And how you can fly for free too
Every now and then I'll be featuring posts from other travelers, because quite frankly..the best advice comes from other travelers. This week's feature is from Christina Nguyen, an avid writer and hiker who can kick your ass in any spelling bee or hoop dancing contest. (No, seriously - check out this rad video of her hoop dancing in the Grand Canyon)
This native West Coaster has made the leap over to the East Coast in Sunny Florida and is part of the new start up company, Wetravel.to. The company strives to make group travel as efficient, easy and free as possible. The next time you plan on making a group trip be sure to visit the site to build an itinerary, collect money and organize the group so no one's left stuck in the mud.
THE SECRET I'LL MISS OF SANTA BARBARA
EAST COAST VS WEST COAST?
Despite having grown up on the West coast my entire life I’m still figuring out which coast is my favorite. I definitely took it for granted.
Santa Barbara receives its fair share of tourists, particularly from European countries due to its beautiful landscape and year-round mild weather. It’s an ocean-front city of antique Spanish architecture surrounded by the Santa Ynez mountain range. I was lucky enough to spend an amazing 5 years there.
"FUNNY THING ABOUT LIVING SOMEWHERE: YOU DON'T REALIZE HOW BEAUTIFUL IS UNTIL YOU LEAVE IT."
When you have school and work and friends, how often are you really going to get out and explore everything in the vicinity? You think, oh next week I’ll go on that hike, or I’ll check out the other beach eventually. It’ll always be there.
It’s still there, alright, but now I’m on the other side of the country. Santa Barbara is well-known as a resort destination. There are plenty of tours that showcase around the downtown outdoor shopping area to the historic mission, take you out to the sea and even along the beach on Segways. Those were all certainly wonderful ways to enjoy the city, but the things I really miss about Santa Barbara were a bit more off the beaten path.
A SECRET LOCAL
One of the best things tourists miss out on when visiting Santa Barbara are the little trails that follow around the university towards the butterfly reserve.
Right next to the University of California Santa Barbara there’s a little town called Isla Vista, inhabited mostly with college students. Follow the most oceanside street, Del Playa and you'll reach the cliffs where the houses end and a pathway that leads all the way to Sands beach. TIP: Don’t call the street “Del Playa” in front of the locals because they ridicule anyone who doesn’t refer to it as “DP”. It’s a lovely trail with the ocean on one side and then trees and tall grassy lands on the other side with the mountains in the background. You’ll see locals jogging, biking, or bringing their surfboards along the little dirt road.
When you’ve reached the end of the road, off to the right is the access way to Sands Beach which even on the most crowded days still looks like a private beach. Sands beach is especially a treasure to the locals because the sands naturally experience less seaweed buildup than the bordering side, Goleta Beach. The stunning panoramic view of the ocean alongside the cliffs near the mountains is enough to inspire the soul into the sublime. I can still feel the breeze of the cool air from when I used to talk these scenic walks. The clear air was so refreshing that even the oil rigs in the horizon looked decorative.
There are several little dirt paths that branch away from the main dirt road which will lead you on a secluded nature walk. You would never believe that civilization was just around the bend. If you were to continue down Sand Beach not to far along is the Goleta Monarch Butterfly grove. It’s a precious haven that is free to visit for nature lovers. All these beautiful paths were just a walk away from my front door.
It’s now been about 3 months since I’ve moved to Miami, and I’m still adjusting to the culture-shock, hence all the nostalgia. One beach doesn’t quite exactly equal the other. Miami does deliver on warm waters in the ocean and humid weather. But visiting South Beach is very different than the scene I have pictured from the stock photos of the city. It is densely populated here and traffic is horrendous. I guess I just haven’t found my secret path here yet. Looking forward to finding out where the locals really get the most out of this tropical version of Los Angeles. There’s certainly one thing that I can give Miami kudos for:
It’s that they have the most majestic sunsets I have ever seen.
Southwest is having a 72 HOUR flash sale for domestic flights that ends at 11:59pm tomorrow October 15th. Personally, I try not to jump on flash sales because that's exactly what they are...a flash in the pan meant to rouse people into spontaneously booking a trip. A quick look through the prices for Southwest and I found a $79USD ONE WAY ticket from NY to Chicago. I just found deals for $86USD ROUND TRIP from NY to Chicago on Spirit Airlines for the same time frame last night. That's half the price of Southwest!
I ignited my inner 5th grade nerd and created an experiment. What if I were to delve in one step deeper and compare prices for the exact same dates? I'd use a search engine to compare.
I started with Southwest and checked the dates of November 4 -10th. With their cheapest options, I found tickets for $145USD round trip. Not bad, but I think we can find cheaper.
I then went on to look through Orbitz, my go to search engine for it's 24 hour free cancellation policy. They didn't have the same times, but dates remained the same. I found flights for $102.18 USD with Spirit.
Now, I already know that Spirit's flights should be cheaper due to my research from last night and I've mentioned in my PLAN section that sometimes search engines will garner additional costs. Let's see what happens when I cut out the middle man and go directly to the source.
LO AND BEHOLD. Spirit is $68.20USD ROUND TRIP for the exact same dates. You'll have to sacrifice some sleep for your return trip, but hey- that's what you get when you're spending less than a steak dinner for your airplane ticket.
Do some research before jumping on a flash deal. They do offer great deals, but you may be able to find a better one with a little research. Also, keep an eye on airports, Spirit and Southwest fly to two different airports and in this case are only 45 minutes away from each other. Depending on where you are staying the difference in cost might add up to the cost of a taxi cab anyway.
Europe is majestic. That doesn't mean New York can't be.
Located in the northernmost tip of Manhattan are the CLOISTERS, a museum dedicated to European Medieval Art. It is a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ticket holders from the MET also get access to this venue. Take the A train to 190st and enjoy a ten minute walk along the Hudson River through Fort Tryon Park to get to the museum .
Entry to the museum is a "recommended $25". Most museums in NYC, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History are "suggested donations", meaning that the price they display is not a firm one. You can pay anything you want, from $5 to $500.
Inside are over 2,000 pieces of artwork from Medieval Europe, with pieces taken from actual monasteries, churches and buildings. One of the most famous collections are the Unicorn Tapestries - which uncomfortably depict the capture of a Unicorn.
Free guided tours occur every day at 1pm and 3pm. The museum is rarely crowded, nor very big. I'm sure you could finish exploring the museum within two hours. Once you're done seeing all the art inside, take a visit outside in the garden and enjoy the view where you can pretend to pose for the cover of your imaginary cd album.
What do you think?Is it more European or American? Comment below!
The months of October and November are perfect for traveling - school's back in session, summer's over and everyone's back in the office. If you've got a few vacation days laying around, and some gloating you've been wanting to do around the office - then plan for some of the cheapest travel of the year in good ol' US of A.
