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UNESCO World Heritage Sites Tours

UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

S & S Tour Offerings to Some of These Sites

Seville palace garden2In 1978, when UNESCO published its first list of protected places, there were just 12 World Heritage Sites.  These included one of S & S Tours offerings this year in May:  The Galapagos Islands.

Today there are 1031 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The top ten nations for the World Heritage Sites listed according to ranking in the number of sites are Italy, China, Spain, France, and Germany, Mexico, India, UK, Russia and  USA. Italy, China, Spain and  France possess 51, 48, 44 and 41 respectively,  France is the most popular country in the world, with Spain not far behind.  Spain is one of my favorite countries and we tour there every few years with clients.

As you can see  Mexico rates #6 in the top ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  We offer various tours to these Sites all over Mexico—archeological sites, architectural sites, natural history sites, designated cities, etc.

One of the new wonders of the world is one of the best known and most visited tourist destinations in South America, Machu Picchu, does not fail to disappoint visitors and even though I have been there 10 times, I am ready to go again next year. S & S Tours has a popular 12-day tour here in April this year and plans to offer another one next April.

We are so fortunate the Spaniards did not discover the 550-year old citadel, built by the Inca civilization in the 15th century. It perches high in the Peruvian Andes at 7,973ft above sea level.

Machu Picchu (which means “old mountain” in the Quechua language) can be reached by a hike on mountain trails or by a scenic train trip through the “Sacred Valley.” We take the Vista Dome Train and  follow the Urubamba River up to the  foot of Machu Picchu.  We stay two nights at Aguas Calientes so we have plenty of time to wander around the ruins and even climb Wayna Picchu if we desire (“new mountain.”  )  This is the widely photographed peak at the back of Machu Picchu.

Sue Stilwell

Copper Canyon Mexico Travel Tour

Discounted Bus/Train Tour from Phoenix to Copper Canyon , Mexico

 Copper Canyon Travel TourWe designed this trip to be the easiest, most economical, most convenient way to visit this world-famous Canyon system as you cross the border with a guide and have no need to fly into Mexico on your own.  There is so much to offer here– spectacular views, primitive Indians, memorable train ride, 5 climate zones, zip lining and cable car rides in the Adventure Park. Going from sea level to 8000 feet elevation, the train ride into the Canyon is “the most dramatic in the western hemisphere.”(according to Reader’s Digest.)  As you pass through many of the 87 tunnels and “fly” over the 39 bridges, do a 180 degree loop inside the mountain and loop over yourselves on the train, you have to applaud the persistent visionaries who saw this railroad as the best direct shipping route to the Orient.  It was international from its inception.  It is noted to be 1000 feet deeper, and wider and greener  than Arizona’s Grand Canyon.  Our clients give us valuable feedback:  “S & S Tours staff live up to their giving personal attention in planning a wonderful adventure.  We give them a 5 star rating—the best.”  “Copper Canyon, Mexico was indeed everything and more than we anticipated.—all the result of the professionalism, the experience, the efficiency, the friendship and the reputation of S & S Tours.”  “You have not seen or experienced Mexico if you have not seen it with S & S Tours.  They are exceptional in experiencing the culture, food and fun to be had there.”  (from a client who traveled 15 times with us.)

Begins and ends in Phoenix.  April 3-12, 2016.  $200 discount for a $1195 price p/p per double room.  A minimum of 20 required.

Sue (Susy) Stilwell        Owner, S & S Tours

$1195 per person per double room.

