Visit Mount Washington

10 Best Places to Visit in New England This Summer

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

Summer in New England means one thing and one thing only: adventure. During summers in New England, something seems to shift—as if everyone lets go of that last bit of tension they were holding onto from the winter and gives into pure bliss. Memories of the bitter cold stashed away, we all relax, smile at our neighbors, and head outside to enjoy whatever it is that we love most about the hot season. The sun is blazing, the trees are green, and the ocean is calling. 

If you’re new to New England or are visiting this summer, there is an almost endless list of places to visit and things to do. It can get a bit overwhelming. If you’re like me, you’re looking for places where can you hike, swim, eat great food, drink delicious craft beer, and hang out with friends long into the night. Well, look no further. Here are my top 10 places to visit in New England this summer—trust me, I’m a local. 

I tried to get at least one in every state so, Connecticut, you don’t have to feel left out.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Photo by m01229 (Flickr)

1. Cape Cod and the Islands

Could any list of places to visit in New England not include Cape Cod? I grew up going to the Cape every summer. Around here, we call it “going down the cape” and it is as essential to every summer as beach days or afternoon margaritas. Something about the Cape is just better than everywhere else. Maybe its the slow pace of living, the small cape houses perched above the sea, or the way the sand dunes seem to stretch on forever. Whatever it is, one thing is clearly true: if you didn’t go to Cape Cod, it wasn’t really summer.

My personal favorite spot on the Cape is a little tiny town called Wellfleet. It’s way out on the outer cape, almost all the way to P-town. And because of that, very few people are willing to make the long trek out there. Sure, you’ll sit in some traffic on your way there but if you’re willing to make the journey, you’ll be rewarded with quiet streets lined with colonial-style cape houses, pristine beaches guarded by jaw-droppingly beautiful sand dunes, and long hot days spent surfing or just drinking summer ales on the beach. 

Have I convinced you? If you’re going to head to Wellfleet, here are a few things not to miss: drinks at the famous Beachcomber, takeaway lunch from Box Lunch (get the lobster roll), and fish from Hatch’s Fish Market. But most of all, you need to relax, hang out, try surfing (or at least boogie boarding) and soak in the laid back pace of life characteristic of the outer cape. 

Newport Rhode Island Lighthouse

2. Newport, Rhode Island

Imagine a long rocky path stretching into the distance. Down below, the waves of the sea crash into the wall of stone and the smell of the sea is rich on the air. As you walk, your gaze turns from the sea over to the magnificent green lawn that lays sprawled out in front of you, meticulously groomed and artfully designed. At the far end of this elegant lawn sits the most magnificent manor house you’ve ever laid eyes on. You stop, take it in, wonder at the family who had the money and power to build such a house. Yet it’s not alone. House after house, on and on in a parade of opulence and historic wealth. You walk for a whole afternoon taking in the exquisite architecture while the ocean plays below you. This is the oceanfront walk in Newport, Rhode Island.

To walk along this path is to take a step back into the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Great Gatsby. To throw yourself back to a time when robber barons and oil magnates were taking over the world. Sure it was a problematic time and they were problematic men—but the architecture they left behind leaves an imprint in your imagination that you won’t soon forget.

Little House Brewing, Chester CT

3. Chester, Connecticut

For many New Englanders, myself included, Connecticut is a bit of a throwaway state—roads too heavy with traffic till you get close to New York and then it just gets worse. I always wrote off Connecticut as a place not worth visiting. That is, until this past Spring when my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip and I was forced to confront and reject my preconceived notions.

We stayed in the village of Chester, Connecticut and I was legitimately floored by how charming it was. Built along a small river, Chester has all the allure of a colonial New England town with a wealth of dining options and even a craft brewery. The nearby Cockaponset State Forest offers trails for hiking in the quiet of the wood. If you’re planning a New England road trip this summer, I’d recommend adding Chester to the list. 

Hiking Mount Greylock up the Cheshire Harbor Trail

4. Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The tallest point in Massachusetts and allegedly an inspiration for numerous writers include Henry David Thoreau, Mount Greylock rises high above the town of North Adams at the northern edge of the misty Berkshire Mountains. At a whopping 3,491ft, it’s no Mount Everest, but it is still a prominent peak with a quiet, noble beauty. Draped in hardwood forests and carpeted in pines, Greylock sits like a sentinel, staring out over the surrounding mountains and ridgelines, a commanding presence in an already imposing landscape.

For the adventurous, Greylock is crisscrossed by a network of trails that range from a moderate 6-mile out-and-back to overnight backpacking loops through dense old-growth forests. If you’re not here for a hike, there is an auto-road that you can take to the top (for a fee, of course) with a historic old lodge offering meals and a scenic overlook facing east.

For more information, trail maps, and most up-to-date pricing for the auto road visit the Mount Greylock official site.  

Acadia National Park, Maine, New England

Credit William Brawley (Flickr)

5. Acadia National Park, Maine

Because, of course. Because you can’t go on a summer adventure across New England and not visit it. Because if you’re looking for places to explore and you love adventure, you cannot in good faith ignore Acadia.

Situated on the coast of Maine, a five-hour drive north of Boston, Acadia National Park is a place unlike anywhere else in the world. Mountains rising up from the sea with dramatic, sloping rock formations worn soft by years of oceans spray. Quaint little villages offering lobster by the pound and clam chowder by the cup perch above the crashing waves. Bike trails meander through the park following carriage roads laid down by long-dead entrepreneurs.

It has mountains, it has the sea, it has forests, it has a coastline, it has fishermen, it has historic colonial architecture, it has everything. Hike Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise then ride a bike around the trails to explore some of the more hidden corners of the park that most of the tourists in Bar Harbor will never catch a glimpse of.

Welcome to Maine

Credit Renee Johnson (Flickr)

6. Ogunquit, Maine

Another Maine location makes the list, but are you surprised? When it comes to places to visit in New England, the coast of Maine is hard to ignore. Far, far to the south of Acadia on the southern coast of Maine is a stretch of charming, eccentric, quaint, and idyllic little towns that just beg to be explored at a leisurely pace.

Think of it as the slightly more rugged cousin of Cape Cod. Cape Cod of the North, if you will. Beaches here give way to long spines of stone that reach out into the sea. Red roofed lighthouses look out over turbulent seas as the waves crash against the rocks. And on the shore? Shops selling knick-knacks, antiques, and curios sit snug against cute little cafes and well-thought-out restaurants.

Spend a day exploring the towns or, if you’re more into active adventure like me, bring a bike and take yourself out for a long and beautiful bike ride. The coastal road from Wells down south to Nubble Point outside York is an unforgettable ride. Turn inland to explore the farmland and quiet communities that live in this coastal paradise year-round. Not into planning your own bike routes? If you’re looking for inspiration, you can use this route that I designed for my long weekend up in Maine this past Memorial Day.

