Kristin Addis is the solo female traveler behind BeMyTravelMuse.com, a website for off the beaten path adventures. For the past three years, she’s traveled the world alone, hitchhiking in China, sleeping in a tent for over a month in Africa, and learning how to say ‘I love you’ in 12 Asian languages.
Picture this: You round a bend after a few hours of grueling hiking in thin air and suddenly the fatigue melts away, replaced with exuberance, because you’re a gazing at a dazzling blue Lake, bluer than you’ve ever seen before. But that’s not all, there’s a small waterfall trickling down into it from a massive glacier, creating one of the most magnificent panoramas in Peru, if not all of planet Earth.
Laguna 69 is impressive to say the least. It’s easy to understand why it’s right at the top of the list for most people visiting Huaraz in Peru.
It can be an incredible experience, but it’s not to be taken lightly. Logistics and especially the altitude can present significant challenges if you’re not prepared. The following will help you have a more enjoyable experience hiking to Laguna 69:
Could it BE any more majestic and stunning?!
How to prep/what to expect when hiking to Laguna 69
First off, Laguna 69 got its name because it’s one of several hundred lakes in the area and they didn’t come up with anything better.
I absolutely had to know and I figured you did, too. Moving on…
Though it’s hard to rate a hike’s difficulty or intensity since such things are subjective, I would personally rate the hike as moderate, though if not at altitude, it would be easy for someone who hikes regularly. The trail is gradual and there are no super steep parts, though you will gain 758 meters over 6 kilometers (≈ 2490 feet over 3.7 miles).
I always say the best way to prepare for any particular sport is by doing that exact sport. In order to prep for the Laguna 69 hike, do another hike in the area beforehand that is lower in elevation. The Laguna Wilcacocha is a popular one because it’s easy to get to and tops out under 4000 m. Though not spectacular, it’s a pleasant hike that helps you get ready for the main event.
Another lovely laguna on the way to Laguna 69
Laguna 69 rests at 4600 m (just over 15,000 feet) in elevation. To put this into perspective, Denver’s Mile High Stadium is only at 1600 m and Everest base camp is just slightly above 5300.
If you’ve hiked at altitude before, then you will know that what might have been easy at sea level can be infinitely more difficult when the air is thin. It’s no fun hiking with a pounding headache while struggling to breathe. What’s more, Altitude sickness can be quite serious and threatening.
The only way to combat it is by properly acclimating first — that’s ‘acclimatizing’ for the non-North Americans out there 😂– and that just requires time. Generally fitness levels don’t matter, and how you might have fared in the altitude previously doesn’t have much bearing on how it will be for you this time. I would advise leaving at least two days in Huaraz, at 3052 m, to get used to the altitude before attempting Laguna 69.
Some people advise taking medication for the altitude. I have personally never done this, even while hiking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal and Rainbow Mountain outside of Cusco, both of which are higher. Everyone has to decide this for themselves, but I personally want my body to be able to communicate with me, and the side effects are dehydration and sensitivity to sunlight, both of which are incredibly unhelpful at altitude!
Drink coca leaf tea, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and give your body the time it needs.
Take a guided hike to Laguna 69, it’s only 35 soles
I’m a big fan of doing things the independent way when it makes sense to, but for Laguna 69 it just doesn’t. It is easy enough to get a collectivo, or combi taxi, from Huaraz to the start of the trail via Yungay, However getting back can be problematic. There are rarely collectivos heading back in the afternoon, and if you have to negotiate your way onto a tour bus anyway, you might as well just take one from the beginning.
The only reason to take the tour is for the transport. Sadly you won’t have a guide stopping and explaining things. He doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than making sure the people at the end of the pack get back to the bus in time. The point is really just to make sure that you’ll be able to get back home at the end of it.
Everyone in town is selling the same exact tour to Laguna 69. There is no reason to pay more than 35 soles for it. I bought mine through my guest house for 40, however I found out later that Quechandes sells it for 35. I recommend them for all of your trekking needs – they were super helpful when I asked for advice on trekking Santa Cruz independently (but more on that in the next post).
The bus will pick you up at your accommodation between 5 and 5:30 in the morning. The drive to the start of the trail takes about three hours, and will include a breakfast stop. Meals are available for 15 soles each. They looked pretty good, but I brought some leftover pizza from the night before so I passed.
They allow three hours up, one hour at the Laguna, and two hours back down. You will get back to your accommodation at around 6 PM, give or take 30 minutes.
If you’d like to avoid a tour, it’s possible to book a car in town that will bring you to the start of the trail and will wait until you are finished. I heard the going rate is around 180 soles, which is perfect if you have a big enough group for it to make sense. Your accommodation would probably be happy to book this for you.
None of the above includes entrance to Huascaran National park, which costs 30 soles.
*If you plan on hiking Santa Cruz after, the ticketing prices have changed and it is no longer more economical to get a 21-day ticket, which doesn’t even exist anymore. Buy 1 day for the Laguna 69 for 30 soles and the 3-day for Santa Cruz for 60, even if you plan on being on the trail for four days. I’ll explain more in the Santa Cruz post.
Watch the video of the trek here:
Drone at Laguna 69 The BLUEST Lake in Peru! - YouTube
What to bring
As mentioned in the previous section, I brought along food for the trail. Your only opportunity to buy refreshments will be at the breakfast stop, so it’s imperative that you bring along snacks for the trail. There’s plenty of water running along most of the trail, however there is also plenty of livestock, so it would be wise to sterilize it. I use a Steripen for this, though you could also use chemical tablets.
I also brought along hiking poles. I find that they are very helpful. I didn’t notice many other people with them but they sure help me!
Be sure to bring waterproof layers as well. You never know what kind of weather you might encounter. Though it was a clear and sunny day when I went in early May, the very next day it was snowing in the same spot!
Finally, bring a way to protect your face and skin from the sun. Another unfortunate drawback of hiking in altitude is the thin air providing very little barrier from the sun.
I also insure myself with a travel insurance that covers adventurous activities like hiking, because you simply never know! It’s always better to be prepared for the worst while allowing for the best.
And Laguna 69 sure is the best, or at least amongst the very best in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range.
I hope this helped you to plan out your Laguna 69 adventure with ease. I used this hike as an acclimation hike for the Santa Cruz trek, a 4-day trail that I set out on solo and independently the following day. If you’re interested in doing the same, stay tuned!
The first few moments that you spend a new country can really set the tone for how your experience is going to be. Often, the arrivals hall of an airport is one of the most hectic parts of the journey – a place where it’s easy to fall victim to a scam, or to set yourself up for success.
Over the years I’ve developed a formula that I absolutely must do when I land a new country in order to avoid issues and reduce stress. I noticed other tourists not realizing how essential these things are, and often paying too much for taxis, not being connected from the moment they land, and getting overwhelmed.
So here are 13 things to always remember when you land a new country so that you can start off on the right foot:
1. Know where you are staying at least for the first night.
Once upon a time, I would just land in a new country and go find accommodation that day. I remember my first day in Bangkok, fresh off of an international flight, I got in a taxi and made my way to Khao San Road and then walked into that looked good. Little did I know that I could’ve saved money by taking the skytrain and staying in a different part of town. I hadn’t done much research before I arrived but now I know better. I usually do some research on booking.com or Airbnb (those links are both discount codes, by the way) and sort it by ratings of the location. I read the reviews and make sure it’s convenient to public transportation, if available. I’ve had much better experiences this way.
