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.
A few months ago I started a personal Instagram account, apart from @bemytravelmuse. My main objective was to follow my friends, pole dancers, and to watch cake videos, because I wanted a break from all the travel stuff and cake videos are so damn relaxing, I can’t even explain it.
Everything was going pretty well for a while until, I guess, I searched a destination on my Instagram and now my explorer tab is full of travel couples and fake sunsets. Man, I was trying so hard to get away from that!
I still love Instagram for getting travel ideas, and watching cake decorating late at night on repeat (is that weird?), but I wish I could just make the explore function go away when I want to search for something. This got me thinking, is there an archetype for being insufferable on Instagram? I think we all know that there are posts that make us feel better, and posts that make us feel a lot worse. I can think of at least 7 of the worst offenders:
If success is defined by humility, then a good relationship is defined by mutual approval rather than needing the world’s approval, no?
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with celebrating love and taking pictures with your boo, I think we both know that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about those Instagram couples whose account is solely dedicated to their relationship, who only post heavily edited photos of kissing, walking hand-in-hand into the sunset, or where the guy’s holding up the girl, while she literally dangles over a pool edge, in the name of likes and validation. It’s become so popular that there are tons of accounts just dedicated to relationships in hopes of making money off of it, or at least getting free hotel stays.
Why is this problematic? It makes it look like every relationship is perfect and beautiful all the time, but the reality is many of these couples fight like crazy while staging their love and devotion. It makes it look like you need to have a boyfriend with perfect abs to be a whole person. It’s a nice life perk, but if you’re not living your best life on your own, bae’s abs won’t fix it. This is where social media can get so tricky and bad for our self-esteem. We only see the manufactured good stuff (honestly would she be dangling off a pool edge if not for the ‘gram?).
A post shared by Kristin Addis (@bemytravelmuse) on Jan 28, 2018 at 6:34am PST
I took an entrepreneurship class in college taught by a mega-successful businessman. Something he said has always stuck with me:
“When things are going well, grumble. When things are going poorly, brag.”
Every now and then I think we all deserve a chance to get to look at our accomplishments and share them, but there’s a difference between something that’s helpful vs. self-serving.
There are some accounts that are constantly talking about how far they’ve come, what a big deal they are now, and how great their lives are.
This is all fine when the post is actually helpful in some way. If there are some tidbits of information as to how one gets to that place, or golden nuggets of wisdom for other entrepreneurs, then by all means. But what about when all it serves to do is low-key brag?
Kind of like the perfect relationship posts, it seems to me that if things are going well, there’s no need to state the obvious.
We’ve all seen it before, white girl goes to Africa, takes photos with African kids, posts it to her Instagram and people say ‘awww’.
But what is this really? Is it a bid to actually help someone, or is it an opportunity to use someone else’s poverty to gain more fame?
The topic of voluntourism is an entirely different article, but the white savior complex runs deep and if one really wants to help in the world, would it make more sense to empower locals instead, or maybe rethink how we approach aid in Africa altogether?
Girl, your ass looks amazing and I high five you. You clearly did lots of squats to get there and I have no problem with women feeling the body positivity. But I’m not really talking about women who post pics of their booties here, I’m talking about those who alter it for likes.
I have to ask, isn’t there more to women’s bodies than cleverly posing in ways and using apps that make other women feel inadequate?
Unrealistic body photos contribute to body dysmorphia in the same way that airbrushed magazine covers do. Frankly I wish I could’ve grown up in the world without all that because self-love is a lot harder when it’s impossible to look like an airbrushed image.
So if you don’t naturally look like you’ve had a Brazilian butt lift, fret not, it’s often the result of clever camera angles and lighting, and maybe even a helpful editing app.
A post shared by Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) on Jan 15, 2019 at 1:39am PST
What can I say about this that hasn’t already been said by Jameela Jamil?
I’d rather someone shared a healthy eating plan with me than a tea that is likely to give me the runs, don’t you? Let’s be on each other’s side and promote body positivity above all else.
6. The ‘My Life Is Perfect Let Me Tell You What to Do’ Post
I don’t want to personally call anyone out here, because I know a few of these, but I think you can fill in the blank. It’s the perfect image with a quote next to it urging you to do something each day that scares you, and the next day it’s a similarly perfect photo without any real connection to the caption, but since their life looks so perfect, they’ll keep pushing that myth without ever being vulnerable or real.
They wake up at 4am, meditate for an hour, run 10 miles every single day, have the perfect relationship, only stay in fancy hotels, have perfect abs, and have never struggled, felt insecure, or ate an entire pint of ice cream all at once.
And I just want to ask,
“But have you ever let two weeks go by without using a Q-tip?”
“Do you ever get bloated?”
“Do you ever get that weird hair part down the back of your head?”
I think a lot of these people live lives that don’t really measure up to what they portray, because nothing is perfect all the time, and we’d all be a lot better off with some raw honesty.
7. The Same Damn Preset. Again.
My ‘explore’ page now. More cake please!
Is it just me or is every single travel Instagram post a clone now, with an insane sunset and a flock of birds flying by, a flowing dress and the exact same color palette?
I miss the days when imperfection and creative self expression was okay.
I miss the days when everyone wasn’t going to Bali or Morocco, not that there’s anything wrong with going to either of those places, it’s just the getting the ‘gram has become the new modus operandi for a lot of travelers and the photos that I see lately are more or less the same.
Again, I’m not hating because I don’t really have a leg to stand on here. I love taking photos too, mostly of myself, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I love teaching others how to become photographers, however my course heavily focuses on developing your own unique gifts rather than churning out one specific style.
I love to see more remote places, totally different artistic takes on destinations that I haven’t seen before, and people out being general badasses. It’s so beautiful to see when the travel dream is still alive and well, and it’s about the journey and pursuit of originality more than all else.
I hope in this post it is clear that some of this is tongue in cheek and that none of this is meant to be a personal takedown of anyone. More power to anyone out there on the Internet making a living, being their own boss, and doing the damn thing. I linked to my own photo to show that I do it too, because I think every now and then, we all like to brag a little bit. We’re human beings, aren’t we?
But maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t hurt to have it pointed out that when we post with our ego it’s not always the best medicine for the world. Is it vulnerable? Is it real? Does it foster connection rather than sycophants?
Picture this: You’ve landed in a country of over 7,000 islands with pristine beaches, gorgeous mountains, and some of the friendliest people in the world.
The Philippines is also affordable and easy to travel through, with the majority of locals speaking English. While some of the best places to visit in the Philippines are more well-trodden, there are still so many hidden gems, too! Incorporating both into this list, these are 15 of the most beautiful places in the Philippines:
1. Bohol / Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol are one of the most iconic locations and natural phenomenons in the Philippines. The geological formation of the chocolate hills will leave you in awe, even more so at sunrise or sunset! With over 1,260 hills rolling into the horizon, they are covered with lush greens except during the dry season where the grass turns brown and gives the hills their name. This has to be one of the most unique landscapes in the Philippines and maybe even the world!
What to do:
Trek the Chocolate hills, located 2km North of Tagbilaran city center by tricycle.
Search for the smallest primate in the World, the tarsier.
Visit Hinagdanan caves en route to the hills and take a dip in the pools where hanging stalagmites reflect in the crystal clear water below.
Where to stay:
Alona Beach is a great place to perch to explore the wonders of Bohol! There are many accommodation types to suit all budgets including the cheapest but best-rated hostel, HM & B Backpackers Inn.
The most mountainous region of the Philippines is Luzon. While most visit this region for the UNESCO famed Banaue rice fields, further North and roughly 30 minutes from the tourist information centre at Banaue lies Batad rice terraces, worthy of any UNESCO title in its own right! Perched dramatically against the backdrop of leafy lawns, visitors can walk and talk the rice fields, visit an impressive waterfall, and trek high to the viewpoint for sensational views overlooking the terraces.
What to do:
Visit and swim in Tappiya Falls, a short and steep 15-minute walk from the Batad rice terraces.
Trek to the viewpoint along the trail from Batad Junction that overlooks the entire panorama of the rice terraces.
Eat Balut, (a developing bird embryo encased in a shell) the local delicacy which is sold along most trails in the local villages that stand on stilts proudly overlooking the rice terraces.
Where to stay:
Batad Transient House is an affordable way to live like a local in one of the many stilt houses that stand above the rice terraces
3. Mt. Pulag
Relatively overlooked but undoubtedly one of the best adventures in the Philippines, no trip to Luzon is complete without visiting its highest peak, Mount Pulag! Jump into a Jeepney at Baguio city and cruise to 2,400m above sea level to reach the starting point, a small local mountain village that offers trekkers the chance to stay with a local family, before waking up at 2am to begin the 4-6 hour trek. The destination is the ‘sky of clouds’, Pulag’s Peak. Sink in the first light of the day and enjoy the highest point in the Philippines as the sun rises magnificently above the sky of clouds that dissipate below. The trek back down to the village is equally as breathtaking with rolling hills, flora and fauna and fresh mountain air.
What to do:
Enjoy riding the local way by jumping into a jeepney at Baguio city and ride to Kabayan, the foot of Mount Pulag.
For the best views, set off at 2am which should see you make the summit, “the sea of clouds” in time for sensational sunrise views
Take some time to explore the mountain village of Kabayan where you can sample local food, visit the market stalls and speak with the villagers
Where to stay:
Babans homestay is located in the mountain village of Kabayan, offering guests a hearty traditional meal before waking at 2am to begin the trek for sunrise
A 4km stretch of white sand that was once voted “the best beach in the World”, the aptly named white beach on Boracay island is an absolute must for beach lovers searching for turquiose seas, white powder sands and a slice of the good life. Arriving at Caticlan jetty, visitors to Boracay can get on a boat that ferries passengers from 5am and 9pm to the island. Breakfast on the beach, water sports across the ocean, cliff jumping, inflateable playgrounds, bar crawls and golden sunsets are the order of the day!
What to do:
Cliff jumping at Ariels point with 5 cliff jumps ranging from 3 metres to 13 metres.
Sunsets don’t come more orange and hazy than in Boracay. Grab a beer and get set to enjoy simply some of the best sunsets the Philippines has to offer!
Kite surf on Bulabog beach where winds allow for optimal conditions!
Where to stay:
Hostel Avenue is the first hostel located on the white beach strip for a cheap way to roll out of bed and onto the beach!
Coron is known as the shipwreck diving capital of the Philippines, if not the World and the town itself is quaint, cute and a haven for visitors looking to get their diving fix. The town is awash with diving outlets, tour companies and travelers looking to explore both above and below the Sulu sea. Coron must have some of the bluest water in the world, with rock formations that pierce the surface and penetrate the skies.
For an off the beaten path adventure 20 mins from the hustle and bustle of Coron town, hop on a speedboat and arrange a jet ski tour through the lush mangroves and glassy blue waters on the South Eastern Cusp of Coron. Nestled amongst towering limestone cliffs, lush greenery and coconut palms, this is truly an exclusive and seclusive patch of paradise with an adrenaline fueled adventure awaiting anyone willing to make the short boat journey.
What to do:
Jet ski through the mangroves on either a 1 or 2 hour tour with an optional stop at a waterfall.
Take a dip in the natural hot springs.
Sangat Island offers the best and most easy access to the wrecks that give Coron the title of “shipwreck capital of the World”.