If you do the ride, leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Or feel free to follow me on Strava, if that’s your thing.

Best Hiking Trail Near Lake Winnipesaukee

7. Lakes Region, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee. Say that ten times fast. Pronounced “Win-eh-peh-saw-key” it is an Abenaki word with a contested meaning. Some sources record Winnipesaukee as translating to “The Smile of the Great Spirit” while others recorded it as signifying “Beautiful Water in a High Place.” Though we may never know for sure what the Abenaki word means, one thing remains true: this is a special place.

The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is comprised of several large lakes, of which Winnipesaukee is the largest. Known for its boating, fishing, and motorcycle gangs, the region is actually home to a wealth of adventure for those willing to look for it. From little known hikes buried deep in the hills to full-day kayaking or stand up paddle board adventures, the Lakes Region offers outdoor adventures for everyone.

Hike outside Stowe Vermont

Credit Patrick (Flickr)

8. Stowe, Vermont

I love Vermont. From verdant green hills draped with farmland to the two parallel rows of green mountains running down the length of the state like a terrestrial spine, the Green Mountain State is perhaps New England’s best-kept secret. Picturesque villages perched among green and yellow fields, more hiking, mountain biking, and skiing than you could finish in a lifetime, and of course, an overwhelming number of microbreweries and nanobreweries cooking up some of the finest craft beer in the country (the Alchemist, anyone?)—Vermont really does have it all.

And if you’re new to Vermont and have to pick just one place to visit: make it Stowe. For the intrepid traveler, Mount Mansfield and Smuggler’s Notch offer hiking, mountain biking, and skiing (in the winter, of course) both in bounds and backcountry that is on par with some of what you can find out west (no, I’m not kidding). Once you’re done with the trails, head back into town and pick up some of the finest beer in North America from the Alchemist or try some of the headier brews from Vermont’s less well-known breweries at literally any of the stores and restaurants in town. My favorite Vermont brewery is Upper Pass. Try their Cloud Drop IPA, you won’t regret it. Need something to eat? Stowe has everything from five-star meals to cheap and tasty burritos.

Find yourself a nice little farmhouse to rent in Airbnb and discover why people are leaving Colorado to come live in this tiny little state in New England. You won’t regret it.

Whately, Pioneer Valley

9. Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts

The Pioneer Valley is a region of Massachusetts that sits just to the east of the Berkshires, nestled among the foothills along both sides of the scenic Connecticut River and the considerably less scenic Interstate 91. It stretches roughly from Northampton to Greenfield, though the people to the north and south of those towns might contest that border.

What is there to do in the Pioneer Valley? Go tubing down the Deerfield river, take a hike up Mount Tom, spend the afternoon exploring breweries that line the Connecticut River, buy farm-fresh produce from one of the hundreds of farmstands that dot the roads, and explore the many college campuses that blanket the city streets of Northampton and Amherst.

As an added bonus, Northampton is one of the most LGBTQUIA+ friendly cities in New England, long known to be a center of the lesbian community complete with rainbow crosswalks. 

DSC00958

10. White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

It’s dawn. A warm, pink light has just begun to suffuse the sky as the birds begin to sing. You lay in your sleeping bag, warm and content, listening as the forest slowly comes to life. Soon, however, the sun streams in through the tent. You rouse yourself and exit your nylon shelter. You are deep in a forest of pine, not another soul to be seen. The air smells like Christmas and the ground is soft beneath your feet.

After a quick breakfast, you pack up your campsite, deftly fitting all of your supplies into your single backpack. Stepping out, you follow a narrow path as it winds its way through the pines. Soon you are walking up and up and up, the trail turns into a granite staircase and you start to sweat. Just before you decide you need a break, the pines shrink, fall away, and you find yourself on a rocky, exposed summit. Your breath catches in your throat as you stare around you with eyes wide with wonder. In every direction, as far as you can see, mountains and forest-clad hills roll off into the deep blue distance. You set down your pack, take a seat on a rock, and soak it all in. It is magnificent. It defies understanding. It is the White Mountain National Forest.

This is, without question, my favorite place in all of New England. A mountain wilderness so beautifully wild, so deliciously remote, it seems impossible that it’s only a 2-hour drive north of Boston. In the Whites, ridge after ridge of mountains hide dense valleys where the maples and oaks grow thick around bubbling streams. For the intrepid hiker, it could be the work of a lifetime to explore every last trail that winds through these mountains. 

But even for the less adventurous, the White Mountains offer something for everyone. From scenic drives to tubing down rivers, lavish hotels and rustic campgrounds, the Whites are perfection. They are my happy place, my refuge from the world, my wonderland that I cannot stop exploring.

These Places in New England Are Just the Beginning

For such a small part of the United States, New England is truly a treasure trove of places to explore. From wild rivers to scenic beaches, hip cities and rustic farmland, I honestly believe that New England has a little bit of everything (but I might be a little bit biased). Have you visited New England? Do you have places that were left off of the list? Let me know in the comments.


Like this post? Pin it for later!

10 places to visit in New England this summer for the adventure loving traveler from Into Foreign Lands

Robbed in Cambodia: My Story

Adventure Travel, Cambodia

The story you are about to read recounts one of the worst experiences I’ve had in all my years of living abroad: in August of 2016, I was robbed in Cambodia on the streets of Phnom Penh.

It left me feeling vulnerable and violated. But this story is about so much more than that. What I really learned that hideous August morning two years ago was a lesson about the kindness of strangers and the interconnectedness of all humans. I only survived this episode because of the kindness of the Cambodians in my life.

At the end of the post, I’ll include some lists of what I learned from this experience, including what to do if you lose your passport abroad, how to get a new visa to Cambodia after you get robbed, and how to stay safe when traveling.

But for now, here is the story of the time I ended up stranded in Phnom Penh with nothing more than the clothes on my back, and how I survived.

The Story

At the time this happened, I’d been living in Cambodia for about six months. My friend and co-worker, Kimleng, a young Khmer (Cambodian) woman, was spending the summer near Phnom Penh organizing a summer camp for the NGO we worked for. I decided to visit her.

Because I only had a weekend for the trip, I made the rather unwise decision to take the night bus. Several people told me not to take the bus, that it was dangerous. But I wanted to have as much time as possible with Kimleng, so night bus it was. I popped a couple sleeping pills to help me get through the 6 or 7-hour bus ride from Battambang to Phnom Penh.

When we arrived my mind was wrapped in a sleeping pill-induced fog. It was the hour just before dawn, the sky a deep royal blue, the horizon only just hinting at the hot day to come.

