Where To Get New York’s Best Hot Chocolate This Winter

hot chocolate While New York has many worthwhile offerings during the holidays – seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating at Bryant Park, browsing the many holiday markets – the bitter cold of the city makes it important to know where to go for a hot beverage. Home to many cozy bars, restaurants and cafes, you’ll have numerous options, including R Lounge in the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel.

Chilly travelers can take in 360-degree views of Times Square and beyond while sipping special hot chocolates relating to the month’s holiday and season, each served with a complimentary sweet. There will also be ongoing chef selection choices including Milk Hot Chocolate, Dark Hot Chocolate and White Hot Chocolate made with homemade marshmallows, fresh fruit, chocolate shavings and various other toppings. If you’re in the mood to get a bit tipsy, you can add Grand Marnier, Rum, Franjelico or Baileys to any cocoa.

In November, cinnamon churros are served with beverages like Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate, Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate and Hot Apple Cider. If visiting in December, you’ll get a free piece of peppermint bark as well as Peppermint Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Hot Chocolate or Mulled Wine. In January, seasonal flavors include Frozen Hot Chocolate, Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Mocha Hot Chocolate served with peppermint meringue and chocolate ganache. And in February, meringue cookies come with cocoas like Lavender Hot Chocolate, Strawberry White Hot Chocolate and Hot Chocolate With Coffee.

Hot chocolates are $8, or $18 when you add liquor.

[Image via R Lounge]

What You Need To Know To Successfully Hike The Inca Trail


machu picchu


For those looking to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, there is a lot of conflicting information when you search the web. To help you prepare and do it right, here is a guide on how to successfully hike the Inca Trail.

Why Hike To Machu Picchu

If you’re just looking to see Machu Picchu, you don’t necessarily have to hike, as there are also bus and train options. That being said, I personally recommend hiking to it if you are physically able to do so. By hiking the Inca Trail, you’re immersing yourself in the world of the Incas that much more by traversing the same path they did hundreds of years ago. You’ll visit numerous other ruins along the way, making the information your guides give you more visual. And, the sense of pride you’ll feel once you reach Machu Picchu on foot will be well worth any of the harder sections of the trek.

Getting In

Fly into Cuzco, Peru. This is where tour companies leave from, and where you’ll have your orientation the night before the trek.When To Book

While I’m usually a bit of a slacker when it comes to booking in advance, believing tour companies just advise you to book in advance to lock you in, this is not one of those times. When I did my trek in June, I booked in November. A friend of mine who wanted to join me attempted to book the same trip in February, but it was already filled up. As soon as you know your dates, make a reservation.

The reason for this is regulations allow only 500 permits to be given per day. This covers about 200 tourists and 300 guides/porters. They’re issued on a first-come, first-serve basis until all permits have been sold out. If you’re trying to go in June through August, book six months in advance. For those looking to go April through May or September through October, four to five months in advance should be good. Even during the low season it’s still best to try to get your permit three to four months in advance as to not risk missing out.


dead woman's pass


Who To Go With

Hikers are not permitted to do the trek on their own and must go with a licensed tour company. Important things to consider when booking include how knowledgeable their tour guides are, if they’re bilingual (if you don’t speak Spanish), how they treat their porters, their stance on environment issues, how well they feed the hikers and group size. While price may be a concern, make sure to really consider why a company is so much cheaper than others. If it’s because they don’t give their porters proper gear or skimp on food, opt for the more expensive company.

I went with Llama Path, and would highly recommend them. The guides had both gone for special schooling to allow them to work in Peru’s tourism industry, and there wasn’t a question they couldn’t answer on Inca history. While informative, they were friendly with the hikers as well as the porters. The porters were treated well, having special uniforms, eating adequate meals and being made to feel like part of the group, despite the fact they didn’t hike with us during the day. As for food for the hikers, expect to eat a lot. Because you’ll be trekking almost non-stop, you’ll be constantly hungry. Each day we received a snack bag, as well as three buffet-style meals and a before-dinner tea time with hot drinks and snacks. And in the morning, you’ll be woken up with a cup of hot tea and a hot towel brought to your tent.

Another reason this company really stands out is how on the last day they made us wake up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the Sun Gate before any other group. While that may sound torturous, being the only group at Machu Picchu and having the awe-inspiring site all to ourselves was an unreal experience.

If you’re the backpacker type, you may want to look into doing a group tour with GAdventures. While I didn’t personally participate in their Inca Trail experience, their group was directly ahead of mine the entire time. I spoke with the hikers in their group – all of whom seemed to be in the young 20s to early 30s hostel crowd. They all seemed to be having a great time, loved their guides and were being well fed.

Physical Preparations

The hike is moderate, and if you’re in decent physical condition you should be able to do it. That being said, the trek reaches heights of 13,600 feet, and everyone is affected by altitude differently. Make sure to arrive into Cuzco a few days earlier to acclimate, get plenty of rest and avoid alcohol on the days leading up to the trek.