Where to stay:
Sangat Island Resort is a dive resort located on a sandy stretch of Sangat Island that offers guests the exlcusive opportunity to roam the relics of the island
7. Snake Island, El Nido
Snake Island is one of the busier destinations on the list but still more than worthy of note. El Nido is a traveler’s paradise with charming bars, restaurants and island hopping opportunities to explore the lagoons, caves and isolated beaches. Go diving, or visit one of the regions many iconic landmarks including secret lagoon, commando beach or snake island (pictured). For a more authentic way to explore rather than jumping on a tour boat, grab a kayak and row, row, row your boat to one of the many secret beaches bedded against the karst landscape.
What to do:
Island hopping tours – snake island is a must on the itinerary!
Rent a kayak from the town and head to some of the secluded lagoons and hidden beaches only a short row away.
Climb Taraw Cliff using a local guide who will take you to the summit with sweeping panoramas of the town stretching as far as the eye can see.
Just a 40 minute tricycle ride from El Nido lies Nacpan Beach, arguably one of the Philippines’ best and most easily accessible beaches. Bluer than blue waters, isolated patches of sand and palm trees that layer the entire sandy boulevard, complete paradise is the order of the day. Grab a coconut or three and soak up the sun!
What to do:
Swim and snorkel any of the 4km stretch of ocean that lines Nacpan Beach.
Walk to the tip of the beach where you will find panoramic views of the twin beaches and neighbouring Calitang beach
Sip beers or coconuts at the resto bar
Where to stay:
Mad Monkey Beach Hostel is the standalone accommodation located on the beachfront of Nacpan beach and offers the ultimate beachside retreat for direct access to the sights and sounds of Nacpan.
9. Bantayan Island
Way off the beaten path and still a hidden gem. Locals will welcome you into their guesthouses with open arms for you to explore powdery, undeveloped white sand beaches, local cafes, fish markets and yes, you guessed it, skydiving! Bantayan is the only way and indeed the only place in the Philippines to try skydiving, so why not mix an off the beaten path adventure with an adrenaline-fueled one too!? If you’d rather stick to the ground, cycling between the two main towns at opposite ends of the isle gives you some local culture plus plenty of beverage stops along the way. Simply get a bus from Cebu City to Hagnaya Port and jump on the ferry across to the island!
What to do:
Skydive at Skydive Greater Cebu, the only skydiving centre in the Philippines!
Cycle between the main towns of Santa Fe and Madridejos.
Explore the sandbars located in Santa Fe and laze the day away.
Where to stay:
Bantayan has a range of accommodation both in the town of Santa Fe and dotted along the beachfronts but choose to stay at a homestay for the most authentic way to experience this authentic island. Stevrena Cottages are a great value for money option!
With stretches of sand as far as the eye can see, Romblon Island, Sibuyan Island, Carabao Island and Tablas Island are insanely beautiful. There you will find more locals than tourists on the secluded sands, viewpoints and off the beaten path waterfalls! Check out the sandbars of Bonbon beach and the slither of sand will leave you speechless as you walk and talk for as long as the tide allows!
What to do:
Get lost on the sandbars of Bonbon beach.
Libtong Falls located on Romblon Island offers an off the beaten path adventure with a local guide.
Marakay Marakay cliff jumping can be located by boat where a tiny rock island houses a platform to send it in style!
Where to stay:
There are several guest houses in Romblon including Romblon Fun Divers who are also able to arrange a dive tour within the region too.
11. Siargao Island
Now regarded as one of the best spots to catch waves and get your surfing fix, Siargao island is a myriad of adventure including island hopping to “Naked island”, rock pooling, caving in Tayangban, and beaches housing sunset piers and karaoke bars. There is enough to explore and experience to keep you busy for weeks and is worth a lengthy trip all by itself!
What to do:
Sugba Lagoon is one of the Philippines most beautful sights with cobalt blue waters housing tiny mushroom islands including a diving board platform for those looking to take a more adventurous dip.
Dubbed the surf capital of the Philippines, there are waves a plenty to catch for every level offering uncrowded surf areas and optimal conditions to either learn how to surf or send your best surf kicks.
Just less than a 20km drive from General Luna lies one of the prettiest and most epic rope swings in the World and dubbed since 2017, the palm tree rope swing. Set amongst the lush palmy landscape, this rope swing nestled above a river.
A tiny islet situated 6.8km across a shallow strait of North Cebu lies scuba diving to rival some of the best dive sites in the World. Dive enthusiasts from around the globe come for the rare chance to eye thresher sharks and a vast array of marine life that leaves you in awe of life on this blue planet.
Want to dive in the Philippines, look no further! Beautiful corals, tropical waters and the rare chance to dive with Thresher sharks await.
Bounty Beach is the main beach on the island but you can kick back on any of the beaches across the island if you are willing to make the 1 and a half hour walk from one end to the other.
Explore the lighthouse that awaits after a trek on the opposite side of the main strip housing the dive shops.
Where to stay:
Evolution Dive Resort is one of the best dive shops on the island offering the chance to fun dive, take your qualifications a step further by enrolling on a course or also snorkel rental for non-divers to enjoy the underwater utopia
13. Kawasan Falls, Cebu
CANYONEERING TO KAWASAN FALLS | CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES - YouTube
While many choose to visit Kawasan Falls due to it being one of the best waterfalls in The Philippines, for those looking for an alternative way to explore the higher parts of the falls ending in the lagoon at the bottom, look no further than canyoneering your way through valleys, enclaves and rock pools. This is Kawasan Falls with a twist! The jumps range from 2m to 12m and will be sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Be sure to save enough breath for the jaw dropping climax at the bottom of the falls after jumping your way through glassy blue rock pools housed within thick jungle vegetation.
What to do:
Cliff Jumping tours can be arranged in advance or upon arriving in Cebu.
Board a wooden raft at the foot of Kawasan Falls where locals will submerse you within and behind the falls.
Located a 3- 6 hour trek from Kawasan Falls, trekkers can find a stunning peak overlooking Cebu, Osmena..
I’d been scanning my inbox for a while, waiting for the perfect deal to come through. Last year the only flight that had been impossible to book with any of my mileage points was my trip to Tonga. That one hurt at over $2000. For my return to the South Pacific, I vowed to do better.
You never really know if you’re finding the best deal by scouring flight aggregators like Google flights or Kayak. Is the timing right? Could it be better later? Did I miss the boat? Also, searching for flights is not my idea of a fun afternoon. That’s why when the deal appeared in my inbox, I made my move:
I was able to book a flight to the same region for less than half of what I paid last year, and 50% off the usual price.
This came to me via Travel a Bunch, a service that searches out deals for you and emails you every time they find a steal. The best part is it only costs $20, not per month, but PER YEAR. You can learn more and sign up here.
So far I’ve seen some super tempting deals like $400 round trip to Taipei over Thanksgiving, low $500s to Sydney, Australia, and Bogota, Colombia for $200. There have been other deals to Tokyo, Guatemala, Cuba, Malaysia, and Thailand all for under $500 as well. Even though not every deal will work with my schedule, every now and then the jackpot hits and I can get a super cheap flight which opens up way more of my travel budget for activities and accommodation.
Wouldn’t have minded paying less to get here, though it was amazing!
How Travel a Bunch Works
Using Travel a Bunch is pretty simple. When you sign up, you enter in your preferred airport and they send you deals. In the past 2 months that I’ve been using it, I’ve already received 12 flight deals to my inbox.
Travel A Bunch sources flight deals around the world from your home and surrounding airports, comparing prices, layovers, date availability and even the airlines’ reputation. They also make sure to include airports in smaller cities so that you are well taken care of even if you are in cities like Boise, Idaho, or Omaha, Nebraska. The deals they source are 2-9 months out, so there’s plenty of time to prepare and request time off of work and plan ahead.
If you’re into travel hacking like I am, you can also use the deals you find as an opportunity to search the same airline for their mileage deals. Chances are good that you’ll be able to get the flight for the minimum mileage needed as well, and there may also be other airlines price matching the one you get the deal for.
What I’ve received so far
For my Tahiti flight, I was also able to find it on other airlines for slightly more, including United, which I have mileage points with. Normally that flight would be a lot more miles (and money) than just $900 or 60k miles. Boom, I could book a RT flight to Tahiti for FREE.
I don’t know how or why it’s so cheap but as of now the service is priced at $20 per year which, if you book anything at all, pays for itself many times over. Travel A Bunch offers a 30-day free trial to test out the product and if in 6 months you don’t find a deal you like or don’t want TAB, there is a 6-month money back guarantee no questions asked. Right now TAB services clients with home airports based out of Canada, Europe, and Australia. They plan to expand to Asia and Africa in the near future. Learn more here.
Who are Travel a Bunch?
Frankly I get a lot of emails in my inbox asking me to review services or products, and as you’ve possibly noticed compared to many of my peers, I don’t do that many reviews. I have a policy that it has to be something I want to use and can test for at least a few months before sharing it here. Part of what made me say yes to Travel a Bunch was Ahmed and Mariam’s passion and mission.
Ahmed and Mariam, a sibling-duo, are the main force behind Travel A Bunch. Growing up as Third Culture Kids, they have lived in many countries with a diplomat father. It was only natural that the siblings got the travel bug and mastered the art of finding amazing flight deals. Since then, they have helped many of their friends fly cheap over the years and eventually, they decided to start Travel A Bunch so that more people can benefit from their expertise. Travel is an essential part of their lives, and they hope to help others do the same through their company.
I hope this helps you to travel more, travel farther, and makes it more accessible for you to find deals and opportunities to see the world. Travel is getting more and more accessible with services like this and I’m thrilled.
Once you do book that flight, come back and find the perfect itinerary here to make it the trip of a lifetime.
*This post was (obviously) brought to you in partnership with Travel a Bunch, whose service I seriously love and booked my flight to Tahiti with. I only recommend products and services that I love on this blog, and your trust always comes first.
Torres del Paine in Chile is the cherry on top of the Patagonia experience for most hikers. It’s hard to top the ice field, horn and tower-like rock formations, and the ever changing landscape from day to day of the trek.
I’ve hiked the O Circuit in Torres del Paine twice now, and it’s one of my favorites in the world for the physical challenges, the harsh but stunning landscape, and the number of ‘wow!’ moments.
Trekking in Torres del Paine is different than anywhere else in the world. You can pretty much count on very strong winds, rain, mud, and sometimes even snow. It sounds extreme but with the proper gear and preparation it’s a lot easier to enjoy it. These are a few things to know before taking on the O circuit trek:
1. There are Several Starting Points (But Just One Direction)
The bus that brings you to the park will stop at the headquarters where you pick up your permits and sign in. Next there will be several other buses that make several stops, including the welcome center and the Hotel Las Torres, where I started. You can also get off on the last stop and do the Q trek, or take a boat to the Grey glacier and start from there.
There’s no right or wrong place to start. Personally, I knew that I wanted to do the entire O trek and preferred to finish with the Torres, so I started at the welcome center. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to do the whole thing and want to test the W (the shorter trek) first, you can get the boat over and hike to Refugio Grey.
But if you’re toying with doing the full O circuit, you really should!
Also keep in mind that if you’re hiking the O you can only go in a counter clockwise direction, whereas those on the W can go both ways. If you’re doing the O, or just considering it, make sure you’re going counterclockwise.
2. In Case You’re on the Fence about Going for the Full O Circuit
You can only see this when doing the full O
By tacking on another three days in Torres del Paine you gain several things:
Some of the most beautiful parts of the trail are on the part of the trail that the W doesn’t cover. Some say it’s even the best part of the whole trek. Yes, you have to get over the John Gardner pass, but the reward of hiking next to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field all day is so worth it. You’ll get views that most people who visit the park don’t see.
