Mount Rushmore National Memorial – A day trip in South Dakota, USA

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, USA

When I was looking at my journey through the US I saw that my route would take me near to Mount Rushmore National Memorial so I decided to make sure that my route passed through Rapid City so that I could rent a car to go see the famous site.  I mainly knew it from films and knew no history about it before I went but decided I had to see the famous monument for myself. Continue reading

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA – What to do in 2 days

Zion National Park, Utah, USAAfter already enjoying 3 national parks in the US on this trip so far, I decided when I hired a car in Las Vegas to see more national parks rather than drive up the west coast.  The first park I decided to see from Las Vegas was Zion National Park.

Zion became a national park on the 19th November 1919 when it became the 15th national park and the 1st national park in Utah.

I picked up in the car in the morning in Las Vegas and drove the 120 miles to the hotel to drop off my bags before continuing on to Zion which was a further 42 miles.  I decided to upgrade and buy an Annual National Park Pass when I arrived as I had already in the past few days paid entrance to Yellowstone & Grand Teton which was $50 and the entrance to Zion was $30 which was the same price as upgrading and getting my annual pass.  If you plan on doing a few parks on your trip then it might be worthwhile.

I normally stay in hostels while I am travelling but around the Zion area there were no hostels available and the cheapest place for me to stay was in Rodeway Inn Red Hills in St George.  It was about an hours drive from Zion National Park but in the US an hours drive is not far and the roads are easy to drive.

After I had bought my pass, my first stop was to the visitors centre to find out exactly what I should be doing while I was in the area.  Also from spring until autumn (fall) the canyon is not open to cars and only to the shuttle buses that will drop you at various points through the park.  You catch the shuttle bus from the visitors centre.  It’s not a huge park and this is a great way to get around as the buses are very frequent.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

My first stop was the Zion Human History Museum where there are indoor exhibits and there is also a 22 minute film on the history of the park.  Well worth watching if you have time.  I also got my first picture in the canyon.

I then decided to get the shuttle bus out to some of the stops so I could get some pictures of the views and to do a little walk from the Grotto to the Zion Lodge.  As it was getting to dusk I saw some deer too.  Dusk is a great time to see animals and the time when I have seen the most in all the national parks.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Deer at Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Once I got back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the drive back to the hotel.

The next morning i was up early so I could be back to the park and able to park in the carpark before it was full.  It does get full early so it is worth getting there early otherwise you will have to park outside the park and walk in.  I once again went to the visitors centre to check the weather forecast, I was wanting to hike part of The Narrows but the risk of flash flooding was high that day and they advised against hiking it.

The Narrows is a gorge carved through the canyon by the river and is 16 miles long and in places only 20 – 30 feet wide. The path is through the river, though at times you can walk along the side, but you need to be prepared for wading and sometimes swimming through the river.  You always need to check with the rangers before attempting it as it might be a sunny day at Zion but 50 miles away there might have a storm and that water can travel down the river causing a flash flood.

As the risk of rain and flash flooding was at its highest I decided instead to just do the Riverside Walk, this takes you from the final bus stop up to the start of The Narrows and is a 2.2 mile roundtrip.  It’s a nice easy walk and getting to the start of The Narrows did make me want to give it a go especially when I saw a few people setting off, but as the risk was at it’s highest I decided to be sensible and give it a miss for this trip.  I will be back though as it does look like an amazing hike.

Zion National Park, Utah, USAZion National Park, Utah, USA

After this I decided to stop at the weeping rock trail which is a short 1/2 mile walk.  From here there is the option of a couple of other longer hikes, the Hidden Canyon Trail which is 2.4 miles or to the observation point which is 8 miles.  I decided against these as I wanted to do the Emerald Pools Trail.

I then caught the bus from the Weeping Rock to the Zion Lodge to start the Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper and Lower Pools.  It is a 2.2 mile high, but is quite steep and tricky in places but well worth it to see the views.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

After this hike I then got the shuttle bus to canyon junction where I got off and walked the final 1.75 miles to the visitors centre along the river, amazing views and great to be able to do a final walk.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Another hike I really wanted to do but was advised against due to the weather, though the sun had come out in the afternoon was Angel’s Landing.  It is a tough 5.4 mile hike (generally takes 3-4 hours), up to the summit 450 metres high.  The last half mile is hiking along the sandstone ridge and this trek can be very dangerous after rain as it gets very slippy.  It can also be a problem for people with a fear of heights.

As the weather wasn’t good for the 2 hikes I wanted to do, I will be back in the future to complete these!! They both look amazing and I am excited about returning for them.

Once I was back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the 75 mile drive to Panguitch, where I would stay overnight before exploring Bryce Canyon National Park the next day.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

To get to Bryce the quickest way is on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway, this road goes up through the park and through a 1.1 mile tunnel cut through the mountain.  Anything larger than a car needs to have the traffic stopped as they need to drive down the middle of the tunnel.

As you can see when I entered the tunnel it was a beautiful day with a few clouds in the sky, when I left the tunnel 1.1 miles later, probably not even a 5 minute drive later, the heavens had opened and the rain was unbelievable.  I put my windscreen wipers on full and still couldn’t see anything.  Thankfully there was a car park next to the entrance of the tunnel and I pulled in there to wait until it eased.  While I was waiting I could see and hear the hail coming down and hitting the car, it was the size of a tennis ball!!! After about 10 minutes it eased off a bit so I got out to check the car.  What I saw and heard when I got out of the car amazed me.  Below me was the river, raging and carrying huge trees downstream as if they were twigs.