Ph: (520) 803-1352; (866)780 2813; Fax:  520 803 1355

4250 S. Hohokam Dr.; Sierra Vista, AZ 85650

Learning Adventures with S & S Tours, LLC

In Mexico, Costa Rica, South America and Spain

Machu Picchu Travel Tour

Machu Picchu

 View from Guardhouse 2Since I was a young girl, I had wanted to visit Machu Picchu in Peru,  the cradle of the Inca civilization.   I have now been there at least 10 times.  We are going again this spring. It is truly a privilege to stand on this site that was once the refuge for Incan rulers to get away from it all. One client who had traveled to 45 destinations in the world commented “this is the ultimate.”   One just wants to sit on the grassy areas on the different levels of the ruins, watch the animal “lawn mowers”, the Llamas, and contemplate what the city was like when it was occupied.  We are so fortunate the Spaniards never discovered it or, it would not be available to us.  The best experience is to watch the sun rise on the site and see it chase away the shadows on the magnificent structures as it moves across the ruins.  It is also a wonderful experience to travel on the narrow gauge railroad to Machu Picchu through the gorgeous,  scenic Sacred Valley with the towering Andean Peaks on both side.  A personal highlight of this tour was to climb Wayna Picchu (the old mountain) twice with chains and rings to pull me up.  It is the pointed peak always seen at the back of the Machu Picchu (young mountain) photos.   As one stands at the top, the full sweep of Machu Picchu is below and it is a breathtaking moment.    Those of us who want to do so, walk 4 miles on the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate, so we can boast we walked part of the Inca Trail.  The Inca Suspended Bridge is another optional destination while there.  It was one of the varied entrances into the site.   We also actually visit  the Floating Islands in Lake Titicaca in reed boats.  I had studied them in grade school.  The pigs, the school and the church each have their own floating islands!


Begin and end in the capital of the Spanish civilization– Lima, Peru.

April 19-30, 2016.  $3995 p/p per dble rm. A discount available.

Galapagos Islands Travel Tour

Cruise the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador in a double catamaran.

 Galapagos delivers nature with a capital N.  You will get closer to the wildlife than in a zoo!

Millennium Yacht -Galapagos 2012It was one of the thrills of my lifetime to snorkel with Blue Footed Boobies, miniature penguins sea lions and more. The Blue-Footed Boobies have gorgeous sky blue feet and are in abundance everywhere, looking like sentries posted on the rocks as we cruised by .  The animals on the Islands have no fear as they are protected so you can almost pet them, but, probably not advised.  We had to be careful where we stepped to avoid  many colorful Sally Lightfoot Crabs and lizards on every rock by the water.  The Crabs are actually afraid of the water and stay near the edge.  Our catamaran was so comfortable with a picture window and a deck in each cabin.  I enjoyed sunning on the top deck of the boat when not being active.  I will never forget waking up one morning and a sea lion had hitchhiked a ride with us and was on the deck snoozing.  Visiting the Darwin Research Center was so informative and I spent  a lot of time observing the Giant Galapagos Turtles there, the superstars of the reptile world.  I was especially taken by Lonesome George, who was over a hundred years old.  My granddaughters had studied about him in school. He was the last of one of the species of Galapagos.  They have not located any mate for him.  They attempted to mate him with some similar species, but, it did not take. He died just after my last trip there. A sad loss.  It was a treat to travel with some tourists from other countries too—Israel, Asia, Australia.

You begin and end in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then fly out to your catamaran in the Islands.  April 30-May 7, 2016      Tour price is $3795.  On sale now.

A Trio of Exotic Spots

S&S Tours, based in Arizona, specializes in small group tours to Latin American Destinations, providing in-depth interpretations of each area’s culture and natural history. Owner Sue Stilwell spotlights three of them: Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru. 

Costa Rica

One third of Costa Rica is in reserves or national parks, and Stilwell says any visit should include an expert naturalist guide. “This Central American country is the most ecologically diverse Eden in the hemisphere – full of volcanoes, tropical forests, coffee farms, butterfly gardens, waterfall gardens, hanging bridges and beach parks- all with wonderful wildlife everywhere you go.” One of Stilwell’s favorite places is the Arenal Volcano area. “The volcano eruptions, seen from your hotel at night, are dramatic, ” she says. “And the next day you can enjoy zip lining through a forest, a boat ride on the Rio Frio River or touring a small organic coffee farm.”

