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‘I had travelled through over 40 countries by myself before I became a victim of crime. I’d backpacked all over the world and never even been pickpocketed. Then one night in Peru that all changed. I’ve heard stories about express kidnapping but you never think it will happen to you’…

Today’s post is a guest post from travel blogger Kirsty at World for a Girl, who experienced being kidnapped in Peru. Teacake Travels is a safe place for women to share their travel stories; ALL of their travel stories. This post is here to inform, educate and inspire us all to go forth and venture, even in the face of these life-changing experiences. Thank you Kirsty for being so open, honest and brave. 

My Express Kidnapping Story: What to do and how to heal

It took place 11 years ago. Of course, I know this. Every year, I remember it. The memory has faded but it won’t disappear. Although it was traumatic and has changed my life in so many ways, the experience also taught me some important lessons.

Here’s my kidnapping story with ideas of what to do and how to heal. 

 

Express kidnapping happens (a lot)

I was kidnapped in Arequipa, Peru. It was an express kidnapping. At the time, I didn’t know this. I thought I was going to be killed. I thought that I’d be held captive for months. Thankfully it was short. I was released the next day and I am still very much alive.

Today I’m sharing a story about kidnapping and hope.

In the West, kidnapping is the stuff of action movies and detective dramas. Unfortunately, in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, kidnapping rates reveal a real threat and anyone can fall victim of kidnapping. Before that night I didn’t even know what express kidnapping a girl was.

 
What is express kidnapping?

Express kidnapping is one of the more popular types of kidnapping and happens when a tourist or wealthy local is held captive until either their bank accounts have been emptied or their relatives have paid a ransom.

Victims are usually released unharmed.

The motives for kidnapping are usually financially driven and not violent.

Search on the internet and you will find tales of tourists being express kidnapped from Mexico to the Philippines to Fiji. The statistics about kidnapping aren’t well-known but not uncommon.

I was released less than 12 hours after being taken captive by a taxi driver and his accomplices. I lost money, credit cards, clothes, my camera, electronics and thousands of dollars worth of travel cheques. Nothing was taken that was irreplaceable. For that I am eternally grateful.

Choosing not to fight back doesn’t mean you’re weak

I don’t know any self-defence techniques. I should but I don’t.

Sign up to Teacake’s free self defence course here

I definitely didn’t know any at the time I was kidnapped. Even if I had, I was blindfolded and my wrists were tied together. A single defensive move from me would have been a risk too big to take.

There were at least four men involved. My odds were very bad. They said they had a gun. I don’t know if they had a gun. They probably did. I’m glad I never found out.

With hindsight, I wish I had known some self-defence moves BUT I wouldn’t have used them. There was no point in my ordeal where I can see a window for self-defence, without violent and dangerous repercussions.

Inner-strength is a powerful resource. Training in martial arts teaches you not just physical skills but mental strength as well. The ability to keep calm in dangerous situations. You learn how to draw on and nourish your own inner-strength. That would have been so useful to me.

Learn self defence skills for free

Start learning self defense skills NOW

 

The local police might help you but your Embassy will

Local police have certain agendas, especially when it comes to kidnapping cases. There may be language barriers. There may be a level of misogynism. The police I first spoke to seemed bored by my case until they learned that I’d been assaulted. This sudden change in interest has always made me feel uneasy.

The court case, over a year later, ended up with the conviction of some local Peruvian gang members. I have no idea if these men were really behind my express kidnapping. I know that from the start the police were out to get this gang. I will never know if the right guys were charged with kidnapping.

Your Embassy will have an agenda too. Mostly to get their citizen to safety without causing an international situation or too much media coverage. If you are a victim of kidnapping, these are things that work for you. Even if the police do not want you to contact your Embassy, contact them. Someone, somewhere will know how to help you. Whether it is kidnap, sexual assault or worse, your Embassy will have procedures. They will help you if they can.

 

Be honest and get ALL the medical care you need

If you have been injured you must go to hospital. You just go.

If you have been sexually assaulted, you need medical help too. You may be in denial but you must go. 

With the right help straight away, you can get the morning after pill (to prevent pregnancy). You may also be able to get PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis medication) to help prevent you from HIV infection. This will probably only be available in larger cities and must be started within 72 hours of being exposed. This is serious stuff. You do not want your rapist’s baby and you do not want a life-threatening illness. Seek medical help as soon as possible.

And of course…

Never travel without travel insurance

Get your travel insurance here

Hurt heals…

When I think of the aftermath of the kidnapping it is in black and white. For three months, I wandered around in a grainy sepia bubble. Not really engaging with the world. Not feeling a full range of emotions. My 26th birthday passed in a grey haze.

There was counselling but that’s not really my sort of thing. The medication given to me in Peru was giving me hallucations. So I went into hospital departments I hope I never have to go to again. They changed the medication. Physically I healed quickly. Emotionally I healed slowly.

Healing is a process. Like grief, there will be different stages and different challenges along the way. You may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You might not. You will heal in your own way. In your own time. But you will heal.

 

The aftermath is lonely, hard and long but it does end

A few days after I landed home in the UK, an Israeli backpacker was murdered by a taxi driver in the city of Arequipa. The news hit me like a lead bullet.

Back in the UK safely snuggled up in my childhood bedroom, I was painfully lonely. My amazing, generous and loving friends and family had no idea. No one I knew had even been to South America, let alone Peru and its shanty towns.

It took a year. A year of newspaper clippings from Arequipa. Of Peruvian legal researchers emailing me almost daily. Of insurance claims and unhelpful traveller cheque refund departments. A year of living a secret life as a victim and a public life as an ordinary postgraduate student.

The aftermath of a traumatic event is not easy. Especially if you are handling it alone. The police can be difficult and unsympathetic. Some insurance companies will try and discredit your claims and ask probing (and disrespectable) questions. Court cases will drag on for months or even years. The punishments for kidnapping are hardly ever satisfying. Your friends and family will struggle to. I was lucky that one of my closest friends was trained in victim support. My parents were as broken as I was.

I remember the trial. From my bedroom in London. A trial by Hotmail Messenger. A trial that I was the key witness in. And I didn’t tell anyone. The process dragged on for 12 long months and then suddenly it stopped. It does end, I promise.

 

You cannot blame yourself

After surviving a kidnapping, I have replayed everything that happened that day a thousand times in my head. My hotel in Cusco being full, the bus being late and arriving after dark.

I’ve beat myself up about why I didn’t tag along with the boy I’d just met to Colombia instead.

Why I didn’t talk to other backpackers on the bus like I often do to share a ride.

I analysed every minute detail over and over, a common practice for victims of kidnapping. 

How to avoid express kidnapping?

You can always follow the best practices as recommended by Alice Teacake – but do not blame yourself when unfortunate incidents happen. Sometimes you can do your absolute best and things will still not go to plan. 

Read: How to Travel Safely as a Woman

It’s not all about your clothes and alcohol

In my mid-twenties, I was someone who liked a drink and clothes that showed off my legs. On the night I was kidnapped I was wearing horrendous purple jogging pants, a baggy blue fleece and was stone-cold somber. No jewelry; no branded trainers.

I looked like a bedraggled backpacker. Nothing (apart from the fact that I was a Western tourist) screamed I have loads of money. I didn’t.

Booking ahead and communicating your plans

I’d booked a hostel in Arequipa in advance. I’d given the receptionist my estimated arrival time. I’d done everything by the ‘sensible backpackers’ book.

Use security devices

I had anti-theft bags and a good head of commonsense on my shoulders.

Read: The Best Personal Security Devices for Travel

Invest in a WanderSafe device

WanderSafe is a device that let’s you tell your loved ones if you are in trouble immediately with the touch of a button. 

Signal to your trusted network if you are in danger with a single swipe. It’s 3x faster than your phone alone and critical when seconds matter.

Get $10 off your WanderSafe with special code TeacakeTravels10

Be smart. Invest in a WanderSafe.

All of these safety precautions still didn’t stop me from being the victim of a random crime.

It took me a long time to understand that nothing about that night was my fault.

 

Good things will grow from the bad. That’s the circle of life

The kindness of all the strangers who helped me in the first few days after my kidnapping story will stay with me forever.

The policeman who took me to his family’s home to sleep when he realised I was too tired to answer any more questions.

The Honorary Consul and his wife who took me under their wings and into their family.

The efficient and practical staff at the Embassy who took me to dinner in Lima as they didn’t want me to be alone in a hotel room.

There is so much more good than bad in the world.

Back home in the UK, more good things happened. When I flew home to recover, I got a temporary job working as a teaching assistant. That inspired me to train as a teacher leading me into a new and rewarding career.

Eleven years after the kidnapping, I’m still together with a sweet Welsh guy I’d met in Bolivia just weeks before. He returned to London. I was recuperating in London.

Would we be together if I’d continued backpacking in South America?

Would we have two fun and adorable children together?

I don’t know but I’m so glad we came together.

Good things will happen to you

You will grow, you will change and you will adapt.

Whether you believe in fate or coincidence, life will continue and morning is always just round the corner.

 

Keep travelling

I cannot imagine a day when I stop travelling. A day when I decide that I’ve seen enough of the world and stay put. I have a bad case of wanderlust and no desperate, violent thieves in Peru are going to put an end to it.

After the events in Peru I started small. A trip to Sweden a few months later with a close friend. A safe place where at that time of year, it never grew dark. I built my confidence back up slowly.

I was back in South America four years later wild-camping in the Amazon rainforest and overlanding across the volatile Colombia-Ecuador border.

Despite knowing first-hand that the world can be a dangerous and violent place, I also know that for every person who does something bad, that there are ten people who will show you kindness, generosity and love. Now, I travel the world with my children. I know the risks but I also know however prepared and careful you are, disasters can happen.

The ordeal changed the way I see the world but not as much as the kindness of the strangers who helped me. It may have shaken my core beliefs but it has not destroyed my wanderlust nor my curiosity and respect for other places and cultures.

Do you need further help, support or advice?

If you are concerned about a British citizen who has or may have been kidnapped overseas, the Lucie Blackman Trust can provide you with support and advice.

You can also find your local British Embassy here.

I dedicate this post to the memory of Tamar Shahak, a female Israeli backpacker murdered by a taxi driver in Arequipa, Peru in April 2008.

Had you ever heard of express kidnapping before? 

Have you or someone you’ve known survived an express kidnapping?

Do you have healing advice for other victims?

Comment Below

I’d love to hear more about your specific safety tips in certain destinations

Related Reading 

How To Travel Safely As A Woman

Security Devices for Women

Free Self Defense Course 

Pin Me 


 

The post I Experienced an Express Kidnapping in Peru Whilst Travelling Solo appeared first on Teacake Travels.

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Whether you’re a digital nomad, an expat living abroad, or a foreign worker living and working abroad, you must have a back up plan. That’s where nomad travel insurance comes in; as a golden Plan B to the travel and medical insurance you may already have in your home country. 

Over the years I’ve learned that being prepared for the worst with long term travel insurance (as a travel blogger) is the best way to make sure a trip doesn’t end early because of a sticky situation.

Most digital nomads have heard about travel insurance, but I’ve discovered a company that creates travel and medical insurance, tailored specifically to digital nomads around the globe.

Say hello to Safetywing Insurance

Adventure Girls Need Nomad Travel Insurance

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: be prepared! Don’t let a travel disaster ruin your nomad travels. Get travel insurance that has your back.

As a seasoned traveling adventuress, I’ve had my fair share of voyages; both which have been perfect and umm…complete disasters. I’ve lost luggage. I’ve missed flights. I’ve even been sick in a Russian hospital, in the middle of nowhere for 2 weeks with a bunch of Grandmas after crossing The Mongol Rally finish line. 

Why should I buy travel insurance?

I get it. A wary backpacking traveller may pass up travel insurance. It can be:

  • Expensive
  • Complicated to set up
  • Unavailable when you’re already on the road
But SafetyWing are great
  • Insurance costs as little as $37 a month (1/3 cost of World Nomads)
  • Monthly subscription model (cancel whenever you want!)
  • Maximum limit of $250,000 (that’s a lot!)
  • Setup online is super quick and easy
  • Insurance can be bought at home or on the road – at any point in your trip!
  • Worldwide coverage excluding North Korea and Iran

Don’t be the traveller who has to return home with lost items and ill health. You’re a kickass nomad that doesn’t have time for set backs like lost luggage, breaking a leg and not having the money to fix it. You need the best trip insurance out there for the awesome explorer that you are!

 
SafetyWing Quick Answers

SafetyWing offer a monthly medical and travel insurance plan starting from $37 per month.

Awesome things that SafetyWing insurance for travel nomads includes:
  • Coverage for travel delays or trip interruptions ($5000)
  • Lost checked luggage ($3000 at $500 per item)
  • Terrorism ($50,000)
  • Emergency medical evacuation ($100,000)
  • Emergency medical expenses (no limit)
  • Emergency room visit (no limit)
  • Urgent care (no limit)
  • Emergency dental coverage ($1000 limit)
  • Acute onset of pre-existing condition (no limit)
  • Personal liability ($10,000)
SafetyWing provide medical and travel insurance

Digital nomads need to not only cover travel mishaps, but also protect their health at the same time. This is why SafetyWing offer the ultimate combo for adventurers who are working and travelling on the road: medical and travel insurance.

Medical Insurance

One of the worst things that can happen while travelling is getting ill. Even if you do budget for the occasional possible emergency abroad, as a digital nomad it is hard to ever set aside enough for a lifetime of emergency travel coverage. When in a country on a tourist visa, world nomads won’t be able to access that country’s healthcare for the price citizens pay, and unexpected emergencies abroad can quickly eat up your emergency fund and beyond.

Getting sick in a foreign country is scary enough without worrying about your bank account.