An awesome place I stayed at in Thailand
2. Know your transportation options
Before I leave home, I make sure that I know how much a taxi should cost from the airport to my accommodation. I Google it, then read up on which companies are trustworthy or if there’s another method, like a tuk tuk (common in Asia) or some kind of public transport, like a train in Europe, that I can take. In Bali, for example, I was once quoted 500,000 IDR (about $40) for taxi ride only 30 minutes away. That seemed fishy to me so I ordered an Uber And paid 73,000 (about $6) instead.
3. Google Sim cards
Right after I figure out my transportation options, I Google which Sim card is the best in the country. The first thing that comes up is almost always a forum where people discuss such things. Look at the most recent one that you can find and see what people say. Sometimes the airport is not the best place to buy a Sim card. In Lima, Peru, for example, you can only rent one, which seems silly. I decided to wait until I got to town to buy one in this case. Other times, they only offer terrible deals, like in Bali where they only sell ones that have 12 GB of data for the equivalent of $45, which most people would never come close to using.
However in other airports like Colombo in Sri Lanka, or Chiang Mai Thailand, there were multiple, reasonable options.
4. Download an offline map so that you know where you are going
Handle this while you’re still at home, too, and have strong enough internet to make it happen. I find that maps.me is a pretty good one, and it’s free! You can also download Google Maps offline for the country you’re visiting as back up, although for some reason it often doesn’t work properly for me.
How to download the offline map on Google
5. Check the current exchange rate
Upon landing, the first thing I do is open my GlobeConvert app (also free) and see what the conversion rate is from US dollars to that currency. I usually try to withdraw around $150-200 in cash. This will be enough to get me through at least the first few days.
6. Find an ATM
After I collect my baggage and make it through customs, the first thing I do is get some cash. The best way is to use an ATM card but doesn’t have any fees.Personally I use Charles Schwab. There is almost always at least one ATM in the arrivals hall, so I go for that. I’ve been advised in the past not to use airport ATMs since they’re sometimes fixed with scanners, but out of literally hundreds of airport ATMs that I’ve used, I’ve never had a problem.
7. Have a backup method for cash
Sometimes, the ATM will not work. This is rare, but it can happen particularly in very small airports in developing countries. It’s always important to have some USD with you, and denominations of $20 and in crisp, untorn bills. This way if you do need to change money, you’ll be able to. Money changers will never give you the best rate, particularly at an airport. Still, it’s better to leave with some cash than none.
Always be prepared! (In Berlin)
8. Buy that SIM card
Next, I will look for the stand where I can buy my SIM card. If possible, stay away from cards aimed at international visitors that give you a bunch of international air time for calls. With apps like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and FaceTime, you really don’t need anything other than data and a few local minutes in case you need to call your hotel or something like that. I usually just buy 1 to 3 GB of data and see how it goes. I’ll reload if needed at a shop in town. Note: you need an unlocked cell phone in order to do this.
Some people ask why I don’t just get an international plan with my home provider. If you are going on a short trip and you don’t have an unlocked phone, go for it. However Local SIM cards and data is almost always significantly cheaper than my European or US plan. For example, I paid $10 for 3 GB of data in Peru, and it costs me €20 for just 1GB in Germany!
Chances are good that you are probably exhausted coming off of a long, or even short, flight and this is what scammers are counting on. They hope that you’re going to be easily confused and you won’t really know what things should cost. Thankfully since you already did research on these topics, you won’t be a very easy target, but there’s still no reason through quickly rush out of the airport. Take five minutes, have a seat, get some water, get a tea or a coffee if you want to, and collect yourself before moving on.
I learned this tip from Wandering Earl back in 2012 and six years later and it’s still golden.
Coffee before talkie
10. In case you missed any of the previous steps, take this moment to connect to airport Wi-Fi and do some research
Sometimes I totally forget one of these steps and I will arrive at the airport not knowing what my transportation options are. Unfortunately, the information booths at the airport are often sponsored by companies and are really not your best resource.
For example, I once asked a lady at an information booth at Bangkok Sukhumvit airport how to get to Don Muang, the other airport in town, and she told me a $30 taxi. She seemed too eager and it made my alarm bells go off, so I kept walking and found a free bus. Ever since then I don’t rely on airport info booths anymore.
Your best resource is to use your 3G from your new SIM, or to connect to airport Wi-Fi and to do your research there. I would say 7 times out of 10 there is workingWi-Fi. The other 30% of the time, hopefully my other plan of getting a SIM card will have worked.
11. Use my selected transport method to get to my hotel
As a general rule, never get in the car with an unlicensed taxi, especially someone who comes up to you enthusiastically offering you a deal. If I possibly can, I use Uber, though many airports around the world have banned it.
Otherwise, I already know what a taxi should cost because I did my research, and I already know which company I should choose. So this step, which is normally where people run into trouble, should be a breeze for me. I will also know how close we are to my hotel on the journey, and whether or not the driver is taking the long way to run up the meter, because I am tracking it on my map.
This is a beautiful moment: Arriving (taken in Tanzania)
12. Check in, and ask the hotel staff for tips
Next check in, take a shower, and ask the hotel staff if there’s anything you need to know about staying safe in your new surroundings. Are there areas of town to avoid? Is it OK to take your phone out? Do they have a map you can use?
I also take this opportunity not to ask them where I should eat, but where they eat. I often get some nice local recommendations this way!
If there’s a language barrier or they’re just not very helpful, then my fallback plan is Googling again.
13. Take a walk
After I do my research, I usually spend the first day in a new place just walking around, getting a lay of the land, and seeing what is nearby. It’s a great way to settle into my new surroundings, discover little cafés, and just to be outside, which is so nice after being cooped up in a plane. I should already know which areas to avoid from step 12, and where to eat as well.
All of these things can set you up for more relaxed and enjoyable trip. The biggest thing is going into your new surroundings with a bit more knowledge than your typical tourist. It makes all the difference.
The airport arrivals hall can be an incredibly exciting place, but also a disorienting and stressful place as well, but not when you’re prepared. These 13 tips will set you up for success every time!
I learned a little something interesting when I set out to pack for my month-long trip to Peru: Depending on which source you’re quoting, Peru has 30 of 32 world climates.
If you want to see a nice variety of the country during your travels in Peru, it will be like trying to pack for a trip to the USA including both Hawaii and Alaska, a big city like Los Angeles, and the deserts of the American Southwest, all in the same trip.
I was able to fit everything that I needed, including a sleeping bag and other camping gear, into a 75 L backpack, which was under standard airline weight limits though still not ideal. However you could cut down a lot if you don’t plan on bringing your own camping gear like I did. The key is in bringing layers and wardrobe pieces that serve multiple purposes. With that in mind, this is my perfect Peru packing list:
For the Mountains and Highlands:
Get you a lightweight, foldable down jacket
The highlands include any of the mountain areas, like Machu Picchu and any of the hikes leading to it such as the Inca Trail, Cusco itself, the Cordillera mountains, Lake Titicaca, and so on. Chances are if you’re visiting Peru you’re heading somewhere high up, and that means it will be cold. Bring the following:
If you’re doing some unassisted trekking, you’ll want to bring along additional gear like trekking poles, a tent, sleeping bag, etc. However you can almost always find a reasonably-priced supported trek with gear, guides, and porters, or you can rent gear.