The trail is much less crowded on the back end of the park, and the refugios have a more intimate feel.
The camaraderie with the other hikers is easier to come by because there are fewer people on the trail. You tend to meet each other, talk, hang out, and get to know each other before joining the masses on the W.
Refugio Dickson, only on the O
Convinced yet? Don’t worry, you can do it!
The pass (an achievement worth going for)
3. You Must Book Ahead of Time
Torres del Paine has increased in popularity by 30% year over year. If hiking during high season, you would be wise to book camping spots ahead of time, which you can do in town or on Fantastico Sur and Vertice Pagatonia. This wasn’t necessary when I went at the end of March but in January and February, definitely look into it.
4. Refugio, Rented Tent, or Backpack?
When booking your campsites you’ll have the option to just reserve a spot where you’d pitch your own tent, a place in a refugio, which are limited, or tents that are already pitched for you. The latter is typically a package deal that also includes all of your meals. Which should you go for?
If you have the budget, the tent rentals provide the best flexibility. This is what I liked about them:
You’ll significantly lighten your load without having to carry food, camping, or cooking equipment.
You don’t have to set up the tents, and they’re generally nice and big.
The sleeping bags were actually pretty clean and comfy.
The food is pretty good at most of the refugios, though some were much better than others.
If you opt for the fixed tent rentals rather than the refugios, you have more options for where to sleep, especially Los Perros, which is the closest camp to the John Gardner pass. Otherwise it’s simply too much to attempt from Dickson to Grey in one day. It would be over 30km!
The biggest downside is the cost. If you bring your own gear, you’ll be paying about a quarter of the price. You can always opt to eat some of your meals in refugios to decrease your weight, but also keep in mind they will serve guests first, so it’s not always guaranteed that you can eat in every refugio.
5. Important Things to Pack
Backpacking in Patagonia comes with a unique set of challenges that other parts of the world aren’t as well known for. In Patagonia you can count on heavy winds, rain, and even snow. You’ll want to bring gear that can withstand the elements, particularly that super insane wind! Keep the following in mind:
My tent (at Refugio Grey)
It’s tempting to bring a normal tent from home, I know, but a typical dome tent does not fare well in the wind in Patagonia. The last thing you want on an 8-day trek is to end up with a tent you can’t use, so get one that is good in heavy winds.
I used an MSR tent and it worked great. The key is the sturdy but light tent poles, which will hold up in the wind but won’t weigh you down tremendously. Every ounce counts when you have to carry 8 days worth of provisions!
Get travel insurance that covers hiking. This basic package covers hiking under 3000 meters (this trek is definitely under that). There is no search and rescue in the park, and this will cover you if you need extra help getting out should you experience an injury.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that running shoes are just fine to use in Torres del Paine. The trail is very muddy and rocky, and some ankle protection plus a waterproof shell are both important to keeping you dry and blister-free. Remember to lace them up tight and get some nice thick socks as well! This is the pair of boots that I recommend and these are the socks I suggest.
*If you do get blisters, Compeed is a really helpful blister bandage. It’s sweat-proof, so each one can last a couple of days.
Check out those clouds! They look that way thanks to the strong winds (this is a view from the O circuit trek)
The wind on two days of the trek in Patagonia literally lifted me up and slammed me forward, it was so strong. My hiking poles saved my face by helping me with balance. They also help tremendously for going downhill, especially if your knees tend to bother you on long hikes, or if this is the first one you’re attempting.
Like with the tent poles, sturdy but light ones are great to have along. Cheap ones break quickly. These are the ones I used.
Waterproof Your Backpack
A rain cover isn’t very useful in Patagonia. Due to the wind, they either blow right off or make tons of noise in your ears as the wind runs through them. Since the wind seriously does reach 100km/hour and over, they can blow right off and then become litter in the park. Nobody wants that!
The solution is to line your backpack with a bin liner/trash bag and to wrap everything inside in its own bag as well.
It’s okay if the backpack gets wet. It’ll dry out in the wind and they’re made to be resilient. The stuff inside will stay dry with the double bag protection. Happy days!
What Should You Eat?
Breakfasts in a bag
All the powdered food!
I know that’s not very exciting, but in all seriousness, cans, packaged sauces, and anything that creates a lot of waste will be heavy and annoying on the trail. Food is the heaviest item on an 8-day trek, so it’s essential to cut weight wherever possible. There’s so much water available everywhere along the trail, flowing from every glacier and stream, so buying things that just need to be rehydrated works best.
It’s also helpful to pack lunches that don’t need to be cooked that you can snack on while moving or during short breaks. I’d suggest fruit and nuts. They pack lots of energy and calories for their weight.
One of my lunch bags
Here’s my food list for 8 days (consider that portions depend on your personal food intake, and keep in mind you’ll be exercising a lot):
1 portion per day of oatmeal with powdered milk, milo, and dried fruit inside
16 bags of tea
2-3 kilos of nuts and dried fruit for lunches
16 Snickers bars (oh yeah I did)
150 grams of pasta, couscous, or powdered mashed potatoes for dinner per night +1 emergency pasta (just in case)
8 packets of dried soup + dried pasta sauce (tomato soup also works)
Small amounts of cheese or salami to flavor pasta (or herbs and dried veggies, if you can find them, if you’re plant-based)
You can buy all of the food you’ll need in the shops in Puerto Natales. I urge you to shop at the small, independent grocers and split your shopping between a few stores. There’s even a dedicated fruit and nut shop with dried mango and melon!
6. What Else to Bring (and How to Lighten Your Load)
one week’s worth of food and gear in Patagonia
So what else goes into your pack? Chances are 80% of it will be full with food, and I’d also bring along:
1 small first-aid kit
Only 2 changes of clothes – one for hiking and one for sleeping (yes you will wear the same nasty hiking clothes each day – there’s no point in bringing more clothing because the new stuff will get sweaty and smelly within the first five minutes of your hike anyways). However bring one extra pair of socks and enough underwear for the trip.
1 small and lightweight sleeping bag. These can get costly, I know! But you will want something that doesn’t weigh much and can keep you warm in sub-zero temps, which you might encounter on the trek.
1 SteriPEN – the amount of park visitors has been increasing by 30% year over year. People don’t always respect the rules around water (ie: no bathing or washing directly in the streams) and some people have gotten sick from the water at Campamento Torres. You can avoid any issues by sterilizing your water.
I also brought along my camera, of course, and several extra camera batteries. You can find out more about my camera equipment here.
You can lighten your load by eating at some of the refugios. The food is great at Refugio Dickson, in particular.
You can also buy some supplies as you go along. Don’t count on it, but know that it’s often possible to get more food and snacks if necessary.
7. Bathrooms and Showers
Some camps have nice, hot showers that you can use along the trek. It’s much easier to get some shower time in the less crowded camps that are not part of the W, though some of the larger refugios on the W part have more bathroom options.
I’ve seen a huge difference in the size of the refugios and availability of restrooms and showers since the first time I did the trek. Everything is growing and the facilities are only getting better. My absolute favorite shower was at Frances, and the worst is still Los Perros, which is cold and not worth it!
The free camps don’t have amenities like showers and sometimes don’t have toilets that flush, but they’re typically in really beautiful settings (and they’re free!).
8. How to Pace Yourself/Itinerary Planning
How many days should you spend on the trail? How long will it take you go complete? I’ve done it two ways, spending 8 days hiking and 9 days. In both cases, the day that I crossed the John Gardner pass was the longest, most exhausting day. The big difference between the two was splitting up the day that followed into two the second time around.
The days on the back end of the O are pretty long, and you never really know what kind of weather you may get, so a buffer can be a good idea just in case. I personally am always happy to spend more time in nature, but if you’re pressed for time, you can do it all in 8 days.
I have a day-to-day itinerary here, you can also download the PDF below:
10. Leaving No Trace
We can’t talk about backpacking in the wilderness without disussing leaving no trace. The biggest issue right now in Torres del Paine is erosion of the trails. It may not seem like a big deal, but ‘social trails’ left by people trying to avoid mud can cause irreparable damage. Unless I’m going to..
Ever wonder why the water of the Havasu Falls so blue? Thanks to minerals like calcium carbonate and magnesium in the water, as well as the Havasu Creek that washes away the silt, the water remains a baby blue color against the orange canyon year-round, providing a spectacular sight to hikers willing to go the 10 miles in (and back out).
The following is a comprehensive guide to help prepare you for the Havasu Falls hike, as well as get through the permitting process, find all the best photo ops, and pack the lightest possible pack for the expedition. Ready to dive in? Here are 14 things to know about hiking to Havasu Falls (plus a few things I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to!):
1. Havasu Falls is located on the Supai Reservation
Pai means people, and Havasu Pai means “people of the blue-green water”. The water in Havasupai is said to flow over the land and through every member of the tribe, which I thought was such a beautiful saying.
The tribe has lived in the Grand Canyon for more than 800 years. According to Grand Canyon’s site, “by 1919 with the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park, the Tribe was restricted to 518 acres, 5 miles wide and 12 miles long in a side canyon. The Tribe has since had returned to 188,077 acres of their former homelands which makes up their reservation today”. Today, the 600 tribe members still live in their original homeland and sustain their life by farming and working on tourism-related jobs. Since the falls are located on a reservation, and due to the large volume of those interested in going, permits are required, which brings me to the next section:
2. You’ll Need a Permit
The only option to visit the falls is to book a 3-day permit. They do not allow day hikes or anything shorter or longer. Permits for Havasupai sell out immediately, and can only be booked online. To get permits for 2019, check their cancellation list to see if you can take over someone else’s permit. To get permits for 2020 create an account on the Havasupai Reservations website PRIOR TO February 1st. Be on the site before 8am Arizona time on February first and click when the button illuminates for permit sales. I signed on right at 8am and it took about 2 hours to get mine in 2019. The page crashed several times, forcing me to refresh it about 20 times before I got through. By then few dates were left so I took what I could get and ended up with late March.
Reservations cost $100 during the week and $125 over weekends and must be booked for a minimum of 3 nights, so it’s $300-$375 per person. Reservations cannot be resold unless you go through their system, and can be booked for a max of 12 people.
3. Pick the Right Season
March – a bit too cold for swimming
Permits for Havasu Falls are available from February through November, and peak season is from May-September, whereas the monsoon season is from July-August. If you are visiting during this time, evacuation is possible. Here are some things to consider:
February – April: Temperatures tend to be cooler and it might be too brisk to want to go swimming. Hiking will be much easier during these cooler months since most of the hike in (and out) is totally exposed to the sun.
May – June: Slightly warmer weather, however it can be buggier too. Average temps for June run 96F/35C.
July – August: Expect the hottest temperatures that Havasupai experiences, at an average of 99F/37C. This is also the monsoon season, but curiously the most popular time for permits. I can’t imagine backpacking in this weather so that was never an option for me. If there is a flash flood like in 2018, it’s possible permits will be canceled without rebooking or refunds offered.
September – November: Temperatures can still be quite hot in September, but going into October and especially November, expect colder temperatures and the possibility that it’ll be too cold to swim depending on the year.
In conclusion, the best times to go are April, May, and October if you want the best of both worlds – more moderate heat that might still inspire you to swim.
Also keep in mind that rain doesn’t necessarily mean the canyon will close. It rained on me during my hike in and then the clouds passed and all was well. Flash floods are more likely in the summer months when things are drier all around and the ground is less able to absorb storm water.
