ASTA verified advisor alert!

Lori Snow has become an ASTA verified travel advisor!

Letter to the Editor: Local travel agency becomes a Verified Travel Advisor, why this matters

Georgia, Lawrenceville, Nov,22, 2022 – Devising the picture-perfect vacation for most travelers can be time consuming and daunting.  Lori Snow of Condor Tours & Travel recently obtained her Verified Travel Advisor certification from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).

In our industry, competition is fierce. But when stamped with the ASTA VTA badge, the travel industry and potential clients are granted with the reassurance that their professionalism and industry knowledge is at the highest standard.

The American Society of Travel Advisors is the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry, and the traveling public. ASTA’s certification programs provide a higher level of verifiable professional knowledge to the advanced seller of travel. Completion of the Verified Travel Advisor Program proves to the traveler, and the industry, that the advisor has the highest level of proficiency and dedication to their business.  Only ASTA members subscribe to a 12-point Code of Ethics, the core of which is the concept of “Integrity in Travel.” Put simply, this is the pledge our members stake their reputations on.

The intense nine-course curriculum allots twelve months of completion consisting of training manuals, online videos, and exams. Once completed, the travel advisor is awarded the distinguishing mark of being an ASTA Verified Travel Advisor.

Lori Snow of Condor Tours & Travel has passed ASTA’s rigorous standards and is awarded the badge of being an ASTA Verified Travel Advisor. Stamped with the VTA badge, Lori Snow of Condor Tours & Travel has achieved the highest level of integrity by our industry standards.

For all your travel needs contact Lori Snow:

Condor Tours & Travel

770-339-9961

lori@condortt.com

condortoursandtravel.com

Exploring the Amazon

As a nature lover and a Latin American travel specialist, I get to enjoy exploring those off-the-beaten-path places as well as the places commonly visited by tourists. I am happiest when exploring in the great outdoors. The Amazon region of South America is an ideal way to commune with nature. I have explored different Amazonian regions six times now. Each trip has had its absolute highs, and each experience has been unique, as nature is always unpredictable.
My first adventure was to the Coca region of Ecuador. We flew in a small plane from Quito to the town of Coca. There we repacked only what was needed for our three-night adventure into water tight bags. The two plus hour boat ride with no bathrooms on the amazing Amazon tributary river in the rain seemed eternal.

We then pulled up to the shore area and had to hike a short distance of about a quarter mile, and then paddle across a lake to our lodge. The lodge was a perfect way to experience the rain-forest. No air conditioning, but instead, screened windows all around to let in the cool night air. I was pleasantly surprised that they offered hot water showers, but soon discovered they were not needed, as the humidity made it feel warm and damp, so a cold shower was refreshing. As I sat on my porch, small tamarind monkeys appeared and stared at me. The days were filled with nature hikes and kayaking experiences, and I soon discovered that birding was of great interest to me. The local naturalist guides were amazing on how they could spot birds and other reptiles and animals seemingly out of nowhere. We also saw an anaconda, tree boa, iguanas, frogs, and the list of insects was too large to count. The monkeys were entertaining us on virtually all our hikes. They certainly are not quiet as they move through the rain-forest foraging for food. At night we also did some hikes where the tarantulas and other night spiders and bugs would come out to greet us. It was a bit more intimidating for me to spot creatures at night!


Pro-tip: Bring bug spray and wear long sleeved shirts, pants and a good hat. No jeans – it is too hot for them.
This experience encouraged me to explore the Amazon region of Peru next, so I visited the Puerto Maldonado region of Peru. This Amazon region is dotted with small lodges of all quality levels, depending on your budget. I visited this region two times and stayed in two types of lodges – high end and budget. The nature experiences were very similar, so the only difference was the quality of the lodging. The naturalist guides were very knowledgeable and masters at spotting critters even in the dense canopy of the rain forest. The birding continued to be remarkable. Most days we spotted upward of 60 to 100 different bird species. I also became even more comfortable around the reptiles, including snakes, as they really just mind their own business. Although Peru and Ecuador are neighbors, many of the wildlife sightings were unique to that region.
Pro-tip: Keep a log of your sightings. Most lodges provide a chart to help check off what you see on your different nature hikes.


As a travel specialist, I get contacted often by suppliers wanting me to experience their properties/lodges/boats. I was contacted by a river boat supplier in the Iquitos area of Peru, which is a completely different area of Peru than Puerto Maldonado. In the Iquitos area (about a two hour flight from Lima), you transfer upon arrival less than two hours to a small community called Nauta. Here there are a handful of river boat suppliers and lodges that are starting points. This region can be explored either way, so I chose the boat option since I had done lodges previously. For my experiences in this part of the Amazon, I have come in the high water season and the low water season. The only difference is in the amount of rain. During the high water season, it seemed that this entire region of the Amazon was underwater. Even those that live on the banks are living in houses on stilts with water all around them, and they navigate between their houses, schools and common areas in small dug-out canoes. The children are quite proficient with swimming and paddling. Since the water level is so high, most of the excursions are by boat in small skiffs. You cruise the banks to spot birds, mammals and reptiles. As you are so close to the trees, the birding is amazing. I returned again, this time in low water season, to compare. The difference in water level was significant – maybe 40-45 feet lower. Those same villages that previously sat in water were now up on a hill with steep steps to access them. You can see the markings on the tree line where the water level was and all the downed trees that fall along the banks during high water season are not sticking up all along the banks. The smaller tributary rivers are no longer navigable even in the skiffs, as they become too shallow. We did a night boat trip to spot caiman in one of these small tributaries and kept getting stuck. Since I don’t love the night excursions, I was a bit nervous, however the naturalist guides and the boat team knew what to do to get us out! As far as nature sightings in high versus low season, you still see about the same. We saw pink dolphins, sloths, a variety of monkeys, anacondas, boas, tarantulas and, of course, more birds than I can remember. I did keep a bird list that was provided by the boat team, so I have a solid list of what we spotted. We did a fun activity – fishing for piranha and then swimming in the same water – the piranha don’t bother you!
Pro-Tip: They do provide binoculars that are very good, but if you prefer yours, bring them. Did I mention – bug spray is a must!