For the Amazon:
Boating down the river in search of Pirhanas, arms covered up.
The Amazon jungle is hot, humid, and in almost every way, the opposite climate of the mountains and highlands. However, you can reuse the cargo pants and the lightweight shirts from the previous section, and add just a few lightweight extras:
For Lima and Deserts
Wanted something cute for the city
In sharp contrast to the climates mentioned above, Lima and Huacachina are dry deserts, which receive very little rain and can get quite hot. I also tend to want to wear non-trekking clothes when I’m in cities. I blend in more and just feel more comfortable. To make that work, I brought a couple of things just for this region:
Though Peru not easy to pack for, it’s doable if you bring the multi-purpose items mentioned above.
You’ll also have many opportunities to buy cool things like the rainbow poncho pictured above, beanies, sweaters, scarves, and gloves made out of wool and even alpaca once you arrive in Peru. If you possibly can, leave some room for a little sweater adorned in llamas to bring back home with you. Prices will vary depending on the material and whether you buy off of the sidewalk or in a higher-end shop. Generally, you can haggle the price down. I paid $12 for the rainbow poncho in the photo.
I hope that helps to make packing for your adventure easier. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments!
Ever since I was a kid, logging hours upon hours on the Amazon Trail video game (anyone else play that?), I’ve been obsessed with the idea of visiting the Amazon jungle to see it with my own eyes.
Now I’ve been to jungles before, but nowhere had been this vast, remote, and unreachable by typical means. First, we flew into Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world without any roads leading to it, and took a speed boat for another two hours down the Amazon river to reach our ecolodge.
I didn’t just want to be on the outskirts for this experience, I wanted to head deep into the jungle, off the grid, for the ultimate Amazon, Peru experience.
The Amazon is the largest tropical jungle in the world spread out over nine countries in South America. The Peruvian Amazon covers 60% of the country and is one of the most biologically diverse regions on planet Earth, with the largest number of bird species and the third-largest number of mammalian species in the world.
Want to experience it for yourself? These are the things to know:
There’s a lot to choose from
Pink Dolphins & Sloths in THE AMAZON, PERU - YouTube
Considering how much of the country is covered in the Amazon jungle in Peru, how will you know what to choose?
There are two distinct regions of the Amazon in Peru: The lowland and the highland jungle. The highland jungle reaches into the foothills of the Andes and offers both warmer and cooler temperatures, plus a great deal of biodiversity.
I wanted to be super deep in the jungle rather than along the outskirts and therefore headed to the lowland jungle with my BMTM Adventures group. and I flew into Iquitos first (which I don’t recommend staying in – it’s a city) before taking a boat further into the forest to the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Regional Conservation Area. We chose this since there is no Malaria or Zika in this part of the jungle, and because of the Tahuayo Ecolodge which does conservation in the area, contributes to the local communities with clinics and schools, and respects the environment. Plus, they had the top-rated ecolodge in the area.
These animals are wild
One of our sloth friends
Bird and monkey sightings in the jungle are common, as are sloths and river dolphins, at least during the season that I was there (April, which is in the rainy season). We got lucky and saw nine sloths in one day, plus went swimming with pink river dolphins!
That said, these animals aren’t habituated like the Gorillas in Uganda or the Orangutans in Sumatra. You’re not in a small area like the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater. The lodge we stayed at doesn’t feed the animals, which is great because otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there, but that does mean that any animal sighting comes down to luck and timing. The animals are shy and would rather not be spotted easily. I say this just to manage expectations. Bring binoculars and get excited when you do see these truly wild animals!
You’ll be in the jungle
Boating down the river in search of Pirañas
Perhaps this point sounds obvious but what I mean is you will be deep, deep in the jungle. There is no electricity, 4G signal, roads, or power lines. This was the point for me – I wanted the full experience and to forget about the outside world.
However this also meant that everything in the lodge I stayed in was solar-powered. There wasn’t enough juice for us to have fans or air conditioning running. There was WiFi, but it didn’t really work (I didn’t actually try it but everyone who did reported this to be fact), and there were many mosquitoes. I’d asked for it, I’d gone into their house, but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for the amount I encountered.
Next time I’m bringing a mosquito jacket onesie so that I can fully enjoy the jungle treks. It doesn’t look pretty but it will give you a chance to be totally in the jungle without worrying about bites if you’re a mosquito magnet like I am.
Most lodges offer lots of activities
After swimming with dolphins and seeing 9 sloths!
Most lodges come as a package deal that includes your meals, lodging, transport, and activities. Each day, we had 2-3 activities that we could choose from that included searching for poison dart frogs in the jungle, zip-lining in the canopy, learning how to do weaving with women from the local village, bird watching, night hikes, dolphin cruises down the river, cultural visits to the village where we played soccer with the locals, fishing, and more that I’m probably forgetting.
I was also really impressed by the food at our lodge, which had fresh veggies every day and a variety of meat and veggie options, plus two cakes on the day that a girl from the trip, Julia, and I shared a birthday!
Swimming in the river is like getting a spa treatment
See the water color difference?
I just had to add this in because I couldn’t believe how soft my hair and skin were after swimming in the tea-colored acidic waters of the river. It lasted for days afterwards! I’m still rubbing my skin feeling a marked difference from the dryness the week before hiking the Inca Trail.
Different parts of the river can be white or black, as seen in the photo above where two river offshoots meet, and it all depends on the rains as well.
The Amazon in Peru is a one-of-a-kind Experience
Welcome to the Jungle! Sorry I had to.
If you’ve been dreaming of seeing the Amazon, do it. I’ve been to jungles all over the world from Africa to Southeast Asia and Central America, but never anything as vast and remote as the Amazon in Peru. In every other case, I could just get into a car and drive in or out, sleeping in a hotel that night that was nowhere near as remote as the Tahuayo Lodge we stayed in.
There’s nothing quite this wild or off the grid that I’ve done before, and I really valued each animal we saw because I knew that they were truly, 100% wild and that it was a gift to be seeing them. The experience is so unique, so if you want to do it, dooo it!
Do it yourself
See it for yourself!
If you want to repeat my Amazon Experience, book a flight into Iquitos on any of the local airlines including Peruvian, LATAM, and several others, and book with Tahuayo lodge.
In addition to the Amazon, my tour group went to Rainbow Mountain, hiked the Inca trail, swam with sea lions near Lima, and sand boarded in Huacachina, plus a bunch of other awesome stuff. We’re likely repeating the trip in April 2019. Click here to read more about my tours and to pre-register for Peru!
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I first heard that Peru has 30 out of 32 world climates in Cusco right before I started hiking the Inca Trail. I hadn’t explored much yet, but it made sense considering there are several mountain ranges, the Amazon jungle, a nice long stretch of coastline, and the sand dunes of Huacachina all in Peru.
Now that I’ve spent a month in Peru I can confirm, this country has more climates and microclimates than almost anywhere else I’ve been. That makes for some diverse travel options, as well as activities, and to be honest, a somewhat complicated packing list.
All that aside, Huacachina was a highlight for me, mostly because deserts and dunes are beautiful and mashing down them on a sand board or dune buggy had me smiling from ear to ear. The following are some of the best things to do plus a general guide to Huacachina:
So gorgeous (can you spot the dune buggy?)
