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New Ways to Visit Iconic Sites: Machu Picchu, Sagrada Familia, Acropolis, Vatican, and Louvre

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Afternoon light streaming through the stained glass windows of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Afternoon light streaming through the stained glass windows of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

While many are drawn off the beaten path, it is often impossible to resist a stop at the world's iconic landmarks.  From the Machu Picchu to the Acropolis, La Sagrada Familia, and the Vatican to La Louvre, we love to match our postcard views with the view in front of our eyes. As the realities of post-Covid travel set in, we spoke with Zicasso travel specialists for Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and Peru to learn not only about how we can safely see iconic sites in these countries but also what these destinations are doing to protect visitors as they explore the highlights.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru is a diverse country full of natural drama. Snapshots of the Andes reveal vibrant colors from the clothing to pampas, snow-capped peaks to surprising historic fortresses. Peru is an adventure with gorgeous scenery and incredible biodiversity complemented  by the Inca’s archeological wonders. While Peru hosts a sensational list of ancient ruins and a wealth of museums displaying cultural treasures, the crown of Peru is Machu Picchu.

"Hiking the short Inca Trail is definitely the best way to discover Machu Picchu away from the crowds. The few other hikers on the trail are dispersed, and you'll be able to experience tremendous views of Machu Picchu as you approach the site, entering through the Sun Gate in the afternoon when most visitors have already left for the day,” says Victoria, a Peru travel specialist. Machu Picchu is an aspect of Peru’s tangible heritage, an object we can visit, see, touch, and wander through that gives us a thrill knowing that we are following in the footsteps of a historic culture. As we return to travel, it’s essential to find the ways we can do it safely.

Victoria offers some insight into how we visit Machu Picchu in a safe environment. “The whole trip is private, private car and guide, allowing for maximum flexibility and safety. Your private local guide will take you on the back roads off the beaten path, to allow you to truly enjoy nature, dive into the culture, and explore Peru's mystical ruins at your own pace in a carefree way.”

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are strictly regulated by the Ministry of Culture and the regional body in charge of protecting the natural areas. Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are now open. When you make it to the lost Incan city, you will discover how the historic complex adds to the rich complexity of culture that shapes Peru’s diversity steeped in an eclectic array of traditions.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a city of experiences, one that must be felt to truly understand. It’s a city that enjoys the little things, exhibits ancient traditions, explores trendy exhibitions, and celebrates culture from the beach to the mountains, on a plate, or in a museum. The fabled city winds beneath the iconic skyline shaped by the world-famous Sagrada Familia Basilica. With 18 spindly towers, a surrealist depiction of Biblical stories, and a history of construction starting in the 19th century, La Sagrada Familia embodies the beauty and character of Barcelona.

“With regard to the Sagrada Familia, as from September, if everything goes to plan, private guided visits will be once again permitted,” Nigel, a Spain travel specialist, said.   “This is always the best way to see Gaudi’s iconic vision... late afternoon or early evening visits not only allow you to enjoy the Sagrada Familia at the quietest time of day but, with a clear sky, can offer you fabulous light at sunset through the stained glass windows. Those who prefer this time of the day call it the ‘golden hour.’ And for those who seek the quietest moment to visit, we will continue to recommend the late afternoon, the last hour or two before the monument closes.”

Visiting La Sagrada Familia with a private guide is one of the best ways to experience the lavish exterior, evocative doorways, and ethereal stained-glass windows. The design elicits a sense of grandeur and community, equally private and yet welcoming to everyone. Nigel says, “Needless to say, our private guides keep totally up to date with new protocols as they are issued. The wearing of masks will remain obligatory for some time to come, and, of course, social distancing is always respected.”

The Acropolis

Erechtheion, Temple of Athena, on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Erechtheion, Temple of Athena, on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Athens is a dynamic city that peels back its layers to reveal contemporary energy and foundations simmered in ancient life, drama, and mythology. Athens feels like a famous relic and yet still fairly undiscovered in a city of culture and cuisine, markets, and museums. The city twirls beneath the silhouette of the Acropolis with images of the Parthenon reflecting the beginnings of greater Western Civilization.

