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Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Flying with Falcons: A Serene Dawn Hot Air Balloon Experience Like No Other

February 13, 2018

Jade and Mark recently stopped over in Dubai as they flew through to New Zealand.  Top of their list?  A desert hot air balloon ride with a difference; retro Land Rovers, a luxe breakfast amongst the sand dunes, a glorious Arab sunrise and hot air balloons soaring alongside the iconic falcon – need we say more?!  

Join us as they review Balloon Adventures Dubai.

The Early Morning Hurdle

Getting up before 6am is only a challenge when it doesn’t involve something fun, right?

The only time I ever get up early without complaining it is when travel or adventure is afoot… and my dawn ballooning experience with Balloon Adventures Dubai was no exception. Struggling with jet lag, and a disorientating 4.30am rise, you still couldn’t take the grin off my face.

Hot Air Ballooning has been on my ‘must-do’ list since I was 8 years old and it was finally time to bring my dream to life.

Two alarms, a foggy brain and a cup of tea later, our friendly driver collected us at 5.20am from our hotel lobby.

Signing our life away on our hot air ballooning boarding pass (a standard practice for any activity in today’s world) we were told that there would be two balloons taking off that morning, each with 22 people on board.

Wait… 22 people? Was that even possible?  I had only ever seen small baskets bobbing under hot air balloons, perhaps fitting up to 6.

My imagination started to run wild on this incredible feat as we made the 40-minute journey out into the desert. Meanwhile, the other passengers in the minivan were more logical, getting a few minutes of shut-eye as we navigated out of the waking city and the vast beyond.

Arriving into the desert, the colour on the horizon just starting to change, we were quickly divided between the two balloons and belted up (imagine an airplane belt around your waist). While pushing the silky sand around underneath my shoes, we were quickly introduced to Oden, our stunning feathered guest for the morning and told we would hear more about our falcon friend once in the air. The take-off and landing position (basically a semi-squat while connected to the basket) was demonstrated with an example apparatus sitting in the sand, and before we knew it, we were ready for the air!

Positioned next to the gigantic balloon basket, I couldn’t help but marvel at the massive balloon as it sprung to life. Raging blue fire heated the air in the parachute and within minutes the balloon took shape; suddenly, I was snapped from my thoughts and scrambling over the high basket edge. Wishing I wasn’t so awkward, I was at least grateful for the stretch in my jeans and the help on hand to conquer the chest high basket!

Our previously introduced pilot, Richard, ensured everyone was comfortable in their squatted position.  Ready for take-off, we waited with anticipation.

A further blast from the flame above us and we heard, ‘ok, you can stand normally now, we are in the air’.

Really? Wow! I had felt nothing as the basket shifted off the ground, but looking over the edge, we were inches from the ground and rising rapidly.

Into The Atmosphere

As the horizon shifted, our view of the ground widened. We were overlooking the beginning of a stunning sunrise and beautiful windswept dunes; peaks reaching out to touch the morning light. The second balloon hung in the air against a murky morning haze. Flames continued to fire above us as we rose.

I could barely believe I was finally in a hot air balloon!

Climbing higher still, I became fascinated by the changing backdrop of the beautifully patterned dunes below.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a desert, take it from us, it’s absolutely stunning.

Pleasingly, the continual climb higher wasn’t causing a stir as I thought it might. It was as if I was looking down on a green screen almost as if we had never left the ground; my calm matched our tranquil surroundings.

One Kilometre Up And Ready For A World First

Once at height, our pilot pointed to the second balloon. Hanging in the air, we watched as a spot soared across the horizon. Juliet the Peregrine Falcon had been released, and was dancing in the troposphere, toing and froing from the basket of the other balloon. While we watched Juliets dance, Oden’s trainer explained all sorts of interesting falcon facts and detailed how prestigious falcons are to the people of the UAE.

Being hunters and sometimes territorial creatures, we waited until Juliet had completed her demonstration before Oden’s hood was removed and his impeccable sight regained. With his tiny tracking device (ultimately the trainer’s insurance) secured to his back, Oden took several short and aptly described lazy flights from his perch on the basket’s edge. Enticed back only by his relationship with food, Oden didn’t fly far, wanting his breakfast more than he cared to fly, giving an incredible encounter for all of those on board to view the falcon’s precision and beauty.

Being able to watch this display at such close range was impressive, certainly more intimate than any other bird shows I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience.

With Oden’s trainer satisfied he had done enough for his food, it was time for his reward!  Oden obviously appreciated his breakfast as he ripped gulp sized pieced from the quail offered from a tightly grasped, gloved hand.

What a place for an up-close animal encounter!

A romantic adventure to remember.  Oden’s show, combined with my own view of a vibrant sunrise across the desert, meant this unforgettably serene dawn experience couldn’t help but lift my spirit and give a moment to pause and appreciate the incredible atmosphere.

Adrift Above The Crown Prince’s Palace

Casually drifting down from a great height, our pilot skilfully guided the balloon to bob between dunes parallel to the second balloon as a slight breeze stopped us, hanging dutifully in mid-air.

As luck would have it, our journey took us over the only visible property covered in greenery, capable of existing in the desert due to human intervention; the property of the Crown Prince of Dubai. Teeming with life, the property was incredible to fly over – flocks of birds took to the sky surrounding us, whilst happy workers on the property waved from between the irrigated foliage. Gazelles startled below us and even a cheeky giraffe was spotted strutting in the distance.

Where else in the world would you expect to find such magic in the middle of a desert?!

All too soon the flight was nearing its end. On the edge of the property boundary, the landing crew were ready and waiting for us. We prepared for landing, attaching our belts to the basket attachments and bending our knees. With a shout and a sneaky look over our shoulders we watched the unsuspecting crew scramble to move one of the parked utes before its deck accidentally became our landing site!

With only two slight jolts as we skimmed dune tops before coming into land, the basket finally found its place to rest. Tipping to its side as the parachute followed us down and we found ourselves on our backs, facing the sky before unclipping and scrambling out once more onto the silky sand.

While a dedicated team masterfully packed away the gear, we were able to take a moment with our perched, feathered friend Oden for a photo.

Isn’t he gorgeous?

1950’s Land Rovers And A Divine Breakfast

To finish off the morning we were taken on a short journey through the desert in old-school, open top Land Rovers to a luxury desert Bedouin camp. Blitzing around the dunes in these vintage vehicles was a blast.

Pro Tip:  Ladies with luscious locks, I recommend a scarf to cover your head for this part of the morning to avoid tangles.

Inside the camp, we were greeted with a smile, sharp Arabic coffee, beautifully sweet dates and a full spread of breakfast delights. Cold cut meats, cheeses, fruits, and perfect eggs benedict found their way onto my plate before I settled with my back to the sun at one of the tented tables.

News of congratulations for a perfectly planned and happily accepted marriage proposal on the other balloon reached our ears followed by the sound of a champagne bottle popping. It had been such a beautifully romantic morning, you couldn’t help but smile for the happy couple.

I enjoyed being able to soak in the desert atmosphere a while longer before reluctantly being guided to start our return journey.