Galapagos Islands

“The animal kingdom does not get any closer or better than in the Galapagos Islands,” Stilwell says. When visitors arrive on a double catamaran, they’ll see colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions that will mostly go about their business. “There is no fear of humans in this protected archipelago of volcanic islands,” she says. “You’ll point your camera to blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, giant tortoises and penguins. No zoom is required, though – the animals are only inches away.” The Galapagos archipelago lies in the equatorial waters some 600 miles off the coast of South America nad is reached via a short flight from Quito, Ecuador. S&S Tours rotates in a Galapagos program every two or three years. The next one is April 30 – May 6, 2018.


S & S’s Peru tour begins and ends in Lima, once the coastal capital city of the Spanish empire in South America. Intriguing museums and a visit to the catacombs are on the itinerary. Rail fans and ancient history lovers will be thrilled with this country, according to Stilwell. “three days in Cuzco, the oldest inhabited city of the Western Hempisphere, will reveal the secrets of the enduring Incan architecture through a guided tour to the primary sites in and around the city, ” she says. “To culimate your exploration of the ancient Inca civilization, you’ll ascend by narrow gauge railroad to Machu Picchu, the sacred mountaintop fortress of the Incas.”

For more information, contact us, or read our tour details.

See the original article on the Courier Site

Travelling to Mexico–How Safe Is It…

Travelling To Mexico – How Safe Is It To Be A Foreign Tourist In Mexico?  3-19-15

bus carrilThere are many, many reasons to visit Mexico. From an incredible culture, to stunning historical sites, to a cuisine that’s admired worldwide, Mexico quite simply ticks all the travel boxes. However, Mexico does also have something of a reputation for lawlessness which may put off some travellers. In actual fact, this reputation is highly exaggerated, and no traveller should have anything to fear. However, in order to put minds at rest, here is a rundown of the dangers one may face in Mexico, and what can be done to avoid them.

Human Danger

Mexico has gained herself a reputation as a mafia stronghold, rife with cartels and racked by violent drug wars. This foreign perception of Mexican affairs is largely influenced by movie and televisual portrayals of Mexican gangsters. The truth is that, while (just like any other nation) Mexico is not without its problems, the overwhelming majority of tourists could spend months in Mexico and see no evidence of this whatsoever. Even the US Department of Passports and International Travel freely admits that “there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality” and that tourists in Mexico “generally do not see” the kind of drug-related crime and violence of which Hollywood is so enamored. It is true that Mexico is home to some drug trafficking routes, but cartel activity along these rarely if ever bothers itself with tourists. As in any big city, one would be advised to keep an eye on one’s belongings in case of pickpockets while in crowded urban areas – but tourists can expect absolutely nothing that they would not expect in any European nation when it comes to crime and violence.


While nations with nationalized medical facilities will often provide you with a high standard of healthcare without asking for payment, this does not apply in Mexico. However, this does not mean that the country’s healthcare system is a shambles. There are some very good hospitals around, particularly in Mexico City, and many American citizens have expressed a preference for Mexican doctors over their own. Mexican healthcare is generally cheaper than that available in the US, yet provides a very good standard of care for the money spent. One thing is for certain – in the unlikely event that you do fall sick or get injured in Mexico, you won’t be in any danger of not receiving adequate treatment. Mexican doctors and nurses are extremely professional, and Mexico is home to some of the best hospitals in the world.

