With our first full day hike in Torres del Paine behind us we slowly rolled out of ‘bed’ (if you can call a sleeping bag, ground mat and a lumpy jumper-come-pillow a bed) and psyched ourselves up for day two out on the trails.
Being our first experience of multi-day hikes, the need to pour tired bodies back into dirty thermals and to squeeze aching feet back into muddy boots was a new one for us. I know I’m not making the experience sound glamourous because I suppose with the lack of showers, running water and electricity, it was anything but – but without doubt, it was an adventure and one we were very excited to be on. Even in our sleepless, dirty, aching state!
Because we’d walked further than most the day before (to Campt Italiano), we were able to leave our proper pack-up until after we returned from the French Valley – what was to be the second most challenging hike on the W-Trek.
For those hiking through from an earlier part of the W Trek, it’s safe to leave your bags at the rangers station for the climb itself and something we’d definitely recommend you do.
With our trusty hiking poles in hand, we began the 2.5km hike to the French Glacier Lookout. The path up was often uneven, at times resembling a rock scramble more than a traditional hiking track, so our poles really proved their worth. The climb up to the first mirador was relentless but absolutely worth it when we were rewarded with incredible views back over Lago Nordenskjöld and up to the French Glacier and Los Cuernos.
The night before, we’d heard parts of the hanging glacier above break off, the thunderous sound echoing throughout the valley but to stand so close to it was unreal. Periodically we’d see chunks of ice and snow tumble down from the glacier, setting off little avalanches that devoured everything in their path. Where else can you find yourself so wrapped up in the power of Mother Nature?
When we finished our descent, we were pleased to have our tents still out for a little lie down before heading off again. With 7.5km of ‘Patagonian flat’ ground in front of us, the remainder of the day was manageable, if a little slow at times (sorry Thomas and Javier for slowing you both down!) with a fair few drinks breaks and photo stops dotted in for good measure.
This part of the park has an interesting history, having been badly affected by fires in the not too distant past. What has resulted is a massive section of dead forest; ghostly fingers reaching towards the sky. It’s a surreal feeling walking through the park, knowing just how long it took to grow in the first place and then considering how long it will take to establish itself after suffering at our hands.
Distance covered: Camp Italiano to Mirador Francés (5km round-trip) andCamp Italiano to Paine Grande (7.6km) Total 12.6km (but boy did it feel like more than that after the day before!)
Accommodation: Paine Grande. Our first stay in a refugio was a welcome respite from camping on the ground the night before. We slept in a four-person dorm and were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which far surpassed our expectations. Our rooms were nice and warm, as were the hot-water showers (even if you did have to press the button a few times to keep the water flowing). It’s worth noting that the dining area wasn’t heated up so we’d recommend you wear your winter woolies downstairs where you head down there. All in all though, a great option if you’re staying in the park and what an incredible spot to wake up to!
How Difficult is the Hike up the French Valley?
I can’t lie, by the time we got to the first lookout (after an hour and 10 minutes), we were breathing pretty heavily! Though some choose to climb even higher to Mirador Británico, it simply wasn’t possible when we visited – the snow-cover wouldn’t have allowed us time to make it to our accommodation with certainty.
With that said though, within 5 minutes at the mirador, our breathing was back to normal and any memory of the climb was a distant memory so although I wouldn’t describe the hike as ‘easy’, it’s definitely do-able!
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Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on this section of the W Trek. All thoughts are our own.
As we’re travelled more and more, it’s come to our attention that the majority of the world doesn’t really know what a kiwi is.
This is a kiwi…
Whereas, this is a kiwifruit…
When we introduce ourselves as the ‘Exploring Kiwis’ we often get quizzical looks. You can almost see the cogs starting to turn…
Why would they name themselves after a piece of fruit? What next? The Adventuring Bananas?
With that in mind, it’s time we set the record straight for our international readers.
Kiwis aren’t food…
So, What is a Kiwi Really?
A kiwi is a small, flightless bird that is endemic to New Zealand. That means that not only is it native to the country, but it is not found anywhere else in the world.
They’re special little things.
Fun Fact: You might even have noticed that kiwifruit look surprisingly similar to our little kiwi birds. It’s no coincidence that the Chinese gooseberry flourished down in New Zealand and was appropriate renamed ‘kiwifruit’ due to its similar exterior.
Due to Aotearoa’s geographic isolation and lack of native mammals, kiwis lived for years without any major predators. Over time, they adapted to their environment – without any real threats, there was no need to fly, no need for good eyesight – and now, millions of years on, they remain genetically unchanged. Unfortunately, however, their environment has changed significantly due to human settlement and these quirky characters have long been classified as endangered.
