Browsing Category

Itineraries

Colombia Ecuador Itineraries Monthly Round-Up South America

Five Months on the Road in South America – Ecuador & Colombia

January 7, 2018

Our penultimate month in South America (that’s right, five down, only one to go!) was a welcome change from the backpacking we’ve been enjoying for the majority of our trip.  We returned to our Abu Dhabi roots and soaked in the more luxurious side of Ecuador – after all, nobody has the budget for five-star hotels for six months at a time but everyone loves a good treat every now and then!  For those of you operating on more of a budget though, don’t worry, there’s something in here to suit you too.

As always, we’re all about those ‘bucket list adventures’!

If you’re new around here, we suggest you check out our first, second, third and fourth months on the road in South America before starting on month five.

The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The highlight of our entire South America trip (and there have been lots of highlights so that’s not an easy feat) and potentially of our travelling career, our time in the Galápagos was incredible.  We’re not going to go into a tonne of detail here as there will be plenty to come, but you should know that it’s worth scrimping, saving and bending over backwards to make a cruise around this incredible islands work!

Accommodation:  7 nights aboard the MV OriginEcoventura‘s luxury ship.  Followed by 2 nights at Casa de Jeimy in a private room @ USD22.40 each/night (NZD31.55) on San Cristobal.

Activities:  Incredible animals and nature galore!  If there’s one place in the world where you can see a massive range of animals in their natural habitat, the Galápagos is it.  We swam with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, reef sharks and marble rays.  We also got up close and personal with massive land iguanas, tortoises, whales, hummingbirds and my favourite, the beautiful boobies, all whilst relaxing on a luxury vessel with the most fabulous guests and staff.

We also intentionally checked out a day trip (as lots of the backpackers we’ve met along the way have talked about them as a cheaper alternative).  To be frank though, it didn’t compare, even remotely.  If you’re able to, we really would recommend saving more and getting yourself aboard a ship to see the outer islands.

Onwards travel to Quito:  Flying TAME from San Cristobal (SCY) to Quito (UIO) for USD193.30 each (NZD269.75).  It’s important to note that Ecuadorian’s get a discount on flights – don’t tick this box unless you’re eligible for the discount, otherwise you will be denied boarding.

Quito, Ecuador

The capital city of Ecuador sprawls out from North to South but it’s the historic town centre where you’ll want to spend most of your time.  Though the traffic is, at times, a real nightmare, we enjoyed spending a few days in the city.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Casa Gangotena.  Absolutely old-school charm, this hotel is a must in the city if you’re looking to splurge.

Activities:  A guided tour that took us through a local neighbourhood within Quito, showing us a side of the city that few visitors get to experience.  It was followed by a visit to the most iconic spots in the historic centre and the most fabulous museum.  If you’re in Quito, we highly recommend this alternative walking tour, ‘Live Quito like a local‘.

Onwards travel to Mashpi:  Organised by Mashpi Lodge – we joined a mini-bus of other guests, stopping at a local museum on the way.

Mashpi, Ecuador

Having already immersed ourselves into the jungle in Peru, we knew we wanted another experience along the same line.  Masphi offered the opportunity to do exactly that, but this time in the lap of absolute luxury in the cloud forest.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Mashpi Lodge – a National Geographic “Unique Lodge of the World”.  As you’d expect, it was absolutely incredible!

Activities:  Night cloud forest walks, a ride on their very own cable car (known as the ‘dragonfly’) and their skybike, along with hikes to cascading waterfalls, hummingbird spotting, toucan sightings and more.

Onwards travel to Baños:  Mashpi Lodge took us back to Quito and from there, we boarded a bus to Baños for USD4.40 each (NZD6.15).  We got our ticket at the Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe and jumped on the next available bus – they run frequently, all day.

Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

The adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños was always a must-see in Ecuador as far as we were concerned.  We loved it so much that we spent a full week there checking out all this vibrant little town had to offer.

Accommodation:  7 nights in a private room at Hostal Princesa Maria @ USD10.50 each/night (NZD14.80).  A quiet hostel, as long as you ask for a room upstairs.  Victor was an incredibly friendly host!  He didn’t speak a great deal of English but was happy to go out of his way to help.

Activities:  Our hostel organised for us to go whitewater rafting (USD20/NZD27.90 each) and canyoning (USD25/NZD34.90 each) with Expediciones Amazónicas – both were great fun and excellent value for money.  The team also had high-quality gear and well-trained, English speaking guides.

We also took local buses around town – we went up to Casa Del Arbol where we swung at the end of the world and also visited Pailon del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron – a stunning waterfall).

Onwards travel to Latacunga:  Again, buses are easy to organise on the day.  We caught the bus from Baños to the turn-off (a big roundabout) of Latacunga – just be sure to let the attendant know that you want to get off at Latacunga and he’ll point it out to you.  From there, taxi’s will take you into town (no more than USD4).  Unfortunately, I lost our receipt but the bus Quito-Latacunga was only a couple of US dollars each.

Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Though we weren’t planning on hiking in Ecuador, we decided to make a move to the Quilotoa Loop for Christmas, rather than spend another week in Baños (though we did love it there!)

We caught a local bus in the morning from Latacunga to Sigchos (USD2.30/NZD3.20) each and from there, hiked to our next stop for the following three days.

At the conclusion of the hike, we made the decision not to stay in Quilotoa (though it looked like a great little spot on top of the mountain), instead catching a ride with in ute back to Zumbahua (USD2 per person) and then a bus to Latacunga (another few dollars).

Accommodation:  3 nights in total across the loop in the following spots:

Activities:  Hiking, hiking and more hiking!  We hiked from each location to the next, always with the fabulous new friends we made on the loop.  Compared to the scenery we’ve seen on other hikes (and let’s face it, we’ve been spoilt by Patagonia and Peru), it wasn’t as spectacular but the people we met really made the trip!

Onwards travel to Bogata:  We were planning to catch a bus (all 34 hours of it!) but when it sold out, some of our new friends very kindly came to the rescue and helped us by letting us fly standby with them.  The flights are expensive normally so if you’re planning on taking one, definitely book in advance.  Alternatively, if you do plan on catching the bus, Cruz del Sur will take you all the way through (which was our preference to save on accommodation and lugging our gear from bus to bus), or you can take a combination of local buses (which would be cheaper but would take much longer).

Bogota, Colombia

After five months of travelling, all we’ve ever heard people do it rave about Colombia!  After a night in Bogota, I must admit, we were starting to wonder why.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the city (in fact it was nice to get back to the bright lights again), but it just didn’t wow us.  Rio?  You bet!  Lima?  What a pleasant surprise.  Bogota?  Aside from the gorgeous street art, it didn’t do a lot for us.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 5-bed mixed dorm at Hostel Casa 32 DC @ USD7 each/night (NZD9.75).  The beds were comfortable but the bathrooms and kitchen were an absolute mess (and I’m not the cleanest person in the world, so that’s saying something!).  The people were lovely so it’s a pity that we can’t really recommend this hostel.  On the upside though, it was cheap!

Activities:  We joined the Bogota Graffiti Tour which was a fabulous way to see the more authentic side of Colombia’s capital city – it’s a tips only tour and certainly something we’d recommend doing whilst in town (just book online ahead of time if possible).

Onwards travel to Salento:  We caught a local mini-bus from Bogota to Armenia and then on to Salento.  It was straightforward but we learnt a few lessons on the way.  If you’re making the journey, we have full instructions for you here.

Salento, Colombia

A colourful little colonial town, buzzing with New Years excitement, wax palm trees reaching high into the sky, coffee plantations and hummingbirds buzzing around – what’s not to love about beautiful Salento?

Accommodation:  3 nights in a private room at Walker’s House Hostel.

Activities:  We hiked the Cocora Valley, completing the full loop (starting at the fish farm, taking in the hummingbirds and finishing with the palms).  It was a full day and relatively challenging due to the massive amount of rain they got the night before (and unbelievably muddy conditions) but it was well worth it.  Rides out to the Valley (and back) are COP3,800 each way (USD 1.30/NZD1.80 per person), the fish farm is COP3,000 each (USD 1.05/NZD1.45 including a bag of food), entrance to the park itself is COP2,000 (USD0.70/NZD0.95) and the hummingbirds are COP5,000 each (USD1.70/NZD2.50 which includes a drink).  Food and drinks are available at a few different points on the walk but we packed sandwiches and drinks to take with us, making for a reasonably cheap day out!

Onwards travel to Medellín:  Again, we bused but this time on a direct service which made life so much easier!  COP47,000 (USD15.75/NZD22.15) was all it cost us and full instructions can be found in our guide.

Medellín, Colombia

Ah, beautiful Medellín!  Colombia’s second largest city really is a world away from Bogota and an easy place to spend a fair amount of time in!

Accommodation:  1 night in a 4-bed dorm at the Samarian Hostel @ COP23,300 each/night (USD7.95/NZD11.20) with lovely travellers (but small rooms and cold showers!) before moving into a 5-bed dorm at BlackPine Hostel @ COP33,300each/night (USD11.35/NZD16) for 7 nights.  We loved BlackPine – a great location, clean and tidy, comfortable beds and awesome staff.

Activities:  Paragliding with DragonFLY (normally COP130,000) – absolutely amazing!  We also toured both Comuna 13 and La Sierra in what were memorable and interesting visits (COP70,000 each, all inclusive).

Finally, we headed out to Guatape with VIT Escobar Paintball and though we wanted to love our day, practically everything that could go wrong, did!  I’m sure a normal tour with them is great, but when things go wrong, they really do and for this reason, I’m not sure we could recommend them (more on this soon).  Guatape is lovely though and well worth a visit, either with another company or independently on the bus.

Onwards travel to Cartagena:  Flight with VivaColombia from Medellín to Cartagena.  Though we’re flying with a discount carrier, we have a fair few bags now (those llama blankets were too hard to ignore) so we’ve paid COP260,291 (USD89.60/NZD125.05) each.  This will be our last flight before leaving South America behind!

… and that’s all for another month!

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Always preload maps onto your phone.  I generally do but occasionally I forget.  We got a reality check in Quito though where we had no choice but to get into an unmarked, unregistered taxi.  Initially, the driver said he knew where he was going but 1/3 of the way into the trip he kept asking if we did (even though he had working sat nav).  We realised at that point in time, how vulnerable we were – for all we knew, he was driving us in the opposite direction in the dead of the night (as he continually said ‘two people, two people’ on the phone in Spanish…  I was terrified we were about to be mugged!  Had we had our maps loaded, we’d have been able to follow along on our phones and the ride would have been much more pleasant.
  • Long-term travel is tiring!  I’m not sure if it’s just because the end is near or because we’ve picked up the speed of our travel but we’re pretty tired now.  We’re making sure to allow ourselves some ‘down days’ where we just vege out because at this stage, we need them!

It’s hard to believe our time here is coming to an end.  With a month to go, we’re starting to think about jobs, housing and life back in New Zealand but the fun’s not over just yet… stay tuned for the rest of our Colombian itinerary along with San Francisco and Hawaii in the US.