I hopped into a tuk-tuk to go to my hotel. As we puttered down the main boulevards of the city, I leaned out of the tuk-tuk, gazing around at the magnificent embassies and luxury hotels. This city was so wildly different from Battambang, the contrast stunned me. My small pack, the only bag I packed, sat forgotten on the seat next to me.

As I’m looking around, I hear a motorcycle approaching from behind. Two men are seated on it. I turn to watch them pass and I see the one sitting on the back reach into my tuk-tuk, grab my bag, and swipe it off the seat. They drove around the corner and my bag was gone.

I stared at the empty space where my bag had just been. My mind faltered, unable to comprehend what had just happened. For a few seconds, I sat in shock, unresponsive. Then the truth hit me and I did the only thing I could do:

I screamed.

What Did They Steal

That backpack they stole had been the only bag I had carried with me for the weekend, and unfortunately, I had packed most of my expensive possessions. Here is what they stole:
My MacBook Pro
My phone
My wallet with $800 cash, my debit card, and my driver’s license
My clothes
My passport

The loss of the passport hurt the most. For the obvious reason: it was my only form of valid identification and documented my legal status in Cambodia. But also, that passport that had traveled all over the world with me. From my first day moving abroad to Korea, to my first trip to Japan, my six-month backpacking trip around 12 countries, Australia, my year in Peru, and now my life in Cambodia, this passport recorded it all. It was my most treasured possession. And it was gone.

You may also be wondering why I was traveling with the hard copy of my passport and $800 in cash. The explanation is simple: I was working for an NGO in Cambodia who paid me in checks. I wanted to open a bank account in Cambodia so that I wouldn’t constantly be cashing checks and keeping hundred dollar bills in an envelope in my bedside table. It wasn’t a good look.

I cashed the check in Battambang but didn’t have time to open the bank account. I told myself I would do it in Phnom Penh, with Kimleng there to help translate. But to open a bank account, I needed to have the cash and my passport. So I got on a bus with the hard copy of my passport and $800 in cash.

So this was what was all running through my head as I sat screaming in a tuk-tuk, in the middle of Phnom Penh, at five in the morning.

What Happened After I Was Robbed

My screams alerted the tuk-tuk driver to the fact that something was not ok. His first concern, once he understood my situation, was how I was going to pay him. I feared, at that moment, that he would leave me right there on the sidewalk, alone and abandoned, with nothing but the clothes on my back and the plastic water bottle I was holding.

The depths of my desperation and sense of vulnerability are not something I wish to relive, ever.

After a long period of confusion and negotiation, and many, many, many tears on my part, the tuk-tuk driver took me to a hostel and explained what had happened to the kid at the front desk. The kid gave me his phone and I used it to reach out to Kimleng, my Cambodian friend. She immediately hopped into a tuk-tuk and drove for an hour to come to get me.

Meanwhile, I walked to the U.S. Embassy and demanded to speak to the on-duty officer. It was a Saturday so most of the embassy was closed. The Cambodian guards there tried to send me away, but I insisted, strongly, and through tears, that I speak to an American. It took some convincing, but they finally put me on the phone with whoever was on duty that Saturday morning and she calmed me down, helped me make an appointment to get a new passport, and told me everything that I needed to do.

Walked back to the hostel where Kimleng found me. She took me to the police station to file a report, calmed me down when I cried, steadfastly listened to me rant about how much I hated Cambodians in that minute and gave me enough money for a bus ticket back to Battambang the next day. Kimleng saved me that day.

Once back to Battambang, I had access to my credit card, which I had left in my apartment building, a photocopy of my passport taken at work, and some cash I’d stashed in my apartment. Slowly, over a period of months, not days, I recovered emotionally from the theft and moved on with my life.

So now, let’s get into the hard stuff, the lessons I learned from this experience, what to do if this has happened to you, and what you can do to make sure this does NOT happen to you.

What to Do When Someone Steals Your Passport Abroad (For U.S. Citizens)

  1. Stay calm and know that everything will be ok.
  2. Go to the police and file a police report. The U.S. embassy will need this.
  3. Go to the U.S. Embassy. If it is a weekday, you may be able to speak with a representative almost immediately. If it is a weekend, ask the guards to put you on the phone with an American citizen. They can make an appointment for you to come back later and get a new passport or discuss your options if you need to travel across international lines immediately.
  4. You will need a copy of your stolen passport, a copy of the police report, and the fee in USD. If you do not have a copy of your stolen passport, don’t panic. They will find a way to verify your identity and get you a new passport.
  5. It may take up to a week for your new passport to arrive. You will need to return to the embassy or consulate to retrieve it. Emergency same or next day papers can be arranged.

Once you have your new passport, you’ll need to get a new Cambodian visa. Sit tight, because this is a complicated process.

How to Renew Your Cambodia Visa After Your Passport Is Stolen

  1. You need to get an exit visa. There is only one place in all of Cambodia to get an exit visa and it is not convenient. Go to the immigration office across the street from Phnom Penh Airport. The exit visa costs $30 and they usually do not ask for a bribe. It takes 3 working days for them to process this visa. You need to return after 3 days to retrieve your passport.
  2. From the day they issue the exit visa, which may not be the day you pick it up, you have 7 days to leave Cambodia. Be sure to check the date on your exit visa. If you try to leave Cambodia with an expired exit visa they may send you back to get yet another one.
  3. You must leave Cambodia within 7 days of receiving your exit visa. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is to go to Thailand.
  4. Once you leave Cambodia, you are now able to re-enter. You will have to purchase a new tourist visa and, if you’re entering at a land crossing, pay the associated bribes.

The whole process will cost you over $100 if you choose to re-enter. It will be less expensive if you simply continue your trip and do not return to Cambodia.

Tips to Stay Safe in Cambodia

  • Avoid taking night buses whenever possible.
  • Always hold onto your bags firmly when riding on motos or in tuk-tuks, especially in Phnom Penh.
  • Keep valuables out of sight.
  • Always have more than one way to access your money. Whether that means a credit card and debit card, traveler’s checks, or other option, make sure if one card is stolen, you can still access money another way.
  • Don’t keep all your money in one place. If your debit card is on your person, keep your credit card stowed somewhere else.
  • Bring a lock and store your belongings in a secured locker in your hotel or hostel while you are out on day trips.
  • Always have a photocopy of your passport. Keep a PDF version in your email.
  • Don’t carry your passport unless you absolutely need to. It is safer locked up securely at your hotel.

What if my passport and money are stolen far from a main city or embassy?

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Trust in the kindness of others. The majority of the human race is inherently kind. People will help you.
  3. Ask for help. Talk to other travelers at your hotel or hostel. Talk to the staff. Find someone who is willing to help you.
  4. Call the US Embassy and report the theft from there. Ask for assistance.
  5. Find a friendly local with decent English, have them come with you to the police to file a report.
  6. Travel to the capital city and get to the embassy as soon as possible. The staff there will help you.

