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

Disaster Abroad: Traveling Solo to South Korea

Adventure Travel, Korea, Travel

The bus came to a halt. The driver turned and looked back at me, a mixture of frustration and confusion crossing his face. I stood, looking around in confusion. Grabbing my bus ticket from my shaking hand, the driver shouted in my face “you missed your stop.”

It was my first night in Seoul to teach English in Korea. What on earth was I doing here?

Let’s back up.

Six months prior, I’m sitting in my apartment in Los Angeles staring despondently at indeed.com. It’s February 2012 and I’m 23 years old. I’ve got a newly minted Bachelor’s Degree and it’s feeling pretty useless in the spare job market of the early 2010s.

As I scroll through each entry-level job available in Los Angeles, I feel my will to live slipping away from me. With each click on yet another mundane job description (“Must be flexible, self-motivated, and willing to cope with just a touch of sexual harassment”), my desire to get a job in America withers.

Street Market in Seoul

Street Market in Seoul

What was I going to do? I had no money, no skills, and I doubted I could convince anyone that I was a driven and organized person with great communication skills using only a cover letter and my rather empty resume.

I was never going to get a job. Never.

Then I saw the ad. It was one of those paid-for things that pop up on the side of a search result. The sort of thing your eyes pass over, reading the information without storing it in your brain.

Only, this one stuck out to me.

“Want to try something new? Apply to teach English Abroad! Positions available in Japan, South Korea, and China!”

Well, I thought to myself, why not?

I sent over a copy of my resume, cover letter and a photo of myself. In less than a week I had a reply asking me if I was available for a phone interview. I agreed quickly, afraid that if I hesitated they might realize they’d made a mistake.

Over the course of the next four weeks, I had two phone interviews and was asked to send a few writing samples. Shortly afterward, an email arrived in my inbox offering me a position teaching English in Seoul, South Korea.

A sense of relief washed over me so intense I nearly sank to my knees like an actor in an old Hollywood film. Someone actually wanted to pay me for my time. My job search was over.

Needless to say, I accepted immediately.

The fact that this job was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in a country I’d never seen where they spoke a language I had never heard was something I didn’t want to contemplate. I shoved the facts of the job deep down, hiding them from myself as best I could.

Had I ever contemplated living in Asia before? No, absolutely not. Had I ever lived abroad before? No, don’t be ridiculous. I hadn’t even traveled by myself before.

It’d be fine. I’d moved from Boston to Los Angeles for college and that was pretty tough. How much harder could South Korea be, really?

Time passed by in a flash and before I knew it, I was back in Boston, picking up my visa from the Korean Embassy and making last minute trips to Target to buy shampoo and conditioner because who knows if they even sell that in Seoul. (Spoiler Alert: they sell shampoo in Korea).

Bukchon Hanok Village Seoul

Traditional Village in Seoul

The night before I left, my parents took me out for a final dinner. We ordered a bottle of wine and to be perfectly honest I was so nervous about moving to Korea I barely remember the dinner at all. I know they asked me lots of questions and we laughed a lot, but mostly I was focused on not feeling anything, not thinking too much about anything. There was a flood of emotion waiting somewhere in the depths of my soul and it took everything I had to keep it at bay.

Having drunk probably a bit more wine than I should’ve, I got home that night, threw my clothes into the washing machine, and promptly fell deeply asleep. I woke up at 5am when my dad knocked on my door, “You all ready to go?”

No, I wasn’t ready to go. My clothes were wet and in the washing machine. My bags were not even a little bit packed. Those shampoo bottles and razors I’d purchased at Target were still strewn about my bedroom in white plastic bags.

It was 5am, and my flight took off in 3 hours.

That’s when the adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed my wet clothes and stuffed them into my bag, hoping they wouldn’t grow too much mold on the flights from Boston to Seoul. I shoved the target bags on top and sat on the suitcases, yanking the zippers closed.

Packing light was still an undiscovered art form at this point in my life. I had my two suitcases and two carry on bags filled to the absolute brim. That’s four fully-packed bags.

As the adrenaline receded and my hangover came to the fore, I stumbled downstairs and into my dad’s car. We were off.

Arriving at the airport, I pulled my bags out of the car and arranged them so I could handle all four at once. Then I looked up to say goodbye.

Tears were streaming down my mothers face. My heart came to a shuddering halt.

What the hell was I about to do?

My mom reached out and pulled me into her arms. We aren’t the most emotional family in the world, so this was one of less than five times in my life I’ve seen my mother cry. As I started to sob into her shoulder, she pulled back, reassuring me that, “it’s going to be great.”

I gave my dad a hug, squeezed my mom into an embrace one more time, then laboriously maneuvered my four bags into the airport.

Royal Palace Seoul South Korea

Royal Palace in Seoul

The first flight went from Boston to San Francisco. As the plane landed at SFO, I looked out the window longingly at the California hills rolling into the distance.

“You don’t have to do this,” I told myself in a moment of weakness. “You can get off the plane here. You could make it work in San Francisco. You could stay in California.”

I almost did it.

What gave me the bravery to continue onward into the unknown, I have no idea. Perhaps stubbornness, a sense of adventure, or just a fear of letting other people down. Whatever caused it, I got onto my plane bound for Seoul, South Korea.

“Boarding my flight to Seoul. Adios America.” I cavalierly posted to my Facebook wall, hiding the fact that I was being slowly overwhelmed by a cascade of fear that I’d been keeping at bay for months now.

That flight from SFO to Seoul, I barely remember. I know they gave us some meals. I don’t think I watched any movies. I’m not even sure if I slept. I was so highly strung you could’ve played me like a guitar. Time simultaneously flew by at light speed yet crawled like a tortoise. It was the longest and shortest 14-hour flight of my life.

Off the plane, through security, got my bags, and bought a bus ticket for Seoul National University of Education. Because that’s what the email from my new employer said, “Buy a bus ticket to Seoul National University of Education from the Airport Bus counter. We will meet you there.”

Street Market in Korea

Street Market in Seoul

It was all incredibly organized and easy. In no time I was on the bus and getting my first view of Korea. I gazed out the window hungrily, determined to soak in as much as I could of my new home. I knew that the airport in Incheon was an hour away from Seoul so I was prepared for a long bus ride, but I hoped to get a sense of this foreign land from the bus window.

After about five minutes, I fell asleep.

An hour later, I woke with a start as the bus announced our arrival to the city. I hadn’t missed any stops. I was fine.

Each stop we passed through, the bus announced the name in Korean and English. Excellent. There was no way I could mess this up.

Please keep in mind, I had never traveled by myself before. Ever in my life.

We passed stop after stop. At each one, I looked down and double checked my ticket. I listened studiously but didn’t hear anyone say “Seoul National University of Education”. So, I stayed on the bus.

And then the bus came to a stop. We were at the end of the line and I was still on the bus. This situation was not ideal.

The bus driver ferociously informed me that I had missed my stop. He didn’t speak English but just kept pointing behind us. I tried to ask him what I should do but he just shook his head and got back on his bus. The whole ten-second interaction was a real crash course in intercultural communication.

It was about this time that the flood of emotions I’d been keeping at bay was unleashed. Triggered by this one missed bus stop, months worth of tension, worry, stress, and fear came gushing out of me. Standing on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, in the center of Seoul, South Korea, I cried my heart out. I felt as if I were facing the greatest challenge of my entire life. College? Fine. Get a job? Fine. Get off a bus at the wrong stop in Korea and get back to where you need to go? Forget about it.

Teaching English in South Korea

What was I doing in this country? Why had I thought that this was a good idea? I should’ve stayed in LA, I should’ve tried harder to get a personal assistant job. I should not have gotten on a plane, completely alone, and flown to this strange country with a writing system I can’t read and a language I can’t speak. What was I thinking?

Just as I was caving into despair, I heard a young Korean woman’s voice behind me say, “where do you need to go?”

Wiping my eyes and trying to stem the flow of salty tears, I turned and showed my ticket to the young Korean woman.

“Oh,” she replied, looking at it, “Gyo Dae. That’s just a few stops back.”

Gyo Dae is the Korean name for Seoul National University of Education. The bus had announced the stop for Gyo Dae. I remember hearing it. Relief and horror poured through me in equal measure. I knew why I’d made the mistake now, but still didn’t know how to fix it.

“I’ll help you get a cab.”

The young woman stuck her hand out and pretty soon a sleek silver car had pulled up next to the curb. She leaned in the window and said a few phrases in Korean to the driver then turned back to me. “You’re all set, he’ll take you to Gyo Dae. Have a good year!”

Surprised, I thought about asking her, “how can you tell I’m here to teach English for a year? Then I realized, Koreans probably see this sort of emotional circus show all the time.

I hopped into the cab and within a few minutes, was standing on the sidewalk at Gyo-Dae, shaking hands with Adam, a representative from my new job. He grabbed my bags and led me into my new life.

I had made it. I survived the journey to South Korea.

The real adventure was about to begin.


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The tale of the time I decided to teach English in South Korea and the travel disaster that followed.

Franconia Ridge Trail: One of the Best Hikes in New Hampshire

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

Visit New England and you’ll face one unavoidable truth: the Appalachian Mountains just aren’t that big. This might lead you to assume that hiking in New Hampshire is easy. Yet if you assumed this, you would be wrong. Trails in New Hampshire are some of the toughest I’ve ever encountered. Most especially, one of the best hikes in New Hampshire: the Franconia Ridge Trail.

There is something special about hiking in New Hampshire. I love the way the forest changes as you ascend up the mountains, going from leafy green deciduous trees; to pine forests; to sparse, high alpine environments with little cover and excellent views. Once you enter the mountains in New Hampshire, you are transported to another world.

Few places are as good for that as the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains.

Falling Waters Trailhead Parking

Trailhead and Parking

All About the Franconia Ridge Trail

Before I get ahead of myself and start gushing all about how much I love this trail. Let’s just go over some of the fine print.

The Franconia Ridge Trail traverses the Franconia Ridge (surprising, I know) from Mt. Flume at the southern end, all the way up to Mt. Lafayette to the north. In between the two peaks, it summits Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, and Mt. Lincoln. The section from Mt. Liberty to Mt. Lafayette is also included in the storied Appalachian Trail.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this trail, apart from the views, is the biodiversity. From Mt. Flume to Little Haystack, the trail passes through pine forests typical of New Hampshire. In here, it smells like Christmas and the air is blanketed with silence. From the peak of Mt. Haystack, the trail emerges into a high alpine environment where low shrubs and lichen reign supreme. This is an exceedingly delicate environment. Though small, many of these plants take years if not decades to grow. But it’s not all doom and gloom up here. Not only are the plants quiet fragile; they are also quite short. This means more views for us hikers.

The views from the top of Franconia Ridge are breathtaking. To the east, you can look down into the remote Pemigawasset Wilderness and across to the rolling peaks of the Bondcliff Trail. To the north, you’ll see the rest of Franconia ridge rising above you. And to the west sit the Kinsman and Canon ranges, as well as the steep cliffs of Franconia Notch, former home of the Old Man in the Mountain. (RIP)

The tricky thing about the Franconia Ridge Trail is that it never intersects with a road or parking area. Given that it sits on the top of one of the highest ridges in New Hampshire, that kind of makes sense. So for us intrepid hikers hoping to best this trail in a single day, we face a small problem: in order to enjoy this hike, we must first ascend to it.

A word of caution before we keep going: because the Franconia Ridge Trail is high and exposed, it can be particularly dangerous during harsh weather conditions. Up there, hikers are prone to lightning strikes and at the mercy of strong winds. The weather in the White Mountains is highly changeable so be sure to check reports before hiking. If you see clouds coming into the ridge, better to delay your hike until another day.

Waterfall in the White Mountains

Waterfall #3 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking Franconia Ridge Trail as a Day Hike: Planning the Trip

When my mom recently had the idea to spend a weekend on the trails, I knew I wanted to tackle the best hike in New Hampshire: my beloved Franconia Ridge Trail. The only problem was, I’d never done it as a day hike before.

Usually, I include the Franconia Ridge Trail as part of the Pemigawasset Loop, a 2 to 4-day backpacking journey that combines the Franconia Ridge with the Bond Ridge for a truly epic experience. But mom wasn’t game for a camping trip, so it’d have to be a day hike.