Check out our Recent Posts

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

Salento Travel Guide: Buses to/from Medellín and Bogota

Comuna 13: Touring What Was Medellín’s Most Dangerous District

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile & Argentina

Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil

Three Months on the Road in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru

Four Months on the Road in South America – Peru & Ecuador

Ecuador Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Four Months on the Road in South America – Peru & Ecuador

December 17, 2017

A little over four months in and a little less than two months to go on this massive, diverse continent!  It’s hard to really comprehend just how much we’ve seen but at the same time, the more we speak to other travellers, the more we realise there is to see.

With flights home booked though, all good things must come to an end, so you can bet we’re making the most of the next couple of months.

As always, this post is designed to give you practical tips for your travels through Peru (and the Galapagos) – information regarding costings, transport, accommodation and activities – it’s all in there.

Isn’t it time you began planning your adventure through South America?

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first, second and third months we spent in South America first.

Puerto Maldanado (the Gateway to the Amazon), Peru

An easy overnight bus (or short flight) from Cusco, Puerto Maldanado is the closest jumping-off point to the Peruvian Amazon.  A visit to the Amazon was always a ‘must-do’ in our eyes and as we made new friends and explored the jungle, there was no doubt we made the right choice in visiting.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a private bungalow at Amazon Planet.  We joined them for the ‘Native Program’ but they have a range of options available – all including food, basic drinks, a guide and activities.  The accommodation itself was comfortable (but not lux) – exactly what you’d hope for in the Amazon.

Activities:  Night jungle treks, boat floats, a visit to a local tribe and plenty of hammock-time, the activities at Amazon Planet were varied and interesting whilst still providing enough downtime in the heat of the day.  Read about our first Amazon experience here.

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Another night, another bus.  This time we paid PEN40 (USD12.35/NZD17.85) each for a salon cama seat (the equivalent of business class on a plane) on Superciva but weren’t quite as impressed.  The toilets were smelly from the moment we stepped aboard and the snacks were very basic.  If Excluciva is running that night, you can definitely expect a much improved service for only PEN10 more – with that said though, there’s not much to do in the centre of Puerto Maldanado so we wouldn’t consider staying an extra night to catch the nicer bus.

Cusco, Peru

With Macchu Pichu behind us, we had a few last activities and hikes to tick off in Cusco before moving on.  A uniquely beautiful city, and one that we came to know fairly well, it was a pleasure spending more time in the cultural capital of Peru.

Accommodation:  Though we enjoyed the first hostel we stayed in, Magic Cusco, it was a little out of town, so upon our return we decided to check another option out – Magicpacker Hostel.  They’ve got a great range of bed configurations available and it’s another example of a perfect social-but-not-party hostel – just what you need after a long day of trekking.  4-bed mixed dorm @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.80/NZD15.60) – fabulous hot showers and the biggest TV you’ve ever seen (running Netflix) included!  Don’t miss their PEN10 optional dinners too – it was one of the best meals we had in Cusco and not much more than USD3.

Activities:

Via Ferrata and Zipline

High above the Sacred Valley you’ll find the Skylodge Adventure Suites.  These infamous glass pods are attached to the cliff, providing brave guests with a chance to sleep under the stars in one of the most unique locations imaginable… unfortunately for us though, we weren’t the only ones that thought this sounded like a good idea – the pods were booked solid for months!

If, like us, you’re unable to spend an evening in the pod, there’s a great alternative available in the form of a day trip.  Geared up, you’ll climb over 400 metres, above the glass lodge and then zipline your way down through 6 different exciting lines; if you’re in reasonable shape it’s easily achievable (and the via ferrata can be substituted for a hike up should you prefer).

Humantay Lagoon Hike

A relatively easy hike, Humantay is one not to be missed!  For those not keen on the uphill hike, horses are available for a reasonable cost.

Rainbow Mountain Hike (Take One)

Before visiting, we’d heard a lot about the hike to Rainbow Mountain – some saying it was a must-see from Cusco whilst others said the colours are nothing like the over-saturated ones you’ll see floating around the city as touts try to book travellers on tours.

Keen to find out for ourselves (but not so keen to experience the altitude sickness we’d heard so much about) we’d initially joined the alternative trek which gets hikers much, much closer to the top of an different mountain in the same range.  Hikers here only have to walk for 45 minutes up (and 20 down) and have the space practically to themselves.

Unfortunately for us though, the mountains saw one of their first snows of the season which meant our private tour couldn’t even make it to the carpark, let alone to the infamous rainbow.  Instead, we spent the day checking out local historical sites and an awe-inspiring canyon.  Sure, it wasn’t what we went to see, but the canyon did go a way towards making up for that.

Would we recommend the alternative Rainbow Mountain trip?  As long as the weather is clear, absolutely!  At this point in time though, there is no way for tour providers to check the conditions up the top of the mountain – this means that some guests will find themselves on a long car ride (at a relatively high price compared with the original Rainbow Mountain) that results in a distinct lack of rainbow at the end of it all.

Rainbow Mountain (Take Two!)

Returning to Rainbow Mountain, but this time the original version, I had another crack at making it to the top and this time was successful!  With the help of a horse (for PEN60/USD18.20/NZD26) and a bit of trekking, I summited in time to soak in the incredible views.

Though some rave about Rainbow Mountain, the valley that it sits within really is just as incredible and well worth a visit.  Glaciers hang not far from the summit, the Red Valley peeks out from around the corner and, of course, the rainbow coloured mountainside takes pride of place.

Onwards travel to Arequipa:  Rejoining Peru Hop we travelled overnight, leaving Cusco late and arriving into Arequipa in the early hours.  Our Peru Hop tickets were organised ahead of time in a package so none of our travel with them had a standalone price.  If this is your first time in South America or you’re just looking for an extra touch of safety, comfort and convenience (sounds good, doesn’t it?), they’re the way to go.

Don’t take our word for it – Find out what another traveller thought of the Peru Hop experience too.

Arequipa, Peru

With our plans to hike the Colca Canyon dashed thanks to a couple of head colds that we just couldn’t shake, for us, Arequipa became a place for some serious R&R.

The town itself is gorgeous and a significant departure from the hustle and bustle of Cusco so it ended up being a great place to spend some time.  They have plenty of pubs and little restaurants serving up great food at reasonable prices and some beautiful old architecture, so it’s definitely a spot that deserves more time than the quick connection some give it.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a six-bed mixed dorm at Flying Dog Arequipa @ PEN26 each/night (USD7.80/NZD11.30)

Activities:  Known for it’s relative proximity to the Colca Canyon and for affordable and fun rafting, there’s plenty of reasons to stop for a few nights in the city – both to enjoy the outdoors and the lovely township of Arequipa.

Onwards travel to Huacachina, Ica:  Peru Hop once again.

Huacachina, Peru

A mega-touristy little town, built around South America’s only natural oasis, we didn’t really know what to expect upon our arrival.  We’d been warned off staying there over the weekend due to the all-consuming noise that emanates from a few of the bars so intentionally planned our stay to avoid Friday and Saturday night.  In doing so, we found Huazachina to be a surprisingly charming place to spend a night – yes it’s set up for tourists but sometimes there’s no harm in that.

Accommodation:  1 night in a 10-bed mixed dorm at the Wild Olive Guest House @ PEN29.65 each/night (USD9/NZD12.85).  A great hostel with comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, great showers and a massive Netflix-playing television – our favourite hostel in Peru.

Activites:  After relaxing around the oasis, we hit the desert for some serious dune bashing and sandboarding fun (booked through Peru Hop at PEN50/USD15/NZD21.45 each).

Onwards travel to Paracas (via Nazca):  Good ol’ Peru Hop to the rescue again – this was a long day on the bus but thankfully it was broken up with a few strategic stops (lunch with a view and a quick look at some of the Nazca Lines).

Though we didn’t take to the air, we’ve heard great things about jumping on a Nazca fight to see the Nazca Lines in all their glory!  If you have the time and the money, it sounds like it would be a great addition to your itinerary.

Paracas, Peru

A quiet little seaside town, Paracas is home to a national park and is one of the best place to break the long journey from Huacachina to Lima.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm (one of which we were alone and the other there were four of us) at Los Frayles @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.10/NZD13).  Though we didn’t use it, the property has a lovely pool and Peru Hop’s passenger discount means you get a much nicer hotel for the price of a hostel.

Activites:  Quad bike tours of the national park are available, as is paragliding off of the sand dunes.  We relaxed for a couple of days choosing only to join Peru Hop’s free tour out to the park.

Bolivia Brazil Chile Itineraries Monthly Round-Up Peru South America

Three Months on the Road in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru

November 13, 2017

Another month in South America is behind us and for the life of me, I don’t know where the time’s going!

As we have in previous months, this post is designed to give you a summary of our recent adventures and help those of you considering a similar trip plan your route and budget.

We’re a bit late on getting this month out so let’s not mess around – here goes!

If this is the first monthly round-up you’ve read, you may like to check out itinerary and costings for the first and second month we spend in South America first.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Not much more than a stone’s throw from Rio, Ilha Grande is an island lying just off the coast.  Boasting gorgeous beaches (though due to the lack of beautiful sunshine, we didn’t manage to see them at their best), it’s a great option for some R&R.

Accommodation:  3 nights in a 6-bed dorm at Hostel Refugio @ BLR45 each/night (USD13.70/NZD19.80).  A good hostel with a substantial breakfast included.  A little walk out of town but as the centre is so small, it really isn’t far from the action.

Activities:  We booked a day trip island hopping out to Paradise Island and back along Ilha Grande through Equipe Athos (and were put on a boat with Tubarão Tour).  We were promised snorkelling gear and when it was withheld from us and we were instead greeted by a fairly aggressive skipper, it’s fair to say the day soured.  Most of the spots we visited were over-crowded and as snorkelling was the main aim of our day, it’s fair to say it was a pretty big disappointment – at least we had our friends with us to make the day a good one!

Onwards travel to Paraty:  We booked a private transfer for BRL50 each (USD15.35/NZD22.10) whilst on the boat heading over to Ilha Grande (with Easy Transfer).  In retrospect, we could have arranged our own transfer ourselves but with absolutely no Portuguese and limited time, we were happy with our decision.

Paraty, Brazil

Our own private paradise, we stayed just out of the colonial centre of Paraty in a secluded bay, accessible only by boat.

Though we visited both Ilha Grande and Paraty, in our opinion one would generally be sufficient.  We personally liked the laidback nature of Paraty and would pick it as our preference between the two spots.

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse (dorms are also available).  Transfers in and out of the guesthouse are organised by Patrick and the team – contact them for further details.  Happy Hammock was a real highlight of our time in Brazil!

Activities:  From the guesthouse, we popped out on a number of free excursions – a hike to the neighbouring beach for lunch, swimming, snorkelling at night with bioluminescent plankton (wow!) and a day trip to the historical centre of Paraty.  Not to mention all that hammock time!

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Public night bus from Paraty to Sao Paulo on Reunidas Paulista (BRL92.60/USD28.25/NZD40.80 each) and then a flight from Sao Paulo to La Paz on Boliviana de Aviacion (BRL821/USD250.45/NZD361.85 each).

