal areas with books and board games to borrow, a pool table and air hockey.  For longer stays there is even a self-service laundry room, ideal when travelling with children.
From the hotel, you can stroll along the beach passing the neighbouring hotels or it’s an easy 10-minute walk to various nearby shopping malls with restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets.

Do: take an early morning walk to have the beach to yourself and enjoy the sunrise.

Don’t: change money at your hotel as there are exchange bureaux within a 5 minute walk of your hotel offering a better exchange rate.


There is a great range of hotels in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya’s Caribbean coastline to suit every budget – from “unlimited luxury” resorts to small eco boutique hotels.  We stayed in Tulum, 130 km south of Cancun, with a transfer time of around 1½ hours. Tulum and the beaches south of Cancun are suffering at the moment from unsightly sargassum seaweed which gets washed ashore onto the previously pristine shores.   So why stay here and not in Cancun?  Eco-friendly and laid-back, you are much closer to nature and can get away from the crowds.  The archaeological site of Tulum is literally on your doorstep.  Built on a cliff above the sea in honour of the sun, Tulum is the only walled Mayan city to be discovered.

We stayed at the El Pez Colibri boutique hotel where the service was second-to-none.  From the turndown service with tea and chocolates.. to the tray of morning coffee (and hot chocolate for our son) delivered to our room.. to the concierge’s call to our room at 10 pm on our first night to let us know that there was a sea turtle laying her eggs on the sand if we wanted to quietly come and watch.

Close to Tulum, there are gorgeous and easily accessible “cenotes”, natural freshwater pools in the rock – the water is deep and refreshingly cool after the heat of the beaches.  Bring a mask and snorkel (or rent them along with buoyancy vests) and see the fish and turtles swimming in the crystal clear water.  My personal highlight was a visit to the little-visited Muyil archaeological ruins and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a sprawling protected area and home to tons of wildlife, particularly birds and flamingos.  Here you can take a boat ride through a freshwater lagoon and float down Mayan-built canals through the Yucatan jungle.

Along the Riviera Maya, there are also various eco-parks that make ideal day excursions for families with children.  Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park with its own beach and natural pools as well as a coral reef aquarium, aviary and various shows.  Xel-Ha is another eco-park with a collection of cenotes, lagoons, caves and zip-lines – ideal for families looking for adventure and adrenaline-pumping activities!

Do: visit the Tulum ruins in the evening (between 5-7 pm when the day-trippers have gone home) for picture-perfect views and gorgeous sunsets.

Chichen Itza

A 2-hour drive from Tulum, Chichen Itza is in the heart of the Yucatan. We stayed at the Lodge at Chichen Itza, part of the Mayaland Hotel, set in extensive tropical gardens with towering Royal palm trees.  Within the gardens, there is a planetarium (with various shows each day), a spa and several swimming pools.  In the tropical jungle heat, I recommend an afternoon by the swimming pool where you can spot different birds and huge lizards!

With a private entrance to the ruins from Mayaland Hotel, Chichen Itza can be visited in the early morning before the day visitors arrive and before the heat rises.  A truly magical experience to see the sun rise over the pyramid of “El Castillo”.

Do: take a sunrise tour of the ruins and beat the crowds!

Don’t: try to do too much – it’s hot and humid so take time and relax.

From Chichen Itza,  it’s a two-hour transfer to Mérida and I would recommend a stop at Izamal, a small traditional town with a pretty main square with market and its impressive yellow-painted Convento.  The journey takes you along straight roads passing by small pueblos and Mayan communities and tropical forest.

Mérida is a charming city of wide tree-lined boulevards and historic mansions.  We visited on a Saturday evening which is Noche Mexicana when Paseo de Montejo is closed to traffic and there was a lovely atmosphere with families strolling by and riding bicycles and musical and dance performances.  Paseo de Montejo leads to the pretty downtown area with squares, churches, palm trees and good restaurants and pavement cafés.  Both the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and the Celestún Biosphere Reserve with flocks of flamingos and birdlife are within easy reach for day excursions from Mérida .
We stayed at Hacienda Misne, a beautiful oasis 20 minutes’ drive outside Mérida (one-way taxi to downtown Mérida cost around US$5).  The hacienda is situated in a rather plain suburb but once you step into the walled garden, you’re in another world with tall old trees, hammocks, an outside football table, small gym, two swimming pools with excellent waiter service and a superb restaurant.  The guest rooms are situated in separate buildings lining the perimeter of the walled garden, built in similar style to the original hacienda building with high ceilings and steep roof.