Natural Dangers

Mexico is home to certain diseases which the wary traveller would be wise to take precautions against. However, if you prepare correctly, they are all very easy to avoid. People coming to Mexico should get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B, and rabies – particularly if they’re going to be coming into contact with wild animals. You should also get vaccinated against typhoid. Mosquitos which carry malaria are a problem in certain parts of Mexico, particularly the more rural areas. Mosquito bites can be avoided by covering any exposed skin as much as possible, and taking anti-malarial pills like Chloroquine. You can also reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitos by sleeping with screens, doors, and windows closed and through the use of repellents. In fact, the greatest natural dangers prevalent in Mexico are probably the sun and the water. Travellers should stick to drinking purified, bottled water, and try to avoid sunstroke. While it may seem an innocuous delight at first, the sun beating down on one’s head all day long can quickly cause heat-stroke and sun-sickness. While not usually particularly dangerous, these conditions are unpleasant to experience, so try to avoid staying out in the sun too long, and wear a shady hat if you’re planning on an extended stay outdoors. Also do try and avoid sunburn, as it can be severe and may lead to skin cancer in later life. So, in summary – forget the cartels, the sun is your main enemy in Mexico! Stock up on sun cream, pack some malaria tablets, and have a great, safe time!

Submitted by Sally Bowie

Flight of the Monarchs

Flight of the Monarchs: High in the Sierra Madres, the butterflies are literally everywhere
Butterfly sanctuary trek in Mexican mountains an eye-opening time

Monarch Butterfly ToursThe butterflies are everywhere – swirling about our faces, alighting on bushes, quivering in the sunshine on nectar-laden lupines.

Thousands upon thousands of delicate orange-and-black Monarchs fill our view. When clouds scuttle overhead, we even hear the susurration of their wings, like soft rain falling, as they flutter to the trees to huddle in clumps. It’s quite magical – almost otherworldly. Read More

Discovering Mexico’s Copper Canyon

Discovering Mexico’s Copper Canyon
Adventure, comfort and defying fear in Mexico’s Sierra Madre
by Betsy Sanz

My 10-year-old daughter was about to step off the edge of a sheer cliff, with nothing but 100 feet of air between her and the bottom of a canyon, deep in Mexico’s Sierra Madres. What, I asked myself, was I thinking? If her hook didn’t hold, or if the zip line collapsed, she would be toast. For several gut-wrenching moments I seriously questioned my quality as a mother.

Read More…

Experience Mexico’s Copper Canyon

Experience Mexico’s Copper Canyon
Topics: Travel Experiences

Written by: Mexperience

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Many expats living in Mexico will have a list of must-see places to visit while they living here.  No such list would be complete without inclusion of one of the most breath-taking travel experiences Mexico has on offer: Barrancas de Cobre – Copper Canyon – an area of outstanding natural beauty situated in north-western Mexico.

The ‘Copper Canyon’ is actually a series of twenty canyons, formed over the years by six rivers. The area is about seven times the size of the Grand Canyon, and has distinct topography, flora and fauna to Arizona’s premier natural wonder.

The most popular – and best – way to travel into the canyon is by making use of the remarkable railway which traverses this rugged wilderness. Opened in 1961 following decades of construction, the line is an extraordinary feat of engineering in its own right. The railway line was originally devised to connect the commercial Pacific sea port at Los Mochis to the central colonial city of Chihuahua. An astounding feature of the line is that it begins at near-sea level on the Pacific coast, rises to an altitude of over 8,000 feet and then declines again to an altitude of around 2,500 feet. The incline of a railway track cannot exceed fifteen degrees, so to accomplish the ‘climb and descent’ the engineers needed to construct bridges, burrow many tunnels through the mountains and use ‘switch-back’ stages in order to complete the route. By the time the line was finished, engineers had laid over 390 miles of railway track crossing thirty-nine bridges and traversing eighty-six tunnels: the longest bridge runs for a quarter-mile, and the longest tunnel for nearly a mile.

Two first-class trains begin the journey across the canyon daily: one starting in Chihuahua City and the other in Los Mochis. They meet, roughly half-way, near Divisadero station, which is also where most of the canyon hotels, lodges and tours are based from. The most scenic and dramatic areas of the canyon are on the west side so, to take advantage of the daylight, it’s generally accepted that the train traveling west to east, from Los Mochis towards Chihuahua, is a better sight-seeing option than the one traveling east to west.