Huacachina is located about 5 hours south of Lima down a desolate stretch of coastline. Unless taking private transport, like we did on my BMTM Adventures tour, or if going with Peru Hop (which I honestly think is overpriced), you’ll need to catch a bus to Ica first. This is possible from both Lima and Cusco.
Once in Ica, you’ll need to take a taxi to Huacachina. It’s a close drive and shouldn’t cost more than 10-12 soles. If you have a local SIM, you can also check for cars on Uber.
Golden hour on golden sand
Sunset and sunrise
The best time of day to enjoy the dunes is at sunrise and sunset. We arrived in Huacachina around 3pm and were on the dunes by golden hour.
Sunrise is also a fantastic time to be out on the dunes. Take a headlamp along and head out to the dunes behind the oasis and watch the sunrise over Ica to illuminate the dunes.
The sun will rise where you see the moon in this photo, where the dune tours all end.
Sand boarding, sledding, and dune buggy rides
As you can see from the photo above, Huacachina is tiny. The town itself is not the draw, it’s the dunes!
Just about everyone in town will try to sell you a dune buggy and sandboarding tour. They all go to the same place, so go with whatever price and company feels good to you.
The buggy ride is one of the best parts, both because of the thrill of racing down the dunes, and the fact that it means you don’t have to climb the dune in order to sand board down it. The buggies all run on a one-way track, so even if it seems like your driver is gunning forward full speed, you don’t need to worry about a buggy coming back at you in the other direction.
Another group in the distance – wasn’t it nice of them to pose under the sun rays like that?
Sand boarding, much like snowboarding, involves getting fitted for boots and strapping a board to your feet. It can be dangerous as the dunes are steep. I was a little surprised as well that we weren’t offered helmets like I had been in Namibia. That said, I find sand to be much softer than snow. If you enjoy snowboarding, then you’ll love sandboarding too.
If that’s not your speed, you can also sled down on your stomach, face first. This reminded me a lot of air boarding in the snow. You can use your feet behind you as brakes if you’re going too fast for comfort.
Time to shred
Scenic flights over the Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are also heavily promoted in Huacachina. Just about anywhere you can book activities will offer flights to the Nazca Lines as well.
There are over 70 designs etched into the earth, ranging from simple geometric shapes to more complex animals and and human figures. They were created by the Nazca culture between 500 BC and 500 AD and the largest of them are up to 1200 feet long! Given the sheer size, they are best viewed from the air.
From Huacachina, the going rate is around $90 USD and the excursion takes at least 6 hours, four of which are spent driving to and back from Nazca. Bring cash as at the time of this writing, the ATMs don’t always work in Huacachina and some or all of the fee for the flight must be paid in cash.
Flying like a bird, taking a picture of a bird. Win.
Where to stay
As mentioned previously, Huacachina is tiny. There aren’t a ton of options, but my group and I enjoyed our stay at Hotel El Huacachinero. It’s located right in town and has a nice pool, which is welcome on those hot days out in the desert.
For a more economical option, check out Wild Olive Guest House across the street. Both are well-positioned for an early morning dune climb!
Peru, I never would have guessed that I’d be climbing in mountains with snow falling down one day, riding a boat down a river the next, and shaking sand out of my shoes all in the same week.
If you have a chance to make it to Huacachina, do it. It’s worth the time in the car or bus for this gorgeous desert experience.
What’s the best place that you’ve ever traveled to?
It’s the question that almost every traveler asks another. Where in the world is so amazing that you would call it your favorite?
I find this difficult to answer, as I’m sure you do when you get this question, because each place has its own special meaning and beauty. That said, there are some places that stick out much more than others for me. There are places where I left a piece of my heart, places that are unquestionably on the highlight reel of my life, and memories that I still hold dear, years later.
Which places and experiences, over the past nearly-six years of traveling, have stuck out the most? Though it was incredibly difficult to narrow down, these are my top 10:
1. Wild Coast, South Africa
In Coffee Bay, South Africa
Before, I would struggle to say which country I enjoyed traveling through the most. Now I usually say South Africa without hesitation. It’s not just because it was my first African country, which awakened a brand new love affair with my now-favorite continent, but because of the people and the variety of activities and climates.
When I road-tripped through South Africa in 2015, I was invited to stay with locals all the time, of all backgrounds. I was blown away by the natural beauty and friendliness, though one place stood out in particular – the Wild Coast. It’s where Nelson Mandela was born, and where the most beautiful part of the country is, IMHO. I could stay there forever just walking along the rural bluffs over the ocean while dogs from the backpackers come join for the walk.
2. Torres del Paine, Chile
Las Torres, the park’s most famous feature.
Torres del Paine was the final stop on a 2-month journey through Patagonia, where I did my first multi-day backpacking adventures requiring that I carry all of my own gear and food. I’d previously thought I wouldn’t be capable of doing that, and now I’m pretty much obsessed, having done it in Kyrgyzstan, Alaska, and Peru! I can thank my Patagonia experience for waking up that side of me.
I’ll always love Torres del Paine for the challenge, for showing me that I could do it, and for being so beautiful. It’s hard to think of a place with heavier winds, more glaciers, better mountains, or a bigger wealth of adventures.
3. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Gorgeous Komodo National Park
I’ll never forget surfacing in Komodo National Park after a night dive on the Fourth of July, near the end of my first year of traveling solo. The milky way was in full view and my dive buddy and I had just spent the previous hour marveling at tiny little Mandarin fish with their bright orange and electric blue markings.
The previous week had been full of Manta rays, the most impressive corals I’d ever seen, and some of the best diving of my life. It still ranks high on my list of favorite experiences after all these years.
4. The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
At the Thorung La pass in Nepal, the highest point of the circuit.
Reaching the Thorong-La Pass, the Annapurna Circuit‘s highest point at over 5400 meters on my 27th birthday, was an experience I’ll never forget. The trek took two weeks and was the longest I had ever attempted hiking, which had previously only been for 2 days in China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I did it in running shoes and without a guide while everyone else seemed to be more prepared than I was with their hiking boots and topographical maps. Yet I managed to go for longer each day than I thought I’d be able to, and tacked on the 4-day Annapurna Sanctuary and Poon Hill treks too. After that experience, I truly felt like I could do anything I put my mind to.
5. The Ring Road and northern lights, Iceland
My Iceland camper van road trip was in a word: Magical. My friend Maksim and I impulsively bought cheap flights to Iceland for October without realizing how well we’d done with picking our time of year. We got fall foliage, super small crowds, better prices, and the northern lights three times during our trip!
The feeling of seeing the Northern Lights is indescribable. It seems like it just couldn’t be real, even though there you are, looking at it with your naked eyes. I’m still not over it three years later.
6. Tofo, Mozambique
Tofo, I love you
Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the world, Mozambique was the biggest question mark. I was supposed to travel there with someone I had been casually dating at the time, and when he pulled out last minute I was left with a choice: Go alone to a place I’d only read scary things about on the internet or cancel my trip. Daring to go made all the difference.
I met the coolest people of all my travels there, whom I’ve met up with again in Switzerland, Bangkok, South Africa, and Indonesia. Mozambique is also where I was when this blog really started to take off, and I’ll always cherish those days where everything seemed to go right and nothing went wrong. It was the place, yes, but it was so much circumstance, too. I think that’s why I can’t return, though I’d love to. Mozambique will always be a cherished memory.