Below are deals I found between now and early November, they're just a jumping off board to start from so get to planning! The longer you wait, the higher the price drops. I've had flights increase over $60USD overnight, so be sure to buy tickets quickly. (You can usually return flights within 24 hours without a fee - just be sure to check with your airline or purchase site)
This month I'll be taking advantage of some of these cheap deals and do some exploring of my own - so keep posted by following me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook!
- NY to Atl, Georgia approx. $68 R/T
- NY to Chicago approx. $80 R/T
- NY to Dallas, Texas approx. $88R/T
- NY to Miami <$200R/T in October and $107R/T in early November
- NY to Denver, Colorado approx. $245 R/T
- NY to Austin, Texas approx $213 R/T
- NY to LA approx. $267 R/T
- NY to SF approx. $296R/T
- NY to Portland, Oregon approx $336 R/T
After reviewing prices on Hopper, be sure to visit the actual airline, Google flights and other travel search engines to scout for the lowest priced tickets. *Chase Sapphire Preferred Customers should review the Chase travel booking site to receive 3 pts per $1 for travel purchases made before Dec 31, 2015.
The lanes at the pool were separated into FAST, MEDIUM, SLOW and RECREATIONAL, with the latter section reserved for beginners. This of course, was my lane. I had done my fair share of swimming in lakes and oceans but never confident enough to be on my own completely. There was always a lifesaver nearby, a friend, a floatie, a wall or a rock to grab onto. Now, at 26, I felt I needed to really hone in and become a good swimmer.
I was struggling to work on a new stroke and I tried imagining Bruce Lee's, "You must be like water" speech. I envisioned myself cutting through the water like a martial arts master, with slow rising music in the background and smoke coming off the water in a feat of my extraordinary prowess. I'd float out of the water, completely dry and impeccably dressed in a white martial arts suit with a black belt. Bruce Lee would mystically appear behind the smoke and say, "You done good kid, you done good. " It was a really meta seeming experience in my head until I opened my eyes and realized I actually hadn't moved at all. I was just an idiot paddling in the exact same place with my eyes closed. I was trying my hardest, and getting absolutely nowhere.
I looked at the other swimmers. They were like dolphins seamlessly gliding through the water. I was heating up inside from anger and disappointment. Why didn't my parents sign me up for swimming lessons? Why do I suck at hand eye coordination? Why do swimming caps look so stupid?
I had more to prove to myself than the short kid in a basketball game. The disappointment followed me the whole night - and after a few whiney conversations with friends, a few clips from Freaks and Geeks and finally, at a friends suggestion listening to the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" album I came to a realization.
Those other swimmers just weren't struggling now. I couldn't compare my few months of practice to their years and years and years of swimming. It wouldn't get me anywhere to compare. The same goes for life. You can look around and think everyone has got their shit together, but they might just be at a different place then you are. Maybe they've gone through their learning phase already, or are better at hiding it. What we see on the surface is just a small percentage of what really goes on under the water. You just have to keep swallowing the water, blinking back tears, pushing past your limit and know that one day you'll make it in the other lane. Not now, but soon enough.
Now, who wants to take me swimming?
I know that people think of traveling as a kind of frivolous and somewhat irresponsible route to take. Isn't it usually the mark of a teenager transforming into an adult, to prepare oneself for the "real world"? Shouldn't an adult have their shit together by this point, and be pounding the pavement everyday, working on their careers and getting a mortgage for their house? I think my friend Chris said it best when it comes to why people should travel.
When traveling, you get to be exactly the person you want to be.
For me, something happens to my mind when I travel, as if the whole process of adventure sharpens my mind like a knife on a block. Any previous fears or insecurities about myself grow obsolete and I immediately feel stronger. I begin to crave knowledge and the only way to slake it's thirst is by delving in completely until my curiosity is piqued. (That is before the next question arises.) Situations that would have broken me before are now merely obstacles. The word, "Afraid" becomes less and less used in my vocabulary and slowly I feel as if I am waking up from a haze and my vision is getting clearer.
I'm not exactly sure of the person I want to be. I'm not sure if anyone really does, but I feel like traveling puts me on the right path. For now, I will make do with what little resources I've got and make the most of it to grow my mind, body and soul. I've got the rest of my life to sit in a glass cage and look out.
The only thing worse than losing your phone is losing your phone AND your pictures. The ultimate question is then, what are the best ways to backup your pictures?
Here are the best (and cheapest) ways to get storage for your phone and laptop.
1. The GOOD NEWS is that Amazon Prime has just unleashed the newest feature to their customers. Amazon Prime is now offering UNLIMITED PHOTO STORAGE to customers who pay the annual $99 fee. This includes an app that you can download to your phone that will AUTOMATICALLY BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS when connected to WIFI. This is direct competition to Apple's iCloud feature. You can also upload pictures via the website with a pretty cool looking UI. (That means user interface - I learned it from reddit)
This is wild because DROPBOX only offers 2GB for free. An upgrade will cost you $9.99 per month for 1TB of space.
2. Apple iCloud has just come up with an upgrade to curtail this - and have increased their monthly 99cent plan from 20GB to 50GB. If you'd like more space, you'll have to hawk up $2.99 per month for 200GB and $9.99 per month for 1TB.
Either way, the world of photo storage is changing. If you don't have access to AmazonPrime, then MOOCH off your friend or family. Members are able to add one adult to their account FOR FREE and have access to all the amazon video, 2 day shipping and the UNLIMITED PHOTO STORAGE.
Don't have an iPhone OR AmazonPrime?
3. GOOGLE also unveiled UNLIMITED PHOTO STORAGE system earlier this year called GOOGLE PHOTOS. It's basically the same option as Amazon Prime except that high resolution photos (over 16mp) will be capped at 15GB. Compressed pictures can be unlimited. If you're already signed into your gmail account - then it will automatically link to your account.
All three options include apps and options that can automatically upload your photos to the CLOUD when connected to wifi so you can....
Personally, I use iCLOUD's 50GB storage and Amazon Prime's unlimited storage to clear up some space on my phone and laptop. So far, so good. ICLOUD saved all my photos from my travels when I lost my phone earlier this year - so I DO recommend getting some back up.
So there, three ways to keep all your photos from your trips safe, and all for less than the price of a McDonald's Cheeseburger.
Within seconds of arriving at our AIRBNB in Paris, I had lost my phone. It was a brand spanking new Iphone 6 with no insurance. Call it a matter of ego, I had gone through my entire college career with the same student ID, despite being broken in half and having a barely discernible photo of myself. I thought of myself as incapable of losing anything important.
I had always been extra careful with my cell phone during my travels. Warnings from my parents and other travelers had cautioned me about getting your phone stolen, and I heeded their advice almost to a fault. I slept with it on my body and kept it cradled in an inner pocket at all times while walking. I whispered sweet nothings to it at nighttime. As a solo traveler, your phone is your world. It's your camera, your contact with your friends and family when your lonely, your GPS, your distraction when you are waiting at the terminal, your form of research, your choice of food, your best friend. I was entirely too heartbroken when I left it in a cab and lost it at no fault to anyone but my own.