La Paz, Bolivia

We’d heard mixed things about La Paz – it seems it’s a place people love or hate.

Fortunately, we loved it!  It’s a little grimy and a little mad but it’s got a whole lot of character and a neat buzz about it.

Accommodation:  3 nights at House Wonderful @ BOB60 (USD8.30/NZD12) each/night.  The reviews online for this hostel were fantastic but unfortunately, reality didn’t match for us – when we returned to La Paz we found a different (and much better) place to stay so couldn’t really recommend a stay at Hostel Wonderful.

Activities:

Death Road Biking

The main reason for our visit to La Paz, the Death Road did not disappoint!  Hurtling down what used to be the most dangerous road in the world is not for the faint of heart but those that give it a go are rewarded with a tremendous sense of achievement.  We’re yet to meet anyone who’s done it and didn’t love it!  We rode with Barracuda and unreservedly recommend them.  BOB570 each (USD82.50/NZD119.15).

Red Cap Walking Tour

Walking tours can be a great way to help find your feet in a new city and with Bolivia’s intriguing political history, we decided to explore the city with the help of a local.  Red Cap are professional and affordable and do a great job of showing off the diversity of this unique city.  BOB20 each (USD3/NZD4.30) plus a tip (and please do remember to tip, otherwise the guides don’t get paid).

Onwards travel to Uyuni:  We’d heard horror stories about the night buses down the line so jumped at the opportunity to pick up reasonably priced flights.  Boliviana de Aviación (BOA) @ BOB536 each (USD77.55/NZD112).

Uyuni (& the Salt Flats), Bolivia

The jumping-off point to the world-renowned Bolivian Salt Flats, Uyuni doesn’t offer a great deal to travellers but its surrounding area certainly does.  Let me put it this way, nobody ventures down to Uyuni for the town itself.

Accommodation:  1 night in a triple room at La Rocka @ BOB50 each/night (USD7.20/NZD10.40).  The rooms here were comfortable but the toilets weren’t kept particularly clean – more a reflection of the few other guests staying there but not very pleasant all the same.  For the price though, we were happy enough.

Activites:  We booked a 3-night/4-day tour of the Salt Flats with Jukil de los Andes and were very happy with our decision. The addition of an additional night (most people seem to book 2n/3d) meant we got a lot more time on the Salt Flats and our volcano climb provided us with the most amazing views out over the flats.  Salt flats, train graveyards, cactus islands, volcanoes, lagoons, flamingos galore and more – these tours are diverse and so, so much fun.

Onwards travel to San Pedro:  The tour dropped us at the border between Bolivia and Chile and included a mini-van transfer into the city at no additional charge.

Arica, Chile

A quick stop on our way further north, Arica is a lovely seaside city.  Their weather is nice, the people are friendly and though we didn’t spend much time exploring, we did get a good feeling from the town.

Accommodation: 1 nights in a private room at Residencial Tres Soles @ ARS202.50 each/night (USD11.60/NZD16.40)

Onwards travel to La Paz:  Local bus @ CLP8,000 each (USD12.65/NZD18.25) including a delicious lunch – the first proper lunch we’ve been served on a bus (and still, the only one to date!)

La Paz, Bolivia

Our second visit to La Paz, this time we weren’t there to tick off activities but to recharge our batteries and soak up the city.  Our newfound hostel was a big improvement on the last one so we’d definitely recommend staying there.

Accommodation:  2 nights at Landscape – International B&B in a private double room @ BOB67.37 each/night (USD9.75/NZD14)

Activites:  We caught the red cablecar up to the El Alto markets (BOB3 per person/per ride) and though it was a way to fill the time, it really didn’t compare to the Chichi Markets in Guatemala.  The markets are worth a visit if you’ve got time on your hands but, to be honest, we preferred the tourist markets in the middle of town… that is unless you’re in the market for car parts, badly-made knock-off clothing and general household supplies!

Onwards travel to CopacabanaBolivia Hop.  This is a great service provided for travellers – for a set price, they’ll generally pick you up from your accommodation and will drop you at your next home-away-from-home.  We picked up the full pass which includes our transport all the way from La Paz, Bolivia through to Lima, Peru (with the exception of one side trip up to the Amazon).

Copacabana, Bolivia

A cute little lakeside town, Copacabana doesn’t offer a heck of a lot more than relaxation but it does it well.  It’s a nice place to spend a night or two and due to its size, it’s super easy to get around by foot.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Hostal 6 de Agosto @ BRL40 each/night (USD5.75/NZD8.30).  Basic accommodation but good value for the price – we had a private bathroom with warm(ish) water and relatively comfortable beds – be sure to take singles for everyone in your group though as the double beds weren’t as good.

ActivitesAfternoon trip to Isla del Sol.  We caught the Bolivia Hop ferry over to what was known as the birthplace of the sun during Inca times.  The island itself was beautiful but the one hike from our dropoff point to that of collection was relatively quick – if you’re interested in seeing the island properly, we’d probably suggest spending a night there.  BOB70 (USD10.15/NZD14.65)

Onwards travel to Puno:  Bolivia Hop – they collected us from the big white anchor statue on the lakefront.

Puno, Peru

Puno was so much bigger than we’d expected!  It’s not a particularly memorable city but did have a busy main street serving up reasonable food (a ‘tourist menu’ will get you three courses for approximately PEN20 (USD6.15/NZD8.90) and it serves its purpose well, acting as the jumping off point to the floating islands.

Accommodation:  1 night in a private room at Suite Independencia @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.25/NZD13.35).  This was a special price availed through our Bolivia Hop passes.

ActivitesAfternoon visit to Uros.  Here we visited locals living as they have for generations (more or less) on floating islands made of reeds.  I’m not entirely sure what I made of the experience to be honest – although the islands themselves were intriguing and we snapped some lovely photos we did feel very much like we were only welcome on the island if we spent up large.  As with any experience like this, I would have much more interest in interacting with the locals than simply being seen as an ATM.  Would I recommend others to visit?  Probably, as I do think I’d have been disappointed if I’d not experienced the community for myself, but I’m not 100% sold on the experience.  We’ll let you make up your own mind.  PEN35 each (USD10.80/NZD15.60).

Onwards travel to Cusco:  Good ol’ Bolivia Hop, by way of an overnight bus.  Once we arrived into Cusco, they organised taxis to take us to our individual hostels.

Cusco, Peru

The cultural capital of Peru, Cusco offers travellers so much – delicious food, unique cultural sites, unbeatable trekking and lots of adventure – it’s hard to tear yourself away!

Accommodation:  2 nights in a private room at Magic Cusco Hostel, followed by a break to visit Machu Picchu and another night upon our return.  PEN20 each/night (USD6.15/NZD8.90).  I returned from Machu Picchu unwell and Esperanza very kindly let me sleep throughout the day at no extra charge.  She doesn’t speak a great deal of English but was very patient with us and incredibly kind.  Though the hostel’s a little way out of town, Uber is cheap and it’s worth staying out of the city to experience her hospitality (and to get a real duvet – oh my goodness!)

Activities:

Machu Picchu

Though there are plenty of reasons to visit Cusco, Machu Picchu really is the grand-daddy of them all.  This incredible site reveals more and more of its secrets each year but so much is still unknown.

There are numerous ways of getting to this historic site, from a comfy train to challenging, multi-day treks.  We opted for something in the middle – what we would consider the most exciting way to get to Machu Picchu – the Inca Jungle Trek.

We booked through Peru Andean Hop where our fee of USD240 each (PEN778/NZD348.45) included mountain biking, rafting, ziplining, accommodation for three nights, guides, food, transfers, entrance to Machu Picchu (along with a guided tour of the site) and the train back.

After biking, rafting, zip-lining and hiking our way to Machu Picchu (part of it along the original Inca Trail) we opted to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu (lining up from 3.30am – ouch!) for USD12 each.  It was a fairly costly bus ride but considering we arrived at the top feeling fresh and in time to make our 6.10am tour, it was well worth it.  At the end of our visit, we hiked our way back down the steps and our choice was totally reaffirmed – there’s no way I would have made it up all those steps at 5am!

With a new timing system recently introduced, we picked up some helpful tips (and almost came undone in the process) – stay tuned for our Machu Picchu post where we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.

Onwards travel to Puerto Maldonado (the Amazon):  After returning to Cusco and spending a night recuperating, we caught a night bus (the best salon cama we’ve experienced so far!) with Excluciva @ PEN50 each (USD15.40/NZD22.25).

Lessons Learnt on the Road

  • Toilet paper is not a given.  We’ve found hostels and guesthouses in the cities supply toilet paper but as soon as you get out of a city, it’s not guaranteed.  We’ve always travelled with a little toilet paper as a backup but here it is sometimes an absolute necessity.
  • Hot showers in Bolivia aren’t always so hot.  Most showers in Bolivia employ a little electric water heater right on the shower-head.  Aside from the risk of electrocution, they’re unreliable at the best of times.
  • You do get used to putting your toilet paper in the bin!  I didn’t think it would happen, but it kind of has.
  • Bouncing around different currencies is difficult.  Even as I write this, I find it hard to convert between Soles and Bolivianos – thank goodness for XE.
  • We can afford to eat out again!  Bolivia and Peru are both significantly cheaper than our original destinations (Chile, Argentina and Brazil) so we can finally afford to eat out.  A good sized meal can cost as little as PEN8-12 each (USD2.45-3.70) if you look in the right places and even less in Bolivia.  We had initially planned on cooking for ourselves sometimes but we’ve actually found it really difficult to source fresh meat here so it’s not happening at this stage.

I remember when Machu Picchu felt like a distant thought on our Latin American journey so to not only have visited but to have it behind us now feels totally surreal.  We have lots more excitement on the horizon though with some more amazing hikes in Peru lined up and the most amazing cruise through the Galapagos.

Sometimes it’s hard not to pinch ourselves!

Check out our Recent Posts

EcoCamp Patagonia – Reviewing Torres del Paine’s Bucket-List Glamping

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

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

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

Our Previous Months on the Road

A Month on the Road in South America – Chile and Argentina

Two Months on the Road in South America – Chile, Argentina & Brazil


Planning your own trip to South America?  Pin this post to come back to it…

Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru. Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road. The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil. Your guide to South America - Brazil, Bolivia, Chile & Peru. Accommodation, transport, activities and costings for everything from Machu Picchu to the Death Road. The Salt Flats to the beaches of Brazil.


Some of the links above are affiliate links.  By clicking through and booking your accommodation, we will receive a small payment at no extra charge to you.  We appreciate your support!

Europe France Itineraries Paris Western Europe

La Ville Lumière: An Essential Travel Guide to Paris

August 19, 2017

One of the first cities in the world to get electricity, Paris was quickly dubbed the City of Lights (La Ville Lumière) and has since become synonymous with romance, with people travelling the world over to spend time in the City of Love.

Paris can be somewhat polarising too though.  Before our visit, I must admit, neither Nathan nor I placed Paris at the top of our must-see list before moving on from Europe – quite the opposite in fact.  Nathan had very little interest in seeing the French capital and though I wanted to, it was largely to set eyes on some of the iconic monuments and to make up my own mind once and for all about the city.