I then decided to return to the Amazon of Ecuador and do a boat option rather than lodge in between my two boat trips in Peru. This boat stays on the main river the entire time, and each day you go by a skiff to explore the different tributaries, sometimes getting off the skiff and hiking inland to spot more wildlife. Keep in mind, this river is not the Amazon River but a tributary, and quite impressive in size. It makes the Mississippi look like a creek! They provide you with rubber boots and have a boarding location with baskets where you leave your rubber boots, socks, bug spray, sunscreen and the like. We had the opportunity to experience the parrot lick where thousands of parrots show up to eat the minerals this particular location on the river bank has.
Because it is the rainforest, you will experience rain, so wear the type of clothing that can hang and dry easily. They do provide rain ponchos but you they get hot, so I also travel with a light rain pullover that was ideal for light rains. You will need the poncho for the heavy rain, though.
The different boat companies in both Peru and Ecuador offer from four to 18 +/- cabin sized boats, and three and four night itineraries, so depending on your budget, there is an option for everyone that wants to experience the rainforest. You can stay in the lodges for as few as two nights, so if time is of concern, this is a great option to consider as well. I still have to explore the Amazon region in Brazil – maybe someday!


I just completed an Amazon boat trip in Peru during this Pandemic. The precautions include testing before boarding, and the crew is all tested and then quarantined to the boat. They wear masks all the time, but we were not required to since we had all tested negative. With prior visits to the Amazon, we would visit the local communities. This time we were not allowed into the communities so all our daily excursions were nature related. That is the only disappointment of this trip, as mingling with the locals is so rewarding, as they play such a critical part of preserving the beautiful and amazing Amazon basin. Hopefully this will change soon, but for now, they must protect these communities.
The end result of exploring the Amazon is that you will see many, many, many birds and so much other amazing wildlife. To learn more about exploring the Amazon region, contact Lori Snow with Condor Tours & Travel or visit the web site www.condortoursandtravel.com. You can contact Lori and her team at info@condortt.com or by phone at 770-339-9961.

Traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands During a Pandemic

Quito

We traveled to Ecuador during the Covid-19 epidemic. Our own vaccination was required before we could travel. While we did have to wear our masks on the plane and in public spaces, however, when in our hotel rooms, in our guide’s car and on the catamaran, we were able to remove our masks.

Upon arrival in Quito, we went through customs. This took about 30 minutes. We did have to provide the completed form that we were given to fill out on the plane. After customs, we found our guide waiting for us to take us to the hotel for our stay in Quito.

The Ecuadorian people are very welcoming. They are glad to have tourists back and make every effort to insure your comfort and enjoyment. The staff at the hotel Illa Experience went out of the way to make our stay memorable. We enjoyed some type of Ecuadorian tea or cocoa each evening when we returned from our travels. The rooftop view in the evening is not to be missed. The restaurants we visited each evening were just a short distance walk down quaint streets, and the food was worth the walk.

Our guide was so knowledgeable about his country. He spoke of the history, the cultures and the current struggles of his country. He was patient with us, endeavoring to give thoughtful and honest answers to all of our questions and to help us with the language and pronunciations. After discovering our common love of music, he even gave us a sampling of his music by serenading us on his guitar on our last day. What a joy that was!

We learned of the early history of the region, dating back to the 1400s and even earlier. We saw beautiful cathedrals covered in gold, we visited a public marketplace on their Saturday event, we talked about and saw the earliest designation of the equator line, as well as the newer location designated now that we have GPS for location. Quite honestly, I am amazed that they were only off by about 200 meters in the 1700s. We saw the simple living conditions of most of Quito, an ancient city. We traveled the narrow cobblestone hilltop streets and ventured through the valley surrounded by seven volcanoes. We were able to hike to a beautiful valley where we saw, Cara Cara birds nesting on the cliffs, deer in the fields, wild horses in the valley and all manner of beautiful plants and unusual ground coverings that promote water flow. We tested our favorite potato soup at multiple locations along the way, each with a different flavor. We were greeted by smiles and simple courtesies all along the way.

Galapagos Tortioise
Frigate Bird

After three days in Quito, we boarded our plane to fly to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival, after proceeding through the line here to pay the entrance fee to the Islands and ensure we were not bringing any prohibited items to the Islands, we were allowed entrance. The line took about 20 minutes. We were then greeted by the guide for our trip through the Galapagos Islands. We were ushered to our ship The Seaman’s Journey, a catamaran, that we would call home for the next four days along with our fellow eight passengers. Once onboard the catamaran, we started our trip with shoes stored away for our voyage. While on board or just with our group on outdoor excursions, we and the crew ditched the masks. We only had to wear our mask if we were in public spaces or parks. Each day, we had our three meals with a variety of simple choices and plenty of fruit drinks at a large dinner table along with our fellow passengers. On our trip, we joined a family of four from Germany, a couple from Switzerland, another couple from Ohio and our group of three. We enjoyed getting to know our fellow passengers. For our trip through the Islands, we explored deserted islands with beautiful white sand beaches, volcanic rock outcroppings and massive rock tunnels we motored through on dinghies, hikes through arid brush to visit the large tortoises, and snorkeling through clear waters with the sea lions as our playful companions. We saw hundreds of blue footed boobies, multiple pairs of albatrosses, the colorful oyster catchers, wave-surfing iguanas, and always the sunning sea lions. We were even escorted to shore by a pod of about thirty dolphins at one location.