Zion National Park, Utah, USA

The ranger controlling the traffic came over and told me that 10 minutes ago where the water was coming down into the river below, it had been totally dry.  Now there was a huge amount of water coming over the edge and into the river below.   Now I saw how quickly things can change.  Five minutes before it has been a sunny day, now there was a huge torrent of water where there had been a dry river bed and I had seen how quickly a flash flood can happen.  I was certainly pleased I had made the decision not to hike in The Narrows.  It just shows that if the rangers are advising against hiking in an area due to flash floods, to listen to their advice.  Zion will always be there for you to return and have another attempt in the future.

After it had stopped raining so hard I continued my journey down Highway 89 until I reached my hotel and chilled out for the night.  The scenery along the way was stunning and we even got a rainbow after the rain had stopped.Zion National Park, Utah, USA Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion National Park was certainly one of my favourite national parks to visit in the US and if you are in the area one you must certainly visit.

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Zion National Park, Utah, USA

 

 

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My Top 10 Posts from 2016

2016 was my first year of blogging though I have been travelling full time for nearly 5 years.  It has been great to share my experience of the places I have been in my blog.

I decided to have to a look at my stats so far and see which blog posts from 2016 were my most popular.

I only released my first post on the 27th May 2016 and this post about why I started blogging was my most popular in 2016 and it has just slipped into second place overall.  It has been overtaken by my recent post on hiking Misti in Arequipa, Peru.

Here are my top 10 posts of 2016, have you read them all? Which is your favourite?  Is there any countries you would like me to write about next that you are visiting soon? or any topic you would like me to write about?

1) My 1st Blog – Why I started travelling

My 1st blog

Exciting, my first blog.

I wanted to give a bit of background as to what made me start travelling and that would be my mum.

To continue reading click here

2) Vilnius, Lithuania – Things to do in 2 days there

I was trying to make a decision where to visit in September and finally decided on the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia) as I kept seeing so many pictures from people visiting and had yet to visit myself.  I decided my first stop would be Vilnius, Lithuania.

To continue reading click here

3) My 2017 Travel Plan

After a terrible 2016, I am so excited for it to be 2017 and my travel plan.  I have lots of travelling planned for the year and knowing that I am seeing in the New Year in a country I love makes me even more excited.

To continue reading click here

4) Things to do in 2 days in Riga, Latvia

St Peter's Church Riga Latvia

If you are planning a trip to Riga, Latvia then these are the things you can do in 2 days.

I decided to go in september which is maybe not the warmest time of year, I was there in the middle of the month and within a day the temperature dropped 10 degrees!!

To continue reading click here

5) Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland

A trip to Iceland would not be complete without Seeing the Northern Lights. I had been recommended a company to use by a friend who was in Iceland when I arrived and so I decided to go with them.

To continue reading click here

6) Death Road, Bolivia – Cycling the most dangerous road in the world

The first time I heard of Death Road was on Top Gear, seeing them drive down this crazy narrow road with sheer drops at one side, it looked terrifying.  For those of you that haven’t seen the Top Gear episode or heard of Death Road, well it’s famous for being the most dangerous road in the world.  It is a gravel road that is 69 kilmotres long and in some places only one bus width wide.  It used to be the only road from La Paz to Coroico but a new road was finally built in 2006 and so now the only traffic you see on the road are the tourists, either cycling down or in vans, or the local farmers who live at the bottom of the valley.

To continue reading click here

7) Choquequirao Trek – An amazing alternative to seeing Machu Picchu

I first saw Choquequirao on Ben Fogle’s Extreme Dreams in 2006.  I had visited Machu Picchu the previous year and had fallen in love with Peru and to know that there was another Inca ruin, visited by very few people in the middle of nowhere, made me determined that the next time I was in Peru I would go.

To continue reading click here

8) San Blas Islands, Panama – Why you should visit paradise

I first heard about the San Blas Islands when I was travelling in Colombia.  As there is no road from Panama to Colombia a lot of people opt for the 4 night/5 day boat trip.  It’s quite an expensive option and as I get so seasick I believed it was a trip I was never going to do and a place I was never going to see.

To continue reading click here

9) Machu Picchu – One of the Seven new wonders of the world

Have you ever thought of visiting Machu Picchu? Did you know it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World?

I love the place and that is why I have visited Machu Picchu 3 times!! Is that a bit excessive?? I don’t normally visit a place more than once but this place has certainly captured my heart and I can’t wait to visit for a fourth time in January 2017.

To continue reading click here

10) Parnu, Estonia – Things to do in 24 hours

Parnu Estonia in 48 hours

After visiting Riga, I decided to go to Parnu in Estonia.  I had heard about what a great beach resort town it is and despite the temperature dropping considerably to around 14 degrees celsius, I decided it was still a good idea to go.

To continue reading click here

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Ollantaytambo – A day trip from Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo is probably one of my favourite day trips from Cusco, Peru.  It is 72 kilometres from Cusco which is about 2 hours away by minibus.

The buses from Cusco go from Calle Pavitos with Calle Belen, which is about a 10 minutes walk from the Plaza de Armas and it costs about 10 soles (3 USD).  You will find buses going to Urubamaba (you can change in the bus station) or directly to Ollantaytambo.

If you have done the Inca Trail then this is the place where you will have stopped to stock up on last minute snacks, water or walking sticks.  It is also a popular day tour from Cusco but it is also easy to do independently as there are plently of buses that go from Cusco.