So, with our visit to Paris behind us, did it live up to the hype or fall flat?

It certainly did – and then some!

We fell in love with Paris’ architecture and iconic monuments, found Parisians to be incredibly warm and inviting and had a ball just walking around soaking everything up.  It’s not every day most people get to just meander around Paris!


What to See and Do in Paris

Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a mental list of many of the top spots you’ll want to visit.

That being said, there are literally hundreds of fantastic city guides already out there (like this amazing Parisian walking guide from our very own Nadine) so we don’t intend to go into a massive amount of detail.

We really enjoyed everything we saw and did in Paris though and recommend you check out all of the following spots…

Disneyland Paris

The city’s very own happiest place on earth also happens to be chock-full of crowds if you hit it at the same time of year as us.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited we experienced a number of ride shut-downs and temporary malfunctions but even with those challenges it was worth a visit.  There’s nowhere like Disney to experience a touch of magic.


Wander through Montmartre

A beautiful part of town (and close to our first accommodation, Le Village – a great budget option), Montemartre is home to a range of shops, restaurants and cafes and just at the end of the district, the infamous Moulin Rouge.  Here, at the birthplace of the can-can, talented performers sing and dance every day.  The show isn’t cheap but we’ve been assured it’s well worth the money if your budget will stretch… and if not, the iconic exterior of the building still makes for an awesome photo!


Sacré-Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris)

Perched high atop the summit of the butte Montmartre, this Roman Catholic church provides unparalleled views out over Paris from the highest natural vantage point in the city.  Should you choose, you’re able to tour the church, or do as we did and enjoy its gorgeous architecture from the outside and the sound of talented buskers serenading the crowd.


Enjoy Some Macarons

There’s not much better than a macaron in Paris – trust us!  Though Ladurée are known for their sweet treats we have it on good authority that they’re not actually the best in town.  Skip the crazy lines and instead head to one of the Pierre Hermé stores where you’ll find the most incredibly chewy, flavourful macarons you could ever wish for.

Alternatively, if you’re wanting to learn how to make an ever-lasting supply of macarons for yourself, you can learn from the master himself, Jean Yves.  The winner of Masterchef France (both for the macaron challenge and the overall competition), he’ll talk you through all of the intricacies of making these delicious but challenging biscuits.


The Eiffel Tower

If there’s one place that really doesn’t need an introduction, it’s this beauty!  With tickets available both on the day and online (just buy a few days ahead of time and skip the lines – something we can highly recommended having wasted hours in lines!)

You’ll have the choice of two different access levels and the ability to climb the stairs or hop in a lift to save your legs.  We decided to climb to the main viewing platform as the line was much shorter for this than it was for the lifts – it’s a fair climb but absolutely manageable with a little time and a bottle of water.


Soak Up the Seine

The Seine River flows gently through Paris, offering beautiful views from its many bridges.  Sadly the Pont des Arts (once known for its ‘love locks’) has had its locks removed but if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find other bridges in the area still proudly displaying their symbols of everlasting love in the city.

Not far from the Seine, you’ll also find Notre-Dame de Paris.  Lined with the most incredibly detailed sculptures, it’s a testament, both to art and religion.


Le Louvre

Home to some of the most coveted fine art in the world (and one of the most famous pyramids anywhere, with exception of the originals), the Louve isthe Louve is the cultural centre of this amazing city.  Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without

Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without doubt – even without stepping foot inside the galleries.


Arc de Triomphe – The best views in Paris!

As with the Eiffel Tower, tickets can be purchased in advance for the Arc de Triomphe and it’s well worth doing.  We felt a little like royalty whizzing past everyone in line, heading straight to the top of the tower!

The stairs are narrow and winding but the views from the top are spectacular and I’d go as far as to say, they offer the best vantage point of the Eiffel Tower anywhere.  If you’re able to plan your visit to coincide with sunset, I can imagine you’d be rewarded with the most incredible photos!


What to Watch For – Don’t get scammed

Though Paris is gorgeous, there are a fair few scams around.  Keep your eyes peeled and hang onto your money so you can really enjoy this city!

  • You’ll notice people (generally middle-aged women) walking around with clipboards asking you to sign your name.  Sometimes these people will pretend to be deaf, other times they’ll approach you with perfect English – whatever the case, they’ll ask you to sign your name (assuring you that’s all they want) before then pushing you into making a ‘donation’ – by which point you’ve signed your name to the fact that you will donate to their cause (and may have quietly been pick-pocketed).  Inevitably, the money doesn’t ever go past their own pockets.
  • Around key points, you’ll notice men offering to tie threads of cotton around the wrists of tourists.  Again, they’ll start by hooking you in with a ‘bracelet’ and will then separate you from your group and pressure you into paying for this ‘service’.  Should the payment be too low, they’ve been known to cut the cotton off and march off, money in hand regardless.
  • The final scam we spotted around the city involves a fair bit of organisation.  Always on cardboard boxes or the ground (which we later witnessed, allows for a quick getaway from the police), a person will pop a few cups down.  Soon someone steps up, offering money to guess which cup the ball is sitting under.  The game goes on with more and more people joining – money starts to change hands very quickly (€50+ at a time, we’re not playing here) and of course the majority are seen to win.  Next, you’ll find yourself invited to play what looks like a sure-thing – only nothing could be further from the truth.  We stood back and watched one of these ‘games’ from the start where it became very clear that all of the initial players who stepped into the game over a period of ten minutes were in on it.  By all means, watch if you’d like (or quietly warn people off if you’d like) but don’t hand over a cent of your money.

How to Get Around

Within the City

Paris is incredibly well serviced by the metro.  It is in fact, one of the densest metro-systems anywhere in the world, with a whopping 245 stations all within 87 square kilometres.  Thanks to this, it covers a large part of the city, is affordable and easy to travel on.

The metro is normally open from about 5.30am until 12.40am from Sunday until Thursday (perfect for your CDG Airport transfers as you’ll see below) and from 5.30am and 1.40am on Fridays, Saturdays and on days before a public holiday.

Should you need to, you can supplement your metro tickets with buses, taxis or do as we did and walk from place to place – sure, it’ll take longer but you’re there to see Paris after all!

To and From the Airports

Charles de Gaulle

If you’re arriving in Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Paris’ main airport, simply follow the signs towards the train and catch the RER B, getting off at Paris Nord.  Trains leave every 7-15 minutes and will take approximately half an hour.  They run from 5am until midnight, the journey itself is very comfortable and when you get off the train, you’ll find yourself at the metro for easy onward travel.

For journeys back to the airport, follow these instructions in reverse but remember to allow yourself plenty of time to check in as it can be a busy airport.

Beauvais

If you’re flying on a budget carrier, you may find yourself flying in or out of BVA Airport.  Planning is especially important here for your outbound flight as the airport is not serviced by trains and is a fair way out of the city (the last thing you want to be is at the mercy of a taxi fare!)

We found the best mode of transport to be via shuttle bus.  Tickets for the BVA shuttle can be purchased online (the cheaper option) or in person just before you board the bus.  Journeys last approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover the 75 kilometres out of the city.

From the airport, you’ll find the Paris-Beauvais Shuttles located between terminal 1 and 2.

Leaving from Paris, the shuttles are an easy walk from the Porte Maillot stop on the yellow metro line (likely in the direction of La Défense).


Where to Stay

After a busy day out exploring, there’s nothing better than coming back to a comfortable home-away-from-home and that’s exactly what Adèle & Jules offers.

Trendy, quite and unashamedly boutique, this hotel (or should I say, hotels – one building named Adèle and the other Jules), is well located and super stylish.

Each day, guests are invited to enjoy a delicious breakfast spread (served in the lounge or directly to your room, should you prefer to treat yourself to breakfast-in-bed!) and a complimentary (and tasty) afternoon tea is offered each afternoon.

If you’d prefer to hit the gym, Adèle & Jules have their own fitness room but between the delicious food, comfortable bed and beautiful balcony, we knew exactly where we’d be spending our precious hotel time (and it wasn’t at the gym!)


Visa Requirements

If you’re planning a visit to France and are travelling on a passport from outside of the European Union, you will need to investigate the appropriate visa requirements.

Frances falls within the Schengen Area and generally provides visa-free access to citizens of Europe, the Americas and counties in the Commonwealth.

Before booking your visit to the country, we suggest you check the French visa requirements first – nobody wants to get turned around at the border!


Paris is a dream city for many and for good reason.  It’s exciting, vibrant, romantic and downright iconic.  If you’re spending time in Europe, we can unequivocally recommend a visit to this magical city.

As they say, Paris is always a good idea, and we couldn’t agree more.


Thank you to Hotel Adèle & Jules and Le Village for hosting us whilst we were in Paris.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Itineraries planning South America Travel

These Kiwis are Off Exploring – Nathan and Sarah’s Next Six Months of Adventures

May 6, 2017

Incase you missed the memo, we’re moving on from Abu Dhabi in June.

The last almost-two years have been amazing, eye-opening and of course, at times, challenging.  We wouldn’t change it for the world though.  We’ve loved emersing ourselves in a new culture, connecting with like-minded people, having the opportunity to travel more and jumping into this crazy-fun world of blogging.  I’ve grown, both personally and professionally (I’ve been teaching here in Abu Dhabi) and making the move has been an awesome reminder that at any age, you can set off on a new adventure.

Since our arrival in the UAE in August of 2015, I’ve been to 32 new countries (and Nathan’s not far behind) which far surpasses anything I’d hoped for.

It’s funny though how, at least for me, opening your eyes to the world doesn’t quench your hunger for adventure, instead it fuels it.

The more I see, the more I want to see.

The more I explore, the more I appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to do so.

As we start on our journey home, it’s probably not surprising that it’s with real mixed emotions.

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi it was with the understanding that we would probably only be here for two years – Nathan’s job is back in New Zealand and there was never any doubt that he’d rejoin the family business.

When presented with the possibily of adding a third year into the mix we faced the difficult decision of staying put in the UAE or heading off again.  Though Abu Dhabi has become our home the call of the unknown and the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure was too great to ignore – so, off we go on our way in June.

We’re pumped to see our family, friends and cats and to chow down on some New Zealand treats – I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed steak & cheese pies and lamingtons!  I can’t wait to get back to the style of teaching that I love, to spend some time revisiting some of our favourite spots in and around Aotearoa and to walk outside in the summer-time without melting!

I’ll miss the hussle and bustle of living in the UAE though – the sea of kandoras and abayas in the massive malls here, the call to prayer singing out throughout the day, the attitude towards travelling and so much more.  I’ll miss having friends that have started to feel like family, my awesome workmates, dinner dates to PF Chang’s and Chili’s and picking up fresh caramel popcorn at the movies.

As much as we know we’ll miss it though, there are new adventures to be had.

My confession is I fall in love with so many places. I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes, and I don’t believe in non-attachment. There’s no passion inside of that. I believe in burning, and long, and I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every place we’ve loved.

Victoria Erickson

It’s time to fall in love with new places all over again…

So, what’s next for us?