Without a receipt or a taxicab number, I had no way of getting in touch with my cab driver. My only course of action to take was to use my FIND MY IPHONE app and write him a message in French with my friend Justine's number for a contact. He reached out to Justine and left a voicemail, so in my eagerness, I wrote him a note of gratitude that you can see below. I imagined him returning to the apartment we arrived at and blasting a boom box in his arms, "Madame! I found your mobile!" He would shout, and I'd slam open the window in gratitude and cry with elation.
None of that happened.
Not even remotely.
He left no number in the voicemail so I was never able to get in touch with him. Justine's phone, being in France, had little to no service and missed the call entirely. I rewrote my FOUND MY IPHONE message to include my email. No response. Instead, a little while later I got CATFISHED worse than a fat kid in Iowa. They hit me with a false ICLOUD email saying that my phone had been located. It took my APPLE ID password and released the phone from my account so that it could be unlocked.
I ended up having no phone for the remainder of my trip as I traveled solo through Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and Greece for well over a month. Joke's actually on you Cabbie guy - my sense of direction has gotten so much better now! RIP IPhone6. You left me so soon.
Thanks to Google Translate I was able to write in French:
I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for returning my phone. I've been traveling for two months by myself and each photo means so much to me. You have no idea how thankful I am. Please let me know if you are ever in New York, you will have a friend in me.
Everyone had warned me about the French. I had heard horror stories from fellow travelers of being scolded by store clerks for not pronouncing French words right.
"They're going to be so rude", "Make sure you learn some French." and "Good luck loser", were some of the main staples I heard amongst the common room in my hostel.
So it was here, in Paris, that on my very last night, I found myself leading 14 fellow backpackers from my hostel to a bar that I had walked by earlier that day. I thought myself lucky to have gotten away without meeting any of the aforementioned "rude" Parisians, but I had this nagging feeling that they were waiting to pounce. We had a pre game at the hostel that night, and before embarking on where to go, I shouted out to the crowd that I saw an amazing bar earlier that day and would lead everyone there.
You'd be surprised to find how little of your memory sticks around after about two bottles of wine.
We walked down random, uninhabited side streets, getting deeper and deeper into the city for about twenty minutes. I could feel the alcohol wearing off the group and the crowd getting impatient with me. They were starting to question where the bar was.
I couldn't TELL everyone that I was lost and had no idea where I was going. I wasn't about to admit I was lost to a group of drunk travelers looking to get more drunk. I figured, as long as we just kept walking we'd eventually find a bar that was open. At this point, ANY bar would suffice.
Finally, in the distance, like a mirage, I saw a bright red light in the distance that said BAR.
"Here it is!" I shouted triumphantly.
It was a tiny, local bar playing quiet jazz with no more than 6 people inside. Small, quaint + dimly lit, the bar was not fit for a group of our size. Our rambunctious group crammed into the tiny bar like a fat kid into a water slide. The Parisians inside watched our group with bewilderment. They stared at us and whispered in French about us, mesmerized by our large, loud and drunk ways. A lady walked up to me - one of the group of three in the corner who sat silently judging us.
Here it is, I thought to myself. Here's the whole French persona I was thinking about. I turned the rings on my fingers around in case I had to throw down. She came up to me and said, "Excuse me. I could not help but hear that you are all speaking English. It's a very local bar, we never see foreigners in here. We want to welcome you to our neighborhood!"
She later on told me that she was born in the apartment across the street, grew up in the apartment across the street, and still lives across the street. Another fellow lived right upstairs and invited us to airbnb his apartment next time we came to Paris.
And it was here that we were able to meet some real Parisians. On a random street, that I don't even remember the name of the place - but it was the perfect ending to France for me. Locals buying us shots - some mixed cocktail that I couldn't tell but resembled a murky green Absinthe.
At 5AM that day, my lovely roommates woke me up to make sure I made my bus to the airport and send me off.
Suffice to say, I'm happy that I was proven wrong. Parisians are lovely.
PLAYA BLANCA, COLOMBIA
Let's agree that as common courtesy, one should never be awoken from a nap on the beach unless either A. They're turning red as a lobster. Or B. It's time to go. Be warned of some vendors here, as they are really aggressive; like the guy at the bar who thinks "not interested" means "try harder". I was napping on the beach when suddenly I felt something touch my foot. Instantly, I popped up to a woman, pouring a cool bucket of water on my foot, her hands kneaded between my toes. "Massage?" She asked me nonchalantly.
She looked me in the eye, with my foot in her hands. LIKE THIS WAS NORMAL. Do you understand how weird that is, to be woken up by a stranger who is massaging your foot and then looking you in the eye?!
"Don't worry. Relax. Just a sample now." She cooed.
I tried pulling my foot away, but this woman had a caveman grip on my foot.
"Umm, no thanks. Not interested." I shyly said. I was afraid a bit of what she'd do to my foot.
"10 minutes only $10"
Was she really trying to charge me for this unwanted molestation?! What is this 50 Shades of Gray? No way!
"NO. Thank you. I'm sorry." I said firmly.
And she finally released the claws, setting my feet loose. My pups were able to breathe again. Whew!
To be honest, a foot massage on the beach actually sounds glorious, and probably would have been amazing, but I get mad when I get waken up from my naps. I'm kind of like a 2 year old like that. Especially if there's no food involved. Or you know, if it's just outright creepy. And don't be fooled by the "free sample" though, cause they'll still expect you to pay. If you want a massage go for it, but just be warned. Ain't nothin free in this world honey.
FLORIDA STREET, BUENOS AIRES
Everyone knows that Argentina has a standard exchange rate and a "BLACK MARKET" or "BLUE DOLLAR" exchange rate. Typically, if you go to your local bank or currency exchange place (PLEASE DON'T EVER GO TO A CURRENCY EXCHANGE PLACE BTW) you'll find that you get approximately $1USD to $8Pesos. BUT, because of inflation and the US dollar being so strong, local Argentineans actually prefer American dollars. The worth is higher. You'll find a lot of the higher end restaurants in Palermo, Recoleta and the more touristy areas offer exchange rates and accept USD. Often they'll say what rate they are exchanging at the bottom of the menu.
So knowing this, there is a bit of a fishy option to really get your money's worth. You can head on down to Florida Street (ask anyone, they will know) and you will most definitely find men standing in the street saying, "Cambio, Cambio". Or "Change".
Chat with these men, and they'll haggle exchange rates with you. They mostly all speak great english and will give you a rate. I got $12Pesos to the US dollar when I was there, but you can get 12.3, or 13 more or less depending on the fluctuation. FYI: They only prefer crisp new $50 or $100 bills. You will get a less rate with $20's. So know that.
For my experience, I was with Melissa and Jen and I talked to 2 or 3 different guys in the street before settling on one who gave me the best rate. Also, the street is not sketchy at all. It's a super crowded, "Financial District" esq street with plenty of people, stores etc...
