Peruvian Adventure

In 2016 I went to Peru with my daughter Lucy to challenge ourselves trekking in the Andes and exploring the Inca Trail.

I travelled in a group of 10 Australians led by Claudio Maqque Vaeldez who now runs Inkati Peru Travel.

Peru is one of the most exciting countries in South America, and Claudio is one of the best guides I’ve ever travelled with.

We spent time in Cusco, Ollantaytambo, trekked in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and of course finished up on the Inca Trail to hike into Machu Picchu.

Lucy and me at Machu Picchu

Claudio was an outstanding guide, very knowledgeable and passionate about the history of Peru and the Incas, and also about the natural environment. And he is also an expert in local travel arrangements, permits, conditions and customs – something that can take a lot of the headaches out of planning a trip in Peru.

Claudio looking out into the Sacred Valley

He was always calm, patient, and generous with his time. Just as importantly, he treated his crew and all the locals we met along the way with total respect. A total professional.

The next time I go to Peru, and I hope its soon, I will definitely be arranging all my treks with Claudio and Inkati Peru Travel.

Amazing Raffles

Raffles Hotel in Singapore has a long-standing reputation of being one of the world’s most iconic and storied hotels. And its ranking amongst the world’s best has only been enhanced by recent multi-million-dollar restorations.  

Previously we’d only visited Raffles for a Singapore Sling in the historic Long Bar or to browse the boutique shopping gallery, so when our first overseas trip for 2 years came around, we were beyond excited to be staying at this heritage property. 

We made the Raffles reservation on a whim in early 2021 after picking up business class award seats (thankyou Qantas) to Singapore in January 2022. I’ve lost count of how many flights and hotels I’ve cancelled because of covid, so we didn’t really think this trip would go ahead (always book with free cancellation!).  

But when January came around and Australia’s borders were still open (well, slightly ajar) and we had both somehow evaded Omicron, we found ourselves off to Singapore on the VTL (vaccinated travel lane).  

We timed our 2 night Raffles stay in the middle of our Singaporean holiday, staying at two other hotels either side. The Raffles experience began with a luxury Mercedes S Class limousine pickup from the front of our first hotel – the transfer would only take 20 minutes normally, and we were early for check in, so we told the driver to take his time. He generously obliged by taking a longer more scenic route to the hotel while we luxuriated in the air conditioned leather comfort of the Mercedes.  

As the Mercedes pulled into the Raffles forecourt, four staff descended the red carpet to greet us and welcome us warmly to the hotel.  

There is no check in desk at Raffles – we were invited to take a seat in the Grand Lobby while our luggage was collected from the car. We were then escorted to our suite to complete the check process in the quiet comfort of our sitting room before being introduced to our butler who showed the features of our suite. 

The suite consisted of an entry foyer, huge bathroom, luxurious bedroom with four-poster bed and tv, a parlour with bar, dining table, another tv, and French doors to a balcony. We are immediately wowed by the generous proportions of the rooms, the sophisticated furnishings and luxury amenities.  

Once alone in the room we check nook and cranny for hidden features, try out the bed (blissfully comfortable), and take inventory of the complimentary toiletries and bar offerings – this is easily one of the best hotel rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. 

As tempted as we are to remain inside our luxury oasis, we are also keen to fully explore the hotel as bonafide guests. Timeless elegance might be a tired phrase but it could never be more apt than for Raffles Hotel. There’s a cornucopia of bars and restaurants to choose from, beautiful gardens to enjoy, courtyards, sitting rooms, passageways and cul de sacs. And you are never too far from a friendly member of staff with a warm greeting or offer of assistance.  

We made good use of the third floor pool during our stay. It’s a great place to cool off from the city heat and we were well looked by the pool and bar attendants – the standard of personal service throughout the hotel is uncompromising. 

Our breakfasts were served in the famous Tiffin room. It’s an ala carte breakfast menu and its hard to choose between all of the options – but you can order every item on the menu if you think you can handle it. Its all included. We tried both western and Asian breakfast options – the mee goreng was the best I’ve ever had. 

The most remarkable thing about Raffles is that, despite the hotel’s reputation and its relative exclusivity, its history of attracting the world’s rich and famous, it manages to be sophisticated without ever being snobbish, it emanates elegance without feeling elitist. 

We were always made to feel welcome and comfortable and genuinely valued as guests – even if returning hot and sweaty from a sightseeing excursion. The hospitality was outstanding at all times, the staff were warm and friendly and seem to love the hotel as much as we did.  

After two days, Raffles felt like a home away from home, and we were sad to be leaving for one of Singapore’s other iconic hotels where we planned to finish our holiday.  

I won’t name the other hotel here (that will be the subject of another blog entry) but on arrival we were immediately aware of a very different guest experience, and not in a positive way. We were so unimpressed that after one night we decided to cancel our last night and transfer out to another hotel – and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our last 24 hours in Singapore than by splurging one more night at Raffles.  

I booked Raffles online on Wednesday, we checked out Thursday and transferred to Raffles by taxi at 10am well before the official 3pm room-ready time.  

On arrival at Raffles we were again greeted by the front of house staff with a warm “Welcome back Mr Jobling, we’re so glad you’ve returned to us”. You can’t underestimate the difference that personalised service makes. 

We were given early access to our room and staff immediately arranged a late check out for us the next day. Limousine transfer to the airport was included. And they upgraded us from the base level room that I booked to the suite from our previous stay.  

In our room was a hand written note from the Lobby Manager: 

“Welcome back to Raffles Hotel Singapore. Thankyou for your loyalty and we are delighted to have you reside with us. Hope your time in the Grand Dame will be a memorable experience.” 

Thankyou Raffles – it was indeed an indelibly memorable experience and Raffles will be top of our list every time we visit Singapore.  

Top Tips for Flying International from Melbourne Airport

International travel has recently resumed from Melbourne Airport and the rules are complex and constantly changing. Make sure you know exactly what the requirements are for your DESTINATION and your TRANSIT points.

I’ve just flown from Melbourne to Singapore. Up to date travel requirements can be found here: https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/arriving/overview

Wherever you are going it is likely, for the foreseeable future, that you will need to have a negative PCR or RAT covid test at most 72 hours before your flight.

GET YOUR PCR AT THE AIRPORT. Melbourne company Histopath runs an excellent service for international travellers. Get tested at the International Terminal for guaranteed results within 2 hours and all the certification needed for your destination. The fee is $79 which is much cheaper than the $150 charged by most private testing laboratories.

We waited in line for about 30 minutes to get our test, and this could potentially blow out when flights increase.

Waiting in line for our pre-departure covid tests
Test complete

So my next tip is… consider staying at the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport Hotel the night before your flight. A standard room will cost around $180.

We checked into the Parkroyal the afternoon before our flight, dropped our bags in our room, and strolled over to T2 to get our pre-booked, pre-paid PCR test. After the test we went back to the hotel to relax – while other travellers were loitering around the terminal with all of their luggage waiting for their results before they could check in.

We got our results in about 2 hours, had a good nights sleep, breakfast at the hotel and made our way to the check in (flight departing at 1305) with all our paperwork in order – NO STRESS.

Best Ever AMEX Qantas Points Offer

The Qantas American Express Ultimate card is the best Qantas points earning credit card on the market, and right now is the best time to apply for one.

Qantas/AMEX is offering a massive 120,000 points and 120 Status Credits on new cards approved by June 15th 2021.

Even if you used those points for Woolworths vouchers at the worst conversion rate (about half a cent per point), you’d have $600 worth of groceries, more than offsetting the $450 annual card fee. And you’d still have $450 to splurge on Qantas flights.

Personally I look for redemptions worth at least 2 cents per point, which values this offer at $2400.

What I love about the QA Ultimate card is that it keeps working hard to reward your loyalty. Regular bonus points offers can you really boost your points balance, and cashback promotions help to further offset the annual fee. Contrast this to most bank Visa and Mastercard offerings where the bonuses run out after the initial sign on (and they wonder why we churn credit cards!).

And thanks to a new REFERRAL incentive from Qantas, a couple could theoretically turbo charge their QFF balance by 290,000 points.

This is much better than the AMEX referral incentive where the referrer gets a swag of points but the new card applicant (Referee) gets LESS points than if they had applied independently.

Here’s how it could work for you…

Spouse A applies successfully for a new Qantas Amex Ultimate card

Spouse A receives card and refers to Spouse B

Spouse B uses referral link to apply for a new Qantas Amex Ultimate Card

Points Earned:
Spouse A New Card: 120,000
Spouse A Referral: 50,000
Spouse B New Card: 120,000
Total points: 290,000

Even if Spouse A is an existing member they could refer to Spouse B and generate 170,000 points. They would then each have $450 annual card fee and $450 Qantas flights credit, OR if not wanting to hold two accounts, Spouse A could close their account and continue as an additional card holder (free) on Spouse B’s account.

To find your referral link, login to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account, go to My Account, and look through My Offers.

If you don’t already have the card, you can apply for one through this link: (full disclosure, this is my link and I’ll receive 50K points and you will benefit from the full current points offer if you apply by 15th June 2021)

http://amex.com.au/refer/bRETTJ4pQX?xl=cpqc

My 2019 Frequent Flyer Report Card

I accumulated 752K QFF points last calendar year, and not many of them from flying. Here’s how I did it….

And what are the points worth? In the last year I made the following redemptions:

Qantas Business Class Upgrade Singapore to Melbourne

Qantas Business Class Upgrade Perth to Melbourne

Emirates First Class Award flight Singapore to Melbourne

Qantas First Class Upgrade Melbourne to Los Angeles

I redeemed 204,100 points. Based on fare price/fare differences the cash value of the redemptions is about $9795.

That’s a redemption rate of 4.8 cents per point ($9795 divided by 204,100)

And by that calculation, the 752K points I collected during just one year is worth about $36,000 in Qantas award flights and upgrades!

And every time I step onto a business or first class suite, I am reminded how much I love the Qantas Frequent Flyer program!

la Fortuna Costa Rica Blog

Arenal Volcano is the first thing you see as you navigate the mountainous road from Monteverde to La Fortuna.

It looks exactly what your 8 year old self would have drawn if told in school to draw a volcano. Cone shaped and perfect, a plume of cloud sitting atop.

It burst into life in 1968 with a pyroplastic show of force, changing the landscape and the lives of surrounding residents. Quiet now, surrounding hot springs are the tell tale signs that destructive power still lurks within.

La Fortuna is one of the bigger towns outside San Jose that we’ve visited. It serves a burgeoning tourist trade of travellers seeking thrills and nature experiences.

We climbed the lower slopes of Arenal for views of the lava fields. It is illegal to climb to the crater rim, given the dangers. Climbing down through jungle rainforest, we then rewarded ourselves with a long luxurious twilight soak in a hot river flowing down from the slopes.

Next day we were off to a much colder river, under a grey and rainy sky, for our Gravity Falls experience. This entailed rappelling down ferny waterfalls, jumping into fast flowing rapids, and throwing ourselves off a platform high above a deep rock pool.

All of this supervised by experienced guides and instructors of course. Plenty of adrenaline, never any real danger.

Back in LF, there are plenty more tours to sign up to if you are so inclined. We wandered out to a small sloth sanctuary in town. Not the most authentic way to go sloth spotting, but the sloths here are still free to roam about the canopy, and we did enjoy our closest-yet sloth encounter.

outside LF, you can hike beside the Rio Celeste in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Depending on weather conditions the water is often a dazzling blue, there’s a beautiful waterfalls, and you’ll see (and smell) thermal springs bubbling up out of the river.

By night, Restaurante Don Rufino offers some very fine dining. The arracacha and beet salad is a knockout. Expensive compared to other options, but a delicious reprieve from rice and beans.

Monteverde Costa Rica Blog

Monteverde is a small, windy town high in the Costa Rican “cloud forest”. It is essentially a tourist town, hub for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and extreme sports.

Parts of the town are typically Costa Rican, with makeshift store fronts and dogs roaming the streets.

But the centre has developed a decidedly hipster vibe, with a number of good restaurants and even something of a coffee culture. Cafe de Montverde will serve you just about the best cappuccino you’ll find outside did Melbourne.

Something I’ve also discovered about Costa Rica is that they are cake masters. And Cafe Orchid in MV has a mouthwatering selection of cheesecakes.

Selvatura Adventure Park is just 10 minutes from town and boasts the longest zipline in Central America at 1.5km. It’s an unforgettable experience, soaring over the rain forest canopy like a bird, and not being able to see where you started from or where you’ll finish.

Another popular activity is the night jungle walk, led by an experienced guide who will point out many of Costa Rica’s exotic wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a mother sloth (sleeping) and her more active baby high in the canopy. Our guide spotted many other creatures we would never have found on own.

Costa Rican red eyed frog

Katydid

Scorpion under blue light

San Jose Blog

Ah San Jose, what can I say about you? You’re not the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen…. but you just might be the ugliest.In fairness, arriving on New Year’s Day when everything is closed and the clean up from the night before is still to begin, probably won’t make the best first impression for any city.We explored downtown SJ fortified by Starbucks coffee. Having seen the pigeon infested squares and parks, it was clear you need to look a little harder for this city’s charms and points of interest.There seems to be a thriving graffiti culture. Street art manages to lift some otherwise depressingly decrepit buildings and street scapes.There are also some interesting brutalist buildings in the city, nonetheleast being the gold museum underneath the Plaza de la Cultura.The Gold Museum’s pre-Columbian displays are interesting, but the space itself was the star for me.IIf you’re still struggling to engage with the city then do some research on some of the cooler restaurants and bars. Prices are reasonable and there is some great locally influenced cuisine to be had.Restaurante Azoteca Calle 7 is excellent with a lovely rooftop bar. And the neighbourhood around Barrio Escalante on Calle 33 for a great selection of bars and eateries.