7. Solo camping in Utah, USA
Dead Horse point
Though I’ve always loved California and Hawaii, it wasn’t until roughly a year ago today that I really fell in love with my own country and came to value the beauty of it. Utah was the place where I realized I could free camp in some of the most stunning places on the planet, where I’d meet a motley crew of other camper vanners on the journey, and where I could be totally, truly alone in the desert.
I solo rappelled down a canyon wall, drove myself for over 1000 miles through four states in the American Southwest, and saw some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on. America, despite all of your flaws, you are beautiful and I’m grateful to call you home.
8. The sunrise at Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
The sunrise at Kawah Ijen in Java, Indonesia
I often refer to the moment this photo was taken when I talk about the ‘highlight reel of my life’ because I can still remember it so vividly. I’d had to work for this one. It was almost impossible to figure out how to visit Kawah Ijen volcano without a tour, but I was determined. It almost ended badly when after almost 48 sleepless hours on cargo ferries and buses, getting catcalled, and scammed right away, I’d started to develop a mild hatred for Java.
Then everything turned around when I hiked in with the stars, just me and one other figure 20 paces or so ahead of me, and the workers who carry sulfur up and down the volcano day and night with superhuman strength. I got up close to the bright blue flames, felt the heat while covering my face and eyes for dear life, then hiked to the top for the sunrise. That figure ahead of me ended up being a fellow solo traveler and though we only shared that moment in time I think of him often. Back then we were the only ones up there watching one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen, though I understand it’s become more popular since then.
9. Black Rock City, Nevada
Burning Man is the one place I rarely photograph or write about, despite going to the last five burns and now gearing up to attend my sixth. I keep going back because it’s a part of my life now and it’s hard to imagine not returning to this funky city each year. It’s where I have my most profound realizations and for me, it’s like pressing the reset button each year.
It’s almost impossible to describe, but it’s safe to say, it’s a festival that has changed my life.
10. Inca Trail, Peru
Hiking the Inca Trail would have been a special experience in and of itself, but it’s of particular importance to me because it was the first tour I’d ever led, and even more importantly, a huge step forward for Be My Travel Muse. I’d always enjoyed spending time with readers but I never got to do so for more than a few hours at a meetup. This allowed me to have two full weeks!
Though it should have been scary to lead my first tour, I was just excited to finally share my passion with an amazing group of people. They blew me away with how fun, smart, and adventurous they were. I could gush all day about it. It’s an experience that meant so much to me, and I can’t wait to do more!
Out of all of these places, what I’ve come to realize is that even if a place is beautiful, famous, or both, it’s the people who make it memorable. Even though I travel alone, I can hardly begin to count all of the amazing souls who have come into my travel experience and enriched it simply by being there.
You never know who you’ll meet or what a place could mean. I never expected, prior to going, that these would be the memories that would stick out the most, but I am grateful for every single one.
Hiking the trail of the Incas is one of those YOLO experiences (can you forgive me for using that? It just felt so wrong it was right) that you’ve got to experience if you come all the way to Peru.
Though there are other trails around Machu Picchu that are beautiful in their own way, the Inca Trail is the pilgrimage route that was built and traversed by the ancient Incas to reach their citadel.
This moderately difficult hike is typically done over the course of four days and three nights, through gorgeous valleys and around sharp, sloping mountains.
For the best possible experience, there are a few things you need to know about hiking the Inca Trail:
1. Guides are required
Usually they come in human form
Guides have been required on the Inca Trail since 2001. While you can hire a lone guide and carry your own pack, most hikers join an organized group with one of the licensed operators on the trail. It’s a more luxurious experience with delicious meals, large tents, comfy sleeping mats, and a much lighter pack thanks to the team of porters.
While I’m normally the independent type when it comes to hiking, having porters to carry the load at that altitude was welcome, as were the descriptions from the guide about the Incan history and each of the ruins.
2. Some tours are better than others
We tried our porters’ backpacks on for fun – let’s just say we were glad to have them along!
Not all tour companies are created equally, though. Some offer a much more luxurious experience than others, with roomy tents, better food, and nicer gear overall.
We went with a higher-end company and had top of the line sleeping mats, toilet tents, which is a luxury when your only other option is a squat toilet used by everyone else on the trail, only 2 people to each 4-person tent, warm water each evening and morning to wash our faces with, comfy pillows, incredible gourmet meals with fresh veggies every day, and even a cake baked right on the trail for a birthday girl in the group. I can safely say I’ve never eaten that well or enjoyed that much comfort on a multi-day trek.
I loved the personable and professional guide that we had for my group trip to Peru – a trip I’ll be repeating in 2019. Click here to read more about my tours and to sign up for the interest list!
3. Permits sell out fast!
Very fast, indeed!
The Inca Trail gets more popular every year, though thankfully they limit the amount of people who can do it, which keeps it pleasant. However this means that permits sell out almost immediately upon going on sale. Each permit is tied to an individual person’s name, and must match your passport exactly. For this reason, permits aren’t transferrable and must be booked quite far in advance. Keep that in mind if you want to hike the Inca Trail!
4. Hiking the Inca Trail is the only way to see sunrise at the sun gate
Which would be amazing
The Sun Gate is one of the best views of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world. Those who visit Machu Picchu by bus can still get to the wonder itself at sunrise, but not all the way to the sun gate, which is about an hour hike away.
In full disclosure it was covered in clouds when I arrived for sunrise, but the creative commons photo above (since I couldn’t take one myself!) shows what it could look like if you got lucky with the weather.
5. Expect many different climates in one day
Everything from cacti to dreamy mossy trees
You want to know something neat? Peru has 30 out of 32 world climates and 90 different microclimates! It’s one of the most varied countries I’ve ever seen.
The Inca Trail had cacti, mossy forests, glacier views, mist, rain, heat, and cold all in one hike, and sometimes all in one day. This made it delightful as we crossed through several different microclimates during the hike, but it also meant that we needed layers and waterproof clothing to make it comfortable. Prepare for cold temperatures and rain but bring sunscreen as well!
6. You’ll see many amazing ruins along the way
The first appearance of the community poncho
Hiking the Inca Trail isn’t just about getting to Machu Picchu, though that is the crown jewel. Along the way you’ll see many other impressive ruins that were used for farming, lodging along the trail for the ancient Incas, and measuring moon cycles. Llactapata, ruins you’ll come across on day one, is pictured above.
7. It’s a lot of stairs
Taken on day three at the Inca tunnels
The Inca Trail is still 85% intact from the Incas, and they seemed to be huge fans of stairs!
Most of the trail is paved with stone and for the majority of it, you’ll be climbing up and down stairs. Though it’s only a 20-mile trail, the gain upwards to the Dead Woman’s Pass is significant and it’s almost entirely stairs. It’s totally doable if you’re fit and in good health but could be a challenge otherwise.
8. Hiking boots aren’t a must but they help
And they be stylin’
Since we’re on the topic of stairs, hiking boots are helpful for the ol’ ankles. This is the pair that I used, and have also put to the test in Alaska. They’re waterproof and offer excellent support. That said, if you don’t have a pair you’ve already broken in or really don’t want to travel with them, running shoes with tread are OK since it’s a dirt and stone path.