This would be my 3rd visit to the ruins here and I decided to get the bus and stay overnight as there is a second set of ruins that you can see from Ollantaytambo which I have never visited and I keep saying I must go see them, so I decided to stay overnight and see both.

I got the bus in the morning and checked straight into my hostel, the Ollantaytampu Hostel, located 50 metres from the Plaza de Armas.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It’s a nice clean little hostel, in a great location with great views from the roof terrace.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I then decided to go to the main ruins that was included within the tourist ticket I had bought in Cusco.  As I was walking there it started raining as it was doing most days between 12 and 2, so again it was out with the rain jacket to see another set of ruins in the rain!!

Ollantaytambo town is 2,800 metres above sea level with the ruins climbing several hundred more metres up the mountain.

I entered the ruins and this is the first view you get, there were lots of tourists already inside and a lot more groups would be around later too.  It is one of the most popular ruins in the region.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo was the royal estate for the Emperor Pachacuti.  The main ruins visited by tourists is the ceremonial site, referred to as temple hill.  Above the terraces there is a sun temple and the wall of the Six Monoliths (see pic below).  These are unfinished and it shows evidence that the site was still being constructed when it was abandoned.

Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was exploring I saw an open door with a path up the mountain and so I decided to explore as I had hours left before it shut.  By this time the rain was easing.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I climbed up the mountain another 20 minutes where I found more ruins, I then climbed a bit higher, found a rock to sit on and had the most amazing views.  As most tourists have a limited amount of time in Ollantaytambo, this part of the ruins was empty and I had the place to myself.  The views from here are amazing.  I decided to stay here, relax, read my kindle and enjoy the views for a while.  I think I now understand why the Inca’s built there settlements on mountains, it wasn’t for a defensive reason but to enjoy these views!!

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

When it was getting close to 4pm I decided to climb back down, as the gate to the ruins shut at 4pm, and I explored the rest of the ruins.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After visiting the ruins I went into the town and had dinner and a few drinks on the way back to the hostel.

The next day I was up early so that I could go visit the other set of ruins you can see on the other mountain. To get there you walk along calle Principal away from the Plaza de Armas until you reach Lares Calle which is just a little alleyway.

Ollyantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After the first alleyway on the left, the entrance to the other set of ruins is just through a door on your right that will be open with a little sign showing the ruins are that way.  It is between Calle 1 & 2 in the alleyway.

There are ruins all over the mountain at this side too, mainly there are storehouses, where they would store the products from the terraces.  The high altitude and climate helped against the decay.

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

I then climbed to the highest part of the ruins and once again, spent a few hours sat looking at the amazing views and reading my kindle.  I even somehow managed to get wifi from my hostel at the top of the mountain!! How does that work?

Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After a few hours exploring this side of the valley it was back down the mountain to get my bags and return to Cusco.  You can get a combi from either the Plaza de Armas direct to Cusco or just around the corner, near the market are combi’s to Urubamba where you can change buses (this way does take a little longer) to get to Cusco.

Ollantaytambo is a great day trip from Cusco, or a great little town to visit for a few days if you have time, and its an easy option to do on your own.

Have you visited here? What did you think of these ruins?

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Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

 

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Pisac – A day trip from Cusco Peru

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was spending over 3 weeks in Cusco I decided to get the tourist ticket for 130 soles (40 USD) so that I could go and see all the Inca Ruins in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.  I had already seen them all 4 years previously on a tour but this time I wanted the option of spending more time and being able to fully explore them.  I decided the first ruin I would visit was Pisac (or Pisaq in the local Quechua language), it is located 33km east of Cusco.

I decided to get the local bus so that I could spend as much time as I wanted there.  The bus to Pisac leaves from calle Puputi which is just off Recoleta.  It is about a 15 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas.  The bus also passes Sacsayhuaman and the other Inca Ruins near Cusco if you want to get a bus to them.  On Puputi street you will hear lots of men shouting “Pisac, Pisac”, these are the minibuses to Pisac which go quite frequently or when they are full.  It should cost around 6 soles (2 USD) to Pisac and you can negotiate less if you are not going that far.  The journey is normally around 45 minutes and they drop you off by the river in Pisac and it is just a 5 minutes walk to the entrance of the ruins.  The minibuses return to Cusco from the same place.  I love getting the local buses and meeting the local people, there normally isn’t any seat belts so maybe not too safe and you are crammed in with everyone but for me it feels like I am experiencing life there rather than being a tourist!!

As you get near to Pisac and are driving down the valley towards the river you can see Pisac high up on the mountain in front of you.  It is an amazing site, you can see the farming terraces cut into the side of the mountain.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

The town of Pisac is located at 2,900 metres with the highest point of the ruins at 3,400 metres, it is quite a hard walk up to see “Inti Watana” which is where the ceremonial platform and temple of the sun are, but you can rest, take lots of pictures and enjoy the amazing views.

