Travel writing has been my vocation for fifteen years, but traveling for pleasure a lifelong habit. As a guidebook author for Lonely Planet, I've trekked in the remote Baliem Valley of West Papua, stuffed myself into the rush-hour subways of Tokyo, rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and visited indigenous communities from the highlands of Vietnam to the lowlands of Ecuador. I have worked on over 30 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, including Grand Canyon National Park, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, among others. I've also written for international publications including the BBC, The Guardian, and Lonely Planet Magazine.
On my own time, I have picked my way across a Patagonian glacier, rafted Nile River whitewater, hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, camped in New Zealand, and sampled greedily from the gastronomic paradise that is Japan. I've also complemented my travel career with work in the wine and organic farming industries. When at home in southern California, I love hiking with my dog and stand-up paddling the Pacific.
Follow my sporadic posts on Instagram (www.instagram.com/wendyyanagihara).
What places and activities do you specialize in?
"Recently, I've traveled extensively in Uganda, in Ecuador's Amazon Basin, and on the islands of Okinawa and southern Japan, but I also specialize in Costa Rica, California, and the US Southwest. In my travels for work and play, I always look for hiking or trekking opportunities, as well as rafting or water activities – all of which foster a more intimate sense of place for me. "
How did you get involved in travel?
"My mother infused my life with a love for travel, taking me on my first international trip at age two. When offered the opportunity to write for Lonely Planet, I leapt at the chance."
Please share a unique travel experience you will never forget.
"Tracking mountain gorillas in the Ugandan jungle ranks among the most awesome experiences of my life. To be allowed to sit in the presence of such majestic creatures, who are so similar to us biologically, felt like a truly amazing privilege."
Featured trips & expertise
Over 900 miles southwest of Tokyo, Okinawa-hontō—Okinawa's main island—anchors the lesser-known string of islands straddling Japan's two southernmost prefectures. For those who fancy a beach holiday on their grand tour of Japan, its tropical climate and unique Ryūkyūan culture are just a two-hour flight from Tokyo.
Okinawa's attractions have something for everyone. They cater to cocktail-sipping beach bums, history buffs, and active adventurers alike. The island is fairly small, so even a long weekend can make for a refreshing breath of tropical air.
The sunny, laid-back island of Okinawa is not just a tropical paradise: it's also a foodie heaven with its own unique set of flavors and a famously healthy diet. Whet your palate with this guide to some of the island's classic dishes, and learn where you can try them.
Easily one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador, compact Cuenca is criss-crossed by rivers and surrounded by Andean slopes. Crammed with gorgeous colonial cathedrals, a relatively cosmopolitan variety of eateries, and lovely boutique accommodations for all budgets, the city makes an appealing place to linger for a few days.
With 14 days in Ecuador, the hard part is narrowing down where to go. Many visitors come for the Galápagos, but the mainland swells with natural beauty, colonial architecture in walkable towns and diverse indigenous cultures still practicing traditional arts and lifestyles. The gorgeous landscapes range from beaches to snow-covered equatorial volcanoes and finally humid jungles feeding into the Amazon.
Explore Costa Rica's culture from city to Caribbean Sea, starting with its contemporary art scene and ending with soul food and sea turtles. Leaving San José behind, the rain-nourished, undulating landscape of country's center gives way to Costa Rica's distinctly Caribbean coast.