Climbing Brocken – the highest peak in the Harz Mountains
Brocken measures 1.141 meters above sea level and is the highest mountain in the Harz region as well as the highest mountain in northern Germany. During your trip to the Harz Mountains you can visit this special place, you certainly shouldn’t not miss it. You can climb Brocken on foot (my favorite!), with the famous Brockenbahn steamtrain or by bike.
Since the 17th century, the Harz was seen as the place in Germany where the witches gathered. In Goethe’s “Faust” he brings the witches together at Brocken. The fact that Goethe once visited this place has also contributed to the popularity of Brocken.
I visited Brocken twice in recent years. The first time during my hiking trip on the Harzer Hexenstieg and the second time during my weekend trip in the Harz Mountains. Both times I hiked up, but I also took a ride on the Brockenbahn. In this article I will tell you everything about my experiences. At the end you will also find my overnight tips for the Harz Mountains and other fun things you can do. Enjoy reading!
[This article first appeared in May 2015 and was fully updated after my most recent visit in the fall of 2018.]
Climbing Brocken from Torfhaus
You can climb the Brocken from various starting points. In 2015 I did this with my then partner from Torfhaus. This is the visitor center of the Harz National Park where you can park your car and view various beautiful exhibitions. Here is the story of our climb:
“From Torfhaus, we plan on climbing Brocken, with its 1.141 meters this is the highest point in the Harz. From Torfhaus we can already see it in the distance. Our plan is to hike to the top, which will be about 9 kilometers one way. The trail will lead us along the Goetheweg for the first part, also the easier part of the hike. This path takes us through the (mostly) pine-woods on a wide and well-marked trail. During the first hour we don’t see anybody and it’s just us and some birds whistling their songs. Even though the parking lot at Torfhaus was almost full, none of those tourists seem to be hiking where we are.
After a while we arrive at the Harzer Hexenstieg, the main reason of our visit to this area. This 94 km long hiking trail was developed some 12 years ago by the Harzer Turismusverband and the Harz Wanderklub and it belongs to the Top Trails of Germany. The name, which means “Witch Trail in the Harz”, was given to this trail because of the regions’ strong connection with witchcraft. Ever since the 17th century, the Harz has been the main gathering place for witches from all over Germany. In Goethes famous “Faust” he brings the witches together at Brocken, which leads to fame and stardom of this mountain. Nowadays it’s a favorite place to visit for tourists, which is also thought to be because Goethe visited Brocken himself.
After about an hour and a half we make a steep ascent and gather with the Brockenbahn railroad that takes visitors who don’t want to walk, to the top of Brocken. And as if it’s planned, the steamtrain just passes by and its passengers are waving at us. It turns out we’ve gained quite some altitude and we get the first magnificent views over the area. Unfortunately it’s pretty cloudy so we can’t see as far as we hoped for, yet the views are stunning nonetheless. From here, it’s another sturdy uphill walk that takes us at least another hour. Eventually we reach the top about 3 hours after we started hiking, a bit later than planned but there were so many nice pictures to capture along the way…
Brocken is not really a mountain with a peak, instead it’s more a sort of plateau where you can walk around on the various trails. You can also opt to visit sites such as the museum and their garden. The railroad track ends here and there are even a weather station and hotel on the top. We have a snack (carried all the way up) and some tea, before it’s time to make our way down again. As we are rather short on time, we decide to head back the same way instead of taking a much longer detour. Just about 2 km before the end of the trail, we reach a fork where we decide to take the short tour back to Torfhaus. This turns out to be a great choice because the trail is stunning and more impressive than the trail we took on the way out. It leads us along small waterways and quite a big moor area. When the sun starts to shine and the sky breaks open, we can make even better pictures, the landscape shows itself in its full glory. Along the way we meet some elderly people who take it slowly with their walking poles. We have a little chat with them and they explain to us how they love coming to this area year after year …
Upon return to the car it’s nearly 19.00 hrs and we realize it’s time to head over to our hotel, where we are expected for dinner only 30 minutes later. We leave the national park behind and say goodbye to Brocken with stunning views in our rearview mirror. “Hello Harz, it was great meeting you today!”
Climbing Brocken from Schierke
Who wants to climb the Brocken in combination with a ride on the Brockenbahn can do this best from Schierke. Schierke is the last stop on the route to reach the summit of Brocken and the walking distance is about six kilometers. Note: the last part of the route is straight up and is therefore not for unfit hikers. Below you’ll find my story about climbing Brocken from Schierke:
“I’m leaving the train and so does a group of about 30 school children. I’m not very happy with the crowds, but who knows they will not be climbing Brocken at all and I will have the hiking trail to myself again in a very short time. I’m indeed lucky because after about ten minutes of walking, they take a turn and I have lost them. The peace and quiet returns to the trail. The first few kilometers lead me along a wide gravel path and are not too hard. While the sun is poking through the trees here and there, I notice that it is slowly warming up. The world around me seems to come to life a little more by the minute.
After a few kilometers and several beautiful views, I arrive at a crossroad where there are more people. From the village of Schierke (a little further into the valley than Schierke Bahnhof) a hiking trail also departs and this is clearly the popular part of the hike. From now on, I no longer have the trail to myself, but that does not bother me, since it is a sunny late summer day at the weekend, so with me, many people will have taken the idea of going up the Brocken.
From here the wide gravel path changes into a narrow and steep mountain trail. This is where the play starts for the real walkers. Or those with a large portion of perseverance. As I slowly climb step by step over rocks, the first drops of sweat begin to form on my forehead and in my neck. After a good 45 minutes, the steep part of the climb is over and I have arrived at the asphalt road. From here it is still a bit further up and the top of Brocken has been reached!”
Things to do on the Brocken summit
Once on summit of Brocken it is busy. I have a fairly tight schedule because I want to take the train back to Wernigerode, where I started my journey earlier that day. I decide to opt for a typical German lunch, a bratwurst with bread. Instead of sitting on the full outdoor terrace, I take my food to a bunch of rocks where I take a seat and work my way through this blissful bit of grease.
On top of Brocken you will find a huge mast that is used as a television channel because of its perfect location. On one of the older masts you will find a radar installation for German air traffic control and a weather station has been installed here as well. If you have enough time, I recommend a visit to Brockenhaus, where you will find information about the region and the history of this area. The access for this is 6 euros for adults and 3 euros for children between 6-16.
It is a bit touristy, but a ride with the Brockenbahn is really a must-do if you are visiting the Harz Mountains. The Brockenbahn is a historic narrow-gauge train and is one of the most beautiful train journeys in Germany. The train journey by old steam train takes about an hour and a half each way and stops on the way in Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke.
The Brockenbahn runs several times a day and has a summer and winter timetable. You can find the times here. The rate for a single ticket in 2019 is € 29 for a single ticket and € 45 for a return ticket (subject to changes). There are also various offers for special rates on the Brockenbahn, such as the afternoon fare. Go here for a complete overview of the Brockenbahn fares. You are advised to book in advance or to be present well before departure because it is a popular attraction and can be very busy.
TIP: Like me, take the first train from Wernigerode (it went at 8.55 in 2018) – many people are still having breakfast at their hotel. It was not very busy at the time, unlike the return trip, which I made halfway through the day.
Brocken by car
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to drive up the Brocken by car unless you have a special permission. You can park your car in Schierke and from here up with the Brockenbahn, on foot or at certain times of the year by horse and carriage. Cycling is also possible, but you have to bring it yourself from home or rent it on the spot in the Harz.
Brocken in wintertime
Brocken has an alpine climate partly due to its location and there is an average of 176 days of snow per year. So keep this in mind during your visit. In winter you can walk to Brocken on foot (depending on the snowfall with snowshoes) or also ride the Brockenbahn. Please note that they have a special winter timetable for the winter. When you go to the summit of Brocken, always bring warm clothing, even on a sunny day in the summer it can be chilly at the top.
Hotels near Brocken
When you plan to visit Brocken you can do this best from Wernigerode. This cozy and historic place offers countless nice hotels, cafés with fine cakes and a historic center where you can stroll through. I spent the night during my most recent visit at the centrally located Hotel Am Anger and had a wonderful view of Wernigerode Castle from my room. Every morning a delicious breakfast was waiting for me and the hotel has its own parking spaces, which is just perfect because most parking spots in town are paid only.
Hopefully you found this article about climbing Brocken useful and found all the information you were looking for. If you have any questions, please leave a message below. This article was created in collaboration with Top Trails of Germany and the German Tourism Board. All opinions given are of course only mine. In this article you will find affiliate links. This means that when you make a reservation or purchase through one of these links, I will receive a modest commission at no extra cost to you.
Hiking the Greenstone Caples Track – a great alternative for the Routeburn Track
Welcome to this article about the Greenstone & Caples Track. If you have come to this article to read more about this amazing hike, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve written a complete hiking guide of the Greenstone Caples Track for you below and hope you’ll find it useful. I’ve hiked this trail in 2018 and a few weeks later I hiked The Routeburn Track for the second time in my life. Even though I have to admit that the Routeburn Track is stunning, the Greenstone Caples Track proved to be a worthy alternative for the Routeburn Track. It’s almost as scenic, much cheaper, way less crowded and well worth your time. So sit down, relax and enjoy my article below.
How I got to know about the Greenstone Caples Track
Ever since my first visit to New Zealand back in 2002 I knew I’d come back in the future. It took a while, but I returned in 2011 and again in 2018. The latter two trips were mostly dedicated to hiking New Zealand’s famous trails. In 2011 I mostly hiked The New Zealand Great Walks but on my most recent trip, I decided to get off the beaten path a bit more and explore some lesser known trails. I had already hiked The Routeburn Track and The Kepler Track back in 2011 and was now looking for some alternatives that would be less crowded but as scenic.
A few years ago, a New Zealand friend of mine, who actually lives nearby my hometown in The Netherlands, pointed out to me that the Greenstone Caples Track is a great alternative to the famous Routeburn Track but less the crowds. I immediately wrote that down in my notebook with ‘hikes I want to make one day’ and knew that during my next trip to New Zealand, this one would be on the top of my hiking list, together with the Angelus Hut hike in Nelson Lakes National Park.
This is how I found out about the Greenstone & Caples Tracks (which can in fact also be hiked separately) and when spending three months in New Zealand in 2018 I knew this was going to be my number 1 bucket list item.
If you wish to hike the full round, the Greenstone Caples Track is 4 days in length. Department of Conservation classifies it as an easier tramping track, meaning that it’s a generally well formed tack for comfortable overnight tramping/hiking trips. You cannot book the huts beforehand and need to purchase a Backcountry Hut Pass or Backcountry Hut Tickets beforehand, which you can do for example at the DOC Office in Queenstown. The DOC Huts on this track are serviced in summer months, have mattresses and running water. You’ll need to bring your own food, cooking material, sleeping bag and anything else you may need on this trip. As opposed to the Great Walks, stoves are not provided so you’ll need to carry those as well.
The Greenstone Caples Track will take you through two valleys and is a loop walk, so you’ll eventually get back to the trailhead, unless you decide to combine this trail with the Routeburn Track. The trailhead is at Greenstone Road End, 86 kilometers from Queenstown. As I wanted to get an early start I decided to stay overnight in nearby Glenorchy which is about an hour from the Greenstone Road End.
The trail is generally well marked and not too difficult. I solo-hiked it and found it rather easy compared to other mult-day hikes in New Zealand. There were some minor unbridged stream crossings along the way as well as some knee-deep mud sections, but nothing major to worry about.
How to get to the Greenstone Track
Before I’ll give you a detailed day to day description as well as alternative hikes, I’ll tell you more about how to get to the Greenstone and Caples Track. Most trampers will start this hike from the Greenstone Road End, along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. You can also start from the Howden Hut on the Routeburn Track, but more on that later at the alternative routes section.
If you are driving, then it’s 86 kilometers from Queenstown or 35 kilometers from Glenorchy. From Queenstown it’s about a two hours drive, from Glenorchy one hour. The majority of the road past Glenorchy is on a gravel road and past Kinloch there will be various rivers to ford. If you have a rental vehicle, make sure to check whether you are insured for river crossings, most likely you won’t be though. While I drove it on the way over to the Greenstone Road End the crossings were okay, however on the way back it got a bit more trickier as it had been raining and the fords got wider and deeper. In case of heavy rain, the fords may become impassable.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can use the service of a track transport operation service such as Info & Track who have organized transport all around Queenstown. I have not personally used them so cannot recommend them from my own experience, however they are advertised on the Greenstone Caples Track brochure by DOC.
In which direction should you hike the Greenstone & Caples Tracks?
Since the main track is a loop track, you can hike it either way. However, I ran into a guy who had hiked it before and he advised me to hike it anti-clockwise, so starting with the Caples Valley. This is the narrower one whereas the Greenstone Valley is wider. As I wanted to take advantage of the good weather I had, I decided to stick to his suggestion. The track is also described by DOC this way, however there is no need to walk it anti clock-wise. Below you will find a detailed day-to-day description of my hike!
Day 1: Greenstone Road end to Mid Caples Hut (2-3 hrs, 9 km)
Day one of the Greenstone Caples Track leads you along the Caples River. In this part of the valley you’ll find a lot of stock so don’t feel worried if you feel something is looking at you. After you’ve passed the confluence of the Greenstone and Caples Rivers, follow the Caples Track to your right. The trail will stick to the bush edge most of the time but in some parts, you’ll walk along with the cows in the grassy parts.
Tip: do not forget to look behind you every now and then. The views of the mountains behind you are truly stunning and turned out to be some of the best views of the whole track. The walk to Mid-Caples Hut is relatively short (it took me about 3 hours, the mentioned 2 hours are rather fast I’d say) plus time for pictures.
After the first two hours it became cloudy but luckily I had already enjoyed some amazing views. Just before you get to the hut, you’ll cross an incredibly scenic gorge with bright blue water. I decided to first drop my gear at the hut and head back to the gorge for pictures later, as I wanted to make sure I’d had a bed for the night. It actually turned out to be pretty quiet at the hut, there eventually were less than 10 people for the evening.
Note: the location of the hut is incredibly scenic, however the sandflies are a pain. If you decide to head out after your arrival, cover your arms and legs and be prepared for a sandfly attack!
Day 2: Mid Caples to McKellar Hut (6-7 hrs, 22 km)
The only (somewhat) alpine section of the Greenstone Caples Track awaits you on day two, when you cross McKellar Saddle into the next valley. I started my day early as this is generally a rule when I hike solo without cell phone connection (read more here about tips for safe solo hiking as a female). The first section of today’s hike will take you through the forest and you’ll gradually climb up to McKellar Saddle. From here the views are stunning, I had overcast but I can imagine it’s even more beautiful on a clear day.
As the saddle pretty much marks the half way point of day 2, I decided to grab lunch here. The majority of the walk on the saddle is on boardwalks in order to protect the fragile nature. The highest point is at 945 mts and after the saddle you’ll gradually walk down to the Greenstone Valley floor. Just before McKellar Lake you’ll get to a junction, from here you can hike to the Howden Hut on the Routeburn Track (more on that below) or McKellar Hut, the final destination for today.
DOC describes the McKellar Hut as one hour away from the track junction, however it took me a little longer. Once again the views are amazing and the location of the hut is awesome.
Day 3: McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut (6 – 7 hrs, 18 km)
You’ve now reached the Greenstone Valley which is much wider than the Caples Valley. The hike from McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut is across the bottom of the valley and stunning all the way. There’s a few minor rivers to be crossed as well as an old landslide you’ll walk across.
The Greenstone Hut is a 10 minute walk away from the track and is quite a but busier than the huts for the previous nights, since people who hike the Te Araroa Track (New Zealand’s long distance tramp) can also overnight here. I arrived at the Greenstone Hut mid afternoon and spent an awesome few hours enjoying the sunshine and overlooking the amazing views in the distance. Note that the hut was full well by the middle of the afternoon so arriving early is wise.
When I started writing about Yellowstone I realized there’s a lot to know and tell about this national park. This first aricle is about how to plan for Yellowstone National Park and where to find useful information. In the highlights of Yellowstone, you will find our personal highlights, as well as some disappointments, which will hopefully make it easier to on how to plan for Yellowstone. Enjoy this Yellowstone National Park information!
[Please note that this article was first published in summer 2013 and updated in 2019]
Why to go yo Yellowstone National Park
When planning our USA roadtrip, we initially just wanted to visit Colorado. But after doing some research, I knew that Yellowstone had to be in our trip as well. I saw the ‘Yellowstone Supervolcano’ documentary on tv and even though the pictures on the internet didn’t look that impressive at first, it was a gut feeling we needed to make our way over. Call it fortunate or unfortunate, for Dutch standards the park is quite far away from everything. It’s a full day drive from Salt Lake City and even longer from Denver. Sure, you could probably drive it in a much shorter time but do you really want that? If you plan on going, take your time on driving! We came from the southwest (Salt Lake City) and the last hour before Yellowstone the landscape was already pretty gorgeous. When taking the road in southern direction, towards Denver, the drive is even more stunning and passing the Grand Tetons is a must, because in my humble opinion, these are among the most scenic mountains on the planet!
How much time do you need for Yellowstone and where to stay
I knew that one full day in Yellowstone would not be enough, so we planned two full days inside the park. If you have more time, please consider spending more days there, you won’t regret it! We were up and running from 5.00 am until 10.00 pm for three days in a row and still didn’t get to see everything we wanted. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have more time as there were so many other things we wanted to see when going all the way to the USA. Life is all about choices, especially when you come from overseas.
Our most important piece of advice is to book your accommodation well ahead! Showing up just like that and expecting to find a place to stay in the park will result in a disappointment, especially in the high season. Everything inside the park is operated by Yellowstone National Park Lodges, you can make reservations for both hotels and campsites. We were pretty shocked to find out that all hotels and many campsites were fully booked months in advance already. Especially since we were traveling mid June, which we thought was not yet high season. We reserved our campsite two months in advance and by then it was already pretty booked up. Other options are staying in West Yellowstone or other towns outside of the park, but I guess you don’t really want to stay far away, having to take a long drive every time you want to see something…
We stayed at Madison Campsite which we thought has a good location in the southwestern area of the park. It’s not too high up altitude wise, so it doesn’t get too cold during the night. Madison is quite close to some major highlights such at Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basin. The campsite is large but quiet, at night the only thing that woke me up would be someone snoring (the perks of tenting) or a car coming back from somewhere in the middle of the night. The bathrooms were pretty clean and there was a place to wash dishes which was a luxury. There are no showers though, the closest ones are at Old Faithful Inn, about 30 minutes driving away or at West Yellowstone. The site rate for Madison Campground in 2019 is USD 26 per night.
I know you probably don’t want to plan every minute of your trip, but try to take some time to read about what Yellowstone National Park has to offer. There’s a lot to see and do and because there are so many other tourists (yes, you won’t be alone!) traffic jams occur a lot and at major sights, it can sometimes be a pain to find a parking spot. Lonely Planet has a guidebook just about Yellowstone and Grand Teton which was useful when planning from home, but we didn’t use it a lot while in the park because the park service can provide you with plenty of information upon arrival. Just make your way to a visitors center, there are some in various areas of the park. They will be happy to help you with any questions you have. You may also want to check out the website of the National Park Service, which we got a lot of information from, especially about activities and hiking. In addition, make sure to order your national park planning map in advance.
The roads in Yellowstone are in the shape of an 8. We did the upper loop in one day and the lower loop in one day. You could probably do the both of them in one really long day, but the distances and driving times were longer than we expected! Sometimes there would be a major traffic jam for a bear next to the roadside or bison suddenly crossing, which easily led to at least a half hour delay. We also thought there was ‘too much’ to see, or at least, too much for just two days. During our first hour on the road we stopped at every roadsign and everything that looked even slightly picturesque. However because of our endless stopping we missed the guided ranger walk we planned on joining (they’re free and highly recommended!) and realized we needed to make choices about what to see and do.
Our next piece of advice is to wake up early and stay up late! On our first night, we decided to take a drive to Old Faithful, the park’s most famous geyser that erupts pretty much every 90 minutes. There is even a Twitter account where rangers predict the next eruption: GeyserNPS. We didn’t have cell coverage in the park (no wifi available unless you are paying for it or staying in one of the resorts) but eruption predictions are posted in the visitors center as well. We arrived at Old Faithful just before sunset and there were less than 50 people there. We were lucky because we only had to wait for about ten minutes until the eruption came. With the sun setting and the sound of water blowing high up into the air, it was a truly stunning experience. When we were there again two days later and hundreds of people were sitting around the geyser, we realized we had been lucky to experience the blow with only a few people around earlier that week…
Be bear aware!
One last bit of advice when planning a trip to Yellowstone is to be bear aware! When buying outdoor gear in Denver we asked the guys at the outdoor shop we went to if we really needed bear spray. After we told them we were going to Yellowstone, their answer was a definite yes. At first, we were kind of funny about it and kept on thinking it had been a waste of money because after all, $50 is a lot for something that you’re not even allowed to bring home and hopefully not going to use. Upon arrival at the campsite we were told a bear had been seen on the premises the night before and we were given very strict instructions on how to camp with bears. Of course we followed the guidelines of the campsite concerning food storage and while hiking in the backcountry, we were as careful as possible. However, we still had a close bear encounter, which you can read all about in one of our previous blogs. When we saw a grizzly and another black bear on the road later that day and heard that two years earlier two male hikers were killed by bears, we realized bears are a serious threat and should never be underestimated.
Micro adventure in Germany: climbing the Langenberg in Sauerland
Looking for an original micro adventure in Germany? Then climb the Langenberg, the highest mountain in Sauerland and also the state of North Rhine Westphalia, the state that borders the central and southern Netherlands. It’s an original idea for a short weekend trip and something different than the well known hikes in Sauerland.
Hiking trip to Sauerland in Germany
For me, Sauerland is one of the nicest places for hiking in Germany. But to be honest, tourist places like Willingen and Winterberg can sometimes be incredibly busy with fellow Dutch people. That is why I regularly look for hiking trails away from the crowds. This is how I came up with the idea to climb the highest mountain in Sauerland: the Langenberg last year.
The Langenberg measures 843 meters and a bit and is located between Niedersfeld and Willingen. This makes it slightly higher than the famous Kahler Asten, which attracts many more visitors each year. There are countless trails that take you to the top of the Langenberg and I advise you to buy a hiking map so that you can plan the desired route in terms of length and starting point.
Sauerland hiking map
We bought the regional hiking map “Wandern im Ruhr- und Hilletal Hochsauerland” for a few euros on the spot. This includes in particular the area south of the Langenberg including Winterberg. When you spend the night in Willingen it is best to buy another map of the more northern region.
