Hawaii, Exploring the Big Island

At the beginning of June my wife Lily and I along with a friend from Peru and her daughter, took a nine day trip to the big island of Hawaii. My wife and I like to try new placed when we travel and since we had visited the island of Maui on a previous trip, we decided to check out the big island on this time.

We arrived in Kona late on day one and collected our car, which we rented through Turo, for those that may not be familiar with Turo, it is like Airbnb but for vehicles, so you are renting someones private vehicle. We had rented a car through Turo in Miami and it worked out well so we tried it again, and again everything with the car rental went well, so I would recommend this app for those needing a vehicle when they travel.

For this trip we used our time share points and stayed at Diamond resorts Sea Mountain resort, which is within walking distance from the Punalu’u Black Sand beach, but is also a bit isolated from most services so we decided to do our grocery shopping on the way (our unit had a full kitchen). One minor miss calculation was in the size of car we chose, we booked a compact car which had enough room for the 4 of us and our luggage (1 carry-on per person and a bag or small backpack), but we did not think about the groceries which made the roughly1-1/2 hour drive a little uncomfortable, but we managed.

We arrived late and their self check-in process went smoothly and was fairly simple, there is a phone and lock box, you call a number and are given a code to the lock-box which has an envelope with your unit keys and other information. The only complaint that I have about the arrival was that no where out front does the sign say “Sea Mountain Resort”, there is a sign across the street for the Sea Mountain golf course, but the resort sign actually says something like Colony 1 Condominiums, so we went passed it a couple of times before deciding to check it out.

The unit we rented was a 1 bedroom that sleeps 4, I don’t know if I would really consider what we had to be a one bedroom, to me a separate room should have a wall and door, the bedroom area in the unit was separated, but had no actual division between the bedroom area and the rest of the unit. The unit itself was clean, comfortable, and well appointed for 4 people.

Our first full day on the island started off foggy and rainy, but by the time we were ready to get moving it was clearing up. We decided to stick close for the first day and just went to the nearby black sand beach at Punalu’u, which is really close enough to walk to if you wanted. The beach here is nice, there are areas to lay out on the sand and there is some shade, the beach has life guards and some stalls selling souvenirs and snacks. The main draw here is the black sand, which is rather coarse but is jet black in color so it gets hot if it is sunny. During our time on the island there were also turtles that were visiting the beach, feeding off the vegetation growing on the rocks and sunning on the sand and rocks. There is fresh water entering the bay here as well which not only causes temperature variations in the water, but also makes the water appear cloudy if you are snorkeling due to the different densities between the fresh and salt waters.

Day three we had planned to visit the beaches to the East (SE section of the island), but most of the travel sites we used to research our trip have not been updated since the last eruption, consequently they do not tell you than many of the beaches along the Southeast coast are now under fresh lava flows. We did have a nice drive this day, got to see the new flows, made our way up to Hilo and did some snorkeling at Richardson Ocean Park, which was a nice location, and we were able to do a little more shopping.

For day four we opted to visit some beaches along the Southwest cost of the island. Honaunau Bay was our first stop and ended up being my favorite snorkeling location of the trip, there is not much sand, but the reef is close and has some good deep areas. There is a nice shallow bay near the sandy beach that gets a good variety of smaller colorful fish, but just off the rocks to the right (looking to the water from the beach) the water drops off fairly quick to a depth of about 12 – 15 feet or more, making it a good location for seeing some larger fish but care should be taken when entering or exiting here as the waves can make things difficult. One down side to this location is that there is limited parking in the area, mainly just street parking, with a small church run parking lot near the beach that charges $5.00.

The other beaches we visited on day four were Kahalu’u Beach Park and Ho’okena Beach park, both of these were nice with adequate parking, sandy beach areas and life guards, but their reefs were further out than at Honaunau Bay and the currents at Ho’okena Beach were a bit stronger when we were their, making it less suited for novice swimmers, but this may have just been due to the time of day that we visited.