Additionally, the trail is about 30 miles total with some very challenging sections, particularly day two. First thing in the morning you trek two hours straight uphill, followed by two hours straight down, break for lunch, then continue hiking. If you’re not in shape – or even if you are – it can be quite difficult. While you don’t need to be a marathon runner, I’d suggest hitting the gym to get your endurance up beforehand.


inca trail


Packing Tips

While your company will most likely give you a packing list the night before your trek, you’ll probably want to know what you need beforehand so you’re not scrambling around.

  • To enter the Inca Trail, you’ll need your passport, which they’ll stamp for you at the entrance.
  • Bring cash with you, not only to tip your porters and guides, but to purchase snacks at some of the small villages you pass along the way.
  • Make sure to bring some waterproof clothing, shoes, a poncho and a rain jacket, as the weather can be unpredictable and you do not want to be hiking for hours in wet clothing.
  • A four-season or below 10-degree sleeping bag will keep you much warmer during chilly nights than a regular one will.
  • You’ll want to dress in layers, as your body temperature will be changing from hot to cold frequently. Additionally, warm clothing and accessories at night are a must.
  • Pack some plastic bags to ensure your clothing stays dry.
  • Don’t forget your insect repellent.
  • You’ll be reaching high altitudes and spending hours in the sun, so sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat can help protect your skin.
  • Bring medications and basic toiletries only. You probably won’t be showering unless you opt to use the cold non-complimentary showers on the third day.
  • Pack your camera, and make sure to bring spare batteries. You won’t have electricity for four days, and you’ll be taking hundreds of photos.
  • Bring toilet paper and antiseptic hand gel, as you’ll be using the “Inca toilet,” also known as the bushes, quite a bit. When there is a real toilet, it will be of the squat variety.
  • Once you’re done hiking, you’re going to want sandals to rest your feet in.
  • At night you’re going to need a flashlight. Better yet, a headlamp allows you to successfully complete the hike at dawn on the final day.
  • Your tour company will supply boiled water for you to drink, but make sure to bring a water bottle to put it in.
  • While I tried to be tough and not bring the recommended walking sticks, I will admit I wish I had them. Luckily, one girl shared hers with me and the hike was much more enjoyable.
  • If you’ll be going swimming in the hot pools in the town of Aguas Calientes bring a swimsuit. Towels can be rented there.
  • While you’ll be fed a lot as long as you go with a reputable company, I would still recommend bringing extra snacks. With all the hiking you’ll be doing, constant hunger is inevitable.

I would recommend not renting gear through your tour company, as rental shops like Speedy Gonzalez at 393 Procuradores in Cuzco are cheaper.


inca trail


What To Expect On The Trail

Machu Picchu isn’t the only Inca site you’ll see when doing the Inca Trail. You’ll pass sites like Q’entimarka (shown above), Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna, some of which are surprisingly developed and each of which had specific purposes for the Incas. Expect tough yet scenic sections of trekking as well as alternating climates mixed with stops at ruins and historical discussions. For example, along the way our group learned how the Incas survived longer than other cultures. This was mainly due to their ability to predict natural disasters by finding strange seashells not common in Peru. Additionally, we talked about how at first the Incas believed the Spaniards were the gods they had been waiting for and were friendly toward them until they started killing off their people. We also discussed the Incas informal language system, which incorporated colored strings, knots and sounds made by shells.

Inca Trail Alternatives

If you didn’t book the Inca Trail early enough to reserve a spot but still want to hike to Machu Pichu, some worthwhile alternatives are the Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Ancascocha Trek. These hikes will take you past Inca ruins and beautiful scenery, while also allowing you the sense of accomplishment when you reach Machu Picchu on the final day. Wait until you arrive in Cuzco to book these alternative treks, as you can save more than 50%.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey]

Aurora Expeditions Offers Free Polar Bear Photography Workshops In The Arctic

polar bear For any traveler whose bucket list includes visiting the Arctic, Aurora Expeditions is giving you a reason to cross it off in 2013: free polar bear photography workshops.

From August 5 to 18, 2013, cruise, passengers will explore the Arctic areas of Spitsbergen and eastern Greenland before docking in beautiful Isafjordur, Iceland. During the trip, they will have the opportunity to take complimentary polar bear photography classes with Moab Master photographer Joshua Holko and professional wildlife and nature photographer Daniel Bergmann. All levels are welcome, and participants will also get the chance to take pictures of walruses, Arctic fox and reindeer. Prices for this trip start at $7,748 per person, with the trip departing from Longyearbyen in Svalbard.