Our guy led us into an office building PAST AN ACTUAL EXCHANGE PLACE and into the back of a shop. If that's not ballsy, I don't know what is. I won't lie - that was ballsy. And while I was definitely sketched out I was comforted by the fact that when push comes to shove, literally, I would just shove my two friends into the would be attacker and RUN, saving myself in the process. It would be a worthy sacrifice. (sorry melissa and jen)
Once we got into the room , there was a little woman in front of a little cash box, and 3 other friendly guys. Honestly, we were very relieved to see the woman and everyone was really friendly and chatty. They answered all our questions, let us check the money 15x, with markers and knowing the 3 signs to see a counterfeit bill. In the end, our guy Jaime even gave us a BUSINESS CARD. It was the most legitimate illegitimate business transaction I'd ever been a part of.
Now there's no way I can guarantee that it's completely safe, but from my own personal experience and many others it ended up being fine. I definitely recommend being safe + using your head. Don't go alone. Don't bring too much cash. If it doesn't feel right - then don't do it. Trust your gut. And definitely don't say that I recommended it!
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
You know how they say NY is the city that never sleeps? Not true. Our bars close at 4am. People in Argentina don't even hit the club till 4am. On a Tuesday.
If you didn't already know, dinner is much later basically everywhere around the world except for America + America Jr. Our dinner time (6/7) is like lunch time and our night time (10/11) is dinner time. I happened to meet up with two friends, Melissa and Jen in Argentina - to hang out. We had been warned that partying was much, much later in Argentina, but we didn't realize just HOW MUCH that meant.
Here are some tips how to keep up with the Argentineans. (or Europeans + Latin Americans + Asians + Australias + Antarcticans)
1. DISCO NAP (7-9PM) - The most essential part of your planning. Grown up nap time. You'll need your energy to keep dancing till the sun rise with everyone. This happens from around 7-11pm, right after work and right before dinner.
2. DINNER (10/11PM) - Now you'll need a sufficient meal for keeping you up for the rest of the time. Restaurants are at their most packed now. You'll find it normal to see a lot of kids up this late with families at this time too. Sleep is for the WEAK.
3. PREGAME (12/1AM) - Bar and lounge hop with friends and meet for some few cocktails, smoke a million cigarettes.
4. THE CLUB (3AM/4AM) - You could come earlier, but it would be pretty sparse and no one would be dancing. Now is the time there are lines at the club. There are VIP sections, but clubs here tend to be a little more democratic. They have tables + seats available for anyone on a first come, first serve basis. Instead of beers, guys here buy buckets of champagne and guzzle slowly through the night, filling ladies glasses. For the most part, you'll find that people here don't get as wasted as we do. They're not like us Americans, loud and shrieking in the night, stumbling over our own pools of vomit. They're much more laid back, and don't get sloppy drunk. (generally speaking) From my observations, people were the most chill I've ever seen in a club before.
5. MUNCHIES (6AM/7AM) - Is that sunlight I see?! Nope, just the light from the kebob stand across the street. But yes, most likely this is where you'll find drunk people munching out and shouting, standing in the streets.
6. TAXI HOME (6:30/7:30AM) - Time to go home. And take a tiny little power nap before showering and heading off to WORK in just a few hours. Good luck trying to catch up kid.
Oh and also...totally normal for groups of men to go out together and have a bottle of wine. I found that really endearing.
Here's a list of some of the clubs recommended to us by some locals. I didn't get a chance to see them all but if you're in the area - check them out!
We checked out Kika. And went on TINDER to ask some locals for recommendations. Check out my article here about TINDER for travelers.
Pretty much, the best advice I've gotten has been from other travelers. Every traveler you meet is a resource of knowledge - where to go, where to stay, what not to eat, who NOT to talk to etc... You'll hear of places that were never in your game plan, and cross out other complete destinations. You'll make friends you feel closer to in a week than your best friends back home. After Macchu Picchu, the entire route of my trip was planned out one night in a drunken stupor at my hostel in Cuzco by a new friend - and the first stop, was a new dot on my map my friends, called - Huaraz.
Originally, I had wanted to try to visit Patagonia, the southernmost tip of Argentina to take a look at some glaciers, but you should know that flying in South America is extremely expensive. Their basic mode of transportation is by bus. So my buddy Alejandro told me, "If you want to check out some glaciers - go take a look in Huaraz!"
I took a 7 hour overnight bus from Lima to Huaraz for a 2 night stay. In that 48 hour period, I trekked across glaciers, hiked through magnificent mountain valleys, got stuck on the side of a mountain and traversed through several glacial lakes with colors even Crayola couldn't even try naming. From Hot- Cold, Huaraz was one of my favorite places to explore, and perhaps some of the very best hiking I've ever been on. Later on I found out that Huaraz is also the starting point to one of the most beautifully regarded hikes in the world, "Huayhash" which I plan on going back to one day.
See below for pictures but there are also other options -
If you can make a stop by Huaraz, even for two days - I highly recommend it for the adventure. See below for the details of what I did.
Transportation: Cruz Del Sur Bus / approx $40 US - Keep in mind that you can also go to the station to buy your ticket OR book online. I had a great time with Cruz Del Sur - they give you a little meal, have movies and cushy seats. It's very nice. There are also VIP and regular tickets. The downstairs section is VIP. Don't forget to bring your Cristal.
Where I stayed: Caroline Lodging / approx: $12 per night - I had gotten recommended by my friend Alejandro to this hostel. It is a family run hostel, so the family lives in this house. When you ring the doorbell at 5AM, the mom is the one who answers the door and the dad makes breakfast in the morning. The son is the one who drives you to the bus stop. While I loved my stay here and the place was clean + homey, I would not recommend this for a social or solo traveler. However, the family is adorable and so sweet + helpful.
Tour groups: 5 Hour Hike to Lagoon 69 + Pastoruri Glacier - The best part of staying at Caroline Lodging is that they are affiliated with a tour agency - so when I arrived at 6 AM to the hostel - the mom quickly arranged a day trip + pickup for me to Pastoruri Glacier within 5 minutes. The tour cost approx $35Soles or $11USD. Tours usually include transportation, a tour guide and a stop off at a restaurant for food (which you must pay for yourself).
Tips: Keep in mind that Huaraz is still at a very high altitude (3,052 m) or 10,013 feet. So you may still feel lightheaded, the hike to the glacier was a bit difficult for me. I would recommend coming here right after Cuzco should you still desire a climb. (Cause seriously, you will feel invincible after hiking Macchu Picchu). The hike to Lagoon 69 is incredibly beautiful and you see some really amazing terrain, but for me it was really difficult. Maybe it was the gluttinous 3 days I spent in Lima that completely rendered my body useless again to hike.
FOOD: Make sure you try the Aji De Gallina or Hen soup. It's really good! They'll have it everywhere.
PARQUE TAYRONA, COLOMBIA
There's so much exploring to see and do in Colombia, but for when you're in need of the all essential, unplugged, wi-fi free, beach chilling and living like a dream, take a visit to Parque Tayrona.