Once you have walked through all the markets and parted with all your cash from buying some of the amazing clothes and trinkets they have in Peru, you will see the welcome to Pisac sign. The large market is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday though you will find a smaller market open on other days.   You carry on up this path, where you will have your ticket checked before finally entering Pisac.  It is open from 7am to 6pm so you have lots of time to explore this huge site.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It is not known when Pisac was built but it is not earlier than 1440 and it was destroyed by the Spanish in the 1530’s.  It was a royal estate and as you are climbing up you can see the agricultural terraces that were built into the side of the mountain.  The fertile soil was brought from the valley so that the crops would grow.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As I was walking up the mountain the views down into the valley were amazing, despite the rainy and cloudy day.  I kept stopping to look and enjoy the views of the town and the river snaking through the valley.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As you are walking up the mountain you can see the towers from the citadel (the military part) above you.  I continued upward not realising that these towers would mean I was only halfway up the mountain.  It was around this time that the heavens opened and we had a heavy downpour.   It is something I would get used to while being in Cusco, as it was the rainy season it would rain most days in the afternoon!!  Generally between 12 and 2 which is not great timing when you want to go exploring!!

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

When I reached the military sector I had a walk around as there are lots of ruins in this section, though it is hard to work out what the buildings were used for if you are not with a guide!!  There are people walking around who are guides but as I had done a previous tour I didn’t want to do another guided tour.  It is thought that Pisac defended the southern entrance of the sacred valley, with Choquequirao the west and Ollantaytambo the northern entrance.  The views looking down on the citadel are spectacular, even when it’s pouring down!!

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

As you are walking up the hill from the citadel you can see the main ceremonial plaza, so it was head down as it was raining so hard and a trek up another steep hill to the top.

At the top I had reached Inti Watana the religious part of the site.  Here you can see baths, water fountains, altars, the temple of the sun.  Though for me the higher section was closed off, I think because it was raining so hard.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After I had had a look around I had a sit down in a little covered area, the only area after the agricultural terraces with shelter, and tried drying off a little, reading my book and just enjoying the view.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

After this it was back on with the waterproofs and down the mountain in the rain.  There are a few paths so you can go down a different way to how you came up and see different parts of the ruins while you are going down.  It would of been amazing to have been able to sit up here and enjoy the amazing views for a few hours but it wasn’t meant to be!! Maybe next time!!

Once I was back at the bottom it was a short walk through the town and back to the bus for the journey back to Cusco.

Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

It is a great site to visit and the views are stunning and will be even more so on a sunny day, though you will need sun cream and a hat as there is very little shelter!!  If you get a chance it’s worth a visit!!

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Pisac Sacred Valley Cusco Peru

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Rainbow Mountain Hike in Cusco, Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Before I visited Peru I had seen many pictures of Rainbow Mountain and my old guide from my trek to Choquequirao, was now a guide on this trek, and kept posting lots of pictures on facebook and I knew when I returned to Cusco it was a trek I had to do.

When I arrived in Cusco I met with my old guide who told me about the hike to Rainbow Mountain.  There are options of 1 or 2 days though the 2 day hike is normally booked as a private trek.  His company is more exclusive and takes small groups early in the morning (2am) so that when you get to Rainbow Mountain there is no one else in your pictures.  The rest of the companies normally leave between 3.30 and 4 so when you get to the summit there are hundreds of people and that is just in the low season!!

If you want a more private tour then please have a look at his website AB Expeditions.

Unfortunately my budget did not stretch to this and I had to go with one of the other companies in Cusco which charges around 100 soles (USD30), for this you get breakfast, lunch, transport (it’s a 3 hour drive out of Cusco) and a guide.  We got picked up at 3.30am and drove around Cusco for another 30 minutes trying to find the hostels of the other people in the group!!  Once we had everyone we started the drive to the start of the hike.  After 2 hours we left the main road and continued on a dirt road slightly wider than a single track, up the mountains with a sheer drop to one side.  I closed the curtain, as to me we seemed to be driving too fast and too near the edge!! As is typical in Peru, everything worth seeing is at the top of a mountain or over a mountain pass!!  This part was only 20 or 30 minutes but I still felt I needed to celebrate surviving and still being alive when we got past this part!!

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

After 3 hours we arrived in at the village of Q’anchipacha where we stopped for a basic breakfast of bread and jam with a tea/coffee and admired the views of the valley.  We were then briefed that we would drive a further 20 minutes before getting out of the van and starting the 3 hour hike from 4,530 metres.  There is the option of taking a horse if you are struggling with the altitude but this costs extra.  We actually had a girl who was sick from the altitude about 5 minutes away from the start of the hike and had to walk back down to the village!!  Now that would be gutting after that journey!!

Until you get to this altitude you have no idea how you will deal with it, everyone is different and it has no relation with how fit you are either!! Coca leaves or sweets help, having a coca tea before the hike too which you can have with your breakfast.  If you have any of the symptoms you need to tell the guide as they can give you some coca leaves or some altitude sickness tablets (though I have heard mixed reviews about these helping).  Luckily I don’t suffer too much from the altitude and have never had to try these, I normally just chew on the coca leaves to give me a bit of extra energy!!.

We got back in the van and set off to the starting point, though at one stage it could not get up the steep bend as it had been raining heavily overnight and all the vans were skidding back down!!  We got out and walked up the valley part of the way, where I got a great picture of the view.

Rainbow Mountain Hike Cusco Peru

Once we arrived at the starting point, our guide gave us our entrance tickets and we started the hike through the valley.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

The views are amazing, the tops of the mountains kept peaking out of the clouds.  It’s a stunning area.

After about an hour the clouds started to surround us and it started raining, so it was on with the rain jacket and head down to get up there, feeling jealous of all the people going past on the horses, knowing they would be at the summit before me!!

There are a few toilets on the way, though one closest to the summit is about a 45 minute walk from the summit.  Also expect to pay as the locals have been building them and are using them as a way of making money.