SafetyWing cover illnesses and injuries that can happen to you whilst you’re abroad out of the blue. The insurance covers emergency medical evacuation, medical expenses, emergency room visits, urgent care and even emergency dental coverage. 

Travel insurance is a godsend when you’re sick (especially when travelling solo)

If you’re a solo traveller like me, buying nomad health and travel insurance won’t be the same as having someone bring you a steaming bowl of yummy soup, but SafetyWing have your back when #adulting is at its hardest.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is for all of those things that can happen when you least expect it whilst travelling! Travel insurance covers travel delays, lost checked luggage, emergency response, natural disasters and personal liability.

Lost luggage, a stolen handbag, or forgetting your passport on the train are all awful circumstances travellers and bloggers are desperately trying to avoid. International travel insurance protects your assets and helps you quickly replace stolen goods or a missing passport quickly. A travelling lady’s best asset is her passport, so make sure yours is protected. 

SafetyWing insurance covers lost checked luggage up to $3000 with a maximum of $500 per item.

Save your bank balance in the long run

When you’re exhausted or ill, the last thing on your mind should be worrying about finances. Worldwide travel insurance makes being sick or in a sticky travel situation much better on your bank balance.

Invest in travel insurance so you don’t have to fork out big bucks

Medical bills and lost items can cost A LOT of money. By investing in travel insurance, you’ll be able to get back on the road and back to working online sooner rather than later. Boss ladies have no time for worries. Nomad travel insurance is a must have.

Get a SafetyWing quote now

What is the best and most cost effective travel insurance options for long term travelers?

Having a safety net of an emergency fund is a great start, but adding a great world travel insurance policy is the surest way to stay safe and secure while adventuring.

However, it can be hard to find cheap travel insurance that has great coverage AND works for us digital nomads and adventure ladies.

With so many travel insurance companies out there, I’m always on the lookout for the best of the best. In the past, I have used World Nomads Travel Insurance to insure myself on my digital nomad travels.

But, there’s a new kid on the block…

SafetyWing: Travel Medical Insurance for Nomads by Nomads

Safetywing Insurance for Nomads

What can SafetyWing do for me?

On my most recent trip to Pakistan, I put SafetyWing to the test – and even though I didn’t have to claim anything from them (thankfully), these are the reasons why I gave them a shot…

SafetyWing is a new global travel insurance designed specifically for nomads who frequently travel outside of their home country, but can also be a great budget travel insurance option for one-off vacations.

SafetyWing maintain great coverage with low rates, making it the most affordable travel insurance (yes, it’s cheaper than World Nomads).

If you travel frequently like me, having year long travel insurance can make nomad explorer life and business easier. And since you can enroll for a period of 364 days at a time, as many times as you’d like, SafetyWing gives nomads what many insurances can’t; the best annual travel insurance at an amazing price.

Find out more about SafetyWing here

How much is travel insurance with SafetyWing?

The cost of SafetyWing nomad insurance depends on how old you are and if you are going to be spending time in the USA. Being in the USA can almost double the price of the insurance!

You can use SafetyWing’s handy price calculator to see an estimate of your exact trip dates and details.

A two week trip in the US will only cost you around $33 (depending on age and travel dates) for complete coverage.

Excluding the USA, around a month of backpacker travel insurance coverage with SafetyWing will only cost you around $37, more than a third less than competitors.

With the low deductible of $250 and the amazingly high $250,000 maximum limit, this global nomadic plan is really hard to beat. Especially in countries like America where healthcare costs are insanely high; travel insurance could save you thousands of dollars in the case of an emergency.

Head to the SafetyWing site to start calculating

What does SafetyWing cover?

Beyond your health, a SafetyWing travel insurance plan will cover things like lost luggage, flight cancellations, and many more travel related inconveniences.

Here’s a recap from above about what SafetyWing nomad insurance covers!

 
SafetyWing Insurance

SafetyWing offer a monthly medical and travel insurance plan starting from $37 per month.

Awesome things that SafetyWing insurance for travel nomads includes:
  • Coverage for travel delays or trip interruptions ($5000)
  • Lost checked luggage ($3000 at $500 per item)
  • Terrorism ($50,000)
  • Emergency medical evacuation ($100,000)
  • Emergency medical expenses (no limit)
  • Emergency room visit (no limit)
  • Urgent care (no limit)
  • Emergency dental coverage ($1000 limit)
  • Acute onset of pre-existing condition (no limit)
  • Personal liability ($10,000)

Be sure to read the helpful FAQ on their page yourself and take note of what is and isn’t covered (like pre-existing conditions and preventative care).

There’s way more to travel insurance than just missed flights…

SafetyWing have your back in the case of cancelled flights, stranded luggage, and more. SafetyWing saves you from sleeping at the airport when your flight is cancelled or wearing the same outfit until you can scavenge some tacky tourist wear too. Not many cheap travel insurance plans can boast this!

Adventure Sport and Gym Workouts

Planning on kayaking, skiing or surfing? SafetyWing covers loads of the most popular travel related sports, so don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the water and dive in.

Off to the California Lighthouse on the north of the Aruba island

You may take for granted that your everyday gym activities are covered by the insurance you have at home, but if you’re a nomad taking daily yoga classes, cycling around, or lifting weights, it’s good to know that SafetyWing nomad travel insurance covers any emergencies caused by your daily workout.

Keeping Electronics Safe

When choosing travel insurance it is important to make sure you read the details of your plan coverage. You should note that SafetyWing *do not* currently insure your electronics like phones, laptops, and cameras if they are damaged or stolen. This is the one weakness that SafetyWing currently have in my books.

BUT…SafetyWing will be adding on electronics coverage as an add-on this year. They’re currently sorting this so I’ll let you know when it’s sorted.

Currently, the comparable travel insurance companies that cover these items are more than triple the cost of SafetyWing however. Therefore, I’d recommend buying insurance for your electronics separately if necessary for now. It’s also worth checking out my top security devices here that I use to keep my electronics safe and sound.

Visiting Home

SafetyWing even covers you on your visits home. For every 90 days you are covered with SafetyWing nomad insurance, you are covered for 30 days in the case of medical emergencies. Make sure to read the fine print in the FAQs. If you’re an American, you are reduced to 15 days of coverage for every 90 days. But overall, this home country medical insurance coverage is pretty groundbreaking.

SafetyWing Insurance Coverage

Extreme Circumstances

It might seem extreme, but SafetyWing cover emergency evacuation as well as kidnap and ransom cover and a few other quite dire situations. Although unlikely, sadly sometimes crazy bad weather, natural disasters, or other uncontrollable things can make your vacation end unexpectedly and leave you in a bind.

Family Coverage

Parents on the go can rest easy since SafetyWing cover children of insured parents. SafetyWing is a good family travel insurance option, as it covers one child (ages 14 days to 10 years old) per adult, up to 2 per family, without any extra fees.

When Can I Buy Travel Insurance from SafetyWing?

Anytime! If you’re a digital nomad already working in a foreign country, you can still start your coverage right away, which truly shows that SafetyWing is one of the best travel insurances for kick ass adventure travelers.

Ghulkin Village in Hunza Pakistan

SafetyWing is definitely a good to go insurance, making it a step ahead of other travel health insurance options. We’re living in a digital age, so it makes sense to get travel insurance online from a tech savvy company.

How to Access Medical..
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In the months leading up to my departure to go adventure trekking in Pakistan, a fair few stereotypical words were muttered to me. These utterances included 9/11, terrorism, danger and umm…carpets. Is there more to Pakistan than tapestries, tea and ‘terrorists’? Of course there is!

Mountain Trekking in Pakistan

Trekking in Pakistan is simply some of the best trekking in the world.

Trekking along the Passu Glacier in North East Pakistan

It gives treks in Nepal a run for their money for sure. By reading this, you are on the path to an experience that is going to rock your world. You’ll see mountains you never thought possible, whilst coming across locals in the cities and villages who are determined to show you just how stunning Pakistan is.

With little to no WiFi for 14 days, in a land I’ve been dreaming of visiting ever since stepping foot in Bangladesh and India, I embarked on unearthing Pakistan and experiencing everything it threw at me with full open arms.

And throw experience after experience after experience Pakistan tourism certainly will!

Not only have I returned with stronger legs and a peachy butt, but a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life (not having internet for 2 weeks works wonders) and a heartfelt appreciation for how restorative Mother Nature is.

 
Pakistan Quick Answers

Short on time? Here’s what you need to know.

Who did you go to Pakistan with?

Epic Backpacker Tours

Get 5% off the tour here

Do I need a visa for Pakistan?

Most likely yes

Find out about Pakistan visas here

Is trekking in Pakistan safe?

In the right area with a local guide: yes. Just make sure to train your legs to be ready for this

Don’t forget your travel insurance

Hiking in Pakistan is epic!

Pakistan is where every hiker should be going to experience pure mountain magic.

Just look at this picture. I feel like a fraud. It doesn’t even look real!

Viewpoint of Nanga Parbat near Fairy Meadows in Pakistan

Am I standing in front of a green screen?
Is this just Photoshop mastery? Absolutely not. This.is.real.

The tour company I went with, Epic Backpacker Tours, will get you there.



Should I go hiking in Pakistan on a tour or solo?

I’m all for exploring this planet alone. 90% of the time that’s exactly what I’m doing. Yet for Pakistan, when the opportunity arose for me to experience this country with Epic Backpacker Tours, I really felt it was the right thing to do.

The Passu Cones along the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan

This is why:

  • Pakistan is still very much off the beaten path: this means there are little to no hiking trails marked and signposted. I’d have no clue where I was going if I was by myself.
  • To get to the best bits of any country, you need a local friend who knows the best bits. Going with a tour allowed me to hang out with locals in their village, in their house, with their family. And the hospitality is genuinely genuine and loving.
  • The roads are nuts. If you were going solo, you would have to hire a driver anyway. Better to entrust your life with someone who you know is going to be good at keeping you alive and well.
  • English is still minimal. Some locals do speak English but there are 73 different languages spoken in Pakistan! Many communities live together with their own distinct traditions, culture, dialects and unique appearances. Having someone to help you communicate certainly helps when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
  • Trekking in Pakistan requires solid support and comradery. I actually underestimated just how physically hard this trip was going to be. I’m thankful I had a team alongside me who had my back every step of the way.

If you’re thinking about trekking in Pakistan, change those thoughts to solid priorities. I thought I’d seen the best mountains in China, but they’ve just got trumped. Pakistan peaks are now winning.

Visas and Travel Insurance
Do not skip this step: You need a visa and travel insurance when you visit Pakistan!
 
 
Mountains through the Karakoram Highway

Pakistan is home to 5 of the world’s 14 mountains which are taller than 8000 metres! You’ll find most of these breathtaking beauties in the Karakoram range which stretches all the way from Afghanistan to China, towering its way through Pakistan and India in-between! On this trekking tour you’ll get to experience the Karakoram, Himalayas and Passu Cones.

Throughout my 14 days in Pakistan I ventured from Lahore to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan and back, along the exhilarating Karakoram Highway. I traversed across mesmerising white and black glaciers, trekking knee-deep in icy snow, along terrain that challenged and drastically improved me.

On the way to Khunjerab Pass – the border between China and Pakistan

Indiana Jones style jeep rides along the edge of steep life-grabbing mountains.

Soothing hot and steamy chicken noodle soups in wooden shepherd’s huts.

Hair-raising wooden suspension bridges bashing from left to right in the tumultuous weather whilst you’re trying to get across them.

Cups of ridiculously sugary tea that turn you into a temporary drug addict. Give me some more ‘jenny’ (sugar).

Indescribable sights after hours of trekking that make every step you took mean everything.

Read on to discover what 14 days of adventure travel trekking Pakistan looks like.

Watch Part 1 of my Pakistan Vlog

PAKISTAN #1 Trekking in Pakistan | Hunza | Eagles Nest | Karimabad | Hussaini Suspension Bridge - YouTube

Day 0: Hello Lahore!

To get to the mountains, you need to get through the city first.

As I emerge from Lahore airport the heat hits my face, locals are eyeing up my red hair and I’m double-checking if my long shirt is doing its duty in covering my curves.

Lahore is one of the most socially liberal areas of Pakistan, but respecting the culture you want to hang out will get you far.

This cosmo and wealthy capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab is bursting with fascinating culture and history and it wholeheartedly deserves your attention. But hold your horses on this one. I explored Lahore upon my return from the mountains at the end of this trip so we’ll get to all the goodies you can see here later in this article!

View from the Red Fort in Lahore, Pakistan

I spot Chris, my awesome North Pakistan tour guide for Epic Backpacker Tours, through the hundreds of locals waiting for their loved ones. On first impressions he has an awesome beard and the cool and calmness that one must possess to manage 10 adventurers brave enough to come here in the first place.

Not everyone who applies to come on this trip with the company makes it. You ideally need some really good backpacking experience, an open-mind, patience, flexibility and the willingness with a smile on your face to sleep in a hut in the middle of nowhere whilst pooping behind bushes. Perseverance and an openness to roll with what Pakistan throws at you will get you far.

We jump in a taxi and are swiftly whizzing through the bright and chaotic traffic to Chancery Hotel for the night. Tomorrow the adventure truly starts – along with the moment where I will finally meet the other 9 adventurers I’m going to be sharing this experience with.

 
Pakistan Travel Tip

Before you depart from Lahore, make sure that you’ve got cash!

Pakistan is a paper money society and trying to use your plastic in the mountains will get you nowhere. Some ATMS are definitely better than others too: I recommend finding and using a MTB ATM.

Extra bonus points to you if you have a visa card; I struggled finding ATMS that would accept my Mastercard.

 
Travel with others to expand your mind

I’m stoked! Yes, I am an advocate for solo female travel but I’m so excited to be travelling with others.

My fellow adventurers are from all walks from life and are here for reasons we all travel.