9. Hiking poles will save your knees
Even if you think they’re nerdy, trust me, hiking poles are your friend. Depending on the company you book with, they may offer poles for rent.
10. The altitude is a factor fasho
Up in the clouds
The Inca Trail isn’t particularly difficult to hike. It’s not technical and it’s not crazy steep. However, it is at altitude. At its highest point, Dead Woman’s pass, it reaches 4215 meters (≈13,800 feet!).
If you’ve never hiked at altitude before, then let me forewarn you, it will be MUCH more pleasant if you acclimate in Cusco first for at least two days, maybe more. If you have hiked at altitude before, then you’ll remember that the air is much thinner and each step requires more effort. This is why it takes so long for most people to hike the trail even though on paper it seems short at around 20 miles.
11. Huyana Picchu is a separate permit
Huyana Picchu is the high mountain that you see behind Macchu Picchu and it gives you a unique and, IMHO, awesome perspective looking down on the ancient wonder. Most people who visit Macchu Picchu don’t make it to Huyana Picchu because it requires its own permit and it’s an additional 300 meters straight up, you guessed it, more stairs.
If you can be coaxed, even though it might sound insane to sign up for more hiking after 4 days on the Inca Trail, I highly recommend this one as well. Just look at that view!
12. Bring a head lamp!
Some hiking will be in the early morning hours, particularly on the final day of the hike into Macchu Picchu. You may also head into camp slightly afterer dark if you take frequent breaks on the trail or get a late start. It’s also helpful to have a headlamp around camp.
13. Don’t forget to look up at night
The stars on the Inca Trail can be incredible. Don’t forget to look up at night!
14. Keep your day pack light
You won’t regret it!
You’ll have porters who carry your food, tent, cooking equipment, and even 7 kilos of your personal items including your sleeping bag and camp clothes – at least that was the case on my tour. I only kept my sunscreen, bug spray, and camera equipment on my back, as well as the group ‘community poncho’ that you see in so many of these photos – you never know when a photo op will strike that could be made better by a colorful poncho!
In all seriousness, keep your day pack light because you’ll feel every ounce at that altitude.
15. The crowds at Machu Picchu thin around the afternoon
If you can get the later train out of Aguas Calientes, where the hike ends, do try to stay all day at Machu Picchu, hike up Huyana Picchu, and visit the most popular parts of it in the afternoon after most of the visitors have left. Then make your way to the train (which strictly leaves on time by the way!), having enjoyed the ruins with fewer people.
I hope those tips help you to have a better experience hiking the Inca Trail. It’s an incredible hike and one of the most beautiful and unique trails I’ve experienced.
It was also one of the most comfortable and delicious!
Let’s talk about rainbow Mountain, Peru. This Insta famous mountain with layered shades of red, yellow, and green recently exploded in popularity and I’m going to have to point the finger at Instagram.
The social network is how I found out about it too, and I’m so glad that I did. All over Google, I read various headlines urging me not to go to rainbow Mountain, and others just showing overly saturated images of it. So what’s it really like?
I took my group there on the first leg of my Peru BMTM Adventures tour and everyone absolutely loved it. That said, it’s a challenging hike due to the altitude and not to be taken lightly. Here are the things to know about the hike and how do I enjoy it to the fullest:
What it really looks like
Seriously so cool in person!
You’ve probably seen pictures of Rainbow Mountain, part of the Ausangate mountain, also known Vinicunca and Montana de Siete Colores, with all kinds of color enhancement. Many of the images are, of course, digitally enhanced. That said, I was amazed by the colors in person, clearly seeing the layers of red, green, and yellow.
It’s not just the mountain itself either, the entire surroundings are colorful. You can actually see colorful mountains like this all over the Andes, including in Patagonia, however this is one of the most brilliant, exposed, and accessible.
Now for the rock nerds like me: The different coloration is due to mineralogy including chlorite for green, iron sulphide for the yellow, and oxidized limonite for the red (probably). The photo above is not digitally enhanced, and you can expect to see colors like this when you visit yourself.
The altitude is a major factor
With part of my group near the top
Rainbow Mountain sits at 5200 meters in elevation, which is over 17,000 feet. To put this into perspective, it’s only slightly lower than Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit‘s Manang Pass in Nepal. As anyone who has hiked at altitude knows, you can hardly breathe in air that thin. Walking and talking at the same time are basically out of the question. Don’t even get me started on munching rainbow skittles while climbing to rainbow Mountain. I have tried it, it was not successful.
The day hike itself is not particularly difficult. For most of it, it’s a gentle upward slope. However the altitude makes it infinitely harder. Please don’t make this the first thing you do upon arriving in Cusco. Give yourself at least a few days to acclimate. It doesn’t have to do with physical ability or how your body reacted to altitude previously. Each experience in altitude is a new one and it can be dangerous if not respected.
There are several ways to reach Rainbow Mountain
A view of the trail from around partway up
The hike in can vary from 9 days to one day. The vast majority of visitors visit for just one day, since the multi-day track is challenging and very high up. However the multi-day Rainbow Mountain hike takes you past snowcapped mountains, glaciers, and is on a quiet circuit with almost no other hikers. This is one I would love to do, so in case you would too, I’m just going to leave it here.
To do the day hike from Cusco, you can book with a local tour operator that will pick you up between 3 and 4 AM in town. The drive to the start of the trail takes about three hours and begins around 4000 m. Entrance to the rainbow Mountain costs 10 soles or it may be included in your transport fee. Unless it’s super high season and you’re concerned about availability, I’d wait to book a horse until you arrive rather than paying ahead of time online for 10x more. Read below for how to do it for cheaper.
Can’t walk it? Take a horse
Not a horse (that’s me!) but look at that lovely view!
Upon starting the hike you will see plenty of local Quechua people with their horses. They are also selling coffee for 2 soles each and even allowed me to mix Milo and coffee – I was so excited I just had to share.
The going rate, at least at the time of this writing, is 60 soles for a horse all the way from the beginning to the base of the mountain. At that point you will have to dismount and climb the rest yourself.
When I went in April there were enough horses, though I imagine in the busier months of June and July you’ll need to make a decision right when you arrive about whether you want to horse or not. However when I was hiking, people were constantly offering the horses all along the way. They know that people want to attempt it on their own in the beginning and eventually relent and give up.
Though it was a seductive offer, and they taunted me often with it, I declined and hiked the whole way up to the top by foot. However I had just finished the Inca Trail and I was already fully acclimatized. It was still very difficult for me and I took it slow. If you want a horse don’t be shy about it, just get one and enjoy your day.
The entire surroundings are absolutely breathtaking
All the wow!
What I didn’t know before heading to rainbow Mountain is how breathtakingly beautiful not just the mountain, but the entire hike would be. There are llamas and alpacas all along the trail, you got a gorgeous view of the Ausangante Glacier, and it’s not just Rainbow Mountain that is colorful. All of the mountains are various shades of reds and greens.
You’re going to be sharing it with plenty of others
Yes, this hike is popular. In a lot of ways, it is quite touristy with people at the top dressed up with bedazzled llamas asking if you want to take pictures. But there are plenty of things in this world that are touristy for a good reason, and Rainbow Mountain is one of them. I thought it was incredible and I can’t wait to do it again, so I don’t mind that I had to share it with a few other people.
