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We can't get enough of the Monograms way of travel. Have someone else do the legwork while you get to have all the fun? Count us in.

All Monograms tours give guests the VIP treatment: a Monograms Local Host and driver to pick you up and drop you off when you're arriving and departing from the city (no matter how you travel – we arrived by cruise ship and departed by air); a private guided tour of the city to see the highlights and get your feet under you; a selection of experiences integral to life in Rio or any of Monograms' world-wide destinations; plus your Local Host is available throughout your stay to provide tips and advice to make sure you get the very most out of your trip.

Watch the video above to see how we got the VIP treatment on a Monograms' tour of thrilling Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It's the perfect combination of independent traveling and having an expert local friend in town.

You can even cherry-pick from a number of optional experiences and excursions to customize your visit to your own personal interests. And you didn't have to do any of that research to find or check reviews to ensure you'll have a quality experience; the local experts have already done that for you.

And here are our top picks of optional experiences in other Monograms South America tours:

Argentina Highlights

See exciting Buenos Aires and some of the natural wonders of South America's most southern country. Your local host ensures you experience the best of one of South America's most exciting cities including the grave site of Eva Peron, heroine of the musical Evita!, the majesty of the world's widest boulevard, and the vivid colours of the port area La Boca. Fly to Patagonia to the foothills of the Andes to experience some of the world's most breathtaking vistas, then further south to a glacier park UNESCO World Heritage Site to see one of the world's few advancing glaciers as it 'calves' with chunks breaking away into the water.

Don't Miss these Optional Tours: the world's sexiest dance, a traditional Tango show in Buenos Aires, and the opportunity to visit a working Argentine ranch to see authentic gauchos at work.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Click here to see our Monograms Tour of Buenos Aires and optional Tango show.

Magical Columbia

Columbia is one of the world's travel hot spots and Monograms provides you with the insider guidance and local expertise to help you see the best of Columbia in this 8-day tour. Your local host connects you with local food and colonial architecture in Bogota, and also takes you up a funicular car ride 10,000 feet up to the best view of the city. In the coffee triangle area, you'll visit a coffee farm for a tasting and exploration of the coffee production process, and enjoy views over the Andes mountains. And you'll also get a private tour of the can't-miss sites of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled colonial historic district and get an insight into the area's Pre-Columbian culture, too.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Go 600 feet underground to a Columbian pilgrimage site and architectural masterpiece, a church unbelievably constructed in multiple tunnels of an old salt mine.

Ecuador Discovery

From the Pacific coast to Amazonian tropics to the heights of the Andes, Ecuador is one of the most geographically and ecologically diverse countries in South America. Your local host helps you get a taste of it all, beginning with Quito, near the equator, with its colonial Old Town, a fascinating local market and a nearby local school. You'll get into the countryside for a visit to a highland national park, a natural hot springs at your hotel, and a plantation that grows one of Ecuador's most famous and sweet-smelling export: roses. And you'll take a mountain top train ride of a lifetime to visit Incan, sun-worshipping ruins. Your visit also packs in a cocoa plantation, a panama hat factory.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: to the Middle of the World.There's a monument in Ecuador at latitude 0 where you can literally straddle two hemispheres. It's a can't-beat photo op!

Peru Highlights

Peru's lost mountain top city of Machu Picchu is on every travel bucket list, and this Monograms tour even gives the opportunity to overnight in this mystical location. Start in Lima with a city tour with your Local Host and experience the 16th century Spanish colonial historic and modern sides of Peru's capital. After you fly to Cusco, you'll also get a guided tour that includes monasteries, ruins, an amphitheatre and a red fortress. You'll visit the sacred valley of the Incas and learn about the importance of alpaca/llamas in Inca culture as well as modern weaving and craftsmanship. Then a train takes you to Machu Picchu, the 'Lost City of the Incas' with your Local Host ensuring you see all its secrets.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Lima is home to the largest electronic water fountain complex in the world, and you won't want to miss the spectacle of the water, sound and light show in its Park.

Amazonia Voyage with Rio and Iguassu Falls

This will be 10 of the most memorable days of your life, including 3 days on a ship on the Amazon river. Monograms' Local Host takes you to Rio's mountain-top Corcovado, just like in our video. Then you'll fly to the record-breaking Iguassu Falls for a private guided tour of this 2-mile wide falls. You'll also get a private tour of Manaus' spectacular architecture constructed during the incredible 19th century rubber boom before boarding your Amazon river cruise ship where you'll experience jungle and wildlife and local river communities and their connection to the jungle around them

Don't Miss This Optional Tour: A Panoramic City Tour and Visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you more view points over spectacular Rio and its waterfront as well as one of the best cable car rides on the planet.

- Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

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5 Little-Known Facts about Africa's 'Big Five' Animals

'Safari'. It's a Swahili word simply meaning 'journey'. But for travel lovers, the word 'safari' ignites our imaginations of exploring vast Sub-Saharan landscapes and encountering majestic creatures in their natural environment .

Africa's 'Big Five' list dates from a time when human/animal encounters ended badly for the animal. The Big Five were the hardest to hunt on foot and therefore the most valued trophies.

Today, the Big Five remain essential African animal encounters on safari to capture through your camera lens. 

Here are some things you didn't know about Africa's Big Five:

Lions:

Possibly the most iconic of African large animals, this big cat is unmistakable. Lion sightings are even more impressive as lions are very social and live in groups called 'prides' so you may well see more than one at once. Although they are 'apex' predators – the top of the food chain! – they don't spend a lot of time hunting. Lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day! But when they are awake you'll know about it.  A lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away! This helps communicate with the rest of the pride; calling for stray members back, declaring territory, and for females, communicating with cubs and calling for help when threatened.

Leopards: 

This famously spotted creature is the least seen of the Big Five as it's the most nocturnal. Unlike lions, leopards are not social and spend most of their lives alone. They are like the superhero of the big cats: they are sleekly graceful and almost perfectly camouflaged in the dappled shade of trees; they have excellent night vision and are incredibly powerful, able not only to regularly climb trees, but to drag prey 3 times their own weight 20 feet high into trees to protect their dinner… and they are even strong swimmers who sometimes fish! Even feline superheroes need a break, though. Leopards are known to take naps in the treetops.

 

African Elephants:

These vegetarians are the largest land animals… whose closest relatives are rodents! Elephants have shock-absorbing pads on their feet that allow them to walk much more quietly than you'd believe of such enormous creatures. They also have rather delicate skin than can sunburn and get irritated by even an insect! That's why you see elephants using their trunks to throw sand over themselves to protect against the sun and bugs. They are also avid swimmers and can swim long distances using their trunks as built-in snorkels. Those trunks also come in handy for drinking and grabbing food – even something as small as a single grain of rice. Elephants can communicate with each other across great distances by making sounds in frequencies lower than humans can hear. And these social creatures mourn dead members of their herd with rituals that can last days. 

Cape Buffalo:

Africa's Cape Buffalo has never been domesticated even though it's the only type of wild cattle in Africa. It's probably due to the danger factor. These unpredictable and aggressive animals are said to have killed more hunters in Africa than any other, and still kill over 200 people every year, earning them nicknames like 'Black Death' and 'Widow Maker'. Cape Buffalos use attack as their first line of defense, circling back at anything hunting them. That's a lot of rock-hard muscle and horn and surprisingly, brains coming at you. They have excellent memories, even ambushing creatures who have previously attacked them. Lions are their number one natural predator. But it will still take several lions to take down a Cape buffalo, risking the fury of the rest of the herd, which will ferociously defend and rescue fellow buffalo and kill lions who have attacked one of their own.

Rhinoceros:

The rhino is the most endangered species on the Big Five list. Poachers go to shocking lengths to kill protected rhinos, just for the horns that are said in Asian cultures to hold medicinal properties. Rhino horns are actually similar in composition to human fingernails or horses' hooves. Rhinos look fierce, almost armored, and like an immovable wall. In fact, they run much faster than you'd think – and they run on their toes! Rhinos have three hoofed toes on each foot, and they graze on leaves and twigs, just like their relatives: horses and zebras. Rhinos don't have any front teeth and use their lips to pick up their food. Much more dainty than they look.


Africa's Big Five are so much more than poster children for safari tours or wildlife conservation. They, and other unique African creatures like giraffes, cheetahs, gorillas and chimpanzees, zebras, hippopotami, birds and marine creatures, are complex, fascinating animals with beauty and characteristics incredibly evolved to this unique environment. 

Many reputable safaris and river or ocean cruise + land safaris in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia know the best places and times of the year for different wildlife experiences; some even guarantee you'll see the Big Five plus some of your other favorite African animals.

Encountering any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that transforms any traveler forever.

Start your Trip!


