Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part II – South America and Antarctica

In this second installment of the Travel Goals Master Checklist series of blog posts, I’ll cover the destinations from South America and Antarctica that made the list, along with the reasons why. If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to read Part I – North America & the Caribbean, which will give you more of the backstory. But if your attention span is as tiny as mine, suffice to say that the destinations and imagery to follow are taken from the list of 72 world-class bucket list destinations that make up my signature design: The Travel Goals Master Checklist, available exclusively from my Etsy store.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

As the tallest waterfall on the planet, I couldn’t leave off Venezuela’s Angel Falls from the list, even if the country has been so unstable in recent years that visiting it is a no-go. It’s hard to pity myself for not being able to visit when the residents of Venezuela are suffering so badly despite having more natural wealth and resources than most countries combined. But if the political disaster ever gets reversed, don’t be surprised to see a check mark next to this remote but worthy entrant on my own copy of the travel goals master checklist.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos, located off the western coast of Ecuador, are a unique ecosystem with many natural wonders. Though a trip here involves a hefty price tag and the environment is under threat, there’s no question that it is a world-class destination, and therefore deserves a place on the list.

Amazon Rain Forest, Ecuador/Brazil

Making up the bulk of the South American continent, the Amazon basin and its namesake rainforest spans across many national borders. The flooded jungle and myriad tributaries are still full of mystery, and you never know what you’re going to come across with every bend of the river. This massive natural feature is a world treasure and easy winner of a place on the list.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Occupying a spot on my own bucket list, the remote Atlantic island of Fernando de Norohna is an island enthusiast’s dream. From its pristine reefs, a barely touched landscape, and one of the world’s best beaches, this little-known destination has found its way onto the master checklist ahead of locations with greater star power.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Of the 72 destinations on the full list, only a dozen of them are cities. Of these, only one is found in South America, but there’s no question that Rio de Janeiro, with its stunning harbor, iconic landmarks and festive vibe, is the city to see on the continent. Rio checks all the boxes for an elite world-class destination, so it was a no-brainer to include it on the list while trying to capture the dazzling energy superimposed over the city’s dramatic natural setting in the artwork.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Few images of South America are as recognizable as the ruins of Machu Picchu, perched high up in the Peruvian Andes. Though bad weather thwarted my own attempt to see it firsthand, the entire land of the Incas – from the Sacred Valley to the capital of Cuzco – is a breathtaking panorama and feather in any world traveler’s cap.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

This massive salt pan is the largest on Earth, though the desolate landscape would seem more at home on the moon. This is a major tourist draw for visitors to landlocked Bolivia, and if I ever get the chance, I can’t wait to take in the stark beauty of this immense (over 3,900 square miles) natural attraction.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

As one of the Top 3 waterfalls in the world, Iguazu Falls, separating Argentina from Chile in a raging collection of frothing cataracts, was an absolute must-have on the travel goal master checklist. I haven’t personally been there yet, and it’s the kind of place you have to go out of your way to see, but by all accounts this is a breathtaking natural wonder that earns its spot in the top 72.

Torres del Paine, Chile

Though I’ve been to Chilean Patagonia, I didn’t have time to visit this iconic mountain destination in the lower reaches of the South American continent. But from photos I’ve seen, it is definitely a landmark worthy of inclusion on the travel goals master checklist, and well-encapsulates the alpine scenery that typifies the region.

Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

This narrow channel of water between the Antarctic Peninsula and a series of icy coastal islands is a common feature on Antarctic cruises, and therefore more “accessible” than other spots on this exceedingly difficult to visit continent. My fondest memories were of icebergs hued in shades of electric blue, and the antics of penguins who used them as their personal jungle gym, so coming up with the artwork was a labor of love.

How Many Have You Visited?

Order your own Travel Goals Master Checklist today!

So far I’ve covered 24 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

Stay tuned for Part III . . .

Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in South America and Antarctica that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!

Bite Size Destination Throwback: Peru 2010

Keep the subject interesting, such as here in Chinchero, Peru

It’s now been over a decade since I visited the Inca wonderland of Peru. The awesomeness of the country is evident in that fact that even though everything went wrong (Machu Picchu closed for mudslides, my dad winding up in the hospital for respiratory problems, an unexpected extended stay) it was still an incredible destination. Looking back, it’s not the bad stuff I remember, it’s the majesty of the Andes, the massive glory of the fortress of Ollantaytambo, and most of all, the warmth and friendliness of the local Peruvians I was fortunate enough to meet.

Destination: Peru

Year: 2010

Llocals with their llama, Cuzco, Peru

What Brought Me There

When I was a young boy, I distinctly remember seeing an image of Machu Picchu in an old book and thinking: someday I have to go here! In February of 2010 I thought I would finally get to reach that goal. But a series of mudslides damaged the train route to that remote citadel, and the government decided to close the site for a month – very inconveniently during the time I was scheduled to arrive with my dad as a week-long pre-trip to a Central American cruise. As a consolation prize, I got to spend my time in the amazing Sacred Valley, which also was the setting for one of my favorite unscripted travel moments.