Hiking in Pakistan with Epic Backpacker Tours

Amongst them are…

Nathan, a dentist from Australia in his early 20s, has just stuck his middle finger up to selling veneers and is turning towards a deeper level of understanding in his life. ‘I used to believe that making money was everything…’, he says, ‘but now I’m on a different a path’.

Cass, a chick the same age as me from Australia, is a total badass. With a past of fighting some demons, she’s taking her first trip in 2 years after turning her life around through Muay Thai and growing her vegan catering business.

Aurelie, a French Parisian chick, is here to report back to her friends who discount places like Pakistan. ‘I want to go to places solo women generally don’t go to, so I can show my friends what it’s really like’. I love her immediately.

Days 1 and 2: Lahore to Karimabad

Buckle up: You’ve got 2 days of driving ahead.

There’s no way around it. If you want to get to mountainous Pakistan paradise, you’re going to have to endure two very long days of driving on crazy ass roads. Yes, there are flights, but they are renowned for being unreliable and hours (days) late. Better to get on the road!

As Cass so elegantly put it, ‘You just need to surrender to it’. And surrender we did.

Pakistan Flag next to Lake Borith in Pakistan

Take this time to look out the window and reflect on why you have come here. Read that book. Listen to that podcast. Sleep. Eat all the Pakistani junk food you pick up along the way.

And speak to the others that you are embarking on this adventure with! They are going to be the team that you’ll learn so much from, who will support you and who you’ll be sleeping with in that Shepherd’s Hut in the middle of nowhere. Make friends.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes but your angel on this trip, if you go with Epic Backpacker Tours, will be your bus driver Mr. Khan. Mr Khan is the epitome of Pakistan kindness, hope and hospitality. He has kind eyes, quick reflexes and the rock solid determination to get you to all destinations on your itinerary as quickly and safely as possible. He might just be my most favourite person in Pakistan. You rock Mr.Khan.

 
Pakistan Driving Packing List

Books (see recommendations above)
Downloaded podcasts
Neck pillow
Eye mask
Ear plugs
Anti-sickness medication or wristbands
Probiotics
Patience

Check out my ultimate backpacking packing list here

These 2 days on the road will be the start of your tea habit.

You’ll be mesmerised by the psychedelic-painted Pakistani trucks and all the trinkets hanging off them.

You’ll question whether it’s safe for that many local people to be sat on top of one vehicle.

There may be impromptu traffic-jam singalongs.

And once you hit the checkpoint where you register for your permit to enter Hunza, you’ll excitedly sense that you’re about to enter a world few foreigners do!

Days 3 and 4: Karimabad

It’s amazing what asking a question can lead to…

Historically a caravan pit-stop, you will arrive in the capital city of Gilgit, Karimabad! It’s the royal land of apricots, forts and super nice locals.

Karimabad, the capital city of Gilgit in North East Pakistan

This beautiful town set in the snow-clad mountain peaks of Rakaposhi is home to the past kings of Hunza. It has two stunning forts that you can visit where the rulers of Hunza lived up until 1945.

The guard of Baltit Fort in Karimabad, Hunza.

You can also enjoy a spot of shopping (scarves and carpets galore!) and a beautiful walking route next to the water channels.

Whilst strolling along next to these waters, you’ll pass by local houses abundant with blooming yummy cherry, apple and apricot trees, lands full of potatoes and deep red tomatoes and some very friendly locals just as curious about you as you are as them.

I asked one local farmer what he was growing and was quickly transported into an afternoon of tea drinking in his house with his amazing daughters and their friends – along with a tour of their local village (goat cuddles were included!).

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How to get a Pakistan Visa

So you want to visit Pakistan? Amazing! You’re making the right choice. Pakistan is a truly off the beaten path destination and a mesmerising adventure experience regardless of whether you stick to the cities or head right up into the mountains. 

We just need to make sure that you successfully get your visa for all that Pakistan tourism.

I can help with that.

I have been through the process and I’m going to show you all of the different ways you can get your Pakistan visa step by step.

This Pakistan Visa Application guide covers all options, including the Pakistan online e-visa application, visas on arrival or getting a visa through your local embassy (with The Visa Machine or by yourself). 

*Awesome Update*

Since this year (2019) Pakistan has instituted an e-visa process and a much easier visa on arrival for some nationalities. Find out if you’re included by reading on.

 
How to get a Pakistan visa
Go Visa Free

Some nationalities can visit Pakistan visa-free. Find out if you’re eligible below.

Apply for an e-visa online

Pakistan started their online e-visa system this year (2019). Find out below if you can apply.

Get a Visa on Arrival

50 countries can get a Pakistan visa on arrival. Read on to find out if you’re one of them.

Use The Visa Machine

If you’re applying for a visa to Pakistan via the embassy it can be a real headache. Luckily, The Visa Machine can take care of it for you.

Use code Teacake5 to save 5% off The Visa Machine fees

Go to the Pakistan embassy yourself

OK. Get ready for paperwork and back and forth trips to the Pakistan embassy!

 

 
Is Pakistan visa free?

If you are from Iceland, Maldives, Nepal, Samoa, Tonga or Trinidad & Tobago; it’s good news. You can get a free visa for Pakistan! Yep that’s right; lucky you gets visa free entry for Pakistan. Enjoy!

Visas are also not required if you hold a Pakistan Origin Card (POC) or a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistani (NICOP). 

If you’re from anywhere else, you’re going to have to get your visa for Pakistan through one of the other options below.

How to get a Pakistan e visa online

You can now apply for a Pakistan e-visa online!  Pakistan e-visas are available to nationals of 179 countries.

Check your eligibility here.

Are you eligible? If so, here’s how to apply step-by-step.

Pakistan Official Visa Portal

Top Tips for filling in the Pakistan e-visa online
  • All boxes with a * are mandatory throughout this online Pakistan visa form. I recommend filling in as many boxes as you can to increase your chances of being accepted. 
  • Make a note of your username and password when you create your account and store this information in a safe place.
  • Don’t forget to save as you go along.
  • This application can be temperamental. Sometimes I was signed off without warning – and then lost the steps I had completed already. Try and complete it as quickly and efficiently as you can. 
How much is the Pakistan e-visa online?

Check all fees here

How long does the Pakistan e-visa take to process?
  • Entry (Up to 3 Months) : 7-10 Days
  • Extension (Up to 6 Months) : 7-10 Days
  • Extension (Greater than 6 Months) : 4 Weeks
What documents do I need for the Pakistan e-visa?
  • Valid passport 
  • Passport photo of yourself
  • A letter of invitation (must be from the Pakistan tour you’re going with, your sponsor or from the hotel you are staying at if you’re going alone – the hotel booking confirmation email is enough)
Go to the Pakistan e-visa site

Visit the Pakistan e-visa website here. Click on ‘apply now’.

Create a new account

Type in your name, email, passport number, choose a password and type in the security code. Make sure you tick the box confirming you agree to the terms and conditions. 

You will receive an email with the activation code inside. 

Open it up, click on ‘continue registration’ then you’ll be taken to a page where you have to enter your email and the pin you received within the email to verify your account.

Log in to begin.

Read through and accept the terms and conditions

These are worth reading!

When you’re ready, tick the box at the bottom to confirm you accept the terms and conditions then click on the green box ‘accept and continue’.

Choose your nationality

You can choose from a drop-down box. This section is here as a measure to double check your nationality is allowed to apply for an e-visa. If all is well, you’ll go through to the next part.

Fill in the application information and passport details

You will asked what visa you are applying for and its sub-category. For a Pakistan tourist visa, you can apply for less than 3 months, up to 6 months and greater than 6 months. Choose whether this is your first-time application or if you are applying for an extension.

You can choose if you want single or multiple entry. Multiple entry can either be up to 1 year or more than 1 year.

State what the purpose of your visit is (if you’re a tourist, typing ‘tourism’ is fine. State how many months you want the visa to last. 

Choose what country and city you want to be interviewed in. Please note: An interview isn’t usually required; but make sure to choose a place you can get to if they do want to see you face to face. 

Select your port of entry and departure.

Type in your planned dates of arrival and departure. They do not have to be exact, but try your best to give the authorities an idea.

Finally, type in your passport details.

Fill in your personal information

Type in your names, country of birth, country of residence, date of birth and place of birth.

They will ask you what your blood type is. Do your best to find out but it is not the end of the world if you cannot get this information. Pick what you think it is (you will have to choose something).

Select your religion, education level, your marital status, gender and legal status at your current location. They will also ask what your native language is. 

Choose what your current nationality is and whether this was acquired by birth or naturalization.

You can add more nationalities if you have more than one.

Finally, fill in your current address and contact details.

Family Info

They will ask for your Father’s and Mother’s information. You’ll need to know their full names, date of birth, country of birth, nationality and any previous nationalities. You can also add in their passport numbers if they have a passport. 

Tick the box if you’ll be having any accompanying member(s) during your travel to Pakistan.

Finances and Employment

Are you employed, unemployed, self-employed, retired, a student, supported by a family member or other?

Depending on which one you choose, you will have to fill in further details.

If you pick employed, they will ask details about your current employer and previous employment. 

They’ll also ask you, regardless of your employment status, if you have a bank account in Pakistan.

Travel History Info

Have you travelled to any country in the past 3 years? If so, you’ll have to list them! An absolute nightmare for a travel blogger like me, but I knuckled down and did it. Good luck to you if you travel just as much as me! They’ll want to know the countries, destinations, dates, the duration of your stays and why you went there. 

The form will also ask for your travel visa refusal history, Pakistani visa history and your convictions and other penalties information.

Visit Info

Do you intend to visit Azad Jammu and Kashmir during your stay in Pakistan? They will ask you. Tick the yes or no box.

Are you staying in a hotel when you arrive? If so, you will have to give their details. If you’re staying with a friend, you will have to provide theirs. 

Is your trip sponsored? You will have to provide their details.

You will also be asked if you have any friends or relatives in Pakistan and be asked for their details.

Finally, you will be asked about your area of stay information = your full itinerary. You will have to add in all of the addresses you are staying at including the address, province, district and tehsil one by one. *This particular part is not mandatory, but it may help your application if you fill it in. 

Documents and Photograph

This is where you will upload your supporting documents.

  • Photographs of supporting documents taken with a digital camera or smartphone are fine
  • Only jpg, jpeg and png file formats are accepted
  • The document size should not be more than 350 KB

Upload your invitation letter, passport and passport photo. Make sure they meet the Pakistan visa requirements above for everything to go through nicely.

Review

This is your chance to view your application in full and make sure all of the information you have inputted is correct. You can easily edit any sections you need to.

Payment and Submit Application

Last but not least: payment! You can pay by Visa or Mastercard.

YOU MUST submit your application once the payment has gone through. Without clicking on ‘Submit my application’ the visa application for Pakistan will not be initiated. 

Once everything has gone through, a confirmation will appear on your screen and in your inbox.

That’s it! All you gotta do now is hold tight and wait for the final confirmation to come through to your inbox.

Does Pakistan give visas on arrival?

Yes, depending on where you’re from / whether you are travelling alone or with a tour.

Please understand that you must apply online at least 48-72 hours before arriving in Pakistan to receive an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). Once you have the ETA, you can then apply for the visa on arrival at the airport in Pakistan. Without the ETA, you’ll be going nowhere. 

The Visa on Arrival can be used at the following 5 international airports:

Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.

Individual visas on arrival

Individual Pakistan visas on arrival are currently available to nationals of these 50 countries.

Check whether you are eligible to apply.

Group tour visas on arrival

Are you travelling to Pakistan on a group tour? 

Nice!

I went with Epic Backpacker Tours and had an amazing time!

Citizens from the following 24 countries can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days:

Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom and the United States. 

You can only get this Visa on Arrival if you’re travelling as part of a group through your designated tour operator. Everything must be pre-planned and arranged. 

NOTE: independent travel would not be allowed for you in Pakistan with a visa on arrival. You would have to stay with your tour throughout your whole time in the country.

Business visa on arrival

Business visas on arrivals are available to nationals of these 95 countries.

You will need an invitation from a company in Pakistan or a recommendation from the Chamber of Commerce of your own country.

Pakistan e-visa vs. visa on arrival

Are you in the situation where you can apply for the e-visa online AND the visa on arrival.

Are you wondering which one is better to choose?

They are generally the same Pakistan visa price so what is best?

Here is my advice:

Do you want to travel independently in Pakistan?

If you get the visa on arrival with a group tour, you then will not be able to travel independently before or afterwards by yourself. The visa also only lasts for 30 days. I recommend getting the e-visa so you have the freedom to choose your own adventure when you want. 

Do you want peace of mind?

Applying for an e-visa will allow for the visa to be processed and hopefully arrive safely in your inbox before you leave for your trip. You may prefer to have this confirmation before boarding, rather than have to arrange the visa on arrival in Pakistan when you land.

How to get a Pakistan Embassy Visa

If you are not eligible to apply for the Pakistan e-visa, or visa on arrival, you can obtain your visa through the Pakistan embassy in your home country or country of residence.

There are two ways you can do this:

  • Ask for help from a visa company such as The Visa Machine
  • Go totally DIY and visit the embassy yourself
What documents will I need for the Pakistan Embassy Visa?
  • Pakistan visa application form
  • Original, signed passport (6 months validity remaining / at least 1 visa page clear of any markings)
  • 2 clear passport photos taken within the last 6 months
  • Proof of address (utility bill or driving licence)
  • Copy of your Pakistan trip itinerary + round trip flight tickets
  • Bank statement from the past 3 months
  • Employment letter from your employer or school / if self-employed – a copy of your business licence and tax return / if retired – proof of your retirement fund
  • Sponsor Letter (from your sponsor or tour operator company in Pakistan)
How long does the Pakistan Embassy Visa take to process?