Things To Take For Your Dawn Hot Air Balloon Experience

  1. Camera and/or phone – of course, you need evidence of your incredible morning adventure!
  2. Jacket or long sleeve top – it might be chilly in the desert in the morning, or you might appreciate cover from the sun or breeze whilst in the Land Rover/at the camp.
  3. Cap, hat or scarf (certainly for ladies with styled or long hair) – to save sunburn, tangles and a ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ hairstyle situation on your trip through the dunes.
  4. Sunglasses – an absolute must for viewing everything on your journey. I took my glasses off for some of the photos and was squinting and blinking through tears due to the intensity of light.  Sunglasses are definitely best left on.
  5. Snacks for pre-flight – if you are like me and struggle to function on an empty stomach, take a few snacks to munch on before breakfast. It is a few hours between wake up and the delicious spead and you don’t want to be more focused on your stomach than the view!
  6. Wear something you can move in, like a pair of jeans or shorts with stretch. Scrambling over the side of the basket at the start of the journey and then out of the tipped basket at the end would not have been fun in inflexible clothing or a skirt or dress. Sometimes you just have to be practical.

Would We Recommend a Hot Air Balloon Ride Whilst in Dubai?

Having tried multiple aircraft carriers and flight paths, skydiving, parasailing, bungy jumping and other high-altitude experiences, in my opinion, hot air ballooning is certainly the most serene adventure available at height. Hot air balloons will only operate in the mildest of breezes on perfectly calm mornings, so even wind noise will not register on your experience.

Without doubt, Balloon Adventures Dubai was one of the best tour companies I have ever had the chance to join on an excursion. Safety, communication and guest comfort was obviously paramount to their efforts throughout the morning.

Although there were several complicated elements involved in the morning (technical gear, unpredictable weather, landing locations, timings, animals, transport and food) the morning ran like clockwork. Team members were perfectly positioned to care for guests needs, always ready with a smile and would find any way to accommodate requests.

… But Is Hot Air Ballooning For Me?

If you’re looking for an excuse to go hot air ballooning, look no further – we’ve got your back!

How about:

  • A unique exploration of your next overseas adventure
  • An unforgettable marriage proposal or anniversary experience
  • Or a surprise gift for that person who already has everything?

No matter how or where you choose to experience this activity, it should be on your bucket list !

Even better, book yourself in with Balloon Adventures Dubai next time you find yourself in the United Arab Emirates and prepare yourself for a uniquely local adventure with the best of the best.

Activities Adventure Baños de Agua Santa Ecuador South America

How to Get to the Swing at the End of the World: Baños, Ecuador

December 23, 2017

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen carefree travellers flinging themselves off what appears to be a swing perched precariously on the top of a mountain – feet danging right off the end of the world, so to speak.

In reality, the swings are nowhere near as dangerous as they might appear.  They’re also easily accessible from Baños de Agua Santa (more often simply referred to as Baños) and make for a cheap day out in Ecuador.

So, what are you waiting for?  Grab your camera and get ready to swing your way to that perfect Instagram shot!

How To Get To the Swing At the End of the World

  • Local bus.  Our preferred method, buses in Baños are reliable and easy to use.  For only USD0.50 you’ll be dropped at the entrance to the original swing at the end of the world, La Casa Del Arbol (The Treehouse), which is approximately 40 minutes from the centre of town.  Buses depart at 5.45am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 4pm from Baños (on the corner of Pastaza and Rocafuerte).  If you ask the driver, they will happily point out the correct stop for you up the top and advise you of the return times.
  • Hike.  There are two main trails that will take you to the swings but neither are particularly direct.  Choose to hike towards either Mirador Virgen and on to Runtun or towards Bellavista (before again turning off to Runtun).  Regardless of the path you choose, you’ll then continue the hike along the same path to your destination.  Allow approximately 5 hours to hike up and back.
  • Taxi.  Official taxis are available from Baños but be sure to negotiate a price before you leave town (or insist your driver turns the meter on).  Also, decide whether you’d like the driver to wait for you at the top or if you’ll find your own way back down.
  • Hitchhike.  Though we don’t normally hitch rides, we started walking back down and a lovely couple kindly offered us a lift.  If you’re keen, there will be people going both up and down in private cars.
  • Guided tour.  Tours are available from town but there’s really no need to book yourself on one as the area is safe and the other transport options work so well.

How Much Does the Swing Cost?

There are a number of swings sitting above Baños but La Casa Del Arbol is probably the one you’ll want to make a beeline too.  They charge a very reasonable USD1 per person which will give you access to two sets of swings (one more scenic than the other) and a relatively small zip line.

What Should I Expect?

First of all, the swings really aren’t as bad as they look!  Nathan’s not a fan of heights but was more than happy swinging away.

During the peak season, we’ve been told each visitor gets a couple of swings and is the ushered off for the next person to jump on.  The beauty of being there in the low season meant we actually got a proper chance to swing (and multiple times at that).

It’s worth noting that the back of the swings are a little high – this makes it hard to get momentum up as you would on a normal swing but the concrete ramp below helps with that.  Be sure to take shoes with good grip so you can get yourself to the top of the ramp.

There’s also a belt which keeps you relatively secure so you can swing without a care in the world!

That’s it – no excuses now!

Looking To Up the Excitement Factor?

Alternatively, there is a larger swing (that accommodates up to three people at a time) on the same mountain.  Just start the walk back to town and after approximately 2km, turn left… follow that road for 800m (there are plenty of signs) and you’ll find the massive structure that you’ll easily see lit up at night from town.

This monster is less playground-swing and more fun-fair ride so we’d still suggest riding the bus up to the original swing first and then walking down should you want more of an adrenaline rush.  Don’t pick this one over the classic.

Apologies – we can’t remember the name of the larger swing but you can’t miss it.  If you do make it there yourself, we’d love an update please!

Baños – More Than Just a Swingers Paradise

Though Baños de Agua Santa originally came to our attention because of the ‘swing at the end of the world’, we soon realised there’s so much more to this buzzing little city!

Whitewater rafting, canyoning, zip lining, paragliding – there’s lots on offer in the region and all at unbelievably affordable prices.

It was incredibly easy to spend a week in Baños, the perfect mix of small-town relaxation and world-class adventure.  Make sure to include a stop in this part of Ecuador when you’re planning your trip to this diverse little country!

Whilst in Baños, we recommend staying at Hostal Princesa María.  The team there offers some of the friendliest service around and will happily point you in the right direction for the bus and anything else you’d like to do in the city.

Accommodation Eco Tourism Peru Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle) South America

Amazon Planet: Your Ticket to the Peruvian Amazon

November 26, 2017

The Amazon, without doubt, is a real bucket list destination for any nature lover.  With an ecosystem like no other, it’s one of the last true wilds in the world.

When we initially planned our visit to South America, we did so with a loose plan and a number of must-see spots in mind – Patagonia, Iguazu, Galapagos and of course the Amazon.

Did it live up to our expectations though?  We spent three nights at Amazon Planet putting them through their paces to find out.