Europe

We’ll be making multiple stops in Europe over a fairly short timeframe.  Although we would have loved more time there as so much of our travel recently has been up that way, we thought we’d stop into a few of the major cities that we’ve not seen yet to farewell to a continent that we’ve come to love.

  • Paris, France
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (where with any luck we’ll make it up to the Isle of Skye!)
  • Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Zurich through to Geneva, Switzerland
  • Kiev, Ukraine

South America

Having never stepped foot in South America we’re a little clueless as to the details of what we want to see and do but we’ve found plenty of inspiration through our friends and our ever-trusty Pinterest account.

We’ll be flying into Buenos Aires in Argentina before making our way over to Santiago, Chile but from there, who knows?

With approximately six months, we’ll be travelling slowly and working as we go.  We can’t wait to have a little more time up our sleeves to to be more responsive with our plans.

Due to the tight timeframe we normally travel on, things have to be super planned-out to ensure we see and do everything we want – this trip will be significantly more relaxed.  Bring it on!

The following places are featuring high on our agenda (but are anything but a conclusive list):

  • Patagonia
  • Machu Pichu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  • Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (salt flats)
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • The Iguazu Falls
  • Christ the Redeemer, Rio, Brazil
  • A cruise to Antarctia or visit to the Falkland Islands – both of these as much less likely but never say never!

Which of these spots have you visited?  Where would you recommend?  What were your favourite things to do?

We’d love to hear your thoughts as we start digging into planning these trips!

The way I figure, the best way to get over moving on from a place you love is to plan the next adventure…

Thanks to Time Wheel, SCMP, Askideas, Keyword Suggests, Traveler Corner, The Bohemian Blog and World for Travel for providing snaps before we have our own.

Accommodation Asia Destinations Itineraries Sri Lanka

Plan Your Visit to Sri Lanka! Our Two Week Itinerary

March 24, 2017

Is there any better feeling than that experienced the day or two before you head off on holiday?

That feeling of excitement as you head off into the unknown, ready to soak up new sights, experiences and cultures.

Sri Lanka’s not a place I ever thought I’d get to but later today we’ll be jetting off from Abu Dhabi and we could not be more excited!

We’re booked into the most gorgeous hotels and will be experiencing some of the island’s most unique (and if all goes to plan, memorable) boutique offerings.  After what feelings like months of planning, everything has some together and with unseasonable rain in Abu Dhabi, a holiday is certainly welcome.

If Sri Lanka’s on your wish-list or you’ve started planning your visit, this post is for you!

Getting There

Flights

A number of flights service the international airports in Sri Lanka.  The largest airport, Bandaranaike, is situated just out of Colombo  and though it’s currently undergoing renovations (which are causing significant delays), it is still the airport visitors are most likely to use.

If you are flying out of Colombo, ensure you allow additional time to check-in until the runway repairs have been completed.  At present, the runway is closed to aviation traffic between 8.30am and 4.30pm each day and the check-in recommendation has been pushed out to 5 hours (with counters closing 90 minutes before departure instead of the standard 60 minutes).

Sri Lanka looks and sounds too amazing to pass up so we certainly didn’t allow the potential delays to sway our decision to travel there – just ensure you allow enough time to get through the airport without having to worry.

The addition of a second international airport in 2013 has done little to distribute the flights through the country; Mattala Rajapaksa services the south-east coast but few airlines use it – it has in fact been labelled the emptiest airport in the world.  This makes it an unlikely option for potential tourists but I’m sure would allow for the fastest check-in in history should you decide to use one of the few airlines there!

Visa Requirements

The vast majority of visitors to Sri Lanka will require a visa to do so.  If time allows, you can apply for your visa online or, as we are going to do, you can be issued one upon arrival.  A single entry visa (for 30 days) is a little cheaper if applied for ahead of time or USD40 at the airport.

Touring with Red Dot Tours

Having worked in the past as a reservation agent for an airline and a tour guide, I get a real kick out of planning our own itineraries but with so much going on around the UAE, we didn’t have the time to organise our Sri Lankan visit to the level we normally would have liked.

We knew what we wanted to see and do near Galle but  hadn’t had a chance to lock down details elsewhere.

Enter Red Dot Tours!

Jennifer became our Sri Lankan miracle worker, putting together an amazing customised itinerary for us.  She listened intently to our requests and added her own recommendations – creating a trip that is is a perfect balance between our travel preferences and her personal knowledge of the country.

Red Dot have taken care of the majority of our accommodation for us (with the exception of Cantaloupe – two gorgeous hotels we’d already excitedly booked), our transport and many of our activities.

If like us, you’re short on planning time or would rather let someone take care of the planning for you, we can already confirm that Red Dot goes above and beyond – and we’ve not even touched down on Sri Lankan soil yet!

Getting Around

Buses, trains, tuk tuks, taxis and drivers – Sri Lanka is not short on transport.

Though maps make distances from one location to another appear short, we have been warned that traffic, road condition and mountainous conditions can make trips longer than anticipated so allow plenty of time to get around the island.

We decided to book a chauffeur-guide in for the majority of our visit.  Though the scenery from the train looks absolutely gorgeous, we’re hoping to fit a fair few activities and sights in and having a driver will allow us to do so.  We also love stopping on the side of the road when something catches our eye and a train just won’t do that!

Accommodation

We will be coming back to you with reviews of the following properties following our visit so I won’t go into specific details at this point.  We are excited by the gorgeous vistas, stunning pools and the unique offerings of these properties though (some include safaris, barbecue dinners, canyoning and mountain biking – seriously!) and are excited to discover ourselves.

Night 1:  Horathapola Estate

Photo credit: Booking.com

Night 2/3:  Borderlands

Photo: Borderlands Sri Lanka

Night 4: Cantaloupe Aqua

Night 5/6: Cantaloupe Levels

Kaetana Lanka

Night 7: 3 Sisters

Night 8:  Fort Bazaar

Night 9: Kulu Safaris

Night 10:  The Hammock Lanka

Night 11:  Mandira Dickoya Bungalow

Night 12:  Kings Pavilion

Night 13/14: Aliya Resort & Spa

Activities

All of our stops in Sri Lanka were decided based upon the activities and sights that we wanted to enjoy.

Snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, canyoning, visiting a turtle sanctuary, hiking Adam’s Peak, leopard spotting whilst on safari, touring a tea plantation, checking out both religious and ancient monuments and more; our visit to Sri Lanka is full of adventure, nature and local culture.

It’s perfect for us!

For us, one of the big appeals of this beautiful country is the diversity it offers.  From beach days to safaris and everything in between, there are enough activities to keep even the most active adventurer busy but there’s also plenty on offer if doing nothing is more your style.

We’re going to be dipping into both sides of the pool (so to speak) so stay tuned as we bring your our thoughts on each of the activities we have planned…

Let’s Do it…

Now, on our last morning in Abu Dhabi, our bags are calling out to be packed, the electronics are charging away and our passports are set to go.

Sri Lanka, we can’t wait to check you out for ourselves!


If you’re headed to Sri Lanka, pin your favourite images so you came come back to these beautiful hotels…

The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy. Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, offers something for almost everyone. Read our accommodation recommendations, tour provider of choice, transport guide and much more! The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy.

Accommodation Activities Asia Back Packing Destinations Historical Sites Itineraries Sri Lanka Travel

Finding Our Way Around Sri Lanka… A Nine Day Guide to Paradise

January 31, 2017
9 day Sri Lanka Itinerary

Headed to Sri Lanka?  If so, snuggle up on your sofa and dig into Sarah’s post – it will give you all the basics you need to plan your trip and then some!  It’s a beauty of a post and will help ensure you maximise your time on this island paradise.  Happy planning!

I find sometimes the best trips, are the ones that allow for flexibility.  These trips generally require you to have a little more time and a little more patience especially when you run into challenges (because, really, who knows if you’ll find suitable accommodation for the night?) but they do always seem a little more rewarding.

Sri Lanka was no different – a friend and I packed our backpacks with a vague plan in place, a nights accommodation booked at the start (and two nights at a beach resort towards the end of our stay) and we hit the road.  Other than our lonely planet guide book, and our good attitudes we had nothing else planned or booked, and it was the best nine days full of laughter and exploration!

Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning, as are the people, who are definitely some of the friendliest and most helpful people I have encountered throughout my travels.  Sri Lanka holds everything a traveler desires – natural beauty that dramatically changes throughout the country, diverse culture, an interesting history and some beautiful historical monuments.


A Nine Day Sri Lankan Itinerary

  • Day One: Arrive in Colombo early morning, transfer to Kegalle to spend the day at the Elephant Freedom project & spice gardens.
  • Day Two: Bus to Kandy.  Sightseeing + Kandyan dancers & drummers
  • Day Three: Day trip to Sigiriya Rock & Dambulla Caves + overnight at Adam’s Peak
  • Day Four: Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage + drive to Nuwara Eliya and Ayurveda
  • Day Five: Bike ride around the tea plantations and train ride to Haputale
  • Day Six: Lipton’s Seat and a tour of the Dambatenne Tea Factory.  Overnight in Tangella
  • Day Seven: Beach Day!
  • Day Eight: Beach Day and then bus to Colombo
  • Day Nine: Ministry of Crab with an evening flight home.

Transport

Getting around Sri Lanka is an adventure!  Even though nothing is really far in terms of distance, due to the state of the roads, the mountainous areas, and the lack of infrastructure it is a time consuming and at times scary endeavour.

Buses:

Buses are the typical way to get around Sri Lanka but they can be an uncomfortable, stop-start experience.  Travel on buses can differ significantly depending on the journey you are taking.

Buses around town and between villages are chaotic and completely different from riding a bus in the western world.  With local music blaring, the colourful, rickety buses cruise down one lane roads jammed-packed with as many people the bus can hold (and then some) – all sense of personal space a distant memory.  Each bus is decorated around the driver’s booth with various posters, religious items, and sometimes even a screen for the passengers to watch movies and music videos.  It can be a slow journey with no official bus stops.  Instead, passengers wave down the buses, or indicate to the drivers where they want to get off, at which point the driver will slow down and the passengers will disembark whilst the bus is still moving (which can be tricky for a traveller loaded down with luggage – good luck!)  Air conditioning is a distant memory, instead ventilation is provided through opened windows and lunch is catered by the various vendors hopping on and off the buses, selling corn and boiled eggs.  It’s a totally unique experience and is definitely the cheapest way to get around with a typical bus journey costing around RS50 (Sri Lankan Rupees) – or NZD0.50/USD0.35 depending on where you’re from.

Intercity buses are generally air-conditioned coaches that depart and arrive at typical bus stations.  The bus stations are hectic and full of people, and it can be a little tricky to locate your bus but don’t worry!  Your bus won’t leave on time, in fact it will generally sit there until they have sold all the seats, so you’ll have plenty of time to get organised.  These buses mostly use designated bus stops making the journey a little faster, and are super affordable with a 3 hour coach journey costing around RS860, (NZD8/USD5.80)

Trains:

Trains in Sri Lanka have limited routes and have been around since the British built the lines in the nineteenth century.  While they are competitively priced (at similar prices to the buses), they are far superior in terms of comfort.  Though the trains can be slower and there can be substantial delays on the lines, the views and scenery are definitely worth the wait, especially a train ride in the Hill Country.  This train runs through Kandy, Nanu Oya and Ella and whilst the weather wasn’t ideal the day caught the train, the views were every bit as spectacular as we were told to expect.