4. What to Expect from the Hike
The elevation you start at, looking down at the elevation after the switchbacks
The hike to Havasupai falls from the trailhead is 10 miles. It’s an easy-to-navigate trail that meanders through a lovely orange canyon as you make your way the 8 miles to the town of Supai to check in and another 2 miles from there to the campground and Havasu Falls itself.
I was surprised when I saw the hike rated as ‘difficult’ on my Alltrails app. Since it’s mostly flat I thought reviewers were being dramatic. The hike down, assuming you’re not doing it in 100-degree heat, is pretty easy. It goes down switchbacks (but nothing like what you’d encounter in Zion, if you’re familiar) at first and continues at an ever so slight decline until you reach the town of Supai. From there it turns a bit steeper again until you reach Supai Falls and the first campground.
The hike out felt more difficult to me. I realized that the slight incline would become harder on the terrain, which is mostly sand and rocks. I got a blister for the first time ever in my hiking shoes from all of the rocks and foot movement, and I failed to time it right. If you hike in midday, you’ll be in the sun. Since it’s a 10-mile hike, it’s hard to avoid getting midday sun at some point, which is why I can’t see myself ever attempting this in the summer months.
The final switchbacks to get out aren’t all that bad. If you’re not used to hiking or backpacking, it might feel brutal but if you hike regularly, you’ll be just fine.
Here are a few important things to know:
Begin your hike as early as possible to avoid the heat (or if you can’t get there early to hike in, aim for the afternoon while giving yourself enough time to get there before dark).
The hike in usually takes 4-7 hours and the hike out takes 5-8 hours. It took me 4 in and 5 out with a few breaks and a steady pace.
There’s almost no shade, so time your hike to have the shadows of the canyon walls and bring sunscreen and a hat.
Hiking poles are helpful to stabilize on the rocks and the switchbacks.
There’s little to no water on the trail, so carry your own in. I’d bring a minimum of 2 liters down and 3 up, per person, in the hotter months and only slightly less if it’s a shoulder season.
5. There are options if you’d rather not carry your gear
If you’d rather not carry all of your own gear, you can book a mule to carry most of your camping equipment and food down for you. They cost $400 round-trip per mule and can carry up to 4 bags, 32 lbs (14.5 kg) per bag. You can reserve them when you book your permits by logging into the same site.
However if you’re an animal lover, I urge you to pack light and carry your own gear. I’ve heard through the grapevine that these horses don’t have the best lives and how could they, traveling back and forth over rocks in such extreme heat? For this reason I carried my own pack. In the next section I’ll help you to lighten your load and make it easier to backpack in.
Finally, there’s a helicopter option as well. You probably didn’t end up on this page because you’re interested in flying in or out, but in case you are, you can fly for $85 per person one way, on a first-come, first-served basis. Though their website doesn’t say, I assume you’ll have to use a pack mule for your gear if you use this option. Find out more here.
6. What to pack and how to prep
If you’ve backpacked previously, you’ll already have an idea of what to bring in terms of tent, cooking equipment, etc. If you haven’t then keep in mind that the most important thing you can do is keep the weight of your pack down. Bring food that isn’t in jars, can be rehydrated, and isn’t super heavy. Bring a tent that is made for backpacking, and sleeping bags that are lightweight, too. Depending on the season, you might not need a heavy one at all.
There are also a few things that are special to Havasu Falls to keep in mind:
You’ll want a second set of amphibious shoes. There are several waterfall crossings if you want to see Beaver falls, and taking hiking boots off and putting them back on over and over is such a drag. It’s best if these cover your toes, have tread, and are lightweight. I love this pair.
There were at least 50 partially used gas cans left behind on the rangers’ table – used as a kind of leave behind and take as needed area, which you’ll see when you enter the campground. I suppose it’s risky to count on being able to get fuel down there, but I certainly could have done that!
You have to pack out all of your trash, so keep that in mind when selecting which food to bring.
For the most part, you’re going to need to bring your own food into the campsite and should plan for three days. That said, there are a few food options along the way (maybe).
Your first option will be at small café at the beginning of Supai 8 miles in. The faded sign reads, ‘world-famous’, so you know it’s got to be good, right? They serve burgers, sandwiches, and other junk food. You should also be able to stock up on things like Gatorade, though I wouldn’t count on it being open all the time.
As you walk further in, you will see several stands that may or may not be staffed serving up nachos, fry bread, And Indian tacos, which are ground meat served with fry bread. I’m pretty sure ‘fry bread’ is exactly what it sounds like although I’ve never had the pleasure of trying it.
Again availability of snacks is hit or miss. There’s a funny sign when you walk by one of the stands that says they open at 9:30, are sometimes there at 10:30, and might be serving by 12:30. So, don’t count on it being available, but it’s a nice surprise if it is!
8. Where to camp
The campsite begins at the base of Havasu Falls and runs all the way to the top of Mooney Falls. You can camp anywhere, though there are some things to keep in mind.
You have the option of crossing bridge to camp on an island or you can camp near one of the canyon walls.
Campsites are all first come first serve.
There are three bathroom areas, the entrance, in the middle, and the end. I camped in the middle but it seems to me that the bathrooms at the entrance get serviced more often. They were cleaner and more likely to have toilet paper.
The bathrooms are just drop toilets, so don’t expect showers or running water of any kind. Please practice leave no trace principles, which means actually using the bathroom and spreading out your gray water from the toothbrushing or cooking as far from the water source as you can, which is hard to do down there, I know.
There are no trash cans so you’ll need to check out your trash. Keep in mind that anything you leave down there most likely has to be carried out by a mule, a poor little mule.
There’s no huge advantage to camping in the beginning, middle, or end except for proximity to the falls. If you are at the end you’ll be closer to Mooney or at the beginning, closer to Havasu and the natural water spring.
9. How to keep your food safe
The squirrels and I did not mutually agree that human food is for humans, despite my best efforts. I found out the hard way that hanging your food, even if it’s far away from the tree and strung between two trunks, is NOT enough at Havasupai.
I was initially camping near the canyon wall and later realized it must have been right near where they’re living. It didn’t take them long to ravage what I had, leaving me with meager rations. I moved my tent to an island instead and found some buckets that had been left behind by other campers. There were also some buckets with a lid, like Home Depot sells, at the front of the entire camp as well. Use one of these or consider bringing your own to be extra safe. Either hang or place rocks on these and you should be good, since squirrels thankfully can’t chew through the plastic. Alternatively, take one of these with you. I wish I’d known how clever and resourceful those guys would be!
10. Additional hikes: Beaver Falls, Mooney Falls, and the hike to the Colorado River
There’s more to Havasupai than Havasu Falls! Save some energy and throw your waterproof shoes on because both beaver Falls and Mooney falls are worth checking out on day 2 or 3, and you can even go all the way to the Colorado River if you are feeling up to the challenge.
Mooney Falls: You can easily reach the top of Mooney falls by walking to the end of the campsite. You’ll notice on the Havasupai website that they do not recommend going beyond the campsite and you’ll see a bunch of signs warning you about the dangers as well.
Truth be told this is an incredibly sketchy waterfall to get to the bottom of. The stairs become slick and incredibly steep and you’ll be getting misted with water while you try to make your way down the chain links. I have a pretty high tolerance for such things and I thought it was sketchy AF. Still, I’d do it again.
Sketchy AF after this
Beaver Falls: The first photo in the section is of Beaver Falls’ tiered pools. This was the part of the trip that I was most excited about and it did not disappoint! To get to these, it’s another 4 miles or so down a trail from Mooney that isn’t always clear. Once you get to the bottom of the chain links and ladders at Mooney, you’ll notice a path directly to your left. Follow that and always have a look out for the clearest most obvious path. You’ll have to cross the river several times and this is why the amphibious shoes are so important. If it’s warm enough it’s best to wear quick dry shorts as well, and a bathing suit so that you can swim. I’d also suggest a dry bag like this one for your camera just in case.
Colorado River: If you leave super early in the morning, you can see a side of Havasupai that few see, and hike all the way to the confluence with the Colorado River. You’ll be walking through water for much of this hike and it will be about 16 miles round trip. If you have the time and energy it looks amazing. Find out more here.
Fifty foot falls and Navajo Falls: Between Supai town and Havasu falls you’ll see some cascading water to your left. You can walk down and see another set of falls there that are similar to Beaver. Fewer people visit these and though they do have more algae which makes it less blue, they’re still lovely. More here.
11. Photography tips
The baby blue color of the falls is spectacular in any light, but I found that it looked the best under diffused light, meaning a light cloud cover. Since I was there in March and it had been raining, most of the weather I got was like this. In the rare moments that the sun was beating down on the falls, they were totally bleached out to my camera, though still beautiful to the naked eye.
Since we can’t control the weather, I’d avoid shooting the falls during midday. Early in the morning or later in the afternoon are both good times to take photos. By the time I made it to Beaver Falls, it was about 4 PM which was perfect. Otherwise, you can get awkward shadows.
Just make sure that if you do decide to go to Beaver Falls in the afternoon you have enough time to make it back to camp before dark. Remember, you have that sketchy ladder to climb up at Mooney!
As mentioned earlier in the post, there isn’t going to be drinking water along the trail so make sure that you come prepared. Once you get to the campsite, there is a spring near the beginning where you can fill up.
I just used the spring to fill up my water bottles and was perfectly fine. If you’re uncomfortable with this, bring a filter or backup method for cleaning your water. I’m a fan of the steripen for the spring water, but you’ll probably want to bring a filter if you plan on taking the water from the river or near the falls due to all the minerals.
The farther you camp from the beginning of the campground, the farther you will be from the clean water source. In this case you may want to bring a filtration method.
13. Getting to the Trailhead
The most geographically proximate airports are Las Vegas, which is three hours away, or Phoenix. I flew into Phoenix then drove to Flagstaff for my overnight and drove in the next day. The journey still took about two hours from Flagstaff.
Keep in mind that most times of the year it’s incredibly hot, so you want to get to the parking lot to start your hike in as early as possible. That said, there are animals on the road and it’s a bad idea to try to drive in while it’s still dark.
There’s no campsite at the parking lot, though if you’re in a camper van or have a truck you could feasibly car camp.
One of the best and closest options for overnighting close to the parking lot and trailhead is the Hualapai Lodge, which I recommend booking immediately after you get your permit since it tends to book out quickly.
Alternatively, head out later in the day and plan on an afternoon hike. This can be risky if it’s during a hot time of year, as it may not have cooled down yet, and you have to be pretty confident of your hiking time. I started my hike around 12:30 in the afternoon and was able to make it in before the permit office closed. Frankly I’m unsure what happens if you arrive after the permit office is already closed for the day. Typically, you would bring your ID to check in and you will be given a wristband. There will also be someone checking in cars before you’re even allowed to park.
14. Getting out
When it’s time to head out, just keep in mind that you will need a bit longer to hike back up and out than you needed to come in. Since it’s a gradual downhill for most of the way in, it’s an ever so slight uphill all the..
The O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is easily the most famous trail in Patagonia. Though the towers in the park earned it such renown, it’s the ever-changing landscape on each day of the trail that has made me fall in love with it enough to hike it twice. My first time, I backpacked it carrying all of my own gear. The second time, I brought a group of 16 women with me and had a more luxurious experience. Both options are detailed below.
Based on two experiences on the O circuit now, this is my perfect itinerary, which can be done in 8 or 9 days, finishing with the crown jewel, the Torres:
Day 1 – Hotel Las Torres to Campamento Serón (13km – 4 hours)
I highly recommend beginning the hike at the Welcome Center, or the Hotel Las Torres if you’ll be sticking around after, so that your ending point is the Torres – the towers that made the park famous and its namesake. The trail will be obvious, as it always is on this hike, departing from the welcome center and central camp.
