With almost 30 years of combined international travel experience, Joel Cabrera and Bryan Herb, Zoom Vacations’ co-founders and Tour Leaders, have traveled to the ends of the Earth gaining invaluable travel information that they happily share with others. Throughout their adventures, certain restaurants, hotels, and destinations have stood out in their minds as especially memorable. While every trip delivers new and exciting experiences and memories, the following are the ones that, in a career of venturing to some of the most incredible places on the planet, have stood out to these two world travelers.
◦What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Bryan: This is a tough question to answer. I can tell you that my favorite meal I have ever had was in Puglia, Italy, at a hotel which we will be using for our trip to Puglia, which is in the works. The hotel works with a local chef, who learned how to cook from his mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. That being said, I also love Aprazivel in the historic Santa Theresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, and Central in Lima, Peru, which is a spectacular gastronomic experience.
Joel: I recently visited with the chef of Central Restaurant in Lima and was blown away by the presentation and the food concept. It was a multi-sensory food journey featuring ingredients from 17 ecosystems and elevations of Peru: Mussels from deep below the ocean, sweet potatoes from the desert, corn from the Sacred Valley, alpaca from the Andes, octopus from the sea, lemongrass from the Amazon, cassava from the jungle, yellow chili pepper from the coast, just to name a few, enjoyed with beverage pairings.
◦What has been your best “Foodie” destination?
Bryan: My favorite foodie destination is Peru, with its huge variety of food and a historical mix of cultures all borrowing from each other to create culinary masterpieces.
Joel: South Africa is a place where I enjoy food a lot. You can get perfectly prepared pasta al dente like in Italy or a perfectly grilled filet mignon like in the US. Plus the European techniques paired with South East Asian spices and local ingredients make for dishes you cannot get anywhere else – Bobotie comes to mind for instance – spicy, sweet, savory, all in one. And the wines! Don’t even get me started!
◦What is your favorite destination?
Bryan: For me Machu Picchu embodies so much of what I love, all in one spot: tremendously beautiful, spiritual, mystical, historical, natural, and mysterious, with a wonderful fitness and food component.
Joel: Where do I start? I really enjoy a good safari— nothing like seeing wild animals up close and personal. I feel right at home in South Africa, maybe because of it so multicultural. India never ceases to amaze and delight me. Everyone has a very strong personal opinion about India based on how their trip was designed. It is a place so big and diverse that every time I go it’s like going for the first time. And every time I return all the stereotypes are turned on their head.
◦What is the most beautiful site you’ve ever seen on a trip?
Bryan: I saw a young poor boy in Varanasi, India, turn away money, suggesting that our traveler instead, give the money to poor people.
Joel: I went to Rwanda recently and had the immense pleasure of visiting with a mountain gorilla family in Virunga Volcanoes National Park. . They may seem intimidating from afar but when you get close and you stand before a momma gorilla holding baby and looking at you with her beautiful big brown eyes you are reminded just how precious and fragile she is. Her gaze was warm, welcoming and completely vulnerable. I still get emotional thinking back at that moment.
◦What is the most surprising place you’ve visited?
Bryan: Without a doubt, Antigua, Guatemala. No one every thinks that it is going to be so chic and stylish, with so much to offer. I love bringing travelers there. But then another place that really surprised us was the Sahara Desert! It gives one the same, yet strangely opposite feeling as being at the ocean.
Joel: Again, Rwanda comes to mind. It is so clean and safe. The president has outlawed plastic bags, and every last Saturday of the month citizens are strongly encouraged to clean their neighborhood. A Rwandan colleague recounted the time he forgot what Saturday it was and when he pulled out of his driveway to run errands he found all his neighbors picking up stray garbage and landscaping. The looks he got!!!! Shame, shame!! I also love going to places that have a deep sense of who they are like colorful Peru, a blend of Inca and Spanish culture that intertwine immigrant flavors from the Middle East, Japan and China. You still see locals wearing the same clothing they sported 400 years ago. Contemporary Peruvians of mixed blood are deeply proud of their Inca ancestors. And I think they always have been. I recently read the 16th century memoirs of Francisco Pissarro’s sister-in-law, and it was clear the Spanish conquistadores were in awe of the Inca culture even if ultimately they caused the downfall of the mighty Inca empire through greed.
◦What is your favorite Beach destination?
Bryan: The Maldives have got to be my favorite beach destination. Every island within the Maldives operates like a beachy playground for adults.
Joel: Maldives is the perfect jet lag antidote before a trip to India; those azure blue beaches are so relaxing the jet lag just melts away so when you land in India or Sri Lanka you are fully recovered to take in all that amazing country has to offer.
However, when I want to feel sexy, and who doesn’t, I head for Rio at sunset on Ipanema beach. You don’t need to be a suntanned to fit right in. The beach has a democratizing effect. Few beaches can boast a judge-free zone where International elite rub elbows with the local Cariocas. However, soon I’m looking forward to exploring the beaches of Salvador in northern Brazil.
◦What city has the best nightlife?
Bryan: Perhaps the best gay nightlife I have experienced was in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There are a lot of options and the crowd is, well, hot.
Joel: Bogota, Colombia definitely has a nonstop LGBTQ nightlife scene that just won’t stop.