Luckily, there was an obvious loop that began and ended at a parking lot off of the Franconia Notch Parkway called Lafayette Place.

We’d hike up the Falling Waters Trail (because I suppose Waterfall Trail was just too obvious) for three miles to the peak of Little Haystack Mountain. From there, follow Franconia Ridge trail for 1.7 miles to the peak of Lafayette. Then hike down Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut (open May to October), and finally, down the Old Bridle Path for 2.8 miles and back to our car.

Great. I had the whole day planned.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I need to talk about my boots.

Prior to this trip, the soles of my hiking boots had started to fall off. They were old boots and I knew I ought to get them resoled but I was unorganized and didn’t. In lieu of a cobbler, I bought something called “Shoe Goo” at REI and tried to glue the soles of my boots back onto my boots.

And up until the morning of our Franconia Ridge hike, it seemed to have worked.

Just to be safe, I used some duct tape to secure the heels. I considered bringing the duct tape with me, but the glue seemed secure and I didn’t want to add the weight to my day pack. I left the tape at home and we headed for the mountains.

IMG_20170924_103600

Waterfall #2 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking the Best Hike in New Hampshire: Our Epic Day on the Franconia Ridge Trail

Given that this would be a long day, hiking 9 miles through tough New Hampshire terrain, we wanted to get started bright and early.

So, of course, we arrived at the trailhead at 10am. Oh well.

Mom had convinced herself and, reluctantly, me that we ought to hike up the Old Bridle Path and back down the Falling Waters trail. I thought it was a bad idea but the guidebook suggested it so that was what mom wanted to do. Thankfully, there were some Park Rangers at the trailhead there to convince my mom that indeed we ought to hike UP the Falling Waters trail and come down the Bridle Path. NOT the other way around. Good.

For those following along at home, the Falling Waters Trail is by far the steeper of the two. If you’re going to tackle this loop as a day hike, I highly recommend ascending via the Falling Waters Trail. Old Bridle Path makes for a lovely descent.

Part 1: Falling Waters Trail

So it began. We headed up the three-mile Falling Waters Trail. The trail starts off as a meandering path through deciduous forests. Maple, beech, and oak trees grow thickly on the lower slopes of the mountain and the trail ascends slowly, following the path of a small brook.

After perhaps a mile of hiking, maybe a bit more, we reached the first waterfall. It featured large granite slabs with water gushing over the crest and a massive group of college kids clambering all over it. I don’t have a photo of that one.

Somewhere in between falls number one and two, we hit our first obstacle of the day. Remember how I had used “shoe goo” to glue my boots together? Remember how I said they seemed fine?

I was wrong.

As I climbed up a large granite boulder, I felt something catch underneath my foot. Looking down, I was dismayed to find that I was standing on the toe of my sole. In fact, the toe had detached itself and curled backward underneath my foot. The heel and mid-section were still in place.

Good thing I brought that duct tape… Oh, no, I left that duct tape at home. The only adhesive I had with me was the box of overlarge bandaids I’d brought to tape up the growing blister on the back of my right heel.

Sorry blister. I used the band-aids to secure the sole to the toe of my boot. And it worked. For a time.

From here, the trail began to get a bit steeper but nothing too crazy. A little bit of boulder scrambling, but that’s to be expected in New Hampshire. The second and third waterfalls followed in quick succession. Both were excellent specimens. Taller than the first, the water cascaded down ladders of granite with pine and maple trees growing out of the sides.

Somewhere in this section, the toe of my other boot decided that it didn’t want to live anymore. Taking out two more band-aids, I secured the offending article. But the boots were wet and the band-aids didn’t want to play. I needed another solution. Something that would force the sole of my boot to stay attached to my foot. I removed my hair elastic from my hair and used it to secure the toe.

It worked. But it also meant I would spend the rest of the day hiking with my long hair down, drenched in sweat, and clinging to my neck, cheeks, forehead, and eyes. What’s a girl to do?

Not too long after the third waterfall, the trail begins to ascend quickly through a series of switchbacks. If you’re imagining the type of smooth, graded switchbacks that characterize most hiking everywhere else on the planet, you’d be wrong. This is New Hampshire. Our switchbacks feature scrambling up boulders and jumping from one massive granite slab to the next.

Finally, just below the summit, as the pines were starting to thin and we hesitantly said out loud to each other, “I think we might be almost there” the trail took a sharp turn in the direction of outer space and climbed directly up the mountain all the way to the summit.

Out of breath, sweating, and shielding our eyes from the harsh sunlight above the treeline, we reached the top of Little Haystack Mountain. I turned around to take in the view and immediately my heart stopped in my chest.

The valley swept away far, far below me. The granite wall of Franconia Notch opened up to the north. Turning my eyes to follow the trail, I saw a dusty brown line cutting across the top of a dramatic ridge, leading up to the peak of Mt. Lincoln.

We had reached the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Best Hikes in New Hampshire Franconia Ridge Trail

Mom hiking towards Mt. Lafayette

Part 2: Hiking 1.7 miles of the Franconia Ridge Trail

The top of Little Haystack is comprised mainly of large flat slabs of granite scattered everywhere like so many marbles. We chose a likely looking spot to have a rest and a snack before tackling the ridge.

A word of caution: it was very windy up there. As long as we were hiking, I was perfectly comfortable in my t-shirt and leggings. But as soon as we sat down, I needed my jacket.

I guess the good thing about the wind was that it dried out my sweaty, disgusting hair.

From Little Haystack, the trail dropped down into the saddle before heading up to Mt. Lincoln. There is a small rise in the middle of the saddle, really quite tiny, and then the trail ascends steeply up to the summit of Lincoln at 5,089 feet. From here, the trail is visible all the way to Lafayette.

From Mt. Lincoln the trail drops somewhat steeply down to the saddle where there is another hump and then a small grove of low-lying pine trees. If you are ever unlucky enough to be caught up on the ridge in a storm, this is the best spot to take cover.

The final ascent, though not as steep as the ascent to Lincoln, is slightly longer, and by this point, my legs were pretty tired. The trail also gets a little difficult to follow. You’re not going to accidentally walk off the mountain or anything, but try to keep your eyes open for the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail marker. This is a sensitive environment and erosion is a big issue. Stepping off of the path has wider implications than meet the eye.

The top of Lafayette is glorious. Franconia Notch is below you to the west. Garfield Mountain rises to the north and seemingly all of the Appalachian Mountains stretch away in many different directions. At 5,260m, this is one of the tallest peaks in New Hampshire and the absolute tallest in the Franconia Notch area. For this reason alone, this is one of the best hikes in New Hampshire.

This was also the highest point of the hike. It was all downhill from here.

Franconia Ridge Trail from Mt Lafayette

View from Lafayette looking back towards Lincoln and Liberty in the distance.

Part 3: Greenleaf Trail to Greenleaf Hut or the Death of Megan’s Boots

It was beautiful on top of Lafayette but still very windy and I didn’t much fancy trying to make sure my sandwich didn’t fly away while I ate it. Mom and I decided to postpone our lunch until we reached the relative shelter of the Greenleaf Hut.

Going into the descent we both felt pretty optimistic. The hard part was over, the hut was only a mile away, and the trail didn’t look particularly challenging.

But it’s right when you start to feel comfortable that it all goes to shite, amirite?

Not even a quarter of a mile into the descent, I tripped, catching something under my right foot. I look down, and the sole of my shoe, freed from the confines of its band-aid restraints, had completely detached itself from my foot. Indeed, the sole of my boot was on its own. Follow its own manifest destiny. It was flying solo. It was rogue one.

And I’m out of band-aids. Well, shit.

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View from the Old Bridle Path

I grab my troublesome sole and shove it into my backpack.

For those of you who are curious, hiking down a steep mountain covered in slippery granite boulders in a shoe that has absolutely no traction is about as fun as you’d think it would be. It’s terrible.

Still, I’m a trooper and I’ve been through worse. I pushed on, hoping that if I got to the hut I could find something that would hold my boots together at least for the rest of the hike.

Boot issue aside, the hike down from Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut was enjoyably scenic. It’s fairly exposed for the first half mile or so, then it begins to wind in and out of some low pine forests. Just before the hut, the trail dips down into a small valley by a pond.

It was about here that the sole politely removed itself from my second boot. I assume it didn’t want to be left out of this bid for freedom by sole number one.

I gazed up at the Hut above it. It was my only hope.

As soon as I reached the hut, I started chatting with an Irish couple we’d run into on the ridge. I showed them my boots. Full of concern, they reached into their bag and pulled out a roll of scotch tape. I wasn’t sure it would hold up but thought it was better than nothing. She very kindly told me to keep it, just in case. I thanked her profoundly and ducked inside.

The hut was packed. All the groups of college kids and campers were milling about, getting some snacks and replenishing their drinking water. For those who don’t know, these huts are kind of like rudimentary mountain hotels. They are run by an organization called AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) and offer beds, hot meals, snacks, some supplies, and running water. Reservations are most definitely needed if you want a bed but if you just need somewhere to take a break, you’re very welcome. The huts are open usually from May to October.

I sat down at an open table and started taping up my boots.

“Having boot problems?” I heard from across the table. I looked up and a guy sitting further down had noticed my desperate attempts to reconnect my boot with its sole.

“I think I have some electrical tape if you’d rather use that?”

I accepted. If not duct tape, electrical tape was the next best thing. He handed me a brand new roll of tape and told me to keep it, just in case.

boots destroyed on franconia ridge trail

That, my friends, is trail magic.

Part 4: The Old Bridle Path Home

With my boots now fixed up, mom and I downed our wet, soggy, and unbelievably delicious sandwiches and headed out to finish the hike. A sign inside the hut warned that it would take another 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the bottom. That seemed a bit rich to me, the trail was only 2.8 miles from here! But who was I to second guess the sign?

The Bridle Path

The Old Bridle Path

Going down from the hut, the trail follows a ridge, with some exposed sections of trail offering gorgeous lookouts back up at Franconia Ridge. Steep in places, it was nowhere near as steep as the Falling Waters Trail from this morning.

After just a little under two hours, mom and I had made it back down to the parking lot. We had sore feet but full hearts. We gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to our condo where warm showers and clean clothes awaited us.

Best Hike in New Hampshire: Franconia Ridge Trail with Falling Waters and Bridle Path At-A-Glance

  • Total Distance: 8.9 miles
    • Falling Waters Trail: 3.2 miles
    • Franconia Ridge Trail: 1.7 miles
    • Greenleaf Trail: 1.1 miles
    • Old Bridle Path: 2.9 miles
  • Total Time: 6 – 8 Hours
  • Highest Point: Mt. Lafayette, 5,260ft (1,600m)
  • Lowest Point: Lafayette Place Trailhead: 1,900ft (580m)

How to get there: From Lincoln, New Hampshire, drive north on Interstate 93 for about 7 miles until the Lafayette Place Trailhead and Campground exit. Parking is on the right. If the lot is full, parking is available on the street or on the other side of the road. U-turns are not possible on the highway, next exit is 3 miles further north on I-93/Rt. 3.


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Franconia Ridge Trail: One of the Best Hikes in New Hampshire, USADiscover Franconia Ridge Trail: A Beautiful Day Hike in New Hampshire's White Mountains

Red Hill Trail: A Scenic Hike Near Lake Winnepesaukee

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Travel, United States

There are few things in life as satisfying as a fall hike in New England. This September, I was lucky enough to hike up Red Hill Trail, an easy hike in New Hampshire near Lake Winnipesaukee.

There is something magical in the scent of the pines, dirt, and the unique smell of deciduous leaves bursting into color. It reminds me of childhood days spent jumping into leaf piles. Of the start of a new school year. Of going for walks in the woods with my high school boyfriend.

As a native New Englander, there is something in my soul which sings when September rolls around. There’s no denying I love a good fall hike in New England.

If you’re looking for easy hiking trails near Lake Winnipesaukee, I recommend visiting the Red Hill Trail. While it isn’t especially long, steep, or difficult, the view at the top is the real reward of this little jaunt. It’s a short 3.5 mile walk total, absolutely doable in a morning or an afternoon.