Into the Wild – Activities Galore

With a range of programmes available to guests and a well-structured timetable, there’s plenty of time to make the most of your Amazon experience whilst still unwinding in this gorgeous jungle paradise.  Every morning an activity heads out whilst hammock-time is scheduled following lunch until the day cools down when a number of afternoon/evening activities come into play.

Books and board games are available throughout the day and happy hour does an excellent job of helping to form new friendships amongst fellow adventurers.

Let’s face it though – nobody’s in the Amazon with the main goal of playing cards, and good thing too – there’s plenty to do!

Upon arriving, we were introduced to Alejandro, our guide for the duration of our stay.  Throughout our time at Amazon Planet, he proved himself to be approachable, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable.  Alejandro had an incredible knack for recognising distant birdcall and barely noticable creepy-crawlies, bringing the jungle to life for us.

Jungle Walks, Day and Night

Throughout your stay at Amazon Planet you’ll be presented with many opportunities to head into the jungle – take them all!  With unique plants and incredible wildlife, you ever know what you’ll see whilst wandering the jungle.  The guides are exceptionally talented at identifying the vast variety of bird calls out in the jungle and easily spot the smallest of creatures, making every jungle walk a real chance to see new treasures.

When night falls, it’s time to grab your flashlight and go hunting for creepy crawlies!  Tarantulas, scorpions, frogs, caterpillars, snakes, lizards and more – there’s no shortage of beasties to catch your attention.

Alternatively, hop aboard the Amazon Planet boat on the hunt for caimans, the shy cousin of the alligator.  We were fortunate enough to spot a number of these small reptiles!

Generally, the animals we spotted in the wilds near Amazon Planet were smaller than we’d imagined – it’s not the place to find anacondas, for example, and though sloths are known to hang about in the region, they’re notoriously hard to spot.  Unfortunately, piranhas aren’t generally found in the fastmoving Madre de Dios River (but they can be spotted on the Tambopata programme!), nor are the pink river dolphins, but the few animals we didn’t see were soon forgotten in the buzz of excitement as we uncovered new ones.

And best of all, even if you don’t see much (though we promise, you will), Amazon Planet has a fantastic way of guaranteeing you’ll meet a bunch of local cuties – the Taricaya Ecological Reserve.

Taricaya Ecological Reserve

The only Amazon property in Peru to have their own ecological reserve, Amazon Planet really walk the talk when it comes to conversation.  Attracting biologists, vets and volunteers from the world over, they work together to ensure that local animals that are in need of some extra TLC are well looked after at Taricaya.

Not only do they release populations of native animals back into the wild, but they give those that are unable to reintroduced back into their habitats a fantastic life.

For visitors, it’s a real treat knowing that you’ll have the chance to see a variety of incredible animals, regardless of whether or not you spot them in the wild, but it’s even better knowing that some of the funds from your stay go towards running such a worthwhile operation.

Canopy Walk

Looking for an adrenaline rush (beyond tarantula spotting)?

Take to the skies, or the top of the Amazonian canopy to be exact, for a birdseye view of the surrounding rainforest – just remember to check your fear of heights at the door.

Nestled into the top of an ancient kapok tree, a 90-metre long suspension bridge stretches out to the viewing platform, 45 metres above the ground below.  The views out over the surrounding area are fantastic and being amongst the canopy really gives you a sense of the scale of the jungle.

Visit the Ese-Eja Tribe

A short ride upriver from Amazon Planet, lives Enrique, his wife and sometimes, his children.  Enrique and his wife span two very different generations – his father lived within the Amazon, completely immersed in a traditional, native way of life, whilst his children live during the week in the city, attending school in the hopes of joining the modern workforce as well-educated individuals.

We’ve attended a number of ‘community visits’ like this one now and, to be honest, some have been incredibly worthwhile and some have, quite simply, felt uncomfortable or inauthentic.  It’s fair to say that although we give these experiences a fair go, we are somewhat skeptical when approaching them – you just never know what you’re going to get and we certainly don’t like intruding where we’re not genuinely welcome.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth in this case though!

Enrique and his wife, despite the language barrier, did an amazing job of sharing their culture and customs with us, all with the biggest, most welcoming smiles.  Of course, we couldn’t communicate directly (as they spoke Quechuan) but a good giggle is universal as it turns out.

Over the course of the morning, we learnt how to make a bow and arrow (and eventually got better at shooting them), watched them start a fire using traditional methods, and learnt about their local foods, medicines and clothing – all of which comes directly from the rainforest.

Best of all, we left feeling connected to the local people, which is what an experience like this should be all about.

Boat Float

With the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, where better to be in the Amazon than drifting gently downriver in the current?

The team at Amazon Planet organise for inflatable kayaks and boats to be taken upstream where guests jump in and spend put in some serious relaxation time.

Hunger Pangs – Food at Amazon Planet

Though you’ll be square in the middle of the jungle, the food at Amazon Planet is anything but rustic.  Banana pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, fresh fish (caught locally) and delicious yuca fries for lunch and delicious steamed chicken and rice parcels for dinner.  Every meal is fresh, locally sourced, hearty and served in multiple courses.

As we near the end of our time in Peru, we can comfortably say it was amongst the best cuisine we’ve had during our time in the country!

It’s hard to go hungry out there but should you, additional snacks are available.  That’s not to mention the soft drinks and selection of beers and cocktails, all available at very reasonable prices.

A Place to Rest Your Head – Accommodation

With a busy day of jungle adventures behind you, a comfortable place to unwind is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Each bungalow at Amazon Planet is set back, away from the main dining quarters, along wooden boardwalks (perfect on those rainy Amazonian days).  The rooms are relatively basic but include high-quality mattresses, private bathrooms and a space to relax – ours had both a sofa and a little balcony with views out to the river.

Every day our room was cleaned and our water bottled topped up – a service that far exceeded our expectations in the middle of the jungle!

Transport: Getting to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco

Getting to Amazon Planet from Cusco is a relatively straightforward process and with the option of both buses and flights, there’s something to suit all budgets.

Overnight Buses

If you’re looking to save some money and have plenty of time on your hands, there is now a direct bus route servicing the region. Years ago it would have taken days to reach your final destination but now the journey runs a relatively comfortable 10 hours.

The route between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado is operated by Civa and Cruz Del Sur – both of which can be booked online through BusBud.  We rode with Excluciva (PEN50/USD15.40/NZD22/65 each) on the way there and Superciva (PEN40/USD12.35/NZD18.15 each) on the way back.  On both occasions, we booked the 1st floor (which is their salon cama offering – similar to business class on a flight) but found the Excluciva service to be far superior.  If you have the option to book on Excluciva, we’d definitely recommend spending the few extra dollars.

Flying

If you’d prefer to get to the Amazon via a more direct route then flying becomes your most efficient option.  A number of airlines offer fares to the Amazon, including StarPeru, Avianca, and LATAM, but we suggest you check SkyScanner to ensure you get the best price available.

Regardless of how you choose to arrive in Puerto Maldonado, Amazon Planet will organise someone to meet you at your point of arrival and for your transport to their offices on the outskirts of town.