Results reportedly vary wildly, from just a few days to up to 6 weeks. Mine in the UK took 10 days through using The Visa Machine service. 

The Visa Machine

The Visa Machine are a company which completely take the hassle out of getting visas.

I originally used their services for The Mongol Rally – an epic car trip through 21 countries and that’s why I used them for Pakistan too.

They have offices in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

The process for getting my visa was as simple as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Fill in the Visa Machine’s online application for your Pakistan Visa (step-by-step details below!)
  2. Complete the necessary paperwork and send it off to the Visa Machine with your passport.
  3. The Visa Machine check, process and submit your application to the Pakistan Embassy then send it right back to you!

You’ll be informed throughout the whole process so that you know what is happening.

If you have a question, you can easily call and speak to a friendly member of the team one-on-one.

Get your Pakistan visa with The Visa Machine (discount code Teacake5 for 5% off admin fees)

How to apply with The Visa Machine

If you’re choosing to obtain your Pakistan visa with The Visa Machine, this is how to get the ball rolling with them online.

1. Visit The Visa Machine online

You can find The Visa Machine online here

2. Tell them you’re going to Pakistan

Type ‘Pakistan’ in the box below their map and click ‘select’.

Where are you going with The Visa Machine?

3. Do you need visas for anywhere else?

Are you going anywhere else and need a visa for that too? This is the time to select those countries. If you’re just after Pakistan, we’re good to continue. Click on ‘Select Visas’.

Do you need to select more visas on top of Pakistan?

4. Check your eligibility and find out the visa cost

Tell The Visa Machine what your nationality is and which country you currently live in now.

Also choose the purpose of your trip to Pakistan.

For the dates you want to enter and exit, do not worry if these dates are not exact yet. The Visa Machine just needs a rough idea.

Also type in the number of visits you want to take into the country. 

Note that if you’re applying for more than one person, you can ‘add people’ on the left of the form. 

Are you eligible? Find out the cost of the visa fees.

The Visa Machine will then show you what visa options are available to you along with the corresponding Pakistan visa fees. Click on the one you want.

Fill in your passport return address

Pop in your address details so The Visa Machine know where to return your passport to.

Review your order and use The Visa Machine discount code

Review your order and make sure to get 5% off the admin fees by using The Visa Machine discount code Teacake5

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When traveling in Romania, it’s easy to get distracted by all the different choices when it comes to Romanian food. Romanians are generally great cooks, and there are a lot of national dishes we take great pride in.

10 Delicious Romanian Food Dishes You Must Try

To help make sure you get the best and most culturally meaningful food experience, here are the top 10 foods you have got to try when visiting Romania!

Homemade meatball soup!

 

Sarmale

This one is a no-brainer. A happy remnant from our brushes with the Ottoman Empire throughout history, and a favorite among Romanian dishes, sarmale have become a pillar of Romanian cuisine. No Christmas dinner is complete without them. Similar forms of this dish exist throughout the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, although I like to think that Romanians have perfected the formula.

Delicious sarmale!

Sarmale are made of a mix of minced meat—usually a combination of pork and beef—and rice, stuffed inside pickled cabbage leaves, boiled, and served with sour cream. If you enjoy Greek food, you may have tried Greek dolmadakia. These look similar, but are actually quite different once you familiarize yourself with both recipes.

The difference between Greek Dolmadakia and Romanian Sarmale

Firstly, Greek dolmadakia are wrapped in vine leaves, not cabbage. Sometimes you do find sarmale wrapped in vine leaves, but the cabbage rolls are considered “more Romanian”.

Secondly, Greek cuisine offers a vegetarian option for these yummy rolls, stuffed only with rice and herbs, while Romanians would shudder at the thought of vegetarian sarmale. It would seem almost blasphemous. I can confidently say that in 20 years of life as a Romanian, I have never once encountered a vegetarian sarma. They may be out there, but I have a rule that if it would offend my Grandma, I can’t eat it.

Granted, the obsession with meat in the Romanian diet probably isn’t all that healthy, but in this case we have to stick to our guns.

 

Mămăligă

Now that I’ve made a strong case against vegetarian sarmale, it’s time to introduce a dish that can, in fact, be served without meat. Mămăligă is the Romanian word for polenta, or cornmeal porridge. It is such an important food in Romanian culture that there’s a funny, though somewhat sexist, saying that a girl can’t get married if she doesn’t know how to make mămăligă! That must be why I’m still single.Anyway, it’s not uncommon for wedding gifts to include a special mămăligă-making pot. At mealtimes, if it’s not served with bread, then it’s served with mămăligă, so this is seen as a staple food item for families.

Although in theory it should be easy to just put some cornmeal in a pot with some salt and water and boil it, in practice there’s a lot more that goes into getting the right consistency and getting all the lumps out.

My godmother says you need to listen to the mămăligă—it will tell you when it’s ready. My mom’s other best friend says you need to stir it one hundred times.

Some people are fans of letting it burn a little on the bottom of the pot to get some nice crispy bits in there. My mom once made mămăligă pancakes, and they were pretty good!

How to serve mămăligă

There are a lot of ways to make mămăligă and equally many ways to serve it! The way my family most frequently eats it—and our favorite vegetarian (but not vegan) mămăligă option—is with a big mix of dairy products. You take a couple dollops of hot mămăligă, and first you melt a chunk of butter into it. Then, you fill your plate with different cheeses, yogurt, and sour cream, mix them all in with the mămăligă, and enjoy.

Our second option is a little meatier—it’s called “Taci și-nghite”, which literally translates to “shut up and swallow”. I’ve decided not to remedy the previous sentence by trying to take the dirty references out of it. Moving on…Taci și-nghite is mămăligă covered in cheese, bacon, and a few cracked eggs, baked in a pan. It gets its name from the fact that it’s so delicious, you have no choice but to be quiet and just get on with eating it.

For a final serving option, I’ve been informed that a good thing to do with mămăligă leftovers is to pretend they are breakfast cereal and eat them with milk and sugar. I’ve never tried it, but apparently this is a thing. I have yet to decide how I feel about it.

 

Sibiu Salami

“Salam de Sibiu” is the national standard for cold cuts. I’ve never personally been to Sibiu to try it fresh from the source, but this is by far the best salami I have ever tried. Densely packed and very salty, it’s a pork salami that’s good to eat with bread and butter, or with some delicious Romanian tomatoes.

Salami

The spirit of being a responsible tourist dictates that you really should visit Sibiu and try it there, but this salami is distributed to every supermarket and fresh market in Romania.

READ: 30 Unmissable Things to do in Romania

If Sibiu is not on your travel itinerary, you can definitely pick it up at the corner store closest to your AirBNB. Make sure you peel off the powdery skin before you eat it!

New to AirBNB? Get money off your first stay here!

 

Ciorbă de burtă

Romanians love soup. Every important celebratory meal must have a soup, and it’s also a staple for typical Romanian family meals. There are two very different kinds of soup you can try in Romania—a “supă” which is a regular soup, and the more “Romanian” option, the “ciorbă”. Tripe soup, or “ciorbă de burtă”, is the latter.

Ciorbă de burtă

The difference between supă and ciorbă is that, while supă is made like a regular soup with vegetables, meat, and salt, the ciorbă is made more flavorful with a sour note, usually accomplished by using borș. Ciorbă de burtă is an exception to this rule. Instead of being made sour with borș like most other ciorbe, the sourness in this Romanian soup comes from vinegar—either white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

The star ingredient in this soup is cow stomach, or tripe (which doesn’t sound like the most appetizing cut of meat) but if you don’t think about that part too much, you’ll find this dish is really tasty. The soup has a creamy texture and a yellow color. You can add more vinegar to suit your taste, and of course, this soup isn’t complete without a scoop of sour cream (and a spicy pepper, my mom adds).

 

Mici

Ah, the promising smell of burning charcoal: it’s barbecue time! And in Romania, every barbecue has to include mici. Romanian mici, or mititei, which literally translates to “little ones”, are a very simple but delicious dish. Essentially, they are a mix of minced beef and pork, with some herbs and garlic mixed in. They are grilled on the barbecue and served with bread and mustard.

Mici

You’ll easily find food stands and small restaurants selling them in parks, on the beach in Constanța, and at any fair. They are a great snack to pick up in between activities, and go really well with a pint of Ursus beer. Besides, sitting down with a beer and some mici seems like a perfect opportunity to mingle with the locals.

 

Salată de Vinete

Another dish with a strong Mediterranean feel, salată de vinete, or eggplant salad, is the first vegan-friendly food on our list. This isn’t a salad in the traditional way that one might envision a salad—it’s more like a dip, or a spread. The eggplants are grilled, then the contents scooped out and mashed into a mix together with chopped garlic or onion, salt, pepper, and oil. It is then spread on bread, or eaten alongside other vegetables.

Salată de Vinete

To me, a great evening snack looks like a plate with a slice of bread, a couple scoops of eggplant salad, a delicious Romanian tomato fresh from the market, a few olives, and a slice of salty cheese.

 

Vișinată

Christmas in Romania is a time for family, food, and fun and fun entails “alcohol”.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but who doesn’t love a nightcap on Christmas Eve? That’s why this Romanian drink is prepared months beforehand to be ready to help us celebrate and warm up in the winter.

Vișinată is an amazing, rich black cherry liqueur. It’s fairly simple to make, but patience is required to let it reach its peak flavor. Once the black cherries, or vișine, have been picked in the summer, many of them are saved specifically for the purpose of making vișinată. Bottles or jars are then filled halfway with black cherries, and an equal amount of sugar by weight.

The mix is left to ferment for a few days before the container is filled with some really strong booze which is either vodka or a traditional Romanian drink called țuică, a plum brandy that is equally important in Romanian culture. After this process, the vișinată is left for about three months, occasionally being jostled around a bit to make sure everything gets mixed together well to get the best flavor.

Cooking, Romanian style!

What I love about vișinată is that the resulting drink is deceivingly sweet and tasty. I don’t drink țuică or any other spirits because they’re too strong and burn on the way down, but while vișinată is just as strong, it tastes much better and you really don’t realize how drunk you’re getting when you drink it because you don’t expect something that tastes so good to go to your head so quickly!

Of course, this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your own level of self-control and self-awareness, but as a rule I probably wouldn’t drink more than three shot glasses worth of vișinată in one sitting.

You can always swap this saccharine treat for a glass of good old-fashioned Romanian wine.

As a final note, the boozy cherries left over from making vișinată are, of course, not allowed to go to waste. 

Instead, they are used as toppings for cakes and other desserts, or just eaten alone by cheeky invaders who wander into Grandma’s kitchen.

 

Papanași

There are a lot of great Romanian desserts out there to try, and also desserts from other backgrounds—like the Hungarian Kürtőskalács (more about that later)—that are commonly found in Romania. But the great thing about papanași is that they are this sort of universally satisfying guilty pleasure, and are found in any kind of Romanian restaurant, from the humble poolside restaurant, all the way to fancy bistros. A former partner who spent a week in Romania with me said this was the most memorable thing he ate during our trip.

Papanași are a towering monstrosity of a donut, with the eternally elusive donut hole included on top. Some restaurants I’ve been to serve them in pairs, which seems delectably irresponsible. There’s none of that artificial flavoring, glaze and sprinkles nonsense going on here.

This is a dessert that anyone should be able to make at home.

What makes them so rich and delicious, and sets them apart from other kinds of donuts—something I only discovered today while looking up recipes—is that the batter is made with cheese. Cheese! In donut batter! I don’t know how I missed it!

They are inhumanly good. Unlike most Romanian foods that include cheese, this one does not use salty cheese, but rather a more mildly flavored option, like cottage cheese.

The batter is deep-fried to form a donut and a ball that fits on top of the donut hole, and then the entire thing is drizzled with jam and sour cream. Delicious!

 

Stuffed Bell Peppers

There are a lot of similarities between Eastern European food and other cuisines from around the world. Romanian recipes have been influenced by many different cultures, and that’s why this next traditional Romanian food may seem familiar—it can be found in many different forms around the world, but as always, there are subtle differences that make this recipe unique.

Peppers – pre stuffed goodness!

Stuffed bell peppers, or “ardei umpluți”, are one Romanian food that I can never say no to. They are very filling and satisfying, but not so overly heavy that you feel like you can’t move afterwards. Once the stem and seeds have been carefully cut out to preserve as much of the bell pepper as possible, they are then stuffed with a mix of minced pork (sometimes combined with beef as well), rice, herbs, and onion. They are then boiled in a delicious tomato sauce.

The trick to getting the perfect flavor is to make sure to add a bit of sugar to give the sauce some sweetness to it. And of course, as with every other popular Romanian food, this dish is always topped with sour cream to serve.

 

Kürtőskalács

The last item on this list is a bit of a cheat, I’ll admit. This is actually a Hungarian food, but is a favorite street food in Transylvania, and in Hungarian-speaking parts of Romania. You can probably also find it in Bucharest, though I’ve never had such luck myself. It’s also a food you will generally find in any areas meant for fun, like beaches, food festivals, and at the medieval festival in Sighișoara.

Kürtőskalács

Kürtőskalács are a Hungarian spit-cake. A long strip of sweet dough is wrapped around a baking spit, and brushed with egg yolk and/or butter for a glossy finish. Nowadays they come in many different flavors, as toppings are spread on the surface before the kürtőskalács are baked over charcoal. You can get a plain granulated sugar topping, cinnamon, walnut, coconut flakes, and more.

To eat it, you just grab one end of the dough and tear off a piece. The spiral shape of the dough makes it easy to eat without having to cut a slice with a knife. Just pull gently, and tear. The entire thing will be gone sooner than you know.

 

Quicks Romanian Food FAQs Is Romanian food good?

Categorically, yes. It’s rich, packed with flavors, and made with a sense of responsibility for representing our country and our culture. If you ever happen to come across “bad” Romanian food, blame the restaurant, not the food or culture itself.