The company will be also be offering a free wildlife photography workshop aboard their 54-passenger “Polar Pioneer” cruise to Antarctica from November 9 to 23, 2013, with opportunities to photograph seals, whales and penguins. The journey departs from Patagonia’s Ushuaia and ends in the Falkland Islands, giving photographers special access into areas usually restricted to scientific research. Passengers will also explore the Lemaire Channel, the Gerlache Strait and the geothermal Deception Island. The 14-night sail/fly voyage starts at $9,990 per person.

To learn more about Joshua Holko’s photography, click here.

[Image via Shutterstock]

10 Farm-To-Table Restaurants In Vancouver, Canada

diva at the met During a recent visit to Vancouver, Canada, it was apparent many restaurants are trying to create sustainable, farm-to-table menus. It’s a great city if you’re an eco-conscious traveler due to the many options for any price level. To help guide you, here are some top picks for morally conscious cuisine in Vancouver.

Diva at the Met
645 Howe Street

I’m not sure there are any other restaurants in the city that take creative sustainability to the level Diva at the Met does. Chef Hamid Salimian and his team enjoy foraging when they can, even for the organic matters like stones, driftwood and torched bark that make up the snack plates. Chef Salimian visualizes what most can not even fathom, while remaining as organic as possible. For example, a slice of chicken bacon from a biodiverse farm might be brined and smoked for days and come on a stone slab, while a squid ink-infused mussel bread will be topped with roe and made to look like coral. Seafood comes from Ocean Wise-certified providers, while produce comes from farms with high crop biodiversity. In terms of farms, most of their produce comes from North Arm Farm, Sapo Bravo, Glourish Organics and Cherry Lane Farm. Although an upscale restaurant, meals can be affordable, with prices ranging from $19 to $38 for an entree, to the five-course tasting menu at $55 and the seven-course tasting menu at $75.Cibo Trattoria
900 Seymour Street

Like Diva at the Met, Cibo Trattoria immerses you in a relaxed, romantic ambiance. However, while Diva focuses on surreal gastronomy, Cibo Trattoria serves up rustic Italian fare with a modern twist. What’s really interesting at this venue is they change their menu daily, focusing on what’s fresh and in-season. While certain meats and cheeses come from Italy to get authenticity, much of their ingredients are locally sourced from British Columbia farms, with deliveries coming daily. For example, their radishes come from Aldergrove while their watercress is purchased from Hannah Brooks Farm in Langley. Typical dishes may include a handmade paccheri pasta with meatballs, oregano, San Marzano tomatoes and ricotta salada, crispy ox tongue with marinated heirloom peppers or roast bone marrow garlic and parsley bread crumbs and apple salad. They also do seasonally inspired dishes for fresh ingredients, like pumpkin ravioli with chili, garlic, marjoram and amaretti. You can sample local wines from the Okanagan and Fraser valleys. And although they have to reprint their menus daily, all printouts are done on recycled paper, which is also recycled after use. The menu includes affordable small plates as well as pastas for about $15 and entrees for less than $30.

c restaurant C Restaurant
1600 Howe Street

As the founding restaurant in the Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise Program, C Restaurant was one of the first in Vancouver to deconstruct seafood supply lines, dealing directly with the fisherman to ensure a product that is of the highest quality and ethical sensitivity. Since the restaurant focuses on seasonal freshness, there really isn’t a signature dish. Instead, its signature is to utilize sustainable seafood and local produce as much as possible. Not only is their food sustainable, but their wine program features vintages from British Columbia’s Okanagan Region, as well as global wines made with an organic and biodynamic philosophy. The restaurant is contemporary, with entrees averaging $30.

Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro
572 Davie Street

You don’t need to eat at an upscale restaurant to enjoy a sustainable meal. And with Vancouver having myriad sushi establishments, it would be wrong not to include one on this list. Located in Yaletown, Juno Vancouver Sushi Bistro doesn’t simply churn out rolls, they focus on high-quality cuisine and fresh ingredients, employing only serious Japanese chefs. Ingredients include wild seafood, natural beef, free-range chicken and heritage KUROBUTA pork, all locally-sourced from British Columbia farms. If you’re in the mood for a local drink, Juno serves sakes from the Granville Island Artisan Sake Maker and BC “Vintners Quality Alliance” (VQA) wines.

raincity grill Raincity Grill
1193 Denman Street

This high-end restaurant opened in 1992 with a menu that featured locally-sourced food. Eventually, Raincity Grill also added their signature 100-mile menu, which showcased items with ingredients from within 100-miles of Vancouver.

“Our menu is a tribute to the local farmers, fisherman and producers of British Columbia,” it states on their homepage. “The Chef sources out the best organic, sustainable products available … ‘Farm-to-table’ has become a recent catchphrase but at Raincity Grill it has been a philosophy for twenty years.”