The hike on day one is fairly mild over a mostly dirt track, passing through brief forested areas and gaining and losing some elevation before flattening out for the final stretch to Serón. The views are a nice indication of what’s to come, though I rarely take my camera out on this day since the best of the best comes in the following days.
Day 2 – Serón to Campamento Dickson (18km – 6 hours)
Day two starts out along a lovely blue river before taking you up your first small pass early on in the day. I typically find day two to be pretty long, but if the weather is clear it can be spectacularly beautiful, passing by the dazzling blue Lago Paine before descending down to the first check point, the Conaf ranger station in Coiron. This is a good place for a bathroom and potential lunch break before continuing on through a combo of open pampa and a marshy, often muddy, trail.
Prepare for potentially heavy winds on the pass and mentally gear up for a muddy traverse over a few wooden boards and sometimes-narrow logs before you make your way up the hill to Dickson – a truly beautiful sight.
This is my personal favorite camp of the entire circuit purely because of the location. You’re fully surrounded by glacier-covered peaks and on the lake with the Dickson glacier just behind the campsites.
Day 3 – Dickson to Campamento Los Perros (11.8 km – 4.5 hours)
I look forward to the hike from Dickson to Los Perros for the opportunity to walk in the forest all day and for the shorter distance following day 2.
This is the one day of the trip that you’ll spend almost entirely in the trees, with a lovely viewpoint after a steady upward climb within the first 2 hours. From there you’ll meander through the woods – full of moss-covered trees and several small bridges, to the Los Perros glacier. Be sure to stop by the mirador to the left before getting into camp.
Los Perros glacier
I recommend taking your time leaving Dickson on day three, as Los Perros is a very basic camp and not nearly as beautiful as Dickson. However I wouldn’t attempt the pass from any other camp than Los Perros, as day 4 is a long day and an early departure for day 4.
Day 4 – Los Perros to Refugio Grey via the John Gardner Pass (24km – 11 hours)
There’s no sugar coating it – day four is long and difficult, however it’s my favorite day of the entire trek because of the truly breathtaking views of the Grey Glacier. On a clear day you’ll be able to see clear to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest frozen body of fresh water in the world. This is one of only four trails in Patagonia, including the Huemul Circuit, where you can see the ice field.
I would recommend leaving Los Perros right at sunrise, or even slightly before, to take on day four. You’ll want to go at a steady march and take short breaks in order to make it to Grey.
I always pity those who only do the W on this day. There’s simply no substitute for the experience of seeing the ice field as you cross the pass, and walking next to it all day long.
My group at the top of the pass
I personally don’t feel the uphill is all that bad, but you’ll descend double the distance you ascend (nearly 1200 meters), in order to make it down to Refugio Grey. The downhill can be steep, muddy, and unrelenting. Just keep looking at the view of the ice field to get you through!
Another part I love are the three suspension bridges. They make for an epic photo op!
Note: You can certainly break this day up and camp at Paso instead of hiking all the way to Grey. Paso is even more basic than Los Perros with a hole in the ground for a toilet and no tents, so it’s only open to backpackers carrying their own tents. If you can make it to Grey, I’d recommend that over Paso based on personal preference.
Day 5 – Refugio Grey to Paine Grande (11km – 3.5 hours)
Day 5 can be shorter or longer depending on how you think you’ll feel after the long distance on day 4. The first time I did the O, I hiked it in 8 days by combining days 5 and 6. However for my most recent hike, I decided to take it easier with the group and break it up into two, more leisurely days, making it a 9 rather than 8-day circuit.
Day 5 meanders through the part of the park that was torched by the 2011 fire. It’s eerily beautiful as you climb past the burnt, silvery tree remains past several viewpoints that look back at the Grey glacier and down on the Lago Grey, finishing at Paine Grande.
Paine Grande is a huge refugio that’ll feel decadent after the smaller and more basic camps. I also find that it can be an overwhelming change going from the relative quiet of the O to the more popular and populous W. Still, if you want to get some WiFi and have access to more amenities, Paine Grande is a gorgeous refugio right on a lake.
Day 6 – Paine Grande to Campamento Francés (4 hours – 9 km)
Continuing along the lake, the trail is fairly easy without much elevation gain or loss as you make your way towards Los Cuernos, the horn-like mountains that come in second in terms of fame to the towers.
The first time I hiked the O, I stayed at the more basic and free CONAF campsite, Italiano, as Francés was closed. This time the opposite was true, though having now stayed at both I can confirm that Francés is much nicer. It’s my second favorite camp after Dickson in terms of lake views, the incredible showers and bathrooms, and the forest vibe.
If you do hike to Francés, you’ll have to backtrack by about 30 minutes to hike back to Italiano and through the Valle Francés to the Britanico Lookout the next day. I’d say this is worth it and not a big deal as Francés is so much nicer than Italiano, assuming both are open and you have the choice.
Day 7 – Francés to Los Cuernos via the Valle Francés (18 km – 9 hours)
This is the hike that makes the W into a W, with an out-and-back hike through the Valle Francés to the Britanico Lookout. If you slept at Campamento Francés, you’ll need to backtrack to Campamento Italiano to hike up through the valley. The good news is you can leave your heavy pack either at Francés or at the ranger station at Italiano since it’s an out-and-back day hike.
In the Valle Francés
This day can feel pretty long, with some steep and rocky parts as you make your way to the Britanico Lookout. Is it worth it? I love this hike and think it’s a gorgeous view of several glaciers and striking rock formations, however I recommended to members of my group who were struggling with blisters or sore knees to sit it out if it meant they’d struggle to see the towers on the final morning, which is the crown jewel of the park.
After finishing, you’ll make your way back past Francés to pick up your pack and make your way to Los Cuernos. The hike has a brief uphill climb before descending down to the Lago Nordenskjöld. You’ll walk along the rocky shore for the rest of the hike.
Day 8 – Los Cuernos to Campamento Chileno (12km – 6.5 hours)
Day 8 can sometimes feel long and unrelenting, especially if it’s a sunny day. I found it more difficult the first time I did it than the second time, perhaps due to my pack weight.
The hike takes you along the gorgeous greenish blue Lago Nordenskjöld before coming to a break in the trail that will either take you back to the Hotel Las Torres/Campamento Central, or up towards Chileno/Las Torres. This is where you’ll start to climb sharply upwards to make it to Chileno.
Campamento Chileno is my least favorite of the trip since it feels cold and the mats in the tent were thin, though their Refugio is nice and has delicious food.
If you take your time you’ll probably arrive too late to try to make it to the base of the towers in the same day, as the trail closes at 3pm for any upward traffic. They also like to have everyone off the trail before sunset, which is a change from when I hiked the trail 3 years ago.
At the time of this writing, Campamento Torres, the closest camp to the towers, is closed to campers, making Chileno the closest. It’s a small campsite and the hardest to get reservations at, so as soon as you know that you want to do this hike, be sure to reserve a spot.
Day 9 – Chileno to Campamento Central or Las Torres Hotel via the Las Torres Lookout (13km – 7 hours)
We were the only ones there at this point!
The next morning, either hike in with the stars or wait until the sun is out to make the final ascent to the towers. It’s about a 2-2.5 hour hike entirely uphill. It can be tricky in the dark and I do not recommend doing it solo as it can be easy to lose your way or encounter a puma.
Since I’d already done this portion of the trail twice I took the part of my group that felt like waking up early (3:30am to be exact) and made a quick march up to the top with headlamps. The rewarding milky way through Las Torres was awe-inspiring. Better yet, we were the only ones there for about an hour until the sun started to rise.
If you can possibly reserve a camping spot at the Torres campsite should it reopen, this would be a much more logical starting point if you wish to hike up for sunrise. This would also add an extra 3 km to day 8, making it a pretty long day. Having done both, I can’t really give the edge to one over the other, though if I could make the choice I’d probably go for the Torres campsite for ease and location as a backpacker, though it’s a lot more basic. If you’re using refugios and tents that are provided by the camp, you will have to stay at Chileno.
From there, make your way downhill past Chileno to pick up your pack and onwards to the Hotel Las Torres or Central Camp.
I personally stay at the Hotel Las Torres for a couple of days after each circuit. It’s comfortable, gives you a chance to decompress, and the food is incredible. I’ve done the Full Paine bus tour with the boat ride to the Grey Glacier twice as well, and have enjoyed it both times. Yes, it’s expensive but the central campsite is surprisingly terrible and there’s not much of a middle ground in the park.
Timing and Things to Consider
At a lookout on the Full Paine bus tour following the trek with my awesome group.
The times listed in this post are all subjective and don’t take any personal pacing, breaks, and obvious stopping points at lookouts or viewpoints into consideration. It will most certainly take you longer if you love photography or move at a slightly slower pace. You can also do it all much more quickly if you rarely take breaks and hike at a faster pace, though I don’t see much point in arriving at camp super early for no real reason.
The distances are also a bit blurry, as different maps show different distances for the exact same trail. On the John Gardner pass day, for example, I’ve seen as much as a 5km discrepancy!
The dawn of the internet and the globalization of our world have made it easier than ever to live and work remotely. We live in a time where there’s never been so much ability to connect across the world from anywhere with a strong enough WiFi connection.
For those of us who have developed skills or discovered industries that allow us to work remotely, the option of working from more than just our hometowns has opened up more and more.
Looking for your next working home base? Here are 8 cities that are perfect for female digital nomads, rated based on their safety for women, housing prices, public transportation options, food choices, Internet, and entertainment:
1. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is THE spot for digital nomads in Southeast Asia. It’s super cheap, delicious, and if you’re just starting out it’s a great place to land.
Safety for women: Chiang Mai has a strong expat community, making it easy to meet other digital nomads. English is generally spoken and understood, locals are friendly and respectful. Covering up is recommended and sometimes compulsory when visiting temples and religious sites but otherwise, Thailand in general is safe for women.
Visa: Most expats and digital nomads in Chiang Mai try to obtain a double (3 months) or triple (6 months) entry tourist visa in their home country, and do the border run every 60 days, though you can extend each entry by 30 days if you pay about $60 to the immigration office before the scheduled run. Most people are happy with this option, as they get to explore the neighboring countries and have a little getaway. However, if you do not wish to do the visa run and plan to stay in Thailand for a year, look up on the 1 year Ed visa to learn Thai language.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
You can find a decent 1-bedroom apartment for about $300-$800/month through the many property agents around. Alternatively, you can rent a beautiful 1-bedroom apartment on Airbnb for about $900/month, which might be a good start before committing to a longer term lease when you first arrive. Utilities are usually included in your rental.
Most apartments come with high-speed, stable Internet. You can also station yourself in a co-working space, which is getting more and more popular in Chiang Mai. Local SIM cards are very cheap and come with a stable 4G connection.
Vegans rejoice! In the old city, there are so many vegan cafes, you’ll never get bored. Local street food is cheap and delicious, and if you are feeling fancy, Chiang Mai is not short of mid-range and high-end restaurants as well.
Transportation options include the songthaew, the classic tuk tuk, and Grab (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber). A short songthaew ride costs about $0.50/ride. Grab is often a better choice than tuk tuk as they are reasonably priced. If you are confident on the road and have a valid international driving license, long-term scooter and car rentals are easy and affordable. Expect to pay about $80-$100/month for a decent scooter, and about $500/month for a decent sedan car.