Juvenile Sea Lions

Our flight from the Galapagos to Quito went as expected. Before our return trip to the States from Quito, we did have to take a Covid PCR test before we could fly back to the United States. Our travel assistant met us at the airport in Quito with a technician to take the test. The results were emailed to us. Our results did take 2 hours instead of 1 because of a storm electrical outage in the area. Make sure to get the assistant’s phone number because we did have some issues with the emails and had to have them emailed to another address. Upon arrival back in the States, we again went through customs. This line took about 30 minutes.

Sea Turtle – leatherback

This was truly a memorable trip. The images and the people will bring a smile to our faces long after we have returned to our regular days. It is definitely a trip I will remember fondly. To fully experience all that the islands have to offer, you need to be fairly ambulatory because a lot of the walking requires you to traverse sandy beaches or hop lava rocks. The hike to see the large tortoises was over four miles round trip. To get to the highest viewing point on one hike required the equivalent of about seven flights of stairs. For those people considering a trip of this nature in the future, I would suggest good walking shoes that you can wear when wet or that easily slip on and off, plenty of sunscreen, a light jacket for the cooler evenings and don’t forget your sunglasses and camera! Everything else you need is provided.

To learn more contact us at 770-339-9961 or  info@condortt.com or visit our web site www.condortoursandtravel.com

Traveling to Peru during a pandemic – what to expect?

Lori peru 2021The ancient history of Peru is not really that ancient, not the way you may think, but certainly unique. When travelers ask to go to Peru, it is usually all about Machu Picchu, with maybe some other secondary sites of interest. Of course, Machu Picchu is the crown jewel of Peru, and I will talk about it further, but Peru has a rich history well beyond and before the Incas. We will get to all that later.
What I want to share was the experience of traveling to Peru during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. This trip was programmed for 2020 then moved to March 2021 and finally to September 2021. As we neared the date of travel, I became somewhat skeptical that it would actually happen, and thought that it would likely be postponed again. I was in regular contact with my ground team in Peru, and they kept me up to date on the safety protocols. I came to learn that Peru is, in fact, a very safe place with strict protections and a populous eager to provide a safe destination for travelers. With this information in hand, I was able assure our group of 18 that the trip would happen and was safe. In addition, we were able to arrange the vast majority of our services as private to keep us in a bubble as much as possible. Our group was very diligent about wearing masks, sanitizing, and wearing double masks and face shields where required.
We started out in LIMA with a short city tour and a visit to the Larco Museum. Peru has done an excellent job of preserving and documenting the Incas but also the cultures and histories long before the Inca civilization took root. The Incas built their success, technology, and culture from the best of the cultures that came before them. We often think of the Inca’s as ancient, but the empire stood relatively recently, dating to the 1200-1500’s. Learn more by visiting the Larco Museum.
From there we caught our first in-country flight to Cusco. The flights are full, and you must wear a double mask both in the airport and on the flight. The airport and flight staff strictly enforce the rules to provide the safest experience possible. Even though social distancing was not always a possibility, we felt secure throughout the airport and on our flight.
No beverages or food services were provided on flights, which further prevents folks from taking off their masks. Drinking and eating items purchased at the airport was discouraged, and the attendants are diligent in enforcing the protocols for everyone’s protection.
On arrival to Cusco – we whisked out of the airport to our bus that was waiting for us across the street, as they still have not allowed any locals close to the airport to receive flights. Our two hour drive to the Sacred Valley was uneventful and we arrived to the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel near the town of Urubamba. The time of our flight resulted in our initial drive being in the dark, but we were still able to take in some sites. On our way, we saw the future airport being built in this area of Peru. It is still years away from being completed but is much needed for this area due to the growth of tourism.
Pro tip – Drinks lots and lots and lots of bottled water, as that really helps with the altitude. Do not drink the local water, in fact, don’t even brush your teeth with it. You are at 11,000 feet in Cusco and just slightly lower in the Sacred Valley. And although Coca tea really helps to adjust to the altitude, don’t drink it at night, because it will keep you awake! Instead, drink Munya tea.

DAY 1 in the Sacred ValleyMaras salt lori 2021
On our first full day, we visited the Salt Pans of Maras. The viewing point gives you a great place to see the entire salt flats. During this dry season, the terraces looked to be covered in snow, or crystals. The view is truly stunning. This is my third visit here, and now they don’t allow you to walk through the actual flats anymore, due to visitors leaving more than just footprints. The new viewing platforms still offer an up close and personal experience. We happened to be there during a “harvest” of the salt, and it was amazing to see how much salt is produced by a single pan. Of course, I had to buy salt to bring home – from table salt to bath salts to a new black salt for smoking meat. I can’t wait to try it!
Pro Tip: Visit in the dry season for the best views of the flats.
We also visited the Terraces of Moray. Some say they were built by aliens, but once the guide shared his information, it all made sense. The terraces, laid out in a combination of nearly perfect circles and ovals, are the product of Incan ingenuity, using lessons from the pre-Incan civilizations to the south. The terraces were used to acclimatize crops to growing in different altitudes and weather conditions as a kind of agricultural lab. Plant a seed in the lowest terrace, let it acclimate, then for the next planting, raise it to the next terrace, and so on. Pretty soon you have corn that can grow high in the mountains with no problem. There is 55 varieties of Corn, and over 4000 varieties of Corn in Peru!
The highlight of the day, if I had to choose, was a visit to a local community called Misminay, where we learned about their way of life and enjoyed “chicha” a local beer type of drink made of fermented corn. It comes in an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic version. The non-alcoholic version is purple, for those who are interested in trying it, but prefer not to imbibe alcohol. The alcoholic version we tasted is somewhat similar to sour beer but is not for the casual drinker. In my opinion, it is an acquired taste.
It is easy to assume that life is difficult for the people of Misminay, but truthfully, they are happy with their way of life. Their language is the ancient language of Quechua which was spoken during the time of the Incas, and which has seen a resurgence in recent years. It is nothing close to Spanish, so thank goodness our guide could translate! If you really want to immerse yourself, they offer overnight stays. It seemed a bit different to experience this local culture in a remote area of Peru with all of us in masks including the indigenous people, but Peru has mask mandates that require everyone to wear them indoors and out, and the entire populous seems to take these restrictions very seriously. I appreciated this, as I certainly didn’t want to test positive and have to quarantine.