Amazon Planet – Your Home in the Peruvian Amazon

Our stay in the Amazon was all about getting back to nature; to lay in bed with the sound of the evening jungle rains beating down, to explore the undergrowth, hunting out unique animals and simply soaking in the sights and sounds of one of the most incredible ecosystems in the world.

Amazon Planet offers all of the personal, homely touches that you’d hope for in the jungle but would never really expect.

Sure, the lodge isn’t the pinnacle of luxury, but it does exactly what it sets out to do – provide an amazing experience with caring, knowledgeable staff and many of the comforts of home.

The Amazon was on our South American bucket list, and for good reason, it’s retaining its spot there as a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Only, is it once-in-a-lifetime if you’d go back in a heartbeat?


Thank you to Amazon Planet for hosting our stay for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We joined them for the 3 night ‘native’ programme which we highly recommend.

Activities Cusco Hiking Peru South America

Hiking Laguna Humantay – Cusco: More Than Machu Picchu

November 23, 2017

Cusco is known across the world as the gateway to Machu Picchu, the most iconic of all the Inca sites.  With so much to see in this region, those skipping through whilst only visiting the Lost City of the Incas are only tapping the surface of what’s on offer.  

Join us as we explore many of the day trips that Cusco has on offer and prepare to extend your time in this amazing city! 

First up, Laguna Humantay (also known as the Humantay Lagoon).  

Can’t wait to find out what else we did in Cusco?  You’ll find more ideas in our monthly round-up (our Machu Picchu itinerary and the other amazing activities we did.  Looking for more still? Check out this fabulous guide to Peru’s historic capital.

Nestled into Humantay Mountain, under towering mountain peaks and hanging glaciers, sits Laguna Humantay – one of the most incredible bodies of water we’ve ever seen.  Unbelievable hues of bright blue and green shimmer in water that feels somewhat out of place sitting atop a mountain.  This otherworldly sight

It’s little wonder that centuries ago, the ancient Inca’s believed this to be a sacred place – even now, with tourists gathered around, you can still feel the magic.

What to Expect on the Hike to the Humantay Lagoon

I have a real love-hate relationship with hiking.  When it’s flat or sloping gently downhill, I love it.  When I’m clamping up steep, unending tracks – well, I don’t need to tell you how I feel about it.  I’m not the fittest person around and I really do find it a challenge.

Without a doubt though, the views at the top of Humantay are worth the relatively short slog up to the top.

Leaving the mini-van at Soraypampa (3,900 metres above sea level), the hike begins, varying from a gentle slope to fairly demanding until trekkers come across the lagoon at 4,200 metres above sea level.

As you hike, you’ll enjoy views out over the surrounding valley and Salkantay, the namesake mountain of the popular multi-day hike in the region, headed for Machu Picchu.  The area itself is gorgeous which certainly makes the hike all the more manageable.

The altitude and elevation gain is enough that hiking is more challenging than at sea level but if you take it slowly and stop for breathers along the way, it really won’t feel any more difficult than any other uphill hike you’ve done.

As always, after a couple of breaks and a good chance to catch your breath at the top, any suffering is soon forgotten!

Top Tip:  Should you require (or just prefer) assistance to get to the top, horses are available and as a local leads you up, you don’t need any riding experience.  The horses in all of Peru were in great condition, the service is reasonably priced and you can decide when you arrive (both at the base of the trail, and part way up), making this a great way to get to Laguna Humantay should you need a hand.

Practical Details Relating to Your Laguna Humantay Hike:

  • Pick up is offered if your accommodation is relatively close to Plaza de Armas.  We were amongst the first to be collected at 4.45am from Magic Packers (a hostel we highly recommend).
  • The total drive is approximately 2.5 hours in each direction – this is broken up with breaks for meals.
  • Both breakfast and lunch are included for participants in Mollepata.  Breakfast included bread, fruit, fresh eggs and tea/coffee/juice whilst lunch was a delicious buffet.
  • Take plenty of water as there’s nowhere to refill bottles or purchase new ones once you start the hike.  Drinks are available for purchase where you stop for breakfast though and also at the base of the trail; they’re surprisingly affordable so don’t race out to stock up the night before if you’re short on time.
  • A hiking stick is offered to each participant but as we had our own hiking poles from our Patagonian hikes, I used those.  Nathan decided not to use either and was absolutely fine.
  • Drop off is to a central plaza, not far from Plaza de Armas – your guide will point you back in the direction of your accommodation or help you hail a taxi if required.  Cabs in Cusco are affordable and generally reliable so getting around is easily done.  Uber is also freely available should you prefer.
  • When you book through Exploor your voucher is issued and you have five months to decide when you’d like to book your hike in, making it the perfect way for friends and family to gift you an amazing experience (rather than more stuff that you don’t need).  At only USD45 including breakfast, lunch, transport and guide, this is amazing value too!  You’ll just need to allow PEN10 (USD3/NZD4.50) each for entrance to the community.

If there’s one day hike you do from Cusco, we highly recommend you make it Humantay.

Bang-for-buck, no other hike has ever compared to the beauty of this track and with the addition of horses, it really is attainable for the vast majority of travellers.

The views speak for themselves and if the water looks like this on an overcast, gloomy day, imagine them on a beautiful clear-sky day…


Off to Cusco or know someone that is?  Pin this post to refer back to it!

An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!An easy day trip from Cusco, Peru, Humantay Lagoon is easily the best short hike in the region. The stunning blue green lagoon becons hikers after approximately an hour of walking uphill and the valley throughout rewards with incredible views. Definitely one to include in your Machu Picchu itinerary (or if you're doing the Salkantay Trek you'll have the pleasure anyway)!

Thank you to Exploor for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  All views, as always, are entirely our own.  We highly recommend you book your trip to Humantay Lagoon through Exploor.

Eco Tourism Falkland Islands South America

The Best of the Falkland Islands – A Guide to the Outer Islands

October 29, 2017

The Falkland Islands are home to some of the rarest beauty in the world. This Southern archipelago, also known simply as the Falklands, is made up of over 700 islands in total, most of which remain untouched by human presence. However, the few that are inhabited welcome visitors with open arms.  There, you’ll find locals that are keen to share their hidden gem in the Southern Atlantic Ocean with those that make the journey.

So where should you go if you want to discover the magic of the Falkland Islands for yourself?

After an amazing holiday in the Islas Malvinas earlier this year, there’s one thing I can say for sure – no two islands are the same.

Here are my Falkland Island recommendations  – get ready to plan your itinerary!

Which Islands Should I Visit on the Falklands?

With so many islands to discover, it makes sense to explore beyond the two major settlements on East & West Falkland. But before you plan your holiday, there are a few things to take into account. Firstly, only around seven of the outer islands offer accommodation for visitors. Others are accessible only by cruise ship or day trips on a boat. Secondly, every island offers a unique experience. If time is limited, or you want to focus on a specific interest during your holiday (birding, hiking etc) it’s important to know which islands are best suited to your desires.