An average of 27 kiwi are killed by predators EVERY WEEK. That’s a population decline of around 1,400 kiwi every year (or 2%). At this rate, kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime. Just one hundred years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions.
A single roaming dog can wipe out an entire kiwi population in a matter of days
Approximately 20% of the kiwi population is under management.
In areas under where predators are controlled, 50-60% of chicks survive. When areas are not under management 95% of kiwi die before reaching breeding age.
Only 20% survival rate of kiwi chicks is needed for the population to increase.
Fortunately though, things are improving for some kiwi populations. On the Coromandel, where kiwis live in a controlled area, free of predators, their numbers are doubling every decade.
… But can I call you a Kiwi?
As our national bird, icons don’t get much more Kiwi than the kiwi.
When you visit our neighbours across the ditch in Australia, you’ll call them Ozzies. When you refer to a New Zealander, you’re welcome to call us Kiwis – a name that has become so entrenched in our culture, it’s hard to imagine being called anything else.
To help you get to know these interesting little creatures a bit better, here are some kiwi facts to help you on your way…
They’re known as honorary mammals due to some of their habits and physical traits. They have nostrils at the end of their long beaks, have feathers that resemble hair and lay massive eggs – proportionally they have some of the biggest eggs around, with babies being 20% of the mothers size (humans by comparison are only 5%).
Kiwis are nocturnal birds, spending the day sleeping whilst hunting at night.
Though you’re incredibly unlikely to find a Kiwi in the wild yourself, you never know. Moonless nights are your best opportunity – a couple of hours after the sun sets or just as it’s about to rise. Don’t let us get your hopes up though; neither Nathan or I have ever managed to spot one in the wild.
Part of the ratites group, these ancient animals can’t fly. You may be familiar with some of their larger cousins though – the ostritch, emu and another New Zealand giant, the extinct moa.
So, now you know. We’re not named after a fruit at all, but a gutsy little flightless bird and a pretty cute one at that.
Though we can’t answer the age-old question of which came first – the chicken or the egg – we can say with absolute certainty that the kiwi came before the fruit!
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Patagonia is a popular destination for nature-lovers to explore by foot but not all are up to hiking over challenging terrain – there’s a reason the term ‘Patagonian flat’ was coined after all!
For travellers looking to enjoy the local scenery without having to clamber up and down mountains themselves, horseback riding is a great alternative.
You’ll enjoy stunning scenery, experience the infamous Patagonian weather first-hand, make friends with the most gorgeous horses and best of all, your feet will thank you for giving them a break when all is said and done!
Where Can I Ride in Patagonia?
We rode with Pingo Salvaje on the outskirts of the Torres del Paine national park, enjoying the views that the region is known for, without the additional cost of park entrance (which is always a bonus when you’re trying to stick to a budget). The horses were amongst the calmest that I’ve ever ridden whilst still having the ‘up and go’ that so many commercial trekking horses seem to lack; these beauties were a pleasure.
There is also riding available within the boundaries of the national park, both for pleasure and to assist tired trekkers coming down from the Base of the Towers, but remember, you’ll need to account for the additional cost of entering the park (which is well worth doing at some stage).
Plan Your Visit Well
The winds in Patagonia can be brutal so I would suggest trying to book your horseback adventure for a day when the winds are at their lowest. Because we had a tight window of opportunity, we rode in crazy winds regardless and though the horses handled it well (they’re incredibly used to it), at times it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences.
We were pleased we chose to go ahead with the ride regardless but had we the option, it would have been even better on a slightly less windy day.
As always (at least in Patagonia), ensure you’ve got a wind-proof jacket to help keep you toasty warm and some comfortable gloves. With those two things, we were warm even with the wind whipping up around us.
After hiking the majority of the W Trek, our legs were well and truly ready for a break and riding ended up being the perfect way to get out and make the most of the incredible scenery whilst giving our aching bodies a chance to recover.
If you’re travelling through Puerto Natales in Chile and either aren’t up for hiking or are just looking for a day off the trails, we’d certainly suggest saddling up and seeing this part of the word from a slightly higher vantage point.
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Thanks to Pingo Salvaje for so kindly hosting our ride. As always, all thoughts are our own.
Stretching across two countries, Patagonia is as massive as it is impressive; it’s almost overwhelmingly so, covering almost half of Chile and a third of Argentina. For an area with such vast landmass though, the lack of people is incredibly obvious and to be frank, refreshing.
Though Patagonia envelops such a large area, there’s one in particular that nature-lovers make a bee-line to – Torres del Paine in Chile. With its uniquely-Patagonian peaks towering over the park, expansive glaciers, cascading waterfalls, moody weather and interesting wildlife, it’s a dream destination for many.
They’d be right too – Torres del Paine is the stuff of dreams.