Be prepared for all kinds of weather
You’re at a pretty high altitude, as I’ve mentioned excessively already, which means it can be very cold. I even had a little bit of snow at the top and hail as I came down. However they were the small hail balls which was exciting for me because it reminded me of Dippin’ Dots. Free Dippin’ Dots falling from the sky!? Heck yeah.
Bring gloves, bring a waterproof jacket, and bring layers. Absolutely don’t forget to bring sunscreen, as you can get fried at altitudes like that.
You’re missing out if you don’t go all the way to the top
At the very top, where it’s easier to get pics without people (taken with my drone)
A lot of people don’t go all the way to the very top of the mountain. I understand it’s very difficult, but they’re missing the best part!
If you have altitude sickness symptoms, descend as quickly as you can. It’s nothing to mess around with. But if not, try to go all the way to the top. You get a 360° view not just a rainbow Mountain, but of the nearby glacier and a gorgeous in the other direction. I think most people didn’t realize what they were missing by not going all the way up.
So should you do Rainbow Mountain? Yes, it is touristy, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. As long as you’re prepared for the altitude, dressed warmly, and willing to take a horse if you need to, it’s totally worth checking off the bucket list.
After all, how many mountains in the world are dressed as a rainbow?
Do you ever get that feeling when you arrive in a place and without knowing it yet or having any tangible reason, you just like it? That’s how Cusco, Peru, felt with its orange buildings, brisk air, and mountainous surroundings.
Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the perfect jumping off point for some incredible hikes, adventurous activities, and of course, Machu Picchu. Though this Wonder of the World is what draws most people to Cusco, there’s so much more do in and around the city.
Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire in the 13th century, serving as the literal center of power, with four roads leading from Cusco to the four quarters of the empire. Today, Cusco displays a mix of Incan and Spanish architecture and history, as well as serving as the perfect starting point for several day trips and multi-day treks. Choose your own adventure below:
The view of town from the top of the ruins
Cusco is considered the historical capital of Peru, thanks in large part to Incan sites of major significance like Sacsayhuamán.
Like Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuamán was a citadel of major significance to the Incas. The most mind-blowing aspect of seeing it up close is the sheer size of the stones, most weighing several tonnes, and marveling at how they fit together perfectly without mortar. How did they carve these stones so perfectly? How much man power did it take to move just one? We can only speculate.
This is a great introduction to Incan culture and to Cusco. It’s easy to get to, perched right above the city. Take a taxi up to the top, or walk, and walk back down the stairways and alleyways back into Cusco. It’s the perfect afternoon-to-evening activity while you acclimate to the altitude.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru is a central point where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, touts selling massages for 20 soles, ATMs, street vendors selling photos with bedazzled alpacas, and in the evenings, dance troupes.
I loved walking through it at night just after the sun went down and all the buildings on the hillsides lit up. It looked like a frame of little stars all around the cathedral and colonial arcades.
Paraglide at the Mirador
Not a bad view for a flight
On your day trip out from Cusco to Moray or the Sacred Valley, you’ll pass a mirador (viewpoint) overlooking the Sacred Valley that’s perfect for paragliders.
The views are nothing short of incredible. Though I only stopped at the mirador to take a photo, as many vans bound for the Moray or Salinas de Maras will, it would have been pretty cool to paraglide! You can book it here. If you want even more adrenaline, you can bungee jump nearby as well.
For those who love perfect circles
The circular Moray is another fascinating Incan ruin and a nice contrast to Sacsayhuamán. Instead of serving as a citadel, Moray was an agricultural ‘laboratory’ with several terraces of varying temperatures, presumably for more effective farming.
You can take a guided day tour of the Moray and the Salt mines of Maras mentioned below for $24, picking up and dropping off in Cusco. You’ll see them advertised on just about every shop window in town, or you can book with a trusted company here.
Salinas de Maras
Just a 20-minute ride away from Moray, the salt mines of Maras are quite a sight. I recall while planning out my Peru trip itinerary months ago, and declaring them a must-do for my BMTM Adventures tour after seeing a photo on Instagram. They were just too perfect for words.
They did not disappoint in person. There are thousands of pools of salt all along a hillside that opens up into the Sacred Valley, again left behind by the Incas, and still very much in use today. Workers manually scrape out the salt on the pond surfaces and are hard at work as the tours of the mines take place. It’s amazing to see an Incan creation that’s still in use for its original purpose.
Sacred Valley Via Ferrata and Zipline
For a more adventurous experience in Cusco, you can experience the Sacred Valley by seeing it from above, carried by your hands and feet.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the via ferrata, which is a clipped-in rock climb on cables and wire rungs on the rock face, can be intense. It’s vertical, takes upper body strength, and in parts, a bit of courage too. That said, our whole group of 15 made it up, and though it was the first time most of them had done anything like it, the overwhelming response was that it was an amazing sense of accomplishment. The best part is you get to zipline all the way back down after.
Not a bad place for lunch
You can also book the sky lodges at the top for lunch, or even an overnight. It’s pricey, and I’d hate to have to wake up in the middle of the night to need to clip in and climb to use the bathroom, but it would absolutely be a unique experience! Book it here.
Seriously so cool in person!
The Rainbow Mountain, Vinicunca, or Montaña de Siete Colores, has recently exploded in popularity after becoming insta-famous a few years ago. Mineral deposits on the famous mountain itself, and most of the surroundings, have made it an incredible explosion of colors in all directions.
I wondered if it would look as cool in person as it does in photos, and it does! For the benefit of anyone reading this, I did not enhance the colors here. It really looked like that.
It’s worth a day trip, however I urge you to do this towards the end of your Cusco experience once you’re already acclimated. The hike starts out over 4000 meters and ends at 5200 meters (over 17,000 feet) above sea level. I couldn’t do any more than slowly walk up, even though it was only a gradual incline for most of it. I felt the altitude the entire way, and this was after hiking the Inca trail in the preceding days.
It’s a 3-hour drive each way from Cusco, and most people join a tour to get there which you can book for cheap in town. It’s also possible to hire a horse for 60 soles to bring you most of the way up, which half of my group did and I would recommend if you’re worried about the altitude. But do try to get all the way to the top, it’s an amazing view!
Humantay Lake Hike
Look at that blue!
This gorgeous lake is what you’ll see on day one of the Salkantay trek, should you decide to do it, or it can be done as a day trip from Cusco. The drive from town takes about 3 hours, and most trips pickup around 3am. The climb is steep in parts, but the end reward of Humantay peak is a worthy reward.
The hike is 7km (5 miles) in length, but most of it takes places over 4200 meters. Acclimate for this one, too! You can book it here.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
I left the best for last here, because we all know that everyone heading to Cusco, Peru has one thing on their minds: Machu Picchu.
It’s incredible in person, and very much worth the effort to get there. I highly recommend hiking the Inca Trail in, as there are many other gorgeous ruins along the way. It’s also an amazing feeling to hike in the way that the Incas did, on a trail that was built by them and is still 85% intact in its original form.
However if that’s not your thing, you can also take a day trip from Cusco, or spend the night in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base, and take a bus up for sunrise. Alternatively, check out the Lares or Salkantay treks if you can’t get permits for the Inca Trail.