As we were not in the mood for crowds, we decided to pitch our tent at Camping Vosmecke, a simple but neat campsite between Niedersfeld and Winterberg. We started our hike from Niedersfeld and walked up to the Langenberg along the N2 hiking route. From here we followed a small part of Rothaarsteig and via the Medebachquelle we descended again. Unfortunately we went wrong somewhere (something that we thought is actually impossible in Germany) so the number of kilometers was higher than planned, in the end we arrived at about 21 kilometers. If you want to make a shorter hike, you will find a nice 14-kilometer route from Bruchhausen here.
On the Langenberg
Note: it is not a mountain with a great view. In fact, the highest point is in the middle of the forest and is marked by a large wooden cross. So you don’t really have the idea that you have climbed so much. Luckily along the way you do have occasional views of the surroundings through the trees so that still makes it worth the walk.
Then why climb the Langenberg? Because it shows a quiet side of Sauerland, away from the crowds. Because it is wonderful to walk on the relatively quiet trails and just because it is something different than usual. If you are tired of the silence of this area after the day, you will be back in Willingen or Winterberg within no time.
What does this micro adventure cost?
On Saturday afternoon we drove from Arnhem to Sauerland and arrived there by the end of the afternoon. We spent the evening at the campsite while enjoying our own food we brought from home. The next day we climbed the Langenberg, ate a delicious schnitzel at the restaurant of the campsite (cash only!) and drove back home, where we arrived halfway through the evening. We traveled with two people and the cost per person were about 60 euros per person including gasoline, accommodation at the campsite, a hiking map, self-brought dinner and breakfast and a late schnitzel lunch at the campsite including two beers.
If you rather don’t want to camp, then check out these hotels in Winterberg or Willingen. Landal Winterberg is also a great alternative if you would like to cook yourself (and therefore want to save costs) but you can only book here for a whole weekend (3 nights) or longer.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope I have given you a nice idea for your next micro adventure. Also make sure to check out our previous micro adventure blogs. During these micro-adventures we share our tips for the best adventures in the Netherlands or just outside for 1, 2 or 3 days. After all, you don’t have to go far to do cool things!
Note that this blog contains affiliate links and when you make a reservation or purchase through my website I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Things I learned during my trip to Nepal – confessions of a travel blogger
Hello, I’m home again! For a few days already by the way, but I decided to extend my vacation by a few more days. Apart from occasionally posting a social media message, I did almost nothing online. Most of all acclimatize back home again (especially to the nice and warm here in the Netherlands!), but also the horror that is called pollen allergies and I’ve enjoyed some outdoor time with my boyfriend after being away for two weeks.
Even though I truly enjoyed my trip to Nepal, it didn’t really go as planned. Far from that, in fact. Sometimes that is fun, sometimes that is not so much fun. In my case it mostly was a learning journey. Those who think that after years of traveling you would have learned all there is to know … Nope! Think again, none of it is true. The most important journey I made in the past year was probably the the journey to finding myself and who I really want to be. Now that may sound a lot more dramatic than it is, but I have to say that I had to work fairly hard during this trip. Both mentally and physically. Curious? Then continue reading below in this article about five things I learned during my trip to Nepal.
1. Trust your gut feeling. Always!
The most important thing that I learned during the past two weeks during my Nepal trip is to trust my feelings and intuition. Even if that goes right against what is generally accepted or what I am supposed to do. It sounds a bit vague, but I’ll try to describe it with an example.
From the end point of my hike I had two options to travel back to Kathmandu. The first was by jeep (I had done that on the way there) or with the local bus. Now I know that the local bus is an adventure in itself, but since the price of the bus is 10x lower than the jeep, I decided to take it. The route to be covered is one of the worst in Nepal but well, a bit of an adventure seemed fun.
Until the bus arrived. It was rightfully the most horrific bus I had ever seen and I really had the idea that it could break through its bottom every moment. My guide and I were the only ones on the bus, all the curtains were closed and within five minutes I was bumpy along a deep abyss already with my head between my legs because of nausea and anxiety. Just remember those videos of buses in India that are bumbling along an unpaved mountain road along the ravine that you’ve probably seen on Facebook.
I was sick within in five minutes I told my guide to get off at the next opportunity. The € 100 that I had to pay for the further journey by jeep was a pain in my wallet, but no way I was going to be on such a bus for another ten hours. And that turned out to be a good choice because in the end even the journey by jeep already became an entire undertaking of eight hours on a route of seventy kilometers. I am endlessly grateful that I chose to leave that bus for what it was and continue to travel in a safe and responsible manner.
2. Sometimes your body just doesn’t cooperate
And that is just plain sh*t but you’ll just have to deal with it. I have been struggling with an injury in my hip since last fall. I have already gone through various treatments by a physiotherapist and a mylogenics practitioner and although only the latter helped me off my pain regularly, there is something wrong in my body somewhere. Because after a few hours on the trail my hip started nagging again. The first day I arrived at my destination with a great deal of pain and by the end of the second day I had decided for myself that walking like this for 11 days was just not going to happen.
And so on the fourth day I made the painful decision to return to the beginning of the track instead of crossing the mountain pass. Where I was deeply disappointed at first, I soon felt at ease with the situation. “It is what it is” has become one of my quotes during recent years and instead of feeling bad, I have taken the opportunity to return to Kathmandu earlier than planned and fully unwind for a couple of days there. Which also brings me straight to the next point:
3. Going on an active vacation is just a bad idea when you’re utterly tired
I called home once during this trip and when I told my boyfriend it didn’t feel right for me because I was so tired, I got the answer ‘yes but dear, we have been together for about a year and a half now for the same length of time you say that you went on vacation far too tired! Maybe it’s time to do something about it?” He sure was right about that!
As an freelancer I find it quite difficult to go on vacation. The last time I did that was last summer when I traveled with the Rudolph de Volvo through Sweden and Norway for five weeks. The other trips I made afterwards were always work-related and I was constantly busy taking photos (Iceland), following online SEO training courses (La Palma) and doing social media (Germany).
As there is nobody who just pays you (after all, you are your own boss), it means that in the weeks before my vacation / travel I am always busy making preparations so that some things can still go on while I travel. In addition, I sometimes take on extra work to fill the financial gap that arises when I’m not working. Two weeks of vacation means two weeks less income for me. Fortunately I have now found a number of ways to create a “passive income” whereby I earn money without having to be online, but these are not yet sufficient to provide a complete monthly salary.
All this ensures that I often work extremely hard before my vacation starts. I thought I had planned it quite well this time, but due to some unforeseen events it all went a little differently than expected. The most important note to self was therefore: “prepare for the unforeseen.” Going on a physically demanding trip when your body is exhausted is not a good idea.
4. I find the Asian fiddling with money thing really crappy
When I got off the aforementioned bus, the guide asked for a jeep and one of the drivers knew a man who wanted to take me to Kathmandu for 11.000 rupees. Once at the next stop I got out and after an hour of waiting there was no one yet. My guide then had the story that the person concerned was sick (huh? one hour ago he wasn’t!) and now wanted me to pay 15.000 (= 32 euros more). There you are in the middle of nowhere. I ended up cheating with my cash and showing that I only had 12.000 and I was allowed to pay for it. To be honest, I have felt bad about it for a while. The famous scam story in Asia and I had fallen for it again. And yes, I know that it is Asia and that it comes with the adventure, but I just don’t see the charm of being scammed.
5. “It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”
This quote by Sir Edmund Hillary (who was the first to climb Mount Everest with Tenzing Norquay) is really completely true and I experienced that again during my last trip. Although this was probably the one Nepal journey (after Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp) I had trained the most for and I was the best in shape in terms of fitness, I had an unbelievably hard time walking, especially the first few days. Add to that the snowfall and the fact that I barely slept the entire trip (think: yaks next to your window, a room next to the shared toilet, snoring neighbors) and you have the perfect mix for complete exhaustion. Both physically and mentally.
Yet I see this journey as a victory. I kept taking steps while I though I could not continue, I decided trust my feelings and chose the safe option (return instead of continuing). In addition, I spent four days in Kathmandu where I really did nothing but sleep, read, watch Netflix, drink beer and laze around. Four days in such a mode without feeling guilty is perhaps the biggest victory I made. That is why the day before I flew home I got a tattoo of the word “Sahaash” or “courage” in Nepali. Because it takes courage to be me, but even more courage to make certain choices in life.
“Did you actually enjoy this trip?” was the legitimate question my boyfriend asked when I told him all of the above upon returning home. I had to swallow and think. It was not the trip as planned and all in all it turned out to be more than 1.000 euros more expensive than expected (because: Jet Airways is almost bankrupt and I had to buy a new ticket last minute plus extra costs for jeep and stay in Kathmandu). But whether I have enjoyed it less? No, in the end I did enjoy it still. When you get back home to the Netherlands you can be disappointed that everything has turned out differently and you can complain about this on social media by means. Or you can choose to cherish and share the beautiful moments and accept that things simply do not always go as planned. I choose the latter. That’s called courage.
Hiking in New Zealand – an overview of the best Mt Cook hikes
Welcome to my atricle about one of my favorite places in New Zealand: Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. As an avid hiker I went to Mt Cook National Park no less than three times over the past couple of years and despite the number of tourists increasing and the glaciers receding, to me this will always be a magical place. In this article I’ll first share the best Mt Cook hikes with you, followed by my favorite Mt Cook camping sites, other places to stay in Mount Cook Village and basically anything else you need to know before you go. So sit down, relax and enjoy this read about magical Mount Cook New Zealand.
Hooker Valley Track
My favorite Mount Cook hike is definitely the Hooker Valley Track. I’ve done this hike all three times and I just can’t believe how gorgeous it is. Don’t let the crowds disturb you by the way as even though it may seem busy, I found a way to avoid the crowds – how to do this you can read in my Hooker Valley track blog. The Hooker Valley hike starts at the White Horse Hill Campsite so if you want to make an early start, make sure to pitch your tent up right over there, just like I did!
The Hooker Valley Track is a wide gravel trail, leading you through an alpine valley and across swing bridges. Your final destination is Hooker Lake at the bottom of Mount Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand. By foot you cannot get any closer than this if you don’t plan on climbing Mount Cook. The return trip will take some 3-4 hours, depending on how fast you walk and how many photos you take. I sure took my time and spent several hours on the trail every single time I hiked it.
Kea Point Track
If you have little time but still would like a taste of what to do in Mount Cook, then you will definitely enjoy the Kea Point Track. This short hike is on a well maintained trail and you can either walk it from White Horse Hill camp site (1 hr return) or Mount Cook Village (2 hrs return). Eventually you will arrive to a viewing deck which was made for your convenience, looking out over Mount Sefton, The Footstool, Hooker Valley, Mueller Glacier Lake and Aoraki / Mount Cook.
The Sealy Tarns track is also called the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as it has numerous steps and will make your calves burn without a doubt. You can hike this trail as a part of the hike to Mueller Hut (more on that one below) or as a half day tramp up into the mountains.
The trail leaves from White Horse Hill Camp site and at first you’ll follow the Kea Point Track, when you will eventually find a sign towards Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. As mentioned, the majority of the trail is made of stairs, sometimes even and sometimes uneven. Those who easily have painful knees may definitely need a pair of trekking poles!
You gain some 600 meters in altitude and the way up will take you about two hours. Just when you are wondering if the effort is worth it, do continue and walk up, up and even more up! Eventually you’ll reach the beautiful Sealy Tarns and with a bit of luck you can see the glaciers in the back ground reflecting in them. If you’ll look behind you, you’ll see the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook in the distance.
Mueller Hut Track
My oh my – it’s a hard choice between the Mueller Hut hike and the Tongariro Crossing which is the most beautiful in the country and I honestly cannot pick one. My Mueller Hut adventure went a little different than planned because for this hike, you are quite dependent on the weather. In poor weather don’t even attempt this hike as it will be dangerous and foolish to head into the alpine part of this hike in foul weather. The Mount Cook weather can be horrendous (trust me!) and so always check with DOC before setting off. In winter you’ll need an ice axe and crampons in order to make this hike!
Having said that, I planned on staying overnight (must book ahead!) but the weather was about to change and so I decided to head out one day early and make it a day hike – a FULL day hike that is. The Mueller Hut Track is a long way up through alpine terrain and is not for those with a fear of heights nor for untrained ones. You’ll need to scramble in some points, will cross various steep scree slopes and need to be extremely careful.
Do you still want to do this now? If yes, then you will be rewarded. A full blog on the Mueller Hut Route is still in the making but as you can see below from my pictures, it’s gorgeous and a must-do if you have enough time (a full day) and the courage to do it.
Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View
The Tasman walks depart from the parking lot at the end of the road into Tasman Valley – another scenic valley a bit further away from Mount Cook Village. Before you get very excited about the name Blue Lakes – don’t be! The Blue Lakes are anything but blue, they used to be in the past though and the name remained even though they are far from blue at this time.
There are various small lakes to check out and eventually you’ll climb up to a moraine wall from where you’ll have stunning views of Tasman Glacier in the distance. Tasman Glacier is the longest glacier in New Zealand but is receding fast, it already seemed a whole lot shorter than my last visit in 2011. The way back is on the same trail.
Tasman Glacier Lake
If you want to see icebergs then make this hike a priority. It’s not guaranteed you can see icebergs from nearby however there is a fair chance. The track veers off the Tasman Glacier View at some point and will add about an hour to your hike. If you want to hike the whole bit here at Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake, plan some 2-3 hours including time for pictures.
Mount Cook Village walks
As I haven’t stayed in Mt Cook Village personally, I haven’t done all the village walks since most of them are quite short. I’ve done the Kea Point Track from here though which connects Mt Cook Village with White Horse Hill Camp Ground (30 minutes one way) and the short 10 minute Bowen Bush Walk. Alternatively, there are the Red Tarns Track, the Governors Bush Track and the Glen Coe walk that can be done from the village.
Where to stay in Mount Cook
If you want to camp in the national park, then the best option is White Horse Hill Camp Ground. I camped here and it’s a first come, first serve campground maintained by DOC. The fee per night is NZD 13 and there are spaces for campervans as well as grassy spots for tents. Other than a shelter with running water and toilets, there are no facilities at this camp site.
If you’d like to stay in a bit more civilized camp site then I can recommend staying at Glentanner. I also stayed here a couple of times and this camp site has amazing views of Mount Cook. It offers all facilities you will need, from hot showers to a cooking area and very slow wifi. Make sure to book ahead as it’s usually quite full in summer season, we got the last spot upon arrival. We actually wanted to stay in nearby Twizel but all campsites were fully booked. You can check rates and book your spot online here.
If you are not camping, you can stay in a hotel or motel in Mt Cook Village but prices can be quite high as accommodation is limited. Alternatively, you’ll find cheaper options in nearby Twizel or Lake Tekapo. Note that these are quite popular spots too and when I stayed here (March) everything was fully booked well in advance, so make sure to book well ahead!
Other things to know about Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park
Mount Cook is quite isolated so it’s smart to bring all you need before you drive off to Mount Cook Village and beyond. This includes gas, groceries and cash. The White Horse Hill Campsite does not have electricity but you can leave your electronics at the DOC office and charge them there for a small fee. The DOC office can provide you with all necessary information regarding the hikes, campsites and more. Their visitors center is one of the best in New Zealand and on a rainy day you can easily spend a few hours there looking around. Looking for a hiking map of Mount Cook? You can download the online Mount Cook hikes brochure here.
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Want to read more about my New Zealand adventures? Then also make sure to check out my blog with some 8.000 words about travel to New Zealand for beginners. This travel guide basically contains all the information about New Zealand you’d need to know as a tourist. From where to rent or buy your vehicle to your best accommodation options, safety, day-to-day itineraries and more.
Make sure to also order your copy of Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand in preparation for your hiking trip to New Zealand! It has got plenty of useful information about the best known and various unknown hikes in New Zealand. If you plan to make more hikes in New Zealand, also see this blog with my favorite hikes in New Zealand.
Also make sure to check out my video of the best Mount Cook hikes below!
Mount Cook Hikes - YouTube
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you enjoyed this blog post with the best Mt Cook hikes. If you have any questions or recommendations on how to improve this article, feel free to leave a comment below. Please note that this blog contains affiliate links and that I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through any of these links.
Hiking to Reykjadalur Hot Springs in Iceland – a great day out!
Quite a lot of people who go to Iceland, immediately rush over to the Golden Circle and its sights. Which is perfectly understandable because those natural wonders you will get to see there are not something you can see in just any country. The geysers and waterfalls are just stunning and deserve all the attention they get. However if you go just a little bit further than the Golden Circle, you will find a little valley called Reykjadalur (meaning Smokey Valley) that will surprise you with its outstanding beauty. It’s truly one of Iceland’s scenic gems if you ask me. Plus, since I totally advise you to not visit the Blue Lagoon but instead visit some free alternatives, this is one of your best options to bathe in a typical Icelandic hot stream for free!
[Please note: this article was first published in January 2014 and updated in February 2019 after my most recent visit to Reykjadalur Iceland. Enjoy reading!]
Three times the Reykjadalur hike
Having been to Iceland no less than ten times over the past decade, I’ll tell you all you need to know about it! My first visit to Reykjadalur Hot Springs was in the summer of 2011 when I had completed hiking the Laugavegur, Iceland’s most famous multi day hikes. My Icelandic friend Birna (who lived in Selfoss back then) proposed we’d do a little hike to one of her favorite places in the areas. Back then, we didn’t see anyone else and had both the hike and the hot stream entirely to ourselves. The trails were narrow, there were no bridges across the streams and no sign of tourism as of yet.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs hike in 2011
Reykjadalur Hot Springs in winter
My next visit was in the winter of 2012 during a business trip to Iceland. I got the chance to explore Reykjadalur Valley in the winter and it was simply amazing. There was a fresh layer of snow that covered the landscape and guiding services were very useful, having to be careful not to step into a mud pool or something. It was hard to recognize the landscape as it was a completely different setting but definitely as stunning as in summertime. This is what it looked like back then:
Reykjadalur in winter
Reykjadalur Hot Springs in 2019
Since my last trip to Reykjadalur Hot Springs already dated back some seven years, I was a little hesitant to go. Should I go? Or should I leave the memories for what they are? I heard that it has now become a real tourist destination and after being in doubt for a while, I decided to go for it and I wanted to see for my own whether it would still be worth hiking to.
And you know what? I still loved it! I guess we were lucky enough that the weather was more or less OK and that once again we traveled in winter but in all honesty it wasn’t as busy as I was afraid it would be.
About the Reykjadalur Hot Springs hike
Reykjadalur means Smokey Valley and you will find hot streams and boiling craters everywhere. This makes it a very interesting area but be aware: stepping into a hot stream where indicated as ‘dangerous’ or ‘do not enter’ is not a good idea. The main trail is very clear and you should not leave it.
The hike is about 4 kilometers one way and it’s quite steadily up most of the time. There for it’s not suitable for those who are not in good shape or don’t have decent hiking shoes. Sneakers are not okay, not even in summer, as the trail tends to get extremely wet and muddy. It’s not a technical nor a difficult trail. In winter there can be lots of snow and wearing crampons or spikes may be useful as the trail is not maintained for winter.
After about an hour and a half you will reach the part of the Reykjadalur hot spring where there’s a sign indicating it’s safe to bathe. The further you move up from here, the warmer it gets. There are no dressing rooms but they built boardwalks and some wooden windscreens so you can change behind them. It’s not very private though but everybody just jumps into their bathing clothes – if you don’t want to see people change or others to see you change, maybe it’s best not to go.
The hike back is the same way as you came, but then faster as it’s all the way down so you should be back at the car in an hour or so. At the car park there’s a small coffee shop but it was closed at the time of our visit. Maybe because it was in the middle of winter …
How to get to Reykjadalur Hot Spring
The Reykjadalur hot spring trailhead is located just outside of the town of Hveragerði – a 45 minute drive away from Reykjavík. Just drive into town (left at the roundabout coming from Reykjavík) and then drive straight on, signs will show you the way. The Reykjadalur hike starts a few kilometers out of town and there’s a small parking lot which can hold few cars only. However it’s not uncommon to park next to the road if the parking lot is full.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs map
You don’t really need a map for this hike as it’s pretty straightforward. The Reykjadalur Hot Springs are part of the Hengill Mountains and hiking maps can be bought at tourists shops or gas stations. At the Reykjadalur Hot Spring trailhead you will find a large map that you can take a photo of for navigation on this hike. If you wish continue on hiking further than the stream, make sure to bring a normal map of the area!
What to bring on your Reykjadalur Valley Hot Springs hike?
You don’t need a whole lot, but make sure to bring a rain jacket, decent hiking boots, swimming clothes, a towel and water because you’ll need to hydrate again after being in the hot stream for a while. Optionally you can carry snacks, a camera and flip flops.
Please do not forget: Icelandic weather can be quite horrendous and can change at any time. When we hiked it last time, we had a small bit of sunshine when going up. Soon after departure it became overcast and upon arrival at the Reykjadalur Hot Springs it started to snow. On the way down, it changed to a storm and the infamous horizontal Icelandic rain. We saw a young couple hiking up in a woolen sweater, jeans and sneakers. This is not OK! The Icelandic Search & Rescue is a voluntary organization and having to be rescued because you are improperly dressed does not make them happy. (Trust me, it happens!)
Reykjadalur hotel options
Looking for a hotel near Reykajdalur? Then your best bet is to stay in or near Hveragerði. I stayed at Hjardarból Guesthouse, a small family run farm with amazing breakfast, comfortable rooms and free hot pools to use. I can definitely recommend staying there! Alternatively check out my blog with best places to stay in Reykjavík for any budget.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found my blog on Reykjadalur Hot Spring useful and that I’ve motivated you to go and visit. Note that this blog contains affiliate links and that I may received a small commission if you make a booking through my website, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for considering!
Hiking on La Palma – the best hiking trails on the island
Last December I was on the Canary Island of La Palma for the second time in my life. For me, this island has been the biggest surprise of recent years in terms of best hiking destinations within Europe. I was there for the first time in the spring of 2015 and again in December 2018. Simply because it is so incredibly beautiful and there are so many wonderful hiking trails on La Palma. In this blog about hiking on La Palma I not only tell you all you want to know about the most beautiful trails, but also everything else you want to know about La Palma, such as the best places to stay, the climate of La Palma, a packing list are and more. So grab a cup of tea and sit down because I promise you: just reading about the most beautiful hiking routes on La Palma will ensure that you want to get on the plane right away … it’s definitely one of the best destinations in Europe for hikers!
By the way, I have subdivided the routes into three areas:
– Walks in Cumbre Vieja
– Walks in the Caldera de Taburiente National Park
– Other walks
Walking in and on the Cumbre Vieja
The Cumbre Vieja is a mountain range in the southern part of La Palma. The range is around 18 kilometers long and contains around 120 volcanoes. Generally it stretches between Refugio El Pilar (the starting point of various walks) and Punta de Fuencaliente in the far south of La Palma. The highest peak is Deseada and measures 1.949 meters. I’ll start this blog about the best La Palma hiking trails with the most beautiful walks at Cumbre Vieja.
Ruta de los Volcanos
The best of the many La Palma hiking trails is the Ruta de los Volcanos. This 17-kilometer hike runs from Refugio El Pilar to the village of Los Canarios and takes you past the numerous volcanoes of the Cumbre Vieja. I hiked this trail both times I was on La Palma and enjoyed it so much both times that I really believe that you should put this walk at the top of your list of hiking trails on La Palma.
To get to Refugio El Pilar, it’s best to park your car in Los Canarios and take a taxi from here. There is a taxi stand directly opposite the information center. There’s a price list and the ride to El Pilar will cost you, depending on the exact time, around 45 euros. From here you’ll walk back to the car and you are no longer depending on transport by others. Organized transportation is also possible, but doing some research it soon showed that in fact a taxi was cheaper than to buy organized transportation for two.
The Ruta de los Volcanos is not technical but somewhat difficult. At least, the altitude gain is not so bad but the altitude drop (more than 1.400 meters) is quite a bit. Sometimes the descent is on steep slopes with rolling boulders, other times on a wide trail with volcanic grit. The Ruta de los Volcanos is well marked and well-traveled, so it is almost impossible to go wrong. Along the way you can climb various volcanoes as an extra option, if the 17 kilometers are not enough for you.
Please note: only do this walk on La Palma in good weather. You hike in relatively high altitude and the weather on the ridge can be treacherous when it gets cloudy. There’s often swift winds here too, so even if it is warm at sea or in the valley, bring a (rain) jacket and long pants anyway. On the way there is no food and / or drink available and there are no toilets. You can top up water in Refugio El Pilar before you start your hike if you wish to do so.
Length: 17.5 kilometers
Duration: approx. 5-6 hours
Starting point: Refugio El Pilar
End point: Los Canarios
Climb Pico Birigoyo
For those who want to take a short hike in Cumbre Vieja, the climb of the Pico Birigoyo is totally worth your effort. This hike is not described as such in the Rother Walking Guide of La Palma, but can still be done with the maps and directions. Note: the path is not equally well marked everywhere. We heard that this is because the hike is actually closed, but it is being walked on so much that you can do it without trouble.
You start the walk at El Pilar and first follow a part of the Ruta de los Volcanos. After about an hour you will come across an unclear turn on your left, uphill and marked by cairns. This is where the climb of the 1.807 meter high Pico Birigoyo begins. You first circle around the crater and then take the final steps over the ridge to the triangulation column from where you have a view of the Caldera de Taburiente in the distance.
From here, a descent leads along a well-maintained path with rolling boulders steeply down. Once back in the forest there are a few unmarked paths (some of which are closed) after which you pick up the yellow / white route and walk back to El Pilar.
Length: 5 kilometers
Duration: approx. 2 hours
Start and end point: Refugio El Pilar
Los Canarios to Punta de Fuencaliente
There are various ways to make this hike, this also depends on how much time you have to spend and whether you want to walk a single journey or a return trip. It is best to park your car at the Volcan San Antonio visitor center and visit this crater from here first. You do have to pay a small access fee for this. Once you’ve seen it, walk back the same trail and pick up the GR-131 with the white / red mark just outside the visitor center.
After a steep descent you arrive at a wide trail that leads you to the next volcano: Volcan Teneguía. This one erupted for the last time in 1971 and formed the landscape that you now see around you. You can climb the Teneguía but this trip is not for the faint hearted or those with a fear of heights.
From here you can choose to walk back to Los Canarios or continue to Faro de Fuencaliente. If you choose the last option, you will pass the salt pans and you arrive at the lighthouse at the southern tip of La Palma. From here you take the bus back to Los Canarios.
Length: between 5 and 15 kilometers, depending on your chosen route
Duration: between 2 and 5 hours
Start and end point: Los Canarios
Hiking trails in Caldera de Taburiente National Park
In addition to Cumbre Vieja, the Caldera de Taburiente National Park is also a fantastic place for walking. It is one of the most spectacular erosion craters in the world and forms the heart of La Palma. Plan at least two trips here: one that takes you over the tops of the Caldera and one that takes you through the Caldera. This way you get a good impression of the grandeur of this area. Here are my favorite hikes in Caldera de Taburiente.
From Los Brecitos through the Caldera de Taburiente
After the Ruta de los Volcanos this is definitely the most spectacular hiking trail of La Palma. You park the car at the stream bed of Barranco de las Angustias and take a taxi to Los Brecitos (approx. 60 euros for up to 5 people). Please note: these only go in the morning!
From here you’ll follow the trail into the Caldera. Sometimes it’s steep, sometimes it’s more gradual. For me, the highlight of this hike definitely was the Cascasa de los Colores, or the colored waterfall. It’s very special to see this in real. You’ll have to leave the trail for a bit and wade through the stream, but it is more than worth the extra effort.
After this you’ll continue the hike on the bottom of Barranco de las Angustias, the gorge of fears. You have to wade through a wide river (depending on the water level) and eventually a not too difficult journey through the gorge takes you back to the parking lot.
Distance: 16 kilometers
Duration: approx. 5-6 hours
Starting point: Los Brecitos (accessible by taxi)
End point: parking Barranco de las Angustias
Roque de los Muchachos
The highest point of La Palma is Roque de la Muchachos at an altitude of 2.426 meters. You can go here by car, but it is of course more fun to hike up. You can do this from the car park at Mirador de los Andenes and pick up the route marked white-red here. This hike is incredibly spectacular but particularly suitable for hikers without fear of heights, you sometimes hike right next to the steep drop off into the Caldera.
You climb and descend continuously, until after a good hour and a half you’ll arrive at the somewhat touristy Roque de la Muchahos. From here you have fabulous views of Cumbre Vieja and some other Canary Islands in the distance. You can walk back on the same trail or go on the paved road. This last option is about 7 kilometers and not very interesting, but nice if you want to take a closer look at the buildings of the observatory.
Distance: 6 kilometers
Duration: approx. 3 hours (return via the same route)
Start and end point: Mirador los Andenes
Climbing Pico de la Nieve
Another beautiful climb that you can do is to the top of the Pico de la Nieve, the snow peak. This La Palma hiking trail is not too difficult and again offers beautiful views when you have good weather. During my most recent trip, however, I had heavy clouds, some of us were overcast and we stood in the sun, so the view was limited.
You can park your car at the parking place where there are signs to Pista Pico de la Nieve, it is a fairly large parking lot so it soon becomes clear. From here you climb up in about an hour to the top of Pico de la Nieve. First through the woods, not much later you reach the tree line and sometimes, as in our case, above the clouds. On top of the mountain it can be cold and especially very windy: so bring warm clothing!
You can return via the same route, but it is more fun to make a detour to the rock paintings of Tagoror. They are protected because of vandalism, but you can still see them well through the fences. Then you walk back via the same route and eventually you come to the exit to Pista Pico, you follow this and finally you come back to the car.
Distance: 7 kilometers
Duration: approx. 4 hours
Start and end point: Pista Pico car park
Hiking trails La Palma in other places
In addition to these trails at Cumbre Vieja and the Caldera de Taburiente, there are plenty of hikes on the Canary Island of La Palma. I herewith give you two of my favorites for your walking holiday on La Palma:
The first hike is the waterfall hike Barranco del Agua. This short one-hour trip..
A trip to Iceland in winter – things you should know before you go!
While in the past Iceland seemed to be some sort of mission impossible during the winter, it nowadays is quite common to travel to Iceland in winter time. In fact, it has become much easier. Hotels often open their rooms for tourists 365 days a year, tourist attractions are open and / or more accessible and the main road network is well maintained. The Icelanders already knew that tourism is a gold mine, but it seems that they have turned it into a sport to make Iceland attractive to tourists in the winter. Think of the many Northern Lights tours that are available, but also excursions such as Into the Glacier and the glacier walk on Solheimajökull can now be done in the winter.
Even though I have been to Iceland three times before in the winter, it was now the first time I rented a car rental car myself and was able to discover Iceland on my own and in complete freedom. My previous winter visits to Iceland were due to the fact that I worked for a company specialized in trips to Iceland for 10 years. So this time it was a vacation and I found the winter road trip in Iceland that we made a special experience.
That said, I think that Iceland in winter is truly a very special destination and for many probably a once in a lifetime experience. There are just a few things that you should take into consideration when you head to Iceland in the winter. I list them below for you!
Þingvallavatn in winter
Mother Nature rules. Always!
If there is one place on earth where Mother Nature makes her own rules, it is in Iceland. The Icelandic landscape is always in motion and the Icelanders are always alert for the next volcanic eruption, a hurricane or other forms of natural disasters. In Iceland you can literally experience four seasons in one day, even in the summer. Nowhere in the world I have seen the weather change so incredibly quickly as in Iceland. In addition, when Mother Nature makes herself heard, this is often with immense power. Roads are closed every once in a while, the rain and snow are notorious because they often approach you horizontally and the waves at the beaches on the Icelandic south coast are often so gigantic that tourists are at times swept away by them.
The road from Keflavík to Þorlákshöfn
The Icelandic weather cannot be predicted, but if the forecast is bad, you’d better prepare yourself and act accordingly. On the day that David and I went to Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón it was sunny in the morning, but it turned out that a storm was heading for the South Coast in the evening. Because of this we had to drive back on time to our overnight address in Hveragerði. Due to this, we were unfortunately unable to make stops at some tourist highlights, but the other option was to get stuck as the road would be closed for a while.
Always keep an eye on the news, especially in the winter. At many gas stations and often at the reception of your accommodation, they have the most up-to-date information regarding the weather and the road. Also bookmark the website with weather forecasts – on this site you will find everything that has to do with Icelandic weather and it’s in English!
If you think you can play with Mother Nature and her powers, visit the films that are being shown in the Volcano House in Reykjavík, about a number of recent volcanic eruptions. After seeing these films you have changed your mind. I promise!
There’s always danger in Iceland
The Icelandic cold is different
Before we left for Iceland, it seemed as if we were not going to be experience a significant cold. The predictions indicated about 5-10 degrees Celcius, which is quite warm by Icelandic standards for winter. Once I arrived in Iceland I was very happy with my fat Fjällräven Singi Parka that I had received for this trip to test. I had almost forgotten how cold and strong the Icelandic wind can be. Although it has been above freezing all week, there have been times when I was terribly cold because the wind … More tips on how to stay warm in Iceland in winter can be read here.
Winter near Gullfoss
Not all roads are open
When you are planning an Iceland road trip in the winter, keep in mind that many roads are closed. This applies to all unpaved highland routes, but also paved roads can be closed off just like that. The Icelandic interior is only accessible with a super jeep and under supervision and therefore not with your rental car. You will find clear deposits everywhere with reports that the road is closed and that you continue to drive at your own risk. So don’t!
The Icelandic ring road (1) is normally accessible all year round, as well as the roads to popular sights such as the Geysir and Gullfoss, but also those to the Blue Lagoon, Jökulsárlón and the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Nevertheless, it makes sense to plan your route a bit more flexible and to leave spare for the possibility to chage your plans at the very last minute.
Tip: if you only do the south coast, then I advise you to do this from Hveragerði or Hella. You can see all the sights in one go, unless you want to do things that take a little more time, such as the DC3 plane wreck or a glacier walk on Sólheimajökull. Yet it happens occasionally that people get stuck along the south coast for example because of the weather and if you have to be back in time in Reykjavík to catch your flight, this is not exactly ideal. Preferably book overnight stays that you can cancel without penalties so that you can make changes to your itinerary where necessary.
David and the superjeep – only these ones are allowed in the highlands in winter
itinerary for 6 days South coast Iceland in winter
Day 1. Arrival and drive via Seltún to Hveragerði
Day 2. Visit Golden Circle (Geysir, Gullfoss, Þingvellir)
Day 3. Visit Secret Lagoon and Rekjavík
Day 4. Hiking in Reykjadalur
Day 5. South coast incl. Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón
Day 6. Reykjavík and Lava Tour Reykjanes Peninsula
Day 7. Flight home
You can read more about my Iceland in winter itinerary in the next blog!
Rent your car with care!
For this trip I was doubting whether I would really need a 4WD car, also because it is no less than twice as expensive as regular 2WD rental cars in Iceland. Eventually I got the opportunity to rent a car through Sunny Cars and we opted for the normal car, the second smallest. In the winter on Iceland, rental cars are fitted with winter tires with spikes, which means that a 4WD is not really necessary, unless you have meters of snow, but you can of course never predict this in advance. My Icelandic friend Birna indicated that it is seldom necessary to have a 4WD in the winter and that people with experience in winter conditions can normally just go on a regular rental car.
In addition, we had the idea that, when snow packs were expected, we could always ask for an upgrade on the spot. There are really huge loads of rental cars in Iceland due to the summer season being insanely busy, so there’s a good chance they still have a 4WD available.
Rental car in Iceland in winter
Ice Ice Baby!
As mentioned, we did not have snow during our trip, but there was still snow left in some places. Black sand is scattered at most tourist attractions to take away the ice, but not everywhere. This made it treacherously slippery to walk in some places and sometimes we had to shuffle little by little. Also during our hike in Reykjadalur we regularly had to cross an ice field. Tip: take rubber crampons with you!
Winter near Gullfoss, Geysir and Fjallsárlón
There is no such thing as a Northern Lights guarantee
This may sound a bit odd, but my friend Birna works at Safe Travel Iceland and is asked daily “when the Northern Lights will show …”. Somewhat people still expect that there’s some kind of guarantee that you’ll see the Northern Lights when you’re in Iceland in winter. I didn’t see any Northern Lights this time and only very vague during my previous travels, but that was partly because I was in the city at the time and so there was too much light pollution. Although we slept in Hveragerði this time and almost in the middle of nowhere, we have not seen Northern Lights. It was bad luck as it was cloudy all the time and my advice would be to consider the Northern Lights as a nice bonus during your winter trip in Iceland – certainly not as a standard or you’ll end up disappointed.
Skyr at Jökulsárlón
Finally: be safe!
I can’t say it often enough, but be careful in Iceland. Do not throw plastic cups into the geysers, stay on the marked trails, act like a responsible person who respects nature and use common sense at all times should the weather or other circumstances change rapidly. Iceland is a very unique travel destination and it would be nice if the next generation after us could also enjoy this beauty the way we do.
Conclusion and disclaimer
Hopefully you found this article about Iceland in the winter useful and helped you plan your journey to Iceland. We were offered our rental car in exchange for our honest review. In addition, you will find some affiliate links in this article. If you place an order via one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost for your. Thank you for reading and enjoy your winter trip to Iceland!