Having arrived into Punta Arenas and catching a bus to Puerto Natales, we hunkered down at the ChileTour Patagonia guest house, preparing for the coming days. We were about to face what was to be one of our biggest physical challenges to date, the infamous W trek. (well officially almost the full W), but first it was time to meet our new friends, prep for the hike and enjoy a delicious homecooked meal.
Equally apprehensive as we were excited, we enjoyed a final night sleeping cosily inside before heading into the wilderness.
After months of planning, it was hard to believe that our first major South American bucket-list activity was just over the horizon.
Did it live up to our expectations?
Did it ever!
The next few posts will outline what you can expect from each of the hikes and will share with you all of the helpful hints we picked up along the way, so let’s jump right into it…
Hint #1: If there’s a trip you book this year, make sure it’s to Patagonia!
Day One on the W Trek: Refugio Las Torres to Camp Italiano
After our transfer into the Torres del Paine National Park, Javier, our guide, purchased our park tickets we headed for the main entrance where we loaded up ready for our first day of hiking and what an introduction to hiking in Torres del Paine it was to be!
Though most start with the hike to the most famous peaks in the park, we opted to save the most challenging hike to the end (a decision which proved to be a real savior). Instead, we broke in our feet on what for most people is day two of the W trek – Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos, only we continued walking to Campamento Italiano (an additional 4.5km) because the refugio was closed for reservations. Though it meant a night of camping and a longer day on our feet, it also meant we had an easier day following which was greatly appreciated.
The hike itself as the definition of ‘Patagonian flat’ – a term that we were to become very familiar with. The terrain in Torres del Paine switches between undulating hills and rugged mountains, very seldom flattening out, hence this term was coined – it’s never really flat but it’s about as flat as you could hope for in this area. Though the hills were at times challenging, they always resulted in the most gorgeous viewpoints out over Lago Nordenskiöld, many of which left us stuck in our tracks.
Though there were a number of unrelenting hills, the hike itself was absolutely manageable, even for myself (and I’m a bit of a couch potato). It was long and by the 15th kilometre there was no doubt both Nathan and I were dragging our feet but without doubt, it was worth every step.
With water glowing turquoise, a surprisingly still morning treating us to the best Patagonian weather we could ever hope for and not a soul to be seen, it was clear that we’d made the right decision in visiting the area during shoulder season. At the season’s peak, we’ve been told that hikers dot the landscape like ants, at times following one another practically shoulder to shoulder. By comparision, at times it literally felt like we had the park to ourselves, literally crossing paths with only two other sets of people on the way to our next stop for the night.
When you’re visiting paradise, it’s an amazing feeling to have it to yourselves.
Distance covered: From Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos (12km) and Refugio Los Cuernos to Camp Italiano (4.5km). Total 16.5km (or 17km allowing for photo ops).
Accommodation: Camp Italiano. This site is available free of charge (but reservations are required in advance) and guests are only able to stay for one night. Services are limited but there is a small shelter that can be used to cook meals and long-drop toilets (that were surprisingly tidy). To stay at Camp Italiano, you’ll need to carry your own gear in (tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, food, cooker etc) but if you can handle carrying your gear (or, if you’re more organised than us, ChileTour Patagonia can organise a porter to help carry to load), it’s an adventure worth having.
Running water isn’t available at the campsite but there’s a gorgeous river running right past so there’s no shortage of agua for guests, you’ll just need to clamber down to get it!
Camping in the shoulder season was much more comfortable than we had expected. With sub-zero temperatures and no ability to take a hot shower, we half expected to freeze but with quality sleeping bags from ChileTour, we were pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t go as far as to describe our sleep as a comfortable one but our newfound hiking friend, Thomas, slept like a baby so it’s definitely possible.
Hint #2: Minimise what you carry wherever possible – every extra ounce will feel like much more after 15km+ of hiking! Use a fleece or your bag as a pillow and be prepared to wear clothes again and again – your back will thank you for it as the hike goes on.
Whilst in Torres del Paine, expect to encounter a wide range of weather – from glorious sunshine to massive wind and snow, we experienced it all. It’s an incredible place though and well worth putting the time into exploring; just ensure you’re prepared.
With day one under our belts, we mentally prepared ourselves for the French Valley (and what is known as being the second most challenging hike on the circuit).
How’d we find it? Stay tuned for our next post!
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Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on the first leg of our W adventure; as always, all thoughts are our own.
As hard as it is to believe, it’s been a month since we left New Zealand for the start of our big South American adventure!
On one hand, time has raced by but on the other, we’ve started to find our feet here, making new friends and experiencing all sorts of amazing things. Unfortunately, we can’t report a significant improvement in our Spanish but that will hopefully come with time!