We had nearly reached the top when it started snowing and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see anything by the time we got there as I had heard a few days earlier that there had been snow at the top and no one could see the mountain!!  It would be so disappointing to get there and not see the different colours!!

When we could see Rainbow Mountain, it seemed to take forever to walk that final part but eventually I got to the top. It was full of hundreds of people and as I was walking up I saw my old guide on his way down with his group of 3. They had had the place to themselves and got some great pictures.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

To get the best view and the best pictures it’s best to climb a bit higher up to the highest point at 5,040 metres and you can then see the Rainbow Mountain opposite you.  The colours are amazing, it’s so beautiful to see.  The view from the top is amazing, not just of Rainbow Mountain but the surrounding mountains too.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

While at the top the rain and snow kept blowing in, but then it would clear and we would get amazing views.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

After about half an hour and eating a milkyway bar (mars bar in the UK) my hands were so cold that I knew it was time to head back down.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

It rained most of the hike back down but at times it cleared and we got to enjoy the amazing views and to see a view llamas too.

Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

Once we got back to the van we drove back to where we had breakfast and had lunch of soup and then chicken with rice before starting the 3 hour drive back to Cusco, going back along the terrifying road and arriving back at about 6pm.  It was a long day but well worth it.

The Rainbow Mountain is a great trek and if you are in Cusco then one that you must do, it’s not an easy hike but if you aren’t into hiking then you can always rent a horse.  It’s only a day trip but it’s a long day at 16 hours.

The rainy season is January to March so at this time of year there is a chance of snow and you will need your waterproofs with you on the trek.

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Rainbow Mountain Cusco Peru

 

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The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

I heard about The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge that Stephanie Fox had started and decided to take part in it, it is aimed at rounding up 2016 and looking towards 2017.

If you want to take part then join the facebook group here.

A set of 10 questions have to be answered, and they have been designed to be a bit out of the ordinary to questions you would normally answer. It’s also intended to pass on the experiences and knowledge that you as a  travel blogger have had.

The answers that came to my mind did actually surprise me, and some of them were a fight with myself as I thought I knew where I loved.  I guess though the place in your heart you want to live might not be perfect and might not have everything but it somehow stole a piece of your heart.

Each Travel Whispers blog post can be found by clicking the link through to the next blogger at the bottom of the post, and so on, so have a read and see how other travel bloggers answered the same questions – you might find some exciting new bloggers to follow and some great travel ideas for the future!  You can also find them across Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #TravelWhispers.

1. If you had to move to a country that you’ve NEVER been to, and live there for ten years, where would you go?

This for me is so difficult as most of the countries I would want to live in, I have already visited.  I think I would have to say the Philippines, it’s a country I would love to see.  The beaches look beautiful and there are mountains too which is where I feel most at home.  I think it would be a difficult choice as it’s not exactly stable at the moment and I could of chosen somewhere nearer home within Europe but at the moment I feel pulled to go there and I never like to choose the easy option!!

2. If you had to live in a hotel for the rest of your life, which hotel would you choose and why?

Armogosa Opera House & Hotel, Death Valley Junction, Death Valley, USA Armogosa Opera House & Hotel, Death Valley Junction, Death Valley, USA

I would hate to live in a hotel, it’s really not me.  I have spent most of the past 4 years in hostels and yes it can be hard being disturbed in the dorm rooms but they are great places to meet people.  Yes the luxury of a hotel can be nice but they can also be very lonely places!!

My choice would be one probably no one else would choose!! In 2015 while touring the US, I stayed in the Amargosa Opera House & Hotel in Death Valley Junction.  It is run now as a non profit and they are hoping to restore it in time to it’s former glory.  The story behind it and the location I just loved and I think it would be such an interesting place to live for the rest of my life!!

3. If you could only eat the cuisine of one nationality forever more, which would you choose?

This for me is easy, I love the Peruvian cuisine, though I would miss pizza and a roast dinner (especially Yorkshire Puddings!!).

4. Who has given you ‘holiday envy’ this year, and how?

A friend went to the Maldives.  I am so jealous as it’s a place I would love to go and see.  Her pictures were stunning and its high on the list despite knowing it’s going to cost a fortune.

5. If you had to look at the same sunrise or the same sunset every day, where in the world would you never get bored of seeing? Please don’t say sitting outside Cafe Mambo in Ibiza.

Sunset Arequipa Peru

I have been lucky enough to see some amazing sunsets while travelling.  Sunrise is a bit too early for me, but I love a good sunset.  The sunsets while I have been here in Arequipa have been amazing but most of the year there are no clouds which is what has made them so spectacular this time.

The best sunset I have ever seen was in Death Valley, I have never seen colours like it and it’s not too far from the hotel I want to live in for life!!

Sunset Death Valley, USA Sunset Death Valley, USA

6. If you were taking a ‘staycation’ in your home town, where would it be and what would you recommend others to do?

Waterton Park Hotel, Wakefield Waterton Park Hotel, Wakefield

My home town is Wakefield in the north of England.  I would stay in Waterton Park Hotel.  My best friend treated me to a spa day and afternoon tea there in August for my birthday.  It is set on a island in a lake and the views are stunning.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton, Yorkshire

After that I would drive out to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a walk around the grounds seeing the different sculptures on show.  The last time I was there they had poppies falling from a bridge into the river.

In the evening I would go to a local village Horbury for a meal in my favourite restaurant Bistro 42.

