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More than Just a Family Vacation

My kids, Nina and Bernie, and I have always been fascinated with far-away destinations. We love to explore, soak up local cultures and visit places that have an impact on us. So, when family members in Brazil suggested we visit them for the holidays in December, we jumped at the chance. What a great opportunity to be with family, get an insider’s perspective on the area and then take advantage of visiting a few new places we hadn’t ever been.

We started our journey several days before the Christmas holiday by flying into Rio de Janeiro where Nina and Bernie’s grandparents and various cousins live. We enjoyed six days with them learning more about their city, culture and foods. Sharing a holiday in a foreign country is a great way to quickly learn about unique traditions and celebrations.

While in Rio we stayed at Hotel Fasano, a funky boutique hotel close to the beach. Their rooftop pool and bar were amazing and we enjoyed watching the sunset over Ipanema as often as we could.

After the holiday, the four of us (Bernie’s wife Dani joined us too) flew to Lima, Peru to start the second part of our adventure. We didn’t spend much time in Lima, but enjoyed the historic mansion Hotel B for one night with its private art collection and stunning architecture.

The next day is when we felt our Peru adventure was to truly begin. We flew from Lima to Iquitos to spend a few days on board the Delfin III, a luxury boat (holding only 43 guests) that took us onto the Amazon River and its many tributaries.

The boat itself was stunning – hardwood floors, designer furniture and handmade Peruvian artifacts throughout reminded us we were on vacation in a beautiful and eclectic foreign land. (And the food was amazing!) Each day we did two excursions that usually included a walk to experience the jungle and a water activity. The indigenous guides on board the Delfin III treated us like family and shared knowledge beyond our belief.

Throughout our time on the Amazon we had several unique (and at times crazy) experiences. From the boat, we could see the jungle’s wildlife, including caimans, sloths, monkeys, iguanas and more. When we went on our jungle treks, we saw even more (and up close and personal!). Jungle inhabitants included beautiful bird life like toucans and parrots, unique insects, venomous frogs and reptiles (including a baby anaconda, which was nine feet long – the mom was nearby and was 21 feet long!). But we always felt safe and in good hands with the experienced guides at our side.

One of our favorite water-based activities included fishing for Piranha. We were in awe when a school of Piranha came near our boat because the water literally looked like it was boiling. We caught many fish on our excursion and couldn’t believe what all lived within those waters!

Those mysteries within the Amazon waters were always on our mind. So, when the following day our guides invited us to jump off the boat to swim, we were quite hesitant! However, they explained to us that each tributary within the Amazon is very different than each other. The inhabitants, the water and other factors changed dramatically from one area to another. This day we were to swim in the middle of a tributary far away from the Piranhas and greet the pink dolphins! (An amazing experience for all of us once we got over the odd juxtaposition of fishing for predators one day and swimming with dolphins the next.)

After our time on the Delfin III we flew to Cusco to experience the Sacred Valley. We stayed at the very magical explora Valle Sagrado, one of the most remote properties in the region located among ancient corn fields.

The next few days were spent soaking up the unique spirituality, culture and beauty of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. We hiked every day, enjoyed watching local women weaving their colorful fabrics, farmers herding their llamas and alpacas, and hearing our guides share stories of the meaning and importance this area has on the local people and visitors who come experience it.

New Year’s morning was probably one of the most memorable times for us on the entire trip. We climbed Machu Picchu in the early hours when no one was there. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype I hear from everyone, but it did...and then some. We sat in silence with our guide as he did a local blessing with three cocoa leaves – one each representing the outer life, inner life and afterlife. He made a blessing to Mother Earth and had us each think of a wish for ourselves. After this very intimate, moving experience, he stuck the leaves into the crevasses of Machu Picchu. A memorable feeling indeed.

The mix of authentic experiences, amazing sights and unique interactions with the local people made this one of the best holidays I can ever remember. But what made it even more special? It was the first time Nina, Bernie and I have spent Christmas together in 10 years! I could have been anywhere on the planet, doing anything and I would have been happy. But thanks to Ann and the team at Pique Travel, my family spent 12 of the most memorable days of our lives together in South America.

Want to learn more about experiencing Peru, Brazil or other areas of South America? Email

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