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6 Things You Need to Know About Travel to India's Golden Triangle

It's the 7th largest country by size, with dozens of geographically diverse states, fascinating cities, and over a billion people. India's extraordinarily rich historic and pop culture, landscapes, cuisine and influence have spread from South Asia around the world. India is on many people's travel bucket lists, and if you're reading this, maybe yours too. With so much to see, do and experience, for many travelers, India seems overwhelming.

The answer? A Golden Triangle tour. Even seasoned independent travelers benefit from experienced local guides to help them navigate the vast bustle and ins and outs of first-time travel in India.  

Here are 6 things you need to know about the 'starter' circuit most first-time visitors to India take to introduce them to this colorful nation.

1. Where is the Golden Triangle? It's not an official place on a map. The Golden Triangle refers to the route between 3 landmark destinations in northern India: the Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. It's about a half a day's journey by road between each point, making the route achievable in a week- 10 day- trip. It delivers some of India's 'greatest hits' as well as terrific shopping and markets, culinary and cultural experiences, from ancient artistic techniques to modern-day Bollywood performances.

2. Highlights of Delhi India's modern national capital is the 3rd largest city in the world. And it was also the capital for half a dozen earlier civilizations over 2500 years, each leaving its own historic and cultural mark. You'll visit monuments to the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim (Mughal) communities, including 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Must-see places include the Jama Masjid, which can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, Humayun's Tomb, a 16th century Mughal garden tomb that was a model for the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort (pictured above; photo credit), and Raj Ghat, the memorial to Gandhi.

Don't Miss: the breathtaking, contemporary Ba'hai 'Lotus Temple' made up of 27 marble petals (below; photo credit)

3. Highlights of AgraAgra's claim to fame is the Taj Mahal (pictured top; photo credit). The white marble structure with 28 types of inlaid precious and semi-precious stones was voted #1 of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its very name evokes the pinnacle of architectural achievement and royal excess. Showcased by landscaped vistas, the Taj Mahal is breathtaking, and many tours plan an arrival so you can experience the royal mausoleum in the mystical atmosphere of sunrise. Some say you haven't visited India if you haven't seen the Taj Mahal, and for many, it is the moment of a Golden Triangle tour they were waiting for.

Don't Miss: The benefits of an experienced local guide. So popular is it that officials have announced some new visiting restrictions to preserve the site. An official local guide is in the best position to help you make the most of your time at the site.

4. Highlights of JaipurIndia's 'Pink City' is the ultra-modern capital of Rajasthan. Its nickname originated in the 19th century, but its history dates back more than a century earlier; a planned city of wide boulevards and dedicated artistic community.

Jaipur is home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Jantar Mantar. Other must-see historic monuments in India are religious, royal or military. The Jantar Mantar (pictured below; photo credit) is uniquely scientific: the largest stone sundial in the world, telling time accurate to a couple of seconds.

Don't miss: The arts and crafts scene. From museums to galleries to shops with among the widest and eye-popping selection of local arts and crafts.

5. When is the best time to go? Most tours run October to March, with most visits in the cooler months of October, November, February and March. 

Don't Miss: The opportunity to view the Taj Mahal at sunrise; from December to mid-January, fog from air pollution can reduce visibility, reducing vistas and even blocking the sunrise view of the Taj Mahal.

6. How you can Visit India's Golden Triangle?Many reputable land tour operators, from luxury and small-group or private, to more economical or independent, offer Golden Triangle tours of India that will allow you to get a sense of one of the world's most fascinating and complex travel desinations.

Don't Miss:  The river cruise option. A Ganges river cruise tour often includes the three magnificent cities of the Golden Triangle by land along with a river cruise that gives you insights into the very different, traditional lifestyle of rural India along the banks of its holy waterway. The best highlights of both sides of India today.

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Top 3 Souvenirs from Venice

Venice is not just the 'City of Canals'.  It's also always been a city of merchants, and modern Venice is a showcase for iconic Italian craftsmanship and uniquely Venetian works. 

You'll find the cheap and touristy items right alongside more expensive items that reflect traditional craftsmanship.   The Frezzeria not only leads to St. Mark's Square, it's also the city's busiest shopping street.  You'll find boutiques as well as souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones.

So leave room in your suitcase for our top shopping finds in Venice.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host, BestTrip.TV

1. Murano Glass

Less than a mile from the main city, the Venetian island of Murano for centuries has been famous for glassware.   It was a European pioneer and leader in the miraculous art of glassmaking, and Murano glass is an essential Venice souvenir. 

Although you can buy Murano glass throughout Venice, take the time to visit the island, packed with factories and some artists' studios, some of which are open to visitors to see how it's made.  You'll find some more unique pieces that appear less 'mass-market' off the beaten track.