Buenos Aires, Argentina
We started our journey was an unexpected delay in Buenos Aires which left us with 24 hours in Argentina’s largest city. We spent much of that time sleeping off our jet lag (or attempting to, at least) with a little city exploration thrown into the mix.
I must admit, both of us left feeling pretty underwhelmed by our experience in the Argentinian capital but we’ve heard so many people rave about it that we’re excited to give it another chance once we finish up in Patagonia.
If you have any tips to help us make the most of this cosmopolitan city, we’d love to hear from you!
Accommodation: Tribeca Buenos Aires Apartments @ NZD55.83 (USD40) for one night, booked incredibly last minute.
Santiago (+Valparaíso) Chile
Better late than never, we made our flight connection through to Santiago – a city that would surprise us in an altogether different way. We’d not heard a lot about Chile’s largest city but were pleased to find it to be so modern and friendly. Yes, the Chilian’s speak incredibly quickly (which makes learning Spanish next to impossible) but they do so with great smiles and a truck-load of patience.
Activities: Our intention in Santiago was to sleep off our jetlag (which hit us surprisingly badly) and practice our Spanish. By the time we were ready to hit the city properly the rain had well and truly set in, limiting our activities. We’ve heard great things about the views from Sky Costanera and Cerro San Cristobal and have also been told that the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is incredibly moving and informative (though some of this is only in Spanish).
The highlight of Santiago was our day trip to the colourful port city of Valparaíso. If you’re wanting to make the journey, you’ll find our Valparaíso city and travel guide handy to help you get organised.
Onwards travel to Pucón: Bus tickets purchased through Recorrido on Pullman. Salón cama @ USD31.30 each (CLP19,600), leaving at 9.45pm and arriving the next day at 7.15am (9.5 hours).
Accommodation: 2 nights in a Chilian Airbnb just out of the touristy part of town (a great way to practice some Spanish) @ NZD40/night for the two of us (USD28.70).
From there we moved to Chili Kiwi to meet others travellers. What was meant to be only three nights ended up being two weeks! We stayed in the hobbity hollow (@ CLP28,000/night for us both = NZD62/USD45) before moving into a four bed dorm which we were lucky to have to ourselves (@ CLP10,500 each = NZD23/USD16.80). If you’re considering staying in a hostel for the first time, this is the place to do it!
Activities: Pucón is all about the activities! Horse riding, hydrospeeding, snowboarding, waterfall chasing, geothermal hot springs, kayaking, trekking through snow-covered national parks – we had a blast doing it all. Had my fitness been a little (actually, a lot) better we’d had hiked up Volcán Villarrica to catch a glimpse of the molten lava inside.
Onwards travel to Bariloche: We shared fuel costs and grabbed a ride to our next stop with some newfound hostel friends but had we travelled independently, we’d have caught a bus either via Osorno in Chile or San Martín de los Andes in Argentina. It’s worth noting that buses in Argentina can be noticeably more expensive so be sure to compare the price of your journey.
A favourite getaway destination for Argentinians, this substantial town (AKA San Carlos de Bariloche) sits on the side of the beautiful Río Negro. Known for its chocolates, craft beer and snow dogs, it’s practically the Switzerland of South America.
Accommodation: 5 nights at La Justina @ ARS200/night each (NZD16/USD11.50). Again we were lucky to have a 6 bed dorm (with ensuite) to ourselves for the whole time! Leonardo, the manager, was incredibly helpful and generous and the hostel was warm and tidy.
Activites: Aside from munching on lots of chocolate and steak (check out Alto el Fuego – yum!), Bariloche also offers lots of snow activities in the winter and beautiful hikes. Check out the Circuito Chico, a loop taking in some of the best scenery in the area. We hiked up Llao Llao (pronounced Shao Shao), took in the views up Cerro Otto (which can be accessed either by cable car or driving) and enjoyed the crystal clear waters of Lago Gutiérrez.
Onwards travel to Puerto Varas: Bus ticket purchased directly through Andesmar Chile. Semi cama @ CLP22,000 each (USD35), departing 10am, arriving 5.40pm (7 hours, 40 mins).
The last month has been a bit of a balancing act, trying to find the balance between travel and work but it’s been fantastic. It’s not every day you get the freedom to travel around, experiencing a new culture whilst continuing to clock into work (for those of you that aren’t aware, Nathan’s continuing to work for the family business back home whilst I’m focusing on Exploring Kiwis).
As we head into our second month on the road, we’ll be aiming to improve our Spanish and build our fitness – with some massive hikes in Patagonia planned, we’ll need it!
Lessons Learnt on the Road
Who knew how much we’d appreciate being allowed to flush our toilet paper? Most toilets in Chile have a rubbish bin strategically located for paper to be thrown away.
Chilian’s talk really quickly and use a lot of slang; they’re pretty much the Ozzie’s of Latin America!