DAY 2Olly lori 2021
We started early in the morning with a drive from our hotel to the town of Ollantaytambo. I have been there numerous times, but this time there were no crowds, allowing our group to experience the small town without the hassle of hundreds of other tourists. This is where they have the Inca Fortress, an in-point for the Inca trail, as well as the rail station to take you to Machu Picchu. The fortress tour guides you along a series of one-way routes to reduce crossing other travelers not in your group and supporting social distancing. I got a bit winded climbing as it was just day two for us in the Sacred Valley but loved that it was not at all crowded as it has been in my prior visits.
There were not as many street vendors selling their wares either, but instead they offered an organized market to shop for the local goodies, especially their colorful textiles of all sorts. As I mentioned, the train station to Aguas Caliente is also in this town, so we bought our face shields for about $3 and headed to our INKA RAIL train ride.Masked 2021
Pro-tip: Try to buy the shields ahead of time, as this was one area where the sudden crush of vendors made for a chaotic experience. Many hotels and pharmacies offer them around the same price, but if you can’t snag one ahead of time, know that you can always grab one near the station. Just have your money ready and make sure the person you pay hands you the shield first.
Pro-tip: Ensure you have purchased your tickets and assigned seats prior to arrival.
After boarding, it’s a 1.5 hour trip through the valley, traveling from a more arid climate to the cloud forests that surround the citadel just before pulling into Aguas Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. You actually go down in altitude to 9000 feet. On all my prior trips, this train station was covered up with passengers, but not on this trip – we were it. It felt almost like a ghost town, but once we exited the station, the small town came to life. It was still not at all crowded, but ready for guests to return. We boarded our bus to the citadel of Machu Picchu, and 30 minutes later, we were enjoying a lovely lunch at the top before entering into the citadel.

Our entry time was the last time slot of the day and they limit you to about two hours. The route you take is controlled to keep the numbers to a minimum, so as we reached the top and stood over the citadel of Machu Picchu, I was amazed at its beauty with hardly any people in sight. In fact, there were more Alpaca and Llamas wandering about than humans! It was a spiritual moment for me to experience Machu Picchu this way. I have been six other times, but this entry experience was the best.meditationAlpaca lori 2021
Pro-tip: Skip the morning entrance! Stick to the afternoon!
Our guide was wonderful, and took us around the citadel, pointing out in detail the history of this amazing city. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We returned back to town for a lovely overnight stay at the InkaTerra Lodge. I have also stayed at a number of other hotels in the town of Aguas Caliente, all of which exceeded my expectations.
Pro-tip: Pack just an overnight bag and leave your larger bag behind as the train has VERY limited storage.
DAY 3Machu Picchu Lori 2021
Our third day included a second entrance to Machu Picchu, this time in the morning, and although it was busier, it was still not as crowded as in prior years. Rumors have it that they will keep the post pandemic numbers for entry – they used to allow 6000 people, but now they only allow 3000 per day. By the way, they require a face shield on the bus up and down from the citadel but once in Machu Picchu, just a face mask, which you can take down briefly for pictures.
We then took the train and our bus back to Cusco for two nights.
DAY 4
While in Cusco, we enjoyed a walking tour through the San Blas region and to the beautiful cathedral, and then had free time to shop for souvenirs. Each store we entered took our temperature and provided hand sanitizer.Condor 2021 Lori
The rest of our visit to Peru was an extension to Arequipa and the Colca Valley.
Part of the group left after this basic trip to Peru, and the rest of us extended to Arequipa and Colca Canyon. I have never been to this area of Peru, so it was a must-do for me. I wanted to go to the Condor Cross to watch the condors soar on the thermal air. I was not disappointed – it was beyond my expectations. The Colca Valley is a beautiful region that is 75% agriculture and still uses over 40% of the pre-Inca terraces for farming. The Colca Canyon is home to the condors, which take flight around eight in the morning for a short time at our eye level, before flying higher to scavenge for food. I learned that they don’t flap their wings but rely on the thermals to fly, which is so amazing. We also visited a few local communities, and again, their pride in their lifestyle allowed me to understand a bit better about their way of life. We only spent two nights in this area of Peru before heading back to Lima. We visited the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa. Our time was very limited, so we only had time to visit their historic convent and enjoy a fabulous lunch. If you can add another night to your trip, that would be ideal.
Pro-tip: You cross over 16,000 feet on the ride to Colca, so drink lots of water and go slowly. The drive is a solid three hours on a good highway. Once in the valley, you are back to a reasonable 9,000-11,000 feet. Arequipa is at about 7,000 feet.
In closing, I want to stress that Peru is more than just Machu Picchu. Pre-Inca and Inca history is apparent throughout this country, and you will never tire of seeing Inca terraces and structures. The terrain in the Andes is quite challenging, including the altitude, and they mastered it.

If you are interested in learning more about Peru, reach out to us at Condor Tours & Travel – www.condortoursandtravel.com or email me at info@condortt.com

We have a great promotion to Peru currently. Check out this promo, an amazingly priced package, with air included on our website. Available on select dates in October and November, 2021.