Do: take a walking tour of the city to best appreciate its colonial architecture and fine churches.

Don’t: miss the opportunity to visit the ruins of Uxmal – one of the great showpieces of Mayan architecture.


It’s a pleasingly easy journey to the island of Holbox, situated just off the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula.  From Mérida, it’s a 3½ hour drive along straight roads through the tropical forest to the port of Chiquila.  En route, you can stop at the charming town of Valladolid with its lovely main square and interesting shops.
Valladolid would also make an ideal overnight stop for those who want to stay a little off the beaten track with a lovely colonial style hotel overlooking the square.  From Chiquila, the ferry departs every 30  minutes and takes 20 minutes to cross the water to reach Holbox – all very straightforward with luggage loaded and unloaded quickly and efficiently.  On arrival on Holbox, you are met by the “taxi rank” of golf buggies ready to take you along the sand road to your hotel as very few cars are permitted on the island.

There is a good selection of hotels to choose on Holbox – most are beach-front and “barefoot chic”.  We stayed at Holbox Dreams Beachfront Hotel which is a mid-range hotel.  Guest rooms are simple but attractively decorated with nice touches.  There was no water on a couple of occasions but it came back pretty quickly and is one of the challenges of being on a small island.  The hotel has two small swimming pools which are kept very clean and were lit at night.  Walk through the gardens to reach the beautiful white sand beach with calm, shallow waters ideal for small children and a convenient beach club with restaurant, sun loungers and shade and excellent waiter service.

Holbox is easily walkable (or you can rent bicycles) with a small downtown area with good shops and restaurants.  Our highlight on Holbox was a boat trip to swim with whale sharks.  My initial nerves were swiftly allayed as these gentle giants are shy and docile and the experience of swimming alongside them is quite magical.  Very well organised with experienced and helpful crew and snorkeling equipment and buoyancy vest provided, this is a full day tour with time also to snorkel on the reef and stop for a delicious ceviche lunch on the beach.  I would recommend a 4 or 5 night stay on Holbox.  There are various island tours and if you visit when there is no moon you have the opportunity to see the “Bioluminescence” – the phenomenon where the water on the beach is illuminated by micro-organisms in the sea.
After your stay on Holbox, you can easily make the transfer (ferry + drive) directly to Cancun airport for your flight home as most of the flights back to the UK and Europe depart in the late afternoon/evening.  The transfer time to the airport is around 2 – 2 ½ hours plus the 20 minute ferry crossing.

Do: take a boat trip to swim with the whale sharks – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Don’t: over-pack – there are some superb restaurants on Holbox but island life is low key and informal.

All our transfers were arranged with a private car and driver with the flexibility to stop for lunch or to pick up water and supplies or change money, or even with time for a quick swim in a cenote en route.
Another option would be to have a rental car and self-drive.  With straight roads passing through low forest and small towns, the peninsula is safe and easy to navigate.

Wishing you all happy planning, and remember that Mexico is not just beach.  There is much more to explore inland and to experience the warmth of the Mexican welcome – travelling with or without children!


Some ideas of places you can still visit this year.

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Vicki Tester


Costa Rica

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

December is a great time to visit Costa Rica. Here you will find one of South America’s largest cloud forests, Monteverde, with its evergreen canopies, exotic birds, butterflies and a host of other wildlife. There are numerous national parks and wildlife spotting opportunities, waterfalls, rain forests and volcanoes!

There really is so much to see and do here: visit Arenal Volcano, hike through the lava fields, go birdwatching, bathe in the hot springs, zip-lining and trekking through the rainforest.  This is an ideal place for a family holiday, and when you are feeling less adventurous you could spend time on the many beautiful beaches such as the golden sands of Manuel Antonio National Park.  Click here for your Costa Rica Adventure.

Picture Courtesy of Peter Ellis

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis



Hawaii, USA

For some winter sun, Hawaii has it all. With its golden sands, turquoise waters and a tropical feel, you could have a very different Christmas this year, spent on the beach!

Take a trip out to see the whales and dolphins. Snorkelling is a popular activity here and a great place for this is the partially submerged volcanic creator off Maui’s southwest coast. Here there is a thriving coral reef with an array of marine life to spot.