Everyone has been incredibly friendly and patient. Though I don’t doubt there are some parts of the continent that aren’t quite as welcoming, it’s certainly not the scary place it’s sometimes made out to be.
It’s not as cheap here as we’d expected it to be – food is particularly expensive with prices sometimes rivaling New Zealand.
Chile is unbelievably gorgeous and reminds us a lot of home!
Figuring out our work schedule can be challenging at times. Some days it feels like all we do is sit in front of the computer to make up for days spent travelling or out on activities – not that we’re complaining!
Getting out of bed when you’re travelling long-term in the wintertime can be a real struggle – the bed’s just as warm and snuggly at home but here we don’t have bosses to ensure we get up at a decent time. We’re still working on getting to bed earlier and gettting up at a reasonable time… Let’s see if we’re any better in a month’s time!
If you’re thinking about making a change, I’d encourage you to take life with both hands and do exactly that – I’m so pleased we have.
Having recently eaten our way through Catalonia’s capital with Devour Barcelona we talked with some friends who had never considered joining a food tour. It was at that stage that we realised just how accustomed we’ve become to scoping out a new city (and it’s local culinary delights) by exploring its food! If you’ve never been on a food tour, join us as we share the reasons we now seek them out in major cities around the world.
If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach then food may just be the way to win a traveller over too.
In the last few years Nathan and I have started hunting down the best food tours in each of the major cities we visit and every time, we leave full – both with food and new-found knowledge. We relish the opportunity to meet
We relish the opportunity to meet travellers from all walks of life, to learn more about the history of the region we’re visiting and to enjoy delicious food. What’s not to love?
If you’ve never been on a food tour before, you’ll start by meeting your guide and the others in your group at a predesignated point – always in public and at an easily recognisable spot. With introductions behind you, you’ll head off on your way towards gastronomic delight (via the first food stop of course).
From there, you’ll visit a range of restaurants, stalls, stands and markets, all on the hunt to find the best local produce.
If there’s one thing that food tours tend to do really well, it’s to connect tourists with authentic, local vendors. Time and time again, we’ve been introduced to men and women manning stands that have been in families for generations, serving the same high-quality food to their own neighbourhood. These are the kind of places that would be close to impossible to track down as a newly-arrived tourist into a city but with the help of a food tour, they suddenly become a lot more accessible.
As you trip around each mini-destination, you’ll be offered a selection of bite-sized portions (and sometimes full ones too!), allowing you to try the best food the city has to offer. It’s amazing how little tasters can add up over the course of an afternoon as the treats and conversation starts to flow.
Every time we come off a food tour, we’re surprised by just how full we are and the number of new dishes we’ve managed to try that we’d never have thought to hunt out.
I’m also a fairly fussy eater whilst Nathan loves good cuisine – food tours work well for us in this sense as he’s served up a variety of exciting dishes (that I’d normally hold us back from ordering) whilst small portions mean that if one option doesn’t float my boat, there’s always another on the horizon.
If you’re keen to give a food tour a go, we whole heartedly recommend joining your tour when you first arrive in a new city if possible. Doing so will alert you to the best restaurants and foodie stops (because who doesn’t want to return to a new favourite?) and give you a taste of local flavours whilst helping you find your way around.
What’s your favourite way to get to know a new city? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below…
Sitting under the shadow of Volcan Villarrica (one of South America’s most active volcanoes) and on the shore of one of many lakes in the area, Pucón is a relatively small town in Chile that packs a massive punch.
This gorgeous spot is known as the adventure capital of Chile and offers the perfect combination of adrenaline and nature. If you’re not careful, you might just blink and find an action-packed week has passed you by!
The Fun Stuff – Activities in Pucón
Huerquehue National Park
An easy bus ride from Pucon, Huerquehue National Park offers a variety of trails for nature-lovers and based on the photos we’ve seen, is equally gorgeous, whatever the season.
Entrance to the park is 2,500 pesos for tourists and the walk to the first lake inside the park is approximately 7km. The day we visited, the tracks were overtaken with snow making it a fairly challenging hike but in the summer it would be a walk in the park (sorry, that pun was too good to pass up)!
Though some of our new friends gave us a ride in (thanks Lyle and Jackie!), buses are available from town – just chat with Chili Kiwi and they’ll send you on your way.
We’d already been told about the high quality of riding available in the region so when we arrived, this was one of the first things I checked out.
With beautifully cared for horses and an instructor that’s spent all of her life around these beauties, it was an easy decision to ride with Corina… and seriously, with views out over four volcanoes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot!
Whatever you call it – riverboarding, white-water sledging, river surfing or hydrospeeding – it’s about as much fun as you’ll ever have in the water!