Where to travel as we are ending the pandemic

 

header2There is no doubt that “cabin fever” has hit many of us, especially those of us that love to travel. We are slowly seeing some parts of the world open back up, allowing us to travel there. As a travel advisor, I am called almost daily by folks asking about traveling domestically versus internationally. I hear the phrase “false positive” which causes many travelers to lean towards traveling within the U.S., including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. These are all great destinations – but guess what? They are packed with Americans! Poor service due to shortage of staff, no rental cars to be found, and high-priced hotels due to lack of supply, are just a few of the obstacles faced by domestic travelers. One client who traveled to Hawaii said it took two and a half hours to check into her hotel, and the food at her luau was more like a TV dinner! I have booked folks wanting to travel within the U.S. and have gotten less than stellar comments about their trip experiences. Although we are a worldwide travel company, much of the world has not re-opened so we are focusing on Central and South American travel destinations. I have recently booked guests to Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Belize, and the reviews have all been wonderful. The locals are so excited to have tourists back that they provide fabulous service and have amazing protocols in place for Covid-19 protection.
Here are just a few examples of client feedback. I booked two ladies that love to travel on a trip to Costa Rica. In the days before their trip, they started to get nervous and we gladly offered them the chance to reschedule, but in the end they decided to go for ten days and came back raving. They said the measures taken to keep them away from crowds, personal service, masked drivers and guides when needed, and high standards for cleanliness at the hotels, had them saying they felt safer in Costa Rica than in the U.S. They were even pleased with the ease of obtaining a COVID test to return to the U.S. The going rate in Colombia for testing seems to range from $50 -$150, so do your homework on where to get it done.

Lori at Bridge
I booked a single lady to Ecuador and the Galapagos. She said her local guide was attentive to her as a single passenger and helped her navigate within the airport and to her hotel. For her flight to the Galapagos, the guide was there to help with the necessary documentation, including a required negative COVID test. The good news now is, as long as you are vaccinated, you no longer need to present a negative Covid test. Anyway, on her return to Quito after being in the Galapagos, we were able to arrange a rapid COVID test at the airport for her return to the U.S., and she stayed on one extra day to tour a beautiful region of Ecuador including the Otavalo area and also a rose plantation. This was an excellent way to end her Ecuador adventure. She says she felt safe and secure throughout the trip and appreciated the service provided locally to keep her free from any worries.

Machu Picchu
A family of six that I booked to Peru spent most of their time in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and at Aguas Caliente to visit Machu Picchu. From the moment they arrived, they were whisked about safely and securely. Peru does have some strict masking requirements and does still require a COVID test on arrival even if vaccinated, but they no longer require testing to fly domestically, which is simplifying travel throughout the country. For flights within Peru, they provide N-95 masks to all passengers. Also, they are limiting the number of entrances to Machu Picchu, so it is not crowded, which makes it nice to take pictures and explore. Definitely reserve in advance, which we do for all our clients. They are not selling the train to capacity, so reservations are strongly recommended. Two days prior to travel, we had the clinic supplier come to the hotel to do the test for $30 per person.
I personally just returned from Belize. When you arrive to the airport, they have two lines, one for vaccinated guests and one for those that have a negative PCR test. It was very efficient. They also did temperature checks at some locations, and in all public areas masking is still required. My time was spent in country as well as on one of the popular out-islands. At the two properties where I stayed, all staff wore masks but guests were not required to. I found it interesting that virtually all the staff at both properties had recently received their first vaccine, but not their second one. Vaccination efforts internationally are still well behind the U.S. The cases in Belize are low, and this country is listed as a level two for travel. On our second to last day we went to a local clinic to do our COVID test to return to the U.S. They charged us $75 which seems to be the going rate, and we had our results in 15 minutes, provided on a nice form letter from their Health Department and accepted without any questions by the airline.

IMG_6783
Colombia is now allowing arrivals with a vaccine. Panama does still require a COVID test to enter. I will be going to Panama myself in July, so I will be able to share a bit more when I return. Chile, Argentina and Brazil have yet to re-open. Chile’s numbers are quite low, but they are just playing it safe a bit longer. Argentina’s and Chile’s peak travel season begins in September, and all indications are that they will indeed open for travel by then. Vaccination efforts are still a bit behind in Argentina, but Chile is about the same as we are in the U.S.
Using a travel advisor to navigate world travel is the smart way to go, as we have the resources to share and knowledge to arrange services allowing for safe travel. At Condor Tours & Travel, we have come out with a line of “A Safe Escape” travel packages to Latin America, where we have the tools and protocols to help you feel safe while traveling. We are happy to assist you with travel. Contact us at 770-339-9961 or email us at info@condortt.com . You may also visit our web site to see our complete line of destination travel packages at www.Condortoursandtravel.com