A private guide is one of the keys to a safe and memorable tour of the Acropolis. “The guide will keep a small distance, and if needed, they will wear masks. The same applies to the driver that will take them [to the Acropolis]. We will follow the heath protocol advised by the state...The same applies not only for the Acropolis but for all archaeological sites,” says Irene, a Greece travel expert for Zicasso.

A private guide will not only give you personal focus and more in-depth information about the Acropolis, it makes it much easier to navigate the crowds to find the idyllic stories and preserved ruins at your pace. Irene also says, “[we] hand the tickets in advance and start as early as possible before the crowds arrive at the monument.” More than a city, Athens is a symbol that illustrates the roots and evolution of Western Civilization with a breathtaking view of the past and how it informs the present.

The Vatican

Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy

Vatican Museum in Rome, Italy

Rome is a city of monuments and monumental history with awe-inspiring effects. The city shines from antiquity to the heights of Christian faith, revealing romantic and charismatic treasures spanning more than 3,000 years. Contemporary culture shines a light on the sweet pleasures of life with cafes and restaurants, artistic splendor, and a connection to the ancient streets embodied in the essential galleries of the Vatican Museums. The Eternal City wraps around Vatican City, displaying eras of world-changing perspective stemming from architectural prowess to the seat of the papacy and the priceless works connecting Raphael’s masterworks to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

“Thanks to the new opening times, eight am to eight pm on weekdays, and eight am to ten pm on weekends, it is now possible to visit the Vatican Museums in the afternoon when there are usually fewer people since schools only visit in the mornings,” says Mario, a Zicasso travel planner for Italy.

The Vatican Museum’s galleries trace art and artifacts across the Mediterranean and across the ages with safety measures essential for crowd control that includes social distancing and fewer visitors admitted at a time. Mario continues, “Visit the Vatican Museums with less crowds with entrance in the afternoon at four pm. Visiting a less crowded Sistine Chapel will give you a complete, comprehensive experience of this incredible work.”

With the renovations completed on the Raffaellos Rooms, it’s possible to admire the great artist’s frescos in the Room of Constantine once designed for receptions and official ceremonies. The accumulation of diverse art and artifacts only reinforces the displays of one of the greatest museum collections in the world.

The Louvre

Ceiling art in the Louvre, Paris, France

Ceiling art in the Louvre, Paris, France

Paris is a monument in and of itself with charming tree-lined boulevards and classic bistros that reflect a history that continually charms visitors from around the world. While iconic architecture, stylish boutiques, and mouthwatering food remain staples of the city’s colorful heritage, the true splendor of Paris is often found in the galleries of the Louvre Museum. The palace was once home to royalty and now features a collection of approximately 30,000 artifacts and artworks, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.  “Now is the best time to visit the Louvre!” says Sophie, a France travel specialist.

The Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums and separates its works in different ways, such as by sculptures, paintings, or even the eras in which an artifact was created. The organization of the museum can help you view the works you may find most interesting while avoiding crowded spaces or more popular times to visit the museum. “You will meet with your private guide who will have your virtual tickets on his phone, avoiding long queues. Following a short survey, your private guide will select the best pieces of art for you to enjoy, thus avoiding unnecessary detours and providing you with the best experience,” says Sophie.

Paris is synonymous with style and elegance, and there is no greater place in which these iconic characteristics are on display than within the Louvre. Sunlight passes through the glass pyramid, you can travel a timeline from Mesopotamia to Rembrandt, and the Code of Hammurabi to depictions of Napoleon. Discovering the diversity on display in the Louvre is not just a depiction of World History or the evolution of the Mediterranean but a revelation of the continued triumph of the human spirit.

Anything is possible

The Dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy

The Dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy

Even as our ability to travel has shifted, our desires to explore and discover have only grown. Human nature urges us to experience new cultures, uncover new destinations, and enjoy our lives by traveling to new and exciting corners of the world. It is not an understatement to say that the pandemic has changed the way we travel, but we can also appreciate how the “new normal” is really just the “current normal.”  As we collectively move forward, your decision to plan your next trip with a local destination expert is essential, and Zicasso is ready to help you look ahead.  Fill out a Trip Request for more information, or call our Traveler Care team at 1-888-265-9707.

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