Weddell Island

At 63,000 acres, Weddell Island is the largest of the Falkland’s outer islands. The undulating hills and shrub-covered plains play host to a diverse wildlife, including a few interesting introduced species! Weddell Island is home to a small herd of reindeer and is one of the few islands with a resident population of Patagonian grey foxes.

Like most of the islands, penguins can also be found frolicking around the shorelines. Gentoo penguin colonies are a common sight and Magellanic penguins dig burrows in the soft peaty earth. Marine mammals are also at home on Weddell, with sea lions resting underneath the tussock, while dolphins play in the bays.

Best For:

Birding. Despite the debatable threat the foxes pose, bird life thrives on Weddell Island. I was on the island for a little more than 24 hours and still managed to lay my eyes on 25 different species! In recent years, a whopping 54 species of birds have been spotted by the island’s only permanent residents, Jane & Martin.

Where to Stay:

The Weddell Island Lodge offers two comfortable self-contained apartments for visitors to relax in. And your hosts Jane & Martin will make sure your stay on Weddell is a memorable one!

What to Do:

Brandish a pair of binoculars for some of the best bird watching in the world. Wander the countryside in search of a roaming reindeer. Spot sea lion pups among the shallows. And climb Mt Weddell for 360-degree views of the island.

Pebble Island

Pebble Island offers a bucolic contrast between sandy beaches, rocky mountain ranges, grassy plains and shallow wetlands. It’s also where you can find the semi-precious stones the island took its name from. The island is rife with more than 40 species of bird life – officially marking it as an important bird area. Here you’ll find Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni & Magellanic penguins, as well as the imperial cormorant, waterfowl and black-necked swans.

These days, Pebble Island is home to a small farming community. But the tranquil landscape defies its turbulent past. Pebble Island played a starring role in the Falklands War when Argentinian forces established a small airbase on the island that was subsequently raided by SAS troopers on the 14th May 1982.

Best For:

War History. Driving around Pebble Island, you can still find relics from the war lying undisturbed on the ground. The jagged remains of an Argentinean Dagger C-437 look ominous against the agrarian landscape, while memorials to both Argentine and British lives lost pepper the land.

Where to Stay:

Pebble Lodge is the homely, comfortable accommodation on Pebble Island. The lodge is run by a Falklands local, Riki, who doubles as your tour driver. Make sure you stay long enough to enjoy the amazing food his resident chef prepares for guests of the lodge.

What to Do:

Hunt for the iconic spherical pebbles on the islands’ western beaches. Watch rockhoppers expertly climb the steep cliff faces. Hear the cacophony caused by the large Gentoo colonies. Visit Elephant Beach – the longest beach in the Falklands!

Sea Lion Island

Sea Lion Island is probably the most popular island for visitors to the Falkland Islands (outside of East Falkland). At just over 5 miles long and a smidge more than a mile wide, it is an excellent place to explore by foot. And it packs a huge punch in its petite frame! One of the only islands without any livestock farming, and completely free of predators, it’s a true sanctuary for wildlife.

Three species of penguins and countless other birds inhabit sea lion island. Seals and sea lions line the shores, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot the orcas known to swim offshore preying on young seal pups.

Best For:

Spotting elephant seals. Sea Lion Island is home to the Falkland’s largest elephant seal breeding site. The best time to visit is around the third week of October – the peak of the breeding season – when up to 1800 seals can be found on the beaches.

Where to Stay:

On Sea Lion Island, stay at the strategically positioned Sea Lion Lodge where you have fantastic views from every window! One of the Falkland Island’s premier lodges, it’s well placed for accommodating larger groups of visitors.

What to Do:

Walk the entire perimeter of the island. Watch elephant seals battling for mating privileges on the beach. Go whale watching without having to leave the shore. Relax with a drink in the lodge’s lounge while watching penguins from the comfort of your couch!

Carcass Island

Ask any local which is their favourite of the Falkland’s outer islands and you’ll often hear the same name, Carcass Island. Whether this is for the stunning scenery, because it’s one of the few islands with trees, or because the lodge’s chef makes the most amazing morning tea spread, I could never be sure!

Despite the rather grim sounding name, the island was actually named after the HMS Carcass – a vessel that surveyed the island in 1766. Carcass Island is a popular cruise port and true nature lover’s paradise. Teeming with wildlife, it’s home to a rich array of bird life including Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, and the infamous cheeky caracara. Elephant seals can also be found at the aptly named ‘Elephant Flats’.

Best For:

Walking. Although there are no official trails, Carcass Island is a fantastic place to hike around. Suitable for all levels, the rolling landscape is easy enough to traverse while offering spectacular views over Byron Sound and beyond.

Where to Stay:

On Carcass Island, you can stay at the McGill’s lodge accommodation. The newly refurbished rooms are spacious and comfortable. And you won’t want to leave after sampling the famous smoko!

What to Do:

Climb up to the rock sculptures on ram paddock hill. Watch penguins surfing in the shallow waters of Dyke Bay. Stay a little longer and take a day trip to West Point Island to see its resident black-browed albatross colony.


How To Get Around the Falkland Islands

Transport to the outer islands from East Falkland, and between the islands of the Falklands is made easy with the local government air service, FIGAS.

FIGAS operate on demand and their fleet of small passenger planes make for an enjoyable, unique and convenient way to explore the islands.

Falkland Island Tourism – Are the Islands Worth Seeing?

With so many great islands to explore in the Falklands, there’s no doubt that you’ll have an unforgettable experience wherever you go.

So, whether you’re visiting the Falkland Islands for their remarkable scenery, unique and diverse bird life, to remember those fallen in the war, or to hike the amazing coastlines (or all of the above) you’ll find what you’re looking for, and more!


Thank you to Blogilicious and the Falkland Islands Tourist Board for making Nadine’s visit to the islands possible.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Adventure Brazil Rio de Janeiro South America

Pedra de Gavea – Just How Difficult Is Rio’s Highest Hike?

October 26, 2017

Just how challenging is the hike to the summit of Pedra de Gavea? On a humid summers day in Rio de Janeiro, we found out firsthand.

By now you’d think we were slowly adjusting to all the hiking – we’ve certainly done our fair share of challenging walks in South America. Between making it through the majority of the W-Trek and up the Fitz Roy, our hiking boots and hiking poles have well and truly been broken in.

Trekking in such chilly conditions didn’t prepare us for what was waiting in Brazil’s most vibrant and misunderstood city though – the world’s biggest monolith, standing tall amid the tropical low-laying clouds was to provide an entirely different challenge for us.

Dressed only in t-shirts and shorts/sports leggings, this hike instantly felt different from our Patagonian treks.

For a start, we caught the metro to the base of the walk (such an easy access point to the trails in Torres del Paine would be unimaginable) and the many, many layers of warm clothes were suddenly a distant memory.   When once we stood shivering as we caught our breath, we now wiped sweat from our brows and guzzled water in a bid to reintroduce some much-needed fluids into our systems.

How Difficult is the Hike to Rio’s Tallest Vantage Point?

I can’t lie – it’s not an easy hike.

The weather makes it a challenge.  The gradient and never-ending trudge upwards makes it difficult.  And that’s not even to mention the free-climbing!