Some specific sustainable menu items include “Brioche French Toast” with Fraser Valley compote and house-made huckleberry syrup, a “Spinach And Berry” salad with North Arm Farm spinach, local berries and Okanagan goat’s cheese and “Fraser Valley Duck Breast” with wild coastal huckleberries. If you’re on a budget, check out their $10 fish and chips window. Libations are also in line with their ‘go local’ philosophy, as the restaurant serves wines from the Pacific West Coast.

Edible Canada Bistro
1596 Johnston Street

Located on Granville Island, Edible Canada‘s bistro does an excellent job of supporting the farm-to-feast philosophy. While their food is fresh and locally grown, even using onsite plant boxes of herbs and produce and making use of the adjacent public market, their efforts extend beyond eating. In fact, the venue features tabletops made of recycled fir tree, hostess stands created with discarded beach cedar and two complimentary charging stations for electric vehicles. As for drinks, they’re spearheading the revolution of offering wine on tap, an environmentally-friendly way to serve vino as it eliminates the packaging and, because 27% of glass is recovered for recycling, stops millions of bottles from going to the landfill. Menu items range from $11 to $28, while their bacon window also offers inexpensive eats.

the templeton The Templeton
1087 Granville Street

Located in Vancouver’s lively entertainment district, The Templeton is an old-fashioned retro diner serving comfort food in a sustainable way. Most ingredients are organic and locally sourced, and there are an array of vegetarian and vegan options, like lentil loaf, tofu omelets, Portobello mushroom burgers and veggie bacon. If you’re a carnivore, The Templeton features organic, free-range and non-medicated meats. Best of all, this venue is cheap to moderately priced with $10 burgers, $10 fish and chips and $16 steaks. Finish it off with a $5 deep-fried Mars bar.

Trafalgar’s Bistro
2603 West 16th Avenue

Trafalgars Bistro and adjacent Sweet Obsession bakery in Kitsilano are pioneers when it comes to sustainability. In the summer of 2011, the venues launched a recycling and composting initiative that was the first of its kind by installing a Green Good composting system. By doing this, they were able to eliminate all organic waste going to landfill, with 99% of the remaining trash being recycled. Additionally, their strong association with Inner City Farms means they can make use of their compost in Vancouver’s urban gardens. In terms of food, their seafood is certified Ocean Wise, all meats are unmedicated and free-range and produce is almost always locally sourced. While the ambiance suggests fine dining, it’s actually a casual and affordable place to eat, with entrees ranging from $17 to $30 and a three-course menu for $30.

blue water cafe + raw bar Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
1095 Hamilton Street

Located in Yaletown, the casual yet elegant Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar has always focused on farm-to-table and ocean-to-table. All seafood is delivered to their kitchen daily and only the absolute freshest, exceptional quality fish and shellfish are selected. Most of them are line caught, trap caught or sustainably farmed in British Columbia. During the month of February, they even feature an annual Unsung Heroes Festival, which introduces diners to new experiences and flavors using abundant fish species, showcasing to people options other than over-fished varieties. It’s no surprise the establishment is Ocean Wise, with swimming scallops from the Gulf Islands, Kusshi oysters and Reed oysters from B.C. and sustainably-farmed sturgeon from Sechelt. A typical entree is about $34.

La Pentola
322 Davie Street

Recently opened in September 2012, La Pentola serves up gourmet Italian dishes while also incorporating the Italian philosophy to source locally. In Italy, the regions are diverse because specific ingredients are important to different areas. Additionally, there are a vast amount of quality, artisanal products and farms around Vancouver, which La Pentola makes use of by working with them to create their dishes. For example, the restaurant uses squab from local livestock farms. Their dish has a sauce made from grapes, and a walla walla onion puree where both ingredients come from local Stoney Paradise Farm. To La Pentola, being cutting edge also means holding yourself accountable to the environment and the community. Expect to pay about $6 to $17 for a starter, $12/$13 for a pasta and $30 for an entree.

[Images via Diva at the Met, C Restaurant, Raincity Grill, The Templeton, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar]

London Bartender Makes World’s Oldest And Most Expensive Cocktail




World-renowned mixologist Salvatore Calabrese has recently broken the Guinness World Record for making the world’s most expensive cocktail, “Salvatore’s Legacy.”

The video above shows Calabrese creating the concoction in London at Salvatore at Playboy, using the world’s most expensive and oldest spirits. The total price of the drink is $8,830. Supposedly, the “world’s leading cocktail expert” had to get creative and modify his recipe after a customer dropped and smashed a $77,480 bottle of cognac.

Curious as to exactly what’s in it? According to The Atlantic Cities, the recipe calls for “40 mL of 1788 Clos de Griffier Champagne Cognac, 20 mL of 1770 Kümmel herbal liqueur, 20 mL of 1860 Dubb orange curacao and two dashes of Angostura Bitters, a combination that involves a collective 730 years.”

Check out the video above to see the lavish libation being made by Calabrese.