Red Hill Trail Information

All About the Red Hill Trail in New Hampshire

The best thing about this hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee is the view from the top. But the trail also has an interesting origin story worth mentioning.

Long ago, there were a group of families that struggled to maintain farms on this rocky slope. Red Hill Trail was first built to serve as a road leading up to these houses. Keep your eye out as you hike up the trail and you might find the remaining foundations from one of their root cellars.

Later, the trail was a converted into a jeep road providing access to the fire tower that sits atop of Red Hill. Today, the path is only a hiking trail. But because it was once a road, the trail isn’t particularly steep, though you’ll still feel your heart beating as you walk up the slope.

Red Hill Trail New Hampshire

The trail cuts through 2,000 acres of protected land. The land is protected by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust and covers the towns of Moultonborough and Sandwich. Aside from being a nice place to go for an afternoon hike, this land is also home to a surprisingly wide array of wildlife, including moose, bear, deer, woodcock, songbirds, and ruffed goose.

Named Red Hill for its color in the fall, this trail is an exceptionally good hike in New Hampshire for taking in the fall foliage. Even when I hiked it in mid-September, the trees at the top were beginning to burst into color.

Just a word of warning: camping, overnight use, fishing, and wheeled vehicles are not allowed on Red Hill.

Best Hiking Trail Near Lake Winnipesaukee

Trail Report of Red Hill Trail

Red Hill Trail is only one of a few trails that crisscross Red Hill. It is also probably the most popular, with the somewhat more challenging Eagle Cliff Trail coming in second.

This short hike near Lake Winnipesaukee is only 1.7 miles in one direction, 3.5 miles total. The trail climbs a total of 1,370 feet. So while the trail isn’t steep, you’ll still gain a bit of elevation.

Beginning from the parking lot, the trail meanders through a new growth forest along the bottom of the hill. Cross the fire road and then the ascent begins. The slope is consistent and you’ll be walking uphill the entire way.

As you ascend, you’ll pass through beautiful deciduous forests. Eagle-eyed hikers may be able to spot some wildlife, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. The day that I hiked it, my friend and I heard some rustling in the underbrush but weren’t able to see anything for ourselves.

Near the top, you’ll see a sign for the Eagle Cliff Trail, the second most popular hiking trail on Red Hill. From there, you’re nearly to the top of the hill. Just a bit further on, you’ll pass a wooden shed and you’ve arrived.

View of Lake Winnisquam from Red Hill Trail

Climb up to the platform of the fire tower to take in the breathtaking views from the top of Red Hill. You’ll see Lake Winnipesaukee to the southeast, Lake Squam in the west, to the north is the Sandwich Range, and further afield the Ossipee Range and Franconia Notch are to the east.

I happily spent about 30 minutes up there snapping pictures and basking in the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

When you’ve had your fill of the view, head back down the way you came to finish off your 3.5-mile hike near Lake Winnipesaukee. All told it took us about 2.5 to 3 hours.

Fall Colors from Red Hill Trail near Lake Winnipesaukee

How to Get to Red Hill Trail

To get to Red Hill Trail from Center Harbor head down Route 25. Just 0.1 miles east of the junction with 25B, turn north into Bean Road at the traffic light. Follow Bean Road for 1.4 miles then make a right only Sibley Road. Follow Sibley Road for 1.1 miles, until it meets Old Red Hill Road. Make a left, and continue down Old Red Hill Road for about 0.25 miles. The parking lot will be on your right and is marked with a small sign.

It took us a comically long time to find the trailhead but it really is very easy to find. I absolutely loved this trail, not too difficult, but not so easy as to feel like a walk in the park. The view from the top was one of the best views I’ve seen in awhile. If you’re in the Lake Region of New Hampshire and you’re looking for an easy hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, I encourage you to check out the Red Hill Trail.


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Trail Report for Red Hill Trail: An easy and scenic hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire Trail Report for Red Hill Trail: An easy and scenic hiking trail near Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Hiking Bukhansan; Seoul’s Highest Mountain

Adventure Travel, Korea, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

Though Seoul is more famous for its nightlife and culinary scene, this urban oasis is actually an incredible city for outdoor lovers. The city is ringed by mountains, with smaller hills popping up in almost every neighborhood. And every hill and mountain, no matter how tall or small, is covered in hiking trails. Though I lived in Seoul for nearly a year and a half, I still didn’t make it to the top of every peak. But one peak that I did manage to hike more than a few times was Bukhansan, Seoul’s tallest mountain.

Even after living in Seoul for nearly a year and a half, I still didn’t make it to the top of every peak. But one peak that I did manage to hike more than a few times was Bukhansan, Seoul’s tallest mountain.

View from Bukhansan

Bukhansan, located at the northern edge of Seoul, is both a national park and a mountain with three main peaks. The park has many different access points and mountains worth climbing, but in this post, I’m going to explain how to hike to the top of Bukhansan Mountain, the challenging Baegundae Peak. It’s a fairly tough 4km climb up, with several options for hiking back down.

How to Get to Bukhansan Mountain

Seoul has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, so getting to Bukhansan mountain is incredibly easy. From anywhere in the city, just get on the subway line 3 and take it all the way to Gupabal station. Take exit 1 then head to the bus stop just behind the exit. Take either bus 704 or bus 34 to the Bukhansan National Park stop.

If you’re confused, just follow the pack of older Koreans in brightly colored hiking gear. They know where to go.

hiking bukhansan trail markers

Get off the bus at Bukhansan National Park and follow the crowds up the hill towards the Ranger station. From there, you have access to several hiking trails that head up towards Baegundae Peak. Helpful signs point the way. I took the 4km trail, which follows a really nice river up the mountain.

Hiking Bukhansan Mountain to Baegundae Peak

The trail begins slowly. It follows a rather beautiful river as it tumbles down large rocks from the pine-covered peaks rising above you. After a short while, you’ll come to a road and a sort of open space. Keep walking around to the left to stay on the path for Baegundae peak.

Bukhansan Mountain Trail

After about 1.5km of walking, you’ll come to another fork in the path with two options for heading up to Baegundae. I chose to take the shorter of the two routes, heading towards Wonhyobong Peak. Further up, the trail splits again, one heading to Wonhyobong, and another (our track) heading directly towards Baegundae.

Climbing Bukhansan Mountain

You’ll pass a gate to a temple with Korean carvings all around. You can walk through the gate to visit the temple, but the trail to Baegundae continues up to the right. Not too long after that, you’ll come to the final fork and path to the peak.

Final Push up to Baegundae, Seoul’s Highest Point

The final half kilometer up to the peak of Bukhansan is classic Korean hiking at its finest. The trail, if you can call it that, cuts straight up the granite boulders. In some places, posts and metal rails are there to assist you in climbing. Cling onto these as you haul yourself bodily up the side of the mountain. Don’t forget to look up! Hikers will be descending by these same metal ropes, so be aware and try your best to avoid collisions.

Hiking in Korea

After some sweaty pulling and climbing, you’ll reach the top of the peak. You’ll know it’s the top because a) the trail stops and b) there is a Korean flag jutting proudly from the rock.

From the peak, you’ll get a great view of Insubong and Mangyeongdae, the two nearby, but slightly lower, peaks of Bukhansan. Mangyeongdae is covered in rocks and trees and the stairs leading up to it should be visible. Insubong is a smooth granite peak jutting up from the forest below. This peak is only reachable via rock climbing. On most pleasant days, you should see a few intrepid climbers scaling her steep sides.

Insubong Peak Bukhansan

Baegundae Peak has plenty of smooth, flat spaces to stretch out for some well-earned rest. Not a bad idea to bring up some food and have a picnic alongside the Koreans. Just be careful how much Makkeolli you drink. You still have to get back down off the mountain.

View from Baegundae Peak

Hiking Back Down Bukhansan to Seoul

For the hike back down, you have essentially three options: go back the way you came (boring but quick), continue on the path to Mangyeongdae and then back to your starting point (rather long and challenging but also quite beautiful), or go down the other side of the mountain to the Baegundae Information Center.

Bukhansan trail markers

I chose to go down to the Baegundae Information Center, as the sign said it was only 1.6km away and I was out of water. It was a mistake and I don’t recommend taking this trail down unless you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and love exploring every last nook and cranny of Seoul.

The trail heads down steeply from the peak until you reach the Baek-Woon Mountain Hut. This is a sort of traditional Korean house that has been built and re-built over the years. Today, it serves as a shelter and a small shop where you can buy water, drinks, some candy bars, and perhaps some soup or kimchi. It also marks the starting point for the ascent of Insubong (I think).

Mountain House Bukhansan

From there, the trail continues downhill more gradually. Stone stairs feature prominently in the descent. After a short time, you’ll come to the Baegundae Information Center, characterized by a large parking lot and coffee shop.

Insubong Peak Bukhansan

But lest you think you’re back into the city, you are not. No, from there it is a further 2km walk down a paved road with wooden sidewalk until you reach a bus stop. In my opinion, there are far more scenic ways to get off of Bukhansan Mountain. I really don’t recommend taking the Baegundae Information Center route.

Baegundae Information Center

If you do end up down here, just follow the road off the mountain until you come to town, then continue until you reach the main road. When I was there in September 2017, they looked to be building a new subway line but it was not yet operational. When it does become operational, the stop will be called Ui Bukhansan.

Seoul Streets near Bukhansan

For now, I hopped on the 120 bus and took it to Suyu station and back into central Seoul.


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Hiking Bukhansan; Seoul's Tallest Mountain: a complete guide for how to get to Bukhansan and How to Hike Bukhansan, the tallest mountain in Seoul, South Korea Hiking Bukhansan; Seoul's Tallest Mountain: a complete guide for how to get to Bukhansan and How to Hike Bukhansan, the tallest mountain in Seoul, South Korea

5 Reasons to Visit Kampot, Cambodia

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

Kampot, a small town near the coast in Cambodia, is slowly making a name for itself among backpackers and luxury tourists alike who want to slow down and appreciate the subtle pleasures of travel. If you love having mountains, hiking, water sports, nature, and relaxation all in one place, here are five reasons to visit Kampot during your next trip to Cambodia.

reasons to visit Kampot

Approaching Kampot on my Cambodia Bike Tour

1. Stay in a Guesthouse on the Kampot River

Kampot is spread out along a river, known in Khmer as “Preak Tuek Chhu”. In town, there is a small park and paths for walking, along with docks where the tourist boats wait for passengers on the evening river cruise. But the real highlight of Kampot takes place upriver, where plenty of guesthouses are tucked away in the lush jungle, offering bungalows on the Kampot river for as low as $6 a night.

During my last trip to Kampot, I stayed in the Kampot River Bungalows. This is the cheapest option and I have to say I loved it. The bungalows are very simple: small wooden huts perched on stilts in the river or set back in the jungle, furnished with little but some bamboo shelves, a thin mattress on a bed, a fan, and a mosquito net. The family that runs the guesthouse is really welcoming. The common area overlooking the river is one of the most peaceful places in all of Cambodia.

Further upriver, backpacker haunts like Arcadia, Greenhouse, or High Tide offer swimming, tubing, rope swings, and parties. If you’re looking for a social guesthouse or hostel that’s also an escape from reality, head up that way.

No matter which riverside guesthouse you choose, you’ll get to spend your days lazing in a hammock watching the fishing boats glide by. If you’re feeling more active, you can rent a kayak or even try stand-up paddle boarding on the river. The Kampot River is the perfect place to spend a day, a week, or even longer.

bokor mountain kampot

Entrance to Bokor National Park

2. Climb Bokor Mountain and Visit the Bokor Hill Station

Bokor Mountain is one of the top tourist activities in Kampot and for good reason. It rises above Kampot town, wreathed in clouds during the rainy season, usually still foggy even in the dry. Perched on top is a ruined French resort, built in the early 20th century for luxuriating colonials. Today, you can still visit the ruins of the old hotel and there is a modern (and ugly) resort and casino up there as well.

The normal way to visit Bokor Mountain is either through a tour or on a moto. You can easily rent a moto in town for $4 and drive yourself up the hill. I drove up in the rainy season and even with the wet and cold, it was still a great drive. Bring layers though because it gets cold up there!