Although the train journey begins in Los Mochis, most tour visitors board the train at its first main stop situated in the beautiful colonial town of El Fuerte. Los Mochis is an industrial port city without much to offer travelers, so it’s best to fly there and take the hour-or-so road trip to El Fuerte, stay at least one night, and board the Copper Canyon train from there. When you arrange your visit to the canyon using a tour company, there will be a driver and vehicle waiting to meet you at the airport.

You can take the train straight through to Chihuahua City and simply see the canyon ‘in passing’ on the train. However, to properly experience the canyons, and get the most out of a visit to the region, explore the various tours on offer and arrange to stay at one of the hotels or eco-lodges in the canyon itself (the more adventurous can camp in the canyon) and, from there, participate in some of the wonderful outdoor activities on offer.

For detailed information about the Copper Canyon, including local knowledge about the area, best times to travel, the train journey, the attractions and activities on offer, connect to our comprehensive Guide to Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

For details about professionally organized tours, we highly recommend you contact Sue Stilwell of S&S Tours.  Sue has been taking small groups to the Copper Canyon for decades, and knows this area intimately.  Her love of Mexico and the Canyon resonates in the tours she crafts and in the testimonials of the travelers she has introduced to this breath-taking natural habitat.

See original article here

Dear Friends and Family

We just returned from a week in Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Mexico’s version of the Grand Canyon. However, Copper Canyon (part of the Sierra Madres) is actually a series of canyons, five of which are deeper than the Grand Canyon!  The best way of seeing these canyons — maybe the only way — is via the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (“Chepe” for short) which runs from Chihuahua in the north to Los Mochis on the west (a 12 hour train trip, but tourists are encouraged to stop at various train stations along the way).

photo by Stokes FishburneThe railroad, which goes from sea level to 8,000 feet, took 90 years to complete.  This engineering feat includes 39 bridges, 87 tunnels and a U-turn of 180 degrees inside a mountain.  The trains depart, from each end of the 396 mile railroad, at 6:00am.  The actual time when the train arrives at its final destination is another matter!  The trains seldom run on time.  Indeed, being an hour to an hour and a half late is common because of the terrain and problems with the tracks.  Much longer delays — 8-10 hours or so — may occur during the monsoon season when landslides cover the tracks.  Below is a picture of the tracks near the U-turn, where the track loops back on itself.


photo by Stokes FishburneThe image, taken from the train, shows a river meandering through the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains.  The dark “stripes” are actually the shadows of the trestles that support the train track.  The horizontal shadow is the train itself.





Photo by Stokes FishburneThe scenery as you ride along on the train is nothing short of spectacular.  But, in addition to seeing mountains, lakes and canyons, you also see the people, their homes and the way they live.  Mexico is a poor country, with many people living at the  poverty level.  Like the man below, many people have to work very hard to scratch a living from the soil.






Photo by Stokes FishburneA couple of times we passed trains coming the other way that were loaded with recreational vehicles (RVs).  Pat had considered this mode of transportation to view the Copper Canyon, but Stokes was vehemently against it.  After talking to a couple on the RV train, Pat discovered that Stokes had been absolutely right!  The man told us that his motorhome had been scratched along one whole side because it had been incorrectly loaded onto the flat car.  The woman said that the dust was so bad that the inside of the motorhome was filthy (she said it would take her a month to clean it) and the “slide-outs” were so caked with dirt that they would hardly move.


Photo by Stokes FishburneWe, together with two other couples, began our trip in Los Mochis (the best way to ensure that you see the canyons during  the daylight hours).  After an eight hour train ride, we arrived in Divisadero.  We stayed at the Hotel Posada Mirador, on the rim of the canyon.  The views from the hotel were spectacular!