After hiking uphill for a solid few hours, travellers are greeted with what feels like an almost-vertical rock wall.  Let’s face it, it probably wasn’t that extreme but that’s certainly how it felt at the time!  Ropes and ladder rungs help hikers navigate further upwards and before long, they’re greeted by a boulder scramble, edging ever closer to the summit.

Nearing the summit, hikers are rewarded with the most amazing views out over Rio de Janeiro – views that are so good that the hard work and suffering is very quickly forgotten!

From there, there’s one last bout of free-climbing – approximately 35 metres, followed by the final hike to the top.

With aching legs and gusty winds (not to mention, a thunderstorm brewing in the distance), Nathan and I decided to set up camp on the lookout and let our friend Becky continue without us.  It was a decision we’d later come to regret but with clouds descending, we thought she’d have more luck making it to the top without us and of course, we were more than happy with the views we’d been left with.

Understandably, our regret set in the moment we saw Becky’s photos – seriously, look at that view!!

What goes up must come down again and so we began our slow, boulder-climbing, ladder-grabbing descent back to Rio.

What to Take on a Hike up Pedra de Gavea

  • Hiking poles for the trip back down (if you have dodgy knees like me or just need an extra boost)
  • Plenty of water – three litres was the recommendation and I drank most of it easily
  • Good quality food – both lunch and snacks to keep you going
  • Shoes with good grip – hiking boots if possible which also offer ankle support
  • Layers – during the hike itself we didn’t need much in the way of clothes but sitting up the top, the wind picked up and the rain started to fall so our fleeces were put to good use.

We had an amazing time hiking up Pedra de Gavea and though it was a challenge, it was well worth it.  The views were amazing, the jungle was beautiful and we even spotted a group of monkeys!

Though this hike wasn’t originally on our radar, I’m so pleased we added it into the equation and would certainly encourage others travelling to Brazil to do the same.


If you’d like to book an organised tour up to the summit of Pedra de Gavea, we recommend joining Alexis at Discovery Hostel.  He was an amazing guide, taking care of us every step of the way. 

Though hikers are able to summit alone, it’s not recommended unless you have a fair amount of climbing experience.


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Rio de Janeiro is home to an amazing hike with incredible views. It's challenging, including free-climbing but worth every step. One for your bucket list next time you're in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is home to an amazing hike with incredible views. It's challenging, including free-climbing but worth every step. One for your bucket list next time you're in Brazil.

Thank you to the lovely Becky for supplying her photo at the summit of Pedra de Gavea and for being such fabulous company throughout the hike.

Bolivia Eco Tourism South America Uyuni Salt Flats

Salar de Uyuni Tour, Day 1 – So Much More than a Salt Flat

October 26, 2017

Uyuni, a remote part of Bolivia, draws tourists into Salar de Uyuni to take all manner of creative, perspective-bending photos of its seemingly never-ending horizon.  Whether in the dry season, when the salt flats crack and splinter, or the wet season, when reflections make it difficult to tell land from sky, there’s much more to this region than we initially realised.  Find out how we spent our days with Jukil de los Andes on our Salar de Uyuni tour…

For those looking to explore the salt flats, a range of tours are offered from Uyuni, with something to fit all timeframes and budgets.  The most popular tour from this desert town covers off the major sights over the course of three days/two nights, but everything from a single day trip to four days plus are available.

Though we were initially booked on a three day tour, we added another day at the last minute and couldn’t have been happier with our decision; it resulted in a lot of additional time on the salt flats, an opportunity to snap some gorgeous reflection shots and gave us a birds-eye view our over the expansive Salar de Uyuni after climbing one of the local volcanoes…

More on that later though – first up, let’s take a look at our first day on the salt.

Salar de Uyuni Itinerary – Day 1

Train Cemetry

Though trains once used to run between inland Bolivia and their port town, the country’s rocky history with Chile rendered the railway all but useless many years ago.  With their seaside land commandeered, Bolivia unwillingly become a landlocked country and their trains that once lead to the ocean, now lead nowhere.

This is where those trains came to die.

Fortunately though, the Uyuni tours have brought these old locomotives back to life (so to speak) and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll find yourself there with the majority of the tourists gone and the place practically to yourselves.

Last Minute Supplies

Before stopping off for lunch, we had time for a spot of shopping; everything from souviner salt and plastic dinosaurs (for that perfect salt flat photo) to lama jumpers and knock-off sunnies was available at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

If you’re looking for a little llama or Godzilla prop for your photos, it’s certainly not worth dragging your own around from home when you can pick one up on the spot for BOB15-20 (approx USD2.20).

Entering the Salt Flats

Once you’ve put a fair bit of salt-laden ground behind you, you’ll come across the two first major Salar de Uyuni attractions; the Dakar Rally monument and the infamous international collection of flags.

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to be particularly blown away by either of these sights but when you’re standing in the middle of what feels like an ever-reaching salt flat, it’s hard not to pinch yourself.

Yes, they’re touristy but they’re also pretty amazing to see!

Salt Flats – The Main Attraction

The crowning glory of these tours, who hasn’t seen a creative salt flat photo online by now?

Salar de Uyuni seems to stretch on endlessly and, thanks to its incredibly flat surface, provides great opportunities to take mind-bending perspective photos.  Be warned though, its bumpy, cracking surface is like sandpaper to the skin and whoever is photographing your group is likely to spend a large amount of time laying flat against the salt – we suggest you wear jeans and a fleece to offer your skin some protection.

Stay tuned for our photography guide to the salt flats so you too can take perfectly focused perspective photos!

Pink Skies and Pink Birds – Sunset Magic

One of the main highlights of extending our Salar de Uyuni tour to four days was to be found as the sun started going down.

The three-day tours gap it from the salt flats pretty quickly, not only limiting your time to take the perfect perspective photos but robbing visitors of the opportunity to take beautiful reflective photos by the lagoon bordering the salt flats.

In the rainy season, the salt flats become an incredible expanse where it’s hard to tell what’s ground and what’s sky.  Clouds reflect in the water, with colours as vivid as the real things.  Unfortunately though, not everybody gets to experience this amazing phenomena… unless of course you book a four-night trip to get a sneak peek of it!

Stargazing

With the city lights a distant memory, we made our way back onto the salt flats and soon found ourselves enveloped in absolute darkness.

I thought I’d seen stars clearly before in the past – I was wrong.

The Milky Way instantly popped out in front of us, as clear as day.  Countless stars twinkled away above us in a moment of pure magic.

Between the stars and the sunset, you have reason enough to ensure a stay out on Salar de Uyuni – believe me, racing off after you take your daytime salt flat photos will mean doing yourself out of an amazing experience.

Reviewing the Finer Details

Accommodation

Though the accommodation provided on our tour was basic, it was adequate.  It certainly didn’t rival some of the amazing places we’ve stayed in the past but the beds surprisingly comfortable and the rooms warm.  As we selected the entry-level tour, we weren’t expecting 5-star accommodation (and nor did we get it) but we were fairly comfortable.

Our first hostel was well located right on the side of Salar de Uyuni so we could make our own way down to take beautiful sunset photos.

