Planning My 3 Day Presidential Traverse

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire

Sometime at the very beginning of the summer, I had a crazy thought. I’m going to do my first Presidential Traverse this year. I briefly considered attempting a one day traverse, but the idea intimidated me. I doubted my own fitness level, and I was nursing and recovering from an overuse injury after years of abusing my body through various forms of exercise.

If it wasn’t going to be a single day trek, then, I ought to try to span it across a weekend. This summer, I decided, I would complete my first 3-day Presidential Traverse. Now, I just had to plan for it.

View of Mount Madison from the Appalachian Trail

What Is The Presidential Traverse

The Presidential Traverse is a 22 to 28-mile hike, depending on the route taken, that covers the full length of the Presidential Ridge in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire, so named because the eight peaks of the traverse are named after United States Presidents.

This hike is known to be one of the most challenging and often dangerous hikes in the Northeast, and arguably, in the country. Though the tallest peak, Mount Washington, is only just above six thousand feet, the weather is so changeable and the terrain so challenging that mountaineers will use this mountain to train for conditions on Mount Everest.

Yeah, it’s serious stuff.

The Presidential Traverse traditionally begins at the Appalachia Trailhead near Gorham, New Hampshire, traverses at least the 8 Presidential Peaks, and ends at the Crawford Depot. Many hikers add-on Mount Clay, Mount Jackson, and even the smaller Mount Webster.

These peaks are not part of the official route for various reasons, some aren’t tall enough, Mount Jackson is actually not named after President Andrew Jackson but a different local politician and Mount Clay isn’t distinct enough from Mount Washington to count as an individual peak.

At any rate, it’s a long route, can be dangerous in bad weather, and is extremely challenging even on a sunny day. Many people do it in a single day, beginning their hike before dawn and finishing after sunset, even during the longest days of the year.

But hiking it in 2 or 3 days presents a different challenge. Backcountry camping in the White Mountains is only allowed below the treeline and 200 feet away from the trail. Above treeline, camping is only allowed in winter, on top of 6 feet of snowpack. But, the bulk of the Presidential traverse, the entire 15 ridge walk, is above the treeline, with no backcountry camping options. Campers can choose to stay at the very expensive ($120 a night with reservations) AMC huts or use the AMC or RMC tent sites, which are only located at the extremes of the hike, none in the middle.

The end result, you’re going to hike a long day, no matter what you choose.

Trail Runner on the Presidential Traverse to Mount Washington

My 3-Day Presidential Traverse Route

Day 1: Appalachia Trailhead to Valley Way Tentsite 3.1 miles
Day 2: Valley Way Tentsite to Nauman Tentsite 15.5 miles
Day 3: Nauman Tentsite to Crawford Depot via Mt. Jackson 4 miles

For my plan, I was going to start hiking late on a Friday afternoon in August, hiking the three miles up to the Valley Way Tentsite, a small forest service campsite located just below the Madison Springs Hut. I’d then hike the entire ridgeline on day 2, camping at the Nauman Tentsite at the other end, before hiking down to Crawford Depot.

Now, all that was left for me to do was wait for a good weather weekend, throw my things in my car, and take off.


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Planning a 3 Day Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains National Forest of New Hampshire, a hiking guide from Into Foreign Lands

Planning a 3 Day Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains National Forest of New Hampshire, a hiking guide from Into Foreign Lands

Hiking Camels Hump Via Monroe & Long Trail

Adventure Travel, United States, Vermont

The wind ripped through the trees and we stared up at the jagged peak just visible through the pines. I wasn’t aware that any mountain in New England could look that ominous. Maybe, I thought to myself, this wasn’t such a great idea for our first hike together.

My boyfriend Erich and I were climbing Camel’s Hump, a jagged and beautiful peak in Vermont’s Green Mountains. But what started as a simple day hike was turning into something far more strenuous.

DSC00708

What Is Camel’s Hump Mountain?

Camel’s Hump is the third highest mountain in Vermont, standing at 4,083 ft. Though it sits lower than nearby Mt. Mansfield or Killington, Camel’s Hump is by far the most recognizable peak in the Green Mountains due to it’s intriguingly shaped peak. The mountain’s unique shape was carved by glaciers many, many years ago.

The first people to name the mountain were the indigenous tribe known as the Abnaki who lived in the Green Mountains. They called it “Ta Wal Be Dee Esso Wadso” which has been translated a number of ways but my favorite is “Prudently, we make a campfire in a circle near water (and rest) at this mountain.” But probably the more reasonable translation is “resting place”.

Then the French showed up in the colonial period and besides ruining everything with diseases and capitalism, they called the mountain “Le Lion Couchant” or the resting lion. And although we all should have quit while we were ahead, the English apparently didn’t feel the mountain was quite as majestic as a lion so they renamed it Camel’s Rump and finally, Camel’s Hump.

I personally am of the opinion that we ought to go back to “Prudently, we make a campfire in a circle near water at this mountain” because that’s what we all really want to do there, anyway.

Descend camels hump via the monroe trail

Our Adventurous Hike up Camel’s Hump

The morning of the hike to Camel’s Hump dawned clear and cool. It was Memorial Day Weekend and this would be my first time hiking with my boyfriend Erich, and his first New England 4k footer. I knew the hike would be 7 miles long over some rugged terrain and I wanted to get going early. I had fraught memories of the slightly stressful Franconia Notch hike with my mother last fall.

So, much to Erich’s chagrin, I was out of bed at 6:30, making coffee and preparing our lunch. Yet despite my best intentions, things never move as quickly as you think they should in the morning. We didn’t hit the road until 8:30.

We headed for the Monroe Trailhead, a great access point if you’re interested in a mix of moderate to challenging New England hiking. Arriving at 9:30, we parked in the overflow lot. I was a bit worried we’d end up behind the crowds but we found the main lot nearly empty. Clearly, the sense of urgency I felt in Franconia Notch was not to be found on the laid back slopes of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Erich and I headed into the woods.

Monroe Trail up Camels Hump

The Monroe to Dean Trail

Stepping onto the trail, the deciduous forest enveloped us and the world of cars, cities, smog, and corporate greed dropped away. My vision was imbued with the vibrant green of sunlight filtered through early spring leaves. Beech trees and oak rustled in the wind. Saplings reached up towards the sun.

The trail began to work its way up the mountainside gradually. There are a few steep spots at the beginning but nothing to fret about. The first mile passed by quickly and we found ourselves at a fork with the Dean Trail splitting off to the left, and the Monroe Trail continuing on ahead.

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Taking a seat on a rock to break into our first snacks, Erich asked me, “So, how close are we to the top?”

It was my first hint of that perhaps I hadn’t chosen the most sensible hike for his first. Perhaps someone with greater empathy would have chosen a lower peak, a less exposed mountain, a less challenging hike.

“We aren’t close yet at all.”

Hey. At least I’m not a liar.

Hiking Camel’s Hump via the Long Trail as an introduction to New England hiking was the rough equivalent of watching a child flounder in the deep end of the swimming pool.

Dean Trail up Camels Hump

From the fork, we headed for the far less trafficked Dean Trail, which continued the previous trend of gently heading up the mountain. The trail was narrow and overgrown. Easy to follow but clearly not much used. It wound through wetlands and reached up into the liminal area between deciduous and pine forests where both types of tree vie for the attention of the sun above. A few more gentle inclines, and we had entered the spruce forest: one of the most delicious environments in New England. The air smells like Christmas. The ground is soft and springy beneath your feet and the entire forest feels like it is holding its breath.

Coming around one curve we found a smaller offshoot peeling off to the right and into a small clearing. Directly across the field, we could see the peak of Camel’s Hump rising above the treeline. A bank of clouds rolled across the summit on the wind, obscuring the rocks from view.

I consoled myself that we still had at least another hour of hiking to go before we reached the summit. Hopefully, the cool air and fog would clear before then. I didn’t relish the idea of Erich’s first summit lacking the views.

Back to the Dean Trail and it wasn’t too much further before we hit the intersection with the Long Trail.

Long Trail to Camels Hump

Taking the Long Trail to Camel’s Hump

For the uninitiated, the Long Trail is America’s oldest thru-hike. A 270-mile relentless trek through the Green Mountains of Vermont. It famously lacks switchbacks and mercy. Still, somehow, I thought it would be a great introduction to hiking in New England.

This hike would be my first time setting foot on the Long Trail. I’d heard stories of this trail from my dad; how challenging it could be, how beautiful, how the old Yankees had cut the trail straight up the side of a rugged mountain without regard for future hikers knees.

Excitement bubbled up within me. I was finally here! Walking on the Long Trail.

The intensity picked up immediately. Where the Dean Trail had crossed a saddle on the side of the mountain, the Long Trail headed north, straight up the spine and onto the first ridge. Before long, we were scrambling up granite boulders taller than our heads.

Coming up over the first scramble, I found myself on an exposed outlook, a ragged shelf of granite jutting out between the pine trees. The wind blew fast and hard into my face as I stared out over the Appalachian landscape. We were facing east, towards the parallel ridge of the Green Mountains and in the distance, New Hampshire.

I turned around to celebrate this first viewpoint with Erich only to find him sitting by the edge of the trail several feet away from the edge, looking shaken. I had forgotten he had a fear of heights and didn’t love the wind.

“I’m fine,” he asserted, “I’m just going to stay over here.”

green mountain photo

We continued. The trail remained rugged, cutting straight up the side of the mountain through jagged granite boulders. The footing and scrambling required no small amount of creativity. The trail ran mostly through the trees, sheltered from the wind, but at times the trail was wide open; granting stunning views of the surrounding mountains but exposing us to the increasingly high winds.

The Long Trail’s approach to the summit of Camel’s Hump accentuates a peculiar feature of the mountain’s geography: the trail ascends to a false summit before dipping down towards a saddle then ascending once more in a final, steep lurch to the top.

Just before that dip in the saddle, a clearing opened in the pines above us. We were granted a glimpse of the summit. It felt present. Imposing. It commanded respect and no small amount of fear. The wind howled around us. The jagged, sharp, dark grey granite rocks stood out ominously from the swirling gray sky. From this angle, it appeared we would need to scramble straight up the side of the cliff to reach the summit.

Quite an introductory hike you choose, Megan.

Green Mountain views from Camels Hump Vermont

We wound through the pines as the wind raged around us and we steeled ourselves for the final ascent. It would be exposed, windy, a little dangerous, and would involve plenty of scrambling. I had known when I planned the trip that this trail would be challenging but I’d had no concept of just how intense this final stretch would be.

We headed into the pines, climbing a giant’s staircase made of granite through the trees, sometimes reaching up to hold onto roots and trunks as we hauled ourselves up the steep trail.

With the summit in sight, the trees disappeared and we faced the final challenge: an exposed, wind-whipped scramble along sheer granite rocks, the white blaze of the long trail painted just often enough for us not to get lost. We clung to the boulders as we navigated sideways and upwards towards the summit.

Coming over the top of the final rise, we found a group of hikers cowering against the wind, tucked into crevasses and any sheltered place atop the windy, exposed summit. As we pulled on our jackets I looked over at Erich. I must admit I was moderately afraid I’d find him in shambles, cowed by the height and the wind. Had I permanently traumatized him?

He already had his phone out to take pictures of the view.

Wildflowers in Vermonts Green Mountains

The fog we’d seen from the valley below had vanished on the wind. The summit offered a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. Lake Champlain stretched to the west, with the distant Adirondacks a blue ridge beyond. To the east, the low lying Green Mountains sat closest while the White Mountains rose above them in the far distance. North, Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak, stood proud but shadowy, it’s summit wrapped in fog.

We sat for a few minutes, swapping encouragement and jokes with the few other hikers present, enjoying that strange camaraderie that comes from reaching the summit of a mountain at the same time.
Something about the mountain transforms you from strangers to companions, sharing an appreciation of the surrounding splendor and the struggle you went through simply to be there.

At last, buffeted about by the wind and more than a little worried that our accessories or even entire backpacks might be blown off the mountain, we raised ourselves into low crouches and headed down the rocky summit and back to the relative safety of the pine-covered trail.

Views from Camel's Hump Summit

Descending via the Monroe Trail

Since I have a strange aversion to out and back hiking, we descended via the Monroe Trail. This was starkly different from our Long Trail ascent.

On the way up we had been alone, the sole hikers on the trail. This descent was more like walking down a hill in a city park. The trail was crowded with rambunctious groups of college kids, young adults, avid hikers, and families bounding up the mountain.

The solitude gone, we walked down the trail with everyone else, pausing now and again to let the faster hikers pass us. As with most hikes, the descent always feels just a bit longer than the ascent. Legs are tired now, knees are starting to ache, feet to sting, and what should feel like the easiest part of the hike begins to present its own unique challenges as the pain of the day makes itself known.

Still, the trail was comfortable and not overly steep. We descended swiftly and were back at the car by 2pm.

All that was left for the day was to find a good spot for some post-hike pizza and craft beer.


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Hike Camel's Hump in Vermont's Green Mountains via the Long Trail

Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

One summer weekend, I set out on a backpacking trip to Mount Isolation; the highest point on the Montalban ridge of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But the trip was not to be. Through a series of unexpected events, I ended up hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution instead.

Change of Plans: Finding a Trailhead in Bartlett, NH

With the weather finally warming up after a prolonged, cold spring, I planned a 3-day, 2-night hike up and over Mt. Isolation. The trails would not be too strenuous, but the 4000 footer in the middle would make the trip seem just a little bit grand. I was pumped.

Yet from the very start, the world conspired against me.

First, traffic. Of course, traffic. I sat in traffic for nearly 5 hours as I slowly inched my way north through the Boston metro area towards New Hampshire. It wasn’t until 6:30p.m. that I reached the small town of Bartlett. I had only planned to hike two miles to the nearest shelter anyway, so although I was a bit flummoxed, I knew I was still safe.

As I drove up the hill towards the trailhead, anticipation built in my belly. This would be my first backpacking trip since I moved back to America last September. Soon I would be alone in the forest, surrounded by the rich smells and sounds of the wilderness.

And then.

I drove around a bend in the road and came face to face with a locked gate. No parking lot or trail marker to be found. On the gate was a small posted sign: caution, trails in the Dry River Wilderness were severely damaged in late season storms. Expert only. Hike at your peril. Be prepared to die.

Prideful and committed to my plan, I toyed with the idea of hiking up the trail anyway. I believed in my ability to make it through the wilderness. And it could add another level of adventure to an otherwise fairly routine hiking trip.

And yet, I finally came to my senses and aborted my plan to hike Mt. Isolation.

Instead, I scrambled to find a different trailhead. Even if my plans only reduced to a 1 night, 2-day hiking trip.

I settled on the nearby Parker Trailhead in Bartlett. From the trailhead it was only 3 miles to the Langdon Shelter. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it was a night or two in the backcountry. I hopped back in my car and drove the few miles over to the trailhead.

Langdon Trail at Sundown

The Parker Trailhead

Parking at the Parker Trailhead was fairly limited, with space for just a few cars in a small clearing in the woods. There were two other cars already parked, locked and empty when I arrived.

By the time I began my hike it was 6:45 p.m. The rich, gold sunlight of an early summer evening filtered sideways through the leaves.

Not having backpacked in almost two years, I had no idea what my pace would be or how much ground I’d be able to cover before I ran out of light. I figured I had about an hour before I needed to find a site. It was 3 miles from the trailhead to the shelter, but I trusted myself to set up a leave-no-trace backcountry stealth campsite if I couldn’t make it that far.

Langdon Hiking Trail Bartlett New Hampshire

Hiking the Langdon Trail to Langdon Shelter

The first mile or so of the Langdon Trail ascends at a gentle grade. The forest on either side has been cut away for some reason. Perhaps for power lines or some other kind of ugly human development. The lack of vegetation brings an unpleasant and exposed feeling to the trail.

After about a mile, the trail enters the Dry River Wilderness and the change is immediate. The scarred forest gives way to pristine wilderness. A small creek curves between two hills and rolls off into the distance. Pine needles carpet the ground and the occasional birch reaches up towards the sky. The trail begins to ascend more sharply as it finds its way up the mountain.

Entering the Dry River Wilderness, New Hampshire

The water available from the trail vanished as I ascended to higher elevations. The setting sun poured through the leaves around me. Depending on the terrain, the trail alternated between a wash of golden light, and a dim, dusky gloom.

When the sun moved behind a hill and the forest filled with shadows I would feel a sense of urgency, a dread that urged me to stop and set up camp. Then I would reach the next rise, the sunlight would return and I would think to myself, “no, a little further now. You have time.”

And then, at last, I reached a sign informing me that the Langdon shelter was just half a mile away. No sense looking for stealth camping at this point. In the dying light of the day, I hoofed it the final half mile down the path until I saw the shelter crouched amongst the trees.

Langdon Shelter, New Hampshire

A Night at the Langdon Shelter

As I emerged from the trees, I saw a woman standing in a clearing, snapping together tent poles. Turning towards me, she asked if I was with a group.

No, I answered. I’m by myself.

Oh! Her voice warmed. I’m Laura, and that’s my husband Brent, putting up our bear throw.

Laura and Brent had already hiked all of the 4000ft peaks in New Hampshire and were in the final stretch of “red-lining,” the challenge of hiking every mile of AMC managed trail in New Hampshire. That’s over a thousand miles.

They had only something over a hundred left to go.

I set up my tent in a small flat clearing close to the shelter and returned with my bear vault to sit with Laura. She began building a small fire. I pulled out my map. What would be possible over the course of the weekend?

I calculated the distance between myself and Mt Isolation. 16 miles. One way. There were no official tent sites between here and there but Laura and Brent clued me into a few spots where one could set up a tent and take in a nice view, if one were so inclined. Stealth sites, if you will.

And yet, that would mean a long hike on Saturday and a long hike out on Sunday. Sunday was Father’s Day and I had a date in Massachusetts with my Dad. If I hiked all the way to Isolation, I wouldn’t be out of the mountains till late afternoon on Sunday.

But my heart had been set on spending two nights in the backcountry. It was a painful expectation to let go of.

 

After chewing it over and changing my mind at least seven times, I settled on my choice. Tomorrow I would hike to Mount Resolution then turn around and head back out to my car. It wouldn’t be my three day journey, but it would be a 12-mile hike in the White Mountains.

I spent the rest of the night swapping stories with Laura and Brent over the fire. I told them about that time I bought a donkey in Peru, and what it feels like to trek across the Himalayas in Nepal. They spoke about a trip along the John Muir Trail and their favorite hiking spots in New England.

The next morning, I tortured myself with thoughts of bagging Mt Isolation. I knew the right thing to do was to limit myself to Mt Resolution and make it home in time for fathers day. But I wanted to do the longer hike. I wanted a second night in the woods.

Disappointment crept into my mind like a fog. As I packed up my tent, munched on my breakfast of cold pop tarts and headed out up the trail, it weighed me down, making me question my integrity as a hiker. Why even bother if I was only spending one night in the woods?

But despite the disappointment and my flair for the dramatic, the solitude of the woods embraced me, picked me up, and did its very best to remind me why I came into the mountains.

My mind settled into the introspective state that I only find when I’m pushing myself physically. My thoughts roamed, jumping from tree to tree alongside the chipmunks I startled from the underbrush.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this sense of disappointment comes less from the hike and more from my expectations. I was hiking in New Hampshire, one of my favorite places. I was surrounded by the smell of pine, the soft feeling of my feet against the trail. Why would I possibly feel anything other than contentment?

Perhaps that import I placed on other people’s imagined expectations was what I most needed to let go of.

These thoughts filled my mind all the way up to the summit of my first peak of the day, Mt. Parker.

 

View of Mt. Washington from Mt. Parker

Mt. Parker Summit Views

Mt. Parker to Mt. Resolution

Mt Parker stands just above 3,000ft. It is pointed, bald, and commands a beautiful view of the surrounding Presidential range.

I set down my pack and stood still. The peaks and valleys of the Whites rolled away from me into eternity, looking like sleeping elephants. Massive beasts about to rise up out of the earth at the slightest provocation. Washington loomed in the distance, still wearing patches of snow in mid-June.

After a moment, I pushed on further down the trail. In the near distance, I could see a flat-topped mountain rising up between me and Mount Washington. That, I believed, was Mt. Resolution, and the extent of my hike for that day.

The trail from Mount Parker to Mt. Resolution was delightful. From the summit of Parker, the trail is a narrow strip of dirt between granite boulders and alpine brush, winding down into the spruce trees. In amongst the pines, the meandering trail bops back and forth along the ridgeline.

The undulating movement continued until I reached the base of Resolution. The pitch shifted skyward and I climbed up the final ascent to the large flat granite surface: the summit of Resolution.

Setting down my pack, I wandered across the mountaintop. It is less of a summit and more of a plateau. I’m not certain I ever found the highest point. But the views of Mt. Washington were superb, and I enjoyed a moment basking in the mountain’s nearness, dreaming of the Presi traverse I hoped to complete later in the season.

White Mountains New Hampshire Views

As I stared up the Montalban ridgeline, contemplating a trek from here up to the summit of Mount Washington, the uncertainty returned.

What if I did keep walking? Am I being a quitter because I’m only hiking to Resolution and going back to my car? I had intended to spend two nights in the backcountry on this trip. Did spending only one night make me a failure?

I paced back and forth on the mountaintop as I debated my answer. I could see Stair Mountain further down the ridge. What if I simply hiked to there, found a nearby campsite, and walked back in the morning? I could still make it for dinner on Father’s Day.

But no, I’d be exhausted on Monday. And besides, I’d like to spend the whole day with my family. If I camp tonight, I wont be able to do that. There are plenty more weekends in the summer. I’ll have many more opportunities to spend two nights in the wilderness, but fathers day only comes once a year.

Turning back was the right choice. It was what I wanted. So why was it so hard to do?

Summit of Mt. Resolution New Hampshire

Mt. Resolution Summit

Reluctantly, I picked up my pack and headed back the way I had come.

But indecision had not yet released it’s grip on my mind. The fact that I had told my boyfriend I’d be in the woods for two nights, told the couple I met last night, told a few friends… I felt that I would be letting them down if I hiked out of the woods today.

My indecision was so intense I hiked about a tenth of a mile back towards my car, stopped, turned around, hiked back up the hill, stopped, turned back and forth a few times, then set off resolutely in the direction of my car.

The indecision and self-flagellation hung about me like a dull mist for the next mile or so, almost all the way back to Mt. Parker. I had to work to shake the feeling that I was letting other people down. It took far too long for me to fall back into that beautiful meditative state.

View of White Mountains from Mt Parker

After the summit of Mt. Parker my mind began to relax and I was able to relish the hike back out of the woods. Though I expected the trail to be tired, old, and boring the second time around, it was anything but. Coming at it from this new direction it was like a fresh trail populated with old friends. Here was the rock I had to scramble over on the way up, and here is the felled tree that forces me down into a crawl. The spruce and deciduous forests felt warm and inviting. Last year’s leaves crunched underneath my feet.

For 6 miles I walked along in bliss. Pain was growing in my knees and my legs heavier and heavier, yet I was finally soaked in that woodland euphoria. At the edge of the wilderness area, by the sign I had enjoyed so much the night before, I stopped briefly to refill my water and dunk my head into the stream.

Even if I could only make it out for one night, I still got to spend a night in the woods.

By the time I made it back to my car I was tired, sore, and rejuvenated. Popped into Moat Brewing for a well earned IPA and a sub-par sandwich and was on the road back to Boston, ready to plan my next hiking adventure.


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Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mount Resolution: An overnight backpacking trip in New Hampshire's White Mountains

How to Train for Your First Bike Tour

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Travel

Bike touring is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Yet it can be daunting for first time riders.

But it doesn’t have to be.

With the right training plan, you can be strong and confident on the first day of your bike tour.

Or you could be like me on the first day of my ride around Cambodia, collapsing from exhaustion after only 50 miles. Your choice, but I recommend training.

Bike Tour to Phnom Penh Cambodia

Your Super Simple Bike Tour Training Plan

1. Start with short, easy rides

4-6 months before your tour, start regularly riding your bike. Begin with an easy length, maybe only 5 or 10 miles, and build from there. Try to ride 3 to 5 times per week.

This may seem obvious, but the most important thing you can do to prepare for a bike tour is to start riding your bike. Try to keep your RMPs (that’s revolutions per minute, also known as your cadence) above 90. Your legs should be moving quickly but comfortably.

Remember to be nice to your body. You’re preparing for a big adventure. Start small but dream big. Don’t injure yourself now and mess up your future plans.

Most importantly: be patient.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

2. Start Cross Training with Weights

After a few weeks of easy riding, head to the gym to start lifting weights twice per week. This is an often overlooked step, but cross training is just as important as riding your bike.

Lifting weights will help you build strength for the long bike tour. It will also rev up your progress. Lifting weights only twice a week will make that 30 mile ride feel just a little bit easier.

Never lifted weights before? Find an intro to weight lifting class at a local gym. Learn proper weight lifting form to avoid injuries and muscle imbalances. Once you know what you’re doing, you can get creative with your weight lifting routine.

Need inspiration? Check out these exercises from REI.

biking kep cambodia

3. Embace Adventure on Longer Rides

2-3 months before the trip, start going on long bike rides.

Aim to take two 40+ mile rides each week. If this isn’t possible, at least one 50+ mile ride on the weekend should be enough.

Don’t be afraid of the long ride. This is a chance to have an adventure. Try out roads you’ve never ridden down before. Ride your bike to a nearby town or state park.

Pretty soon, you’ll be craving the peace of mind that comes from spending two or three hours alone on your bike.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

4. Add Weight To Your Bike

2-3 weeks before your trip, start adding weight to your bike when you ride. Riding a fully loaded bike is challenging. You don’t want to shock your body on day 1 of the tour.

Begin with 15 to 20 pounds on a medium length ride and build from there. Ideally, you’ll want to do one or two long rides with a fully packed bike in the week leading up to your trip.

Additional Tips

On top of your training plan, here are a few more things to keep in mind as you get fit and ready for your first bike trip:

  • Monitor your progress. Download an app like Strava or MapMyRide, or just go the oldschool route of pen and paper. Whatever you choose, keep a record of your progress. This will help keep you honest and will motivate you when you see how much you improve in only a few months.
  • Stretch! I can’t emphasize this enough. Start stretching from day one. Just five minutes of stretching after a ride can help prevent injuries and promote recovery. Not sure where to start? Try these simple stretches from Bicycling Magazine.

bike tour cambodia

Training for Adventure

Training for a bike tour should be fun. You’ll be spending time outside, getting fit, riding your bike. What more could you want?

If you can’t fit in all the training, don’t worry. I did my first bike tour without any training at all (honestly, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a year) and I survived. You will too.

If you follow this plan, you’ll be well prepared to get the most out of your first bike tour.

Happy trails!


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Training for Your First Bike Tour: A 6 Month Training Plan to Prepare for Your First Long Term Bicycle Tour

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Adventure of a Lifetime

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

You’ve got two weeks in Peru. You want to visit Machu Picchu and see the most famous place in South America, but you also want to have a wild, life altering adventure deep in the Andes. It may not sound possible, but you can have all this while staying under budget on your two week trip. How?

By hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide.

Choquequirao is a stunning ancient Incan temple built about 100 years after Machu Picchu. Much like it’s more famous cousin, Choque sits on top of an Andean Ridge, overlooking a river thousands of feet below. But unlike Machu Picchu, Choque has hardly any tourists. Fewer than 20 people visit each day.

condor

Photo by Macie J

To put that in perspective for you, Machu Picchu gets 5,000 visitors a day. One more time for the people in the back: Machu Picchu gets 5,000 people per day. Choquequirao? 20.

Why the difference? Because the only way to reach Choquequirao is via a grueling two-day hike.

As if that wasn’t adventurous enough, for those in the know, those passionate, outdoor-loving, backpacking maniacs who want to immerse themselves in the Andean wilderness, an even greater adventure awaits you beyond the gates of Choquequirao: the 9-day trek from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu.

It’s an epic journey that follows an Incan trail over two high Andean passes, through verdant valleys, and up to a deserted mountaintop ruin overlooking Machu Picchu.

Imagining, beginning your week at one of the most remote religious sanctuaries in the world, traversing Andean mountains on the same pathway the ancients walked and ending your journey at the fabled Machu Picchu.

This is all possible. Hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide is challenging, it is stunning, and it is totally doable in less than two weeks.

hiking choquequirao to machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: The Itinerary

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca to Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao to Pichauhuyoc Ruins
Day 4: Pichauhuyoc to Pajonal
Day 5: Pajonal to Yanama
Day 6: Yanama to Colcabamba
Day 7: Colcabamba to La Playa
Day 8: La Playa to Aguas Calientes
Day 9: Machu Picchu

This is a long and extremely challenging journey. Before you go, make sure you are prepared for this trip both mentally and physically. Only take on this journey without a guide if you are an experienced trekker and confident navigating backcountry terrain. Though the path is clear throughout, there are still plenty of opportunities to get lost in the Andean highlands.

As with any hike in Peru, the most important consideration of all is altitude. Give yourself at least one day to acclimate in Cusco before beginning the trek. The path from Choque to Machu Picchu crosses extremely high elevations, the highest point at Yanama Pass (4500m/15,000ft). The air up there is thin and no matter how fit and knowledgeable you are, you will struggle. Acclimate!

This trek is no joke. But for those who are fit, smart, and capable, hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu offers a chance to see a part of Peru most people have never even heard of.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Trekking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: What to Expect

I’ve covered what to expect from days one and two when you hike to Choquequirao, so let’s continue to day three, and the morning of your Choque explorations.

After you’ve finished reveling in the tranquility of this ancient temple, head towards the highest part of the temple and off into the jungle. From Choquequirao, the trail winds up the side of the mountain, weaving through dense shadowy forests before descending sharply towards a river valley.

andean flowers choquequirao hike

Photo by Macie J

A little more than halfway down to the river valley floor, you’ll come to a set of ancient Incan terraces carved into the wide open mountainside. This is Pichuhuyoc. These terraces and the small temple in the center are the location of one of the last still-functioning Incan water systems in Peru. It also makes a great place to camp for the night.

Come the morning of day four, follow the trail all the way down to the river below. There was no bridge in June 2014, but the crossing was easy nonetheless. From there, the trail is slightly off to your left. Ahead of you is a long and steep climb up to the village of Maizal. Village is perhaps a generous term, it is a collection of four or five houses perched on a mountainside. Not a human soul to be seen when I visited, but I did have a great conversation with a cow standing next to the only source of water.

From Maizal, the trail continues up more gradually, working its way towards the Victoria Pass. Through the lush jungle, the trail clings to the steep mountainside. A glance over the edge of the trail will send your heart thumping up into your throat. When I hiked this in 2014, the path was very wet and treacherous. Quiet narrow, especially when I had to share it with donkeys coming the other way.

Along the way, you’ll pass abandoned Victoria Mines, a narrow chasm cut deep into the mountain. Shortly after the mines, the trail cuts sharply up the mountain in a series of stairs and switchbacks. Once you climb into the sparse, high Andean environment, it should be nearing the end of the day. Though there is no official campsite up here, camp on whatever wide, flat, empty space you can find.

path to victoria pass

Photo by Macie J

Here is your reminder to practice leave no trace! High elevation environments are extremely sensitive, do your best not to crush plants and other life underneath your camping equipment.

Come dawn of day five, continue up towards Victoria Pass. I cannot encourage you enough to get there as soon after sunrise as you can. Further, into the day, the clouds will gather and obstruct the views. But if you arrive early enough, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding glaciers and sharp Andean peaks.

From the pass, it’s a long but fairly gentle descent down to Yanama Village, where you can camp for the night.

Waking up in Yanama will be a bizarre contrast of modern and ancient. This small village is home to a road. In fact, it is home to the only road that accesses this remote corner of the Andes. You may hear trucks and cars heading in and out of town, a grating contrast to the serenity of your days on the trail.

yanama pass

Photos by Macie J

No need to share the road, however, the Incan Trail you’ve been following for days continues its meandering path up the center of the valley. It’s difficult to get lost at this point as there is only one way to go from here.

Up and up the valley floor you go, gaining altitude and increasing in grade as the day continues. The final push to Yanama Pass is a steep and relentless wall of scree. But make it to the top of the pass and you’ll find views of a glacier so close you could reach out and touch it.

But don’t. Glaciers are very dangerous.

After Yanama Pass, you have a long yet gentle walk all the way down to Colcabamba. Savor the silence because in Colcabamba you’ll meet up with the Salkantay trail and all dirt, grime, people, and noise that come with a heavily touristed trail. But on the plus side, you can talk to another human!

trekking to yanama

Photo by Macie J

Once in Colcabamba, you can say goodbye to free campsites. Camping here is limited to a few houses and licensed spots, and they will expect you to pay. The good news is you can get a home cooked meal for the first time in almost a week.

On day six, follow the Salkantay hikers and their guides as the trail winds its way down to La Playa, a small village perched next to a river. At this point, you’ve returned to relatively low altitudes and the heat will be intense. Best to drink lots of water and try to stay in the shade.

On the final day of the trek, you have the (boring) option to follow most of the Salkantay Trekkers down to Santa Teresa and from there hike along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Or, if you have the strength and want to see Machu Picchu in a way most tourists never will take a lesser known track up to Llactapata.

Llactapata is a forgotten and unimpressive ruin that sits on a ridge overlooking Machu Picchu. Its true beauty is the unparalleled opportunity it offers to look down on Machu Picchu from afar, just as the Inca once would have.

From La Playa, cross the river and continue to hike along the road. Be on the lookout for signs pointing towards an Incan Trail to Llactapata. They are hard to find but you will see it eventually. As of 2014, it was a faded red sign.

After this, the Incan Trail winds up the side of the mountain, not too steep but after a week of Andean hiking pretty much every incline feels steep. Your effort will be rewarded when you stumble out of the jungle onto a small clearing with the still standing walls of a modest temple structure.

Walk to the edge of the plaza and look out across the landscape. On the distant ridge, you’ll see a place where the jungle has been wiped away. Stones cling to the bare mountainside. This is Machu Picchu, and you are standing by yourself in the Andean Jungle looking out over it just as the Inca did long ago.

overlooking machu picchu from llactapata

Photo by Macie J

From Llactapata, the trail down to the valley floor is easy enough and then its just a slog along the train tracks until you reach Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

For accommodations in Aguas, your options are paid camping or budget hospedajes. Take your time and find the right option for you. The cheapest hospedajes are going to be up the hill and far from the main plaza. If you’re not too picky, camping is probably the way to go. Before you go to sleep for the night, make sure to buy your entrance pass to Machu Picchu for tomorrow! Do not wait until the next morning. Apparently now they assign times of day for your visit, so check your ticket to see when you’re allowed to enter the temple.

machu picchu

Photos by Macie J

The next day, wake up early to make the walk up to Machu Picchu! Because you didn’t walk all this way just to take the bus, did you?

If you did, best to get in line for the bus at like 4am I hear. It’s pretty hard to catch a bus. The stairway up to Machu Picchu is tough but not impossible. I say hike it.

All that’s left is your exploration of Machu Picchu. Take all the time you need. This place is worth it.

After your temple visit, I recommend catching the train back to Cusco. It is by far the easiest way to travel back to civilization. If the train is outside your budget, you can follow the train tracks back towards Santa Teresa and from there catch a taxi or collectivo out to Santa Maria, and from there a bus to Cusco.

If you’re really hardcore, you can walk all the way back to the Sacred Valley by following the train tracks in the other direction. This is a 28km walk and takes the full day. Get started early. When you get to KM 82, you’ll find yourself in a small village and from there you can easily get a collectivo back to Ollantaytambo.


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Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in PeruHike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu without a guide: one of the greatest adventures in Peru

All photos on this post from Macie J.

Visit Choquequirao Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

What would it be like to visit Machu Picchu without the crowds? How incredible would it be to wander around the temple at your own pace, soaking in the silence and leaving no stone uninvestigated? While you’ll probably never get a private visit to that storied temple, there is another temple in Peru, similar is size and design, yet visited by less than 20 people a day. What is this elusive mystery? The secretive and secluded Choquequirao Temple.

For those intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure, Choquequirao offers a rare opportunity to take in Incan architecture and splendor without the crowds. A guided tour can cost hundreds of dollars, but if you are willing to take the plunge, hiking to Choquequirao without a guide can cost less than $200 and offer up the adventure of a lifetime.

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Photo by Danielle Pereira

All About Choquequirao

Pronounced “CHOCK-ey-keer-ow” this little known Incan temple is similar in style and structure to Machu Picchu. It was constructed in the 15th or 16th century, making it slightly younger than Machu Picchu. Choquequirao was also one of the last strongholds of the Incan warrior Manco Inca Yupanqui during his final resistance against the Spanish.

The site has been “rediscovered” multiple times throughout the centuries, most notably by Hiram Bingham in 1909. Excavations on Choquequirao only began in 1970 and are still ongoing today.

The temple sits at 3000m (9,800ft) above the Apurimac River, on the very top of a mountain ridge. The only way to get to Choquequirao is by trekking for four days across hot, dry, and steep terrain.

There is also an extension of this trek which can take you all the way to Machu Picchu, through some of Peru’s most legendary scenery, over the course of 9 days, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

A note on when to hike to Choquequirao: the dry season will make for the best conditions, between March and October. However, should you attempt it in the wet season, know that it is possible but the trail may become slippery and dangerous, and your views will probably be obscured by cloud.

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Hike to Choquequirao Without A Guide

Day 1: Cachora – Chiquisca
Day 2: Chiquisca – Marampata/Choquequirao
Day 3: Choquequirao – Chiquisca
Day 4: Chiquisca – Cachora

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Photo by Mark Rowland

How to Get to Cachora

If you’re going to hike to Choquequirao, first you’ve got to get to the starting point: Cachora. From Cusco, get any bus headed to Abancay, the earlier the better if you plan to start hiking on the same day. When I made the trip in June 2014, we were able to get a 5am bus, which got us to Cachora before lunch.

Ask the bus driver to stop at the Ramal de Cachora. At the Ramal, there will be several taxis waiting to drive you the 13km to Cachora. Should cost about 5 soles to share the taxi.

If you need to pick up last minute supplies like snacks or an extra packet of ramen noodles, Cachora is the place to do it. You can also allegedly hire a muleteer or even a guide, but I am not qualified to give you advice on that. You wanted to do this hike solo, right?

A note on timing: if you get an early bus from Cusco, you should be able to start hiking before or around noon. This gives you enough time to get to Chiquisca before dark. However, if you get a later bus and arrive at Cachora in the afternoon, you should probably wait a day before you start trekking. As I recall, there are a few affordable hospedajes in Cachora along with some upscale options.

Now let’s get to the good stuff: hiking to Choquequirao.

Day 1: Cachora to Chiquisca

The views on this hike begin immediately, as Cachora sits on the edge of a steep canyon, commanding panoramic views of the snowcapped peaks across the divide.

From Cachora, head downhill on the main road through town until you hit the farmlands. You should find a sign indicating the trail to Choquequirao. Take a left, cross a small stream, then take the path up to the road. Walk along the road until you come to the Mirador, an outcropping of land jutting into the canyon.

From the Mirador, it’s a long, steep set of switchbacks all the way down to Chiquisca at km19. If you got a late start, this is a good spot to camp. However, if you make it to Chiquisca early in the day, I recommend pushing on all the way to the river or even to Santa Rosa Baja.

Pro Tip: Day 2 is the most intensely grueling day of the entire trek, so the more ground you can cover on day 1, the easier day 2 will be.

Let’s assume, for the purposes of this itinerary, that you only make it to Chiquisca on Day 1. This campsite has streams for water, small shelters for cooking, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. Get a good night’s sleep because Day 2 is not a joke.

Apurimac River Valley

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 2: Chiquisca to Marampata/Choquequirao

The earlier you can start day 2, the better. The trail is a long, steep, and without shelter from the blazing sun. If you can get at least halfway up the mountain before the sun rises to its apex, you’ll be thankful.

From Chiquisca, the trail continues down the mountain to the river below. At the river, you’ll find a campsite and a suspension bridge. Take a moment of silence in honor of your strength, endurance, and capacity, because they are all about to be pushed to their limits.

From the canyon floor, the trail heads up steeply, in a series of switchbacks that go on forever. I made the mistake of thinking that I must have almost reached the top. Don’t worry. You haven’t. You’re in for a big climb and your legs are going to feel it.

You’ll pass Santa Rose Baja, and a few minutes beyond that, Santa Rosa Alta. There are stores here and a nice flat, grassy area. It’s a good spot to stop and enjoy a snack. Then, continue following the merciless trail as it leads you relentlessly upwards.

At long last and well beyond your breaking point, you’ll come to the top of a switchback and find the trail leveled out. A bench awaits you, granting a respite from standing and a view out over the canyon wall you descended the day before.

From there, it is only a short walk to the village of Marampata, where you can find shops selling snacks, beers, and even a campsite. However, if you have the energy, I recommend continuing onwards and camping at the site below Choquequirao. It’s quite a bit further, probably another hour of hiking, but well worth it to camp so close to the ruins.

On the walk to the campsite, you’ll get your first view of Choquequirao perched precariously on the edge of the mountain ridge.

Choquequirao Peru

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 3: Choquequirao to Chiquisca

Today is the day! After the labors on the mountainside on day 2, you’ve more than earned the right to visit this secretive world wonder. Whether you’re camped at Choquequirao or Marampata, I recommend getting an early start to experience the majesty of this temple in the early morning light.

The trail cuts through thick jungle and muddy mountainside on its way to the sanctuary. A few steps out of the jungle and suddenly you find yourself on the main plaza, in the center of a temple equal in size and splendor to Machu Picchu.

The true joy of a visit to Choquequirao comes not from the structures themselves but from the serenity of the space. Take a seat beneath the single tree in the main plaza and appreciate the silence and the grandeur of this Incan Temple.

When you’ve basked long enough, stroll slowly through the structures, make your way down to the terraces, or climb up to the main temple plaza. From the top, you can look down and see all of Choquequirao spread out before you. Your mind will struggle to comprehend the idea of people constructing this massive complex nearly 600 years ago.

And yet, here it stands.

Allow a full morning for exploration and enjoyment of this wondrous landmark. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end. If you’re taking on the massive nine-day hike to Machu Picchu, head uphill through the temple to find your Incan Trail.

For those who are only taking on the four-day trek, it’s time to tackle the long downhill and small uphill back to Chiquisca on the far side of the canyon.

Choquequirao view

Photo by Mark Rowland

Day 4: Chiquisca to Cachora

The climb from Chiquisca up to the Mirador, so easy when it was a downhill, becomes somewhat more grueling on the way back up. Once you gain the Mirador, a well-earned beer awaits you at the small shop there.

Once revived by your adult beverage, only a short walk stands between you and Cachora, where you can easily find a room for the night or a taxi to drive you back up to the main road. In order to hitch a ride back to Cusco, you’ll have to do it the Peruvian way, when you see a car, van, or bus, hold out your hand flat and wave it up and down. Eventually, someone will stop and offer you a ride. If you’re nervous about it, negotiate a price up front.

Once back in Cusco, you are faced with a choice: do you tell other travelers about the majesty of Choquequirao, or keep the secret of this remarkable place close to your heart?


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Visit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the AndesVisit Choquequirao without a Guide: Travel to Peru and visit this less well known temple high in the Andes

4 Hidden Cambodia Tourist Spots Near Angkor Wat

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

You’re planning a trip to Cambodia and you’re hoping to find some other spots. You want to escape the tourists yet stay close to Angkor Wat. With this list of four of my favorite spots near Siem Reap, I hope you can visit these hidden sites tucked away from the main tourist trail.

Each of these tourist spots is within a one or two day trip from Angkor Wat and could easily be added on to a traditional Cambodia itinerary.

Banteay Chhmar

Satellite Temple in the Jungles of Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar

Imagine visiting Angkor Wat without the tourists. Picture a temple half reclaimed by the jungle, with massive trees growing out of the faces and towers. Sounds pretty magical, right? That’s what you’ll find when you visit the temple complex at Banteay Chhmar.

Located a full days journey from Siem Reap, Banteay Chhmar features a massive central temple with the enigmatic carved face towers similar to those found at Angkor. There are four smaller satellite temples surrounding the main temple as well.

Though Banteay Chhmar lacks the preservation of Angkor Wat, there is a certain charm to its tumbling walls and neglected towers. Without the crowds, you can take your time and appreciate the remarkable beauty of this ancient Khmer temple. Stroll around the grounds, scan the bas-relief murals, and gaze up at the faces of long-dead kings as they stare out at a now-vanished empire.

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Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar

How to Get to Banteay Chhmar

From Siem Reap, take a bus or taxi to Serey Sophorn/Banteay Meanchey. All buses that go to Battambang will pass through this town. From there, you need to get a taxi to Banteay Chhmar. The community-based tourism cooperative located in Banteay Chhmar has one taxi that they run, otherwise, you can easily find a car waiting near the bus depot that will take you to the temple for a small fee.

Banteay Chhmar Cambodia

Strangler Figs Growing in Banteay Chhmar

Accommodation in Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar doesn’t have any traditional guesthouses or hotels, so if you’re looking for those, you’ll want to get a room in Serey Sophorn and take a taxi up to Banteay Chhmar. It is very doable as a day trip.

If you want to sleep in Banteay Chhmar, the people who live in the village around the temple run a Community Based Tourism project (CBT) that runs homestays in the village. Get in touch with them ahead of time to let them know you’re coming. They have an office in town, but when I visited in June 2017, it was unmanned.

Koh Ker Temple Cambodia

Koh Ker Temple

Koh Ker

Another impressive remnant of the Khmer Empire, this ancient temple complex sits only 75 miles (120km) from Siem Reap, making it an easy day trip. This tourist spot has the added benefit of being less well known and thus lacking the crowds associated with Angkor.

Though there are over 180 temples and sanctuaries in the Koh Ker region, the main attraction is Koh Ker temple, a square stepped pyramid rising dramatically out of the surrounding Cambodian landscape. Also worth a visit are the beautifully carved red temple Prasat Prahom, and the fantastical Prasat Pram overgrown by strangler figs.

How to Get to Koh Ker

The easiest way to get to Koh Ker is by hiring a private taxi for the day. A taxi to and from Koh Ker stopping at several temples along the way should set you back about $70.

prasat preah vihear temple cambodia

Preah Vihear Ruins

Preah Vihear Temple

Arguably the most impressive temple in Cambodia, this little-known tourist spot sits atop a mountain on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Older than Angkor Wat, it is built in a similar style and can be reached in a two or three day trip from Siem Reap.

Preach Vihear Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and stretches 2,600ft (800m) on a north-south axis at the top of a mountain in the Dangrek Mountain range. The sight of a thousand-year-old temple standing on the edge of a 1,600ft (500m) cliff looking out across the Cambodian floodplain is not something you will soon forget.

How to get to preah vihear temple

Main Entrance to Preah Vihear

This tourist spot also has an intriguing modern history. Because of its location on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, the two countries have had several conflicts over ownership of the temple.

In June of 1962, the Hague ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. And yet, the two countries continue to dispute ownership. If you visit today, you will still see Thai soldiers positioned across the border, a few fortifications, and maybe a Khmer soldier sitting idly waiting for something to happen. The area has been conflict-free since 2013, but it may still make sense to check with your embassy before visiting.

Preah Vihear Temple Cambodia

Temple at Preah Vihear

How to Get to Preah Vihear

This may be confusing so read closely. There are two places in Cambodia called Preah Vihear: the first is the temple, the second is a city of the same name. You do not want to go to the city. The nearest town to Preah Vihear temple is the village of Sra’aem.

There are minibuses that run from Siem Reap to Sra’aem, passing through Anlong Veng. Tickets should be $10-15.

From Sra’em, it’s 18 miles to the temple. You can hire taxis or a moto in town or your hotel may be able to help you find a ride. Expect to pay $15 round trip.

Entrance to the temple is $10 and you need to show your passport to buy a ticket. Getting a ride to the top of the mountain is a further charge, you can pay a motodop ($5) or take a truck ($25). It’s also possible to hike to the top using the ancient staircase. I highly recommend taking this track if you’re relatively fit an adapted to the heat in Cambodia. Bring snacks though, there is no food at the top.

Where to Stay

There are several guesthouses in Sra’aem that line the main road through town. Rooms in any of them should be between $8 – $15, depending on the time of year and your negotiation skills. When I visited in June 2017, I stayed at the Soksan 66 Guesthouse and I thought it was perfectly comfortable.

Ta Moks House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Ta Mok’s Mountain House

Anlong Veng

This town, situated 83 miles (135km) north of Siem Reap, is home to some stark reminders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Genocide. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Anlong Veng was one of the most remote towns in Northwestern Cambodia, inaccessible by road. This inaccessibility made Along Veng the perfect stronghold for the Khmer Rouge leaders in the dying days of their power.

A quick history lesson for you: from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was ruled by the communist Khmer Rouge who orchestrated a massive genocide, killing over a quarter of the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge was controlled by Brother Number 1, Pol Pot, and a group of his cadres, including Ta Mok (Brother Number 4), Son Sen, and Khiev Samphan.

When the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 and pushed the Khmer Rouge out of their capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retained control of the fringes of the country, continuing to fight a guerrilla war for decades. Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and many others made their home and center of control in the remote town of Anlong Veng

Today, physical signs of this complicated history remain in Anlong Veng. The five most notable dark tourist spots in Along Veng are Ta Mok’s house and lake, Son Sen’s grave, Pol Pot’s Grave, Ta Mok’s Mountain House, and Pol Pot’s House.

In town, tourists can visit Ta Mok’s house and see the artificial lake he constructed in the 1990s. This is easily reachable by foot, just head north towards the mountains from the roundabout in town and the driveway will be on your right.

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For all the other sites, you will need to have your own transportation or hire a motodop driver in town for the day. I highly suggest hiring a driver, because many of these tourist spots are incredibly hard to find, and some are not signposted at all. A motodop for the day should cost between $10-$20 depending on your negotiating skills.

To reach the remote sites, follow the road north towards Choam and the Thai Border. The home and grave of Son Sen sit off the road to the right, shortly before you reach the mountains. Son Sen was once a leader of the Khmer Rouge, but his death was ordered by an increasingly paranoid Pol Pot in the late 90s.

Up in the Dangrek Mountains, just on the border with Thailand and directly across the street from a gaudy casino building, Pol Pot’s tomb sits quietly unadorned on a small side street. It is something of a travesty to think that a man who ordered the death of a quarter of his countrymen should be buried in such a beautiful place.

Just before the border crossing, take a right onto an unassuming dirt road and you’ll soon come to Ta Mok’s mountaintop vacation home, now the location of a Peace Museum and Khmer style resort with small pavilions and hammocks perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the floodplain below. This is a good spot to enjoy a picnic lunch, as bizarre as that sounds.

The last spot of the day, if you have the energy and fortitude to reach it, is the most gruesomely interesting. Deep in the jungles of the Dangrek Mountains sits the remains of the house of Pol Pot.

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Road to Pol Pot’s House

Following the road that passes Ta Mok’s mountain home, continue east, climbing up and down mountain slopes, through small villages, across wide open farmland, and through several military encampments. The border between Cambodia and Thailand is a bit porous up here and there is a chance the road passes in and out of both countries.

After many kilometers, a few forks, and lots of confusion, the road shrinks down to a muddy single track through the jungle, culminating in the graffitied shell of structure: the home of once all-powerful Brother Number One.

Pol Pot's House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Once you soak up all the eeriness you can handle, head back down to Anlong Veng to recoup from your day of dark tourism.

How to Get to Anlong Veng

There are mini buses that run from Siem Reap to Along Veng every day, several times a day. Tickets should be $8-10.

Accommodation in Anlong Veng

There are several guesthouses on the main road in Along Veng, some nicer than others. I stayed in a perfectly comfortable family guesthouse in a room for $5, though I negotiated somewhat aggressively for that price. Expect to pay $7 to $15 for a room with a fan or A/C respectively.

Tourist Spots Off The Tourist Trail

Each of these tourist spots is located with a day or two of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. If you only have a short amount of time in Cambodia and you want to understand this country’s history on a deeper level, I hope you’ll consider exploring one or more of these gorgeous and important tourist sites.


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Discove 4 Off the Beaten Path Tourist Spots in Cambodia - What to do near Siem Reap after you visit Angkor Wat4 Tourist Spots to Visit in Cambodia after you finish touring Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

This post is for the people who seek the thrill and danger of backcountry adventure. Those whose greatest desire while traveling is to get off of the well-trodden path and discover roads that most people never stumble upon.

If you’re looking for an adventure through the wilds of Cambodia, it’s time you read a bit more about the little known Cardamom Mountains.

A quick word of caution, this is not a journey for the faint of heart. You will struggle, and you will probably be in pain. You will ride through mud up to your knees and you will possibly get lost. Yet when you make it out the other side and see the waters of the Bay of Thailand shining far below, the only thing you’ll remember is the outstanding beauty and overwhelming sense of awe.

cardamom mountains to o soam

Road through the Jungle

This rugged journey takes you from the city of Battambang, in Northeast Cambodia, through rural farmland, ascends into jungle-clad mountains, follows roads that haven’t been repaired since the day they were built, and spits you out, three days (or more) later in Koh Kong, Cambodia’s forgotten outlaw city on the Bay of Thailand.

Am I overselling this? Not at all. I’ve riding a mountain bike through these roads several times and I always come away feeling overjoyed that my life lets me experience something as great as this ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamoms.

Ready to tackle the adventure? Let’s get into the finer points of how to get from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains.

At the end of this post, I’ve included links to simple google maps instructions to illustrate the route that I describe.

Riding Through the Cardamoms: The Itinerary

Day 1: Battambang to Pramaoy
Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam
Day 3: O Soam to Koh Kong

view of o soam cambodia

O Soam Village with Phnom Samkos in the distance

Tips for Riding from Battambang to Koh Kong

Choose Your Mode of Transport

This ride can be done on a mountain bike, motorcycle, or dirtbike. As far as I know, you cannot hire a car to drive you along this exact route.

I’ve completed a version of this ride twice, and both times on a mountain bike. It is easily one of the most challenging bike tours I’ve ever done. The roads are often in terrible condition and through remote areas with no villages, shops, or places to purchase supplies.

Pay Attention to the Weather

This trip should really only be attempted from November to June. Once the rains start, the road up to O Soam becomes completely impassable. Cycling it would be beyond dangerous. Same goes for a moped. Dirtbikes might still be able to make it but it is still dangerous.

Basically, don’t do this trip in the rainy season.

Why Battambang and Not Pursat?

You can easily find many blog posts that describe the ride from Pursat to Koh Kong as a great adventure. In fact, the first time I did the ride I started in Pursat. My advice now? Don’t do it. The road from Pursat is wide, paved, and boring. If you’re in it for the adventure, start from Battambang and take the mountain roads to Pramaoy.

Accommodation Along the Way

Hotels and Guesthouses are available in Battambang, Pramaoy, O Soam, and Koh Kong. You can make this journey on a bicycle without camping gear as long as you are very fit, accustomed to the Cambodian climate, and know what you are doing.

If you are an inexperienced cyclist and don’t know any basic bike maintenance, do not attempt this ride solo! This ride passes through remote areas without villages or support. If something happens to you, it could be hours before someone passes.

Make it a 5-Day Journey

Though I will outline this trip as a three-day itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to spend several days in O Soam. A man named Mr. Lim runs a homestay there with his family and it is the best-kept secret in Cambodia. Just go, and spend two or three days hanging out with Lim, visiting waterfalls, mountain biking in the jungle, and generally having a great time.

If you’re on a mountain bike, there are some sweet trails winding back through the jungle you could easily spend a week exploring.

Be Prepared!

This is an extremely remote and rugged ride. Whether you’re on a dirt bike, moto, or a mountain bike, bring the tools you need to make basic repairs along the way. Make sure you carry enough food and water to get you through each day. Especially on the road from O Soam to Koh Kong, do not expect to stop and buy supplies on the road as there are no villages! More than any other stretch of road in Cambodia, it is important to be prepared for anything in the Cardamoms.

Day 1: Biking Battambang to Pramaoy – 73 miles (118km)

Okay, first things first, Pramaoy is pronounced Pram-Ow-Ee, like pram as in the UK English name for a baby stroller, ow, as in ow my toe, and E as in the letter E. Pram-ow-ee. You’re welcome. Now you can at least ask for directions when you get lost.

Leaving Battambang, you want to head south out of town following the river towards Banan Temple. Follow the paved road as it winds through fragrant farmland with fruit stands dotting the side of the road. A canopy of trees offers much-needed shade from the rising sun.

After you pass Banan Temple on your right, the land opens up and you will start to see some hills rising around you. Finally, come to a roundabout with a statue the woman carrying a pot on her head. By this point, you’ve ridden 21.5 miles (34.6km).

This intersection is a good place to stop and have a coconut or buy some snacks. You won’t pass another shop for at least an hour, you’re probably hungry, and the sun will be beating you into the earth with its wild tropical heat.

From the rotary, continue straight for another 1.5 miles (2.3km), then take a left onto the dirt road. This road should, in a short while, cross a river.
Cross the river and continue straight for another 15 miles (24km) through the wide open farmland. You’ll begin to see the first ridge of the Cardamom mountains rising in the distance.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

Nearing the Cardamoms

Follow the road in a more or less straight line until you come to a kind of T junction. Here you’ll find a small market and collection of buildings. If you’re lucky, someone will be serving lunch. Keep in mind that Cambodian markets generally stop serving lunch by 11am, 11:30 if you’re lucky.

From this T-junction, take a right and follow the road for 6.5 miles (10.5km) until you come to yet another T-junction.

tough cambodian road

This is a road in Cambodia

By now, the mountains will feel formidable, the weight of their presence pushing down on you, impressing the magnitude of the trials you are about to face on their steep slopes. At the final fork, you take a right and head on up into the mountains and your first massive climb of the journey.

If you’re one of the adventurous souls on a mountain bike, get ready for some serious climbing. Whoever built this road clearly skipped the day in urban planning class where they discussed switchbacks because this road is steep. Impractically steep. Relentlessly steep. As the road plies a straight line directly up the mountain all hope leaves your soul, your strength deserts you. Your lungs, heart, and legs beg for relief.

But you push on. You gain the first rise, then the second. You finally reach the crest of the hill.

From that point, you are blessed with the most perfect downhill of all time. It is gradual, flowing, and nearly neverending. You fly down a wide open valley between two steep mountain ridges. Cambodian villages cling to both sides of the road. The locals call out and cheer as you ride by but you’re too absorbed in the thrill of the downhill to stop and make small talk. The pain in your legs is replaced by euphoria as you fly ever downwards through the stunning Cambodian mountain scenery.

Cycling Battambang to Pramaoy

At the top of the downhill

You didn’t realize Southeast Asia could be this beautiful.

Eventually, the road heads uphill again, passing through jungle and farmland before dumping you out on the main road from Pursat to Pramaoy. It’s just 7 more kilometers (5 miles) along this road, then you reach your goal for the evening, the wacky and whimsical village of Pramaoy.

There are several guesthouses in Pramaoy. I like to use the one right off of the rotary in the middle of town. Rooms are $5 a night for a single bed and a private bathroom. There is a shop just next door on the corner that sells fried noodles and fried rice at dinner for $2 a plate.

What more could you need? Get to sleep early because you’ve got quite a day ahead of you tomorrow.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

Road to O Soam

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong Day 2: Pramaoy to O Soam – 18 miles (30km)

Though each leg of this journey has its own beautiful moments, this leg, the second day up to O Soam, holds a special place in my heart. It’s the shortest day in terms of mileage, but possibly the most revelatory and wonderful in terms of adventure.

Waking up in Pramaoy is a real treat in and of itself. The town is bisected by a wide red dirt road that churns up dust in the dry season, giving the entire town a lost-in-time feel. It’s classic old school Cambodia. The houses and shops line either side of the road but are separated from it by a ditch, so everyone throws down a couple planks to act as bridges to their shops. Stand still for a moment and you’ll soon see Cambodians driving their motos across these makeshift plank walkways. It’s great. I love Pramaoy.

Once you’ve had your traditional Cambodian breakfast of Bai Sak Chru (rice and pork) or Bor Bor (rice porridge), it’s time to hit the road for the magical mystery tour that is the road to O Soam.

From Pramaoy, head south out of town from the rotary up towards the mountains in the distance. If you’re facing the main section of town, this is the left-hand road. The road will take you down a short hill and across a bridge. If you don’t cross a bridge almost immediately, you’ve taken the wrong turn.

cardamom mountain road

Looking Backwards on the way up to O Soam

From here, the conditions deteriorate rapidly, especially in the rainy season. The road will be swamped with mud and half of the adventure is riding through puddles without knowing exactly how deep they are going to be. Expect wet knees.

For the first 5 miles of the day, the road winds uphill through farmland, then through some rolling hills and small villages. Occasionally the jungle opens up onto farmland, offering stunning views back along the valley towards Pramaoy with rock-faced mountains rising beyond.

cycling battambang to koh kong

Up and Up and Up

After the final rolling hill, you’ll come to a small climb and then a sudden drop-off. Across the valley from you, a wall of jungle-clad mountain rises up, blocking out the sky. Please note the thin red line peeking out from beneath the foliage. That is your path. You have reached the climb.

Not as steep as the previous day by any means, this climb is no less strenuous and daunting. The road is generally in terrible condition. Even just a small amount of rain will turn the dirt into a thick and sticky clay that latches onto your tires and covers everything in a thick layer of muck. This mud is incredibly slippery so if you do run out of momentum, expect to slip and slide down into the dirt.

Compound these muddy conditions with sweltering heat and the savage glare of the Cambodian sun and you’ve got yourself an adventure. But don’t worry too much, as long as you head into it knowing it’s going to be tough, you’ll have a great time. This is easily one of my favorite single days of cycling. Something about the noises of the jungle, the challenge of the road, the beauty of looking around and seeing only jungle clad ridges rolling off into the distance makes this day unforgettable.

As you ascend, the road crosses several ridges before reaching the end of the final climb. On the way up, you will pass no shops and no homes. Bring enough water and snacks. There is a small hut a little over halfway up where you might run into some Khmer military types hanging out. They might give you water, or they might just give you funny looks.

cycling in the cardamom mountains

You’ll know you’ve made it to the top when you see a wide valley open up below you. Far in the distance, a small village sits on a lake. That is O Soam and your goal for this day.

After soaking up the view, it’s time for the downhill. The road heads downward at a steep grade, finishing in a ramshackle village perched on the edge of the lake.

From there, the road carries on and winds around the lake for a further 20km but it is not necessary to take the road. From the ramshackle village, it is possible to take a series of two ferries across the lake almost all the way to O Soam. The total cost for the ferries is, I believe, $2.50.

When you disembark from the final ferry, you have just a few miles left to go.

The road winds through the rich jungle and you’ll begin to see some signs telling you that the “O Soam Homestay” is only a few kms away. This is where you want to stay. There is no better accommodation in O Soam, or possibly even in Cambodia.

o soam community homestay cardamom mountains cambodia

O Soam Homestay

The O Soam Homestay is a slice of heaven in the middle of thick, mountainous jungle. Perched on the edge of the lake, a man named Mr. Lim brought his family up here to open a homestay and educate the local population on the importance of stopping deforestation and poaching. He is truly a wonderful human being and a delight to stay with.

If you have time, I can’t encourage you enough to spend a day or two relaxing in a hammock, eating family style meals with the Lims, swimming in their lake, or heading out on an adventure or two with Lim and his local guides.

You won’t find another place like this anywhere else in Cambodia.

cardamom mountains homestay cambodia

Cycling Battambang to Koh Kong: Day 3: The Final Marathon – 67 miles (108km)

The final day of the ride has the greatest change in elevation and is the most unforgiving and tiring. If you’re on a mountain bike, this day will challenge you physically, mentally, and spiritually. It will break you down into bits and build you back up into a better, if slightly traumatized, human.

If you’re on a motorcycle or moped, just be ready for a really long day with no shops and nowhere to buy food. I don’t know if it will break you as a person and motorcyclist, but it will be stunning, I can promise you that.

No matter what mode of transport you’re on, carry enough water with you! I had 4 liters with me and I barely made it.

This is a long day through mountains. Do not expect to finish in a few hours. An early start is key to success; it gets hot in them hills in the middle of the day.

From Lim’s place, cross the river and head into O Soam village. At the fork, take the right-hand road across the river and then out across the farmlands. The road here is in terrible condition but things improve quickly once you get onto the main road to Koh Kong.

After 6 miles (10km), you’ll come to a junction with some restaurants and shops, and a big sign pointing the way to Koh Kong. It’s a right-hand turn and very important not to miss this.

If you’re using google maps, it will tell you to go straight. Very important advice about riding in Cambodia: do not trust Google! They have no idea what is going on. That road doesn’t exist. You need to take the right-hand turn as signposted. The locals will make sure you don’t miss this. If you try to ride straight through, several people will shout at you.

From this turn, it’s basically a straight shot until you hit the paved road about 31 miles (50km) further down. But don’t let that relatively short distance deceive you. Those are a long and adventurous 31km. I won’t ruin too much of the surprise but expect several long climbs, many dramatic downhills, and a few truly horrendous Chinese-built dams. Yay globalization!