7. Describe your perfect travel day of the year?

Misti, Arequipa, Peru

In 2016 I was not able to travel too much as I badly broke my wrist in March but the best day I had was when I returned to Arequipa, Peru and climbed the volcano Misti at 5,822 metres!! It is the volcano that overlooks the town that you can see from everywhere and it was one of the hardest things I have done but also a day I was so proud of myself for the mental strength I had to get to the top.

8. What have you ticked off your bucket list in 2016?

Misti, Arequipa, Peru

Climbing Misti and getting to an altitude of 5,822 metres.  I had tried it in 2012 and got nowhere near to the top, but this time I did it.  I would love to try Kilimanjaro too, it’s slightly higher but knowing I can deal with the altitude I hope I would make it.

9. What is top of your travel bucket list for 2017?

This year I have so much travel planned, but the thing on my bucket list that I am looking forward to visiting is Chernobyl.  I have read a lot about it in the past and seen documentaries and I think it will be so interesting to visit.

10. Share your favourite Instagram photo of 2016?

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Looking back through my pictures I realise I didn’t share many photos from travels from 2016 as I unfortunately didn’t get away much.  My favourite picture which is from the 29 December 2016 is in Ollyantaytambo in Peru.  I went to the ruins where there were thousands of tourists but found an open door and a path climbing up the mountain.  As I had plenty of time before it closed I decided to climb as high as I could, where I found a boulder to sit on and look at this view.  I sat there for ages, reading my book, chilling out and enjoying an amazing view, with no other people around.

This challenge was passed on to me by Julia Hammond from Julia’s Travels.  To read her responses click here.

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Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

 

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6 months as a travel blogger

It’s now been over 6 months since I went live and wrote my first blog piece on why I started travelling.  I had no clue then what I was letting myself in for and how much hard work it takes to be a travel blogger.

I originally wanted to start a blog, to document my travels and help the people I have met along the way who wanted advice about certain places I had visited.  I love telling people about the great places I have visited and people who know me, certainly know if you start me talking about a place I won’t shut up!!  I have had so many people asking questions about places and it’s great when I can give them tips or direct them to a post I have written on that place.

Facebook

ilive4travel facebook

When I set up my facebook page I thought it would be easy to get thousands of followers, I am a bit obsessed with facebook so I do know how it works, but actually getting people to like your page, including your friends is a tough job.  I found that joining facebook groups and helping other people grow their pages helps too.  It’s also a great way to get introduced to other travel bloggers to see how they do things, to see where they are going on their travels and add even more places to the list.  I am not sure I am posting enough though, knowing that only a small percentage of your followers even see something you post in their newsfeed.  Should I be posting a link to a blog post several times? At the moment I only post 1 link per post.  I still feel I have a lot to learn on facebook but I need to concentrate on it as at the moment it drives the most traffic to my blog.

Twitter

ilive4travel twitter

Twitter was something I had never used before I had a travel blog it was one of the social media’s everyone said I needed so I gave it a go.  Getting followers is a lot more easier than facebook.  At first I liked a lot of people who were also travel bloggers and joined facebook groups for twitter too, but I find now after getting over 3,500 followers that I regularly get more followers, without actually doing much.  I still have work that I need to do on this, I still haven’t signed up to a site where I can schedule tweets and so I do feel I neglect this a little and at the moment i get the 2nd highest number of referrals from it.

Pinterest

ilive4travel pinterest

Pinterest is something I have only started using, it took me so long to get my head around it and understand what it is for but now I love it and am using it to plan my future trips!!  It will soon take over twitter as my number two referrer.  I use Canva to make my pins and it’s easy to pin them onto my posts.  Again I have joined more facebook groups to help get my pins repinned.  It’s great that after such a short time I am already seeing the benefit of it, which is great.  I still have a lot to learn on this I think, rich pins and group boards.  I am now over 1,000 followers but I still have a lot of work to do and over the next few months need to make sure all my old posts have pins attached and get them promoted.

Instagram

ilive4travel instagram

Instagram I have but I don’t particularly use that much, I do put pictures on and try and keep getting my numbers up but I find that it’s a lot of work for very little reward.  I get very little traffic from Instagram to my blog but maybe it’s something I need to look into more.  Do you have the same problem or am I doing something wrong?  Do you get much traffic from Instagram?

SEO

SEO, this is something that I am still trying to get my head around and something that I need to spend more time getting correct on my blog.  i have done a few courses that have included SEO sections, so I have more of an idea but it’s still a weakness I think.  I have finally got Yoast on my account which helps show me areas I need to do better but I still need to get my head around keywords.  Anyone got any tips on keywords, on how I choose what my keywords are in a post?

When I started my blogging journey 6 months ago I had no idea how much time, effort and dedication writing a travel blog took and I still think I need to get more efficient and organised.  I have learnt so much in the past 6 months about the different social media out there and done numerous courses online.  I never knew that it would be a full time job, the work you need to put in is unbelievable but hopefully in the end it will be worth it.  I think as long as I am enjoying writing about the places I have travelled and making the most of seeing those places and helping people to find the best things to do in those places  then I will be happy.

My family still don’t understand it’s work, when I tell them I am working and they say you might as well get a proper job the amount of hours you are putting into it, but for me travel is my life and maybe in the future my blog will help me travel the world.

For the next 6 months I have more travels planned.  At the moment I am writing this in Peru, I am here for 3 months.  I am finding it hard getting into a routine of travelling and blogging, but I guess it takes time to get used to doing both.

I am also planning on seeing 18 countries in Europe this year so it’s going to be a busy year for me.

Besides travelling though my goals for my blog for the next 6 months are as follows:

  • Set up a plan of the posts I want to write.
  • Fully understand SEO and update all my previous posts
  • Finish creating pins for Pinterest on all my posts
  • Increase my numbers of social media followers
  • Write some reviews of hostels I have stayed in
  • Get part of my travels paid for by my blog

Is there anything else you think I need to do or is there any advice you can give me on my 6 month goals?  Any help is appreciated.

Am looking forward to reading this back in 6 months and seeing how I did with my goals.  I really hope I get the discipline needed and don’t get distracted by all the travelling!!

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6 months as a travel blogger

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Hiking El Misti a volcano in Arequipa Peru

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Last month (December 2016) while I was in Arequipa I decided that I needed a second attempt to reach the summit of El Misti.

I first tried 4 years ago when I spent 2 months in Arequipa at Spanish school.  At the time I felt I was physically fit but I was not used to carrying a heavy backpack or the altitude and when I booked the trip I only found out the night before that I was expected to carry everything up to basecamp!! This included my clothes, tent, sleeping bag, crampons, ice pick and 5 litres of water.

Unfortunately I had never walked more than 100 metres with this kind of weight and was unprepared for hiking from 3,500 metres to 4,500 metres for 5 hours!!  Despite frequently giving the content of my backpack to the rest of the group, my legs could not cope with the amount of weight hiking uphill for so long.  By the time I reached basecamp my legs had had it but I was still determined I would make it to the top.

Our group was made up of 2 girls and 2 boys.  We had to leave 1 boy at basecamp as once we got to 4,000 metres, altitude sickness kicked in for him and he was unable to see properly or walk in a straight line.  He got in the tent and did not appear again until we were ready to hike back down.  At 1am we got up and started our attempt to summit. At the time I thought I had achieved about 5,300 metres but I now realise it was probably only about 4,800 metres.

4 years later, I knew that it would be more of a mental than physical challenge for me.  I didn’t feel as physically fit as I was 4 years previously but I knew what to expect and I was used to carrying my heavy backpack for at least an hour and I had spent a lot of time in the previous years at altitude.  I got picked up at 8am and taken to the agency to meet everyone else and get any supplies we needed.

As I had already hiked this volcano I had come prepared with my 4 season sleeping bag and no change of clothes or toothbrush/paste (as these add to the weight), I only had 3.7 litres of water and this time I was put in a tent with a boy who I decided looked fit enough to carry the tent!!  Once we were all ready and had our gear packed, we headed out to the jeep and drove to the start of our hike, stopping on the way to buy coca leaves, for us to chew and help us with the altitude.  They taste disgusting and you have to keep them in the side of your mouth, but surprisingly they help with the altitude and give you energy!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

After a few hours and driving up a dirt road forever, we finally reached the starting point. We unloaded, found a bush to use as a toilet and put our backpacks on.  The guides told us it would be a 3 hour hike but I knew last time it took me 5 hours, so I was prepared for a 5 hour hike!!!

It was a hot day and the sun was out.  The last few days, Misti had been covered in clouds and there had even been a little sprinkling of snow on the summit!!  I started off strong with 2 of the guys in my group but quickly the guy with my tent went hiking off in the distance and the other guy started having issues with the altitude.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I carried on walking a bit ahead of the guides but the path was easy to see and eventually got to basecamp after 5 hours!! My tent buddy made it in 3 hours, but on this trip I came in 2nd out of our group of 7!! This is unheard of for me, I am normally at the back!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Hiking Misti Arequipa

The last guys made it in 7 hours, just as the sun was setting!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

The sunset was amazing to see, and I just stood there taking lots of pics and watching the lights come on in Arequipa.

Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa Hiking Misti Arequipa

We then had dinner which was soup!! We were all just looking at the guides thinking is this it after a 5 hour hike and when we were told we would only get coca tea and a piece of bread when we got up to make the summit we were like surely we need more food, so they made us some pasta!! Just pasta with nothing on!!

We were then told to go to sleep as we would be getting up at 1, the guide made the mistake of telling us we might have a problem sleeping because of the altitude and of course I couldn’t get to sleep!! Was even worse hearing the guy heavy breathing next to me knowing he had fallen asleep straight away.

I heard the guides get up about 1 but when it all when silent quite quickly I wondered what was happening.  At 1.45am I looked out of tent and woke the guides up and asked them if we were still going to the summit, they said yeah we were just waiting for the water to boil!!!

We eventually set off as a group of 6 at 2.30am.  One guy was exhausted from the hike earlier and decided not to try the summit.  Another of the guys headed back down after about 15 minutes as he could not cope with the altitude (he had got really sick the previous day hiking up to basecamp).

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I was doing well, 2nd in the group, again something very unusual for me, but I was mentally getting to the top!! I kept asking the guides how high we were and did we have enough time as I had heard the guide say we needed to set off back from basecamp at 10am!!! They kept assuring me that I would get to the summit, that was my only goal, all I could think was that I never wanted to do this hike again!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was freezing cold and my 2 pairs of woollen gloves were no match, luckily someone had a spare pair of gloves and with 3 pairs I was feeling warm again!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Eventually after about 6 hours I could see the top of the old crater.  Though it still seemed to take forever to hike that short distance!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It does not really look like a crater as its not deep, but from here we would see the flag in the distance showing where the summit is.  The summit is about a 45 minute hike from the crater.  5 of us made it to this point, 2 decided not to summit but to go see the new crater that was steaming!!  My tent buddy had already done both by the time we made it to the crater, so he headed back down while 2 of us decided to get to the summit.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was a hard uphill hike  to get to the summit at 5,822 metres and even a few steps away I had to stop for a break, but eventually I got to the top where I just sat down and cried!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

I couldn’t believe I had made it to the top, I was so proud of myself for having the willpower to get there, it had taken me 7 hours but I did it, and I got to see the amazing views!! Thankfully it was a clear day and we got to see the other volcanoes and Arequipa in the distance.