You'll have plenty of different expressions of the glassblower's art to choose from. Among the most recognized 'Murano' glass is multi-colored, especially in bright primary colors (millefiori) and glass beads that are often made into jewelry, or even rosaries for the devout in your life. 

After you've stocked up on beads and items made from beads, it gets less easy to pack.  Glassware, vases, figurines or contemporary glass sculpture, even chandeliers, require more planning, or even better, the studio or shop to arrange shipping for you.  But I guarantee that a nice Italian prosecco sipped from a Murano wine glass at home has a taste of your travels that makes the effort all worthwhile.

Tip:  Don't miss Paropamiso on the Frezzeria.  The owner collects glass 'Venetian pearls' and also travels around the world collecting items to bring back to Venice to his shop, where he also practices the Venetian craft of threading them into jewelry. 

2. Masks

Venice may be the world's spiritual home of Carnival, a celebration of decadence in the time leading up to the fasting and somberness of the pre-Easter season.  An elaborate mask and historic costume stands in our visual memories as code for 'Venice'.  And one of the most important events of the Venice Carnival is the contest for the most beautiful mask.

Masks have become the symbol of Carnival and of Venice itself. They have been a large part of the city's culture even back to the 12th century, when historians believe being wearing masks in the streets permitted Venetians some freedom from the city's rigid class divisions. 

You may not be in Venice for Carnival, or invited to one of its masked balls. But every visitor to Venice can participate in Venice's love affair with masks.  They are everywhere and made from leather, porcelain and even – as is tradition – from Venetian glass.  You'll find masks from the cheap and cheerful for the kids or your next Hallowe'en costume, to works of art you'll want to display.

Tip: Look especially for cat masks. Venice's colonies of cats are storied, and you'll see a number of cat-themed souvenirs in Venice, including portraits of cats in Carnival costumes.

3. Fine Fashion

We're not just talking about the household name Italian luxury fashion houses. Luckily when you're in Venice, you don't have to be a member of the 1% to participate in Italy's renowned sense of style and way with traditional fine fabrics and leather.   

Top picks as souvenirs of this Italian specialty: gloves and ties, belts and scarves. Why? They are easily packable, completely practical, and utterly beautiful.  A silk tie or a pair of fine leather gloves from Venice may be the perfect gift for anyone on your shopping list from hipsters to grannies… and of course, yourself.

Tip: For ties and scarves, look no farther than Trevisan on St. Mark's (San Marco) square. Displays resemble a silk rainbow with dizzying subtleties – this blue, or this blue or this blue? you will ask yourself.   In spite of its proximity to the tourist center of Venice, prices are remarkably sensible, so you may not have to pick between your favorites.  The store also sells other accessories for men and women.

Sermoneta is like a candy store of gloves, with over 5 dozen colors for any occasion: driving gloves, winter, fur-trimmed gloves, elbow length evening gloves, in various types of leathers.  They say it takes 10 artisans nearly 30 steps to make each pair and yet they are still reasonable enough to gift yourself and your favorite stylish loved ones.

A pair of sky blue or tangerine orange kid gloves will brighten dreary winter days for any woman (or confidently stylish man).  Add a silk tie from Venice to a gentleman's suit and it will instantly up his fashion game in an indefinable but noticeable way. Plus earn the wearer compliments and questions about where such a glove or tie of beauty was discovered.

Ah, Venice. More and more Mediterranean cruises embark, disembark, or have overnight calls in the City of Water, and group, small-group, or private tours give you the opportunity to experience one of the world's most extraordinary cities.  Let us help you find the perfect way for you to travel to Venice.

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A night time market in the grounds of a castle. Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens. Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type... Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany. And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all.

You can explore a number of Germany's best Christmas markets on itineraries of seasonal river cruises as BestTrip.TV did. Escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries. We know families who have made a trip to a famous Christmas market a family gift. All members of a family, from grandparents, parents, single aunts and uncles and every kid ever! find joyful memories together at a European Christmas market. We love the idea of celebrating the season with travel, and Regensburg's Romantic Christmas Market will warm anyone's heart.

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Please click the link below to visit the flyer with details, pricing and sign up form!

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Shrines of Italy Escorted Tour. Visit Some of the Most Fascination Religious Sites and Relics in the World! June 09 - 19, 2014. Hosted by Father Leszek of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Guelph. Book by January 31, 2014 to save $250.00 per person on this tour! read more