PARQUE TAYRONA is a national park that is about 2 hours from the beach side town of Santa Marta. Here you will find a little piece of heaven that will not only challenge your physical abilities but bring you some well needed relaxation from all the little made up problems in your head.
GETTING THERE involves a heavy amount of pushing -- Here's a little rundown of how you can get there.
CARTAGENA - SANTA MARTA - PARQUE TAYRONA
It's a bit of a trip but there are two options of getting there.
You can easily find cheap ways of getting to these beaches through your hostel or hotel. You'll most likely be grouped with other travelers and be sardine packed in little vans shafting people left and right. While you won't see much of the culture with the exception of through the glass windows- you'll find this the most easy and efficient way of getting around. Much like listening to FOX NEWS and letting them decided your vote. Or having your mom pick out your outfit for you. (Also good for solo travelers)
OR if you are with a group of people and would like a sense of adventure / can speak some spanish and are not afraid to haggle! The bus is a much more cushy, VIP style bus with leather recliner seats and is cheaper BUT keep in mind that you will have to pick it up on the outskirts of the wall in Cartagena, so the cab ride that it will cost you go get back into Cartagena might actually equal the cost of simply getting your ride from your hostel.
AM- WAKE UP EARLY.
Visit your local supermarket or walk the towns for breakfast. You'll find lovely snacks like PAN DE YUCA and LECHE from the local panaderias. Try them all, they're delicious and super cheap. Make sure you get tons of fresh fruit for the way there and little snacks - we were big fans of GRANADILLAS. Seriously - get them, and if you go, bring me back some. I had 6 in one day.
TIPS: Get to know your spanish and your numbers well. Dos Mil is 2000, but cinco ciento is 500. People come on the vans and sell things at various points throughout.
4 HOUR BUS TO SANTA MARTA
Santa Marta is a shit show. They'll drop you off on a corner and you'll have to find a place to see and eat in. It is hectic to say the least and you'll soon find that you stick out like a SORE THUMB. There's plenty of hostels to stay at, and everyone will tell you LA BRISA LOCA is the PARTY HOSTEL. I wouldn't recommend staying there as it gets loud and stays loud. You can easily, easily stay at MASAYA or EMERALD HOSTEL next door and walk on over when your done.
There's also a fantastic street market at nighttime. Really, a hub for the locals + tourists alike. Hygiene might be questionable, but the food is totally worth it and amazing. Just ask your reception where the street market is. Check out...SALCHIPAPAS, JUGOS NATURALES, HAMBURGUESAS, EMPANADAS + AREPAS
OVERNIGHT STAY AT PARQUE TAYRONA
The next day you wake up at daylight and hop on a public bus to the parque. Make sure you bring a passport or a copy of your passport and make sure you leave early.
-You'll arrive at the entrance of the national park where you'll have to pay for entry to the park. From there - you'll have to watch a video in spanish where you are taught about the wildlife of the park. From there you can either hike on a path to the entryway which is an additional 2 1/2 hour hike. I recommend going on the mini bus that takes you past the tarmac hike and brings you to the regular hike.
-Finally after the 2 1/2 hour hike - super easy. It's mainly level and by beaches etc..., you will reach the entryway of Parque Tayrona - where they will take down your passport information and give you a hammock rental.
There's a specific amounts of hammocks that you can rent out and they can sell out. The earlier you can get there, the better your choice is. There are higher hammocks with a view overlooking the ocean, and then there are ones beach level. Be warned - it gets cold at night. Freezing cold. Seaside, your nipples will be so sharp - they'll cut through your shirt like a fat kid cuts HS gym class.
No service. No rooms. Just a beach and hammocks. There is nothing for you to do but enjoy. And at nighttime, there's only the restaurant with electricity, (ish) it tends to go off so make sure you have a flashlight. And bring a pack of cards, some alcohol and mingle with everyone from table to table. We became friends with the guys from the shop where you can buy alcohol + various snacks + drinks. There are free lockers but you must bring a lock.
Also - there's really only ONE restaurant in Parque Tayrona in the area we stayed at, and it opens at 7pm. You'll have to wait on line and order from the lady at the desk and pay, then they'll deliver the food to each table. Make sure you get to the stands early and order. Friendly cats + dogs chill around the area too, so you can pet them.
THINGS TO DO:
Hike to Tres Pueblos - SUCH a fun hike. Hopping and jumping from boulder to boulder, climbing under rocks. MAKE SURE YOU WEAR GOOD HIKING SHOES + water. We woke up to catch the sunrise then do the hike.
Horseback riding - On the way back you'll be lazy to do the hike again, so I recommend going horseback riding!! For only about 30/40 Pesos or $12 USD, you can have a horse take you approx halfway back to the entryway. The horses look cared for and well rested, there's a huge amount of horses so they circulate. The view is absolutely gorgeous and you can pretend you're an explorer making their way through the wilderness. Also, if you have never ridden a horse, no worries! They will give you an older, slower horse (or maybe donkey) and walk with you.
Beach, Duhh - While not as calm and beautiful as Playa Blanca - the beach here is still stunningly gorgeous. There's a lot of driftwood though I should mention , but the sand is soft and the sun is warm. Enjoy it here!
THINGS YOU MUST BRING
-Passport or copy of it
-WARM CLOTHES - seriously. Hoodie, sweat pants + clothes. You will definitely feel it at night, especially if you are sleeping at the top - then make sure you bring a sleeping bag.
-ALCOHOL - Hide this well in your bag. They check your bag upon arrival.
-Lock for the free lockers that are at your disposal.
It was first time that I was actually solo on my 10 country backpacking trip.
Basically, I was so solo that when I went to lunch that day, my only companions were two stray cats. And I could tell they didn't even like me for my personality, it was clearly a guise for some free food. (Stupid Peruvian Tinder)
After wandering for a few hours, I got inexplicably lost. And at this point, the sun was starting to go down. And if there's anything you should know..is that you shouldn't be alone in a new city by yourself after dark. Generally speaking at least. My phone had died so I couldn't use it for directions but I knew I was in the right vicinity, so I just kept walking up and down the same street, juggling my leftovers, my huge paper map and some groceries in my arms.
Suddenly, a woman started YELLING at me. A man also started yelling at me, shouting and gesturing that I was stepping on her hat. Sure enough, I look down and she's bent over picking up a hat that was SUDDENLY under my foot.
I apologized and roughly walked away, confused by the whole thing. I was so sure the hat had not been there a second ago. She walked ahead of me and threw some sort of liquid (I'm hoping to God that it wasn't any form of bodily fluid) up into the air. A droplet of the mystery liquid landed on my forehead, and as I went to wipe it away, the same man came from my right and bumped into me trying to stuff his hand into my pocket to steal my phone.
Maybe it was the Brooklyn in me, but I somehow figured this out midway and yelled "YO! BACK THE FUCK UP SON!" and clutched my pocket before he could grab it. They scattered faster than Sisqo's groupies after the year 2000. Everyone, and I mean everyone, turned around to stare at me. I shrugged my shoulders and miraculously found my hostel.