On land you could hike Kauai’s forest trails to the hidden waterfalls, or go island hopping on a small plane for more adventure in the glorious winter sunshine.

Picture courtesy of Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) Kirk Lee Aeder

Picture courtesy of Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) Larry Marshall



Whistler, Canada

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson

This very popular ski resort is definitely one for the ski lovers bucket list.  The snow is in abundance throughout the winter months, making the chalets look picturesque, with tree lined streets  and twinkling lights.

There are no end of activities to take part in such as, dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and hiking the trails up Blackcomb Mountain stopping off for a fondue dinner at the top.  Or on a Sunday night you can watch skiers and snowboarders pulling tricks with fire for a bit of live entertainment.

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson



Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Our winter is a popular time to visit South East Asia as there is very little rain and the days are sunny.  Stay at one of Vietnams beach resorts, surrounded by tropical rainforest and fishing boats hauled up on the beach, for a bit of relaxation.

See the water lilies and flower fields begin to bloom, which are then picked to decorate the temples and shrines.  Any cultural seeker would love Vietnam. It has a thousand-year-old civilisation and a fascinating history. Wander through the streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter or Hoi An Old Town to get a glimpse of the French architecture mixing with the ancient and modern temples. See one of our Vietnam bespoke itineraries.

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Chile: The Best Place to Witness the Total Solar Eclipse in 2019

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Vicki Tester


Join a tour in to the heart of the Elqui Valley, Chile for an amazing location to see the Total Solar Eclipse which will occur on 02 July 2019 at 16:40. The tour is a 4 day glamping experience that allows you time to explore the region with its hot springs, fascinating valleys and picturesque villages.

On the day of the eclipse you journey up to the observation point in good time to have lunch and then prepare for the eclipse.

Add this unique experience to a tour of this country that has a diversity of experiences awaiting exploration – Atacama Desert, remote and exciting Patagonia, the beautiful Lakes region, Wine region and the Capital, Santiago, which is well worth exploring.

For more information on this once in a lifetime trip please contact us

Picture courtesy of Sernatur

Picture courtesy of Sernatur

Picture courtesy of Chile Tourist Board


Panama: Whale Watching in the Chiriqui Gulf

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Vicki Tester


From July to November whales migrate from the North and South Poles to mate and to have their calves, especially the humpback whales. The warm waters of the Chriqui Gulf are ideal for the calves who are born with hardly any body fat and would find the extreme cold waters of the Poles impossible for survival. They are also relatively predator free.

Along the Pacific coast of Panama, Colba Island and the south of Veraguas Province are considered the ideal places to catch your whale watching boats. The beautiful warm sea will entice you to stay to explore the corals and beaches as well as seeing these giants of nature.

Another excellent reason to visit this small but exciting Central America destination – indigenous tribes, rain forests full of wildlife, two Panama Canals and the city of Panama that has been built 3 times.

For more details please contact us.



Picture courtesy of Metropolitan Touring

New Train to Machu Picchu, Peru

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Vicki Tester


Catch the new Inca Rail to Machu Picchu from either Cusco or Ollanta and experience the “extra” view now available. The carriage high, wide, domelike windows give you panoramic vistas as you climb towards this amazing World Heritage Site. The seats are roomy and comfortable, with device charging points and gourmet meals made from local produce are on offer.

 For even better views, make your way to the open air Observatory Lounge which offers fresh air as well as the very best of views on this iconic train journey.

For those who don’t know, Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel that is set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It was built during the 15th century then later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without any use of mortar, with intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use still remains a mystery.
If you would like more information then please contact us.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Travel in Style across Peru

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Vicki Tester


Travelling across Peru in style has become easier with the launch of the Andean Explorer Train. This is seriously comfortable train travel with your own cabin and off train excursions to some of Peru’s most iconic sites. The journey has the following itinerary:

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Day 1

Board the train in the ancient city of Arequipa, settle in to your cabin and acclimatise to the unforgettable style of the train as you start the journey towards Puno. Join your fellow travellers in the bar car before sitting down to a refined Andean dinner in the dinner car. All the while the scenery changes as you settle in to luxury train travel

Day 2

The sun will be rising over Lake Titicaca as you awake and then head for breakfast before a day of exploration. Time to explore the world’s highest navigable lake, firstly in a traditional boat out to Uros, a man made island constructed of interwoven reeds. The people that live on the island also construct their homes, ships and tools from the same reeds.