Is Romanian food spicy?

While we do use a lot of spices, and sometimes serve with spicy side dishes, most traditional Romanian foods lean more towards being salty and/or sour. We do use a lot of garlic in sauces and dips, though, so you will find dishes that are spicy from the use of garlic or onion, but not that many dishes with chili peppers and such, although there are some of these as well.

Is Romanian food healthy?

The most traditional and well-loved Romanian dishes do tend to revolve around a lot of meat, dairy, carbs, salt and oil, so if you do want to experience as many traditional dishes as possible in a short space of time, you’re probably not going to be eating the most healthy or balanced diet. That being said, Romanian families don’t always eat like this.

Romanian fruit and vegetable produce is very good and high quality—if you happen upon a fresh market in the summer, I highly recommend trying the watermelon and the tomatoes. Many parts of the..

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Are you looking for the secrets to easy Romanian Recipes that only the real-deal Grandmas know? I asked my Romanian friend Hexa to spend some time with her lovely Granny to get the lowdown (and steal the best of the best). We succeeded!

7 Easy Romanian Recipes My Grandma Makes

Here you will find the true essence of Romania through its delicious, wholesome and super tasty food. It’s an honour to be able to share with you what the traditional local ladies actually make; a big thank you to guest author Hexa for persuading her Grandma to share everything.

Below you will find recipes for Vegetarian Quince Stew, Stuffed Bell Peppers, Bean Spread, Ciorba de Perișoare (Meatball soup), Sarmale cu varză acră (Meat rolls with sour cabbage), Grandma’s Special Pancakes (yum) andm Griș cu lapte (Semolina with Milk). 

Let’s get cooking!

Vegetarian quince stew

Quinces are a fruit which is not frequently found in western food recipes. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it outside of a menu in a Romanian restaurant or in my Grandma’s kitchen. Nevertheless, this unusual ingredient is one that is well-loved in my family and by many other Romanians.

Quince stew served with meat. 

Note from my Grandma’s recipe book: “At my mother’s house we used to eat delicious sauces made with apples, black cherries, and gooseberries, alongside boiled beef or poultry. When I moved down south, I started making quince stew as well.”

You will need
  • 2 kilograms of quinces
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 50 milliliters oil or butter
  • 50 grams flour or cornstarch
  • 100 milliliters white wine
  • A pinch of salt
How to make Vegetarian Quince Stew
  1. Peel the quinces and remove the seeds by cutting the quinces into slices, similar to orange slices
  2. Wash and dry the quinces with a paper towel
  3. Fry the quinces in hot oil
  4. Remove the quinces from the frying pan and add the flour or cornstarch, the sugar, and the salt into the pan, but do not allow them to caramelize
  5. Slowly add in the wine, stirring to create a sauce
  6. Add the quinces back into the pan and simmer until the quinces are soft, but not mushy
Special Tips

This dish can be served hot or cold, as a dish on its own or as a side for meat dishes.

Note from mom: this food always tastes better the next day after it’s been cooked.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

A favorite not only in Romanian cuisine, but also featured in many other European recipes, stuffed bell peppers are a delicious traditional food served at many special occasions, but also for an average, normal Romanian dinner with the family.

Delicious stuffed bell peppers, Romanian style!

Note from grandma’s recipe book: “Although this is a food eaten during the Summer, when all the ingredients are fresh, I remember my mother had the habit of preserving adequately sized bell peppers, either by putting them in a jar with water and aspirin, or by drying them out, and later freezing them. Now you can buy them in any season”.

You will need:
  • 10-12 medium sized bell peppers
  • 1 kilogram of minced meat (mix of pork and beef—note from mom: grandma has not sold all her secrets in this recipe book, but mom knows from experience that the pork should be more fatty and the beef more lean)
  • 2 medium white onions
  • 100-150 grams of rice (pre-soak in cold water)
  • Oil
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Celery
  • 2 cans of tomato sauce
  • 2 eggs
How to make Stuffed Bell Peppers:
  1. Wash the bell peppers and remove the stalk, seeds and veins, carefully leaving the rest of the bell pepper intact. Leave upside down to drain.
  2. Chop the onions, dill and parsley. Drain the rice.
  3. Lightly fry the onions, dill, parsley, rice, salt and pepper in a slightly oiled frying pan. Let cool.
  4. Crack two eggs into the minced meat mixture. Add the vegetables and rice. Mix together well.
  5. Fill the bell peppers with the mixture.
  6. Drizzle some oil into the bottom of a deep pot. Cover the bottom with celery stalks and leaves (not chopped—just cut to length so they fit the pot)
  7. Place the bell peppers inside the pot, with the open side up.
  8. Fill the pot with water and the two cans of tomato sauce so as to cover the bell peppers completely
  9. Season with sugar, salt, and pepper
  10. Bring to boil on high heat, then reduce to a low heat and leave to simmer for 2 hours or until cooked, with a lid on the pot
Special Tips

For a thicker sauce, you can add a tablespoon of cornstarch diluted in half a cup of water towards the end of the cooking time, and let boil for another few minutes.

Serve with fresh dill and parsley, as well as sour cream or yogurt. You may also add a little bit of extra sugar to complement the taste of the tomatoes and the bell peppers.

Bean spread

There’s a whole slew of Romanian recipes that include beans. This particular one is great because it makes for a lovely side dish or an easy spread to eat as as midnight snack.

A Romanian favorite – bean spread!

You will need
  • 500 grams of white beans (we spent several minutes laughing because apparently the proper name is navy beans, which suggests they are blue, which they are not) – leave these to soak in cold water overnight
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sweet paprika powder
  • 2 red onions
How to make Bean Spread
  1. Put the beans in a pot with cold water and salt, and bring to a boil
  2. After boiling the beans for 10-15 minutes, remove the water
  3. Cover the beans with a fresh pot of hot water and continue boiling until the beans are soft (this seemingly redundant step is apparently meant to reduce the gassy side effects of eating beans—we don’t know if it’s true but we’re not willing to risk it)
  4. Once the beans have boiled well, drain the water out
  5. Place the beans in a bowl with 4-5 cloves of peeled garlic,150 milliliters of vegetable oil, and salt and pepper to taste
  6. Blend together with a hand blender, creating a fluffy paste
  7. Chop two medium red onions (Julienne style). Place the onions in a frying pan with oil, salt and two tablespoons of sweet paprika powder. Fry with the lid on the frying pan until the onions are soft.
  8. Serve the bean paste with some delicious fried onion on top
Special Tips

Bean Spread can be served hot or cold, and works great as a spread or dip to be eaten with bread.

Ciorba de Perișoare (Meatball Soup)

This is the popular Romanian meatball soup. If you haven’t heard of it before, that’s alright. But I can promise that once you’ve tried it, you’ll be coming back for more. This is one of my all-time favorite typical Romanian foods, and one of the best soup recipes out there.

You will need
  • Half a kilogram of minced lean pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 grams of rice left to soak in water for a few minutes
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 carrots
  • A quarter of a celery root
  • One large red bell pepper
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Lovage
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Borș
How to make Ciorba de Perișoare
  1. Put two and a half liters of water in a pot to boil
  2. Chop the carrots, half of the bell pepper, celery root, and one of the onions and put in the pot to boil
  3. Finely chop the other half of the bell pepper and the other onion
  4. Mix chopped onion, bell pepper, dill and parsley into the minced meat, along with the rice (drained) and two eggs. Add salt and pepper and mix well.
  5. Form the minced meat mixture into meatballs slightly smaller than a ping pong ball
  6. Place the meatballs into the pot, in which the vegetables are already boiling
  7. Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to a low heat and continue boiling for at least half an hour, or until the meat is cooked completely. Add salt to taste.
  8. If you have liquid borș, boil one liter of borș separately and pour over the soup. Leave to boil together for another few minutes.
  9. If you do not have liquid borș, you can use about 2-3 tablespoons of powdered borș
Special Tips

Serve the soup with freshly chopped lovage on top, and sour cream to taste

Sarmale cu varză acră (Meat rolls with sour cabbage)

The famous Romanian sarmale, or cabbage rolls, are the one dish you absolutely cannot miss when visiting Romania. If you were to ask me, “What is Romania’s favorite dish?” this would be my answer. A must for Christmas in Romania, this Romanian recipe is one that you simply cannot do without if you’re going to learn to cook Romanian food. These are always made with a lot of love and care by the head lady of the family, so I hope this recipe helps you do us proud.


You will need
  • 1 kilogram of moderately fat minced pork
  • 2 or 3 white onions
  • Vegetable oil
  • 100 grams of rice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sweet paprika powder
  • Pickled cabbage (sour/salty, not sweet)
  • Smoked bacon
  • Thyme
  • Canned tomato sauce
How to make Sarmale cu varză acră
  1. Leave the rice to soak in cold water for a few minutes, then drain
  2. Chop two or three white onions finely
  3. Drizzle some vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the chopped onions, together with the rice, salt (do not add too much, because the cabbage is also salty), pepper, and sweet paprika powder. Cook until the rice softens slightly
  4. Leave the mix to cool down, then mix into the minced meat
  5. Cut the stalk off a pickled cabbage, and lay the leaves out flat. Take a large spoonful of the minced meat mixture, place in the center of the leaf, roll tightly, and push in the ends
  6. After you have finished wrapping all the cabbage rolls, take any remaining cabbage stalks and leaves, and chop them
  7. Drizzle some oil on the bottom of a large pot, and cover the bottom of the pot with the chopped cabbage leftovers
  8. Place the cabbage rolls neatly in concentric circles inside the pot, placing pieces of smoked bacon and dry thyme stalks in between the layers
  9. Cover the cabbage rolls with water, and you can also pour in a can of tomato sauce if you like. Boil on low heat for several hours until most of the water is gone and the meat is completely cooked through. Gently shake the pot from side to side occasionally to prevent the leaves from sticking to the sides.
Special Tips

Serve with sour cream!

Grandma sometimes puts the sarmale in the oven for a while after removing them from the pot.

Grandma’s Pancake Recipe

This dish does not quite fall into the realm of Romanian desserts. In fact this is more of a French recipe, so if you catch yourself wondering, what is uniquely Romanian about this dish, the answer is nothing. This pancake recipe is my grandma’s version of a French crepe. In Romanian they are known as “clătite”—a thin pancake with no sugar in the batter, so that it can be served with either sweet or salty fillings.

You will need:
  • 10 generous tablespoons of flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 800 milliliters of milk
  • A cup of sparkling water
  • Salt
  • Lemon zest
  • 100 milliliters of vegetable oil
How to make Grandma’s Pancake Recipe
  1. Put the flour, a pinch of salt and the zest from one lemon into a large bowl
  2. Put the eggs into the bowl over the flour and mix until combined
  3. Pour in the milk, sparkling water, and oil. Again, mix until combined, making sure that there are no lumps.
  4. Leave the mix in the fridge for at least ten minutes
  5. Using a non-stick pan, use one ladle of the mix per pancake. They should be thin and delicate. No oil is needed for the pan, since the oil is already inside the pancake batter, so if you have a good pan there should be no problems with it sticking.
Special Tips

These pancakes can be served with jam, honey, chocolate spread, bananas, maple syrup, or really anything your heart desires. Unlike American style pancakes, these are best eaten as rolls. For a delicious salty filling, use “urdă” and fresh dill. Urdă is a type of cheese curd that is light, creamy, and usually unsalted. My grandma makes a type of “pie” which is really just multiple layers of crepes, urdă and dill all on top of each other. It’s delicious.

Griș cu lapte (Semolina with Milk)

This is a favorite among simple Romanian dessert recipes you can easily make at home. I confess, I had never heard the term “semolina” before translating it from Romanian, but it’s a type of porridge made from a coarse wheat powder that doesn’t quite count as flour.

Note from grandma’s recipe book: “The children ate this with great pleasure when they were very little. I mixed their baby formula powder into rice water (the water that’s left over after boiling rice). When they were older I started making a thinner version of semolina with milk. When they were even bigger, I started making the semolina thicker.”

You will need
  • One litre of milk
  • 200 grams of semolina (purified wheat middlings
  • A pinch of salt
  • Sugar (to taste)
  • Lemon zest
  • Vanilla (essence or pod)
  • Cocoa powder
  • Confectioner’s Sugar
How to make Semolina with Milk
  1. Boil the milk in a large pot with a heavy bottom
  2. After the milk has come to a boil, stir the semolina in bit by bit so as to prevent lumps
  3. When the semolina has been completely stirred in, add the other ingredients, stir them in, and allow the mixture to simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot
  4. When thickened and soft, pour into the serving bowl and top with cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar
  5. Leave to cool down until a tasty crust forms on the surface
Special Tips

Other toppings such as jam or honey may also be used instead of cocoa powder

What are your favourite easy Romanian recipes?

Being in the kitchen with my Grandma was so much fun. It was a pleasure to go through these Romanian recipes with her and hear about her special tips. I hope you enjoy the pages I copied from her recipe book. Isn’t her handwriting beautiful?

Comment Below

Do you have any more Romanian recipes that you would like to share? Make sure to comment below and discover more destinations in Europe with me.

Related Reading

30 Things To Do In Romania 

10 Delicious Romanian Food Dishes You Have To Try

The Ultimate Transylvania Tour to Dracula’s Castle

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First off, I know vampires aren’t real and Vlad the Impaler didn’t live in Bran Castle, but even so, the chance to step inside Dracula’s Castle was an absolute dream come true for me!

I took a “Dracula Tour” with Rolandia who offer a selection of small group and personalised tours in Romania.

I took their customised day trip that started off in Bucharest and took me to three awesome Transylvanian historical sights: Peles Castle, Rasnov Citadel, and finally Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s Castle)!