There are three different train classes, with second and third class being quite similar (the main difference being you can’t reserve seats in third class).  There are several different first class tickets you can get depending on your requirements and these tickets can be booked in advance.

It would appear that that first class tickets can get booked out fairly quickly though and as it turned out, we were more than happy with our third class tickets (which we took due to a lack of available seats at the time).  Fortunately we were traveling outside of peak season and had no issues getting a seat, so didn’t experience the overcrowding on the train which we’d heard can be less than desirable (not everyone ends up with a seat in these cases!)

Tuk Tuks:

Our favourite type of transport (and the most popular type of transport for short journeys), tuk tuks are readily available and can be a novel way to get around.  Make sure to negotiate your price before embarking on your trip as some drivers can and will overcharge you – don’t be scared to bargain with the drivers and if you aren’t happy with the price try the fifty or so other drivers waiting close by.  In general tuk tuks charge around RS50/kilometre, and in Colombo the tuk tuks are metered to ensure a fair fare.

Drivers and Cars:

This option is increasingly popular due in part to how frustrating the transport system in Sri Lanka can be.  You can hire a driver and a car for a one off journey or for your entire trip.  Hiring a driver makes your journey flexible and saves you time but be sure to negotiate as these drivers can be highly inflated – in fact for one of our trips we managed to knock over RS2000 off our journey.

Drivers that stay with you for the duration of the trip take a bit of effort to organise and prices vary depending of the quality and size of the car (and the types of accommodation you are staying in).  Many hotels will have a drivers room to accommodate your driver but if not, you will need to account for the additional cost of booking him/her a room.

Looking for a driver for your trip?  Blue Lanka Tours can help you organise your perfect trip including drivers.  Our friends used this company and though they were on the expensive side they were very happy with both the service and their trip overall.  Their driver, Roshan Liyange was knowledgeable and (in our brief encounter with him) we found him to be a very safe and thoughtful driver.


Accommodation:

Throughout our stay we stayed in various types of accommodation – hostels, home-stays, B&Bs, and beach cabanas.  Whilst the majority of this accommodation isn’t worth mentioning, the few that are we have included below.

Tangella: Palm Paradise Cabanas

Wanting a few days to relax and unwind before heading back to work made the Palm Paradise Cabanas the perfect choice.  The cabanas are set in gorgeous natural setting with a view to the ocean showing through the tropical trees and plants.  The whole area is beautiful and the cabanas had great facilities, providing a relaxing and tranquil ending to our trip.

The cabanas themselves were quite basic but very charming.  The one we opted for had no air conditioning which made it a little difficult to sleep at night due to the heat, however they had a range of options available and all rooms had several fans (plus the more modern villas and houses included air conditioning).

We were fortunate to have a cabana with views straight to the ocean and only a 200m walk to the sea.  It was so peaceful and relaxing going to sleep with the sound of the waves lapping against the beach – seriously, the stuff of dreams!

The beach itself was absolutely gorgeous – the ocean is a little rough but Palm Paradise also has a pool if you’re looking for calmer water.  Although the beach is open to the public, it wasn’t very busy and we enjoyed our time there.

Breakfast was included at the hotel and the food was fantastic!  Each day we had fresh fruit, orange juice, tea and coffee plus eggs of our choice.  There isn’t much around the hotel in terms of bars and restaurants, but the food is great at both the restaurants so there isn’t much need to venture outside of the grounds if you don’t want to.

If you’re looking for a place to unwind for a few days, Palm Paradise Cabanas could be a great option.

Colombo: Clock Inn Hostel

Clock Inn Hostel was perfect for our brief time in Colombo.  We just needed somewhere to sleep for a few hours, between our night out and heading to the airport to catch our flight.  It was a clean hostel, having several common areas and friendly staff.  Each bed had a reading light, and a locker assigned to them (which I always appreciate when staying in a hostel).

Breakfast was included but unfortunately I’m not able to comment on the standard as I slept through the allocated time! The only downside for some would be the unisex communal bathrooms where the wasn’t much room inside the showers to get dressed.


Activities and Sightseeing

Kegalle and The Elephant Freedom Project

Kegalle is located between Colombo and Kandy – the main reason people head to this area is to visit the famed Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.  After doing some research on the Elephant Orphanage we decided that it wasn’t the place for us and after some more research we found out about The Elephant Freedom Project.  The EFP claims to hire Elephants from their owners to give them a chance of freedom away from the logging industry and other terrible work many elephants see on a day to day basis and though it’s not perfect, the elephants certainly get a better life than they would elsewhere.

At the project you volunteer for the day, starting your day by mucking out the elephant enclosure, before walking with the elephants in the village.  After a home cooked meal (that you’ll help prepare,) you will bathe the elephants in the river before bidding farewell to the team.

If you’re wanting to spend time with the elephants, be sure to do your research.

Kandy

Arriving at the bus station (with no accommodation booked) we headed to the tourist information located next to the train station to ask them to ring ahead to the Burmese Rest.  This guesthouse sounded unique – there monks look after the guesthouse whilst tortoises wander the courtyard.

Unfortunately the tourist information centre wasn’t able to give us their opinions on accommodation, or ring ahead to see if they had space but after negotiating a price with a tuk tuk driver, we headed there regardless to see if we could secure a bed for the evening.  Unfortunately they were undergoing restoration work and were unable to accommodate us so our tuk tuk driver whisked us off to our second choice of accommodation which thankfully had room for us.

This little expedition gave us our first glimpse of a Sri Lankan city – Kandy was bustling around the bus station and the centre of town, and we were in fits of laughter as our tuk tuk weaved in and out of traffic.  The city itself is set around a gorgeous lake and a stroll around the waters edge to the centre of town was a great way to settle in, although we were a little nervous of the monkeys darting from tree to tree!  Once in town we explored the Main Market and the busy centre, before heading to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and attending an early evening Kandayan dance performance.

Sigiriya and Dambulla

Both of these sites are included within Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and we were disappointed that weren’t able to explore this area more due to our limited timeframe.

Sigirya is an immense rock that is thought to have once housed an ancient civilisation – it’s a beautiful site that takes around half a day to explore.  The grounds and various frescos are gorgeous and the climb to the top of the rock, though relatively steep, is manageable.

Dambulla is a rock temple that, despite its throngs of tourists, is still an important holy place.  It was an incredible site and one not to be missed.

Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in central Sri Lanka, famed for the ‘sacred footprint’ (though just who the footprint belongs to will differ depending on your religions beliefs).  You will find this footprint in a rock formation near the summit of the mountain but to get there you will first need to trek to the top with many pilgrims and tourists.  With the mountain rising to 2,243m, it can be a challenging walk and the roughly 5200 steps will see your legs shaking at the bottom, regardless of your fitness level.

Nuwara Eliya & Hauputale

Both of these places are located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.  This whole region is absolutely stunning, with lush green scenery and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. The frequent fog gives the area an almost mystical feeling, but once the fog lifts you will be in absolute awe of the beauty that you find yourself surrounded by.

Both places (and the whole region for that matter) offer ample opportunities to visit tea plantations and to see the inner workings of a tea factory.  We found this experience very informative and intriguing.

In Nuwara Eliya we hired bikes from our accommodation and rode through the town sometimes referred to as ‘Little England’.  Here we biked past old English gardens and colonial houses, before hitting the tea plantations.  It would have been a tranquil and serene experience if it wasn’t for all the traffic and tuk tuks honking their horns!

We loved getting lost through the tea plantations and would have loved to explore the area more, only we had a train to catch.

In Hauputale we headed to Lipton’s Seat and the Dambatenne tea factory.  Lipton’s seat is a lookout from which Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his land.  The 7km walk is one not to be missed – walking through the tea plantations you are surrounded by their beauty and the many tea pickers in the area.  At the end of the walk, you’ll come across a lookout – unfortunately for us though, we were meet by a valley of fog.  The walk, however, was absolutely stunning and something we would do again, regardless of the weather.

Tangella

When people think of Sri Lanka they will often think of it’s striking beaches.  Spoiled for options we decided on Tangella Beach to end our trip with a few days of relaxation.  It was a fantastic way to end our visit to this beautiful country – the beach was quiet and absolutely exquisite!  If we had more time in Sri Lanka, we would have definitely spent more time exploring the coast and the many activities it has to offer – we’d recommend you do the same.


Restaurants and Night Life

Curries are the staple dish in Sri Lanka and they are incredible – colourful and flavoursome, with huge servings, they offer great value for money.  Each curry normally comes accompanied with rice and variety of small dishes (usually consisting of spiced veggies and dhal).  You can find great curries everywhere and if you’re wanting to stay close to home, your guest house can usually serve you food if you order before a certain time.

Bake House (Kandy)

Located in the centre of Kandy this is a famed restaurant with many locals and tourists eating side by side.  Whilst the décor of the place is dated, the turnaround is fast, the dinning is pleasant and the food good.  The front of the restaurant serves as a bakery if you want to grab something for the road otherwise you can buy a good curry inside the restaurant.

Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar (Kandy)

This bar, formerly known as Bamboo Bar (some tuk tuk drivers still know it by the old name), has a great vibe and you will find it filled with both tourists and locals.  The bar has a range of food and serves standard English fare as well as a variety of other cuisines.

ll Mare (Anantara Hotel, Tangalle)

Being quite partial to good food we decided to splurge towards the end of our trip at this fine dining restaurant.  The view was gorgeous, perched on a cliff edge overlooking the ocean and beach below, the Italian menu is as authentic as the Italian manager who runs the restaurant that specialising in perfectly fresh produce.  The food is beautifully presented and delightful – we could have eaten everything on the menu!

Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

Located in the Old Dutch Hospital, this is an upmarket area, surrounded by lovely restaurants and a few shops.  Ministry of Crab is a modern eatery owned by two former Sri Lankan cricketers, and you guessed, it they serve crab.

Whilst the restaurant have other options on the menu, generally people come for the crab.  Here you choose what size crab you want (ranging in size from 500g – 2kgs), and the style you want.  It can be a messy process getting the meat out of the shells but they’ve got this covered – just prepare yourself to don a bib.

I can recommend the garlic chilli crab and the avocado crab salad (which was a combination of crab meat mixed with wasabi mayonnaise served in half an avocado).  With that said, all of the food was amazing and I would whole heartily recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Colombo!

Floor by O! (Colombo)

We stumbled across this place as the rooftop restaurant we wanted to dine in was absolutely jammed packed and this bar/restaurant was conveniently located downstairs.  The menu is jammed packed with food from all around the world and whilst the food was good, the atmosphere was even better.  Being some of the only tourists in there, we were well looked after and almost like D-list celebrities, everyone wanted to talk and dance with us.  The DJ had the dance floor packed, spinning tunes ranging from pop to old school RnB and hip-hop.  It was an amazing night and I only wish we remembered the name of the club we visited afterwards, as this had us out until 6am with they’re great drinks and tunes!