Though winter well and truly engulfed the day, we climbed into thick wetsuits and took to the river for a serious dose of adrenaline. With a range of rapids, there were a number of occasions when we found ourselves gasping for air but the sense of accomplishment at the end of the run was amazing. Without doubt,
Without a doubt, it’s the best value extreme sport we’ve ever done. The river is clear, the staff professional, the scenery gorgeous and the price is beyond good. Adrenaline junkies, make sure it’s top of your Pucón must-do list!
It’s not every day you get to snowboard or ski on an active volcano but in Pucón, not only is it possible but it’s relatively affordable.
Lift passes will set you back 28,000 pesos each and by the time you arrange gear and transfers, you’ll be looking at around another 25,000 pesos. The mountain itself has a few different runs and jumps but is really best suited to beginner to intermediate boarders.
One of the surprise highlights of our visit to Pucón, was Termas Geometricas. These stunning hot pools are dotted along a canyon and as natural stream rushes past, geothermal hot water keeps each of the 17 pools at their own constant temperature.
With the snow falling and steam rising all around you, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive place to relax and soak away your worries.
And yes, we have been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Believe it or not, this was much more impressive!
Kayaking/Stand Up Paddle Boarding
When you’re perfectly situated on the shores of a crystal-clear lake, even the chilly winter water can’t deter you from getting out there!
Our accommodation, Chili Kiwi, offers guests the use of their stand up paddle board and kayaks and with the volcano in the background and sun on your back, it’s a pretty magical way to spend an afternoon. Guests can take them out to the nearby beaches or do as we did and enjoy just zipping around the lake.
In addition to all of these activities, there’s also a volcano to climb (it’s actually one of the main reasons people come to Pucón – on a good day, visitors will even see lava bubbling away in the crater) waterfalls to explore (Chili Kiwi will provide you with a treasure map – it’s well worth the hike), rafting, biking and more.
With all of the activities on offer though, you’ll definitely want a comfortable place to rest your head and prepare for the next days activities.
As luck would have it, Pucón is also home to the winner of the coveted ‘best hostel in Latin America‘ award and speaking from experience, it’s the only place in town we’d want to stay.
Where to Stay: Chili Kiwi – The friendliest hostel around!
Arriving into town we’d heard of the Chili Kiwi and knew we wanted to check it out. After all, it’s not often you have the chance to stay in a hostel partially run by a fellow Kiwi in Chile!
What we didn’t realise was that our planned three-night stay in Pucón would turn into almost two and a half weeks of fun at the most friendly, social hostel around, resulting in what I imagine will be life-long friends.
There’s something special about this place.
It’s the kind of place you walk into to find someone baking cookies (true story!) and where everyone happily chats away to one another There you’ll find a view would rival any top hotel and staff happy to share their insider knowledge about the town they love so much.
When we arrived, James, one of the owners, sat us down and took us personally through all of the activities in the region and his suggestions for the best restaurants, groceries and shops – as they do with everyone.
When a package didn’t arrive for us, Peter, the other owner, drove me into town and spoke with the courier company to help ensure my gear would make it safely to me.
When Nathan needed a hair cut, Jean wrote down word for word (in Spanish of course) a description of the style he wanted.
For all of the funky rooms, toasty fireplaces and activities on offer, this is a place where they care about people to their very core. A backpackers run by backpackers, for backpackers. And maybe just the place for someone who’s never stayed in a hostel to give it a shot – I warn you though, it might just ruin you for life.
Pro tip – if your budget will extend to it, we highly recommend booking the hobbit holes – they’re private, warm and have incredibly comfy beds.
The Practical Stuff
Getting to Pucon
Your transport into Pucon will of course depend on where you’re coming from, but Chile being Chile, chances are you’ll arrive on a bus, like we did.
We purchased our tickets online for Pullman Bus through Recorrido and after visiting a copy shop in Santiago (to print a copy of our booking), we exchanged our paperwork for our actual ticket just before boarding at the terminal.
Santiago has two main stations, Terminal Borja and Terminal Sur; we opted for the second to allow ourselves a little more time in Valparaíso but either is fine.
The ride itself is comfortable (especially in Salón Cama seats) and came in at USD31.30 each or 19,600 pesos. We were given a few snacks and drinks on the journey and drove continually through the night (save a few terminal stops)
Pucon is an easy town to walk around in but should you need to get a lift, you have a few choices.
Collectivos run relatively loose routes and can be flagged down at any stage (or hailed at set points in town). For a flat rate of only 500 pesos each, they’ll drop you where you want to go, picking up and dropping others off along the way. It’s an incredibly affordable means of transport and as the town’s quite small, a fast way to get around too.
For activities outside of town, tourist shuttles can be arranged through accommodation providers and booking agents. These shuttles are fairly comfortable and will collect you either from your accommodation or a pre-designated location in town.