Overcoming the Emotional Trauma of Being Robbed in Cambodia

Long after I had recovered financially from the theft, I was still recovering from the emotional trauma.

People generally respond in one of two ways when they find out you’ve been robbed. They either pity you and say things like “oh, so terrible! I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Or they say, “Oh, well you should really be more careful.” (or they say both).

If you are like me, this second response will wear you down. It implies that it is your fault for not being careful enough. It is your fault that you were robbed.

Now, sure, every traveler needs to take steps to secure their own safety while traveling. But it is not your fault that thieves are selfish, cruel, or motivated by whatever greed or hardship causes them to steal.

It is not your fault you are a victim.

Give yourself time to feel. You will feel vulnerable, violated, and angry. You will go into denial, you will wish it had never happened, and you will struggle to cope. You may become angry and mistrustful of the people around you. Let yourself feel these things. It is ok.

But be open to the love and kindness that you will experience as well. In the minutes, days, and weeks after you are robbed, people will come forward to help you. Their kindness and selflessness will blow you away. Ultimately, you will recover and return to the joys of traveling and it will be due, in part, to the kindness of strangers.


Like this post? Was this information helpful? Pin it for later or share it with friends who may need it.

Robbed in Cambodia: My story of surviving a massive theft in Phnom Penh. Learn what to do when your passport is stolen abroad and how to stay safe in Cambodia.

How to Train for Your First Bike Tour

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Travel

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

But it doesn’t have to be.

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

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

Bike Tour to Phnom Penh Cambodia

Your Super Simple Bike Tour Training Plan

1. Start with short, easy rides

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

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

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

Most importantly: be patient.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

2. Start Cross Training with Weights

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

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

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

Need inspiration? Check out these exercises from REI.

biking kep cambodia

3. Embace Adventure on Longer Rides

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

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

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

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

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

4. Add Weight To Your Bike

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

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

Additional Tips

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

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

bike tour cambodia

Training for Adventure

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

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

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

Happy trails!


Like this post? Pin it for later!

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

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.


Like this Post? Pin It!

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

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!


Like this post? Pin it!

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

Bike Tour Cambodia’s Death Road from Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

The only known route between two of Cambodia’s most remote eastern provinces, Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri, has long been known and feared as the “Death Road.” But the most recent accounts I could find were from 2011. Photos showed a red and dusty path through the jungle, accounts described a road almost impassable in the rainy season.

But in June of 2017, deep in the rainy season and many years after these photos were taken, what would I find?

Cycling from Mondolkiri to Ratanakiri: My Plan of Attack

Now more than a month into my cycling journey around Cambodia, I was not intimidated by the length of the road, nor the uninhabited jungle I would pass through. Instead, I felt curious. What would I find in this vast unknown?

The death road runs 184km from Sen Monorom, in Mondulkiri province, to Banlung, in Ratanakiri. There are a few small towns along the way, including Koah Neak, 95km in, and Lumphat, 150km in. It is the only route between these two towns.

Since I lacked the appropriate camping gear to stand up against the torrential rains of Cambodia’s monsoon season, I hoped that at least one of these towns would feature a guesthouse, or at the very least, a kind and welcoming family.

If things got really desperate, I figured I could physically ride the 184km in one day, though it would be difficult. Midway towns notwithstanding, I planned an early start. If I could get to Kaoh Neak by midday, I should be alright to either take a guesthouse there, ride on to Lumphat, or, worst case scenario, push all the way to Banlung.

20170609_090845

I really hoped I didn’t have to ride all the way to Banlung. My longest day up to that point had been 120km and it had almost killed me. 184km could quite possibly put me in the intensive care unit.

Though I had no idea what kind of road conditions I was facing, I at least had the power of technology to give me an idea. I plotted the route into google earth and pulled up the elevation. It looked like a massive drop of coming out of Sen Monorom, a long valley, and then a steep climb back up to Banlung. Totally doable.

After two days of touristing it up in Sen Monorom, I was ready to take on the death road.

Cycling the Death Road Day 1: Sen Monorom to Kaoh Neak

I suppose, once upon a time, the death road was a truly dangerous and rarely used path. Unfortunately for us adventurous souls, those days are long gone. I’m both happy and sad to report that the death road is now a well paved, though still relatively less used, pathway through mostly deforested jungle.

I’m happy about it because it means safer roads for the local population. On the flip side, I love a good adventure but paved roads don’t really lend themselves to being lost in foreign lands. Also, the paved road means easier access to this once remote area. Easy access means migration, population increase, and an increase in deforestation and wildlife damage.

A perfect example of this is the wildlife refuge I rode through on my second day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Day one on the death road began bright and early. Up by 5:30am, I was out the door by 6 and finished with my traditional rice and pork breakfast by 6:30am. Unsure what I faced and whether or not there would be villages, I stocked up on 3 liters of water and a bag of banana chips.

To get onto the “death road” from Sen Monorom, follow the main road out of town until you reach the roundabout. Make a right. Continue to follow this strip of pavement past the Bousra Falls turn and onwards to Banlung. Yep, it’s that easy.

As the road left Sen Monorom it continued across the hills that had so tormented and delighted me only a few days before. I devoured the uphills and coasted down the short downhills.

After about 20km of this, I crested to the top of a particularly steep climb only to be greeted by one of the most satisfying views that can greet a cyclist: the road dropped away steeply and a massive valley opened up in front of me.

It was a loooooong downhill.

As I do on long downhills, I started belting out whatever song was stuck in my head. I think it was a Taylor Swift song on this particular morning. Again, don’t ask me why. I get the weirdest mixture of songs stuck in my head while riding.

20170610_140620

The downhills went on forever. It was a drop of nearly 2000ft, spread out across about 15km. The first slope took several minutes. From the bottom there were a few more inclines, but again down, and down, and down.

It was awesome.

Even in the Cardamoms I didn’t get downhills as satisfying as these. It was like the past weeks of cycling had all built up to this one euphoric moment.

The adrenaline and joy built inside of me during these speedy declines and stayed with me as the road leveled out. To be perfectly honest, the rest of the morning is a bit of a blur. My legs felt incredibly strong and I powered along the road, making it to Kaoh Neak by 11:30am. There, I was pleased to find not one but three different guesthouses! Choice! That’s not something I get every day.

Picked a likely looking spot, had a shower, had some lunch, and spent the rest of the day working. That digital nomad life does require sacrificing afternoons of exploration at times, I’m afraid.