Egypt Escape the Cradle of Civilization

All Giza Pyramids
All Giza Pyramids picture provided by Wikimedia

As a longtime travel supplier of travel, I often get asked about safety and weather to different destinations. For this blog, I am focusing on the Middle East and more specifically Egypt. So many of us have Egypt on our travel bucket list and want to see the Great Pyramids and other amazing historic sites. The most asked question on Egypt travel is “will it be safe to travel there” or “what will the weather be like”. Let’s touch on this remarkable destination and its rich culture and history. Egyptian history dates to 6th-th millennia BCE. That is 6,000 years before Christ was born for you Christians. Egypt is considered the cradle of civilizations. The earliest writings, agriculture, and organized religion are said to have begun here. It was once a center of Christianity. Now Islam is the official religion and Arabic their official language. There are over 100 million inhabitants with most living along the Nile banks. Prehistoric and Ancient Egypt have evidence of rock carvings along the Nile terraces dating to the 10th millennium BCE. Known then as hunter-gatherers and fishers.
I will address safety first. When I research a destination for travel, I put safety at the top of the list. We know that the media tends to cover the negatives about this destination and not how safe it really is. The negative publicity is a result of decades of history associated with government vs the people issues. There is no hiding the facts of instability Egypt has experienced. Complicated politics usually do not involve tourism. There are large regions in Egypt that welcome tourist with open arms. Like any major city there are areas you should avoid. The areas of unrest are generally the Sinai Peninsula and the Western Desert bordering Libya which are regions not visited by tourist. When you travel to Egypt is it definitely ideal to be with a tour group that has a controlled itinerary and a guide with you during all your sightseeing visits. Some of the advantages are the ability to “jump the line” to the major sights, well trained local guides, air-conditioned busses, the ability to know where to go and not go on any given day on the tour and a list of recommended places to eat or explore outside the group in safety.
Egyptians are very friendly and wanting to please. They are passionate about their country and want to share it with travelers that have an interest in learning their heritage and history. You will see an excessive amount of security everywhere and frequent roadside check points. Could be for show as well as showing that the Government does not want incidents with tourist. Egypt really wants to turn their image around and prove it is safe to travel there.
If you have free time do not rent a car – driving is crazy. If you go out on your own, note no cross walks so just be very careful crossing the roads. Ideally you should stay with your tour group as much as possible. Watch out for scammers and use your local guide to help with exchanges of money, shopping experiences and photo taking. Woman should dress conservatively as keep in mind you are in a Muslim country and you do not want to draw unwanted attention. Men should also respect local standards with their attire choices.
Different regions experience different weather patterns. Egypt is an arid desert and is generally hot and sunny. Winter is just considered November to January and affects just the Northern region mostly. The country has very little precipitation. Cairo, because of its location with the Nile can feel quite humid. The Tour I will be leading the end of February into early March we can expect average highs in the 70’s with 12 hours of daylight. Check out this tour option to Egypt in February 2022.

Tour Map

This 9-day/8-night tour includes a river cruise on the Nile as well as major landmark visits like the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids, Luxor Temple, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Valley of the Kings and Queens and Deir El-Bahri plus much more. At $1699 for the land and cruise – you can’t beat the price while staying in quality 4+* hotels. Your additional costs are the domestic air for $280 and travel protection for $199. International air will vary by origination city so that we will quote separately. If you want to come in a day or two early to get over jet lag and adjust to weather, we can arrange the pre-nights as well.
Now for the question of the year – what is the current COVID-19 situation? At the time of this writing, we have seen the same downturn in cases as with most of the rest of the world. Protocols are in place. RT-PCR certificate within 72 hours before departure of your last direct flight to Egypt. No quarantine is required if you present a negative test. More information can be found online at their tourism board or here. Mask wearing is currently mandatory.

If you are interested in joining me on this tour or want to book a different date reach out to Lori

at info@condortt.com  or call 770-339-9961.  Condor Tours & Travel has been in business since 1991 serving those wanting to experience the world.

 

 

 

Walt Disney World Magic During a Pandemic

Disney castleSo, we decided to take advantage of the incredible deals being offered by Walt Disney World to get folks to return to the happiest place on earth. Since the re-opening Disney has been aggressively working at enhancing their parks to exceed the recommendations for re-opening to the world. We choose to take advantage of the promotional opportunities to stay on property at the Contemporary Resort. Staying in the A-frame was a bucket list hotel for us and when we saw the promo rate we decided to come Thanksgiving week. Prior to our arrival we were able to check into our room via the My Disney Experience App (a must have for Disney trips now). So, as we were nearing the hotel, we notified them of our expected arrival time, and they sent us our room assignment and that it was ready via the app. Our phone along with magic bands were our key. (by the way the magic bands were complimentary but we were told staring in January they will begin charging for them) On arrival to the hotel we were greeted by a porter in a mask and our luggage was whisked away. We headed to our room immediately noticing hand sanitizer stations, signs reminding of the mask mandate, the stickers of where to stand as well as limited # of guest on elevator. The room had a card explaining the cleaning procedure and the remote was in a plastic bag with a “Clean” sticker. They are not offering valet parking so no one else is in your personal vehicle.
Since we arrived in the afternoon we decided to head to Disney Springs for a late lunch and some shopping. After we parked, we were guided to a single-entry point from the parking garage for temperature and security check. Yes, they take your temperature to eat and shop at Disney Springs. They also make sure all are masked. A first for me was a conveniently available vending machine selling mask if you came unprepared. The most recognized store in Disney Springs is The World of Disney which is usually slammed with shoppers. We had to scan a QR code to enter the virtual que for entry at a designated time. There was an alternate line for those that were not in the virtual que for entry and was limited and longer wait so take advantage of the Virtual que option as it is easy to use. Every customer and employee were masked. The registers had plexiglass shields and signs asking patrons not to touch merchandise unnecessarily and no changing rooms open to try on, however, you had a return option within a certain amount of time with receipt. Other stores had controlled entry and exit points to keep counts on number of shoppers in the stores – this was also a feature throughout Disney parks. They had handheld machines on how many entered and exited and kept capacity at the allowable counts keeping crowds to a minimum in the shops.mask sign-small
Experiencing the different parks – prior to entry at each park there was temperature screening and security screening. We were pleasantly pleased to see new metal detectors, so your bags where not handled by a security person as long as the detector didn’t go off. I was able to walk through with my phone in hand and my small purse without any problem. Once in the parks, regular announcements were made about the mask requirement to cover you mouth and nose at all times, non -compliance was grounds for eviction from the park. There was also signage and staff with hand signs reminding all. We heard a few cast members remind guest to cover their nose as their mask slipped down. They were very diligent about this. The only exception was when sitting to eat or drink or the relaxation stations located throughout the park. You were not allowed to walk and drink or eat. Social distancing was well noted in restaurants and seating areas marked as closed to keep distance between tables. Ordering food is almost completely contactless as you can order your food via the same mobile Disney Experience app. You were called to numbered windows to retrieve your meal when ready. You could not access the interior seating or restaurant until you got your notice that your meal was ready. A cast member would then direct you to a table. This was our experience at every quick service restaurant.
Experiencing the rides – There were social distancing markers everywhere. In the switchback areas they either installed plexiglass dividers or would skip rows or position guest so as not to be 6 feet of each other. The lines seem so long but due to the distancing between the markers they are actually not that long and move well. As much as we have loved fast pass feature in prior visits, they were not being used so the line moved well without interruption. We found this distancing comforting and never felt crowded or at risk. We cannot stress enough how quickly the lines moved and we beat most posted wait times. Each ride is not running at full capacity to allow for social or personal distancing. We were a party of 3 and often had a car or boat or vehicle to ourselves. Hand sanitizer stations and hand washing stations were placed throughout the lines. They were also readily available when you got off the ride.sanitizer small
The park capacity is limited to 35% of maximum capacity. Disney does not post parade times so they would randomly have a mini parade. This was so folks would not gather in crowds to maintain personal distancing. Disney is not doing any character meet and greets or live shows or the nighttime fireworks. Because they are not doing these nighttime shows, many leave the parks earlier so wait times are reduced. We walked right on to Haunted Mansion with no wait. They have not published when they will bring those back so if that is why you go to Disney you may prefer to wait until those activities are added back.parade small
None of the protocols put in place by the Disney Company takes away the magic. We cannot express how appreciative we were to the Disney cast for making our experience magical. Both the cast and the guest worked harmoniously to provide a safe escape travel experience.Star wars 1 small
FYI – Park hopper is not available currently but is expected to return in January. At the moment, you have to reserve park entrance by day via the Disney Experience app or on your account you have created electronically on your computer. If you are interested in a Disney experience now is the time to go and your trained team at Condor Tours & Travel is there to help plan your ideal vacation. Based on Lawrenceville, GA 770-339-9961 or email us at info@condortt.com