The trade-off though?  We were left without any showers and bathrooms that couldn’t exactly be described as clean – especially in the morning when we awoke to find the water had been shut off (to prevent pipes from freezing) all sorts of interesting remnants in the toilets.  Eeeek!

Food

Lunch

Having expected a packed lunch of sandwiches on the road we were pleasantly surprised when we were dished up quinoa, beef, roasted potatoes and steamed veggies for lunch, along with Coke and water.  The fact that we all went back for seconds (and thirds and fourths in Nathan’s case) speaks for itself!

Dinner

With our standards raised from lunch, dinner wasn’t quite as memorable. 

Perfectly cooked pasta was accompanied by an onion-heavy vegetarian bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese. 

Anyone that knows me well knows that onion and I aren’t the best of friends (that’s the understatement of the year!) so I ended up eating cheesy pasta (which was actually better than it sounds). 

Fortunately for us the group next to us couldn’t eat all of their sausages and very kindly offered us some. 

Pro Tip:  If you’re headed out on this tour and meat is a substantial part of your diet, we’d recommend asking if it will be provided or if it’s possible to supply your own to be cooked.

Driver & Car

Having heard horror stories about unsafe driving and cars breaking down left, right and centre, we knew that choosing a company with reliable cars was essential.  We certainly weren’t interested in wasting half a day waiting for our 4WD to be repaired.

It was with caution then, that we checked the Land Cruiser over trying to find fault.  We couldn’t though!

For the duration of the tour, Ivan, our lovely Bolivian guide, drove with caution and care.  He didn’t speak a great deal of English but with our friend Becky on hand to relay what she could and Google Translate filling in the gaps, we made it by just fine.

It would have been great to have had a better idea of exactly what was coming up the next day so we could have dressed appropriately but with our gear on the roof, it was never far away.

Though we thought we knew what to expect from our Salar de Uyuni tour, we were pleasantly surprised by just how diverse and stunning all of the sights were.

There’s no doubt in our mind that booking the four-day itinerary was the right decision for us.

Keep your eyes peeled for the highlights from the following days on the salt flats!


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How long should you spend at the Bolivian Salt Flats? Find out why we recommend the four-night itinerary at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Flamingos, reflections, salt for days and perfect perspective shots - a must for your South American vacation. Day one at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  Find out why we recommend a four day itinerary and what we got up to on the first day of our visit to this amazing region in South America.


Thank you to Backpacking Becky for supplying a couple of her beautiful photos.  A massive thank you also to Jukil de los Andes for hosting us on this tour – as always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Brazil Eco Tourism Paraty South America

The Complete Guide to Paraty, Brazil – Paradise is Only a Bus Ride from Rio!

October 24, 2017

Perched on the shore of Ponta Grossa, skimming its own privately-accessed beach, Happy Hammock is the perfect spot to forget all of your worries. Here, we spent two nights (which wasn’t nearly enough) checking out what Paraty has to offer and falling asleep in their name-sake hammocks…

An easy 25-minute boat ride from the colonial town of Paraty, Happy Hammock is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the two monstrous cities this sleepy town sits in the middle of.

With the ever-constant waves lapping at the shore and the distant drone of boats passing by, it’s not difficult to slip into a fabulous state of relaxation. This place is made for it!

What to do in Paraty/Ponta Grossa

With Happy Hammock as a base, guests easily avoid the trappings of local hotspots, instead having the best of Paraty practically to themselves.

We’re not ones to sit back and do nothing on holiday though and being in such a secluded spot, we had wondered if there would be enough for us to do.  Of course, we needn’t had worry – you can do as much or as little as you like there!

Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton

We’d first heard about this natural phenomena in Puerto Rico but due to the full moon during our visit (light pollution makes them much harder to spot) and the inability to actually swim with them there, we decided against paying to join a tour. It was a right decision but something I’ve wanted to do ever since.

Imagine our excitement when we found out that, directly off the dock, visitors to this Paraty guesthouse are treated to an underwater bioluminescent light show. Not only is it free but this natural marvel is literally in stumbling distance!

With someone standing guard and water that felt warmer than the air, we couldn’t resist jumping in two nights in a row. Though we were initially hesitant, all of our reservations slipped away once we put our goggled-heads in the water.

With every kick of our feet and wave of our hands, countless tiny fluorescent dots swirled around us in the darkness.

If there’s one reason you visit this region, make sure it’s this!

Wander the Historical Centre of Paraty

With its cobbled streets and historic churches, a visit to Paraty is a little like taking a step back in time. Built by the Portuguese to flood intentionally once a month (in a bid to clear out the sewerage that would have once been pushed out onto the road), the town’s whitewashed buildings and colourful front doors make for a great afternoon out.

Long gone are the garbage problems but the charm of the historical centre remains.

Hike Across to Praia Vermelha

An easy 30-minute hike from Ponta Grossa will put you out on the shores of Praia Vermelha, a pristine white-sand beach that other tourists pay top-dollar to visit on day cruises. Instead, plan to arrive before 2.30pm and you’ll have the beach practically to yourselves before the makeshift pirateships arrive.

There’s a lovely spot for lunch and though it is expensive, the servings are generous and the food tasty – a portion of fresh battered fish and a root-vegetable chips, each suggested for two, very happily went around three of us.

Relax in Paradise

With hammocks in ready supply and the sound of the waves crashing below, it’s hard to drag yourself away from the comfort of the front deck. Hummingbirds flit around as guests curl up with a good book or one of the National Geographics sitting inside.

It’s fair to say, life by the bay is pretty good.

Where to Stay in Paraty

Though I doubt it needs to be said at this stage, the Happy Hammock is hands-down the place to stay on the coast.

In some ways, this eco guesthouse is relatively simple. The showers don’t always run particularly warm (as they’re at the mercy of solar-heating, as you’d expect) and you won’t find a bedside lamp in sight. Wifi is nonexistent and and the closest accessible shop is back in town.

Honestly though, none of this is an issue – the exact opposite in fact. Happy Hammock absolutely shines in its simplicity and with Patrick at the helm, nothing is a problem.

Home cooked meals are a given and are adapted to suit the needs of his guests. The look of fear in my eyes when we were told a vegetarian meal was coming up that evening resulted in the addition of chicken for me (how sweet is that!) and when our friend Becky explained that she had a few allergies, he was careful to exclude those foods from our meals.

Snorkelling gear and a standup paddle board is available for use at no charge and the boat in and out of town is so affordable that making a trip is really isn’t a problem – why you’d want to leave is beyond me though!

If you’re looking for an international WiFi device, we highly recommend the SkyRoam. With it, you can connect up to five devices at a time and get reliable WiFi practically anywhere you can get cellphone reception, all at a low daily rate… and yes, it works at the guesthouse.

Getting to Paraty

From Rio

Easy Transfer offers reliable and surprisingly affordable transfers direct to Paraty.  Though it’s possible to get on a local bus, the transfers weren’t much more expensive and it meant we didn’t have to make our way through Rio with all of our bags.