On a personal note, the first time I attempted this ride in November of 2016, I got a flat tire after only 40km and had to be driven out by some friendly Khmer people. As I stood on the side of the road hoping that anybody would drive by and save my dumbass (I was riding without any extra inner tubes or tools), I heard a whooping call echoing through the jungle. It sounded quite nearby. I gazed up into the trees, not sure what to look for, and I heard it again, a whoop whoop whoop sound. Then I saw it, a gibbon was hanging from the top branches of a tree just above me on the side of the road. Our eyes met, the gibbon paused, whooped at me one last time, then turned and swung off into the jungle. If I hadn’t had a flat tire, I never would have seen such a beautiful creature.

cardamom mountain road koh kong

The Road to Koh Kong

Back to the directions.

After many an epic downhill and some truly breathtaking views, you’ll come out onto a paved road. Turn right. Not too much further, you come to another split, and the signs here are misleading. The paved road heads to the left, while a dirt road heads right. The signs will tell you to take the dirt road, and you can. But you can also stay on the paved road to the left. This will take you down to a Chinese dam, through a workers camp, and then will meet up with the dirt road further on down the line.

Everyone I speak to who has taken the dirt road says it’s horrible. Take the paved road.

Not much else to it really. From there you just follow the road down to Koh Kong. If you’re cycling, there will come a beautiful moment where you break out of the jungle and see the ocean and river fanned out below you. Your legs will rejoice, thinking the end is nigh.

The end is not nigh. The end is still very far away. Keep your chin up and keep pedaling. You’ll get there.

koh kong harbor

Koh Kong Harbor

I could barely walk by the time I rolled into Koh Kong at the end of the day, but it was so worth it. And now, sitting here at my kitchen counter writing this post 6 months later, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

If you love bike touring, are going to Cambodia, and want to have a life-changing and stunning adventure in one of the last remaining mountainous wildernesses in Southeast Asia, I can’t encourage you enough to ride from Battambang to Koh Koh through the Cardamom Mountains.


As promised, here are the google map directions for each leg of the journey. I’m not overly tech savvy so I just broke it up into chunks wherever google maps didn’t want to let me plot the route as is. Sorry that it isn’t a KML or GPX file.

Day 1, First Part: https://goo.gl/maps/GfUBk1wr2F62
Day 1, Second Part: https://goo.gl/maps/MavkLdeEn8E2
Day 2, First Part (to the ferry): https://goo.gl/maps/YwtNsPfTfy92
Day 3: https://goo.gl/maps/Uhq4GPgB84q


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How to Ride from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia

Hiking Colca Canyon Without A Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The trek through Peru’s Colca Canyon will test your limits, push you to your breaking point, and reward you with some of the most stunning views to be had anywhere in the world. This is one of Peru’s most popular trekking destinations and the second deepest canyon in the world. Though it can be done as a two-day trek, I recommend taking 3 to 5 days to explore this unique and gorgeous location. For those who are on a budget, or who are just fiercely independent, let’s go over how to trek Colca Canyon without a guide.

I made a five-day trek through this beautiful Canyon back in December 2015, and to this day it is one of my most memorable trekking experiences. Something about the depth of the canyon, the colors of the desert landscape, and the unique combination of wilderness and Peruvian culture made this trek stick out in my mind. I did it without a guide and for under $200 and I’d love to share some of my insights with you.

Colca Canyon view from the top

View from the top.

All About Colca Canyon

Before we get started on the how, let’s get into the why. Colca Canyon is one of the most exceptional natural landscapes in Peru. And Peru is a country filled to the brim with jaw-dropping landscapes. But really, Colca Canyon sticks out among the rest.

Once billed as the deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon has since been forced to cede that crown to a nearby, but less well-known canyon. Still, second deepest canyon in the world just ain’t that bad, reaching a depth of 10,730ft (3,270m). As a comparison, the Grand Canyon in the United States is only 6,093ft deep.

Located about 8 hours from Arequipa, this Canyon sits below now dead volcanoes and is cut through by the Rio Colca. At the northern end of the Canyon sits the town of Chivay. Up here, the canyon is more of a fertile valley, characterized by small villages and ancient pre-Incan terracing.

As you travel south down the only road on the top of the canyon, you’ll pass by 56 different small villages. The river runs beside you through the valley until suddenly, just a few miles before the final town, it drops away and the canyon opens up below you. The last town perched on the edge of the canyon is Cabanaconde. This is the starting point for the trek.

Colca Canyon is home to a wide variety of unique flora and fauna, the most famous of which is the Andean Condor. This majestic bird can live 70 years and has a wingspan of up to 9 feet. In the Incan mythology, the flying Condor represents heaven.

The people who live in and around Colca Canyon come from two separate cultures: the Cabana culture are a Quechua speaking people, and the Collagua culture are an Aymara speaking people. They continue to live on the land to this day, practicing traditional culture and cultivating their pre-Incan terraces.

Plaza Central Cabanaconde

Central Plaza, Cabanaconde

How to Get to Colca Canyon

Your journey begins from Arequipa, a town that sits slightly inland from the ocean in the middle of a vast desert. You’ll want to get a bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. If you can’t find a time to Cabanaconde that works for you, you can get a bus to Chivay and transfer to a local bus that goes from Chivay to Cabanaconde.

From Arequipa, there are several bus companies that run to Cabanaconde. I took Turismo Milagros. Buses to Cabanaconde leave at a range of times, from about 1am until mid-morning. We took a 4am bus that got us to Cabanaconde in time for lunch.

Expect the entire bus journey to take upwards of 8 hours. This bus ride is long, reaches high elevations, and can get extremely cold. Bring a jacket! I didn’t have enough layers and I was freezing in the high elevations.

bus to Colca Canyon

The Itinerary: A 5 Day Trek in Colca Canyon Without a Guide

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho – Tapay – Malata
Day 3: Malata – Fure – Llahuar
Day 4: Llahuar Hot Springs Day of Rest and Joy
Day 5: Llahuar – Cabanaconde

Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what to expect when you hike Colca Canyon without a guide.

Colca Canyon Views

View from the bus near Chivay

What to Pack for Colca Canyon

When I made this trek in 2015, I did it with a partner and we intended to hike completely unassisted. We had the advantage of being based out of the Cusco area where I was living for work at the time. I had brought all of my camping equipment with me when I moved to Peru, so we didn’t need to rent any gear.

For those who are traveling without tents and sleeping bags and stoves, there are guesthouses in certain towns in the valley. For more information about trekking Colca Canyon and staying in guesthouses, I recommended reading this blog post, or this one. You might also be able to rent tents and camping bags and such in Arequipa, but I’m not sure about that.

We carried all of our food into the canyon with us and were able to feed ourselves and cook our own meals until we got to Llahuar, which as you’ll read, by that point we were so starving and tired we were more than happy to pay 10 soles for a home-cooked meal.

For clothing, bring a couple layers. The canyon is in a desert and as such is primarily hot and dry but we did get a few drops rained down on us on the first day, and it got a little chilly at night. I appreciated having my fleece with me during the evenings.

Map of Colca Canyon Trek

Map of Colca Canyon. Yeah…

A note about maps: ideally you should always trek with a topographical, accurate map of the region where you’ll be hiking. To the best of my knowledge, one of those does not exist for this canyon. The best we could find was a cartoon map not drawn to scale. Hopefully, you have better luck.

Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho

Our bus from Arequipa dropped us off in the central plaza of Cabanaconde right around lunchtime. We grabbed a quick menu from a shop on the square then walked off to buy some cookies and head for the trailhead.

To get to the trailhead for San Juan de Chuccho, head back out of town up the paved road. After a little while, you’ll see a sort of church and a small soccer field with some bleachers on your left, the trailhead is behind that soccer field. Follow the footpath with hiking boot footprints in it.

colca canyon trail cabanaconde

It begins.

Pretty soon you should start to see some signs pointing you towards a Mirador, towards Tapay, and a kilometer indicator that reads 00. This is the beginning of the long, winding trail to the bottom of the canyon.

The trail begins by cutting along the side of the canyon, offering stunning views to the north and south, as well as a peek down to where you’ll end your day. After this easy beginning, the trail heads down and down and down. In places, it can be quite steep, with slippery loose rock underfoot.

All told, it took us about 3 hours to reach the bridge at the bottom of the canyon, but we may have been slowed down by our heavy packs and camping supplies.

When you reach the canyon floor, you’ll come to a bridge and find a representative who will check your boleto turistico. Cross the bridge and follow the path along the river until you reach San Juan de Chuccho.

bridge before san juan de chuccho colca canyon

Receiving words of wisdom from the keeper of the bridge.

For those hiking without camping gear, there are two guesthouses in San Juan de Chuccho, Roys house or Rivelina’s house. They are probably pretty similar. We camped in an open grassy area below Rivelina’s house and paid them 5 soles for the privilege. Since we brought our own food and camping stove, 5 soles was the total cost of our day.

Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Malata via Tapay

We woke early the next morning, ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal, and packed up our campsite. This would be our first full day of hiking in the canyon and we were pumped. As we headed out of San Juan de Chuccho, we struck up a conversation with a local who suggested we hike uphill to Tapay.

I’m sure they had a reason for suggesting this, but in retrospect, I cannot for the life of me remember what it could have been. Maybe the church? Or the views? Anyway, we decided to follow their advice, though it led to a day far more wild than what I had expected.

Colca Canyon without a guide

It was a hot day.

A small trail cuts off of the main road just outside of San Juan and heads uphill towards Tapay. I believe this may have been a local trail. There is a far more well defined and easier trail that heads to Tapay from the bridge from the day before, but we didn’t want to backtrack. Take the local trail, we thought. What could possibly go wrong?

We followed it up through some terraces and farmland, hiking as the sun rose above us and the day got hotter and hotter. We stopped at one point to dip our heads into some cool water flowing down from the mountains far above.

At some point in the terraces, our local trail failed us. It narrowed from a trail to a path, and a path to a “maybe that’s it over there…” and pretty soon we found ourselves climbing through terraces and working our way slowly uphill, trying to reassure each other that eventually, we’d come upon another road to Tapay.

Instead, we came upon a landslide.

Landslide below Tapay Colca Canyon

Yes, I hiked through that. No, it wasn’t a good idea.

Clearly quite recently, a large section of the earth that sat below Tapay had given up the game and come loose, descending into the canyon below in a rush of dust, stone, and heavy boulders. Most sensible people would see a landslide like this and decide to turn back, realizing that Tapay just wasn’t in the cards. We were not sensible people. We pushed on.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, do not do this. Landslides are incredibly dangerous, especially recent ones. You can never be certain that the rocks above you won’t come loose and come crashing down. Choosing to muddle our way up and across a fresh landslide was foolhardy and not worth the risk.

But that’s what we did. It took ages and was unbelievably hot, but we clambered through the freshly fallen silt, our feet sinking into the loose rock up to our knees until we finally worked our way up to the newly constructed road. From there it was a short and easy jaunt into Tapay.

Was Tapay worth a near-death experience? Absolutely not. It’s a small village with a cute church and nice views up and down the canyon. If you can take a regular and safe path to get there, go right ahead. If you decide to follow in my rambling and untrustworthy footsteps, then on your own head be it.

Finally in Tapay, we paused to take some photos and appreciate the view from the church plaza, ate a quick lunch, then descended down the far easier, and well-trafficked path that headed towards Cosñirhua. The little path took some tight switchbacks down then rejoined the road running along the side of the canyon. We followed this for the rest of the day, overlooking Cosñirua then finally stopping to camp for the night somewhere in the vicinity of Malata.

We camped in an unused terrace with the permission of the family living nearby. They were generous enough to let us sleep and cook in their fallow field for free. We bought some cookies and beer from their shop instead.

Colca Canyon without a Guide view from malata

Day 3: Malata to Llahuar via Fure

From Malata, we followed the main road up to a small rise, overlooking Sangalle, better known as the Oasis, down below us. Though the swimming pools and verdant green fields looked tempting, we were determined to experience the fringes of this deep canyon.

Turning our backs on the Oasis, we headed uphill towards Fure.

Fure is a small village tucked away rather far from the rest of the tourist trail. The draw of Fure is the waterfall that sits a further hour’s hike from the village itself. To get there from Malata, the trail was an undulating ribbon of rock cut through a dry and barren land.

We made it to Fure fairly late in the afternoon and although we began to hike down the trail towards the waterfall, we had to admit that we were pushing our luck. Our goal was to camp in Llahuar that evening, but it was certainly going to be at least 3 more hours of hiking until we got there.

Our plan was to hike to Llahuar today and spend tomorrow resting in the hot springs below the village. After the three incredibly intense days of hiking in the canyon, we both felt we deserved a bit of a break and a bit of a soak.

As we sat on some rocks next to the trail, we pondered our two options. Continue towards the waterfall and camp tonight somewhere near Fure, hiking to Llahuar tomorrow and forgoing our rest day, or forgo the waterfall now in favor of hot springs tomorrow?

Hiking from Fure to Llahuar in Colca Canyon

We chose the hot springs.

Abandoning the waterfall, we headed back through Fure. Though I hear that it has guesthouses and shops during the high traffic tourist season, in December of 2015 this village was a ghost town. The shops were closed, there was no sign of a guesthouse. If you arrived here without a guide and without campaign gear in mid to late December, you might find yourself without a place to sleep that night.

Slowly we made our way back down the hillside to Llahuar. It was a long and relentless hike, through farmland, down steep mountainsides, and along irrigation canals. My feet were sore and my legs were rubber by the time we saw Llahuar nestled among the cliffs down below us.

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar Guesthouse

Llahuar itself is a great little village, with a hostel perched above the river and hot springs down below. We met the owner of the hostel, paid a small sum to camp on the grass near the hot springs, then headed up to her restaurant to have our first home cooked meal in two days. The fare was simple, but at the time I felt I had never eaten anything so extravagantly delicious.

meal in llahuar peruvian food papas y arroz con huevo

The best meal of my life.

I slept like a baby that night, eager in anticipation for my day of soaking in hot springs.

Day 4: Resting in Llahuar

Because of the madness of our previous three days of hiking, we made the executive decision to spend an entire day relaxing in the hot springs below Llahuar. It was the best decision we could possibly have made. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We bought some beers from the hostel and hung out in the steaming hot waters all day, soaking our sore muscles and preparing ourselves for our massive ascent up the canyon wall on the following day. When the water got too hot, we jumped into the icy rushing river below, then slipped back into the warm, sulfurous waters of the hot springs.

Llahuar Guesthouse colca canyon

Llahuar Guesthouse Views

It was heaven.

If you’re hiking Colca Canyon without a guide and have the extra time, I highly recommend taking a rest day in Llahuar. It is totally worth the 5 or 10 soles you’ll pay to camp and eat there.

Day 5: Llahuar to Cabanaconde

Resisting the urge to hitch a ride on the back of the pickup truck that was making the ride from Llahuar to Cabanaconde that morning, we packed up our bags, said goodbye to our elysian hot springs, and began the long and arduous climb up to Cabanaconde.

Up and up and up, that’s all you can expect from this day of hiking. The day gets hotter as the sun rises and you ascend the sheer, rocky, barren walls of the second deepest canyon in the world.

But have no fear, eventually, you’ll get to the top. And then you have to walk a further hour to get back to Cabanaconde.

I exaggerate, but it certainly felt that way after our five-hour climb out of the canyon.

Once back to Cabanaconde, we had a pretty difficult time finding a bus to take us back to Chivay, but I think that’s because it was in that weird time between Christmas and New Years when no one wants to work or do anything. After an hour or two of begging every truck that drove past, we hitch a ride sitting in the back of an open pickup truck.

From Chivay, it was pretty simple to hop onto the next bus for Arequipa. You can’t miss it. There will be at least five men shouting “Arequipa Arequipa Arequiiiiippaaaaaa” in your face the moment you walk in the door of the bus station.

The Takeaway: Colca Canyon is a Hikers Paradise

As with many of the hiking destinations in Peru, Colca Canyon is a treat and a half. Sheer rock walls, verdant green farmland, challenging trails and hospitable locals all make for a wonderful multi-day trek. Combine that with the fact that it’s totally doable without a guide and without real camping gear and you’ve got yourself a winner. Hiking Colca Canyon without a guide is fun, rewarding, and easy. Just do it.


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How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

How to Hike Colca Canyon without a Guide - What to do in Peru

New Hampshire Hiking: Mt. Moosilauke from the Ravine Lodge

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

In my current quest to find as many excellent hiking trails near Boston as I can, I recently made the two-hour drive up to New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilauke via the Ravine Lodge route. Mount Moosilauke is the westernmost of New Hampshire’s 4000ft peaks. I reached the summit and came back down as a single day hike, though there is a shelter up near the summit and enough trails in the area that a two-day camping trip could be possible.

Though its peak reaches 4800ft, Mount Moosilauke is known locally as the “gentle giant” because of its long sloping shoulders and mild ascents. The name Moosilauke comes from the Native American Algonquin language and most likely translates to “Bald Place.” The summit is rocky and above the tree line, offering incredible views of New Hampshire, Vermont, and on a clear day, New York in the distance.

I hiked Moosilauke with my mom, after much research into family appropriate hikes. I wanted something that would be a fun challenge, without too much extremely technical hiking. I briefly considered planning a trip up to Acadia for some family-friendly hiking, but in the end we couldn’t find the time. Then, I discovered Mount Moosilauke.

Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

The History of Mount Moosilauke

Given that its name is of Native American origin, this mountain has clearly held significance for the local people of the area for many years. The mountain stands slightly alone, a short distance from the nearby ridges, stark and imposing in its prominence.

In the late 19th century, the Woolworth family acquired the mountain and constructed a structure on top, known as the Summit House. They also built a road to access the summit, known as the Carriage Road. This road is still in existence today as a hiking trail.

The Summit House operated as a hotel for many years, offering urbanites from Boston and New York the chance to take in the air from on high. Old photos show people from the early 20th century enjoying skiing and mountaineering across the peak of Moosilauke.

Alpine Region White Mountains

However, as with other regions of the White Mountains, conditions on the peak of Moosilauke are unreliable and dangerous, especially in the winter. Despite their best efforts to maintain the structure, it was eventually destroyed and never rebuilt.

In the mid-20th century, Dartmouth College acquired a large portion of the land on Mount Moosilauke, including the summit and southwestern side of the mountain. They constructed the Ravine Lodge at the base, originally intending it to be a ski area. That plan fell through but Dartmouth continues to run and maintain the trails on Mount Moosilauke today.

Appalachian Trail

How to Get to Mount Moosilauke from Boston

Mount Moosilauke is entirely possible as a day hike from Boston. Head north on I-93 until you reach Lincoln, NH. Take exit 32 towards NH – 112 and Woodstock. Follow 112 west until the junction with Route 118. Take the left onto 118 and continue until you see Ravine Lodge Road on your right. Drive uphill and find parking before the lodge.

On a quiet day, it should be possible to park near the lodge. The Ravine Lodge is run by Dartmouth College and offers dorms, meals, snacks, and a clean place to go to the bathroom or fill up a water bottle.

Hilariously, on the day my mom and I headed up to hike Mount Moosilauke, Dartmouth was having an inaugural party after finishing recent renovations on the lodge, so we had to park a mile down the road, adding two rather less scenic miles to our hike.

Dartmouth Ravine Lodge at Mount Moosilauke

Hiking Mount Moosilauke via the Gorges Brook Trail

Although there are several trails that ascend Mount Moosilauke, we chose to ascend via the Gorges Brook trail (or “George’s Brook Trail” as my mom kept calling it) and descend via the Carriage Road and Snapper Trail. It was a long yet gentle day of hiking that included nearly everything I love about hiking in New Hampshire: sweet-smelling pine forests, rocky scrambles, and stunning views.

From the Ravine Lodge, follow the signs pointing to “All Trails”. The road dips downhill to a wooden bridge crossing a small brook. From there, the trail turns uphill and begins a slow and steady ascent towards the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

Less than a mile into the hike, the trail forks, splitting into the Gorges Brook Trail on the right and the Snapper Trail on the left. We chose to hike up the Gorges Brook Trail. From the split, there is a short steep ascent to a ridgeline, then a slow, meandering walk through the pines. In several places, trees have been cut down to offer views of the sloping hillsides and mountains in the distance.

Gorges Brook Trail and Snapper Trail Moosilauke

Because the Ravine Lodge is already located halfway up the mountain, at about 2500ft, almost the entire hike is through the aromatic pine forests of New England’s Appalachian Mountains. Your hike will be distinguished by soft, muffled sounds; sweet, festive smells; and dappled sunlight.

Shortly before the summit, the trail opens up onto an exposed piece of rock. This is a false summit but in a few feet, the trail crests a hill and the true summit rises up before you. A short walk through some small pines and a gentle climb across an alpine meadow and you arrive at the top.

Moosilauke Summit

When I was there, the summit was bright, sunny, and windy. Bring a second layer! I would’ve been cold without my fleece jacket.

We had views of Franconia Notch and the Presidential Range to the east, as well as the Green Mountains in the west. Apparently, on a truly clear and crisp day, it’s possible to see all the way to the Adirondacks in New York.

Moosilauke Summit

Descending Mount Moosilauke via the Carriage Road

At the summit, the trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail. Following the Carriage Road down, you’ll head across the wide open summit and down along a ridge. This area is apparently popular as a backcountry ski route during the winters. It’s not super steep but just narrow enough to be a challenge.

Carriage Road Moosilauke

After a short while, the Appalachian Trail veers southwest towards the South peak and the Carriage Road continues down the mountain back towards the Ravine Lodge. The trail was fairly smooth for a New Hampshire hike: no scrambles or steps descents. I found it to be one of the easiest hikes on my knees that I’ve ever done in New England.

Back amongst the pines, the Carriage Road comes to an end and the Snapper Trail brings you back to the Gorges Brook Trail, and all the way back to the Ravine Lodge.

Gorges Brook Trail Mount Moosilauke

Including our lunch break and our two-mile walk to our car, it took my mom and I about 5.5 hours to finish this 8-mile loop. It was a gorgeous day of beautiful New England hiking and I highly recommend heading up to Mount Moosilauke if you’re looking for a new and different day hike from Boston.


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Hike Mount Moosilauke; a hiking guide for Mt. Moosilauke, one of New Hampshire's 4000 footers