Cost of a room in Koah Near: $6.25/night. Dinner: $1.75

Cycling the Death Road Day 2: Kaoh Neak to Banlung

From Kaoh Neak to Banlung was 90km along the rest of the now paved death road. I was unafraid and excited. I’d been dreaming of visiting Ratanakiri since I first came to Cambodia in 2014. Back then, I didn’t make it to this outpost. Now, I finally would.

The first half of the day was pretty flat and uneventful. The road takes a hard left in the middle of Kaoh Neak then becomes pretty deserted, just sparse jungle and a few shacks here and there.

20170610_081043

Men rode by me fairly frequently on their motorbikes, leaning over dangerously to stare over their shoulders and watch me ride, ignoring the road in front of them.

After 50km or so, I passed a sign saying “Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary”. Up until this sign, I’d been riding through jungle. Yet pretty much from the moment I passed this sign, the jungle vanished. It was cut back acres and acres from the road. I could barely see the trees in the distance. It wasn’t being used for agriculture but it was inexplicably empty.

At first in my gullible optimism I thought it was a natural occurrence. How cool! In the middle of all this jungle to find such a large clearing. I wonder what caused this? Perhaps a chance in the chemistry of the soil…

A few minutes later and I was relieved of this ridiculous optimism. This wasn’t a natural occurrence, oh no.

The jungle had been cut away by that plague that covers almost all of this earth: humans. And what replaced this gorgeous, thriving jungle? Palm oil trees.

They had stripped the jungle to plant palm oil trees.

I was livid but since there didn’t seem to be a representative of the palm oil company waiting by the side of the road to take my complaints, I continued cycling.

The small town of Lumphat sits in the middle of the valley, just before the hills begin to rise up again on the way to Banlung. I stopped here for a quick coffee and checked the map on my phone. As I was perusing the road up to Banlung, I saw a little marker for a waterfall. A quick calculation showed I could easily detour, adding only 2km to my day.

Obviously, it was time to head to the waterfall.

20km later and I reached the turn for the falls. This falls, called O’Katieng Falls, are one of the tourist attractions of Banlung. As such, tourists usually approach them from the other direction. Coming from Sen Monorom, as I was, the road was unmarked. I took the turn onto the dirt road and soon found myself riding through a small village. As with other rural villages in the past, the locals seemed uncertain about my presence there. I’m sure they were wondering why on earth a foreigner was riding a mud covered bike through their village.

After a few missed turns, a bit of getting lost, and a little navigation of some mud and water filled roadways, I found the road that heads up to the waterfalls.

Up is the operative word. From riding along the flat valley floor, I was suddenly faced with a road so steep it seemed to jump perpendicularly up into the air.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I built up some momentum, dropped into a low gear, and charged up the hill.

Now is probably a good time to mention that this road was not paved. Not paved, not even really ridable, it was mostly an eroded, rocky scramble up a mountainside. I reached the top, gratefully gained a small plateau, and was immediately faced with another slippery wall of dirt heading up the hillside.

This continued for about two kilometers. At times it was so steep I was forced to dismount and push my bike up the hill.

It was the most fun I’d had in ages.

After awhile I reached the falls. Finding myself alone, I took some time to walk down into the hollow and enjoy the peaceful sense of wonder that comes with waterfalls.

20170610_131110

Snacked on a few mangos, and headed on towards Banlung.

The rest of the way was really quite scenic. No more steep walls of dirt to scale, the road leveled out and became slightly more reasonable. Pretty soon I was riding along rolling hills through rubber plantations, with the temples and rooftops of Banlung visible in the distance.

By 3pm I was settled into my hostel and ready to explore.

20170610_142044

As you can see, the Death Road is really no longer a death road at all. If anything, the only danger to cyclists is the vans, busses, and cars that go flying along the road at breakneck speeds. If you hear a car coming behind you, hug that shoulder for dear life because they are probably driving at 160kmph. But other than that it’s an incredibly safe, ridable, and easy road to finish in one or two days.

Also, sorry about the garbage photos with this post. My camera died and I was forced to use my totally crap phone. The good pictures will come back, I promise.

What do you think? Would you cycling the death road?

Like this post? Pin it!

Cycling The Death Road-min.png

In Photos: The Deserted Mansions of Kep, Cambodia

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel, Uncategorized

Kep, Cambodia. Or as the French once called it, Kep Sur Mer, is a small seaside town that was once a romantic getaway for the rich and famous of Cambodia’s bourgeois class. Jungle clad mountains rolling into turquoise waters made it the perfect escape for upper class Phnom Penhoise. That is, until upheaval, genocide, and decades of civil war ripped Cambodia into pieces, leaving behind only the ruined mansions of Kep, a ghostly reminder of what once was here.

IMG_0069

The Golden Age of Kep

Back in the 1920s, when Cambodia was still under French control, the French turned Kep into a seaside resort town. And when King Father Sihanouk of Cambodia negotiated a peaceful independence from France in 1953, the Cambodian upper class continued the trend, turning Kep into an elegant seaside getaway.

IMG_0187

Part of that transformation included the building of sophisticated modern and art-deco style houses in the mountains overlooking the sea. These structures, designed by some of the most fashionable architects of the 1960s, including the beloved Vann Molyvann, reflect the so-called “golden age of Cambodia.” To my untrained eye, they’d fit right in among the art-deco houses of Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon.

IMG_0139

Kep’s Violent Upheaval

When the Lon Nol government took over Phnom Penh in 1970, expelling King Sihanouk, construction of these mansions was put on hold. That construction was halted forever when the Khmer Rouge came to power.

IMG_0198

Given its location in between Phnom Penh and Vietnam, Kep was affected by the war in Vietnam and the wars in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took over the city, they rounded up Kep’s upper class, forced them into a gas station, and lit the building on fire.

IMG_0181

Kep’s fortunes didn’t look good even after the “fall” of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. A faction of the Khmer Rouge continued the fight in the hills and mountains of Kampot and Kep until well into the 90s. By then, the romantic lifestyle of the 1960’s felt like a dream, slipping away and tinged with horror.

IMG_0068

Today, Kep is finally in a full blown recovery. Khmer families travel from across the country to relax by the shore and enjoy Kep’s famous blue crab. Foreign tourists travel for a day trip from Kampot. Some, like me, decide to stay for a few days. Kep is a relaxed and beautiful seaside town but the scars of its violent past live on.

IMG_0177The Abandoned Houses of Kep, Cambodia

Just a cursory drive around the town reveals glimpses of Kep’s abandoned houses poking out of the jungle. Spend a day exploring the back streets and you’ll come across ruin after ruin, like a sick modern parody of Angkor Wat. Many of the houses have been reclaimed by the jungle, some are gone forever, marked only by the 1960’s era wall surrounding the overgrown plot of land.

IMG_0175

Still others have been reclaimed by Kep’s population, filled with squatters and families who, perhaps too poor or perhaps too afraid to relive the painful memories, live in the broken down ruins without rebuilding.

IMG_0098

In today’s Cambodia, where the land is more valuable than their cultural heritage, these ruins face an uncertain future. Many have already been torn down in the face of new development, and many more will soon be removed as well.

IMG_0167

But I was in love with these ghosts of Cambodia’s golden age. I found them compelling and haunting, pulling me back in time to a Cambodia before the fearsome pain of the Khmer Rouge wars. I hope, for Cambodia’s sake and for tourists’ sake, that someone protects these 1960’s mansions of Kep, keeping at least a few of them safe for the next generation of curious explorers.

IMG_0155

Like this post? Pin it!

abandoned mansions of kep cambodia

Otres Beach: Cambodia’s Hippie Hideaway

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

Otres Beach. I’ve been here three times now. I keep meaning to get out to the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, but somehow I end up seduced by Otres again and again.

Theres something so wonderfully compelling about this little beachside collection of tumbledown shacks. Maybe it’s the complete lack of luxury resorts, maybe it’s the assemblage of hippies and vagabonds that populate Otres Village, or maybe it’s the blend of live music, backpacker parties, and soothing beach vibes that make Otres so addicting.

This is my third (and final?) trip to Otres Beach and I think I can finally put my finger on why I love this place so much.

Relaxing Otres Beach Vibes

Contrary to most backpackers and tropical travelers, I’m actually not a huge beach person. I grew up near the ocean and I love it, but sitting on a beach isn’t my main priority when I’m traveling.

Otres 1 Cows

Don’t get me wrong, once I get to the beach, I can easily spend hours laying in the sand or swimming in the water. But when I’m traveling, it’s usually the mountains I head for, rather than the beaches.

Unfortunately, as I’ve previously bemoaned, Cambodia is rather lacking where mountains are concerned. So when Khmer New Year rolled around in April 2016 and I found myself with a week off from work, I reserved a private bungalow at the enchantingly named Hacienda in Otres Village and headed down for a week on the beach with absolutely no expectations.

Otres is divided into three beaches. Otres 1 is the most popular. Here, a collection of ramshackle huts, restaurants, bars, and hostels all spill out onto the beach, the buildings opening onto the turquoise waves. I have happily spent an entire day drinking cocktails and laying about on one of the many beach chairs.

Otres 2 is much quieter and less built up. It has a few hotels and restaurants but other than that there isn’t much going on. It’s far less crowded than it’s neighboring Otres 1.

Between Otres 1 and Otres 2 is a long stretch of uninhabited white sand beach. Head there at any time of the day and you’ll be able to grab a piece of shade and have a tropical beach all to yourself. Otres Village, set back 1/2 mile from the beach, is just beyond this bare stretch.

Apparently there is also an Otres 3, but I’ve never made it down that far.

Early morning walks on the beach let you appreciate the tranquility not often found in Cambodia. By midday, the sun is at its peak and you’re forced to find shelter in the shade. Some of the best days I’ve spent at Otres have been by myself, sitting under the shade of a tree, watching the waves crash up on the shore and the sun setting in fiery orange display at the end of the day.

The Chillest People

Otres Beach is one of those places where people come for a few days, but stay for a few months or years. The collection of people who have found themselves stuck on this beach are incredibly relaxed and all a bit weird.

Otres Beach

The first time I came to Otres, in April 2016, I stayed at a hostel called Hacienda. The bar at Hacienda is a repository of people too content or confused to move on. After only a few days, I’d built up a little tribe. The temptation to stay was strong and nearly impossible to resist.

Perhaps thats why I’m back again in April 2017. I’ve kept more to myself this time, but even so, that same vibe exists. Groups of travelers and locals hang out around the bar. After only a few days in town, I’m finding myself playing a late night game of pool with some of them.

This is, I think, the best thing about the backpacker culture: radical inclusion.

Live Music on Otres for Days

The live music culture is the absolute best thing about Otres, for me. Living in Battambang for the last year, I am absolutely starved for live music. We have had exactly one show in the last year: when the Cambodian Space Project came to town. They’re awesome but a girl cannot live on one concert per year.

On Otres, you can find live music, jam sessions, open mics, or something of the sort any night of the week, as long as you know where to look.

The heart of this live music scene is in the hippie enclave of Otres Village. Built onto reclaimed swampland, this little village features winding dirt roads playing host to hostels, bars, and music venues made by the type of hippie who wants to call Cambodia home.

Otres Beach Sunset

If you’re looking for some live music, Stray Cats is a good place to start. The owner is also a musician and they often have jam sessions or open mics.

Wednesday evenings feature Kerfluffle, the weekly jungle rave. Yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Stray Cats Otres BeachOn Saturdays, the Otres Night Market is absolutely the spot. It’s not your conventional southeast asian night market, probably because you won’t find too many southeast asians hanging out in there. The market features vendors selling handmade jewelry and clothing, along with some speciality alcohols like absinth or craft beer.

Up on stage, band after band plays live music sets. Some of the bands are “locals”, mixtures of local khmer and foreigner musicians who live in Otres. Other bands are travelers just rolling through, playing for a night or two.

Otres Market night is a really good time. It certainly isn’t authentically Cambodian, but if you’ve been on the road for a few months or years, sometimes its nice to experience something that feels so familiar.

Other than that, just have a walk around. You’ll meet people, hear about things, and pretty soon you’ll be floating from one music night to the next.

You Can Check Out But You Can Never Leave

If you’re not careful, you’ll get sucked into life here in Otres and suddenly months will go by in a blur. I was definitely tempted to stay after the first time I came here, and now as I set here in an open air cafe on what it meant to be my last day, I’m contemplating buying a boat ticket out to Koh Rong Somloem, instead of the bus ticket to Phnom Penh that I should be buying…

how to (1).png

My Unforgettable Yoga Teacher Training in Thailand

Adventure Travel, Thailand, Travel

Making the decision to enroll in a Yoga Teacher Training really surprised me. I always thought only those incredibly fit and impossibly bendy girls who do yoga on Instagram could go to YTTs.

I couldn’t put my thighs behind my shoulders, so I obviously wasn’t “yoga” enough. And yet, sometime in late 2013, I signed up for a 200 hour yoga teacher training with Wise Living Yoga Academy in Chiang Mai Thailand.

My Yoga Journey, In Short, From the Beginning

I tried yoga for the first time with my mom in 2006. It was my senior year in high school and I liked it, but I didn’t really get it. It just didn’t click with me at the time, but it stayed in the back of my mind. Lurking in the shadows.

I didn’t take another yoga class until 2012. I always thought about taking yoga classes. I talked about taking yoga classes. But I never actually took any yoga classes. I was too busy studying skipping class.