Entertainment: Chiang Mai is full of yoga studios and meditation centers. There are also many cooking classes if you are interested in learning how to cook authentic Thai food. Pai, one of my favorite spots in Thailand, is only a winding ride away. You could also go on fun day trips from Chiang Mai. To meet other expats in the area, you can join the Chiang Mai Expat Women’s group on Facebook. Social apps like Tinder and MeetUp are also fairly popular in the area.
2. Taipei, Taiwan
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Taipei. It’s a safe place with super friendly locals and it’s so easy to live in and enjoy. Though it was long ago now, I absolutely loved living there as a student and dream of returning.
Safety for women: Taipei is generally very safe for everyone. It’s a very walkable city with pedestrian walkways and strict traffic laws. Locals are very warm and welcoming.
Visa: It is pretty straightforward for most people – you get 90-day visa on arrival. Taiwan is one of the main flight hubs in Asia so when your visa’s up, simply book a flight out for a weekend getaway and come back to get a new visa. If you are holding a Canadian or a UK passport, your visa can be extended by another 90 days through a local immigration agency.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
Taipei’s housing is one of the most expensive in Asia. That being said, apartments tend to be in strategic location, with convenience stores, supermarkets, clinics, restaurants and cafes all a stone’s throw away. If you are on a budget, co-living spaces are growing rapidly in the city. Expect to pay about $550-$660 for a private room in a co-living space. You can rent a studio apartment on Airbnb for about $750-$950/month. Utilities are usually included in your rental. Coin laundry is cheap and widely available.
Most apartments and co-living spaces come with high-speed Internet. If you prefer to work outside, there are plenty of coworking spaces in the city.
Similar to Thailand, the night markets will spoil you with all kinds of items you can try out. For local street food, you can expect to pay about $3-$5 for a full meal. For some reason, cafes can be pretty expensive in comparison. Expect to pay about $10-$15 for a meal in a mid-range sit-down restaurant.
If you play your cards right, getting around in Taipei can be completely free! The bike-sharing system allows you to ride for free for the first 30 minutes. After that, it is only $0.30/half an hour. Trains and buses are widespread and reliable. Taxi fares tend to be quite costly. While I do not have any personal experience with Uber in Taiwan, according to my local friends, it isn’t any cheaper than taxis.
Entertainment: There’s always something going on somewhere in Taipei. Festivals, concerts, and weekend markets will keep you entertained. If you feel like getting out of town, thanks to the efficient railway system, you can take day trips via Taipei highspeed railway to other parts of Taiwan easily. Even within Taipei, you can hike up to Mount Elephant and enjoy being in nature with a view of the concrete jungle.
There’s a reason why everyone loves Bali – it’s beautiful, full of gorgeous villas, and you can have an easy life as a digital nomad there. Bali is almost a cliche spot for digital nomads now. You will probably see more westerners than Balinese everywhere you go. For that reason I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it but to live, it’s hard to beat Bali.
Safety for women: The locals in Bali are completely used to foreigners, and for the most part, they are welcoming and helpful. Try to establish a deeper relationship with a local family, who will be able to help you with local deals and errands. Be aware of the game of love in Indonesia, though.
Visa: You will get 30-day visa on arrival, and the visa can be extended by another 30 days at the airport or at any immigration office. If you plan to stay longer, apply for a 60-day visa before visiting Bali. That visa can be renewed 4 times for 30 days each time, earning you a total of 6-months in Bali. Another popular method is through the Social Budaya visa. You will get the same length of stay as the 60-day visa (60 + 30×4 days), but the visa requires a local sponsor. There are many local agents who will help you deal with all of this for a fee.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
A beautiful villa complete with a private pool for $600/month? Yes, that’s completely possible in Bali! There are hundreds, if not thousands of villas all over Bali available for both short and long term rentals. I recommend getting an Airbnb (like this one in Ubud with a rice field view) for the first month, and explore different areas to find out where you like most, as different areas have a different atmosphere – Ubud is spiritual, Canggu is young, Seminyak is lively.
Most villas come with stable Internet, though they tend to be slow. Cafes are usually filled with digital nomads working on their laptops. Coworking spaces are beginning to mushroom in popular areas. SIM cards are easy to get and cheap through Simpati.
Every corner you turn to in Bali, there’s bound to be at least one hipster looking cafe. Authentic Indonesian food is almost a little bit hard to find on your own, but you can always ask the locals where do they have dinner. Expect to pay about $10-$15 for a full meal in a mid-range restaurant or a popular cafe. Local food can cost as little as $1 if you know where to find them. You can find the best vegan restaurants here.
Renting a motorbike is the most common way to get around in Bali, albeit not the safest. Roads are bad in certain areas, and there’s always traffic. If you choose to rent one, be sure to get a sturdy bike, and while this should go without saying, always wear a helmet. If you are not confident on a bike, Grab comes in bike form, and they are very cheap for short distance rides! Expect to pay less than $1 for a short ride. Finally, you can also hire a private driver, which can be helpful for your airport transfers.
Ho Chi Minh City has slowly but surely become a digital nomad favorite since it’s so cheap, it’s easy to find a place to live, and you can eat so well there for so little money. If you want high value for your money and super fast internet, Vietnam delivers.
Safety for women: Like any other buzzing, rapidly developing city, Ho Chi Minh City is full of life (and people. And traffic!). Petty theft is, unfortunately, pretty common. You just have to practice the same precautions as you would back home and you will be fine! It will take some time to get used to the ever-crawling motorbikes situation, but trust the locals and let them do their thing while you cross the road. Vietnamese are fun and awesome to hang out with.
Visa: You can apply for a 1-month or 3-month visa online or through the embassy before flying to Vietnam. Note that a 3-month visa is required to officially rent a place in Vietnam. US citizens can apply for a 1-year visa online or through the embassy for $135. The ease and affordability of obtaining a visa is one of the reasons why many digital nomads choose to base themselves in Vietnam.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
Rentals are very affordable in Ho Chi Minh City, even in prime locations! We are talking about $350-$550/month for a nice, 1-bedroom apartment in the city center. On the outside, the buildings may look old and worn, but many places have completely renovated the apartments to make it comfortable to live in. Ho Chi Minh City is full of alleys and narrow streets, so consider renting an Airbnb for the first few days or weeks while finding your favorite corner.
Most apartments come with stable Internet. Popular cafes are usually filled with digital nomads working on their laptops. and coworking spaces are beginning to mushroom in popular areas.
Food is so deeeeelicious! You can easily get by on $1.50 on a lunch or dinner of street food, generally consisting of soup, fresh spring rolls, rice with various accompaniments, or noodles with meat. In addition, Vietnamese coffee is amazing, and typically only $1. Western food is easy to find, and because of the country’s French influence, you will find many French cafes on the riverside. Expect to pay about $5-$10 for a meal in a western restaurant.
Hop on a Grab bike! Renting a bike or a car is not recommended in Ho Chi Minh City because of the traffic. Grab bike is extremely cheap at about less than $1 for a short ride, anyway.
Entertainment: There a number of interesting museums and galleries in Ho Chi Minh City. You can also take a bus to other towns, like Da Lat and Hoi An for a long weekend holiday. There seems to be a lack of online community for digital nomads and expats, but you can always easily strike up a conversation with people at the cafes and co-working spaces.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
For a place with super friendly locals, gorgeous weather year-round, and the ocean, look no further than Portugal’s Lisbon.
Safety for women: Lisbon is one of the safest cities in Europe. A combination of low crime rates and friendly locals mean you have little to worry about as far as safety goes. That being said, you’ll want to be mindful of petty theft and pickpockets in touristy areas.
Visa: Most nationalities get 90-day Schengen visa on arrival. Unfortunately, you can only enter Portugal for 90 days every 180 days. So if you wish to stay longer than 3 months, check out the recently launched StartUp visa that will allow you to stay in Portugal for a year if successful. For EU passport holders, you can stay in Portugal indefinitely without any visas needed.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
A nice 1-bedroom apartment in a lovely neighborhood will cost you about $1000-$1500/month, which is quite hefty. However, if you don’t mind a smaller studio or living outside the city center, rental can cost about $750 or less. Don’t be discouraged by the high rental prices, as other expenses in Lisbon can be kept quite low!
There are plenty of good restaurants and cafes to keep your stomach happy, especially if you are a fan of seafood. Local cafes tend to be very affordable as well. Expect to pay about $5-$10 for a full meal.
Lisbon is a lovely city to walk in. As you will be living in a small city, you can get to pretty much everywhere on foot. When you don’t feel like walking (and I can’t blame you – Lisbon can be hilly!), Uber rides are convenient and affordable. If you prefer public transportation, you can get an unlimited pass for as low as Your high rent is justified by how easy and affordable it is to get around town.
Entertainment: The weather in Lisbon is pleasant all year round. Hang out at the beach, have a lovely picnic at the park, or just go for long walks and admire the lovely local neighborhood during your free time. There are also many day or weekend trips to Porto, Sintra, and other small towns nearby. There are often events held especially for the digital nomad community – join the Lisbon Digital Nomad Facebook group to keep yourself updated.
6. Berlin, Germany
What a city!
Imagine a city that truly never sleeps, is easy to afford, and is hands-down the coolest place to be of the moment. That’s Berlin for you, where you never have to wear heels or anything but black. I lived in the city for 5 years and loved the affordability and wealth of things to do. Berlin is like an onion with endless layers.
Safety for women: An uncomfortable truth about Berlin is although this city is full of artists and hipsters, many of them are unemployed and struggling. There isn’t much violent crime here but like most major European cities there is a ton of theft, and the thieves are really, really good. That being said, throughout my 5 years of living in Berlin, I was robbed once, in a crowded festival, and did not encounter any other major problems otherwise.
Visa: Most nationalities get 90-day Schengen visa on arrival. Unfortunately, you can only enter Germany for 90 days every 180 days. If you wish to stay longer, you will be happy to hear that Germany is one of very few countries in Europe, and the world in general, that allows Americans, Canadians, Israelis, South Koreans, Japanese, Australians, and New Zealanders to stay long-term on an artist or freelance visa. Here’s a full guide on applying for it.
Housing, Food, and Transportation prices:
A nice 1-bedroom apartment costs about $700-$1200/month, though the prices fluctuate depending on the neighborhood you are staying in. Most places do not come with full kitchen. Yep, you often have to buy the kitchen when you sign a lease. It’s also hard to get a lease without a visa, so I recommend staying in a shared flat (WG) for the first few months or so. I..
A few years ago an email landed in my inbox asking if I’d ever considered a life coach.
I had tried therapy previously but found that it didn’t really click for me. Yet I was at a time in my life when I was willing to try it again, because I had so much going on and I needed some support that friends and family couldn’t provide. Coaching is not about trying to fix something that is wrong, it’s about being able to talk openly about your life experience with someone who is trained to ask you the questions that you should be asking yourself.
Before writing about it, I wanted to be absolutely sure that meeting with a life coach was worth it and would have a positive impact on my life. Over two years later, it’s been enough time for me to confidently say that having this source of support and objective guidance in one’s life truly does have the potential to upgrade our confidence, productivity, and relationships.
How it Works
FaceTime sessions in Lima.
I travel almost constantly, so meeting with someone in person and maintaining a strict schedule just wouldn’t work. I have actually never met my life coach in person. We do everything over FaceTime.
Our sessions usually consist of me updating her with what’s going on in my life and discussing any pain points I’m having.