From Ilha Grande

Again, private transfers are offered by Easy Transfer and though we found out that it would be a little cheaper to do it ourselves (after we’d purchased our ticket), we wouldn’t have saved much money.

From Sao Paulo

We made this journey in reverse (flying out of Sao Paulo) but doing so was simple. To get to Paraty from the city simply book yourself a seat on a local bus (they only offer one class but they’re comfortable enough).  We travelled from Paraty to Sao Paulo by public overnight but and then purchased a ticket for the airport bus once we reached the Sao Paulo bus terminal.  The airport bus cost practically as much as our longer journey but it got us to the airport quickly and safely.

Getting from Paraty to Ponta Grossa

Once you’re in the township, Patrick will have organised a private transfer for you on his boat. Keep an eye out for the little white boat and his skipper – he’ll make sure you, along with all your luggage, get to the guesthouse safely.  Should you wish to pop back and forth, the boat is available around the clock, with a slight surcharge for journeys made after 7pm.

Don’t Make Rio & Iguazu Your Only Stops in Brazil!

When our lovely Maria returned from Brazil singing the praises of Happy Hammock and Paraty, I was instantly convinced that this little slice of paradise deserved a spot on our travel wishlist.

Having now visited ourselves, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most relaxing places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The food, the company, the outlook – it’s all perfect.

Sure, the water in the showers doesn’t run piping hot (it is after all warmed via solar panels) and getting to the shops to pick up forgotten items isn’t the easiest of things to do, but there’s magic in its seclusion.

Though we loved Rio and Iguazu and enjoyed Ilha Grande, we wholeheartedly believe that no trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to Paraty.

Happy Hammock, Paraty; giving the happiest place on earth a run for its money since 2015.


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Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America. Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America.


Thank you to Patrick at Happy Hammock for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

October 1, 2017

Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia offers a number of world-class hikes to travellers keen to brave the elements. The most famous (and challenging) walk in the national park, the Base de las Torres (Base of the Towers) offers spectacular views amongst some of the most incredible natural scenery in the world. We took up the challenge and were rewarded a hundred times over for our efforts.

Setting off bright and early from EcoCamp, we were literally the first group on the trail, allowing us to set a comfortable pace and really soak up the morning air.  Thanks to its handy location at the start of the hike, visitors can maximise their time cuddled up in bed whilst still getting a big headstart on those coming from Puerto Natales for the day – a double bonus for our glamping crew.

“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” – Proverb

I must admit, in the days leading up to this hike I was incredibly nervous and the pink-tinged sunrise didn’t do much to set our minds at ease. Though I try my best, I’m not the fittest wahine around and even on a fair-weather day, the Towers were to present a massive challenge – both in body and mind.

Summoning a positive attitude, we began putting the kilometres behind us – something that was easily done on the flat but not so much so on the first major incline of the day.

The hike to the Towers can be divided into a few key sections, each unique from the other.

What Can You Expect on the Base of the Towers Hike?

The First Climb

After an easy warm-up on the flat, hikers are greeted with their first big climb and though there are small breaks where it evens out, for the most part it’s all uphill for a solid hour or so.  We took our time and made it up surprisingly easily but it was hard work, without doubt!

Solace

At the crest of the first incline, hikers are treated to a (gratefully received) rest. The track heads downhill towards the El Chileno campsite where, during the season, toilets are available (as is accommodation should you wish to break the hike into two days).

Not Your Average Walk in the Park

For the next two hours, the trails weaves through the forest. After the initial climb, this is an easy hike over undulating land. You’ll continue to gain elevation (so don’t get too excited about taking it easy), but in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty cruisey part of the track; even if you’ve never hiked before, you’ll manage this section fine.

The Final Push

Just after the forest clears, you’ll be greeted with the final climb to the Base of the Towers.  This hike will certainly make you earn that amazing view you’ve come for – saving the best (or worst) ’till last.

Starting with a 30-minute climb through the last of the forest, hikers approach the moraine, where the scramble begins.  On the day of our hike, there was significant snowfall in the area which meant the path that would normally be made up of rocks and boulders was practically unrecognisable.  Instead, we tentatively made up way along the line of the moraine, skirting our way over to the Towers.  Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks (but we’d love to hear from anyone who’s completed the hike without snow).

Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks.

Have you completed the hike without snow?  If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on tackling the last of the moraine!

With aching muscles but an unmistakable electricity in the air, we rounded the last bend and finally caught sight of the three towers right in front of us.  Peeking out through a veil of cloud, we couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been warned that on days like ours, hikers sometimes miss out altogether on seeing these granite monsters!

Honestly, we could not have asked for more.

Not only were we treated to the most amazing Winter-Wonderland scenery all the way up, but with a touch of blue sky, we stood marvelling at the infamous icons of Torres del Paine.

Though we were very fortunate to have the towers practically to ourselves (a privilege that would be absolutely unheard of during peak season), we had followed a set of little footprints all the way to the top.  Crossing our fingers, we’d hoped that it was a sign that we might get a glimpse of the resident fox and continuing on our lucky streak, that’s exactly what happened.

Standing under the towers, it was hard to believe that with all of our planning, dreaming and hoping, we were finally there in person.

We’d made it!

Do You Need a Guide to Climb the Towers?

Though it is physically possible to make it to the summit of the hike without the assistance of a guide, we would certainly recommend one.

Just days earlier, we’d been told about a pair of hikers who had made it almost to the end of the moraine just to have to turn back – with heavy snowfall they couldn’t find the track to continue safely through the maze of snow and under-cover boulders.  I couldn’t imagine the disappointment in getting that far only to turn away at the last hurdle.

Throughout the day our guides coaxed us along, sharing encouragement when it was needed and leading the celebrations when we’d pushed ourselves that little further than we thought possible.  They each shared a great deal of knowledge with us and knew exactly when we each needed that extra little boost.

Without our guides, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have made it to the top.

They encouraged us to walk at our own pace and step by step, we slowly chipped away at the challenge ahead of us.  We certainly didn’t break any speed records for our ascent but their patience, persistence and belief in us was invaluable.

In the middle of summer, when the path is well-worn and the snow we experienced is nowhere to be found, it would be possible to complete the hike successfully without the assistance of a guide but even then, I’d suggest booking one in.

This hike is anything but easy so why trust it to anyone but a pro?

We decided to spend our evenings relaxing in luxury at EcoCamp so booked into their ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘ – this allowed us to choose our own activities each day which included their own amazing guides.

If there’s one hike you do in Torres del Paine, make it this one!

Though the hike was difficult, with the mantra ‘slow and steady’ our whole group managed to make it up to the summit together.

Without doubt, the hike to the Towers was difficult but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

If you have the opportunity, absolutely go!

The Base of the Towers was our last stop in Torres del Paine before continuing on to the Argentinian side of PatagoniaOur one regret though?  Not making it to see the king penguins in Southern Chile!


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The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek. The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek.

Thank you to EcoCamp for hosting us on this hike.  Without doubt, we’ll never forget our experience!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

September 23, 2017

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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Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required fitness. Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required level of fitness. Is this a holiday to suit every traveller? Find out!

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on this section of the W Trek.  All thoughts are our own.

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