If you’re wanting to go further afield, bus stations are spread throughout the town (each company has their own office) and tickets can be purchased both online and in person. The buses are comfortable and reliable, making both onward travel and local exploration a straightforward process.
When all is said and done though,
Is Pucón Worth a Visit?
In case you hadn’t figured it out already, absolutely – yes!
The town itself is drop-dead gorgeous whilst avoiding any sense of pretension. It offers a range of activities to suit everyone, often at prices far superior to other adventure-capitals and plenty of restaurants in town to keep foodies happy.
For us though, the highlight of Pucón really was the people we met and that was made possible through our stay at Chili Kiwi. It’s the one place in town where you’re practically guaranteed to make great friends and that’s worth a whole lot in our books!
Love the sound of Pucón as much as we did? Pin this post so someone else can discover this gem too!
Thank you to Chili Kiwi for so kindly welcoming us to stay with them. As always, all thoughts are our own. We miss you already!
The Giant’s Causeway is a massive collection of interlocking basalt columns and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland for good reason. Located on the North Atlantic Ocean, these intriguing formations are a result of an ancient volcanic eruption and though access to them is free, parking is anything but! Before you go and pay £10.50 each to enter the facility, check out our suggestions and save yourself some serious money in the process.
What is the Giant’s Causeway?
Countless volcanic basalt columns, most of which stand tall with hexagonal edges, can be found slowly being eroded by the harsh North Irish ocean waves. Disappearing into the ocean, they also rise up to 12 metres high and their undulating formation calls for visitors to explore.
The Causeway was formed 50 to 60 million years ago and as legend would have it, the columns we see today are the remnants of a causeway built by a giant – hence the literal name of the site.
Where to Park to Access the Giant’s Causeway for Less
Ouch – You want how much?
If you’re keen to part with your money, parking is available at the visitor centre for £10.50 per adult (or £9 each if you get organised and book online). This entrance fee includes access to the visitor centre, a guided tour of the site (or audio guide) and of course, parking.
Should you wish to take the shuttle but from the vistior centre down to the Causeway (or back up), you’ll be looking at an additional few pounds each in each direction.
The visitor centre themselves now promote a cheaper alternative…
For visitors who do not wish to avail of the facilities on-site, alternative parking is available during peak season at the Railway car park adjacent to the Causeway (£6 per day), from which visitors can walk to the stones for free.
But we can do one better again!
The Price is Right!
We ducked into Finn McCool’s Hostel where they offer parking for £5/car. It’s easy to see how a car full of adults would be much better off parking here than at the visitor centre (assuming they’re simply wanting access to the cliffs of course)!
Not only is it a little cheaper than the railway but most importantly, it’s open all year round.
We approached the Giant’s Causeway a little unsure as to what to expect. Having visited the basalt columns in Vik, Iceland (and loving them), we couldn’t help but wonder if we’d be greeted with a sense of ‘been there, done’ that but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We had a fantastic morning wandering the beach, admiring Northern Ireland’s stunning natural beauty.
If you find yourself in the area (or even in Dublin as we were), we’d definitely suggest hiring a car and getting yourself out to the cliffs.
As the technology that goes into cameras improves, one could be forgiven for thinking that you can just sit back and relax after the photo’s taken, and by all means, you can.
Or you can do better without too much effort!
If you would like to take your holiday snaps to the next level, we suggest choosing your favourite few and running them through a program on your computer or phone to really bring out the best them. It’s incredible what a difference spending just a minute or so on each photograph can do.
How we Bring Out the Best in our Photos
Let me start by saying, we’re not professional photographers (obviously, right?), we’re just a couple that enjoy capturing our holiday memories and sharing them with you.
We have however picked up a few simple tricks along the way to bring out the best in our photos and figure, if we can improve our photos, so can you.
Tap into Instagram
Regardless of whether we choose to post a photo to Instagram or not, this free app is our go-to editing tool. If you see a photo on our blog, chances are we’ve run it through the photo editor on there.
Just Editing? Flight mode’s your friend
If you’re not wanting to post your photo to Instagram, just flick your phone into flight mode. This will disrupt your internet/data connection and when you go to publish the photo, you’ll find Instagram saves the new copy in your photo folder without publishing it to your feed.
Make sure you remember to delete out the queue though, otherwise the photos will automatically publish when you’re next online.
Lux it up!
Instagram followers a variety of different filters and though we played around with them when we first started using the app, we use one almost exclusively now – and it may be one you’re not even aware of.
Before doing anything else, I play around with the Lux option, testing out the impact that it will have on my photos. Generally notching it up results in crisper, brighter photos with improved exposure.
From there, I sometimes go on to make additional edits, but often find that’s all a photo needs.