So often it’s hard to really see what’s going on when you’re in it. Having someone who is not a friend, and doesn’t have opinions and emotional investments in your decisions to talk to is invaluable. It’s not about problem-solving or trying to fix you, it’s about being able to speak to someone who doesn’t know anyone you know and who can give you truly objective guidance. A good life coach should not tell you what to do, but should ask you ‘why’ – why you hold certain limiting beliefs, why things have to be a certain way, or why not take another path? They should help you dig to the root of and to see patterns in your life that you may be totally missing. It’s not so much about the answers as it is the questions.
As much as I love my girlfriends and my family, they can’t provide objective advice to me. And I can’t do that for them either. Moreover, none of us are trained to do so. I don’t want to burden those I love with my problems on a weekly basis, either. It’s so much nicer to speak to someone who wants to help and has dedicated their life to it.
My coach is a licensed therapist with years of experience. I would highly recommend seeking a coach who has a similar pedigree. I see a lot of people becoming ‘life coaches’ these days who don’t really have the experience or proper training to do so, and I’d be wary of those.
Changes I’ve Seen
Way more confidence and self love!
My coach has helped me to identify and let go of many limiting beliefs around the worth of what I put out there and how I show up in relationships. Our sessions gave me the confidence to speak more openly about my personal struggles on this blog, to put out products like the Photo Muse Masterclass, and helped me to feel confident enough to start running women’s adventure tours.
The biggest change has had to do with my personal life and interpersonal relationships. They are much healthier now and I can see my part in things more clearly these days. In the past when I’ve confided in a friend, if I didn’t end up taking her advice I would feel a bit sheepish letting her know. The last thing I want to be is burdensome or secretive with friends. I find it’s just much easier to speak openly with someone who, even though we have met almost weekly for two years, is not going to judge what I do and is instead going to help me arrive at the answers myself. It’s simply a different dynamic when it’s a professional helping you. I find it so much less emotionally taxing and I don’t feel guilty over taking up her time or resources. That’s the entire point of it.
I’m also able to send my coach periodic texts throughout the week. It comes as part of my package with her. This is particularly helpful because sometimes I just need some mid week follow up or to bounce ideas off of her.
Finding a Coach
So where should you look for a coach? First it is worth considering if this person‘s values align with yours. If you’re particularly religious or spiritual in some other way, it helps to find someone who approaches the world in a similar fashion or you’ll be speaking a different ‘language’.
I would also go with your gut. There’s nothing wrong with speaking to multiple people before you find your match. You can also use services that help you find the perfect coach by answering questions and getting matched up.
I used Aware Now, which is an online service that matches up coaches with clients based on a range of questions, needs, and areas of focus, and offers packages ranging from $35 to $125 per session. I book 10 sessions at once for $99/50-minute session. You can get 10% off when you use the coupon code ‘Kristin’.
I got really lucky when I got matched up with Tara and we clicked immediately. I credit this to the matching process at Headway. I have the top package which gives me the most time and access. I have found that this ideal for me and yes, 100% worth the money.
I don’t have any agenda in sharing this other than to say that it truly has helped me. Any money spent on therapy might seem like a lot, but I’ve always felt that investing in myself was the most important thing that I could do, whether it’s paying for exercise classes, coaching, and healthy food, self-improvement is always way more worth it to me than a shopping trip or weekend of cocktails. The benefits are so much more enduring.
Particularly for those who are entrepreneurs, especially at the beginning, the expense might seem gratuitous and like something worth putting off. But I have found that this pays for itself many times over. I often get amazing marketing ideas during our coaching sessions, and she helps me see aspects of it that I wouldn’t have thought of because I’m so close to the work, and helps me feel the confidence that I need to move forward.
So after two years, yes, I can finally say that coaching is worth it and no, it’s not just some cliche Californian thing to do. It’s healthy, it’s about self-love, and I am better off for it. I just needed to be sure first before telling you guys.
Have you ever tried life coaching or therapy? How has it impacted your life?
*I was initially offered a few free sessions and discounts to test this service. Since then I’ve paid in full. I just want to be transparent with you guys! I do get a small commission for referring people to the service, however this is why I took my time in recommending it. I wanted to be sure first, and your trust always comes first.
I have a secret that only locals and a few well-informed tourists know: Idaho is stunning and chalk full of enchanting hot springs.
After soaking in the hot springs in Sun Valley a couple of years ago I vowed to return and see more of a snowy Idaho and its numerous springs, of which there are an estimated 100+. I had to know which were the best. I am an enthusiast, after all.
I charted a road trip with the intention of seeing Idaho’s best hot springs. From the natural to the resort springs, these are the best of the best:
1. The Springs – A Mountain Hot Springs Retreat in Idaho City
The private jacuzzi – just one part of the whole experience
I began my trip in Boise, which has a hip downtown area with great food and numerous options to overnight if you need to. From there it’s a stunning drive to Idaho City, which would be my first hot spring of the trip.
This spring is one of only two on this list that is more of a spa rather than a natural, free of charge spring. To have the private tub pictured above, complete with server for drinks and snacks, you’ll need to book ahead of time and pay $45 per hour. You can also access the larger warm pool, steam bath, and jacuzzi for $20 per person for an all-day pass, or if you’re staying at the Inn like I did, $8 per person.
I enjoyed this spring and can see why it’s worth spending a day there ordering food and drinks, with access to a warm changing room with showers and even massages. It’s also easy to access if in snowy conditions, whereas the other springs on this list are more remote.
I came to find on this trip that I prefer the ‘primitive’ or natural springs, not only because they’re free, but it’s just more my style. Still, this is a great spring to break up the drive between Boise and Stanley.
Stay: The Inn is a great value and gives you cheaper access to the springs. I’m not sure how many options there are in Idaho City (‘city’ being a loose term for a town of 500 or so people), and thought the Inn was great.
Eat: Trudy’s Kitchen has a nice offering and again, with very limited options, you can find some healthy food there, and pie!
2. Kirkham Hot Springs
Let it snow!
This is in my top three favorite hot springs for variety, heat, and views! I understand that these are ordinarily quite popular but I did have them all to myself for a brief period of time in the winter.
The access road and campgrounds will be closed in the winter, but there’s a pull-off with some parking and you’ll see clear footprints in the snow to the springs. You’ll come to a couple of pools before reaching the Payette River. Stop in these before or after. They don’t have the views but they’re the biggest and I loved them just the same.
Next, walk down some steps to the river and you’ll see the steaming waterfalls. This part is awesome but you haven’t seen it all yet!
Hot springs shower? Yasss
It’s your call if you want to put on shoes for the last pool – it’s a sharp and sometimes slippery and jagged walk. I went barefoot because I think shoes are foot prison and found a shallow, super warm pool with the million dollar view as a reward for my efforts.
BOOM. Check out that view!
From Kirkham, continue on the 21 to Stanley. You’ll also pass a roadside pull-off for the Bonneville hot springs which I didn’t get a chance to soak in though they came highly recommended. I certainly would have if there had been more time in the day but for some reason on this trip I was sleeping 10-11 hours per night and getting leisurely starts to the day, which was just fine with me!
3. Mountain Village Resort, Stanley
Perfect photo op
These springs are the only others on this list that aren’t primitive springs, though they’re fed by a natural spring. After seeing photos I had to experience them with those rustic barn doors and seriously stunning views of the Sawtooth mountains. I genuinely wonder if there’s a town that can rival Stanley in terms of winter wonderland quaintness.
You can visit these springs for free if you stay at the hotel, and you might as well, since it’s cheap and next to one of the best restaurants in town. That said you’ll have to share with up to 7 other people, which is likely to be the case if you go at sunset or golden hour, which are popular times. It can be fun or annoying depending on who you get in there with you.
Stanley is a popular snowmobiling destination, and you can rent snowmobiles and self-guide or take guided tours. I was there strictly to soak and didn’t partake but word on the street is rentals are around $200/day.
Eat: Mountain Village Resort restaurant has nice breakfast and some vegan options. There’s also a decent pizza place. The whole town is under 100 residents so you won’t have a ton to choose from, though more is open in the summer.
4. Boat Box Hot Springs
So unique and quirky
Just 5 minutes out of Stanley you’ll see the famous Boat Box hot springs. It’s a metal tub right on the river that’s easy to access from the road and free to use.
This spring wins the award for most unique. It looks like a witch’s cauldron!
That said, there’s only room for a couple of people at a time, maximum four if you really like each other. It’s a popular spring so expect to wait for your turn! The pull-off only has room for 2-3 cars which helps. I waited about 45 minutes for my turn and kindly asked the next car that pulled up to do the same. It’s worth it for the experience but don’t expect to be able to soak for hours undisturbed in Boat Box.
5. Sunbeam Hot Springs
This one is up there with Kirkham as one of my favorites, probably because it’s the only spring on this list that I had totally to myself. The single pool is super warm and it’s right on the river, plus there are several perfectly situated rocks to lounge up against. The water flows through nicely as well so the algae is minimal. When I was there it was a dreamy winter wonderland that, even though it’s right off the road, felt secluded.
There’s the pool to the right that I went to, and a little tub to the left that reminded me of a less photogenic Boat Box. It was impossible for me to leave the natural pool once I got in so I’ll have to leave that tub for another time.
This one is only 10 minutes beyond Boater Box so if it looks crowded on the first pass-by, know that you can hit sunbeam and return on your way back to Stanley. I stayed in town for 2 nights before venturing onwards in order to have a full day in Stanley.
6. Goldbug Hot Springs
Probably the most beautiful though the competition is stiff
This is probably Idaho’s most famous hot springs and also amongst the most popular. This surprised me since it’s a 2-mile hike in and is located in the middle of nowhere, but the views make it obvious why.
I was a bit disappointed when I pulled up and saw 10 other cars in the lot, which I later learned is a slow day! However, there are numerous pools at the top of varying temperatures from perfectly warm to about as hot as it can be without being too hot.
In one of the hotter pools
The trail up is easy to follow and not very difficult. It’s only steep in the beginning and at the end and not for very long. I didn’t personally feel that snowshoes were necessary but sure wish I’d brought spikes or yak tracks as the trail was super icy in some places. It was pretty sketchy, to be honest, so bring some when you go if it’s the winter!
I heard that come March, it’s a lot more likely to share these springs with tons of people. That said it was a fun atmosphere and clothing is optional at these springs, which ought to make the nudists happy!
Stay: from here you can head north to Salmon to see a couple more springs or stay in a town on the way back out to Twin Falls, which is where I ended my trip. I overnighted in Arco due to darkness and road conditions and can only say options for food are severely limited. However, I just loved the owner of this motel and thought it was fine for the night. The price was right too at $59!
7. Sun Valley
A bit too much hot and cold but still pretty
From Goldbug, you can backtrack to Sun Valley via Stanley or head to Sun Valley directly from Stanley. If you’re mainly after awesome hot springs you would have already seen better ones elsewhere. This one in Sun Valley has a lot of hot and cold and not too much comfortably in between pools. However, Sun Valley is a fantastic ski and snowmobile destination, not to mention an awesome town with friendly people. Check out the Frenchman’s Bend springs as well, which I heard mixed reviews about, on your way South.
I happened to visit Idaho during a particularly snowy time of year. This is a blessing and a curse as it’s perfect for hot springs but makes driving difficult and avalanche danger much more pronounced. Had road conditions permitted there are a few more I would have loved to see:
1. Jerry Johnson:
Apparently Idaho’s most famous and popular hot springs, Jerry Johnson is north of Salmon, accessible if you keep going up from Goldbug. It’s a short, 2.6 mile round trip hike to get to the springs which get rave reviews on Yelp. There are three soaking pools
2. Stanley Hot Springs:
Not to be confused with Stanley, Idaho. If you keep going on the 12 you can reach these hot springs, provided you’re willing to do a 9.3-mile roundrtrip hike. It sounds like an adventure with a worthy terminus to me.