But in 2012 I moved to South Korea. One morning, desperate to meet people and find something to do that wasn’t teaching, I googled “English Language Yoga Classes, Seoul” and a place called “Celebrity Yoga” came up.

It was a Bikram Yoga studio in Gangnam. After one class, I was addicted.

Unfortunately, this coincided with a very dark time in my life. I’ve written about that many times. Now is not the time nor the place.

The good thing that came out of my Bikram obsession was my dedication to yoga and my desire to learn more. As I planned a six month backpacking trip for 2013-2014, a friend in California encouraged me to take a yoga teacher training.

“But, I’m not good enough,” I thought. “I’ll just look like a fool.”

Yet I signed up. I was curious and what the hell, it’s another thing to add to the resume, right?

A Yoga Teacher Training at Wise Living Yoga Academy

Zoom ahead to February 2014 and I walked through the front gate of the Wise Living Yoga Academy in Chiang Mai. It is a peaceful ashram run by a truly lovely couple, Jeenal and Daniel. They had both studied for many years at the Yoga Institute of Mumbai in India, and had recently moved to Chiang Mai to spread the knowledge of classical yoga.

Classical Yoga? At that time, I had no idea what that was.

This was a completely immersive 200 hour YTT. The program lasted for one month, and we studied full-time Monday through Friday, with a half day on Saturday. It was intense, but also life altering.

Everything about our days at the ashram was structured to teach us the Classical Yoga lifestyle. It was a complete immersion. Day by day, we learned bits and pieces of this lifestyle, little realizing we were already living it in the daily pattern of our lives at the ashram.

We covered yogic philosophy. We meditated. We ate vegan food. We enjoyed silent meals. We practiced gentle asana, and stronger asana. We slowly, peacefully, effortlessly adopted the classical yoga lifestyle.

1939401_10202066497044155_1046805281_n

View from my bedroom at the Ashram

I guess to best explain what a “classical yoga” lifestyle is, if you’ve never really heard of that before, I’ll outline a typical day at WYLA.

A Day in the Life of a 200 Hour YTT

  • 5:30am My alarm rings. I sit up in bed and silently drink some water.
  • 5:50am I make my way through the fragrant gardens to the meditation hall. Silently, along with my classmates, we enter the hall and take our seats on cushions on the floor.
  • 6:00am Guided meditation begins. Daniel’s soft voice leads me into my inner tranquility. I close my eyes. Focus on my breath. Let my mind relax.
  • 6:30 – 7:00am We finish our meditation and quietly head back to our room to retrieve our mats.
  • 7:00am Morning asana practice, lead by Daniel or Jeenal. We practice sometimes gentle, sometimes quite challenging Asana practice for an hour and a half.
  • 8:30am Breakfast. A gorgeous buffet of vegan porridge, fruits, and other delights.
  • 10am to 12:30 Philosophy. The morning is spent with Daniel, discussing philosophy of ancient India. We discuss texts such as Hatha Pradipka Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita
  • 12:30 – 2pm Lunch, Another stunning vegan buffet of bright vegetables, salads, curries, and rice. Rest time.
  • 2:00-2:30pm Yogic Relaxation. We practice and try not to fall asleep. We’re also learning how to teach this practice.
  • 2:30pm – 5:00pm A variety of classes with Jeenal. Some days we study pranayamas. Other days we study the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. Still other days we study yogic cleansing techniques.
  • 5:00-6:30pm Asana Practice. With Daniel or Jeenal we learn how to teach different asanas.
  • 6:30 – 9:00pm Dinner. Another stunning vegan buffet. After dinner we have personal study time until we sleep.

If it sounds intense, it was. I’ve never learned so much in such a short time. The experience was one I will never forget.

What I loved about my Yoga Teacher Training

The flow of knowledge was measured out so well. I think it is safe to say that most of my classmates were as clueless as I was in the beginning. We thought that yoga was mostly just a style of exercise that was loosely connected to mindfulness.

Jeenal and Daniel were able to gently lead us into the knowledge that Yoga is a holistic philosophy of how to live ones life. Meditation is an integral part of yoga. Food is part of yoga. Exercise is part of Yoga. Everything is part of yoga.

1926761_10202066499124207_1125031798_n

Graduation day

Yoga is a way of life. Yoga is a goal. Yoga is in everything you do, from the moment you wake, to the food you eat, to the things you say.

In the immersive setting of the ashram, we were able to truly experience the yogic lifestyle. Living in peaceful tranquillity, surrounded by floral gardens, trickling streams, and chirping tropical birds, we were able to experience a quiet sense of contentment.

I was also able to learn, for the first time, that I didn’t need to punish my body with exercise. I learned to appreciate my body for what it could do, and to stop hating all my imperfections.

1978715_10202066494604094_1604482680_n

By the mountains near the Ashram

I saw first hand the myriad benefits that come from a steady practice of meditation. The benefit of speaking less and listening more. And the serenity that comes from stillness.

Were there things I would have changed about the course? Perhaps a few. I wish we had read the texts beforehand, so that we could have discussed their ideas in greater depth with Daniel. I wish just a touch more emphasis was placed on having time to practice actually teaching asanas, guided meditation, and pranayamas.

But on the whole, taking a yoga teacher training in Thailand was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. WYLA truly became my home for that month. A home I would love to return to someday.

My Takeaway: Even If You Think You Aren’t Ready, You Are

If you’ve been thinking of taking a yoga teacher training but have been holding yourself back, stop. I’m here to tell you: you are ready. 200 Hour courses are less about learning to teach and more about deepening your own relationship with yoga. After all, how can you teach someone the path if you don’t walk it yourself?

1939740_10202066497684171_683884909_n

Group at graduation

Namaste

autumn art fair.jpg

Hiking the Huayhuash Solo: Logistics

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

So you want to follow in the footsteps of Joe Simpson from Touching The Void? Or you just want to see some of the most remote mountain wilderness outside of the Himalayas? You’re looking for the Huayhuash mountain range.

For 10 days during October, 2015, I hiked alone through the Huayhuash Mountain range. For those of you who are feeling a bit left out at the moment, let’s back up and go over some basic information to answer the question:

What exactly is the Huayhuash?

The Huayhuash Mountain range is an independent chain of mountains located in the Andes mountain range of Peru. The range contains some of the highest mountains in the world outside of Asia’s Himalayas. The highest mountains in the Huayhuash include Yerapuja, Peru’s second highest mountain, rising to 6617m (21,709ft!!), and Siula, the mountain you may know from Joe Smith’s book and subsequent movie “Touching The Void” which ascends a jaw dropping 6,344m (20,813ft). In short, these mountains are big, very big, some of the biggest mountains you’ll ever see.

Peru-SAM-Map

This map. So funny. The more you know.