Is Sri Lanka Really Worth a Visit?

Absolutely!  Sri Lanka is the perfect mix of culture and beauty.  It somehow strikes the balance between being familiar enough to suit the newest traveller, and vibrant and exciting enough to hook the most seasoned backpacker in.  Sri Lanka really does offer something for everyone and for this reason, I’d highly recommend adding it to your travel wish-list… or better still, booking your flights right away!


Headed to Sri Lanka?  Don’t Leave Without These Tips!

  • Due to old British colonial laws pubs and restaurants won’t serve alcohol between the hours of 11am and 2pm.
  • Ladies beware, it’s very hard to purchase tampons in Sri Lanka.  As these can be very hard to source, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • Ask if your accommodation has hot water before booking as it’s common in Sri Lanka to have cold water showers.
  • If heading to the Hill Country be sure to pack a rain coat – it rains a lot.

Ready to Book?  What you Need to Know about Visas in Sri Lanka

Most people will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka but you can apply online for an electronic visa and it’s a fairly straight forward process.  They take around four days to process and cost around USD40.  To find out more information or to apply for a visa head to the official visa processing site.

Happy travels!


Love this post?  Pin it so others find it too!

9 day Sri Lanka itinerary

Activities Adventure day trip Europe Iceland Itineraries planning Scandinavia/Nordic Countries Tours

Bring on the Snow! Planning our Iceland Trip…

November 24, 2016
Iceland itinerary planning

Iceland – the land of puffins, fluffy wild horses, natural geothermic pools, towering waterfalls and giant glaciers.  In less than a month we’ll hit this winter wonderland and I couldn’t be more excited!

We’ve got the most amazing itinerary lined up, some accommodation locked in and an awesome Jeep with our name on it.  Snuggly warm clothes have been purchased and (with a little luck), the DJI drone that we’ve got on order might make it to us in time – we’re about as ready as can be.

I’m in the process of finalising our plans and practically burst with anticipation each time I see photos pop up on my Instagram feed.  As Kiwis, we’re pretty accustomed to beautiful scenery and exciting activities but there’s something about Iceland that’s really calling to me.

I know we aren’t the only ones obsessed with this island national though – I’ve already spotted countless fellow travellers announce plans to visit for themselves in the coming six months so thought I’d put together this list to help people undertaking their research.

So, if you’re looking to book a trip, let us save you some time – these are the best of the best that we’ve come across so far.  Each and every person that I’ve emailed has gone out of their way to help us and they all have reviews that speak for themselves.

Bring on December when we can bring you our own personal thoughts!

As if you needed any more reason to visit Iceland – here’s a set of fantastic wanderlust-fueled Icelandic photos to help get you excited too!

Planning your own trip?  This Iceland itinerary will point you in the right direction.


Adventure Activities

Ice Caving – Glacier Adventure

When winter sets in and the ice caves stabilise, adventurer seekers have the opportunity to go exploring under the ice.  The way the light defuses through the ice is absolutely mesmerising – I can’t wait to see it for myself!

Snorkeling in the Silfra Rift – Scuba Iceland

If you’re looking for an activity that’s unique to Iceland, check out the Silfra Rift.  This is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel between two continental plates.  Done a dry suit and jump in – you’ll struggle to find water clearer than this anywhere!


Sight-Seeing Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula & Golden Circle Tours – Moonwalker

Known for their adventurous, go-anywhere attitude, Moonwalker organises both private and group tours through the best parts of this Nordic country (and seriously, check out those 4WDs!)  Bessi has been awesome to deal with and we’re excited to meet him in person.

South Coast Tour – VIP Tours

Specialising in personal tours around the Southern and Western Coasts, Hörður, a born-and-bred Icelander crafts tours to suit the needs of his guests.  He’s lined up some awesome spots for us and with any luck, he’s told us we might be able to spot the Northern Lights as we head back to town too!

VIP Tours Iceland Exploring Kiwis

Northern Lights by Boat – Special Tours

When tossing up between visiting Iceland in December or March the main factor we considered was the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights.  Everything we read said that they’d potentially be backing off come March so we promptly booked for December.  Of course, nothing’s set when it comes to mother nature but we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of catching them.

There’s the option of heading out of the city by car/van/truck but to make things a little more interesting, we decided to join Special Tours on their boat trip to hunt down the Northern Lights.  It will be nice to get a different view of the capital, whether or not we manage to catch the lights.


Relaxing in Iceland

Geothermal Spa – Blue Lagoon

Swimming spots don’t come much more iconic than the Blue Lagoon!  Though it isn’t cheap and there are other geothermal pools around the country (each town has at least one of their own), there’s something impressive about the sheer scale of this one.

Have you planned your winter yet? #BlueLagoon #Iceland

A photo posted by bluelagoonis (@bluelagoonis) on

Foodies Tour – Wake Up Reykjavík

When it’s cold outside is there much better than warming up inside with delicious local food?  Iceland is known for it’s traditional food (rams testicles, fermented shark and sour sheep heads anyone?) and though that doesn’t appeal to us so much, the idea of popping into Reykjavík’s most popular restaurants (alongside the local best-kept-secrets) certainly does.  Renowned for showing everyone an awesome time, we can’t wait to chow down!

GOOD MORNING from REYKJAVIK ??? What is your favourite about Iceland?

A photo posted by Wake Up Reykjavík (@wakeupreykjavik) on


The Essentials

Warm Clothes – Kathmandu

Having spent the last year-and-a-bit living in Abu Dhabi, we’ve been caught noticeably short on clothing designed to keep us warm but Nathan’s about to bring some awesome adventure gear back from New Zealand for us and I can’t wait to try it on and get snuggly!  Kathmandu is one of my favourite shops back home – camping gear, hoodies, jackets –  whatever the product, we always find it fit for purpose and well-made.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some quality Kiwi-designed products again – especially my new jacket!  The technology they’ve managed to incorporate into it is seriously impressive.  They’ve taken the best of down and managed to waterproof the jacket which should result in us being snuggly-warm regardless of the weather.

Snow has fallen! ? @thompsonfilm

A photo posted by Kathmandu (@kathmandugear) on

Transport – Geysir

Iceland as a country is fairly compact but to make the most of your time, you’ll definitely want to get out of the capital.  We’ve booked on a number of tours (and they’re very kindly picking us up) but to get out to the ice caving (+ the abandoned DC10) and to enjoy the Northern Lights out of Reykjavík, a car was on our ‘must have’ Iceland list.  Geysir have some awesome options – lots of late-model 4WDs to make getting about really easy.

Full on moody skies. ? by @donalboyd #GeysirAdventure

A photo posted by Geysir Car Rental Iceland (@geysircarrental) on


Accommodation

Galaxy Pod Hostel

Our first night we’ve booked into a quirky little hostel in Reykjavík – far better than bunk beds, we’ll each be sleeping in a little self-contained pod.  With accommodation prices in Iceland being relatively high, we’re more than happy to be staying here.  It looks like the perfect way to save some money, meet other travellers and enjoy a unique accommodation whilst retaining the privacy that we’re used to.

Hali Country Hotel

Part of the appeal of Iceland is the ability to get out into the back-country and heading out into the wilderness means finding a spot to stay.  The Hali Country Hotel tick all the boxes for us – a great restaurant, comfortable rooms, wifi and a beautiful, remote location.  It looks like it’ll be a great place to unwind after our day out in the ice cave!

Radisson Blu Saga

After a marvellous stay at the Radisson Blu in Sohar, Oman, we’re very excited to experience the Blu hospitality again on our upcoming visit to Reykjavík.  We’ve already booked in for dinner and can’t wait to relax here between tours and activities.

Kex Hostel

Recommended by another travel blogger, Kex is known locally for being a fantastic hangout spot, popular with musicians and those looking to have a good time.  With industrial, quirky styling, Kex looks like a hostel with a real sense of character.


Stay tuned for updates from Iceland along with our experience visiting Amsterdam for the first time and touring Southern Norway in an RV.  Bring on Christmas!

Update: We’re in Iceland and absolutely loving it!  Check out our post detailing how to find Sólheimasandur’s abandonded DC3 – an absolute must-see on the South coast.  Also, our review of Wake Up Reykjavík, the Galaxy Pod Hostel and our amazing Kathmandu jackets.

Unfortunately our ice caving was cancelled due to bad weather but we managed to visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach along with the Skaftafell Glacier – all of which were fantastic alternatives on the South-East Coast.

Have you visited Iceland, Norway or Amsterdam before?  If so, we’d love your recommendations – especially for Norway and Amsterdam!


Feeling inspired?  Save this post for future reference and help another traveller out in the process!

Bucket-List Moments in Iceland - Plan your itinerary 8 Activities not to miss in Iceland

Accommodation Activities Beirut Itineraries Lebanon Middle East Stop Overs & Quick Trips

48 Hours in Lebanon: An Itinerary and Budget

October 4, 2016
48 hours in beirut budget and itinerary lebanon

Having moved to Abu Dhabi a little over a year ago with the intention of travelling, we’ve surprised even ourselves by just how much of the world we’ve been able to see.

The United Arab Emirates are an ideal base from which to explore and with a long weekend just gone, there was no chance of sitting around at home – Lebanon was calling!

I made the trip with Olivia (who you may recognise from our Egypt posts) and as it was such a last minute trip on the back of my visit to India and Nepal, saving money was the name of the game.  We managed to pick up reasonably priced flights and found apartment accommodation to be well priced for a major city which made the decision to head away an easy one.

Read on for information to help you plan your 48 hour visit to this energetic and unique city.

Looking for a four day Lebanon itinerary?  We’ve got you covered with that too!

Flights

We flew from Abu Dhabi (via Muscat in both directions) at a total cost of AED760 each return (USD205 or NZD285).  With only a long weekend direct flights would have been our preference but the other flight times and prices didn’t agree with us so it was worth doubling back on the flight – having flown from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, we then flew over Abu Dhabi again as we made our way to Beirut.  It was a round about way to get there but it made the difference between going or not!

If you’re looking to book the same itinerary, we flew on Oman Air, departing Thursday night at 5.25pm, arriving at 11.25pm.  Our return flight was early on Sunday morning (at 1.30am) which had us arrive into Abu Dhabi that same morning at 9.45am, giving us time to relax before heading back to work the following day.

Accommodation

Whenever we travel to a new area we compare the price of booking an Airbnb with a hotel (occasionally we’ll throw a hostel or camp ground into the mix too) and we generally find that Airbnb comes out on top.  This trip was no different and due to our budget, we made the decision to book into an apartment in Mar Mikhael.

The apartment set us back NZD144 (USD105) for the two nights (in total) which was fairly well-priced for what we received though the photos do make the apartment look better than it really was.  In reality, it was much more tired-looking than it appears online, it was missing a toilet seat and had slow wifi.  The location was pretty good though I think it’s fair to say we were on the outskirts of the nice part of Mar Mikhael.  All in all, it was a solid option if you’re travelling on a budget but you may be able to find something better for the same amount of money elsewhere in the city.