What I Loved

Yet Another Llama, Sachsayhuaman Fortress, Cuzco, Peru

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Cuzco, the Andes took my breath away – both figuratively and literally. The lush green mountains and terraced slopes were everything I had imagined it would be. In particular I was fascinated by the Inca ruins with their incredibly fitted stones that have kept them standing when so many less-quality buildings have been destroyed.

Most of all I loved the people. Even though I was incredibly stressed at my dad’s health situation, to a person they treated me kindly, and made me feel welcome despite the obvious fact that I was a tourist. Even on the darkest day I had there, I can still fondly think back on sitting on a terrace overlooking the main square in Cuzco, after a meal of pollo asado washed down with super-sweet Inka Cola, and feeling a measure of contentment through all that anxiety. To me, that’s a great testament to the character of the place.

What I Would Do If I Went Back

As already mentioned, Machu Picchu still remains untouched by my footsteps, and I would welcome the chance to finally get to stand atop that world famous landmark that mesmerized me as a young child and gaze about. I would also like the chance to check out the Rainbow Mountain and make my way towards the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca.

Have you been to Peru? Share your favorite moment in the comments below. And if you want a great Peru souvenir, check out the Peru Rugged Country Code Tee in the Custom Travel Art Shop.

The Witty Traveler’s Guide to Cuzco & The Sacred Valley

For decades the forlorn majesty of the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu have drawn travelers the world over. Ever since I first saw that first picture of those terraced green slopes precariously protruding out of the Andean jungle, I vowed to someday see it for myself. So I booked the flights, arranged my transport and lodging, and felt that thrill of knowing nothing was going to stop me from realizing my dream. Then, in early 2010, something did—namely water. Lots of it. Whole mountainsides full of it. So much water that the flooding and ensuing mudslides critically damaged the only infrastructure to and from that iconic outpost, with repairs due a very inconvenient month or so after I was scheduled to return home.


However, due to a bizarre combination of factors that might possibly disrupt the time/space continuum if I tried to explain it, it would have cost more for me to cancel my trip to Peru than to go. So, in order to protect the universe as we know it, I went, and in return received the mother of all consolation prizes: A memorable stay in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley completely unencumbered by that show-stealing, wanderlust-inducing prima donna up to its neck in water less than 100 miles away. Yes, the sideshow had become the main attraction and I couldn’t have been happier.

Despite my clever moniker, I need to be (kind of) serious for just one paragraph. If you intend to visit Cuzco or any other location situated over 11 thousand feet above sea level, be certain your lungs can handle it. Not five minutes after disembarking the plane, my father, whom I was traveling with, began struggling to breathe. Apparently the high altitude exacerbated a previously unknown respiratory infection, so instead of joining me in this Inca wonderland, he spent most of his time in a Peruvian clinic, sucking down giant tanks of oxygen like it was…well…air. Granted, this was an extreme and unforeseen case, but I would be remiss if I didn’t pass that nugget of information along. So, if you don’t want to go the way of the conquistadores, see your doctor first before you book. That said, most people suffer little more than some mild shortness of breath and fatigue when they first arrive, which dissipates rather quickly the longer you stay.

Cuzco, once the capital of the far-flung Incan Empire and believed by them to be the center of the world, fell to Spanish invaders in the 1500’s. In turn, the new overlords denuded the city of its riches, tore down many structures and promptly built their own right on top of the existing (and much sturdier) Inca-built foundations. The result is a unique mix of architecture that blends Old World charm with even Older World engineering. Inca masonry consists of blocks of hewn stone in irregular shapes and sizes so perfectly fit together without mortar, that in many spots it would be really difficult to fit a knife blade between them. Picture in your mind a massive game of organic Tetris (cue maddeningly addicting music here) and you’ve got the idea.

At the hub of this menagerie of terra cotta and plaster is Plaza de Armas, the main square and site of the city’s famous cathedral. Branching off in all directions are narrow streets lined with souvenir shops, hole–in-the-wall restaurants, and indigenous people dressed in traditional garb standing next to the family llama, hoping for a few coins in return for the photo op. Seriously, there were so many llamas everywhere that I felt I was trapped in the end credits of Monty Python & the Holy Grail (you Anglophiles know exactly what I’m talking about).

Llocals with their llama, Cuzco
Llocals with their llama, Cuzco

Llamas aside, there are also a few museums and churches of note, but my favorite experience by far was just wandering the backstreets (not too far back—the neighborhoods can get kind of gritty), perusing the alpaca-centric handicrafts, and enjoying a grilled meat dinner (at times alpaca-centric as well) to be washed down with a pisco sour (the national drink) or a bottle of hyper-sweet Inca Kola, which I highly recommend for anyone who has ever wondered what liquefied bubble gum would taste like.

Once you’ve satisfied your taste for colonial Spanish culture, it’s time to venture outside the city limits to see those Inca ruins that bring so many people here in the first place. At this point I must stress the necessity of having already purchased a Cuzco Visitor’s Ticket, which grants entrance to most attractions both in the city and in outlying regions. If not, you may find yourself stuck outside with the llamas. Most visitors opt for conveniently packaged tours that take in the numerous ruins on the outskirts of town, which can be arranged ahead of time or by one of the many travel agencies in town which rival the llamas in terms of sheer numbers. Since I was divvying my time between sightseeing and my father’s bedside, I can also vouch for the simplicity of just negotiating a price with a local cab driver, which will likely not be as informative, but certainly more flexible to your schedule.

Yet Another Llama, Sachsayhuaman Fortress, Cuzco, Peru
Yet Another Llama, Sachsayhuaman Fortress, Cuzco, Peru

The largest attraction just outside of town, is by far the imposing ruins of the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, perched on a bluff overlooking the city. Pronounced as the English term sexy woman, though with no apparent correlation, this cluster of monolithic stones and grassy ramparts made me wonder how any army might have gained mastery of it while being defended. It also made me wonder what I was thinking in telling my wife later on that I went to see Sacsayhuaman (sexy woman) today. And since her appreciation of the subtleties of Quechua terminology are tragically limited, I emptied my pockets of coins and took a great picture of an adorable baby llama just for her as sort of a peace offering.

Not much farther down the road are the ruins of Qenko, Puca Pucara, and Tambo Machay. Here there are great examples of traditional trapezoidal-shaped doorways and windows, an ancient altar, and just a great Inca vibe. In fact, most of the aforementioned ruins just begged the questions: Where is Indiana Jones? Where are they hiding that giant rolling boulder? And what’s with all these llamas? Now that you’ve whetted your appetite for all things Inca, it’s time to venture out into the heartland—the Sacred Valley.

Leaving the congestion of Cuzco behind, a favorite stop is Pisac, known for its colorful market and terraced hillsides above the town. Once again shopping opportunities abound, and yes, you can take a picture with a llama here as well. Following the meandering (and as was the case during my visit) swollen banks of the Urubamba River past the small, touristy town that bears the same name, visitors arrive at what could easily be the main attraction if it weren’t for that ‘other’ set of ruins that people come to see—the living Inca town of Ollantaytambo.

Citadel, Ollantaytambo, Peru
Citadel, Ollantaytambo, Peru

Nestled at the base of the verdant valley, the terraced layers reach precipitously upward, forming an amphitheater with stunning views of the village below. Approaching the top of the fortress—once a strategic military post—there is an impressive set of granite monoliths forming a wall that both attests to the endurance of Inca craftsmanship, and leaves one silently pondering just how many llamas were necessary to haul them up there.

Back on the valley floor, there are preserved examples of stone irrigation and other structures that give a glimpse into the past, so long as you can envision the town without souvenir stalls. Still, standing there and looking around at the remaining buildings clinging to the mountainsides and absorbing the authenticity and sense of history, it was completely possible for me to say “Machu who?”

I know quite well that Cuzco and the Sacred Valley will always play second fiddle to the diva out in the hills, and honestly, I’d welcome the chance to return and compare them for myself. But to all potential travelers to the area, I say make some room for exploring the stage, not just its biggest star, and your trip to Peru will have been worth the effort. If not, you can take comfort in knowing that somewhere, very close, there will be a llama waiting just for you.

Why The World Heritage List Should Be On Yours

What do the Great Pyramid, Great Barrier Reef, and Great Wall of China all have in common, besides the title “great”? Interestingly, it is the same thing they have in common with the Tower of London, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Give up? They are all considered World Heritage Sites, a designation by UNESCO-the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China
Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Regarding the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s stated goal is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” In layman’s terms, it seeks to preserve the most meaningful, historic and naturally beautiful places on earth. And while the list’s occupants such as the historic center of Rome, or the Galapagos Islands may be familiar to most people, their status among the world’s premier destinations may be relatively unknown.

When it comes time for me to begin considering ideas for a trip—also known as: always—my first order of business is to peruse a given destination’s World Heritage Sites. It’s been my experience that in the 66 WHS I’ve visited (out of 981 total worldwide) every last one was worth the trip. Most are no-brainers. I mean, who doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal when in India? But there are lesser-known sites that were like finding hidden treasure. A case in point is the Goreme National Park, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This unique collection of troglodyte dwellings and surreal rock-formations is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever heard of—let alone visited. So as a rule of thumb, when considering a destination, always check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites within striking distance. Your photo album will thank you for it.

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

To find a complete list of World Heritage Sites along with more information, you can log onto the official web site at There is also a fantastic unofficial site at where travelers the world over post their comments, observations and words of wonder at these bright spots on the world map. After perusing them yourself, you just may be so moved with appreciation to include one or two of these World Heritage Sites on your next trip at home or abroad.

Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Tell me about it!