Once you get to the top, you’ll get incredible views of the surrounding countryside, as well as the ocean, and even Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island in the distance. The old French resort still stands but as of May 2017, the building was closed off to visitors.

For a real challenge, rent a mountain bike in town and try to cycle up to Bokor Hill Station. It’s about 10km (6 miles) from town to the start of the ride, then 35km (21 miles) up to the top. It’s not a steep grade, but it is consistently uphill for the entire 21 miles, so get ready to climb. The downhill afterwards makes it all worth it.

Entrance to Bokor Mountain National Park on a motorbike is 2000riel ($0.50) and it’s free on a bicycle.

bokor hill station kampot

Bokor Hill Station

3. Cycle A Countryside Tour of Kampot Pepper Farms, Salt Flats, and Caves

The countryside around Kampot is a prime spot for exploring typical Cambodian rural life. Rice fields lined with red dirt roads spread out into the distance. Kampot pepper farms grow the coveted spice and offer tours. Drop by for a visit and pick up a bag of overpriced pepper to take home. The name brand “Kampot Pepper” costs $70 a kilo, a completely ridiculous price. How could the average Cambodian afford that? Or even want to?

Other than pepper farms, other highlights are the salt flats, a wide area of farm fields out near the sea that are used to cultivate, you guessed it, salt. You can get a stunning view of the salt flats with Bokor Hill rising up beyond them just a little ways outside of town.

Lastly, visit some of the caves that surround Kampot. Phnom Chhngok is a popular choice, a small cave that has an ancient Angkorian temple built inside of it. Entrance is $1 and there are usually some kids hanging around who will give you a tour.

Salt flats Kampot Cambodia

Kampot Salt Flats with Bokor in the distance

4. Engage in Responsible Tourism at Epic Arts Cafe

This cafe is genuinely one of my favorite spots in town but there are more reasons to visit beyond the scrumptious paninis and decadent carrot cake. Epic Arts Cafe supports Epic Arts, the organization. In their own words, Epic Arts believes that “every person counts”. They use the arts as a tool to empower disabled people in Cambodia, helping them gain confidence and find their own space in society.

Not only does the money you spend at the cafe go back to the organization but you can get a sense of their work while you eat. They have a gallery upstairs to showcase student work, you can buy souvenirs made by their beneficiaries, and most of the staff at the cafe are deaf or disabled in some way. You can even learn some Khmer sign language from the signs and books sitting on the tables.

I totally recommend checking out this cafe. It’s honestly one of the reasons I came to Kampot to begin with. The cheese and tomato panini is delicious. And you can get french press coffee! Yum.

Epic Arts Cafe Kampot Panini

Cheese and Tomato Panini at Epic Arts Cafe

5. Take a Day Trip to Kep

If you follow my blog, you’ll know how much I love Kep. During my bike tour around Cambodia, I spent three days there hiking in the national park, exploring old ruins, eating great food, and trying to explore everything there is to do in Kep.

But if you’re based out of Kampot, you might only have time to take a day trip to Kep. The good news is, it’s only 26km (16 miles) away, so you can easily rent a moto and head out to Kep for a quick day trip.

If you’ve only got one day in Kep, I recommend taking your moto and driving around the Kep National Park trail. It’s a dirt road but very easy to drive. You’ll get amazing views of all the different parts of Kep. If you have extra time, I recommend hiking up to Sunset Rock. The whole hike is pretty short, should take only 1 to 2 hours.

After you explore the park, head down to the fish markets to eat some of Kep’s famous blue crab. You can buy it fresh at the market or have one of the restaurants prepare it for you. If you choose to go to the market, there are people there who can steam or sauté your crab on site (5000 riel or $1.25), and you can buy a plate of rice for 1000riel ($0.25). At the restaurants, the dishes are more expensive but you’re paying for presentation and atmosphere as well as the crab.

In the markets, a kilo of crab is $6 and feeds two people. So for two people, a kilo of crab sautéed with fresh peppercorns and a plate of rice will cost you $7.50.

If you still have more time in Kep, I recommend driving over to the beach to see how Khmer people do beach days. Or take some time to explore the town and find all the ruined mansions. There is also a butterfly farm and a few other tourist attractions that can help you pass the time.

Kep is a beautiful little seaside town perfect for a slightly adventurous morning. But don’t be surprised if you fall in love and end up spending few days there.

views kep national park

Kep National Park Views

Kampot: Cambodia’s Relaxing Getaway

I love Kampot. It’s the perfect place to escape from the rigors of long-term travel. Get yourself a bungalow on the river, rent a moto, and idle away a week lazing by the river or driving around the countryside. I promise you won’t regret it.


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5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation5 Reasons to Visit Kampot Cambodia This Year: Where to Stay in Kampot, What to do in Kampot, the best adventure travel and relaxation

Hiking Peru’s Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is one of the most beautiful long distance hikes in the world. Slightly more stunning than its more famous cousin, the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo rivals even the pristine peaks of Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in grandeur and scale.

This roughly 87-mile trek encircles the majestic Alpamayo Mountain, sometimes called “the worlds most beautiful mountain” within the Huascaran National Park. With massive gains in elevation, a wealth of biodiversity, and jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas, the Alpamayo Circuit earns its right to be named one of the greatest treks in the world.

In October 2015, I set out to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide. Though this is a long and intimidating trek, it is possible to do without the help of a Peruvian guide or porters, as long as you’re fit, knowledgeable about wilderness survival, and adventurous.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek Views Mesapampa Pass

View from Mesapampa Pass

For full disclosure, I took on this trek with my then boyfriend and our donkey. It was part of a longer 3-month backpacking trek across Peru, for which we purchased a donkey in nearby Huaylas. But don’t worry, you don’t need to buy your own donkey to take on the Alpamayo Circuit solo.

For those of you who are headed to the Huaraz region of Peru looking for adventure, the Alpamayo Circuit is the granddaddy of them all. If you’re thinking of trying this Andean adventure, here is everything you need to know to plan and trek the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide.

Donkey in Peru Cordillera Blanca

Beautiful Chana

Table of Contents

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek
What to Pack
What to Budget
Getting to Hualcayan
The Itinerary: A Day by Day Guide for the Alpamayo Circuit
Day 1: Hualcayan to Wishcash
Day 2: Wishcash to Ruina Pampa
Day 3: Ruina Pampa to Cruze Alpamayo
Day 4: Alpamayo Base Camp Day Hike
Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo to Laguna Safiuna
Day 6: Laguna Safiuna to Jancapampa
Day 7: Jancapampa to Quebrada Tuctubamba
Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba to Quebrada Huaripampa
Day 9: Quebrada Huaripampa to Tuallipampa
Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa
Conclusion

Ruina Pampa Cordillera Blanca

Goofing in Ruina Pampa

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek can be completed in as few as 8 days, though I recommend setting aside more time than that. However, if you have a limited amount of time, bring enough supplies to last at least 8 days. My trek lasted 12 days, but that included some slow hiking and getting lost. This guide is a 10-day itinerary, allowing for a few days spent exploring lesser-known high Andean landscapes.

Any trek in the Cordillera Blanca begins from Huaraz, a town in the Ancash Region and the center of all trekking in Peru. There are several bus companies that will take you from Lima to Huaraz in about 8 hours. Z Buss is one of the cheapest but other, better-known bus companies also make the route.

Before your trek, spend a few days in Huaraz to acclimatize to the altitude. You’ll be spending almost the entire Alpamayo Trek above 4000m (13,000ft). If you try to do this trek without getting acclimatized first, you will almost certainly get sick.

If you spend a few days in Huaraz and you’re still worried about altitude sickness, you can easily pick up some altitude sickness pills, called sorochi pills, at any pharmacy or “botica” in town.

Huaraz is also the spot to rent any gear you’ll need, buy supplies, and find trekking buddies. Most outdoor shops in town sell maps of the Cordillera Huayhuash with the Alpamayo Trek included. There are various qualities at various prices ranging from about 40 soles to 100 soles.

For food shopping in Huaraz, there are a few small grocery stores in town. These are generally well stocked but overpriced. The best place to get supplies for your hike is in the Mercado Central. There, shops sell all kinds of nuts and seeds in bulk at half the price of the supermarket. You can also find cookies, biscuits, instant noodles, hot cocoa mix, and everything else you could possibly need for an 8 to 12-day trek.

camping in Peru alpamayo trek

It gets cold

Planning for the Alpamayo Trek Without A Guide: What to Pack

Sleeping – Waterproof 3 season tent, sleeping bag 16F, sleeping mat
Clothing – Layers! Silk pant liners, hiking pants, waterproof pants, warm pants for sleeping, t-shirt liner, hiking t-shirt, fleece jacket, waterproof shell, gloves, hats, socks and sock liners (at least 2 pairs), hiking boots, camp shoes
First Aid – minimum first aid kit including iodine, bandages, scissors, tweezers, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, sorochi (altitude sickness) pills
Kitchen – stove, gas, pot for eating, knife
Food – enough for 8 to 12 days, keep in mind that water boils lower at elevation so rice and pasta won’t cook so well. Things like oatmeal and instant noodles work best.
Other – Map, water filter or method for cleaning water (I used a Steripen), length of cord, other misc camping needs

Many camping supplies can be rented in Huaraz, and gas canisters that work with MSR stoves like the Pocket Rocket can be purchased. You’ll also want to pick up your Huascaran National Park pass in Huaraz. I didn’t and they still made me buy it on my way out of the Santa Cruz trek. There are checkpoints. You need to buy the pass.

Backpacking Budget for Peru’s Alpamayo Trek

Because you’ll be taking on this trek unsupported, you may actually be surprised by how cheaply you can do it. A Peru backpacking budget can be quite small, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time in the mountains.

Costs associated with this trek include renting any supplies in Huaraz, purchasing your food, your transport to and from the trek, and the Huascaran National Park Pass. The numbers below are just an estimate and depend on your own planning and experience. They reflect my reality when I made the trek in October 2015.

Transport: Collectivo to and from Caraz, 12 soles, taxis to and from Hualcayan and Cashapampa, 70 soles total, cheaper may be available for the adventurous Spanish speaker.
Gear Rental: gas canisters 10-25 soles, sleeping bag $2-$10 per day, tent $5 to $15 per day.
Food: Estimate 100 soles for 10 days
Map: 40 to 100 soles depending on quality
Huascaran National Park Pass: 65 soles for 21 days.

These prices are more of an estimate than a definitive number, but if you’re looking to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide, expect to spend somewhere in the region of 352 soles plus the cost of any gear you need to rent. That’s just over $100 for a 12 day trek. Not too shabby. Obviously, if you have to rent tents or sleeping bags it’ll get more expensive.

Donkey Grazing in Hualcayan Peru

Chana grazing in Hualcayan

Getting To Hualcayan

The Alpamayo Circuit begins at a small village called Hualcayan. To get there, get a collectivo to Caraz. They leave from the main road in town and the cost of a one way trip is 6 soles. From Caraz, ask around till you find the taxi station, then ask for cars going to Hualcayan. There may also be collectivos, so if you’re trying to keep this low budget, I suggest asking around town before getting into an expensive taxi.

There is a campsite in town where you can spend the night, the locals will ask for a small fee to camp there but this village is the last time you’ll be asked to pay a fee before camping.

When I was there in October 2015, there was no checkpoint for the Huascaran National Park pass in Hualcayan.

The Itinerary: A Day by Day Trail Breakdown of the Alpamayo Circuit

hiking in peru alpamayo trek

Day 1 Hiking up to Wishcash Camp

Day 1: Hualcayan (2900m/9514ft) to Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft)

Day one begins with a steep ascent then becomes a more gradual climb. You’ll find yourself winding up the mountainside through low scrubs and grasses. At one particularly exciting point, the trail cuts across a massive scar left over from a long-ago landslide. It’s not a particularly frightening crossing, the trail is large and stable, but it bare and exposed with plenty of stunning views of the valley below.

Towards the end of the day, you’ll find yourself cresting some rounded hills. The campsite, Wishcash, is located on the top of one of these. There is a small stream there for drinking water but little shelter from the wind.