◦Where is the best shopping? (for you personally)
Bryan: I think the best shopping I have experienced is in Jodhpur, India, where you can find stunning fabrics, stonework, carvings, art, and more. Although for fashion, I do love Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires.
Joel: Rio for art at the hippie market, South Africa for wine that is not exported and can only be bought locally at a fraction of what it would cost abroad (if you could find it); Japan for antiques at the flea markets offer some amazing finds; China for pearls at the pearl market in Shanghai, which are a steal. And no, they are not fake.
◦Where have you met the nicest people (locals or staff)?
Bryan: Without a doubt, the nicest people I have met are the people of Myanmar. One hundred percent not jaded, and truly kind people.
Joel: Laos. The people there are proud of their gorgeous green, peaceful Buddhist country. Food is amazing too, a legacy the French colonization left behind.
◦Where have you experienced the strangest customs?
Bryan: Varanasi India has things going on every night of every week, of every month. Mystics with painted faces chanting prayers, people burning their dead on funeral pires to then place the ashes in Ganges… locals drinking from the holy waters of Ganges while truly all kinds of things are in the river. It is absolutely the most fascinating place I have ever been.
Joel: Japanese are obsessively clean. They take their shoes off inside the house and have the best toilets. I love it!! On the other end of the spectrum is Varanasi in India. It is an assault on senses. The religious rituals that are celebrated on the streets day and night are open to the public and have to be experienced to be appreciated.
◦What is the most fun trip you’ve ever been on?
Bryan: I took a trip to India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, with my boyfriend at the time, which stands out in my mind right now as certainly one of the most fun trips ever. On the flipside of this, I have had a Blast in so many places: Machu Picchu, Madrid, South Africa, St. Bart’s, just to name a few.
Joel: Historically Rio Carnaval is all about having the most fun before lent. A religious time of year when you have to be “good”. Of course leave it to the Brazilians to figure out a way to have sinful fun and get away with it.
◦What is your favorite hotel in the world?
Bryan: My favorite hotel located within a city is the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, India. Beautifully restored, this palace truly makes you feel like royalty while you are there.
Joel: The pampering safari experiences offered by Sabi Sabi, Singita and other renowned lodges hits all the marks with gourmet food, vintage wines, bespoke spa experiences, shopping, game viewing, biking, archery and local entertainment. But then again, the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Johdpur made me want to stay and never leave. The royal family of Jodhpur lives in-house and their presence is felt. The attention to detail has not changed in hundreds of years, and one is made to feel like the personal guest of his royal highness, the maharaja of Jodhpur, with whom we will be celebrating the Holi (halle) Festival in March.
◦Where is the best spa/pampering?
Bryan: Ha! Somewhere in Asia for sure. I think it is hard to beat a massage in a bungalow over a vibrant green rice paddy in Bali, Indonesia. But then again, the spas in our hotels throughout Morocco were spectacular! Oh, and on our Vietnam trip, at one of our hotels we give our travelers two spa treatments per day!
Joel: Saxon Johannesburg (also one of Oprah Winfre’s favorite)
◦What is your favorite airline?
Bryan: For Coach, I don’t really have a favorite airline, and what matters most to me is the newness of plane and its technology.
For business class, I love Emirates in the 380, or I love Qatar. For First class either Etihad or Emirates.
Joel: Singapore or Qatar. They just get everything right. They don’t cut corners on F and B and the service is professional and caring.
◦What is your favorite airport?
Bryan: One of the most beautiful airports is the new International airport in Mumbai, whose ceiling is reminiscent of a giant peacock plume. The easiest, most efficient airport is Beijing International.
Joel: Hong Kong and Doha are destinations where I am happy to have extended connections to enjoy the amenities, beyond the lounges. They have hotels, restaurants, parks, entertainment venues, and shopping galore.
◦What place or experience has changed you most?
Bryan: I think that anyone who travels to India with an open heart and mind has the opportunity to be truly transformed, especially in regards to how we treat people, and our levels of appreciation. However, perhaps the single most impactful experience of my life was studying abroad at a commune in Scotland my senior year of college.
Joel: Italy is where I spent my Junior Year Abroad. I still maintain a close friendship with the Italian family that hosted me over 30 years ago. I look forward to hosting a Zoom Italy trip there soon. I’ll call it Joel’s Italy. Who wants to join me?
Also, Rwanda gorilla trekking for the reasons I already mentioned above, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for showing me that perseverance does pay off.
◦What is one place you think should be on everyone’s bucket list?
Bryan: Well, I have two that are almost diametrically opposed: NYC and an Africa Safari. I believe that everyone needs to visit New York City in their lifetime, and ideally life there, if possible. It is absolutely inspiring. On the flipside, an African safari will help you feel a connectedness to the planet and to life in general, that is hard to explain and describe until you are there. Being on safari is spiritual, beautiful, peaceful, thrilling, mesmerizing, and incredibly meaningful.
Joel: Egypt – it’s back! But let’s face it: a culture that is over 4,000 years old is classic; Also, Morocco is shear delight. And then of course there is Angkor Wat, with its incredible carvings, and just the enormity of the compound. It does not disappoint!
◦Where do you want to go that you haven’t been?
Bryan: I want to go EVERYWHERE, where I have never been. Top of my list is Antarctica, the only continent I have not visited.
Joel: Mozambique for Tiffany blue colored beaches; Namibia for the desert culture; Antarctica.