On day five we started by checking out the Kona Inn Shopping Village and then had lunch at the Kona Canoe Club. Lunch was good, we hit happy hour so the drinks were almost ½ price and I had a Mai Tai and a tuna melt. The tuna melt was small but good and was served open faced with tuna, avocado and cheddar cheese on top. After lunch we went to Walmart for more shopping and then went to the Royal Kona Resort in the evening for a luau. For the luau we paid the extra $7 per-person for VIP seating (up front) and had some good seats, but we felt that the actual show was a little shorter than the one that we saw when we were in Maui, but the show and food were good and overall we enjoyed the evening.

One of the more unique beaches that we read about when planning was the green sand beach, and this was our destination for day six. The day started out clear and sunny and it was not a very far drive to the parking area from Sea Mountain where we were staying. The initial plan was to walk, but the terrain looked rough and dusty and did not appear to have much shade at all, so we opted to take one of the local shuttle trucks. These are mostly 4wd pickups that are not likely street legal anymore as they were not in the best shape, but they get you there and back. The locals charge $10 per-person each way for this service and some of the people that walked to the beach, chose to use the shuttle trucks to return, saying that it was well worth the cost. Based on discussions with some of those that walked, hiking times seemed vary between 1-1/2 to 2 hours one way. One couple that arrive at the parking area the same time as we did had also returned at the same time, they indicated that they did the round trip in 1 hour, I do not see this being likely as I saw them at the beach and I doubt they were there for more than 30 min at the beach, we were there for about 3 hours. Overall the green sand is interesting but I do not think it was worth the $20 round trip cost, nor the time spent visiting it. The green color is not that pronounced and at least when we were there, there area was not good for snorkeling, so there was not much more to do than tan and swim, which can be done on any beach on the island.

This is a composite of two photos, the right side is a normal photograph and shows the actual coloring. The left side of the picture was taken with increased color saturation, and shows how people can make photos look better than what you would really see.

We chose to make day seven a relaxed day and made a second trip to black sand beach, the water ended up being more choppy this day, making the snorkeling not so enjoyable, so I only spent about an hour in the water, but I got some good shots of what I believe were hawk beak sea turtles. Lily and our friend enjoyed the sun and sand until about 3pm when clouds started to move in and light rain had started. Shortly after the ladies returned to the resort it started raining hard and continued on and off for the remainder of the day.

A trip to the big island would not be complete with out visiting the volcano and seeing lava right? This was the plan for our last full tourist day on the Island, but spoiler alert, as of June 10, 2019 there is no flowing lava on the island. We did though visit the volcano cone and the visitors center and found the center to be informative, and the volcano offered some nice views and a few steam vents. The visitors center has a nice video about the history and formation of the islands, which is well worth the time watching it (about 15 minutes I think).

We had to check out of the resort at 10:00am and our flights were not until 10:00 pm that night, so I dropped Lily off at the beach (she can never get enough beach) and I went with our friends to Walmart so they could do some final shopping before leaving. Due to the cost of some things in Peru, they purchased a new luggage set and filled it with vitamins, clothing and other assorted items and souvenirs. After several hours of shopping we picked up Lily from the beach and then made on final stop at Costco (and got ice cream) before going to the airport where we left the car in the parking lot and checked in for our flights.

The flights home were uneventful, we flew Hawaii to LA, then on to Las Vegas (our friends had a longer and more complicated route back to Peru). I enjoyed our trip to the big island, but like Maui the best so far, still have a couple more islands to check before I say that any one of them is my favorite.

Authored by Lyle Walker, Photos by Lyle Walker

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The New Chinchero Airport

Anyone that has followed my previous blog “A Gringos Life in Cusco”, or has read more than a few of my posts, knows that I do my best to be accurate with my statements, and do not intend to mislead travelers, honestly there is more than enough misleading information on the web these days without me adding to it. Recently a past guest shared an article with me about the new airport that is planned to be built in Chinchero, and all I can think is ‘Welcome to the misinformation club’.

The article was written by Greg Dickinson, published by The Telegraph and is titled “New Machu Picchu airport threatens ‘irreparable damage’ to Inca wonder” and the title is where I noticed the first bad bit of information. The airport is not going to be even close to Machu Picchu, it is planned to be in the town of Chinchero and really poses no threat to the “Inca Wonder”. If the implication of damage to Machu Picchu is based on the possibility of more flights bringing more tourists each day, then that does not hold water either as the limits are set by the government and not based on how many people visit the Cusco region. For example in 2015 there were about 2.3 million visitors to Cusco, but only about 1.5 million visitors to Machu Picchu.

Chinchero Church
Chinchero Church

“So what if the title is a little off” you say, well lets continue on. Paragraph #1 reads “Historians, archaeologists and tourism lobbying groups have joined forces to fight against the development of a new international airport, which will fly tourists direct to Machu Picchu.” Again an inaccurate statement, the Chinchero airport will be 35 miles from Machu Picchu as the crow flies, but more realistically it will still be about a 4 hour journey from the new airport to Machu Picchu, because visitors will still have to take a combination of vehicle and train, or some form of trek to get to Machu Picchu.

The next section that is misleading (not necessarily wrong) is paragraph 3 which states “As it stands, most visitors to Machu Picchu arrive at Cusco, 50 miles southeast of the site, and then either catch a train or bus to the ruins, or embark on the four-day Inca Trail.” this implies that there are only 3 ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu when there are at least 10, most of these are treks and the Inka Trail is one, but there are many more with the Salkantay trek probably getting more travelers than the Inka Trail. You can see many of the options here on my previous blog “Machu Picchu: How to get there

Next there is paragraph 8 that says “Over one million tourists visited Machu Picchu in 2018. The number of tickets available per day rose from 2,500 to 6,600 in 2017.” As some of you know my wife and I ran a bed and breakfast in Cusco from 2006 to 2018 and that entire time the quota for Machu Picchu tickets was about 4,300, never during our time there was the quota 2,500.

Further down (I am tired of counting) we find the comment by Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, “Adding an international airport will give UNESCO no option but to remove its World Heritage Site status.” You would think that the CEO of a travel agency would know that the current Cusco airport is an International Airport so they are not adding an international airport, just moving it.

Those are the more egregious of the inaccuracies that I noticed, and I do not want to spend time on the minor points ,so now I will take a moment to offer my thoughts on the new Chinchero airport and its location. Lets start with the location, when they first started discussing a new airport there was at least one other location that was considered, that being the Anta valley, which is located to the West of Cusco and would seam to have been a much better option, as it is a larger and flatter valley with far fewer archaeological sites in the area to worry about.

Their is another more important difference between the two locations, that being altitude, with the altitude of the new airport in Chinchero being 3,700 meters or 12,139 feet (not 3,800 as stated in the above mentioned article) and the altitude in the Anta Valley being 3,300 meters or 10,826 feet. This altitude difference could be just enough to make the Chinchero location impractical for any large international flights, for example the current Cusco airport is an international airport, but only smaller aircraft can land in Cusco due to its location and altitude, so the only international flights are from close locations like Bolivia and I believe Columbia last time I checked.

One of the common aircraft used for international flights is a Boeing 737 which has a standard max takeoff and landing altitude of 8,400 feet with versions that have a max of 12,000 feet. 747’s and 777’s are about 11,000 feet, A320’s 7,000 feet, A330’s 9,000 feet, and A380’s 9,800 feet. These are just generic numbers pulled from the internet and I am not a pilot, but I do know that altitude does make a difference, the higher the altitude the more difficult and costly the takeoff. Due to the thinner air the aircraft will need more speed, will use more fuel to get up to speed, will need a longer runway in order to get to speed, and may even need to reduce the number of passengers (for weight) in order to take off. This does not mean that the lower Anta Valley would make a big difference, but it is almost the same altitude as Cusco and is 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) lower than Chinchero.

The other main issue that the Cusco airport has is the surrounding mountains which block a standard landing approach. The surrounding mountains are the reason that flights into or out of Cusco are made under VFR (Visual Flight Rule) conditions, which either Chinchero or Anta should be able eliminate, allowing for standard instrument landings which would greatly reduce the number of flight delays and cancellations into and out of Cusco.

Overall I think that a new airport would be a good thing, but I do not believe that Chinchero is the best location, I believe Anta would have been a better choice, and the Southern Valley, which is actually to the East, may have been an even better option as it is lower than Cusco at 3,100 meters or just over 10,000 feet. The number of visitors to Machu Picchu is controlled by the number of available tickets, which is set by the government, and short of an airport being built right there at Machu Picchu, which would be unlikely due to the terrain, a new airport would not be a threat to the ancient Inka Citadel.

Below is a link to the article in questions, I have debated including it as I do not wish to increase traffic to inaccurate information, but also want to be transparent with my sources when cited.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/south-america/peru/articles/machu-picchu-airport-chinchero/

Booking Sites, Do they really save you money?

To kick things off I want to take a moment to talk about booking sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and the like. Since returning to the States I have noticed their has been a large increase in advertising from these sites, which is not something that we were used to seeing in Peru, but here in the states these booking sites are heavily advertised.

This is not really that surprising as we used several of these sites to bring in reservations for our bed and breakfast, and for reference we were listed with Airbnb, Booking.com, Trip Advisor, Expedia, and Despegar. The popularity of these sites is the main reason that we listed with them, but I often think that people forget that these companies are middle men and are in the business of making a profit, so the actual likelihood that you will save money by using them is not always going to be true. Don’t get me wrong, there are time when you can get good deals, and some sites are better for this than others, an example might be Hotwire because they do not list the accommodation name, which I will explain shortly.

While the parody clause may restrict the pricing you will find for the same accommodation, many properties do not advertise on all of the booking sites, so checking multiple sites can reveal a cheap accommodation that is not listed on another site. For example I did a quick search for accommodations here in Las Vegas and found the following:

Trivago – El Cortez $18
Hotwire – 3 Star $14
Orbitz – Circus Circus $19
Booking.com – Circus Circus $19
Trip Advisor – El Cortez $18

Now in the above example Hotwire does offer the lowest nightly rate, but does not tell you who with, it might be the same accommodation that one of the other sites is offering, or it might not be. One thing that you might notice is that Circus Circus is the same on Orbitz and Booking, and the El Cortez is the same price on both Trivago and Trip Advisor. This point brings us back to the parody clause which I will now discuss.

During our time running the Bed and Breakfast we not only listed with some of the above sites, but we researched and tried out several others as well, and everyone that we dealt with or researched, all had one thing in common, a parody clause. This clause in the listing contract states that an accommodation can not be publicly listed on any other sites, with the same conditions, for less that it is listed on the contracted site. What this means for the traveler is that if you find a hotel listed on Booking.com for $20 per-night, that property is not allowed to advertise the same room with the same conditions for less on any other site. As an example of this I searched for a room at Circus Circus on all of the same sites that I used above, and came up with the following nightly rates.

Trivago $19
Hotwire $19
Orbitz $19
Booking.com $19
Trip Advisor $19

There are of course ways to fudge this, like changing the conditions of the listing so it is not the same as listed on another site. One example would be that a hotel could advertise a room on one site that includes breakfast at one rate, but offer the same room for less on another site, but without breakfast, thus changing the conditions of the stay. Another way that can get around this parody clause is not listing the accommodation name in the advertisement, like you can find on sites like Hotwire, but as you can see in the example above, when listed by name on Hotwire, the price is the same.

So am I saying that you should not use booking sites, definitely not, due to the number of properties that are generally listed and the available filters that the sites offer, they are a good way to choose an accommodation for a trip, I would just not rely one one single site. When looking for an accommodation it is always good to use multiple sites and even contact the accommodation directly before booking to see if they can match or even beat the rate listed on the booking site.

For reference the parody clause only applies to ADVERTIZED rates, which means that an accommodation can offer a lower rate if you contact them directly. Some accommodation will beat the advertised rate if you contact them directly, which is really good business for them. These booking sites all charge for their services and the fee is on average 15% to 18%, which means even if they simply match the advertised rate, they are saving the fee.

I hope this all makes sense to everyone and if you have any questions, just post them in the comments below.