So you thought travel agents went the way of encyclopedias? Three Marin-based agents have kept their clients happy and their business thriving by providing hassle-free travel planning for years. When it comes to booking a trip to an exotic coast or island, these ladies know their beaches. Whether you’re looking for a white-sand expanse, a shallow bay or jagged cliffs over a tempestuous sea, they’ve got some prime picks to recommend to you.
Sharon Walters | Travelwizard.com
With ten years experience in the travel industry, Walters is one of the busiest agents at San Rafael–based Travelwizard.com. A specialist in exotic destinations, she focuses on luxury high-end trips and customized journeys.
Traveling with children “Turks and Caicos Islands, south of the Bahamas, top the list. While these islands have lots of places to stay, Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort is a great choice for the family. The property is on a 12-mile stretch of white-sand beach, bordering a pristine coral reef for snorkeling and scuba diving. Little ones can explore the Pirates Island water park; older kids can mingle at the disco. Clients also really enjoy the Riviera Maya, just north of Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean in the Yucatán, especially the Fairmont Mayakoba and Azul Beach Hotel by Karisma. And on the Big Island of Hawaii and Kauai, families can surf, attend luaus and explore untouched beaches together.
If you don’t mind traveling a little farther, then Fiji is the destination of choice—especially the Jean-Michel Cousteau Island Resort. Here children explore and learn about Fijian culture, the environment and the natural world around them. All meals are included, and the diving is some of the best in the world.”
Romantic getaway “Just a three-hour flight from San Francisco, Cabo San Lucas will take your breath away — from the Esperanza Resort, where private casitas, some featuring plunge pools, face the azure Sea of Cortez, to the lush tropical gardens of the One and Only Palmilla, which among its many other luxuries has bathrooms to die for.”
Adventure travel “A relatively quick getaway from the Bay Area, Central America is an adventure traveler’s paradise. Belize boasts endless beaches, exotic wildlife, the second largest barrier reef in the world and some of the best diving around. Accommodations range from modest hotels to luxury villas to a small private island resort like St. George’s Caye Lodge, 20 minutes off the mainland, with casitas on the beach, all meals included, superb personal service and a fully operational dive shop. Exploration options include everything from Mayan ruin tours to cultural field trips.
Farther south you’ll find the beaches of Costa Rica, on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific. Terrain in this greenest of paradises ranges from rain forests to active volcanoes to powdery sand beaches. Snorkeling and hiking are popular here.”
Diane Cameron | Gone Tropo
The owner of Tiburon-based Gone Tropo is a 30-year industry veteran who specializes in the South Pacific—Tahiti, Fiji and Australia are clients’ top destinations. While most of Cameron’s customers are planning their honeymoons, her recommendations apply to almost any type of getaway.
Adventure travel “Any of the beaches around Port Douglas, Australia, are great for adventure seekers. There you can combine diving and snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef with sea kayaking, exploring the rain forest, taking a four-wheel-drive tour of Cape Tribulation or exploring the crocodile-infested Daintree River. After the adventure, stay at Silky Oaks Lodge or Daintree Eco Lodge and enjoy a wonderful massage and gourmet dinner—true bliss!”
Romantic getaway “Aitutaki, in the Cook Islands, is an atoll made up of a series of gemlike islets in the Pacific. The Pacific Resort Aitutaki fulfills all dreams of tropical paradise. With its white sand, colorful lagoon, palm trees and azure sky, it’s the prime spot for a romantic beach wedding—or any romantic idyll.”
If money is no object “Unlimited budget? Pack your best swimsuit (think Eres) and head for Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue in the Seychelles Islands. One of the most photographed beaches in the world, it’s also arguably one of the world’s best, with soft pink sand, translucent waters and a reef ideal for snorkeling.” For a truly unforgettable trip, combine this with a safari in Africa or a stopover in Europe.
Wendy Wayne | Casto Travel
With offices in Kentfield and Tiburon, Casto Travel specializes in leisure travel, particularly high-end trips. Wayne is an experienced agent—19 years in the business—and the recommendations here are a compilation of ideas from her and well-traveled colleagues.
Traveling with children “Winter is the time for families to head to Mexico; it doesn’t get any better. The all-inclusive Club Med Ixtapa Pacific is one of the top picks. Club Med has changed with the times: it’s evolved from a swinging-singles retreat to a hot new family find. Now, with this property’s newly renovated club, it’s a great destination for everyone—especially parents with young children.
Clients with older kids like to balance out trips with both traditional R&R and cultural excursions. The Riviera Maya is very popular in that regard: the Fairmont Mayakoba resort itself is just amazing—four pools, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course set around beautiful lagoons—all close enough for day trips to explore Mayan ruins.”
Adventure travel “Hayman Island, a private island right off the coast of Australia, is the beach spot that instantly springs to mind when it comes to adventure travel. There’s snorkeling, fishing trips, diving along the Great Barrier Reef… and the resort itself has all the bells and whistles and is just drop-dead gorgeous. It’s accessible by boat, seaplane and helicopter.”
If money is no object “For anyone who’s ever dreamed of owning an island, Necker Island should top the must-visit list. Currently owned by mega-magnate Richard Branson, this 74-acre private Caribbean retreat can meet your every need, whether that means exploring the quiet beaches or requesting a specific dish from the personal chefs. Rent the entire island or share it with others by staying in one of the stunning rooms.”
Sharon Walters, Travelwizard.com
Diane Cameron, Gone Tropo
Wendy Wayne, Casto Travel