How to visit Transylvania for Dracula’s Castle Tour

I’ll be telling you about what I saw on my Transylvania tour, but will also tell you all about how to visit Transylvania if you’d rather go DIY. Without further ado, let’s get our fangs stuck into Transylvania Romania!

Bran Castle, known as Dracula’s Castle, in Transylvania Romania

TRANSYLVANIA QUICK ANSWERS

How do I get to Transylvania? Fly to Bucharest, Sibiu or Cluj-Napoca.

Is it possible to do day trips from Bucharest to Transylvania? Yes. Book your tours here.

When is the best time to visit Transylvania? Anytime! Come snow or sun, it’s beautiful year round.

Start in Bucharest

Bucharest is Romania’s capital city, and a popular jumping-off point for travellers on the way to visit Transylvania. Bucharest was once nicknamed the “Paris of the East” and has a certain faded splendour and a charming mismatch of architecture. If you have time to spare in Bucharest before your tour begins, you’re sure to find something to tickle your fancy, be it hip coffee shops, quirky bars or laidback drinking gardens.

Bucharest also has some excellent museums, such as the Museum of the Romanian Peasant and the Grigore Antipa Natural History Museum, which offer a glimpse into Romania’s fascinating history and culture.

Check out 30 things to do in Romania (including Bucharest) here.

Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest Romania

Practical Info

Many airlines operate flights into Bucharest, including Wizz Air, Ryanair, Blue Air and British Airways.

You can also arrive in Bucharest by rail or bus connections from other major cities.

Find the best price for your flight here

Peles Castle

Peles Castle is located in Sinaia, a small resort town in the Carpathian mountains about 40 miles from Brasov and 80 miles from Bucharest. Peles Castle was built by the first king of Romania, Carol I of Hohenzollern, and was used as a summer residence for the Romanian Royal Family until 1947 when the monarchy was replaced by communist rule.

From the outside, Peles Castle looks like something out of a fairy tale with its ornate turrets and stone terraces. Inside the castle you can marvel at an opulent collection of European artworks, crystal chandeliers and exquisitely carved furniture.

Find out more about Peles Castle here.

The Peles Castle

Practical Info

Peles Castle is located about a mile from Sinaia station, which is on the train line that runs between Bucharest and Brasov. Admission is 30 Lei (about €6.40). Peles Castle is open from 9:15am until 4:15pm, except on Wednesdays when it opens at 11:00am. In winter, Peles Castle is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and in summer it is closed on Mondays, but you can still look at it from the outside when it is closed. See Peles Castle’s website for more information.

Want to get to Peles Castle yourself? Check the best transport options here.

Rasnov Citadel

Rasnov Citadel, also called Rasnov Fortress, is a historic monument dating from the 13th century, when it was built by Teutonic Knights to defend the region against invading Tartars. Rasnov Citadel sits imposingly atop a 650-foot rocky hilltop overlooking the dense evergreen forest, and also has its name in Hollywood-style white lettering.

Views from Rasnov Citadel

Unlike Peles Castle which was reserved for royalty, Rasnov Citadel was designed to provide ordinary people with a safe place to live during times of attack, and so it has over 30 houses, a schoolhouse and a small church.

Some of the buildings have been restored and inside them you will find an assortment of souvenir shops and the chance to take part in traditional Romanian activities such as archery and axe throwing. Hurgh!

Find out more about Rasnov Citadel here

Rasnov Citadel

Practical Info

Rasnov is located about 10 miles from the city of Brasov. To get there, you can take a bus, taxi or train from Brasov. The citadel is open daily from 9am to 7pm. The entrance fee is 12 Lei (about €2.50).

Find the best transport to Rasnov Citadel here

Lunch stop: Club Vila Bran

Club Vila Bran is a delightfully kitsch holiday village located a stone’s throw away from Dracula’s Castle. At the restaurant, you can try some traditional Romanian food while enjoying the spectacular view of Bran Castle and the surrounding countryside.

Club Villa Bran Lunch

I ate a delicious lunch of traditional Romanian food and the view was absolutely amazeballs.

Practical Info

Club Vila Bran is located about 800m from Bran Castle, so it’s not too far of a walk, or you could grab a taxi. You can get a decent lunch at Club VIla Bran for about €13.

Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle)

Bran Castle (Castelul Bran in Romanian) was built in the 14th century, in what was then part of Hungary. The castle was initially used to defend German colonists in the region against the Ottoman Empire. It later became a customs post on the trade route between Transylvania and Wallachia.

Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) from the outside

In 1920, when Transylvania became part of Romania, the castle became a royal residence and was home to Queen Marie. Bran Castle was inherited by her daughter, Princess Ileana, who ran a hospital there during the Second World War. Ownership of the castle passed to the communist regime after the monarchy was abolished in 1947.

Nowadays, Bran Castle is a museum that is mostly devoted to collections of art and furniture that belonged to Queen Marie, as well as weapons and armour dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries. You can wander through narrow passages and underground tunnels, and even see the torture chamber. Don’t expect coffins and bats, though – the castle is actually quite cute and cosy, and doesn’t really play up to the Dracula myth.

Why is Bran Castle called Dracula’s Castle?

Some people believe that Bran Castle was the inspiration for the home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but actually, Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania and Bran Castle doesn’t match the description of Count Dracula’s castle in the novel.

Stoker did take inspiration from the real historical figure Vlad the Impaler who lived in the 15th century, but Vlad the Impaler was only loosely connected to Bran Castle and probably never set foot there.

The most likely explanation is that the Romanian government wanted to boost tourism in the 1970s and decided to advertise the castle as Dracula’s Castle to get more people to visit. But in my eyes, that doesn’t make the place any less interesting. It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of history and imagine what life must have been like for the people who lived there.

Find out more about Bran Castle here

Practical Info

Bran Castle is open daily from 9am, except for Mondays when it opens at 12pm. It is open until 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer. The adult ticket price is 40 Lei (€8.50). See Bran Castle’s website for more practical information.

My Visit Transylvania Rolandia tour

On my tour with Rolandia Travel, I saw all of the above sights in one day from 8am to 8pm, but Rolandia are able to adapt your tour to your needs. If you prefer a more relaxed pace or want to rearrange the itinerary, add or remove stops, you got it!

Rasnov Citadel

My tour included:
  • All entrance fees
  • Excellent and knowledgeable tour guide
  • Private transportation
  • Hotel pick-up and drop-off
  • A bottle of water
My tour did not include:
  • Lunch – I paid approximately €13 for lunch at Club Vila Bran
  • Photography fees
  • Personal expenses
  • Tips for the tour guide

DIY Visit Transylvania Tour Options

If you want to recreate this tour DIY-style, first travel by plane, bus or train to Bucharest. From there you have the option to either take public transport, or rent a car.

Bike tour of Transylvania anyone?

DIY tour 1: Public Transport

From Bucharest, you can take the train to Sinaia Station to visit Peles Castle, which is a direct train and takes about 1.5 hours. You can check train timetables here.

From Sinaia, you can take the train onwards to Brasov which takes about an hour.

If you’re short on time, you could skip Peles Castle and just take a train straight from Bucharest to Brasov which takes about 2.5 hours.

Once in Brasov, you can either take a bus, train or taxi to Rasnov Citadel.

Finally, to get to Bran, you will need to take a bus from Brasov. There are 1-2 buses per hour and the journey takes about 45 minutes. You can check the bus timetable here.

Book your transport tickets for Romania here.

DIY tour 2: Rent a car 

Several car rental companies operate in Romania, including Enterprise and Sixt, which have pick-up points in Bucharest. From Bucharest to Brasov it’s a 200km drive.

You can drive via Ploiesti or Pitesti and both of these routes take around 3-4 hours depending on the traffic. The roads are more likely to be busy at weekends.

Book your rental car for Romania here.

Answers to your Transylvania questions

You’ve got questions? I’ve got answers! 

Where is Transylvania located?

Transylvania (Transilvania in Romanian) is in Romania, in Eastern Europe.

Is Transylvania a country?

Transylvania is not its own country – it’s a part of Romania.

Is Transylvania real?

Yes! Transylvania wasn’t just invented for vampire stories.

Where can I fly to visit Transylvania?

It depends if you want to explore the wider region of Transylvania, or if you just want to visit Dracula’s Castle. If you only want to visit Bran Castle, I would recommend Bucharest as the easiest starting point as it has the best transport links. You can also get flights to Transylvania that land in Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca.

Where can I stay to visit Transylvania?

For the purposes of visiting Dracula’s Castle, you could stay in Bucharest or Brasov. Other places to stay in Transylvania include Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara and Sibiu.

Book your hostel here

Find the best price for your AirBNB here

Book your hotel here

How many days do I need to visit Transylvania?

As I experienced, you can pack a lot into just one day, especially if you book an organised tour. However if you have a longer time to spend in Romania, you could easily spend a week or more exploring the region in more detail.

What is worth visiting in Transylvania?

It’s not just Dracula’s Castle! There are plenty of other things to do in Transylvania. As well as the sights I’ve mentioned above, some of the best places to visit in Romania include Brasov Historical Centre, Turda Gorge, the medieval town of Sibiu and the spectacular cathedral of Timisoara.

Should I learn Hungarian or Romanian if I’m planning to visit Transylvania?

The official language of Transylvania is Romanian, so you may like to learn a few words or phrases before you visit Romania. However you will certainly get by if you don’t speak any Romanian. My tour guide spoke excellent English!

When is the best time to visit Transylvania?

You can visit Transylvania at any time of year. Winter in Transylvania is picturesque and snowy, but summers are warm and pleasant, so you can go at whichever time of year takes your fancy.

Is it possible to do day trips from Bucharest to Transylvania?

Yes, you can get a variety of Transylvania tours from Bucharest, and that’s exactly what I did with my Rolandia tour. In a 12-hour day trip you can see Bran Castle and some other nearby historical sites as I detailed above. Check out Rolandia for Dracula’s Castle tour and other Romania tours.

Is it safe to visit Transylvania?

As per current FCO advice, Romania is considered a fairly safe country. There have been political protests in major cities recently, mainly in Bucharest, but you can keep safe by staying alert and avoiding any demonstrations or large gatherings of people. Also, pickpockets operate in touristy areas so you will need to be cautious of your personal belongings just like you would when travelling anywhere else.

Why did Jonathan visit Transylvania?

Jonathan Harker, the protagonist of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was basically an estate agent. He travelled to Transylvania to meet the mysterious Count Dracula to help him to buy a house in London. If you like, you could try to retrace his steps.

Did Transylvania really have vampires a long time ago?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that vampires aren’t real, but I sure do love a good vampire story.

Are you ready to visit Transylvania?

Visiting Transylvania was one of my most favourite experiences in Romania! If you want to make your Dracula dreams come true too, I hope this..

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What is the best GPS for Europe Travel? Maybe you’re going on an epic road trip and want to make sure you are completely covered in all of the countries you’re visiting. Or maybe you just want a new GPS navigation system for everyday use in your hometown! Regardless, we all want to get from A to B as safely, quickly and easily as possible.

Therefore, I’ve been checking out the best GPS tracking device options for Europe that you can buy on Amazon. In my opinion, these are the absolute best on the market right now.

What is the best GPS for Europe Travel?

Hands down, I believe the best GPS for car travel in Europe currently is the:

TomTom GO Premium

Out of all the TomTom devices on this list, the TomTom GO Premium is my favourite TomTom GPS for Europe. Do not underestimate TomTom. They have maps covering 165 countries with more than 555 million km of navigable roads.

TomTom GO Premium GPS device

*Full disclosure: This post is sponsored by TomTom. Opinions completely remain my own = honest and straight to the point*

The best of the rest

Short on time and just want to know the best GPS map options? The top GPS brands for Europe are TomTom, Garmin and Magellan GPS. Here are my top 5.

 
Top GPS Devices for Europe
Overall Best GPS

TomTom GO Premium / €€€ / 5 out of 5 stars

Best Budget Sat Nav

TomTom GO 520 / €€ / 4.5 out of 5 stars

Best for Daily Commuters

Garmin Drive 52 / € / 4 out of 5 stars

Best for world travellers

TomTom GO 620 / €€ / 4.5 out of 5 stars

Best for Camper Vans

Garmin Camper 770LMT / €€€ / 4.5 out of 5 stars

TomTom GO Premium

The TomTom GO Premium is the best overall GPS.

 
Why you should love the TomTom GO Premium

You want it, the TomTom GO Premium has got it! You could say that this is the ultimate Sat Nav which goes way beyond navigation because the TomTom GO Premium is just as handy before and after your trip.

Star Rating

5/5

Pros
  • Last mile navigation / Find My Car capability
  • IFTTT (If This Then That) commands
  • Excellent Trip Statistics
  • Can share your location and ETA with friends and family
  • Pre-installed offline maps anywhere in the world
  • Awesome route planning capabilities
Cons
  • Not a cheap GPS option on this list (but in my opinion, well worth the GPS price tag)
Map and Direction Features

TomTom GO Premium’s route capabilities are ace. You can add ‘highlights’ to your route whilst you’re on your way, easily stitch 2 routes together if you stop for fuel or sightseeing and you can add pictures, tags and descriptons to your journeys on the MyDrive GSP app.

Maps on this device are worldwide and update via WiFi: no computer needed!

You can easily pre-plan your journey and next adventure with TomTom Road Trips. Now that’s fun! For example, you can find and book the best places to eat and stay with Tripadvisor reviews. Be inspired by finding attractions and scenic routes along the way.

Display

You can purchase the TomTom GO Premium with a 5 inch or 6 inch screen, depending on what you prefer. The larger screen does come with a more expensive price tag though! The display is crystal clear and very easy to understand. 

Driver Alerts

You will receive lifetime traffic and speed cam warnings via SIM card with your TomTom GO Premium. Traffic information is highly accurate.