The weather in Peru’s Andes is fairly regular. From May to September is the dry season. During these months you will almost never see rain, the skies will be mostly clear and you’ll get the best views. From October to April is the rainy season, with cloudy skies, rainy days and nights, and generally terrible conditions for outdoor adventure sports.

The dry season also means boat loads of tourists, yes even in the remote Huayhuash. It’s just not THAT remote. And during the wet, the views are worse, but you’ll have the place to yourself.

Rainy Season Hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Conditions you can expect to deal with if you choose to hike during the rainy season.

So Megan, you said you were there in October?

Yes, I happened to do the Huayhuash in mid October. My trek through the Huayhuash was unplanned, through circumstances that don’t bear talking about, I ended up in the area of Huaraz with not much to do. Huayhuash it was.

If you hike during the wet season, know this: the mountains are reliably clear in the morning, with clouds arriving before lunch and rains arriving before dinner. Get up early.

Personally, I think the wet season was worth it. The place was close to empty and I had beautiful views 8/9 days.

So now we’re all oriented and we know where the Huayhuash is and why I wanted to go there, let’s get down to the business of logistics.

————

Most people take on the Huayhuash with an organized tour which can be easily booked online, or from the nearby major tourist hub of Huaraz. But unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a lot of info on hiking the Huayhuash solo.

My first word of caution is this: if you aren’t an experienced backpacker, and if you don’t have a lot of experience in extreme mountain environments like those found in the Peruvian Andes, go with a tour. The Huayhuash circuit is long, arduous, and at times, dangerous. If you feel nervous about taking her on alone, don’t. There’s no shame in having a guide.

If you ARE experienced and want the challenge, here is where I suggest you begin:

  1. Get to Huaraz.

This is a city in the Peruvian Andes from where you can organize your gear, purchase maps, find friends to hike with, and get a bus to the Huayhuash starting town of Llamac.

A bus ride from Lima to Huaraz is short and can be pretty cheap. There are the expensive “safer” options of Cruz Del Sur and Civa, but you can also take the cheaper Z buss and I’m willing to bet you will be fine.

  1. Organize your gear.

This is probably the toughest bit of hiking the Huayhuash solo. Most backpackers don’t go around carrying tents, sleeping bags, or stoves. Ask around at your hostel or at the various tour agencies as most of them will rent out gear.

Casa de Guias is a good place to start for research.

http://www.huaraz.com/casadeguias/

Gear List

  • REI 2 person, 3 season, lightweight dome tent
  • Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag (-9C/14F)
  • MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove
  • Pinnacle Soloist cooking pot and cup
  • MSR plastic collapsible spoon
  • 2L Camelpak
  • Steripen
  • Solomon hiking boots
  • 1 pair silk pants
  • 1 pair hot chilis fleece pants
  • 1 pair prana hiking pants
  • 1 pair rainproof pants
  • 1 rainproof shell
  • 2 fleece jackets
  • 1 underarmor shirt
  • 1 daytime lightweight hiking shirt
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 2 sock liners
  • Topographical Map (purchased in Huaraz)
  • Notebook and 2 pens
  • Smartphone (to take pictures)
  • Kindle
  • Pair of collapsible Leki hiking poles
  • Kelty Coyote 65L Backpack – NOT RECOMMENDED, but it was a hand-me-down and super old and heavy.

And there you have it, add in enough food for 10 days and that was my pack. It was heavy and cumbersome but I did it.

Topographic Map for the Cordillera Huayhuash

My map and planning notebook

  1. Buy a topographic map.

If you’re going to hike the Huayhuash alone, a map is pretty important. There are a few spots where you might get lost. Also consider buying a compass. It isn’t necessary but it can’t hurt. Modern hikers have GPS machines ppppphhhttttt.

Inside the Mercado Central in Huaraz, Peru

Shot inside Huaraz’s Mercado Central

  1. Plan your menu and buy your food.

This is probably the biggest challenge of doing a solo hike in Peru. You do not have access to those pre-made camping meals from REI that are so popular in the states these days. Get yourself to the Mercado central in Huaraz and familiarize yourself with what is available.

There are 3 medium sized grocery stores in Huaraz where you can buy supplies but everything there is overpriced. Asked around and find the Mercado Central and you’ll find a giant warehouse full of vendors selling everything you need. There is even one woman who has a dry goods store with all the food you find in the grocery stores at half the price.

Take the time to plan a menu before you go shopping. I have met so many hikers in Peru who simply didn’t bring enough calories with them because they didn’t plan a menu. Its an easy thing to fix.

  1. Make sure you have a way to clean your water.

The water in Peru is undrinkable. Even up in the mountains in the remote Huayhuash there is livestock everywhere, pooping in streams and making you sick. Get a filter, a steripen, or iodine pills. You can buy the iodine pills probably at any botica, or outdoors store in Huaraz.

  1. Sorochi Pills

If you are new to the Peruvian Andes, you will feel the effect of the altitude. If you are nervous about this, it makes sense to purchase some sorochi pills, available at every Botica in town. If you’re into the more holistic approach, consider eating a lot of garlic, onions, or drinking coca tea.

One positive of the Huayhuash trek is the terrain. You will ascend to a pass and descend every day, so you will always camp lower than your highest point.

  1. Buy your bus ticket to Llamac.

There is a bus company right on the main road which leaves at 5am, getting you to Llamac around 11am. Tickets are fairly cheap, s/30 as of October, 2015. You should buy your ticket at least a day ahead of time.

  1. Make sure you have enough money!

Bring at least s/250 with you if you are planning to hike the whole Huayhuash. Every time you pass by a village, which is at least once a day, you will be asked to pay between s/10-s/45. They tell you that it is for “protection” but it is extortion and it is the worst part of hiking the Huayhuash.

The Peruvian government recently incorporated the Huayhuash as a protected area but not a national park. Before this change, the people who lived there were on their own. As such, there is no entrance fee, but every village charges a protection fee. Why?

Back in the 1980’s there was a known Sendero Luminoso training camp up there. You can apparently still find it, but I didn’t personally notice I was hiking by that lake until I was below it.

Two foreign trekkers were killed in 2002, and another four were shot in 2004, one of whom died from blood loss. These shootings were a result of people resisting robberies. Nowadays you aren’t at risk of being shot but you do need to pay the local strongmen close to $100 to hike through the mountain range.

Okay back to the cheerier subject. The Huayhuash is completely safe from violence today, and if you plan your trip well you will have an amazing experience.

Cordillera Huayhuash on a Solo Trek

Look out for my next post. I’m going to go through my 9-day itinerary, including suggestions of alternate routes and best hiking choices.

Happy Trails!

Like this post? Pin it!

Hiking Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash Solo - What to pack and how to plan