California: Mendocino Hotel Recommendation

Glendeven Inn, Little River, California

Glendeven Inn, Little River, California

My dear friend, Jenny Kern, visited the Glendeven Inn in December and raved about her stay.  Here she describes in her own words what dazzled her about this small historic hotel on the Mendocino Coast:

The Glendeven Inn is a historic property on the Mendocino Coast that creates an atmosphere with a certain magic.  When we pulled into the inn, a herd of six llamas all turned to greet us from their pasture. The inn attends to the details — when you arrive you notice a parking space reserved for you, greeting you by name.

Our room contained beautiful historic furniture, while maintaining a luxury feel.  We stayed in the Bayview Suite, which looks out on the ocean over the llama pasture. It was a splurge, but when we read that Bill and Hillary Clinton stayed there, we sprung for it and were happy we did.

Each room has a fireplace and is stocked with firewood.  In the evening, we picnicked in our room by the fire, enjoying a bottle of wine and delicious sausage we bought downstairs. Upon request, the innkeepers provide a picnic basket with utensils, napkins and wine glasses.  In the morning, a breakfast spread is brought on a tray to your room, with eggs sourced from their own chickens. This is a real perk for me, as the one drawback of B&Bs is the need to dress and socialize over breakfast.

The inn provides many other great touches — a bag of chicken feed is left in each room so you can enjoy feeding their beautiful chickens. You can also observe the friendly bees buzzing about their beehives.  There is an endless supply of free cookies downstairs and a complementary wine hour, pouring a local wine and serving an appetizer each day from 5:30pm – 6:30pm.

There are a number of hikes you can take without needing to get into your car. We walked for about five miles along the beach and bluffs near the property.

The owners John & Mike are attentive and friendly – and spent a great deal of time chatting with us as they guided us through a flight of Mendocino wines. Part of the charm of the place, as with all great B&Bs, is feeling you are a part of the innkeeper’s vision by staying there.  We overhead a couple was checking in for their fourth stay there, which is now a tradition. We will be sure to be back, and start a tradition of our own!

Little River, California

Chile: Santiago Hotel Recommendation

Casa Moro, Corte Suprema 177, Santiago de Chile

Casa Moro, Santiago, Chile

In the heart of Santiago just two blocks from the presidential palace, this funky bed and breakfast has garnered a large and enthusiastic following on Tripadvisor thanks to its stylish décor and welcoming hosts.  The hotel revolves around a lush, open-air courtyard of bright plants, colorful folk art and the soothing trickle of a fountain, an ideal place to relax after a long day of sight seeing.  Guests also have access to a communal kitchen and a gallery that features jewelry, woven tapestries and crocheted garments from the south of Chile.

Innkeepers Marcelo and Walter are adored for their warmth and attentive service.  They also serve an exceptional breakfast of homemade scones, eggs and fruit.  At $130 for a double room, Casa Moro’s rates are on par with hostels in pricey Santiago.  However, staying at this delightful inn feels more like visiting the home of a dear friend.

Bolivia: Choosing a Salar de Uyuni Tour Operator

Salt-cones-and-cloud-reflections-at-sunset-on-the-Salar-de-Uyuni-Bolivia1

Photo by Paul & Paveena McKensie from Wild Encounters 

For many years, I dreamed of visiting the Salar de Uyuni in Southern Bolivia.  At 12,000 square meters, equivalent to the size of Belgium, it is a the largest salt flat on earth, a vast expanse of blinding whiteness as far as the eye can see.  During the rainy season (December – March), it transforms into an immense mirror, producing an astounding reflection of the sky and clouds above.

When it came time to plan my trip, however, I found the process of selecting a tour operator so perplexing that I almost chose to skip Bolivia altogether.  Hiring an experienced guide and driver to accompany you to the Salar de Uyuni is essential to ensuring you remain safe.  Dozens of tour operators based in Uyuni offer tours of the Salar, but the challenge lies in identifying one that is both reasonably priced and responsible.

Two types of tours are offered: private tours, which are reliable but pricey and group tours, which are cheap but potentially unsafe.  The price difference between the two is significant.  While a four-day private tour costs about $1000 per person, the standard three-day group tour costs about $150 per person.  Many budget travelers opt for group tours and emerge satisfied with their experiences.  Others, however, return with horror stories.

In 2008, ten tourists died after two jeeps from competing agencies crashed into each other on the Salar and the gasoline each vehicle carried on its roof exploded.  Though no one is certain how this collision occurred, it is common knowledge that many tour drivers come to work drunk or deliberately fall asleep while traversing the Salar.  During my own trip to the Salar, I was alarmed to hear a rumor that some budget operators serve as fronts for drug trafficking gangs.  By posing as tour operators, these gangs are able to both launder their money and deliver drugs in the same jeeps used to transport tourists.  Not surprisingly, they often offer the best prices since they do not actually rely on tourism to finance their operations.

Given the risks that come with booking a group tour, and the fact that even the most reputable budget operators fail their clients on occasion, it is advisable to pay more and opt for a private tour.  This is undoubtedly the safest and most comfortable choice.  By booking a private tour with a reputable company, you will stay in the best hotels, eat well and be able to stop whenever you like for photos or bathroom breaks.  In contrast, even on the best budget tour, you will be crammed into a jeep with up to eight tourists and sleep in dorm style barracks with an outhouse.  If comfort is important to you, the private tour is the way to go.

If, however, you are on a tight budget and don’t mind sacrificing creature comforts, booking a group tour should be safe as long as you select a reputable company.  During my visit to Uyuni in December 2013, I heard consistently positive reports for two budget operators in particular: Cordillera Traveler and Red Planet.  Below I have included a list of reputable companies, recommended to me during my time in Uyuni, that offer both group and private tours.

Group Tours

Cordillera Traveler

Red Planet

Licancabur Tours

Private Tours

Fremen

Ruta Verde 

Hidalgo Tours