I couldn't believe that I got targeted by a group of pick pocketers. Thinking back, it all makes sense. I was totally the fish at the poker table. I was an easy target. Tourist. Alone. Female. Lost. Stringy looking arms.
I mean, I guess everything happens for a reason because after that I just had to tell someone. And once I got to the hostel, I made friends with Kristine who I ended up traveling with for the next two weeks.
AND if you don't want to get pick pocketed while traveling- don't look lost. Look confident. Hide your map. Guard your belongings and keep them in inside pockets. Or...you can do what I did the next day - which was wear a bitchin red bandanna around my head like Ryu from Street Fighters. Let me tell you- NO ONE tried to pick pocket me again after that.
Keep your NY Spidey Senses on.
It's good to be a little bad..
Feet deep in mud, and shit. Literal shit- and at this point, I couldn't tell you if it was donkey, horse, cow, or at best, human shit. I'm scanning for the least depraved spots to step in, but as far as I can tell, it just looks like millions of miniature sinkholes as far and wide as the eye can see. The tour guide's all the way up ahead with the rest of the crew and I can barely make their forms through the 1980's THRILLER esq fog. All I can make through the rain is the back of Chantal's green poncho and her trusty walking stick. It begins to DOWNPOUR, and I'm trying my best not to sink when suddenly, SQUISH! My foot sinks into an exceptionally deep hole, and the shitty, muddy, rocky mixture seeps into my shoe, the cold, thick mass sliding down the back of my foot. With no end in sight, I can't help but curse myself for deciding to HIKE for 5 entire days to Macchu Picchu.
And yet, hiking to Macchu Picchu is one of my most favorite experiences.
Let me paint a picture as to how the Salkantay Hike goes. You trek 75KM / 46 miles, climb up 4,621m / 15,160 feet to the snow capped Salkantay Mountain- in the pouring rain and fog while climbing down steep rocky, muddy terrain, climbing up hot, sweltering, rainforest roads, and trekking through magnificent, mountain passes. It's quite the experience, and with a group of 10 other travelers, from all walks of life - it's a Paulo Coelho book in the making.
Starts off with a 4:30AM pickup time from my hostel. I learned the hard way that Peruvian time is very different from regular time. My guide picks me up at 4:45AM, BUT other people in my group are picked up an hour - 2 hours later. We started off walking on the roads and within an hour we were walking through enormous mountain ranges. Every once in a while we would see some small shack in the distance or some cows grazing, but other than that it was just us and nature. That night I saw the clear night sky for the very first time in my life. The night sky was the most gorgeous I had ever seen before. I stood there for god knows who long, feet sinking in the mud, mouth agape just staring up at the night sky which felt like it was inches above my face. Dinner that night was a candlelit affair with 4 courses and prepared by our chefs with headlamps in a camp "kitchen" tent. Tip your chefs!
Probably the roughest day of the climb, but the most empowering. This is where all the Paulo Coelho shit comes out. A grueling, 9 hour hike (Don't worry kiddies, if I can do it. so can you. Really.) If there's ever anything meant to destroy your self esteem, it's hiking in 15,000 feet in altitude. You get out of breath by taking 3 steps. If there's anything to build up your self esteem, it's hiking in 15,000 feet of altitude. There is nothing more fulfilling than reaching the top of the mountain. seeing the snowy tips around you, and feeling the presence of the countless others who made it up there before you.
The trip is easier in the facet that you won't be gulping for air, but you are going downhill in muddy, rocky abysses that look like the elephant graveyard from The Lion King. However, if you are given the choice--GO TO THE HOT SPRINGS. It will be the best decision you've ever made in your life. You can also take a shower here and reward yourself with a beer and snacks at the local shop. The third night will also be the "Party Night" where you will stay at a campsite with a few other groups and have a bonfire blasting terrible, terrible music with a disco ball outside. Your tents will be outside in the grass for the first time, unless you paid more, you'll be camping in an open building. BUT this will be the first night you can sit out by the bonfire and enjoy some Cusquenas and homemade liquor.
Arrival to Aguas Calientes. You'll be walking the Hydroelectric to get to Macchu Picchu and carrying your own things. A majorly non eventful day..UNLESS YOU GO ZIPLINING WHICH IS AMAZING and will be some of the best zip lining you've ever been on! Take your time and go because it will be one of the best days of your life. Even if you've given birth, this will come before that! You'll finally arrive at a hostel and sleep in a bed and have a hot shower after walking for over 2 hours alongside some train tracks. You may recognize these train tracks from the famously stupid "Kicked in the Head" Youtube video The whole group will get to dine together and have a great dinner - and you can of course enjoy a Pisco Sour or 2. Here, you'll get to enjoy the town and hang around.
Wake up at 3:30AM to join everyone to walk the Inca steps together. The gate opens at 5AM and it will be pitch black, so you MUST MUST bring a flashlight since you'll primarily be walking around in the dark. It's super creepy, but really fun too as you'll only see other flashlights ahead of you. Make sure to bring your passport and ticket as they will be checking for both. The steps take about an hour or more - and you'll slowly see the light come up and fog dissipate. When you do finally reach the entry point of Macchu Picchu, your tour guide will be waiting as well as several others. Once you go in - it will be a completely ethereal experience. After 5 days of hiking, you are FINALLY at MACCHU PICCHU.
Don't go to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes - as they are the springs that smell like piss because of the sulpher. Instead opt for the springs on Day 3. It'll also be the first time you get to have a legitimate shower for the first time.
Pick up a bottle of NUUN energy tablets. While you'll be mainly drinking water and coca tea, you'll be in need of energy and electrolytes during the hike. I highly recommend dropping one of these tablets into your bottle and give yourself a much needed pick up during the day.
Do bring extra snacks. There is plenty of delicious food that they cook for you - but you will want to snack - so bring cookies, candies, bars, nuts etc..
Enjoy the trip and don't rush. You'll want to keep up with everyone but you'll also enjoy seeing the scenery more.
FYI: Getting to Macchu Picchu can be a LOT easier than hiking. You can take also take a train to Macchu Picchu via Perurail.
The food is amazing and really delicious. You will be given plenty of food for Breakfast, lunch and dinner but be sure to bring plenty of snacks.
Sleeping in the tents were pretty fine for me. My sleeping bag and tent were both in great condition. You are given a light mat (like a yoga mat) that goes under the sleeping bag, but I would suggest asking for an additional or thick mat if you have a bad back. It even rained pretty hard on the third night when we were camping outside, but I had no leaks. You do have to share tents, so if you are traveling solo, you'll have to bunk with a stranger. But have no fears, everyone gets to be family very quickly! I never felt in danger once I was on this hike.
Our guide was amazing - very knowledgable, fun and made sure that we were all together + got along as well. We had an Asst. Tour guide, two chefs and two porters. The staff was incredibly amazing.