Hiking Misti Arequipa

Hiking Misti Arequipa

We had about 20 minutes at the summit, taking lots of pictures and selfies to prove we made it before we had to start out descent!! The guides thought we would be quick getting down as you go down the volcanic sand!!

Hiking Misti Arequipa

It was funny to watch the guides just run down while I went quite slow, aware that if I fell and broke my wrist again I was only insured up to 4,000 metres and not 5,822 metres!!!

I eventually got back to basecamp to find my tent buddy had packed away the tent and my sleeping bag and eventually we started the descent back to the jeeps.  Again we went down the volcanic sand, which by this time had heated up enough to melt the soles off my hiking boots!! It was great to hike the last hour over rocky ground with no proper soles on my shoes!!! I was so scared of slipping as I had no grips!! Eventually though I made it back to the jeep and looked back at Misti, unable to believe that just a few hours earlier I had been stood on the top of it!!

What an achievement, I am so pleased I made it to the top, and I never need to do it again!!  At times I did think I wasn’t going to make it and that I would be trying again in a few years but NO I made it, I got to see the amazing views and I know that I can cope with the altitude that high.  I know that mentally I am strong and if I am determined I can do anything I challenge myself to.

It’s not an easy hike, one of the hardest I have done because of the altitude, but if you are in Arequipa then it’s a great one to try.  The agencies will tell you its an easy hike but it is far from it and not everyone will make it to the summit!!

Yes you need to be fit, and capable of carrying your backpack for 5 hours, but make sure you take as little as possible in your bag though you do need to take a certain amount of water, tent and sleeping bag.  Clean clothes, deodrant, toothbrushes and toothpaste are not essentials and you can do without for 36 hours!!

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Hiking El Misti in Arequipa Peru

Find out about Why I started travelling here, Miami Beach here, Key West here, Everglades here, Bolton Abbey here, Naples here, Koh Tao here, Yangon – Myanmar here, Ischica – Italy here, Koyasan – Japan here, Machu Picchu – Peru here, Memphis here, Faro – The Algarve here, Fiji – South Sea Island here, Egypt – My trip in a hot air balloon here, Doutbful Sound – NZ here,  Death Road – Bolivia here, Iguazu Falls – Argentina here, Northern Lights – here, Hobbiton NZ – here, The Lost City Hike Colombia – here, Choquequirao Trek here,San Blas Islands, Panama here, Vilnius Lithuania – here, Trakai – Lithuania here, Riga – Latvia here, Sigulda – Latvia here & Kemeri – Latvia here, My 2017 Travel Plan – here

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My 2017 travel plan

After a terrible 2016, I am so excited for it to be 2017 and my travel plan.  I have lots of travelling planned for the year and knowing that I am seeing in the New Year in a country I love makes me even more excited.

2016 started bad as I stayed in with my sisters dog and watched the New Year celebrations on my own.  I should of known that this was a sign that 2016 would not be a good one!! In March I then badly broke my wrist and 9 months later I still haven’t been signed off by the surgeon, and if I was in the UK I would still be having physio!!  It meant that in 2016 I was barely able to travel as I couldn’t carry my rucksack and I only managed two short trips towards the end of the year.  I did get to spend lots of time with my 3 year old niece which was great but I was itching to get back on the road.

As it got cold in the UK, I decided that I needed to spend winter somewhere else, the cold was making my wrist very painful and probably will do for a good few years to come.  So I decided to go back to the country I love more than anywhere Peru.

I will start 2017 off in Cusco, Peru.  It’s one of my favourite places to be and I can’t wait to see in the New Year here.  Having celebrated Christmas Eve here I know that New Years Eve will be mental, I just hope the rain stays away so I can see the fireworks in the main square (I love fireworks and bonfire night is the one time of year I miss when I am not in England). I will be in Peru until March with maybe a few weeks in Ecuador, a country I have not visited yet.  I was thinking of spending my last month on the beach but I think I maybe the mountains will call me again and I will do a few weeks hiking instead!!

For the rest of the year I plan to visit 18 countries within Europe that I have not yet visited, a rough idea of my plans are as follows:

April – Luxembourg and Litchtenstein.

May/June – Monaco, Athens (I have visited lots of Greek Islands but always wanted to visit Athens so as it’s close to countries I want to visit, then I am planning a few days there), Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Andorra, San Marino

July/August/Sept –  Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Bulgaria, Slovakia

Winter 2017 I am thinking of going to the Philippines, India & Sri Lanka.

It’s quite an ambitious plan and I feel exhausted just reading it back but after the past year I want to get back out there and see the world.

Have you been to any of these places, can you give me tips on must see things in these countries?

It will be interesting to read back at the end of 2017 and see exactly how much of this plan I did and how many countries I got to see.

What are your plans for 2017? Are you planning on travelling to many countries?

Happy New Year to you all and I hope 2017 is a great year for all of us.

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ilive4travel - 2017 travel plans

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