It’s not a particularly tough day of trekking, but you’ve climbed up above 4300m/14,107ft and you’ll need to acclimate, so it’s probably a good idea to stop here before attempting the passes above you.

Once you’ve set up camp, there is plenty of exploring to be done around the campground. If you hike just a bit uphill, you can look down the cliffs at a beautiful lake. It’s probably possible to hike down to the lake, about 300m down, but I didn’t find the trail.

If you’re feeling strong and acclimated, you could potentially continue hiking up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, another 500m/1600ft up from Wishcash and just below the first pass of the trek. Listen to your body and if you start to feel dizziness, headaches, or nausea, turn back to Wishcash.

Peru adventure travel

Horse in the village next to Ruina Pampa

Day 2: Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft) to Ruina Pampa (4000m/13,123ft)

This is an incredibly grueling day crossing two high altitude passes with steep descents and ascents in between. When I hiked it, I divided the day into two separate days. On the first day, I was feeling a bit put out by the altitude, so we just hiked up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, sitting just below the first pass. It was a very short hike and we spent the late morning and entire afternoon messing about around the lake taking pictures and letting our donkey rest. I loved it, but if you’re carrying all your own supplies and trying to make the circuit in a set time, it’s probably not the best plan.

Otherwise, it’s onward to cross Osoruri Pass at 4860m/15,944ft, then follow the trail as it drops steeply into the valley below, only to climb back up a demanding set of switchbacks to Vientona Pass at 4770m/15,650ft.

We stopped here for a quick lunch, then continued toward towards our destination for the day: Ruina Pampa. From Vientona Pass the trail zig zags relentlessly down the mountainside. Once you reach the valley floor, you’ve more or less made it. There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

To get to the official campsite, follow the trail up the valley for maybe another kilometer and you’ll find the campsite sign.

Ruina Pampa Camp Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Ruina Pampa Campsite

Day 3: Ruina Papa (4000m/13,123ft) to Cruze Alpamayo Camp (4150m/13,615ft)

After the rigors of your two passes yesterday, you’re rewarded with a fairly easy day of hiking up the Ruina Pampa valley. The trail itself is stunning, it hugs the wall of the valley, giving you a view of the river below as it winds down from the glaciers in the distance. You’ll meander through ancient ruins and corrals, the last remains of an ancient civilization.

After not too long, you’ll find yourself in a wide open valley surrounded on three sides by massive mountain walls. This is Cruze Alpamayo Camp, so look for the official campsite or just find a dry spot to set up your tent.

Peruvian Andes Adventures Cordillera Blanca

On the way to Cruze Alpamayo

A word of caution: Beware Andean Valleys! They look like beautiful places to frolic but in fact, they are watery quagmires just waiting to eat you alive. Approach with caution.

You’ll probably arrive at Cruze Alpamayo Camp by lunchtime. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the path that hugs the mountainside towards Laguna Jancarurish. It’s a stunning crystal blue lake sitting beneath a massive glacier. The hike to get there is a bit dicey and you might lose the trail, but don’t worry, the lake is just behind the large wall of rocks.

Alpamayo Base Camp

Alpamayo Base Camp

Day 4: Hike up to Alpamayo Base Camp and Lakes

Most tours skip this section, but if you’re lucky enough to be hiking without a guide and making your own itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to include this mini day trip up to the Alpamayo Base Camp. It was perhaps the most beautiful day of hiking I had in all of Peru.

Set out from camp and follow the same trail towards Laguna Jancarurish. Instead of heading to the lake, follow the switchbacks up the mountainside in front of you. At the top, you’ll find another high valley opening up in front of you with snowcapped peaks rising up all around. This is the Alpamayo Base Camp valley.

There is a trail up to a high Alpamayo Base Camp above 5000m/16,400ft. We missed it when coming up from Cruze Alpamayo, so I’ve not made that ascent. Instead, we visited some lakes beneath the glaciers.

To find the glacial lake beneath Alpamayo, hike across the valley towards the distant peaks and you’ll find another lake similar to Jancarurish. There isn’t really a trail to get there and it’ll take some intrepid trailblazing to get across the valley, but the lake is beautiful and you really feel that you are standing among the mountains.

Bring layers. It’s damn cold.

Head back down to camp at Cruze Alpamayo that night and prepare yourself for the toughest climb of the trek the next morning.

Cordillera Blanca Trekking

Cruze Alpamayo Views

Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo (4150m/13,615ft) to Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft)

Today is the day you cross the intense, grueling, and breathtakingly rewarding Cara Cara pass. The day begins with your journey to find the trail. Cara Cara pass is across the valley and above you, but at least when I was there in October 2015, I struggled to find the trail. No matter, make your own way up the mountainside heading in the right direction. This is where it helps to have a map.

Eventually, you’ll find the trail again, I promise. Just keep using the map and heading up.

The trail begins in a straight line up the mountainside as it passes two lakes. It’s probably one of the toughest single pieces of trail in the whole circuit. Eventually, you’ll work your way out of the grass and come to a final small lake, more of a puddle really, and the rest of the climb is all loose rocks and scree.

The trail zigzags steeply up the final ascent as the winds begin to swirl around you. The last few steps are so sheer you may worry you’re going to slip back down the mountainside.

Give yourself a treat and don’t look behind you until you’ve reached the top of the pass. The view from Cara Cara is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen. Just pure Andean glory.

Cara Cara Pass Alpamayo Circuit Peru

View from Cara Cara Pass

Once you’ve had your fill of the view, it’s time to move onwards and hike down into the valley below. Thankfully, the trail is less steep and far less windy on this side. After initial switchbacks, you’ll follow a relatively smooth trail along the valley wall and up to cross the second pass of the day, Mesapampa Pass at 4500m/14,760ft. This is a significantly easier ascent.

Another breathtaking view awaits you here, then it’s onward and downward to the valley below and the waiting Safiuna Lake camp at 4200m/13,780ft.

Gara Gara Pass Alpamayo Circuit

View from Cara Cara looking towards Mesapampa

Day 6: Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft) to Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft)

I got pretty lost on this section and never made it to Jancapampa. The trail was very difficult to follow. That plus a few other reasons, and we bailed out for a different option. But before I frighten you, let’s discuss what I did and what you ought to do instead.

From Laguna Safiuna, continue hiking down into the valley then follow the trail along the wall of the valley over towards the bridge. In October 2015, they were in the process of building a massive new bridge but I imagine it’s finished by now. Cross over the river and head up towards Huilca, a small village. Really, it’s two or three houses surrounded by livestock, including alpacas, sheep, goats, and even some horses.

From there, the trail is meant to continue up to Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa.

I did not do this. The trail up towards Yanacon path is incredibly difficult to find and possibly nonexistent from the valley floor. Instead, since I couldn’t find the trail, I asked one of the local village boys to help me out. He seemed unsure about where the path to Yanacon was but kept pointing to another, much more obvious trail, that went up the valley on the other side. He told me it would take me out to Pomabamba, the closest main town. and my ultimate

Our original plan was to hike to Jancapampa and leave the donkey grazing there with a villager while we popped out to Pomabamba to pick up supplies. So, if this young guy told us there was an easier path to Pomabamba, fine. We opted to skip Yanacon path and follow the alternative trail. This took us out to a village, the name of which I cannot remember.

It took us a further two days to make the trek out to that village. This was due in part to length, but mostly we were held up by the most delightful Peruvian family. We met them just over the next pass, sitting by a lake eating chocho and checking up on their cattle. Instead of hiking, we spent most of the afternoon hanging out with them and walking around in the valleys looking for injured cows.

After two days, we made it out to this small village, found a family willing to guard our donkey for two days for a fair price, and hopped in a collectivo out to Pomabomba. After two days in the big city, we got a collectivo back to the village and from there it was just a day’s walk over the hill to Jancapampa.

But if you’re not intending to restock in Pomabamba, I suggest having more fortitude, and a better map than I had, and heading up towards Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa. My best advice is just to commit to hiking up in the right direction and eventually, you’ll find the trail and the pass.

Jancapampa is a small village where you can purchase cookies and instant noodles, so if you’re running short on supplies, this is where you’ll want to restock.

Peru treks

Day 7: Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft) to Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800m/12,470ft)

From Jancapampa, the path heads uphill, crossing through farmland and pastures. You’ll cross the Tupatupa pass at 4400m/14,435ft and head down into a valley below. The trail winds through this valley heading uphill. I chose to follow it for most of the day right up until the base of the next pass. There are plenty of open grassy areas for camping and the trail follows a river, so water is readily available as well.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800/12,470m) to Quebrada Huaripampa (4150m/13,615m)

Another grueling climb. I decided to wake up early, around 4am, to try to beat the sun and catch the sunrise from the top. I didn’t quite make it, but close, and it was well worth it!

The trail begins with tight switchbacks through Andean flowers and rocky scree. The top is all jagged rocks and makes for some great exploring. You’ll catch some views of the trail up to Punta Union across the valley, with a few glimpses of snowcapped peaks beyond. Once across, the trail down the other side is a well-maintained switchback that passes through both open rocky land and some groves of the endangered Queñuales trees.

Enjoy this last ascent in your Alpamayo Solitude because after this, the trail joins up with the immensely popular Santa Cruz trek, so you’ll be sharing the trail with donkey trains, tour groups, and plenty more trekkers. Makes for more social campsites but there is something to be said for the solitude of the Alpamayo Circuit.

Anyway, you can choose to camp that night in Huaripampa, it’s a wide open valley that unlike most Andean valleys is actually dry and great for camping. Or you could choose to go up and over Punta Union on the same day. If it’s the dry season I say go for it, but if you’re hiking in the Peru’s rainy season, as I was, better to wait until the next day. Afternoons in the rainy season mean clouds and limited visibility.

Punta Union Santa Cruz Trek Peru

View towards Punta Union Pass and Santa Cruz

Day 9: Huaripampa to Tuallipampa (4250m/13,945ft)

The trail heads up out of Huaripampa, passes three high Andean lakes along the way, and then zigzags all the way up to Punta Union, the breathtaking main pass of the Santa Cruz trek, with views of snow-capped peaks and crystal blue lakes far below you.

Unfortunately for me, I hiked this in October during the beginning of the rainy season and my view was mostly of fog. Oh well.

From Punta Union, it’s a long but easy slog down to Tuallipampa, a wide open grassy campsite sitting beneath sheer rock walls.

Megan and Donkey Alpamayo Circuit Peru

Just me and my donkey Chana

Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa

This is the end. If you have enough supplies, you can take an extra day, climb up to the other Alpamayo Base Camp on this side, and camp at the Llama corral campsite further down. I did not choose to do this, only because after so many days of hiking, my legs were pretty tired and I was ready to eat some pizza.

The trail out of the Santa Cruz trek is gradual and very easy. You’ll wind down through the valley, passing by the extremely picturesque Laguna Jatuncocha, before finally finding yourself in the relative civilization of Cashapampa.

There is a checkpoint at the end of the trail where you’ll need to show your Cordillera Blanca pass. Then walk down into town and find yourself a taxi. Some of them wait at the trailhead, others can be found in the town’s main square.

You can get a taxi from Cashapampa to Caraz the price is negotiable. I recommend spending a day or two in Caraz, it’s a lovely town and a good jumping off point for a few other treks. But if you’re in a hurry, you can catch a collectivo back to Huaraz for 6 soles.

Laguna Jatuncocha Santa Cruz Trek

Laguna Jatuncocha

Conclusion: Final Thoughts on the Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is truly one of the most splendid hiking experiences in all of Peru. During the course of the 8 to 12 days, you’ll cross over several massive passes, hike through a huge variety of environments, and get up close and personal with snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Though far less popular than the nearby Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo Circuit is the perfect hike for intrepid explorers who want to experience the ultimate Peruvian Andean adventure.


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Trek My Favorite Hike in Peru the Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide; the Ultimate Peruvian Andes AdventureTrek My Favorite Hike in Peru the Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide; the Ultimate Peruvian Andes Adventure

5 Lessons Learned from 5 Years Abroad

Adventure Travel, Travel

As of July 28, 2017, I’ve been living abroad; working and traveling; for five years. It’s been five years of struggles, triumphs, tribulations, and ultimately, strength. I’ve lived and worked in three countries, I’ve traveled through 15, I’ve hiked in the Himalayas and the Andes. I’ve cycled around Cambodia. And I’ve come through it all a more complete version of myself.