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Four hours from the unremarkable capital San Jose you’ll find a beautiful natural paradise in Manuel Antonio National Park.

We are staying in Quepos, a small town just 7km from the park entrance and an array of wonderful dark sand beaches.

Public buses run every 20 minutes to a public beach outside the park. There’s a vibrant beach culture but without over-development. Capuchin monkeys climb over the buildings and amongst the trees fringing the beach.

Nearby Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest but most popular in Costa Rica, a country that boasts some of the highest biodiversity in the world, and some pretty solid green credentials for a developing country.

Park entry is $16 USD but spend money on a telescope-equipped guide who is sure to find more animals than you will spot on your own.

In two hours we saw numerous sloths, monkeys, spiders, crabs, frogs, snakes and even a small deer.

End your jungle walk with a refreshing swim at MA’s private beach – much less busy than the nearby public beach.

You could spend the rest of the day hiking numerous trail in the park, or you could do as we did and hop on a small yacht for a relaxing sunset cruise.

We stopped for ocean swimming and some snorkelling. Dinner was included and it was a great finish to a truly idyllic day.

How to Manage Disneyland in Peak Season

Stef and I have just done two days at Anaheim Disneyland between Christmas and New Year – as peak seasons go, it doesn’t get any peaker than that. In fact, on both days the park hit capacity, meaning that 75,000 plus people had flooded through the gates.

Were the crowds unbearable? That depends on your tolerance level, but we were mostly able to move about the parks with a degree of patience.

Were the lines out of control? Some of the wait time were up to nearly three hours for the most popular rides, but we never waited more than an hour for any ride, and still managed to do all of our most wanted rides at least once.

Here’s how…

Ticket choice is key. We bought a two-day Park Hopper pass with a Max Pass add on.

Buy the passes online and download the Disney app to your smartphone. Upload the passes to your app and you are good to go when you arrive at the Park (no tickets to print).

Ideally, arrive at the park 30 minutes before opening (parks open at 8am most days, but check your times on the app). You have to pass through security screening and then queue for the Disneyland Park (it usually opens before California Adventure Park).

On your first entry you’ll have your photo taken and be given a paper ticket – use this for the rest of your visit.

As soon as you’ve gained access you should book your first Fast Pass – use this for the ride with the longest wait time, not necessarily the ride you most want to go on. Space Mountain,  Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones at Disneyland and Cars Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of The Galaxy, and The Incredicoaster at California Adventure typically had the longest wait times. Then head straight to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and get in line because these latest attractions don’t offer the Fast Past service yet.

The Fast Pass will give you a 1 hour time slot to attend for that ride, and you will go pretty much go to the front of the line.

Note that you can’t book Fast Passes on the app unless you have purchased the Max Pass add on. Without a Max Pass you can only get Fast Passes by queueing for a voucher at the ride – time wasted on foot and in a line.

After booking your fast pass, use your app to check the wait times at some of your other favoured rides – head to one with less than an hour wait. Enjoy the ride.

You can use your Fast Pass again after 70 minutes OR straight after you have ridden on the Fast Pass ride that you booked.

The total number of Fast Passes is limited on any given day, and typically run out by mid afternoon. Another reason to get to the park early and make the best strategic use of your passes.

Be warned that you can also lose a lot of time waiting for food in the parks – consider taking snacks in with you (especially if you want to eat healthier) or exiting the park to dine in the Downtown Disney precinct. It will be quicker and less crowded, and re-entry to the parks is usually straightforward after the morning crush.

Alternatively, you can book food in the park on your app.

You can also book priority viewing areas for Fantasmic and World of Colour light and fireworks shows through the app.

We managed to ride all of the best attractions, some of them 2 or 3 times, across our two days. But we did spend a solid 14 hours at the park on the first day.

If travelling with children I’d recommend a 3 day Park Hopper so you can go at a more leisurely pace. (don’t forget to add the Max Pass). This pass also gives you one early entry – you can gain access one hour before regular opening times. Make sure to get to the park on time for this benefit as you’ll be able to fit in a couple of rides with minimal wait times.