Condor Tours & Travel nominated for Gwinnett Chamber Small Business Award

 

condor new logo different formatGwinnett County (METRO ATLANTA) GA– The Gwinnett Chamber Small Business Awards will showcase those that dare to start, sustain and succeed and the community that supports them. Recognized as an industry leader, Lori Snow, CEO of Condor Outfitters, Inc DBA Condor Tours & Travel has been nominated in two categories – Minority-Owned/Woman-Owned Small Business Award and the Pivot Pro Award.

“Wow, I am humbled and honored to have been nominated in two categories as both are exactly where our company. There is no doubt that hospitality industry has been hard hit during this pandemic and we are working hard to help clients with their unscheduled cancellations and re-bookings as well as future travel hopes for many. To be recognized for our diligence during this hard times is special to me and my team at Condor.”

“At the Gwinnett Chamber, we believe small business is big business,” said Nick Masino, President & CEO, Gwinnett Chamber and Partnership Gwinnett. “We understand that entrepreneurs are the engines of our economy and we are excited to celebrate their contributions.”
Honoring individuals and organizations alike, designations will be given in the following areas.

• Community Contributor Award
• Culture Creator Award
• Emerging Entrepreneur Award
• Founder Award
• Launch Award
• Minority-Owned/Woman-Owned Small Business Award
• Pivot Pro Award
• Small Business Award
• Support System Award

The awards ceremony will be held Friday, November 20 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Infinite Energy Forum. Both in-person and online options are available. For more information, visit GwinnettChamber.org/Small-Business-Awards.
To learn more about Condor, contact Lori Snow 770-339-9961 or info@condortt.com

Re-Opening the World to Travel

IMG_9319

Travel wanderlust is at an all-time high for many that cannot wait to explore the world again. It is important that everyone remembers to travel with respect. As a travel advisor checking and rechecking the protocols and requirements is an essential part of what we offer you. Making certain you know what is open, knowing social distancing and facemask requirements, just to name a few. It goes without saying that we prepare travel responsibly and respectfully. Knowing the protocols and regulations is important and adhering to them is equally important. By adhering to the protocols put in place to protect you at the hotels, airline, on activities we are working to make sure you have “A Safe Escape” travel experience. Working with you and with destination companies also requires you as the traveler to be responsible and demonstrate the respect for traveling. Traveling is a privilege! Reality today is it is at its lowest point ever. But the numbers are rising and folks are beginning to travel again. Depending on where, you may have to be tested so plan ahead to arrange time for testing and results as wait times can hinder your plans.
Good news, countries are slowly re-opening for travel. In many cases a recent (within 72 hours to 10 days) negative COVID-19 test is all they are requiring to enter into those countries. We continue to follow those openings so that you can travel again. We can provide you with each country opening dates if they have been published and their entry requirements for travel. We strongly recommend securing travel protection for your trip just for added security of you travel investment and certainly private customized travel, so you are not lumped on a bus with many others.
I have been following destinations closer to US so that you don’t have extremely long flights and the Central and South America Region along with Caribbean are at the top of my watch list.
Did you know that many of the Caribbean islands have re-opened to travel already? Deals prevail as well with great incentives to travel now as well as booking for 2021 if you just are quite ready to travel.
Here is just one example – Turks and Caicos just about 1.5 hours from Atlanta is open. To travel there they have a travel authorization online form to complete plus a negative COVID19 test. You are required to also secure travel protection which we can assist with. This destination is inherently safe given its spacious stretches of beach on Providenciales and its sister islands, including Parrot Cay, Salt Cay, South Caicos and Grand Turk, among others.

EcuadoFrigate Birdr has re-opened for tourism with 10 days negative COVID-19 test for a trip to visit the mainland and 3 days if you want to go to the Galapagos. From the Amazon to the amazing eco system of the Galapagos you can spend all your time outdoors and away from crowds. Hiking the many trails, bird watching, nature watching is ideal to this part of the world.
ColoZipaquirra 2mbia is to re-open September 21 and the first international flights allowed are to Cartagena. Required a negative test for entry and a from to complete with you itinerary along with proof of Travel Protection coverage specifically for health coverage.
IMG_6783Costa Rica which is 3-4-hour flight has re-opened to certain US states to travel too and is adding more states each week. They too require a negative test and proof of health coverage. There are so many accommodations options away from the major cities that allow you to social distance plus do outdoor activities. They are coming into their best travel weather season so you can likely travel there as soon as November if you want to.