To mark this milestone in my life, I decided to compile a list of five hard-earned lessons I’ve learned in five years of living abroad.

Chinatown Incheon

Visiting Incheon’s Chinatown in South Korea 2012

1. Live Your Life By Your Own Rules

Don’t live your life according to other people’s rules. Don’t listen to the guilty voice in your head telling you what you “should” be doing. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. Instead, do the things that give you purpose.

When I first moved to Korea I had all these ideas about what it meant to be an expat. I wanted to be a “real expat” and not a “fake expat”, whatever that meant. I ate only Korean food, I didn’t own a fork, I slept on a pallet bed, I tried (poorly) to learn the language. I rarely ate western food and tried to only go out places where Koreans were going out.

I looked down on people who spent all their time in the foreigner neighborhoods and scorned those who felt the need to eat bread instead of rice. And what did I get for all this superiority? Crushing culture shock and mental stress. It took me a little over six months to realize how much happier I was overall if I let myself enjoy some time in the foreigner neighborhood.

So, if I want to go spend money on a fancy American style meal, I’ll do it. If I want to go to the expat bar on Friday nights and hang out with other foreigners who speak English fluently, I’ll do it. Then I’ll go back to living my life abroad, immersed in a foreign land.

The same thing applies to travel. I used to feel guilty if I spent a whole day doing nothing, lying about in hammocks. Or guilty that I went to Indonesia and spent the whole time climbing volcanoes instead of surfing or diving.

But this is my life and my trip. I get to do what I want to do with my time. I’m not beholden to other people’s bucket lists or preconceived notions about what “Travel” involves.

This lesson applies to so many things in life, how your spend your free time, what career you pursue, whether or not you attend university, who you spend your time with. In the end, we only live once, so it’s best to remember:

Your life is yours and yours alone, you don’t have to follow anyone else’s rules.

Buying a Donkey in Peru

Meeting my donkey, Chana, for the first time, 2015

2. There is Happiness in Solitude

I’ve always been an introvert. But when I was younger I didn’t appreciate that side of myself. Not valuing my desire to spend time alone in bed with a good book, I thought this inclination toward nights in made me anti-social.

Life abroad has shown me the strength that comes from introversion. Because of this side of my personality, I’m comfortable doing things on my own. I’ll go to restaurants by myself, go to bars by myself, even go on 7-week long bike rides by myself.

Sometimes I wish I made more of an effort to find a partner in crime for all my adventuring. But that person will come along eventually. Or maybe they won’t. For now, I’m perfectly happy exploring the world solo.

If you are unafraid to experience life as a solo traveler, you’ll find so many more adventures are waiting for you.

Annapurna Circuit Manaslau Pass

Crossing the Highest Point of the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal, 2014

3. When Facing Disaster: Stay Calm

I have a confession to make: I’m a panicker. Sometimes that panic comes in the form of sleepless nights spent agonizing over something left undone. Other times, it’s the kind of frenzied panic that takes over in the face of a disaster.

Travel, especially solo travel, has taught me the futility of panic. It seems like life is teaching me this lesson over and over again. Like on my first night in Korea, when I accidentally took a bus to the end of the line and had no idea where I was.

Or when I was walking across Peru with a donkey and I walked myself all the way to exhaustion. Facing a full day of climbing, I collapsed on the hillside in tears.

Or when I was cycling around Cambodia and got lost for the 3rd time that day, I burst into tears and shouted “I can’t do this!” at the sky.

But over the years, these stressful experiences have taught me something: crying doesn’t get you anywhere. Panic is pretty useless. And 9 times out of 10, everything works out in the end. Take a few deep breaths, sit down, and look at the situation calmly. You’ll find a solution soon enough.

Touring in Kyoto Japan

First visit to Japan, 2013

4. Be Patient – Things Worth Having Take Time

This was probably the most difficult one for me to learn. I am not a patient person by nature. I like instant gratification and getting free stuff. But life doesn’t work like that and we don’t all get to live in fairy tales.

This lesson came to me recently, during my seven-week bike ride around Cambodia. I bought a bicycle in March 2017 and intended to get in shape then begin my epic bike tour in April. That plan was dashed when I ripped a tendon in my foot at the end of March. No more cycling. No activity at all. I spent all of April resting in my apartment.

Then May 1st came and I couldn’t wait anymore. I hopped on my bike and started pedaling. I was completely out of shape. I hadn’t ridden a single kilometer in over a month! On my first day, a 77km ride over some hills almost killed me.

But over the next 7 weeks of cycling, my body slowly started to change. 70km went from nearly impossible to easy. I was shocked, two weeks in, to find that a 93km passed by in a flash. By the end of the ride, I was tackling 140km days.

This strength didn’t happen overnight. It happened because I worked at it slowly and consistently.

This applies to just about everything in life. You want to travel for 6 months? Start saving now, little by little.

You want to work for the UN? Start working with smaller NGOs now. Build up your experiences and resume little by little.

Whatever your goals are, break them down into little bits to get there. Don’t give up when it doesn’t work out. There were days I thought I’d never be able to cycle around Cambodia. And yet by the end, I felt I could’ve done the whole thing again.

You’d be surprised what you can achieve with a little persistence.

Hiking the Alpamayo Circuit Solo

Hiking in the Alpamayo Circuit, Peru, 2015

5. If You Have A Passion: Chase It

Whatever makes your heart beat faster and your imagination soar, chase it. Not everyone is lucky enough to know what their passion is. Most of us have no idea. But if you do figure it out, get after it. Start now. Today.

Start small, what first baby step can you take to get there? Make a plan for yourself, and be willing to let that plan change.

For me, the dream has always been writing. I’ve known since the first time I read C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Narnia Chronicles that I wanted to be a writer. There were months, even years when I thought this would never be possible. I was a talentless fraud. Writing wasn’t really what I wanted. Writing is not a real career choice.

It took me a few years to get over all that negative self-talk and begin actively pursuing that dream. I’m not publishing novels yet, but I am working full time as a freelance writer and content creator. I’m on my way, and it feels right.

Five years ago, as I set off to teach English in South Korea, I thought I had no dreams. Being a writer seemed like a childish passion. But here I am, five years later, a professional content creator. People are paying me to write.

Three months ago I launched this blog, Into Foreign Lands. It’s not one of the top travel blogs on the web by any means but it’s mine, I’m dedicated to it, and I love every second that I get to work on it.

I’ve got further to go and more baby steps to take but this process of living abroad has shown me that I have the strength to get there.

My point is this: whatever your dream is, chase it. Even if it feels so far away you may never get there, start now. Start today. One year ago I was working a 40 hour/week job in Cambodia and coming home each night to work on writing and freelance assignments. It sucked and I was always tired but it means that now I can work freelance and make my own schedule. I have time for my creative pursuits.

If you feel that you have no dream, have no passions, if you’re feeling lost and listless, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I felt that way before I left for Korea. I’ve felt it since then in moments of self-doubt.

But think of it like this: because you don’t know where you want to go, you can go anywhere! Start trying different things, anything that you get the opportunity to try. Start running, take boxing classes, sign up for a book club, apply for a job that sounds interesting but you’re not qualified for. (Worst thing they can do is say no!). Start traveling. You never know what will trigger your imagination and set your heart soaring.


Before I sign off sounding like I’ve got everything figured out, let me just add as a caveat: I’m often re-learning each of these lessons. As soon as I think I’ve learned “don’t panic” for the final time, I end up in some bad situation, bursting into tears and trying not to panic.

BIke Tour Through the Cambodian rice fields

Cycling through the rice fields outside Battambang, Cambodia, 2017

Travel isn’t necessary to experience this kind of self-growth. It just happened to be what triggered it for me. This is what travel has taught me and I’m so thankful to be on the path that I’m walking. If you’re not on the right path for your life, I can’t encourage you enough to start making small changes today. Even if that means adding a second job. Even if it means taking a massive risk.

Your life is your own, and you only get one.

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5 Lessons Learned from a Life spent living abroad, working abroad, and traveling across 15 countries

The Complete Guide to the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to the verdant Sacred Valley of the Incas. Located in between Cusco and Machu Picchu, most tourists only spend a day or two here before heading off to take on the Inca Trail. But take it from someone who lived there for a year, you may want to reorganize your trip to make more room for this tucked away paradise.

The Sacred Valley of the Inca is unlike anywhere else on earth. In a single day of exploration, visitors can take in sweeping vistas of snow capped peaks while enjoying an organic locally grown feast. With just a few days, the adventurous tourist can hike to waterfalls, visit ancient Incan ruins, and learn about a vibrant indigenous culture that still carries on today despite many hardships and obstacles.

There is so much to love about Peru’s Sacred Valley. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I’m delighted to share with you my complete guide to visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Chicon Glacier Hike

Understanding Life in the Valley

As with any visit to a foreign land, you cannot expect to fully understand the depth and complexity of life there in just a few weeks or months. But there are a few things you can learn that will help you understand the culture of life in the valley.

This valley was once very near to the center of Incan society. And those Incan ancestors left behind more than just ruins.

Much of the population are Quechua people, an indigenous group descended from the Incans. These people speak the Quechua language and some don’t speak Spanish. Though most are Catholics today, their ties to their ancient culture are still evident.

Pachamama, a mother earth figure, features heavily in local folklore. Hikes and other journeys often begin with a ritual offering of 3 coca leaves to Pachamama.

Many who live there still talk of the ancient Incan understanding of the three-part world: hana pacha, the upper world, signified by a Condor; Kay Pacha, the middle world, signified by a panther; and Uku Pacha, the lower world, signified by a serpent.

Today, the Sacred Valley is an agricultural area. The high Andean villages make up some of the last pastoral communities in the world.

Sacred Valley

Overall, Peru is still considered a developing country and had a poverty rate of 25.8% in 2011, according to the UN. Clean water is difficult to come by and illiteracy is still commonplace.

Yet poverty isn’t the story in Peru. The modern culture in the Sacred Valley is vibrant, unique, and bursting with pride. In general, the Peruvians (I met) who live there are welcoming, accepting of tourists, and willing to educate outsiders about their culture and way of life.

Before you go, make sure you purchase a 10-day Boleto Turístico in Cusco. This pass will give you access to most (but not all) of the major tourist attractions in the Sacred Valley.

The Three Main Towns

There are many small villages running through the Sacred Valley. These vary in size and each one has its own flavor and secrets. That being said, here are the five main towns that every visit to the Sacred Valley should include:

Pisac

Pisac is the second most famous town in the valley and home to the largest population of foreigners in the valley. The town is dominated by a massive set of Incan ruins climbing up the mountain above town.

There are two ways to visit these ruins. For the adventurous, the ruins can be reached by hiking up a long Incan staircase, just head uphill from the market until you find the gateway. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take a taxi up the mountain behind town and walk across to the ruins from there.

Entrance to the ruin is included in the Boleto Turistico.

After you finish exploring the ruins, spend some time walking around the market in the main square. This is one of the most touristic markets in all of the Sacred Valley. It’s a great opportunity to see what kind of handicrafts and trinkets are on offer, but there are less expensive markets selling most of the same products. If you see something truly special, get it! Otherwise, wait till you get to Urubamba.

Ollantaytambo Free Ruins

Pisac also has a whole host of opportunities for yoga workshops, retreats, vegan food, and plant medicine retreats. Many restaurants in town offer Ayahuasca diet menus, and there are shamans all over town offering their services. Just – do your research before booking! Some of these are great experiences, while others can turn into nightmares.

For workshops and yoga retreats, I can personally recommend Nidra Wasi. I took a yogic cooking workshop there in 2014 that was worth every penny.

Ollantaytambo

The gem in the crown of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is the most beautiful and iconic town on this list. Called the “Living Incan City” this town is unlike any other in the world. Built by the Inca over 500 years ago, today the town lives on, with Quechua people still living in the structures built by their Incan ancestors.