And don’t forget your Llama selfie
Those are the best things to do in Cusco, Peru. I hope this guide helped you to narrow down some of the coolest activities, and gives you a wide range of adventures to choose from.
Cusco was my introduction to Peru and I can’t say enough good things about it. It was so fantastic, I’m already planning my next group trip there. If you’d like to learn more about it and to join us, visit my tours page.
And don’t forget to shop for a rainbow poncho in the markets – then you can match Rainbow Mountain too!
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Saving up to travel the world is something that many people only dream of. Taking off with a nice cushion of cash to live the dream is awesome, no doubts about it, but what if there’s an alternative for those who don’t want to wait that long, or don’t have the means yet?
For many of us, we are privileged to have the choice to live life in a non-conventional manner. I mean, making a career out of a travel blog, for one, is something people from the previous generations could never imagine! While travel blogging is an amazing way to sustain a nomadic lifestyle, it is certainly not the only career option if you want to work and travel simultaneously. In today’s column, meet Liz, who volunteers and WWOOFs to not only learn and gain skills, but also to fulfill her passion for travel:
Tell us about yourself!
Liz on a beach in South Italy
I think I’ve always had an adventurous streak that came through pretty early, I could be quite a mischievous kid! I think the people who know me today would say that I’m easy-going, always down to have a chat or to be silly. I think I would like to be known as someone who was curious, always chased the inspiration and was good company. Someone who was fiercely independent, took care to learn and understand things, but also didn’t take life too seriously!
How did you decide to get into volunteering?
With a rabbit on a farm, doing exchange
I felt that something was missing from the long-term travels I had done in the past. I felt like I was just watching from the sidelines and not giving back. I was over hostels, the drinking culture and the exhaustion of staying somewhere for 1 day and then moving on so fast. I wanted a way to make travel a lifestyle and volunteering seemed like the perfect way to make that happen. WWOOF and Workaway are the main platforms I use to find volunteering opportunities on the road.
I decided to get into volunteering because it seemed to be the perfect compromise between the immersive nature of a working holiday, yet with the freedom of travelling. You decide where you want to go, and when to move on. Volunteering runs on the principle that you are free to go, but you choose to stay. It also allows me to stretch my budget much further, as I don’t have to worry about food and accommodation!
Tell us more about your experience volunteering on the road!
first ever solo trip to Nepal, at 19 yrs old.
I love to look for the quirky opportunities when trying to pick a project. It always adds something unique and unforgettable to my travels and my experience of a country. When you volunteer, you share the workday, a home, and meals with someone- you effectively get to live a different life temporarily. So why not choose the most dynamic and interesting experiences possible? From looking after goats in small mountain villages to living on a converted bus, I feel like I’ve experienced many different lifes in my limited lifespan.
I also try to pick volunteer projects that can teach me something interesting or useful. I picked a lot of permaculture and sustainable living projects at the beginning of my travels, as this is something I am interested in creating for myself in the future. These projects really helped me learn the ropes and see what these lifestyles entail, as well as allowing me to pick up useful techniques for self-sustainable living. You never know what type of help people might be looking for.
Volunteering overseas is also a great tool for learning languages! I find that hosts are normally extremely patient and helpful by allowing volunteers to practice the local language with them. It’s normally noted on host profiles what languages the host speaks. If they don’t speak your mother-tongue, it can be a great way to push yourself to practice and pick up language skills!
What are some of the other obstacles you’ve had to overcome in order to make travelling a lifestyle?
Liz with a mural she painted on a goat pen in Sicily
I think the biggest obstacle to overcome was the insecurities from the societal pressures that come with following a life without a set plan. I still meet people that subtly try and put me down when they hear how I’m spending my time because I’m not working towards a conventional career and I don’t know where I will be in 5 years (or even 5 weeks, haha). I think I overcame this firstly by honestly asking myself what I really wanted in my life. Naturally, I established that travel was a big part of what I truly wanted, and from there I set out to make travel both a wonderful experience and a learning process for me. When I travel, I try and set a goal to learn something specific, whether it’s a skill, a language- it doesn’t matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in. Knowledge is power, and I figure that even if I don’t know exactly how I will use what I’ve learned, it can be helpful in the future.
I love doing it, and it’s what I’d be doing anyway, but in this lifestyle, you definitely have to be resourceful and self-sufficient. The more you have to draw from, the more possibilities you create for yourself and you really never know when something can come in handy.
Also, if I ever find myself packing up travelling and starting a conventional career in a few years time, the interviewer will probably look at the huge employment gap on my CV and ask me what on earth have I been doing with myself the past X years. I hope I’ll be able to give them a good list!
How do you use travel as a way to learn and gain skills?
Gardening in Malta as a part of a volunteer exchange
Travel is one of the richest sources of education, you simply just need to know how to utilise the resources available. I am still exploring all the possibilities! For the last few months, I have started a project of immersive travel in Italy. The goals were to learn the Italian language, culture and history totally independently, without taking any formal classes. To do this, I travelled slow, used resources where I could immerse myself in the culture like Workaway and WWOOF. It was a sort of travel ‘experiment’ to see if I could find a self-sufficient mode of learning.
Websites for volunteering and cultural exchange like WWOOF and Workaway are great platforms because they put you into contact with so many different people with different skills and passions! You really can learn so much about culture, lifestyle, food and so many more things that you could never predict. Through my time using these platforms, I’ve been lucky enough to find people patient enough to practice Italian conversation with me. I started from zero knowledge, and have just used free or cheap mobile applications like Duolingo and Babbel to help me in addition.
Through volunteering, it’s also awesome to see how other people live self-sufficiently, there are lots of handy skills to pick up: self-built homes, growing your own food, setting up solar panels…I could go on. It’s awesome to learn about lifestyle alternatives, an one day I can use what I’ve learned to create something for myself when I finally want to settle down and have a nest to roost.
What are some of the considerations and experience you think others in your position should know before choosing a place to volunteer?
I luckily have never run into any problems volunteering. However, one piece of advice is to go with your gut. A host’s profile or the short email interactions you have with them may not seem like a lot to go off of, but I think that someone’s tone and expression say a lot. I try to look for hosts who are expressive and inviting in their approach, who view volunteering as a platform for mutual exchange and not just an avenue for free labour. It’s normally quite easy to tell. If something in the interaction makes you uncomfortable or ill at ease, just don’t go. Also remember that if you get there and are feeling uncomfortable in any way, you can leave at any time.
Checking past reviews are also a good tool when choosing a project if you are unsure of how to choose a project. Finally, always let someone back home know where you are and keep them informed of the address you are staying at. There is nothing to worry about as long as long as you just exercise general caution and awareness!
I was reading Be My Travel Muse a long time ago before I ever travelled! I remember reading Kristin’s budget post for South-East Asia, and thinking ‘wow! it’s really possible to do that?’
I think BMTM helped me a lot because Kristin always kept things real, and didn’t paint travel as just a long-term ‘vacation’. The articles about the struggles and the lower points on the road still had a takeaway for those not travelling, and they really helped me go into long-term solo travel knowing what I could be in for. Asides from that, the awesome photos and destination guides kept on fuelling the fire of my wanderlust…
Thank you Liz, for sharing your story! I often receive emails from readers asking how can they save up to travel, or make money on the road. I hope stories like Liz’s will inspire you! Check out her travel adventures on her Instagram and Facebook.