The hike was doable. Difficult at points, but there were also a lot of easy points. I would definitely do this hike again.
Ahh, Macchu Picchu - you glorious piece of heaven on Earth. If your life is all work, make adventure your mistress and hike to Macchu Picchu. She'll make you feel whole in ways work never could.
For starters, there are many different hikes to choose from. Here are the main ones:
*Prices generally include: tour guide, tents, porters, donkeys, chefs, meals B,L,D, train ticket + entry
Inca Trail - 4D/ 3N (Must be booked months in advance - $500USD+) Mainly, you'll be climbing a lot of steps. While you're on the world famous Inca Trail, you will be running into a LOT of people, especially during the peak season in July/August.
Salkantay Trek - 5D/4N ($230USD+) The trek I chose. You'll trek through entire mountain passes, climb up snow capped mountains, pass through rainforests, Martian looking territories and sleep beneath the stars. We barely ran into people along the way and it was the most amazing sightseeing I've ever done. Also has an option to go zip lining + visit the hot springs. My package came out to $300 including rentals for 2 walking sticks, a sleeping bag, zip lining, Machu Picchu Montana ticket, and an earlier train departure.
Jungle Trek - 4D/3N ($200USD+)I've heard mixed reviews about this one. It involves biking, walking + zip lining. Some have loved the trek, but some have felt this was lackluster and totally missing. More often than not, I've heard bleh from people so I had no qualms about skipping it.
BEFORE YOUR TRIP:
Probably two of the biggest fears that we are warned about when it comes to hiking Macchu Picchu are:
A. Physical Stamina / Can I really do this?
Ok, so maybe you shouldn't have spent the last week and a half Netflixing mid 2000's comedies in bed all day. (School of Rock,duh) But, when it comes to physically hiking the 5 days to Macchu Picchu, you can do it. This hike is one of the most popular treks in the whole world, ( seriously, National Geographic named it one of the most beautiful hikes in the world) so clearly a lot of people have done it. Unless you need a bulldozer to get you out of the house, I'm pretty sure you'll be fine. Parts are easy, parts are extremely difficult, but it's definitely not impossible. And once you do finish the hike, it's really an amazing feeling because you feel like you can accomplish anything.
The people I saw on this hike were mainly 18 -40's, and while there were some very experienced hikers, there were a lot of first timers + casual hikers. So when you think of it, there's a huge variety of people coming to this hike, and succeeding. However, one thing you have to think about is altitude sickness.
B. Altitude sickness
Make sure you acclimate. Stay in Cuzco for a few days (at least 3) before you go on the hike to see if you get sick. Some people don't get affected at all by the altitude and some do, but If you do get sick, make sure it's in the comfort of a place with a working toilet, excessive amounts of toilet paper and a real mattress. There was one girl on a different hike of mine in Huaraz, Peru (higher altitude than Macchu Picchu) who got so sick, she had to sit in one spot while we all went off. It was a 5 hour hike. She came unprepared, wearing sneakers, a PURSE, and didn't acclimate, so she ruined her trip.
If you can, go see your doctor BEFORE your trip and ask for a prescription for altitude sickness pills. I didn't know anyone who had to use it but it's better to have them just in case you do. I had the Diamox prescription but I never used it since I'm invincible.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP:
Fly straight to Cuzco. Skip Lima. Make Lima a trip for after you are done hiking Macchu Picchu. It will be really rewarding to be in a city again and have a hot shower AFTER you've shit yourself in the mountains 3x. Landing in Cuzco allows you to acclimate since it is HIGHER in altitude than Macchu Picchu.
PACKING FOR YOUR TRIP:
Basically when you go on one of these hikes, you will be carrying a daypack with you the whole time. The rest of your things (a max of 7kg bag) will be given to the porters/donkeys to carry. (with the exception of the last day where you will need to carry your things) These are also dependent on the type of tour package you bought - so check with them. You'll only have the things from this bag at nighttime when you camp, so pack your daypack accordingly.
Here's what I brought during rainy season in mid March. And I OVERPACKED. You don't need to bring so much and you sure as hell don't want to load these poor donkeys + porters with any pointless weight. I ended up wearing the same clothes for 3 days straight. (And they ask me why I'm single?) But alas - here's a list of what to bring.
If you don't have all your gear (walking sticks, boots, sleeping bags, jackets), you can rent it for a low rate in Cuzco.
Book, Notebook? Hah, funny. With what light will you be reading or writing? At the end of the day you'll be so exhausted from hiking you won't want to do anything but go right to bed. Alcohol? You won't want to drink until the 3rd night where they sell alcohol at the camp. Cut those out! I also barely used my gloves or yeti hat.
THINGS YOU'LL NEED
Notice I have all my clothes in ziploc bags? I went during rainy season , and they place all the bags on top of the donkeys, so when it rains, the donkeys still have to walk through the rain and so might your stuff. Some agencies will give you a duffel for your things, but mine didn't. I put my things in 1 big sturdy plastic garbage bag, and re bagged it 3x. Then they put the things in another tarp like bag before putting it on top of the donkey. So my stuff was dry, but I recommend ziploc bags.
GOOD Hiking Boots - Mine are Kean + they kept my feet DRY, comfortable and blister free! You can also rent a pair if you don't have good ones.
GOOD Hiking Socks - This will be the main thing you want to change, and you want to pull them up so you don't have to worry about ticks or branches cutting you. Also, you want to invest in some good socks that won't slip and give you blisters - which would really ruin your whole trip.
GOOD Poncho - For real, a legitimate Poncho - not the shitty ass plastic saran wrap they try to pass off as ponchos. I bought mine the first day at the store before we started the hike and it held up really well.
Down jacket - Best are ones you can condense like the Uniglo one and stuff in your daypack or hang off with a carabiner.
Rain jacket - mine was another condensed North Face one.
Sunglasses - The sun, bro is strong in the mountains. Protect your eyes!
Baseball cap - I bought a shitty one in Cuzco, and it came in handy for A - keeping the sun out of my eyes and B - when it rained to keep the rain from getting in my eyes.
Pack of cards - fun for the group at night
Bathing suit/ flip flops for when you visit the lovely Hot Springs
Towel - Highly recommend you get a quick dry condensed towel from Sea and Summit. I really could not tell you how much of a spacesaver and how amazing this is for any trip.
Passport - You can get this stamped at Macchu Picchu!!!
Camera- I had the iphone 6 + gopro 4 with a selfie stick. I also brought an external battery for charging, but I just kept my cell phone on airplane mode, and shut it off at nights and it lasted for 3 days.
Sunblock, bugspray - You'll be needing a LOT of these both.