Panama will re-open October 12 – we are still waiting oEmbera men playing instrumentsn their guidelines besides needing a COVID-19 negative test 96 hours prior to arrival,  but are excited to see this remarkable destination re-open so you can see the Panama Canal up close and personal and enjoy many outdoor activities conducive to social distancing.

Although the list of openings is fluid and changing, we do see a trend to more and more opening through the 4th quarter of this year. What is for certain is now is the time to start planning that future vacation. With any trip we must re-emphasis that you need to secure travel protection coverage to protect both your trip investment as well as any health setbacks or service setbacks that could impact your trip.

We understand that each person is in a different place in terms of ability, desire, and willingness to travel. If you are not quite ready to go international but want an adventure, we can arrange US self drives, rail vacations, Disney World and Universal Florida packages, Villa Rentals and other close to home options. By the way, now is the time to book your holiday space especially for villas. Disney and Universal is also perfect now as they limit the number of guests allowed in so no lines…… Hotels & Airlines are being very flexible with changes and cancellations as they know with this pandemic that situations can change at the last minute and in most cases no fees for the changes. In the end please choose and do responsibly and with the utmost care for yourself and others. The team at Condor Tours & Travel is available to answer questions and help you look towards your future travel plans. www.condortoursandtravel.com or info@condortt.com or 770-339-9961.

Amtrak Rail Experience – Great Way To Travel

Travel gets in your blood, and no matter what is going on in the world, those of us that love to explore the world will find ways to do it! I’m an avid international traveler, but COVID-19 has put a stop to that since March of 2020. As we continue to deal with this  pandemic, I feel the urge to explore again with excellent protocols put in place. This time, I am trying a different travel experience – traveling domestically within the United States. As of July 1, much of the world is still not open for tourism for health reasons, and of course, to protect all of us. There are many new protocols in place, like no housekeeping service while staying in a hotel, limiting capacity to allow for personal distancing, and wearing masks on flights, just to list a few. But there is one “Safe Escape” experience we can still have – rail vacations around the USA. Just like a road trip, but without the hassle of driving or locating open restaurants, sanitized restrooms, or aggravations on the road. On a train trip, you just sit back and watch the world go by.

My husband and I decided to try a rail trip from Atlanta. We hopped on Amtrak for a four day, three night trip to New Orleans on the Southern Crescent. We arrived at the station 30 minutes before the train departure and sat in a respectable lounge that had marked off Roomette - LRseats to allow for personal distancing. The staff met us at the entrance to the station and made sure we were on the approved list of travelers for the day. No need to go through those crazy airport security lines. Check-in was easy and informative. Once we headed to our train car, we were directed to our seats. This particular Amtrak package included an upgrade to a roomette. This way we could self-isolate in our small cabin, close the door, and only go out to stretch our legs. The roomette was equipped with a toilet, which was a nice surprise, as again, we didn’t need to share a community restroom. There are also standard train cars with seating and larger sleeper rooms. We chose the middle of the three options offered.Roomette Toilet LR

Once we were in our roomette, we organized our small suitcase and carry-on so they would not clutter our cabin. They also offer an option to check your bag, but ours was small enough to fit under the seat, so we kept it with us. They provided us with bottles of water, hand towels, hand soap, two pillows, a blanket, and toilet paper. As the train left the station, the cabin steward came and asked us if we had questions about what to expect on the train trip. He then took our breakfast order, and returned with it once we were on the rails, so we did not have to leave to go to a dining car.

There is a small drop-down table that we opened up, and while heading towards New Orleans, we played cribbage, did crossword puzzles, and played solitaire. The table has a built in checker board, but you have to bring your own checker or chess pieces if you want to play. Other great features include a private thermostat to cool your car, and there is a bunk-bed style system, so for overnight trips, you can sleep in the car. The seats also recline, so you can nap while riding. It is actually quite comfortable and much roomier than an airplane seat. There is WIFI that allowed us to watch movies or work if necessary. My husband usually does all the driving so he was able to just sit back and relax, which he enjoyed.

We were served lunch around 12:30 and had four choices. This is also currently served in your roomette, as they do not want anyone in the dining car. The meal is like a TV dinner that comes sealed in cellophane. I had the Beef tips with polenta, and Virgil had the shrimp and andouille sausage Jambalaya, both came with a side salad and a brownie. It was decent. With the roomette, you get one adult beverage included, so in the afternoon, I had a glass of Cabernet Red wine (Barefoot brand) and Virgil had Maker’s Mark bourbon. As it turns out, the menu is the same for dinner. I do suggest bringing some snacks, but no need to bring beverages, as they do provide those.

The return trip was in reverse and the cabin attendants were equally accommodating. Overall, the train is not up to the most modern standards – there are no USB ports, but it did have two outlets to charge electronics. The inside of the trains are clean and maintained, so although aged from time, the experience becomes part of the destination. When making a train trip, getting there is part of the adventure. If traveling with kids, bring something for them to do. Remember, there is great WIFI, so they can watch movies or surf the web.

Let me emphasis again the ease of travel – no airport security experiences, no need to arrive two to three hours early, no messing with bags at the gate or baggage claim, and food is included, plus one adult beverage if you so choose. One final note – both ways were close to on-time experiences. We have heard that this is not always the case, but our personal experience was otherwise. We are looking forward to our next rail adventure!

Condor Tours & Travel has just completed the necessary training to be able to offer you a rail experience just about anywhere in the USA, from weekend trips to overnight experiences including national parks. The packages that are combined with hotels and local tours will give you a complete travel experience. Contact us at 770-339-9961 or info@condortt.com, and let us help you plan your next adventure!