3. Rocky Canyon Hot Springs:
Back towards Boise, if you head north on the 55 and take the Banks Lowman Road exit, you’ll be able to reach this hot spring after fording a river. Given this, it’s not the best winter hot spring, but the cascading pools look quite magnificent for a spring or fall trip.
4. Trail Creek Hot Springs:
If you head north, you’ll find these hot springs off the NF-22. For some reason on Google Maps they’re labeled Samuel’s Hot springs. This is a popular one and is known for perfect temperatures and easy accessibility.
If you’re going in the winter months like I did, take a car with 4 wheel drive and ideally some chains. As storms come through, the roads between these springs can close or become icy and snowy. The Idaho Transport Authority is a great resource and is constantly updated. Alternatively, dial #511 for road updates.
Signal is hard to come by in these remote areas so check conditions before you start driving.
The lovely moments between spring and clothes:
There’s no easy way to transition from nice, warm springs to getting the heck out of your suit as quickly as possible and into dry clothes. It was well below freezing when I was there and was often snowing. For the most part, I had privacy to change (not that I particularly care – most of the natural springs are clothing optional as well) and waited until I was super warm in the springs to make the transition.
To make it easier, bring a nice, dry towel and keep it in a dry bag until the time comes, or maybe even a bathrobe. If you’re in freezing temperatures, keep your hair dry unless you can immediately jump into a warm car, meaning don’t dunk at Goldbug.
Gas and food:
I recommend always filling up before you get down to a quarter tank. Most of the towns on this route are under 100 people, and facilities, as well as cell signal, are limited. The same goes for snacks. Go shopping in Boise or Twin Falls, wherever you start, rather than counting on finding healthy snacks along the way. It’s not impossible, it’s just fewer and farther between.
I loved how cheap this trip turned out to be! In the warmer months, it could be even cheaper if you camp along the way. Gas and lodging were great values in my opinion. It came out to about $100 per person per day including gas, food, and lodging. I can’t even get accommodation for that in California!
While these are the best springs in Idaho, I imagine there are even more in California, Nevada, and Wyoming and my thirst is only whetted. Stay tuned for more posts like this in the future because Pandora’s box has been opened.
What are some of your favorite hot springs, what did I miss?
Lately I’ve been reflecting on the last 6 1/2 years of solo traveling around the world, and thinking about what the true best adventures were that I’d had on my own. With almost my entire life over that time devoted to wondering, there have been so many experiences that were enriching, mind-boggling, and sometimes world shifting.
The following are some of the most incredible experiences I’ve had as a solo female traveler, from the culinary to the boundary-pushing, the heart warming to the paradigm-shifting:
1. Hiking the Eight Day O Circuit in Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia
Patagonia is one of those places that, no matter how much you build it up in your mind, it will exceed expectations. The glacier-carved and capped mountains are so striking, and they seem to be situated just right to reflect the sunsets and sunrises. It’s all so dramatic that it leaves me speechless with every turn and bend in the trail. Though the whole region is incredible, it was the circuit in Torres del Paine that took me to the Southern Patagonian ice field, brought me to watch the sunrise illuminate the famous tower-shaped Torres peaks, and showed me that I’m capable of backpacking for eight solid days.
Sure it’s a challenge, but most worthwhile things in life are. This can be done from late November until early April most years. You can read more about how to do it here.
2. Solo Road Tripping through the American Southwest
Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante in one day - YouTube
Even after traveling all over the world, I’m convinced that the American Southwest has some of the most dramatic and varied landscape there is. From the incredible Rockies and the canyons carved by the Colorado River, to the vast deserts of Nevada and California and the deep orange of Southern Utah, this is one of the best places in the world for outdoorsy types.
It’s almost unfair how beautiful Iceland is. It’s the kind of place where you just stop pointing out waterfalls because there are so many. It’s also been rated the safest country in the world, and whether you go there completely on your own or join a tour, Iceland is awesome for first time solo female travelers.
I drove along the Ring Road (here’s my itinerary) in October and saw the northern lights three times! There’s really no way to describe them or substitute for seeing them yourself.
Although they’re not visible in the summer due to the midnight sun, I’m taking a group of adventurous women to Iceland this summer for a hike in the highlands that National Geographic named one of the 20 most beautiful hikes in the world. You can find out more here.
4. Scuba Diving in Raja Ampat, Western Papua, Indonesia
I remember exclaiming over and over while swimming in the little curves on deserted islands in Raja Ampat that I was ruined and that there could be no better nor more beautiful adventure than that. The diving was incredible, with massive schools of fish, Manta rays, and sharks. But what I really loved it was how beautiful and wild the islands were. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs!
I joined a liveaboard dive boat that cruised through the area for 11 days, offering three dives per day. It was the perfect way to see it as a solo traveler. You can read more here.
5. Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Talk about humbling! In Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can join a guided tour and trek into the jungle to see the gorillas in their natural habitat. The severely endangered animals know that humans won’t hurt them, and tolerated us getting pretty close! Seeing the Silverback gorilla and the little babies beating their chests to imitate him was even more incredible than I thought it could be, and I had really high expectations!
A mom and her baby
Even though the price tag is pretty astronomical at $600 for a permit, this is one of those experiences that you will never forget. It’s not super easy to do independently but I have directions on how to do so here. Alternatively, you can join a tour that takes care of the logistics for you, which you can also read about in the same post.
6. Hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
The Annapurna circuit in Nepal is quite similar to the Everest base camp trek in terms of length and altitude. However, it’s just a bit more beautiful and ever so slightly less popular. I started this trail solo but it’s so easy to meet people that I made friends immediately who I am still close with to this day.
The road keeps extending further up the mountain which can shorten the trail significantly, but it’s typically a 14-day trail that could be made longer or shorter depending on if you add on Poon Hill and the Annapurna Sanctuary, which I did. It was the first time I had ever attempted a multi day hike, and while tough, it was so rewarding to complete the trail and peaceful in those little mountain villages. It’s also made more accessible by being a teahouse trek, which means that you don’t need to carry any food or camping gear because there are restaurants and basic huts to sleep in all along the way. You can read more about how to do it independently here.
7. Driving the Road to Hana in Maui
The road to Hana in Maui is famous for its 600+ turns and wealth of roadside attractions. There are so many waterfalls and black sand beaches along the way, not to mention a dreamy bamboo forest at the end. It is an absolute must-do when you’re on Maui, which is surprisingly awesome for solo female travelers!
Without having a navigator, knowing when to turn off can be a bit difficult on the road to Hana, unless you have an app which tells you when to turn. I have the best stops and a link to the app on my road to Hana Guide.
8. A 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat in Thailand
Talk about Earth-shattering! If you feel called to try it, a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat absolutely will have a profound impact on you. For me, I became so much more aware of what I tend to fixate on and how my mind works. Meditation is a lifelong practice and 10 days is a huge undertaking for a first timer, but it’s also a way to become master of your thoughts rather that unconsciously driven by them, as most humans are.
The retreat at Wat Suan Mokkh is no-frills and quite traditional, but if you want to know yourself on a much deeper level than you ever previously had, I encourage you to look into it. There are other, much more comfortable retreats out there that can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, and there are many disciplines in the world as well. This is the first one I ever did and I do think it’s a bit tough, but for some people that yields the best results. You can read about my experience here.
9. Freediving with Humpback Whales in Tonga
To date, this is probably the most incredible animal encounter trip I’ve had. Imagine jumping into the water and seeing massive Humpback whales twirling and swelling underneath you. There are no cages, no fences, and no cars between you and these majestic creatures. My first jump in, I cried. It was so beautiful and humbling. I saw singing whales, heat runs with a dozen whales swimming beneath me, and mothers and calves. We spent six days in the water doing nothing but swimming with whales. It was one of the most beautiful and spiritual weeks of my life.
Tonga is one of the few countries in the world that allows people to swim with whales. There are heavy regulations prohibiting more than a few swimmers in the water at a time, meaning that as the popularity grows, so does the demand for the limited spaces. If you’re dying to try it, there are a few spaces left with the new company that I went with. You can read about my experience here.
10. Dining at Tsurutokame in Tokyo
An ALL FEMALE Chef Restaurant in Tokyo! Tsurutokame - YouTube
For my fellow food lovers out there (which is everyone, right?) A true Kaiseki experience in Tokyo is a must-do! Kaiseki is the highest food tradition of Japanese cuisine and is more of an experience than simply a meal. The chefs prepare and present course after course of delicately handcrafted cuisine that they have quite literally dedicated their lives to perfecting. The reason why Tsurutokame is so noteworthy is their entirely female chef-led restaurant. It’s one of its kind in Tokyo where female chefs are still almost unheard of.
This is in the top three meals of my life, and they even adopted a completely vegan menu for me! You can read more about how to book here.
11. Marveling at the Rice Terraces in Yunnan, China
I don’t know about you, but Asian history just astounds me with how far back some of the still-functioning methods and traditions go. The rice terraces in Yunnan province, close to the border with Vietnam, perfectly illustrate this. These terraces are thousands of years old and when they fill in with water, they create a particularly stunning mirror for the sunset sky.
This part of the world is only beginning to open up to tourism, though the secret is out, which makes it a bit easier to access now for Western visitors. You can read more about my experience here.
12. Backcountry Backpacking in Alaska
If Torres del Paine was an introduction to backpacking, then venturing into Alaska is the next level up. I’ve done two 8-day backpacking trips in the Alaskan backcountry now and even though you’re almost guaranteed to get rained on, it can be cold, and the terrain is harsh, you can bank on spending most of your time completely unaware that human civilization even exists. I never knew how much I needed and craved that until I experienced it.
I saw plenty of elks, moose, and even a distant bear. Charting a course with a map and compass, this was truly one of the most adventurous experiences I’ve ever had. Though I would never recommend going out there alone, you can join hiking groups for an incredible, adventurous experience. I brought 12 girls on their first backpacking trip last summer and it was a blast! Stay tuned as we may offer another one in the future.
13. Seeing Kawah Ijen’s Blue Flames in Indonesia
Though word has gotten out and I know that this is a much more popular hike than when I did it six years ago, there is almost no parallel for seeing the incredible blue flames in East Java, Indonesia.
Begin the hike at 2-3am and hike in with the stars, see the flames, and head to the crater rim for sunrise. This one is definitely on the highlight reel of my life. Read more about how to do it here.
14. Kayaking with Beluga Whales in Manitoba, Canada
Imagine kayaking in the bay and feeling a little bump on the bottom of your kayak followed by a cheeky white Beluga face smiling at you from under the water. That’s what it’s like visiting Churchill, Manitoba in the summer when the beluga whales are hanging out and coming over to say hello. They’re so incredibly curious, any experience includes snorkeling with them, boating around them, and kayaking with them. If you’re lucky you may see some polar bears too! You can read more about that here.
15. Venturing into Parts Unknown in Mozambique
Finally, though your version of Mozambique could be anywhere, for me this was an adventure into a place that I had found out so little info about. I hadn’t read the best reviews for solo females traveling to Mozambique, and yet most of the experiences didn’t even seem to be first-hand accounts. I ended up having one of the most relaxed, enjoyable times of my life with new friends I’d met on the beach in Tofo, Mozambique, and I owe it all to being willing to go into the unknown after some unexpected news. Since then, a few solo female travelers have reached out to let me know that they ended up going after reading my posts and that they loved it too. You can read all about Mozambique here, but I..