Rio Urubamba

What to do in Ollantaytambo

The main highlight of Ollantaytambo is the majestic ruin rising up above the town. You’ll catch your first glimpse of it from the main square. Just walk down the hill to reach the entrance. The entrance fee is covered by the boleto turistico.

These ruins, called Temple Hill colloquially, are unfinished, having been abandoned before completion over 600 years ago. Still, there are many structures and monoliths that are astounding to witness in person. The Temple of the Sun, located at the top of a long stair climb, features some of the remarkable stonework that makes the Inca famous. The many gardens, fountains, and foundations that run along the bottom of the mountainside will have you dreaming of what life was like before the Spanish arrived. This temple deserves at least a whole morning just for exploration.

If you have extra energy and time in Ollantay, smaller, less majestic ruins cling to the opposite side of the valley. Entrance to these ruins is free, if you can find it. Walk down the last alleyway in town and then look for a small path leading up the hill. These ruins were the storage houses for potatoes, grains and other foodstuffs.

Where to Eat in Ollantaytambo

Once you’ve finished exploring Ollantaytambo’s impressive ruins, it’s time for a snack. My personal favorite place to eat in Ollantay is Heart’s Cafe. This social enterprise cafe uses its proceeds to provide healthy meals and support to women and children living in high Andean communities. They have some of the most delicious food in Ollantay with vegan and vegetarian options.

Urubamba

Urubamba is situated right smack in the center of the Sacred Valley. This town is often overlooked by tourists because it lacks the quaint charm and stunning ruins of Pisac or Ollantaytambo. But in truth, you cannot fully understand life in the Sacred Valley without a visit to Urubamba.

A visit to Urubamba provides the opportunity to look behind the tourist performance and see what life is really like for the local Quechua people and Peruvian transplants that populate the Sacred Valley.

Urubamba is a hidden gem of the Sacred Valley, especially for those who love good food. The market at Urubamba is a gathering place for local farmers from all across the valley and up in the mountains. There are a few days a week when it explodes into a hive of activity. I’ll talk more about that in the event section of this article.

Urubamba Streets

Streets of Urubamba

Where to Eat in Urubamba

There are many restaurants in Urubamba worth checking out. The top choices serve the increasingly popular Novo Andino cuisine, while other cafe’s tend to focus on organic vegetarian meals.

El Huacatay serves up Novo Andino classics like Trucha (trout) or Alpaca meat. The restaurant is cash only and reservations are recommended in the high season. 30-40 soles per plate.

Paca Paca sits a bit uphill from town but is well worth the walk or moto ride. The restaurant offers a funky artistic vibe with wood oven pizzas and a good wine selection. Pastas are also recommended. 30 – 40 soles per plate

Kaia is my last and highest restaurant recommendation. It isn’t the most expensive or sought after restaurant in town but it is the most charming. They offer organic food prepared with love. Kaia also often has music performances or other artistic events. I recommend the chai tea with almond milk! 15-25 soles/plate

What to Do in Urubamba

Other than a visit to the market, what else does Urubamba have to offer?

The Plaza de Armas has a lovely traditional church with a view of the mountains behind. Get some ice cream from one of the heladerias or carts situated on the square.

Visit Urubamba’s modest ruins, the Palacio de Hyuana Capac – a humble remains of a once proud fortress. May only be interesting to true archaeology nerds like myself. From there, you can check out Urubamba’s Cemetery to get a sense of how Peru honor their dead, or walk down a true Inca trail as it winds out of town.

Urubamba is also quietly becoming an artistic hub of the valley. To find more information about this, the best places in town to visit are Kaia Cafe or El Arte Sano. Both have artistic performances, events, and workshops every month.

Lastly, Urubamba is a great town to use as a jumping off point for some epic hikes. I’ll talk about the best one, hiking up to Chicón, further down in the hiking section of this article. On top of that, a walk through the dirt roads that lead uphill out of town will often lead to small pathways winding up into the foothills of the Andes. You never know what you might find.

There is a short hike that goes up to the cross above town, providing a great outlook over Urubamba towards Cusco. To get there, head uphill on the main road, Yanaconas Chicón, until you see a zig zagging path going uphill on your left. Follow that trail all the way up to the cross. The top is a great spot for a picnic.

Urubamba Hike to the Cross

View from the Cross above Urubamba

Chinchero

Though not technically in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero is usually included in most Sacred Valley tours and it’s a town worth visiting for it’s impressive ruins, local market, and gorgeous countryside.

Chinchero is the highest town on this list, sitting even higher than Cusco at 3,700m (12,100ft), so make sure to spend some time in either the Sacred Valley or Cusco before heading to explore Chinchero. The headaches and nausea that accompany altitude sickness don’t make for a great day of exploration.

The highlight of a visit to Chinchero is the set of ancient Incan ruins and Spanish missionary church that dominate the town. At the ruins, you’ll find well maintained terraces and a few large boulders with Incan engravings and carvings.

But the true state of the ruins stands as testament to the tumultuous history that created modern Peru. Above the ruins, where once the main temple of the Incan ruin soon, it has been replaced with a Spanish cathedral, built by the conquering Spaniards to subdue the local people. It’s lovely to look inside, but the juxtaposition of Incan and Spanish will make you stop and think about colonialism both past and present.

Chincero also boasts a fairly popular market selling tourist goods as well as local wares. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days for the market, but it will probably be somewhat open most days of the week.

If you are particularly lucky, you’ll stumbled into Chinchero on a festival day. These days, the main square comes alive in a frenzy of colorful activity. If you find yourself in a Chinchero festival, remember to be respectful first and foremost. Ask before photographing women, stand at the back, and be respectful of local traditions. You’re witnessing a genuine part of the Quechua indigenous culture that is alive and well.

view from Maras village

The Streets of Maras

Maras/Moray

A visit to Maras, Moray, and the Salineras Salt Mines are a must if spending time in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The sites can be visited by a combination of hiking, biking, and taxis. I suggest beginning with a walk to the salt mines, which I outline below in the hikes section, then head up to Maras, where you can easily find a taxi to drive you out to Moray.

More commonly, people hire taxis from either Cusco or the Valley to take them on a full tour of the salt mines and Moray. Moray entrance fee is included on the Boleto Turístico. Salineras is not included, but it’s only $3 extra.

The salt mines are a work of terracing that dates back to the Incan empire. Built much like the green terraces found elsewhere, these are used to harvest salt. The flats are flooded and then the water slowly evaporates, leaving behind pure salt.

The Peruvians who work on the salt flats are part of a co-op system that dates back to Incan times. Everyone shares in the work and benefit from the harvests. Anyone can have access to the salt flats – as long as they are willing to pull their own weight.

Moray is the site of the famous circular Incan terraces. These were used, perhaps, to experiment with different crops. In truth, however, archaeologists cannot say for certain why the Incan build a circular pit of terraces here and not elsewhere. Whatever they were built for, they are a beautiful and mysterious spot to spend an afternoon.

Best Hikes in the Sacred Valley

Most tourists visit the Sacred Valley for it’s villages and markets, but there is more to be explored in this sun-drenched land. Indeed, the Sacred Valley is perhaps one of the most accessible and unexplored hiking locations in all of Peru. If you’re comfortable in Alpine environments and a very serious outdoors enthusiast, you can choose any valley and start hiking upwards to see what happens. As always, be respectful of any indigenous people you meet, ask permission before camping, and use caution.

If choosing a random trail and seeing where it goes seems a little too high risk for you, here are a selection of my favorite single-day and multi-day hikes in the Sacred Valley of the Inca.

Lares Trek

Though less popular than it’s more famous siblings; the Inca Trail and Salkantay trek, this two or three day Trek a stunning alternative to those heavily trafficked trails. The Lares Trek has three variations . Each begins at a different village in the valley, runs up and over the Andes, and finishes up at the Lares Hot Springs. Each route has it’s own benefit and, having personally hiked two of them, I believe that all three routes are equal in beauty.

sacred valley views peru

Sacred Valley Views

Option 1: Beginning from Huarán

This hike begins from a small village just outside of Huarán, following a well trodden footpath up into the high Andes. After several hours of hiking, you’ll come across the rural Quechua village of Cancha Cancha.

The people of Cancha Cancha are used to seeing tourists passing through but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want you walking around in their church or school. Be respectful and ask village elders for permission before wandering willy-nilly through their village taking photos. Not many villagers speak Spanish but simple sign language usually does the trick.

Continuing on from the village, you’ll soon reach a large, black Andean lake, the perfect spot for your first campsite. Day two you’ll hike up and over the ridge then down to the main road. Follow the main road until you reach Lares.

Option 2: Beginning from Urubamba

You’ll hike up out of town towards Pumahuanca, an absolutely stunning ecological area. You’ll be following a river and the path is actually a road for much of the beginning. Eventually it becomes a footpath that will lead you up and over the Andes.

On the way you’ll pass through a rural village, pastoral farmland, an ancient Incan ruin, and have breathtaking views back towards Cusco. Once you cross the pass, it’s a long walk down a dirt road until you reach the Lares Hot Springs.

Option 3: Beginning from Yanahuara

This is the only route I haven’t personally tried. The route from Yanahuara leads up to a large lake sitting at about 4000m. Camp beside this lake then continue up and over the pass and down to Lares and the much needed hot springs.

Inca Trail from Chinchero

Yes, it’s an Inca Trail hike, but it’s not THE Incan Trail. Here in the Sacred Valley, there is one long continuous hike that anyone can do, for free, on an authentic section of the Inca Trail.

It runs from Chinchero down to a small village called Urquillos. The trail can technically be hiked in either direction, but I recommend beginning in Chinchero and hiking down to Urquillos, unless you’re a true sucker for punishment.

Get a taxi or combi van up to Chinchero then head to the ruins. Walk down through the terraces to the very bottom and head off towards the forest and mountainside. You should find the start of a pathway leading down. After less than 5 minutes of walking, you’ll see a sign indicating that this is an authentic Incan Trail.

The trail leads down a steep mountainside to the village of Urquillos, close to the Aranwa Sacred Valley Resort. Pop in there to ask for help getting a taxi, or simply stand on the main road and wave your hand until a passing bus or car picks you up.

sacred valley above urubamba

On the way up to Yanacocha

Laguna Yanacocha Hike

One of the most beautiful day hikes in the valley, the hike to Yanacocha is incredibly popular with locals but little known to tourists. It may be a good idea to find a local guide to show you the way, as this trail can be difficult to find. Your hotel in the valley should be able to help you find a knowledgeable guide.

The trail begins from Huayoccari, first winding through eucalyptus forests, then slowly ascending the mountains above.

The trail will open up onto high Andean farmland, then alternate through forests, slow scrub, and more pastures. If you’re lucky you may see some wildlife but it’ll mostly just be cattle.

When you come to a large flat rock, you know you’re almost there. This is a great spot to have a rest and take some photos.

The last part of the trail is steeper as you approach the lake. The big reveal comes as you scrabble up the last climb to find a most incredible sight: a large, crystalline black lake sits beneath towering cliffs.

Apparently there is another lake higher up and a trail to access it, but I never tried it. Hiking up to Yanacochoa at 4700m was enough for me.

Remember to bring water and snacks (at least!) or better yet a full lunch to eat at the lake.

naupa iglesia sacred cave hike near Ollantaytambo

Roadside map on the way to the Naupa Iglesia

Naupa Iglesia Hike

Really more of a short morning stroll than an full hike, the Naupa Iglesia is a mystical hidden gems in the Sacred Valley. Frequented by locals and expats, you’ll be unlikely to encounter another tourist at this secretive Incan site.

The Naupa Iglesia is found in a cave sitting atop some old terraces. Inside the cave is a stunning carved altar, partially destroyed by the Spanish, and a mysterious stone door carved into the wall of the cave. In front of the cave are several structures containing the human remains.

To reach this site, take a taxi or combi to “el puente Pachar” or the Pachar Bridge. You should see a large sign for a Circuito Turistico when you disembark from the car. From there, head on up the road that leads through the village and up the valley. Stay on the road and look to your right hand side. When you see some crumbling terraces, follow the path up them and you’ll find the cave at the top.

If you have a guide, there is a beautiful hike that goes from there up to a majestic waterfall and onwards. That is a full day excursion and not to be undertaken without a guide.