TomTom has 113+ million points of interests on its database and 330+ million address points. They allow free text search, parking information and much more!

Additional Features

The additional features on the TomTom GO Premium are ace; which is why this GPS in Europe and beyond is at the top of my list. 

Last Mile Navigation / Find My Car

TomTom GO Premium’s Last Mile Navigation means that if you have to park your car a distance away from your destination, TomTom will still guide you as a pedestrian to your final point via the MyDrive Apple and Android app for GPS. And on your way back, you can use Find My Car!

IFTTT

This feature particular excites me. If you’re familiar with IFTTT, then you’ll know that you can make something happen, if another thing happens first. With the TomTom GO Premium, you can be really creative.

Want your heating and lights to turn on when you’re nearly home? You can tell your TomTom device, ‘If I am 15km from home, then turn on the central heating’. 

Have an event on Facebook that you’re going to attend and drive to next week? Tell the TomTom GO Premium, ‘If I create an event with location in my calendar, then add place to My Favourites’. Cool huh?

Trip Statistics

If you want to geek out on trip statistics too, you can easily do that. The TomTom Go Premium will tell you the distance you’ve travelled, for how long and what your average/max speed was per trip, day, week, month, year or all time!

You can even find out how long you spent in traffic if you want to (but you may want to avoid that).

TomTom GO 520

The TomTom GO 520 is the best budget Sat Nav.

 
 
Why you should love the TomTom GO 520

It is excellent value for money from the top-notch manufacturers TomTom. It includes lifetime maps which are included on the Sat Nav. They can also be downloaded at no extra cost.

Star rating

4.5/5

Pros
  • Budget friendly Sat Nav
  • Inclusive of excellent world wide maps
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • The battery life isn’t fantastic
  • You have to connect to a smartphone for live traffic alerts
Map and direction features

The pre-installed map region will depend on where you buy your TomTom from. If you are in the UK, it will come with the UK/Europe maps installed. Other regional maps are downloadable at no extra cost. To get live traffic alerts with TomTom Traffic you need to connect to your mobile phone via Bluetooth. The maps and navigation are clear. There’s also a destination prediction feature based on your navigation history!

Display

The screen is pretty bright and clear, even in sunnier conditions, with the main menu features found on the right hand side of the screen. This means you don’t have to scroll through endless menus to find the relevant functions. Zooming in and out of maps is pretty seamless too!

Driver Alerts

Your TomTom GO 520 will alert you to speed cameras and remind you of the speed limit of the area you are in.

Additional features

You’ll have Voice Control and Voice Assistant, which allow you to give instructions to your TomTom by using your voice so that you can focus on your driving. You’ll also be able to make hands free calls by connecting your smartphone via Bluetooth.

Garmin Drive 52

The Garmin Drive 52 is best for daily commuters.

Why you should love the Garmin Drive 52

Apart from being easy to use, this Garmin GPS navigation device is full of extra information, like endless points of interest via Foursquare and Tripadvisor.

Star rating

4/5

Pros
  • Simple and straightforward to use Garmin navigation
  • Contains many points of interest
Cons
  • Having to purchase extra maps can become costly
Maps and GPS directions features

You will receive preloaded maps on the Sat Nav based on where you purchase your device. Other maps are available at an extra cost. You also get alternate route suggestions which are very useful when upcoming traffic congestion is detected.

The navigator also comes with preloaded Foursquare data, making it easier to find points of interest such as restaurants and petrol stations. The spoken directions are clear and easy to follow and will use easy to spot landmarks and buildings when directing you, instead of just relying on possibly easy to miss street names. This is very useful when you’re driving around an unfamiliar city!

Display

It’s simple and very user friendly. The maps are bright and easy to see.

Driver alerts

This device is full of all the driver alerts you need, from zebra crossings to school zones, speed cameras to railroad crossings and sharp curves ahead. If you happen to go down a one way street the wrong way accidentally, the Garmin Drive 52 will have your back!

Additional features

It includes Garmin Traffic for free lifetime traffic alerts. If you do happen to buy this in the USA before using it in Europe, it also has the US National Park directory and sites from the History Network; alerting you to museums, historical landmarks and more.

TomTom GO 620

The TomTom GO 620 is the best for world travellers.

 
Why you should love the TomTom GO 620

It has built in WiFi, which makes it a breeze to update maps. That’s perfect for globetrotters. The device is also super fast!

Star rating

4.5/5

Pros
  • Super fast processor
  • Inbuilt Wi-Fi for convenient updates
  • Excellent access to maps
Cons
  • Battery life is not so good
  • Traffic updates are received by connecting to your smartphone (this might not be for you)
Maps and direction features

The TomTom GO 620 comes preloaded with maps of the zone you purchase the device in. All other map zones are free to download. The TomTom GO 620 has super fast destination prediction and voice activated navigation. Perfect!

Display

It’s easy to use and has a well designed interface. The screen size is good too!

Driver alerts

You can easily get Live Traffic alerts (by connecting via Bluetooth to your smartphone) and speed limit and speed camera alerts too.

Additional features

It’s compatible with Siri and Google Now. You also get Hands free calling by connecting your mobile phone to the Sat Nav. This also allows the TomTom to read out your text messages so that you can keep your focus on the road!

Garmin Camper 770LMT

The Garmin RV 770LMT is the best Sat Nav for campers, caravans and motorhomes.

Why you should love the Garmin Camper 770LMT

It allows you to search for specific amenities for campgrounds and is set up with camper friendly GPS location points and areas of interest, like repair and service locations.

Star rating

4.5/5

Pros
  • Excellent for camper van trip planning as it incorporates specific routes and points of interest for your vehicle
  • Free Lifetime Map Updates for the UK, Ireland and Full Europe
Cons
  • Quite pricey, especially if you want to buy maps outside of Europe
Maps and direction features

The Garmin Camper 770LMT is preloaded with maps of the zone you purchase your device in. If you’re in Europe, it will come with European maps. Other maps can be purchased.

It will give you customized motorhome routing, bearing in mind bridge heights.  The device uses Garmin Real Directions, which uses easy to spot landmarks and buildings for easy to follow driving directions.

Display

The 7 inch screen is clear and easy to use and has smooth graphics, with the bonus of white back lights which help prevent glare.

Driver alerts

These include motor home specific ones such as high winds, tight curves and bridge heights.

Additional features

You’ll get voice activated navigation, real time traffic and weather alerts. Nice!

Things to consider when buying a GPS for Europe

I hope you have a better idea now of what the best GPS device is for you whilst you are driving in Europe. When shopping for the perfect one for you, make sure that you keep these things in mind.

  • Can you plan your route ahead of time?
  • Is it only a European GPS system or can it cover worldwide destinations?
  • Is the casing sturdy?
  • How quickly do the maps update? Are updates free?
  • Is the device easy to use, read and understand?
  • Are there additional alerts such as traffic / speed / red..
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There are some fantastic Australia and New Zealand great walks and treks to be experienced in Oceania, along with all the amazing trekking on the islands too! I asked my fellow travel blogging buddies what their favourite ultimate hikes are in Oceania – and they came back to me with these awesome treks in Australia, New Zealand and beyond. Whether you’re looking for something easy or the challenge of a lifetime in this part of the world, it has just got a lot easier for you!

The Best Hikes in New Zealand, Australia and Beyond

All of the following great walks, hikes and treks have been tried and tested by the bloggers who are writing about them. To give you a solid idea of what to expect, we’ve included the hikes’ difficulty level, time it takes, what you will see during your adventure and some essential tips that you need to know!

Roy’s Peak in New Zealand

The Routeburn Track New Zealand

Recommended by Cat Smith from Walk My World

If you want to walk through the landscape that inspired the Lord of the Rings Movies – glaciers, tall mountains, stunning turquoise rivers, ancient forests and beautiful ridgelines – then the Routeburn Track is for you! This stunning trail crosses two of New Zealand’s most spectacular national parks, beginning in Glenorchy in Mount Aspiring and crossing over to the Divide in Fiordland. It’s a must-do if you’re backpacking New Zealand. 

Routeburn in New Zealand

Difficulty Level

Medium to hard depending on how quickly you want to complete the route.

How long it takes

The trail is 33 km long and can be hiked over a strenuous two days or a more leisurely three. There’s quite a bit of elevation to factor in.

What you will see and experience

Following the electric blue Routeburn River, you’ll start in a beautiful forest before climbing up and over many ridge lines with breathtaking views to the valleys below.

Along the ridges you may even get a chance to see the highly endangered Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot and one of the most intelligent birds in the world. We saw two swooping through the valleys: a definite track highlight!

The trail then heads downhill, passing lakes, glaciers and waterfalls all the way to the Divide, where you can either head to Milford Sound or Te Anau.

Essential tips

Make the most of the huts, positioned in some of the most picturesque areas you can imagine. Spend the first day overlooking the immense valley at Routeburn Falls and the second sitting beside the stunning emerald Lake McKenzie.

Book you full-day Routeburn Track Guided Hike from Queenstown here

Valley of the Winds, Kata Tjuta Australia

Recommended by Greta Omoboni from Greta’s Travels

If you’re looking to trek Australia, the Valley of the Winds in Australia has to be on your list. Located at Kata Tjuta, near the famous Uluru in the Australian outback, the Valley of the Winds is a hiking trail that takes you adventuring in the open outback and amongst the canyon and rock domes of Kata Tjuta.

Valley of the winds in Uluru, Australia

Difficulty level

Relatively easy for Australia hiking trails.

The hike is fairly flat for most of the trail, with occasional steep sections to reach the viewpoints.

How long it takes

There are a number of different trails but the best one in my opinion is the 7.5km full circuit, since it takes you to all the viewpoints in Kata Tjuta. On all the signs it says it will take 4 hours to complete this hike, but it took us 3 hours at most including breaks for snacks and photos. 

What you will see and experience

I love trekking Australia here because it’s very varied; one moment you’re walking in the open desert and the next you’re walking through narrow canyons. It’s one of my top adventures in Australia!

Essential tips

Make sure to set off early in the morning for this hike; the Australian heat can become very intense during the day and you don’t want to be trekking under the sun in the middle of the desert!

There are stations where you can refill your water so make sure to bring a water bottle with you.

Book you Kata Tjuta Sunrise and Valley of the Winds Half-Day Trip here

Cape to Cape Track South Western Australia

Recommended by Michela Fantinel from Rocky Travel

If you are heading to Perth and love treks in Australia, the Cape to Cape Track should be on your list when exploring South West Australia. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135 km coastal trail that starts in Cape Naturaliste National Park, Dunsborough, about 200km south of Perth. This is the most scenic long-distance coastal hike in Australia with a very varied and picturesque landscape!

Cape to Cape Track in South Western Australia

Difficulty Level

Easy to hard depending on what you choose to take on. Some parts of the track are paved and accessible to wheelchairs.

How long it takes

If you wish to do the entire track, it takes about six days, and you can do it by yourself or by joining a local hiking tour. But you can also take short walks in Australia here and do sections only.

What you will see and experience

From limestone cliffs and granite boulders to white sands beaches and secluded bays with crystal clear water; there’s plenty of top spots for swimming with breathtaking views of the ocean.

The track ends in Cape Leeuwin Augusta, an exciting place with a lighthouse, where you can see the Indian and the Pacific Ocean merge.

Essential Tips

Springtime is the ideal period for this track when wildflowers bloom and cover the fields creating a picturesque canvas of colours.

Find out more about the Cape to Cape track here

Ben Lomond Track Queenstown New Zealand 

Recommended by Kayla from Kelana by Kayla

One of my favourite treks in the New Zealand mountains (and what I believe to be the best hike in New Zealand) is the Ben Lomond Summit. The summit provides 360° views of Queenstown, The Remarkables, Mount Aspiring and Coronet Peak.

Ben Lomond Summit in New Zealand South Island Queenstown

Difficulty Level

Moderate

How long it takes

4-8 hours return.

Ben Lomond Summit is a full day’s hike with 1438 m elevation gain in the South Island town of Queenstown.

The picturesque hike can take anywhere from 4 hours return to about 8 hours return as there are a couple of starting points depending on what kind of challenge you are up for!

What you will see and experience

Hiking New Zealand South Island is a dream. We decided to start early and explore the falls, creeks and forest along the one-mile track which added a couple of hours to the route but there is also the option to begin your adventure from the Skyline Gondola (Tiki track).

Once into the alpine area, you will come across a bench which is known as the Ben Lomond Saddle. You will be rewarded with some epic views of Queenstown as well as a place to rest!

Now it’s on to the Ben Lomond Summit which is a steeper incline and around 2 hours return. Prepare for a steeper rockier incline where you may need to pull yourself up on to the rocks. Finally you will reach the summit. I loved this track because we were able to see many different landscapes and views. 

Essential Tips

We did this hike in March but if you hike during April- November be prepared for snow and ice from the saddle onwards.

Leave early so you have enough daylight hours to finish the walk!

Find out more about the Ben Lomond Track here

Larapinta Trail Northern Territory Australia

Recommended by Claire Martin from Claire’s Footsteps

Anyone who is road tripping Australia knows to visit its Red Centre for one thing: Uluru. The world’s largest monolith, Uluru is a sight to behold; plus it’s got an amazing amount of Aboriginal cultural significance, making it one of the most spiritual places in Australia. However, few people are aware of the multi-day Larapinta Trail when hiking Australia. This 223 kilometre long trail takes hikers through some of the most authentically Australian scenery you can imagine – harsh outback, desert gorges and oasis watering holes.

Larapinta Trail Northern Territory Australia

Difficulty Level

Medium to Very Hard

It depends on which section you want to tackle. Find the difficulty rating of each Larapinta trek section here to trek Larapinta. 

How long it takes

The Larapinta Trail is long, and few people walk the entire trail at once – but it is conveniently set up in 12 sections which range from 9-31 kilometres each. This means that the Larapinta Trail can take as much or as little time as you please! 