Rental Car

Though parts of the city are walkable, to really make the most of Beirut and the surrounding areas, you’ll want to secure a rental car.  The road rules are practically nonexistent but it’s all a part of the adventure – drive with caution and expect every two-lane road to turn into three and you’ll be fine.

As we booked our trip so late, we had a hard time securing a rental car before-hand and had to rely upon picking one up at the airport.  When we arrived, the cost had doubled so we decided to taxi into town to get a car the next day – the taxi cost us just shy of NZD70 (or USD45 between us) which cut a long way into the cost of a rental car.  In the end, we paid USD90 for a rental for the two days but could have got one online for about USD70 (and avoided the cost of the taxi) if we’d been able to book in advance online.  If you’re headed to Beirut, don’t hesitate to book your rental in in advance!

What Can I do in Beirut?

Beirut (and its easily accessible surrounding areas) offer plenty for everyone to do.  Beautiful beaches, towering mountains, little towns that have a clear French influence, ancient ruins, buzzing bars and restaurants; you won’t be bored here!

Stay tuned for more detailed posts but in the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of what we did (and would recommend you do too):

  • Day One
    • Explore Byblos – This beautiful township has a distinctive French feel about it which, when combined with traditional Arabian souqs, makes for an interesting stop.  Whilst in the area, check out the gorgeous old forts and church (all free of charge).
    • Visit The Lady of Lebanon up at Harissa.  The view from this statue is incredible – the best in Beirut!  To get up to the state, you have the option of taking the cable car from the bay below, or do as we did and drive yourself up (free of charge).
    • Shopping!  It turns out Beirut have a number of discount shopping options so as we made our way back to the city, we stopped off and picked up a few bargains.
    • Stop by Trainstation.  This spot it the epitimy of cool which says a lot in a city as funky as Beirut is.  Fortunately for us, the Beiruit Restaurants Festival was being held during the period of our visit, which meant we got to enjoy the most delicious food, desserts and drinks under the light of the moon, fireworks and fairylights whilst hanging out arond an abandoned (and now converted) railway station – it was absolutely magical.
  • Day Two
    • Admire the Jeita Grotto – One of the real highlights of Lebanon for us.  These caves are perfectly lit up, allowing a good view of their natural beauty whilst maintaining a sense of peace and quiet.  This will cost you 18,150 Lebanese pounds (or USD12 / NZD16.50) and includes a cable car ride, mini train ride and entrance to both of the grottos (including a boat ride inside the lower gotto), along with a movie (which we missed due to limited times available in English).
    • More shopping?!  On our way back from the Grotto, we stumbled across the most fabulous discount shop, Basic.  If you’re in Beirut, be sure to swing by – we both walked away with a decent sized bag of quality clothing for next to nothing.
    • Find peace at the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (or Blue Mosque).  Neither of us are Muslim but there’s something amazingly peaceful about spending time in a mosque.  This one is particularly beautiful and conveniently located in the middle of town – coverups are available outside at no charge so you don’t need to worry about the suitability of your clothing when planning a visit.
    • Swing past the fancy part of town and stop for a photo at the ‘I love Beirut’ sign, because you almost definitely will fall in love with the city.
    • Admire the Pigeon Rocks (AKA Raouché).  This view is surely one of Beirut’s most iconic – you won’t need long there but it’s definitely worth the trip across the city.
    • … and last but not least, challenge yourself in the best possible way to some escape room fun!  We visited Escape Games Beirut where Olivia had a go at her first-ever escape room (the Hangover).  This game is a great option if it’s your first time playing or if you’ve got a small group as it was the perfect combination of challenge and fun, both of which are essential to an enjoyable escape room experience!  If you’re a bit more experienced or have a larger group, you have another three other amazingly themed rooms to choose from too.  Once Liv was well and truely hooked on these real-life puzzle rooms, we visited Escape the Room to try out their new room, the Castle.  We were a bit spoilt as this room hasn’t yet been opened to the public and it certainly was a treat.  We can’t give too much away but the idea behind this room and the theming was impeccable, made all the better by their innovative integration of technology into the game.  We absolutely love escape rooms (you can read our last post, outlining the concept here) and highly recommend both of these options in Beirut.

Beirut was a vivacious and interesting city full of incredible juxtapositions.  Both Olivia and I really enjoyed our time exploring and would return in a heart-beat.  Sure, it’s not the place for everyone but if you head there with an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience, your gamble will pay off.

Final Costings per Person (based on twin share)

Flights (Abu Dhabi via Muscat, return) = USD205.00

Accommodation (for two nights) = USD52.50

Rental car (for 48 hours) = USD45.00

Fuel = USD23.00

TOTAL = USD325.50 each (NZD450 or AED1,195)

I’m not going to account for food or activities as this can cost as much or as little as you’d like it to.  Most of the activities we did were free or low cost and we had a ball so you don’t have to go with a lot of additional cash if you don’t want to.

Is Lebanon worth spending your hard-earned money on?  Absolutely!


Hang onto this post for later – Pin it!

 Lebanon is an amazing, interesting and colourful country. It's safe too! Use our itinerary to help you plan your weekend getaway. Lebanon is dynamic, energetic, interesting and filled with history. Use our guide to plan 48 hours in this amazing country. 48 hours in Beirut Lebanon. An itinerary and budget.

day trip England Europe Itineraries London Stop Overs & Quick Trips United Kingdom

Out and About in London

July 3, 2016

London catches the eye and heart of nearly every traveller that ventures within – it’s up there with New York City; vibrant, exciting and full of history, but with the added bonus of being an easy point of entry to the rest of Europe.  It would seem that London offers something to practically everyone…

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

– Samuel Johnson

Having spent just spent four nights in London (and having visited six months ago for the first time), I’ve come away with a fresh reminder of how fantastic this vivacious English city is.  I am by no means an expert on the city, rather I feel we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what London offers, but we would like to share our mini itinerary with you in the hopes that it might help you plan your first visit to this fabulous place.

All of the following activities and locations are within easy reach of one another and manageable within a day.  This post is not designed as an all-inclusive list, but a starting point for you to build a fabulous day or two in the capital.  If you’re looking for more advice and details about how you could spend your time there, I suggest you check out my friend, Sara’s blog – Big World, Small Me (she’s a Kiwi living in London and is a total expert on the city).

It’s also worth noting that we caught the train and got off at London Bridge which is an easy 3 minute stroll down to our starting point, the Borough Markets.  Depending on where you’re staying, you may like to reverse or play with the order of this itinerary.  Have fun making it work for you for!

 

Borough Markets

Whatever your culinary inclination, get yourself to the Borough Markets when you’re visiting London!  These markets are full of life and excitement and the smells that emanate from the stalls are mind blowing.  It feels like there’s almost every type of delicious food on offer here that you could hope for.

We tucked into the most delicious Malaysian chicken curry and followed it up with a beautifully chewy piece of chocolate brownie for dessert and wandered about admiring all of the amazing looking kai (Māori for ‘food’) on offer.

IMG_3528

The stand out of the markets for me though are the incredible doughnuts made by Bread Ahead.  Last time I was in London my friend suggested we hunt them down and on this return trip, I did exactly that again.  We tried both the salted caramel honeycomb and the vanilla bean custard doughnuts and though they were both fantastic, it’s really worth mentioning the salted caramel flavour; it was incredible.  Nathan doesn’t normally go crazy for sweets like I do but when he’s happy to return to the markets again to stock up on these treats, you know you’re onto a winner!

The Borough Markets are open every day (with the exception of Sunday), with their main days of operation being Wednesday to Saturday.  To get there by train/tube, get off at the London Bridge station, on either the Northern or Jubilee lines.  Ensure getting there is on the top of your list – you won’t be disappointed.

SONY DSC

London Bridge and Tower Bridge

From the Borough Markets, it’s an easy walk to the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, both spanning the River Thames.  The London Bridge isn’t much to look at but has a long-standing historical importance and gives a great view of the Tower Bridge, my favourite of the two.  Numerous times a day the Tower Bridge raises it’s gangways and though we didn’t manage to catch it doing so, it would be worth trying to time your visit if you can (you’ll find the timetable here).

SONY DSC

Whilst you’re in the area, you may also like to head inside the Tower of London (£25 each) to soak up the brutal history of London and to spot the crown jewels.  If it floats your boat, you can also board the HMS Belfast as you make your way from London Bridge to the Tower Bridge.  Be sure to spin around and check out the towering glass building known as The Shard – if you have time, you can relax with a drink at the top whilst you enjoy panoramic views of the city too.

IMG_3721

After you’ve soaked up the sights by the Thames, jump on the tube at Tower Hill and make your way to Westminster.  From this point you’ll have access to a plethora of iconic landmarks all within an easy walk of one another.

 

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Perhaps one of the most iconic old landmarks in London (and my favourite), Big Ben is even more impressive in person.  The famous clock town joins the Houses of Parliament and both buildings have an incredible amount of shimmering gold detailing; the workmanship in both is amazing and certainly worth a visit.

Westminster Abbey

Across the road from the Houses of Parliament is one of the most recognisable churches in the world.  The detailing on Westminster is remarkable and its history even more so.  The church is over one thousand years old and has strong ties to the English monarchy – every royal Coronation since 1066 has taken place here and it has provided the backdrop to no less than sixteen royal weddings.  To learn more about the history of this stunning place of worship, you might like to check out their website (there’s far too much to do justice in this single post).

IMG_3711

Ten Downing Street

“Number Ten” is home to the serving Prime Minster, but don’t head over expecting to catch a glimpse of David Cameron!  As you would expect, the entrance to this famous address is heavily guarded and protected by indestructible gates.  Regardless though, it is worth swinging past as you head to the palace.  Whilst we were there the guards were surprisingly friendly and willing to pose for a selfie or two – if you’d like a shot with a traditionally dressed (and heavily armed) English policeman, this could be the spot to do so.

FullSizeRender 7.jpg

Buckingham Palace and Surrounds

Just down the road from Ten Downing Street, you’ll find the Horse Guards Parade to your left (look out for the mounted guards, you can’t miss them).  If you turn through this building, you’ll stumble into St James’s Park before finding yourself at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

We spent a good half hour slowly wandering through St James’s Park, spotting squirrels, geese, swans and all manner of local birds.  There’s nothing like a good park in the middle of a city and this is one that’s definitely worth spending some time in.

FullSizeRender 5.jpg

FullSizeRender 6.jpg

At the end of the park, you’ll find the infamous Buckingham Palace.  Once a day (or every second day in the off-season) you can catch the changing of the guards; an opportunity to glimpse into royal tradition and culture.

IMG_3713

 

London is a fabulous city regardless of the time of year and a perennial favourite amongst travellers.

For those of you have have visited or lived in the city before – are there any must-sees in these areas?  What other parts of London would you recommend paying a visit to?

Have another day to spare?  We’d definitely recommend jumping on a train and heading out to Thorpe Park, London’s premier theme park.  Read more about each of the rides and our review here.

%d bloggers like this: