Ask T+L: The Inca Trail, Berlin Boutique Hotels
I'm considering a summer trip to Peru, including some trekking. How crowded is it on the Inca Trail?
—D.B., Windsor, Ont.
Solitude is unlikely during the May-to-September dry season. The number of hikers on the trail, an ancient 20-mile highway that winds through the Andes to the ruins of Machu Picchu, grew from 6,000 in 1984 to 66,000 in 1998, according to UNESCO. Last August, the Peruvian government restricted trekkers to 500 a day, limited group sizes, and raised fees from $17 to $50, all to control overcrowding. If you time your walk to arrive at the ruins before the busloads of tourists show up at around 9:30 a.m., you'll find things relatively peaceful. You can also overnight on the site: the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (51-84/241-777, fax 51-84/237-111; doubles from $275), a rustic 32-room hotel, reopened in May after a $2.5 million renovation.
I'd like to stay at a boutique hotel in Berlin. Any ideas?
—K.S., Chicago, Ill.
A handful of new properties take their cue from the city's love affair with design. The Dorint am Gendarmenmarkt (50—52 Charlottenstrasse; 800/650-8018 or 49-30/203-750; doubles from $235) is a minimalist space that combines Jugendstil elements with marble, dark woods, and plush white furniture. A bit less restrained is the Hotel Bleibtreu (31 Bleibtreustrasse; 49-30/884-740; www.bleibtreu.com; doubles from $180), whose graphic interiors — geometric carpets, striped upholstery, bathroom tiles in every color of the spectrum — are as vibrant as the Ku'damm, west Berlin's main thoroughfare, just steps away. The adventurous should check out Propeller Island City Lodge (58 Albrecht-Achillesstrasse; 49-30/891-9016; www.propeller-island.com; doubles from $75), a hotel in the Charlottenburg district (not on an island) designed by avant-garde artist Lars Stroschen; one room is bathed in orange light, another filled with garden gnomes.
My kids love volcanoes. How dangerous are the ones on Maui?
—P.F., Providence, R.I.
Not dangerous at all. Of the two volcanoes on the island, West Maui last erupted 200,000 years ago and is thought to be extinct, while Haleakala is dormant and unlikely to erupt anytime soon. Biking down Haleakala is a classic island experience. Maui Downhill (800/535-2453; www.mauidownhill.net) will bus you up to the crater at sunrise — the best time to view its Mars-like surface — then let you coast the 38 miles back down to the base; the ride is gorgeous and unchallenging.
If your kids are intent on seeing lava in action, take them to the Big Island, where they can watch Kilauea do its stuff in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The world's most active volcano, erupting continuously since 1983, is interesting but somewhat hazardous in certain areas. Read the Park Service's warnings at geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/fact-sheet/fs152-00.