What you will see and experience

Each section has its own natural attractions. You’ll trek through some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, including gorges, canyons and secluded swimming holes, all backed by the red dust that is symbolic of the Aussie outback. Your photos from the trek can serve as an automatic reply to anyone who claims that Central Australia is ‘just a big rock’!

Essential Tips

The trail starts close to Alice Springs, which is an ideal spot to stock up with supplies.

There are no trail fees – just camping fees in some places.

Do make sure that you’re aware of the potential dangers of hiking in Australia’s outback before setting off (it’s best to chat to tourist information in Alice Springs) and ensure that you are fully prepared.

Book your 14 Day Larapinta Trail Tour here

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing North Island New Zealand

Recommended by Nicky from Go Live Young

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 19.4 kilometre hike through the volcanic heartland of New Zealand’s North Island and it’s one of my favourite New Zealand trails! A world renowned trek, it is often described as New Zealand’s greatest day walk, and that’s in a country with some spectacular hiking!

Difficulty Level

This is a challenging hike when it comes to trekking New Zealand. 

How long it takes

6-8 hours. 

What you will see and experience

The trek takes you through a remarkable volcanic landscape, with crazy rock formations, moonscape vistas, mighty volcanoes, beautiful coloured lakes and steaming cracks in the earth. The views are spectacular throughout. This is one of the best New Zealand hiking trails! 

This challenging hike climbs the Mangatepoppo Valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, through the South Crater, before climbing again to the RedCrater, the highest point on the crossing (1886 metres).

At this high point on the trek you have tremendous views in every direction of the Tongaririo National Park. You then descend on volcanic scree to the Emerald Lakes, then onto Blue Lake. The track then follows the northern slopes of Tongariro, before zig zagging all the way down the mountainside.

This will be some of the most spectacular volcanic scenery you’re ever likely to see! You must make the most of hiking New Zealand North Island. 

Essential Tips

The Tongariro Crossing is a one way hike, which takes between six to eight hours to complete. As it is a one way hike it is best to arrange transport to and from the finish, which is easy to do from the local village.

All food and drink must be carried on the hike, as well as essentials for changing weather conditions.

Be aware that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing can be subject to unpredictable weather and can be closed to hikers!

Book your full day Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike here

Overland Track Tasmania Australia

Recommended by Claire Martin from Claire’s Footsteps

If you’re travelling in Tasmania you’ll no doubt hear about the Overland Track. This renowned route through the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park is a rite of passage for adventure junkies visiting Australia, and it’s frequented by thousands of travellers each year. Make the most of your Australian adventures by heading here!

Cradle Mountain on the Overland Track in Tasmania Australia

Difficulty level

Strenuous! You must be prepared. 

How long it takes

Around 6 days. 

The trek spans 65 kilometres from Cradle..

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Are you going on a South America travel hiking trip? You need to make the most of these mountains in South America! All of the hikes and treks have been tried and tested by my fellow travel blogging buddies, and we’ve put them together here in this ultimate Best Hikes in South America list!

Best Hikes in South America

For the perfect South American adventure, we have broken down each of these hiking routes into their difficulty level, timings and experiences, with special essential tips for each hike too!

Fitz Roy Patagonia Chile

Make sure to check out the essential packing list at the end of this article so that you are prepared with the right hiking gear! Without further ado, let’s get your South America trip up in those mountains off to a good start!

Cerro Castillo Trek Patagonia Chile

Recommended by Steph from Worldly Adventurer

When you think of Patagonia, what springs to mind? Ice dusted mountain peaks, pumas padding through the undergrowth and miles upon miles of remote wilderness, untouched by humans? As Patagonia’s popularity has blossomed, finding this dream is more difficult – which is why the Cerro Castillo Traverse is rapidly becoming the finest trek in the region! Chile is definitely one of the best South American countries to visit for hiking.

Cerro Castillo Traverse Patagonia

Difficulty Level

Difficult.

The South American mountain range trail is well marked and although altitude is not an issue, expect to climb up steep gradients to wind-battered passes. You’ll want to be in good shape, particularly as you’ll be carrying all of your gear!

How long it takes

This is a 47km, 4 day trek.

For those with only one day to explore the park, the six to eight-hour Sendero Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo heads up the southern flank of Cerro Castillo for striking views from the base of the park’s eponymous mountain.

What you will see and experience

Often dubbed “the new Torres del Paine” thanks to the park’s eponymous mountain’s three-pronged form, Cerro Castillo National Park is an under-explored trekking haven situated along the Carretera Austral. Containing a dazzling array of jagged peaks, glacial lagoons and wildlife (including the elusive puma), this national park is best experienced through the 47-kilometer, four-day Cerro Castillo Traverse. This is backpacking South America at its best. 

This route starts in the east of the park before cutting its way west, passing beneath the pronged spires and glacier covered flanks of Cerro Castillo, which sits above a turquoise lagoon. You can also expect striking vistas across some of the most remote and uninhabited parts of Patagonia: one of the best places to visit in South America!

Essential Tips

Weather can be changeable, so check with the park rangers before you set off.

There are four basic campgrounds en-route, the most picturesque of which, Camping Neozelandés, sits on the gleaming shores of Laguna Duff and has close viewpoints for various glaciers.

Stock up with food in nearby Coyhaique before you begin. There are shops in Villa Castillo, the village closest to the trailhead which carry only very basic supplies.

Find out more Cerro Castillo here

Huayhuash Circuit Peru

Recommended by Miguel from Travelsauro

Considered one of the most scenic trails in Peru (and one of the best treks in the world), the Huayuhash Trek involves a circular route of 130 km around the mighty Huayhuash mountain range with several peaks above 6000 m. It’s one of my favourite places to visit in South America.

Huayhuash circuit in Peru

Difficulty Level

Challenging!

This Peru trail is challenging if you go for the full circuit! Keep in mind that the full circuit should be attempted only by those in good physical condition. It involves walking for many days at altitudes where the air is thin, it is harder to breathe and easy to tire.

How long it takes

10 days.

You can opt for the full circuit, which can be completed in about 10 days, or one of the many partial hikes.

What you will see and experience

Most options start in the small village of Llámac. This circuit will take you along unforgettable landscapes such as rocky peaks, amazing glaciers, blue lakes, and huge valleys.

A popular (and easier) option is the four-day trek, often known as ‘mini Huayhuash’. This trek, which also offers stunning views, is best suited for non-experienced hikers.

You can hike the full circuit on your own, as we did, but remember that it’s a very challenging trek.

Essential Tips

I recommend that you hire a guide and a porter in Huaraz.

Most of this trek is above 3500 meters, and the highest point of the trail is at 5000 meters. Give yourself plenty of time to acclimatise around Huaraz.

Book your 10 day Huayhuash Circuit trek here

Lost City Trek Colombia

Recommended by Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker

Wondering where to go in South America next? The Lost City Trek in Colombia is a challenging trek through the northern Colombian jungle to the ruins of La Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City. The city was built around 800 AD, which means it is around 650 years older than Machu Picchu!

The Teyuna people who built it abandoned the city during the Spanish Conquest, but the Spanish didn’t find the city as it was hidden deep in the jungle. La Ciudad Perdida remained lost until it was re-discovered by chance in 1972 when local treasure hunters stumbled across the steps leading up to the city.

The Lost City trek in Columbia South America

Difficulty Level

Challenging!

The trek is not an easy hike, but it is definitely worth the effort for the scenery and the excitement of re-discovering the Lost City.

How long it takes

4 or 5 days

What you will see and experience

It is quite an adventure trekking through the jungle for 4 or 5 days, crossing rivers and climbing up and down the mountains through the jungle.

You’ll spend the nights in camps with basic bunk beds or hammocks and can take a swim in the river by each camp to cool down after the day’s hiking.

On the third day, you will reach the ruins of the city, climbing up the same stone steps as the Teyuna people did when they built their homes here hundreds of years ago.

As you explore the site you may get to meet the shaman from the indigenous community, a descendant of the original inhabitants who still lives in the city today.

Essential Tips

You can’t do the trek independently: you have to go with a local tour company which is easily arranged in nearby Santa Marta. 

Bring plenty of insect repellent!

Comfortable hiking shoes and a waterproof coat are essential, especially in the rainy season! Check out the packing list at the end of this article. 

Book your 5 day Lost City Trek here

Torres del Paine Patagonia

Recommended by Lauren Monitz from TheDownLo

Torres del Paine is one of the signature hikes on the Chilean side of Patagonia and one of the best places to go in South America. Named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the eighth wonder of the world in 2013, this is an unmissable trek.

Torres del paine Patagonia

Difficulty Level

Moderate.

The trail is considered moderate, the most difficult part the steep climb up to the Torres. But nothing worth it is ever easy, right?

Unlike most major hikes, you don’t need porters, guides, or to go with a group, which makes it much more accessible for anyone to complete.

How long it takes

Depends!

It’s part of both the W trek (5-6 days), the O circuit (8-10 days), or you can do it as a standalone day hike (6-8 hours).

What you will see and experience

You’ll pass waterfalls, icy glaciers, grasslands, and towering mountains throughout the varied landscape, but the highlight is obviously the three granite towers above the brilliant blue lake for which the park is named!

Essential Tips

You can stay overnight so plan ahead to secure permits and envelope yourself in the gorgeous nature.

There are two types of campgrounds in Torres del Paine – free campgrounds administered by CONAF (Chilean’s national forest corporation) and Refugio’s, which have bunk beds and dorms and sell water and prepared meals.

Be sure to pack plenty of snacks and water.

Bring trekking poles, and dress in layers as temperatures can vary wildly at the edge of the world.

Would you prefer to go with a guide?

Check out this 14 hour hike!

Ollantaytambo to Sun gate of Machu Picchu Inca Trail Peru

Recommended by Clare from Travels in Peru

The best hike I have ever done is the Inca Trail in Peru. It is a 28 mile hike and you walk along part of the old Inca Trail that stretched from Ecuador to Chile: it originally covered more than 25,000 miles! When you visit South America – come here!

Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu

Difficulty Level

Tough!

You’re hiking at altitude and some days you’re hiking down 750 metres in height before climbing up to the same height again.

How long it takes

4 days.

What you will see and experience

As you walk along the trail, you see different many different Inca ruins and Incan agricultural terraces. The best part is walking on the original stones that were laid by the Incans as part of their highways! The views are stunning: particularly the snow capped Andes mountains that you see along the trail and Dead Woman’s Pass at 4,200 metres (the hardest part of the hike!).

You go through rural countryside and farms and semitropical forest, looking at the stunning mountains of the Andes before finally arriving at the sun gate and seeing your first glimpse of the magnificent ruin of Machu Picchu. It’s a truly amazing and breathtaking site.

Essential Tips

If you want to do this hike, then it’s best to book between 6 months to a year in advance. It sells out fast as only 200 tourists a day are allowed to do the hike!

Find out more about the Inca Trail here

Inca Jungle Trek Peru

Recommended by John Widmer from Roaming Around the World

There are a few notable trekking routes to Machu Picchu that are all epic in their own merits. Yet we wholeheartedly recommend the Inca Jungle Trek as one of the best treks in the world, as we found it to be the most adventurous way to reach the famed Incan ruins and the best value route too!

Inca Jungle Trek in Peru

Difficulty Level

Day 1: Moderate / Day 2: Difficult / Day 3: Moderate / Day 4: Easy

How long it takes

4 days.

What you will see and experience

If you’re going to go hiking in South America, the Inca Jungle Trek is a 4-day hike that is jammed pack with adventure that goes beyond trekking! This trek to Machu Picchu actually includes a segment of downhill mountain biking, a stint of whitewater rafting, and a zipline across a valley! It all injects lots of excitement into the four days of trekking along scenic portions of an Inca trail.

As the name would suggest, this “Jungle Trek” passes through lower elevations than other routes to Machu Picchu and hence the trail meanders through a jungle environment. Much of the Jungle Trek trail hugs the side of a scenic river valley. Yet on the fourth and final day, this trek ascends up to the glorious ancient wonder of Machu Picchu, as an ultimate destination after all that adventuring from the jungle to the mountains.

Essential Tips

Comfortable basic lodging and local cooked meals are provided along the way, which helps to make for light packing and general ease during each long day of hiking and adventuring along the Inca Jungle Trek.

Despite being a fully catered trek that’s also full of activities, the Inca Jungle Trek is actually one of the most affordable ways to reach Machu Picchu. The cost of everything involved in this trek, including entrance to Machu Picchu, starts at about $40 per day. The value is almost as incredible as the adventurous trek itself!

The best months for doing the Inca Jungle Trek and visiting Machu Picchu are from April to October.

Book your 4 day Inca Jungle Trek here

El Morado National Park Trekking Santiago Chile

Recommended by Gloria Apara from Nomadic Chica

Very close to Chile’s capital of Santiago, the area of Cajon del Maipo offers one of the most beautiful treks you can experience in the area. Why not give it a go whilst backpacking Chile? Located in the not so visited El Morado National Park, and on about ninety minutes from Santiago city center, within the more than three thousand hectares, you can do activities such as hiking, rock climbing, horse riding and even enjoy the thermal baths at Baños Morales!

Being immersed in the Andes and the rustic nature will make any mountain lover’s heart sing with this beauty. The vegetation is the average for the mountains in the area: if you are lucky enough you might see condors in the early morning, and certainly several birds and wild horses. The park hosts more than 86 different animal species.

El Morado National Park Trekking

Difficulty Level

Moderate.

The trek is not so difficult technically, but it’s a moderate intensity due to its length.

How long it takes

Around 8 hours.

What you will see and experience

The route starts usually in Santiago and you can do it individually or by hiring a tour operator to bring you to the place. I recommend this last option as getting to the place can be a bit..

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