From here you will head to Taquile Island with its stunning terraced agricultural strips. The inhabitants here live by the same social code that has been in place for the past centuries. Their hand woven fabrics are regarded as the best in Peru. Enjoy lunch on the Collata Beach followed by a performance of local dancers and a chance to watch artisans at work.

Return to the train for a delicious tea and relax as the train heads towards to Cusco.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Day 3

Breakfast this morning is accompanied by stunning views as the train heads sets off from Marangani. You will have an off train excursion to Raqch’I archaeological site of a once important Inca settlement.


All too soon you will be arriving At Cusco, the former Inca capital. Time to bid farewell to the train crew and the start of your next Peruvian adventure.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton


Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Upcoming series on BBC about the Galapagos Islands

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Vicki Tester


BBC1 Thurs 3rd April – 9PM

If you ever thought about travelling to the World famous Galapagos Island, then make sure you watch the 3 part documentary starting on the BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Headed up as “The Cauldron of Life” it should wet your appetite for bringing forward your plans to make that promised trip to Galapagos.

While talking about programmes coming up, The BBC series on the amazing hotels is featuring Mashpi Lodge in the Andean Cloud Forest in Ecuador, one that we use for those travellers wanting to explore Ecuador further. This is going out on the 03 April and will give you a real taste of what to expect in this unique environment.

To make your own holiday to these amazing Ecuador and Galapagos Islands happen, just give us a call (01323 446550) or email us on info@experienceholidays.co.uk

Lizard in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

Giant Tortoise in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland




Baby Croc in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

Blue Footed Booby in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

A Journey Around Costa Rica – By Peter Ellis

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Vicki Tester


I have just returned from a trip to Costa Rica and cannot wait to tell you about it. It was the first time that I have visited Central America and my expectations were high but I now realise how ill informed I was about this amazing country. The first thing to say is how welcoming I found everyone and proud of their countries achievements. With no army, the money saved has been ploughed in to education and their health service; leading to 98% literacy rate and a primary school in every village. Early on they realised that they could not produce coffee on the scale of places like Brazil so they have decided to only grow top quality instead and I can confirm that it is great – everywhere. Costa Rica also expects to be carbon neutral by 2020.

The scenery is amazing with over 120 volcanoes dominating views in many places around the country. Five of these are still active. The national parks account for 25% of the land mass and encompass a host of different eco systems such as cloud forests, rain forests, mangrove forests and everything in between. The wildlife is spectacular, the bird life even more so and the flora beautiful. Having a guide to show you what is hidden in these reserves is a must – they have the eyes to see things and their knowledge of the flora and fauna ensures you are fully informed. Waking up to see Arenal Volcano in the morning light in front of your lodge and then watching a sloth making its way slowly along the branch in the tree behind has to be a special treat.

                Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

I was lucky enough to see turtles hatching on the Caribbean side of the country, be woken by howler monkeys on the Osa Peninsula (the second loudest mammal on earth), hummingbirds and toucans in most places and frigate birds on the Pacific coast. The variety of new and interesting sights, flora and fauna was/is amazing. There are even big cats to be found here, although I missed them all. So much to see and do…Tortuguero has a beach of about 20 miles and at the right time of the year has 20,000 adult female turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. That is on a poor year – on a good year in can be up to 40,000!


There is much more to talk about and I will be putting this in blogs and in an “Experience Eye” sample itinerary very shortly. But if you would like to chat about this wonderful country just call. Pour yourself a Costa Rican coffee first though!

                  Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

                    Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

                  Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Visa Advice

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Vicki Tester


With entry into many a country requiring the application of a visa or visa waiver prior to travel please do contact us for advice on the best way to do this if you are in any way unsure.  We suggest that you go directly to the embassy or government website concerned where you will be directed to complete the relevant information, and only charged the fee required for the actual visa or visa waiver.  There are many companies set up online who will be eager to action this for you, and in the process will charge you a service fee for doing so – this could amount to you paying well over the odds for your visa/visa waiver. 

We are always happy to provide the website links to the official sites so please do get in touch for assistance.  An ESTA for the USA, an eTA for Canada, an electronic visa for India and also for Sri Lanka are just some (but not all) of the locations where this is necessary.

Please contact us on 01323 446550 or email: info@experienceholidays.co.uk

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