Photo by Stokes FishburneThe colossal stone monuments that surround the hotel were raised by a violent volcanic upheaval. The day after we arrived, we rather ambitiously, decided to take three hikes — a sunrise hike, a hike to some homes of the Tarahumara Indians and a hike three canyons over.  In all, we hiked about 8 miles that day!  Below is a picture of the view from one of the canyon overlooks.





Photo by Stokes FishburneThere are about 50,000 Tarahumara living throughout the mountains.  These people live in this rugged environment much as their ancestors did, making plows from the oak trees, using plants for food, medicine and fiber and beating drums to communicate from village to village. Unfortunately, some of their best lands have been appropriated and, as a result, they have suffered from hunger and deprivation.  Nevertheless, most of them cling to their traditional culture.  The women are skillful basket makers and sell their wares to tourists.  Below is a collection of baskets, blankets, beads, belts and dolls that one Tarahumara woman had for sale.



Photo by Stokes FishburneThe Tarahumara women wear very bright, traditional clothes.  Most, however, have replaced their traditional footwear with shoes that while they still have fiber thongs now have soles made of rubber tires. The Tarahumara woman shown below had one of the choice sales spots on the front steps of the Mirador Hotel.





Photo by Patricia FishburneWe were advised to bring items such as thread, needles and cloth for the Tarahumara women and pens, pencils and balls for the children.  The little girl is fascinated by a green pen we gave her.








Our next “friends and family” email takes you along with us to the small town of Cerocahui and the Urique Canyon, the deepest of the canyons.

Stokes, Fishburne and DriscollAs we told you in our previous “friends and family” letter, we journeyed to Copper Canyon in Mexico.  We were accompanied by Bob and Susan Cote (Stokes worked with Bob at TRW in California), Don and Marlene Driscoll (we met them on a Monaco rally in 2002) and Carlos Granados, our wonderful guide. Below is a picture of the seven of us.  By the way, our trip was arranged by S&S Tours, whom we heartily recommend.





Photo by Stokes FishburneAfter leaving the Mirador hotel in Divisadero, we re-boarded the train for a two hour ride to Bahuichivo.  From there we took a very bumpy van ride and arrived, more than a little disheveled, at the Mission Resort Hotel in the village of Cerocahui. This is the entry to this small, 42 room, hotel.






Photo by Stokes FishburneAcross from the hotel is the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church, a 300 year old Jesuit mission for the Tarahumara Indians.  Nearby, is a boarding school for 80 Tarahumara girls.  Every morning, when the church bells pealed, the girls  came running to mass.  One day we toured the school and were impressed to discover that, in addition to learning their lessons, the children were actively engaged in cleaning the school, the kitchen and so forth.  Our guide told us that many Tarahumara parents send their children to boarding schools such as this so that they will get three meals a day.




Photo by Patricia FishburneOne night, we got a spectacular image of a sunset.  Well, okay, it wasn’t spectacular until Pat “photoshopped” out three sets of power lines!







Urique Canyon, the deepest of the canyons at 6,136 feet (compared to 4,674 for the Grand Canyon), was a very bumpy, one hour ride by van from Cerocahui. But, the views were worth it.  Below is the view from the Urique Canyon overlook.






Photo by Patricia FishburneOn the way up to the overlook, we passed this very picturesque farm nestled at the foot of the mountains.




Photo by Stokes FishburneBefore going to Mexico, we had heard about the “banditos” — but we were not prepared for this!
He sure looks a lot like Stokes, doesn’t he?  And how about that mustache (a  horseshoe that Stokes balanced precariously on his upper lip)?

As you can see, we definitely enjoyed our trip.  But, we hasten to add that there is a bit of a learning curve.  The first time you see the sign, “deposit lightly soiled toilet tissue in the waste basket rather than the toilet,” you know  you are no longer in Kansas!  Moreover, much as we love Mexican food, we were glad to get back to our simpler, less caloric meals.