The ‘lux‘ filter sits apart from the rest in the app – you’ll find it on the top of the first editing screen (look for the sun icon), as opposed to sitting in the carousel below.
Other Useful Edits
If you flick over from ‘Filter’ to ‘Edit‘ on the bottom of your screen, you’ll find a series of options that all you to change one element at a time.
Not all photos require changes to be made here but I’ll sometimes use the following:
Brightness – If your photo was snapped in a dark location, a touch of brightness can make a world of difference to the details in it.
Structure – This can add definition to your photos, bringing out the details that might otherwise go unnoticed. It’s especially well suited to architectural features and water but doesn’t always do well in photos with people. Bumping up the structure generally increases the contrast and sharpness of an image so it can work wonders on the right photo – if you’ve already used ‘lux’ then be mindful of how much ‘structure’ you add on top.
Warmth – I don’t generally play with this setting but do find some cameras tend to produce colours skewed to being either too warm or cool (my GoPro for example), in which case I’ll do my best to correct it.
Saturation – Another one that I dont tend to use if I’ve ‘lux’ed my photos but I will sometimes amend the saturation (both up and down) so ensure my images are bright but close to life.
Vignette – Sometimes when you use ‘lux’ on your photos, some of the shadows are removed. If this happens, I’ll sometimes add darkness back to the corners of my photo using this option. It can also add a bit of variation to an otherwise plain blue sky and bring clouds to life.
Sharpen – Again, some cameras tend to take softer photos, in which case I’ll use the sharpen option to bring definition to the details should the picture need it.
You can do a lot by altering your photos but we always try to keep them as close as possible to what we saw with our own eyes. Because we’re not professional photographers, we tend to shoot on ‘auto’ which means we don’t get the most out of our cameras generally speaking – by following these easy editing steps though, we find it pretty easy to bring life to our snaps and hope you’ll be able to too!
If you’re keen to see the difference some simple editing in Instagram can make, check out these examples.
As always, click to enlarge (if you want to see the details) – the first of each is the original photo and the second is the edited version.
We recon it’s worth spending a few extra moments to bring out the best in our photos – what do you think?
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The Cliffs of Moher, on Ireland’s west coast consistently rank amongst the most visited spots sites in the country, seeing approximately one million visitors each year. Though you can pay the €6 entrance fee for each adult in your party and join the masses spending more than they need to, we know a way to save you some money!
At their start, the cliffs reach 120 metres above the Atlantic Ocean and, eight kilometres to the north, they reach their maximum height – a massive 214 metres. The tallest section falls near O’Brien’s Tower, a round stone tower built in 1835, which just so happens to make for fantastic photos against the background of cliffs and sea below.
Getting to the Cliffs of Moher
The drive from Dublin to County Clare is a treat in itself. Along the way visitors enjoy the greenest pastures you could imagine, fields of farm animals and, chances are, a spot of rain. Yes, it would seem the weather in Ireland is deserving of its reputation but the landscape clearly benefits from the extra water!
We hired a car from Dublin airport and used Waze (an app that will give you point to point directions whilst connected to WiFi – no need for data) to find our way there. It’s an easy drive along well-maintained roads and rental cars are cheap as chips, so it was an easy choice for us.
Where to Stay
With a number of small towns within a 30 minute drive of the cliffs, we decided upon an Airbnb in Milton Malbay.
Lorna’s sleepout was comfortable, warm, close to the most gorgeous little town and best of all, she was an absolute hoot! We had a great time chatting away to our host – she’s exactly what an Airbnb host should be.
Though we only spent the one night there, we could have very happily stayed on.
How to Save Money on Your Entrance to the Cliffs of Moher
Save your hard-earned cash and avoid the main entrance to the cliffs. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for the blue and yellow signs to Guerin’s Path. This homegrown business offers a low-cost parking and access to some of the most famous cliffs in the world.
If you’re approaching from the top of the coast, you’ll drive past the official visitor centre and find signs to the cliff walk on your right soon thereafter. If you’re coming from the bottom of the coast, it will be on your left before the visitor centre.
Follow the signs up towards the top of the cliff and you’ll be rewarded with access to this famous sight for only €5 for the entire car. If you just so happen to have 5 adults in that car, that’s a massive saving of €25 for the group!
Make sure you plan your visit well as the site doesn’t have any bathrooms or facilities but if all you’re looking for are spectacular views out to the Cliffs of Moher, you’ll be in for a treat. If you do find yourself in a bind and need the bathroom, the visitor centre is about 15 minutes away, walking along the top of the cliffs and they’re able to be accessed there at no charge.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Cliffs of Moher and would highly recommend planning for your Irish road-trip to pass through the region.
If you’re looking to save money at the Cliffs of Moher or think someone else might want to, pin this post!