Clip on Hand Sanitizer
Snacks + Nunuu Energy Tablets - Energy snacks are CRAP in Cuzco. There's all these weird, grainy puffy rice things. So if I were you, I would bring a bunch of CLIF or KIND energy bars, I don't really recall seeing any around Cuzco. I was also obsessed with mini packets of Oreos for some reason. You'll want some snacks/sweets to pick you up too. You can pick up Peruvian corn (yummy), nuts and FRUIT. Make sure you buy some fruit for the trip- it is so good in Peru. Try to find some Granadillas, which are like Passionfruit but sweet. Nunuu energy tablets are my favorite. it's like Gatorade in Alka Seltzer form. I like to add it to my water, once a day just so I can have that extra energy. Also, I've given them to others when they were feeling weak and it helped them a lot.
Cash / Soles - For tipping the guide, porters + buying various snacks/WATER along the way. Keep in mind you'll have to keep buying bottles of water throughout the trek which are sold at each campsite.
Walking Sticks + Sleeping Bag - My package stipulated that on the 4th day, we would have to carry all my own things because the porters would be leaving. So for everyone who rented their things from an outside agency, they had to carry their stuff the whole time. BUT, since I rented from my agency, I was able to conveniently leave them behind with the porters and only have to carry my own bags. Also, you should know that no walking sticks are allowed on the actual premises of Macchu Picchu - so it's best you rent from your agency, not an external renting co or you can find a stick on the road and throw it out as opposed to having to fold up walking sticks and put some dirty walking sticks in your daypack. **Walking sticks are imperative and highly suggested - they will save your knees and help so much when walking downhill or through rocky, slipper slopes.
Shampoo/Bodywash - There was a grody shower in my campsite the second day, and only one guy of our group of 10 dared to shower in there. The 3rd day, you will have an option to go to the hot springs and they have really beautiful, outdoor showers there.
Toilet paper / one sole coins for the bathroom - Outhouses and nature baby. You'll notice that everyone here carries their own toilet paper and you will too. I also brought baby wipes too. And whenever you do get to stop for a bathroom (campsite for lunch) you will have to pay 1 sole (peruvian currency) to use the bathroom, so make sure you get some small coins or bills.
Layers - It starts off cold in the AM, and blistering hot mid day. So I would regularly start off in the mornings wearing a tank top, my under armour zip up turtle neck, my uni glo down jacket, my rain jacket over that and then stripping down to just a cami as the day wore on. I wore leggings the whole time and jean shorts over those for the pockets.
Ideal Clothing Packing List: 3 Camis/tank tops, 1 t shirt, 2 bras, 5 underwear, 2 yoga pants, 1 pair of jean shorts, 3 pairs of hiking socks + 2 regular socks, 1 long sleeve, 1 Under Armour type turtle neck, 1 condensed down jacket, 1 condensed rain jacket, 1 good poncho. (You'll want a clean pair of clothes especially after your shower on the 3rd night in the hot springs + the 4th night in your hostel in Aguas Calientes.
It gets cold at night, but the sleeping bags they give you are warm. Make sure that if you rent a sleeping bag - you put it in really good covering. If it rains, it might get wet.
Arduous yes, but not unbearable. Your days will consist of spouts of weather more unpredictable than a teenage girl's emotions listening to a Dashboard Confessional CD. Rain, mist, wind, perpetual sun, hot, sweltering days and cold, chilly nights. You'll experience all of this in one day. You will be in altitude so high on Salkantay Mountain (Day 2) that you will feel out of breath with every 3 steps you take. From a scale of 1- 10, the feeling you get once you reach the top would be Beyonce vis a vis Superbowl 2013. Fabulous. I was the last in line a lot of the time, but mainly because I was taking pictures and enjoying things. I definitely enjoyed it a lot more than I felt that I was unable to do parts. I thought it'd be lonely doing the trek solo, but there were a few other people in my group who were solo as well. I had a great group and we all got along and had a great time trekking together.
I think that you'll be so amazed by how beautiful your surroundings are, you don't even notice if it is difficult or not. Walking Sticks helped a lot for me. No one in my group of 10 got sick, and one had arrived in Cuzco just the night before the hike.
Each day that I hiked, I found myself in awe of the world around me more than I noticed any physical stress. And before, I had never really hiked before. I did a few practice hikes in Colombia and Peru beforehand, but they were max 3 hours and nothing near the extent of what Salkantay would be. But, really, when you are there and hiking in the moment, you'll be having so much fun you won't even notice. I became close with all the people in my group and got to learn and see so much. There are so many parts of the hike that are lovely, casual, even walks, and you will really, truly get to feel, as Joseph Conrad put it, "a wanderer on a prehistoric Earth".
-Surprisingly pleasant! In Peru, you're not allowed to flush toilet paper into the toilet due to their archaic plumbing system. There are wastebaskets right next to them which is still kind of gross. They are outhouses, but once you go inside - you'll find a really new, clean and up to date toilet, albeit missing toilet seats, but flushing, running water...the works. There are toilets in every campsite - at lunch places they tend to charge 1 sole per use so keep that in mind.
PS- One of the side effects of altitude is nausea. It doesn't affect everyone, but I knew of some people who had some stomach pain.
Make sure you get a ticket for either Huanya Picchu or my personal favorite...Macchu Picchu Montana. These are about $10 and you must book in advance when you buy your package. Huanya Picchu is the more popular one and is a very, steep climb. There's a point where you need to hold onto a rope and climb up. Tickets were sold out when I booked my trip, so I went with Macchu Picchu Montana which is directly opposite, still overlooking Macchu Picchu just much, much higher. Be warned... I literally hated stairs after climbing that Montana and only took elevators for the next week when I was in Lima cause I hated stairs so much.
So should you go? Hell yes! And I suspect that if you go you could definitely make your trip under $800. Your money goes pretty far in South America. Read about my travel hack here on how to get a cheap tour to Macchu Picchu!
Read "Right Turn at Macchu Picchu". I hear it's good and from what I can tell (I read the first 7 pages for free on Amazon) it sounds really good.
WHO I BOOKED WITH
-I went with Jaime at Vertigo Tours. I walked out of my hostel and just started walking to find different agencies, there's about 100 in the town of Cuzco. But I went with my gut and he made me feel the most comfortable, and I had a great time. The best part is that if you go to Cuzco, you can just see for yourself all the different agencies and decide for yourself. More often than not, they will all offer the same thing because they use freelance tour guides - and all use one trekking company which is usually KB trekking.
-I stayed at Pariwana Hostel. It was right in the town square and conveniently located, great place to meet people and socialize, whether you are on your own or with friends.
-Make sure you don't get a train ticket for too late. If you are able to book your tour for very cheap that means they are most likely cutting costs in your zip lining ticket or your return train ticket home. Generally, the train back will be for 6:15pm from Macchu Picchu, but I had friends who paid less and had to take the 8 or 9pm trains back, which means a 1/2am arrival in the city. You will arrive at Macchu Picchu at sunrise - so there will be a lot of time for you to kill until 9pm.
-I was told by many that the hot springs in Aguas Calientes (town of Macchu Picchu, 4th night) are disgusting and smell of Sulphur, so we skipped it. We went to the hot springs the night before and they were amazing, so try to go.
-GO ZIP LINING!!!!!