Hiking Chicon Glacier Hike Peru

Trying to get to Chicón

Chicón Glacier Hike (Chi’qun)

Chicón, alternatively spelled Chi’qun to respected the Quechua, is the massive glacier and mountain peak above Urubamba. It’s peak is visible as you drive from Cusco to the valley, visible from the main square, and featured prominently in this music video from Calle 13, one of my favorite songs.

The peak of the mountain is 5,530m (18,000+ft) and the glacier sits just a few hundred meters below that. Needless to say, it is a very rigorous and demanding hike. Though technically possible to achieve in just one day, you’re better off bringing camping gear and giving yourself two days to attempt this trek.

To get there, find a taxi to drive you up the Chicón valley to the end of the road. There are also combis that leave from the main road very early in the morning if you can find them.

From the gate, you walk up the road until you come to the flat, cleared area. Perhaps it’s a mine, but I’m not certain. After that, follow the switchbacking trail as it leads up and up and up. It’s a rigorous ascent and this trail is unforgiving.

Full disclosure: I got altitude sickness up there and did not make it all the way to the Chicón glacier. If you attempt this hike and make it to the lake below the glacier and to the glacier itself, write me a comment and let me know how it goes! I’m dying to go back for another attempt.

Salineras to Maras

Less of a hike and more of a day trip on foot, it is totally possible to walk from Urubamba to the Salineras flat mines and up to Maras. I really enjoyed this walk and I recommend it to other travelers who love seeing the world on foot.

From Urubamba, you’ll want to cross the main road and find the lower road that runs parallel, one block closer to the river. Follow this for a few miles until you see a sign for the rainbow bridge and Salineras. Cross the bridge. On the other side you should find an official who will take your 10 soles or $3 for the price of entrance. Hang onto the ticket he gives you.

Follow the road along the river then upwards into the valley. You can’t see the salt mines yet but you are almost there. Hike the winding path up the hill and you’ll soon find yourself in amongst the salt mines.

When you enter the mines from the bottom they are slowly revealed to you, bit by bit. It won’t be until later, once you reach the top and look back, that you’ll realize the full expanse of the salty wonderland you’ve been wandering through.

Salineras Incan Salt Mines

Salineras Salt Flats

After you’ve had your fill of the salt mines, there is a trail that cuts up the hillside all the way to Maras. Head through the parking lot and look for the trail cutting straight up the hill. It will be narrow at first but will eventually open up into a sort of narrow road. Look out for mountain bikers coming downhill!

This road winds up the enticing valley all the way to Maras. Once you arrive in Maras, you should be able to find taxis to take you out to Moray or back down to Urubamba, or even onward to Cusco.

Best Events

Spend a year in the Sacred Valley and you’ll soon notice that the rhythm of life in the Sacred Valley is marked by festivals. Each one had something unique and wonderful that sits locked in my memories. But few of them recur every year. Here are a few of my favorite yearly or monthly events happening in the Sacred Valley

Cervecería Saturdays

The Cervecería del Valle Sagrado is a craft brewery located just outside of Urubamba, in the small village of Pachar. They are open most weekdays from 2-7 and if you have a free afternoon I highly recommend dropping in for a flight or at least a pint of one of their delicious brews.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the valley at the end of the month, head out to the Cervecería for their monthly party. On the last Saturday of the month they stay open until 10pm and expats and Peruvians alike from all over the valley congregate to drink, chat, and be merry. It’s a great place to meet other engaged people while drinking delicious beer. Just make sure to arrange a ride home at the end or be prepared to spend ages trying to hail down taxis in the dark!

Sacred Valley Peru

Sacred Sushi Sundays

Another regular event in the valley, this one takes place in the hippie village of Pisac. Each Sunday all the expats and some Peruvians congregate at Sacred Sushi Sundays. Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Enjoy delicious vegan treats like sushi or organic curry, as well as some sweet treats, spring rolls, and other delicacies. All dishes are vegan and made lovingly by a collection of expats living full time in Pisac. You can find them each Sunday just up the hill from Apu Organics.

Market Day in Urubamba

This tri-weekly event easily became one of my favorite things about life in Urubamba. As I mentioned above, the Urubamba market is the one of the best places to see what everyday life is like for the Quechua people living in the valley. Especially on Market Days. Three days a week all the local farmers from across the valley and up in the mountains converge on Urubamba to sell their wares, drink chicha with their friends, and generally make merry.

Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday is a market day, with Wednesday and Friday being the largest. The day begins early. People start setting up as early as 4am and the party lasts all morning. By noon things are shutting down and it’s mostly finished by 2pm.

During the morning the streets are filled with locals in their finery: hand woven garments in every color of the rainbow. People sit around chatting with friends and drinking chicha: a local alcohol made from corn.

The market itself overflows it’s banks like a river in the rainy season. For at least four blocks in each direction, women and men lay out blankets and sell their produce and products at extremely discount prices. This is best during the rainy season when the farmers have the most to sell.

Food vendors walk the streets selling all manor of street food. Feel free to get adventurous, approach women sitting with pots and ask to eat. You’ll get a delicious meal for often 3 soles or less. Just be warned, you may also get food poisoning.

On especially vibrant market days, you may also get live bands or musicians wandering the streets, but this is usually only when it overlaps with my final event suggestion, religious festivals.

traditional peruvian festival costumes in pisac

Women in their festival finery

Religious Festivals

I debated whether or not to include this one in this guide. The religious and cultural festivals of the Sacred Valley were easily some of my favorite days spent living in Peru – but they are very much NOT for tourist consumption. These festivals, like the famous one dedicated to El Señor de Torrechayoc are religious events and authentic expressions of the unique blend of Quechua culture and Catholicism that exist in the Sacred Valley.

If you are lucky enough to be in the valley during a religious festival and you stumble onto their parades or parties, be respectful. Do not try to join the parade, do not take pictures without first asking permission. You are a visitor there, and this parade is not being put on for you. Count your blessings and enjoy this amazing expression of an indigenous culture that hasn’t yet been stamped out by the continuing oppression of colonialism.

I won’t share the dates of these festivals because I truly believe they are not tourist attractions. But if you are lucky enough to visit during one, I hope you get lost in the colors and the sounds of an Andean festival.

Lare Trek Sacred VAlley Peru

Best Food

To close out this complete guide to your trip to the Sacred Valley, I just want to briefly highlight some of my favorite foods. Some of these can be found across Peru, while others are unique to the Sacred Valley. All of them are delicious and worth a bite or two.

Papa Rellena

A Peruvian classic. A potato is baked, then mashed up and stuffed with vegetables, egg, meat, and some spices. The whole thing is then deep fried. Served with a spicy “picante” salsa.

Rocoto Rellena

Take a somewhat spicy rocoto pepper and remove all the insides. Then they stuff the pepper with veggies, potatoes, and cheese. This is then deep fried and served with picante, a spicy salsa. Usually women with carts will sell both papa rellena and rococo relleno.

Yucca Frita

A simple yet decadent treat. A piece of yucca (tapioca, cassava) is deep fried and served with a delicious salsa.

Pollo y Papas

The national dish of Peru. Chicken roasted to perfection over hot coals and served with a generous helping of french fries. In the valley you usually have the option to choose between pollo broaster (deep fried), pollo a la brasa (roasted over coals), or pollo a la parilla (grilled). My favorite is a la brasa, it’s the perfect mixture of juicy and flavorful for me. I recommend getting un octavo (1/8 of a chicken), unless you’re starving, in which case it’s time to go big and order a quarto (quarter chicken).

Your meal will always come with a small bowl of chicken soup, usually with a chicken foot included, and all you can eat from the salad bar.

Cancha

Basically just Peruvian popcorn. The kernels of choclo, the massive white Peruvian corn, are roasted in salt and eaten. One of the best things to munch on while hiking in the high altitudes. Soothes stomach pain and gives you instant energy.

Pastelita

A little cake made from corn flour. Find women with massive trays selling slices for 1 sol each. Best tasting from October to December, though I’m not sure why.

Soup Peruvian Food

Typical Peruvian Soup

Menú

A menú is a traditional way Peruvian restaurants serve meals, especially lunch. Basically, the cook will prepare three meals and that is what you get to choose from. Every meal includes a soup and a main. They will write their two or three choices on a board out front and you walk in and tell them what you want. Your food will arrive in minutes. Menús can be as cheap as 3 soles but 5 to 6 soles is more common.

Be brave but also be aware, Peruvians eat a lot of offal so if you aren’t comfortable with that, check the definition of the meal before ordering!

Piccarrones

Little deep fried donuts served often with powdered sugar. 100% worth the calories.

The Salineras Hike to the Incan Salt mines

Salineras

Tamales

The tamales in the Sacred Valley are often sweet, but you can get both sweet and salty, just ask the woman selling them ahead of time which one you’re getting. I absolutely love both.

Pachamanca

This last one is unique to the Sacred Valley and a truly unique gastronomic experience. Pachamanca is a traditional harvest time meal. To make it, a large pit is dug in the earth and filled with hot coals. The coals are then covered with stones, potatoes, vegetables, more stones. This is repeated until the pit is filled. It is then covered with some earth and grass and left until all the heat has died out.

Family and friends then gather around the pit and slow remove the rocks, eating the root vegetables as they come out of the earth. Roasted or grilled meat is usually also served. It’s a truly communal way to celebrate all the goodness that has been delivered by Pachamama.

There are several restaurants in the valley that will cook a Pachamanca. Arrange a large group and call ahead to reserve your feast. If you have the opportunity to enjoy this ritual meal while you’re in the valley, you won’t regret it.

Where to Stay in the Sacred Valley

Since I lived in the valley, I never actually spent any time in hotels. However, I did teach the staff for various hotels and also taught yoga in some hotels, so I can recommend a few. Most are for people with larger budgets for accommodations but I do have one recommendation for budget travelers. These are all to be found around Urubamba, with one except being in Pisac.

Hiking in the Sacred Valley Peru

View from a hike above the Sacred Valley

Willka T’ika

This is less of a hotel and more of a retreat center. If you’re looking for a place to rest and escape for a few days, you couldn’t find a better option. Their staff are all dedicated and caring, the meals are all healthful with vegan options, and they have chakra gardens especially cultivated for walking and seated meditation. They can also arrange yoga workshops or classes for you if requested. Price: Luxury

San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta

Located in an old monastery, this beautiful hotel is a stunning place to lay your head before or after a long trek to Machu Picchu. I taught a few group yoga classes here and was very impressed with the staff and the setting. Truly a gorgeous place to stay. Price: Luxury

Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

Absolutely jaw dropping hotel in an even more spectacular setting. Located a short drive from Urubamba, this hotel sits right on the Urubamba river, beneath high cliffs with views of the mountains. The staff are all dedicated, the food is excellent, and the rooms are comfortable and spacious. If you’re looking for a luxury retreat in the valley, this is it. Price: Luxury

BUDGET OPTION: Llamapack Backpackers

For the budget backpacker looking to stay near Urubamba, Llamapack is the most common option. They offer cheap dorms and single rooms, located just up the road from the main town, very walkable. Bonus, they are connected to a social enterprise rescuing Llamas. Price: Shoestring

Ollantaytambo Ruins

Exploring Ollantaytambo

Adventure Option: Skylodge Adventure Suites

This one of a kind hotel went viral not too long ago and for good reason. Where else can you stay in luxury suites only accessible by rock climbing or zip lining? Located 400 meters in the air, these adventure suites are 3 glass pods constructed of aerospace grade aluminum and perspex, giving you a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding valley. The suites are only accessible through either a grueling via ferrata climb or a combination of hiking and zip lining. Either way, you’re going to earn your dinner beneath the stars. Price: Luxury

Pisac Options: Nidra Wasi

Mentioned this one in my Pisac section but I’ll mention it again. This guesthouse offers a communal space for workshops with a family atmosphere. Stay for the night or a month and take part in the many learning opportunities offered here in this spiritual center. Price: Low – Middle


That’s it. To learn more than that, you’ll have to come here and explore the Valley’s secrets on your own.

Have you visited the Sacred Valley, or are you planning a trip? If you can think of anything I missed, let me know in the comments!


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The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes  The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes

The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes