7 Things I Learned in my First Year of Travel Blogging

Yesterday marked one year of travel blogging for me.  In one year I accomplished so much, but I also have this sensation that I still have barely scratched the surface.  I lived in Europe with a full time paying job.  I went to South America for the first time. I went to loads of new countries and made friends from all over the world.  In my next year, I hope to do even more, and learn more…but first, what I have learned this year.

 

 It MUST be something you love doing.

At least once a week I get asked a blogging question.  Usually, it’s another similarly-minded, bright-eyed millennial asking how I started my blog, and what they can do to make their blog successful.  My first thing I tell them is it must always always ALWAYS, be something that you love.  I am a journalist, I graduated from UF with a degree in Telecommunication News Reporting, knowing I had zero desire to do news, but knowing that degree would give me all the tools I would need (hopefully), to be a successful blogger. I love writing, I love filming, I (sometimes) love video editing, and while I hate proofreading, I do it because I love the rest of it so much.  You need to be writing about something you love, whether it be travel, fashion, motherhood, healthy eating, or whatever.

 

 

Can you believe it, we made it all the way to the Arctic Circle…VIA CAR!! ? • • • • • • • • • #arctic #arcticcircle #alaska #travel #travelgram #vacation #travelblogger #zaruba #bohotravel #beboho #wearetravelgirls #familytravel #familyvacation

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You can’t compare yourself to others.

If you do, you will go absolutely insane.  Look to others for inspiration, but not to drag yourself down and wish you had the followers, the views, the likes, the fan base that they do.  It will do nothing but breed negativity in your life and in your work.  Do what you do best, and if people can see that you love your work, and you do it well, the rewards will come.

 

 

Cheesin’ because its cold, snowing, and I MADE IT- #RainbowMountain is seriously one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen, and I’m so glad I pushed through the 16 km trek at that high of altitude to reach the top! ???Tag a friend you want to go with! •••••••Click the link in my bio for more information on Rainbow Mountain••••••• • • • • • • #peru #hikergirl #travelblogger #RainbowMountain #hike #igerperu #femmetravel #travelgram #rainbow #RainbowMountain #vacation #staycation #trek

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It’s more work than anyone will ever want to admit.

Very rarely to other people do I hear blogger within my niche talking about how much work they put in because it’s a little embarrassing.  Most of us have goals we set weekly, monthly, and yearly, and strive every day to reach them, on top of our normal 40 hours a week jobs because we haven’t made the blog the full-time gig yet.  In my first six months of blogging, I was on Instagram probably 3-4 hours a day, would blog twice a week, and networking an hour or two a day as well.  All on top of my real job, and the time that it takes to actually do what I’m writing about, TRAVEL!  Before blogging I never knew just how much of a commitment it would be, but I’m glad I made the stretch.

 

 

My last italy pic until I move back. Honest. True. How I feel when I’m there. Absolutely whole. Comment the place that makes you feel this way. Aaaaand go

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There will be good months, and there will be bad months, but it will all work out in the end.

I have had months with tens of thousands of viewers, and months with only a couple hundred viewers.  Some months I will struggle for content, and others I will have so much content I don’t even know what to do with it.  Take each blow and each grace in stride and be grateful for each moment as it comes, because it means you’re alive, breathing, and one step closer to your goal.  You can’t achieve success without failing first.

 

 

I was born and raised in Florida and this was my first trip ever to Miami, minus heading there to go to the airport! ? after visiting I found out why it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world with over 15 million visitors a year!! Can we just say wooooaaaa ?❤️??? also… that #SKYLINE ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #travelblog #vacation #staycation #miamibeach #bohotravel #travel #travegram #miamiskyline #sunset #beachbabe #scenic #florida #visitflorida

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Your real friends and family will be supportive.

It slowly occurred to me throughout the last year that the people who genuinely care about me, are truly invested in what I am doing.  When I see them in person they ask me how the blog is going, what the next step is, how I make money doing it, where I want it to eventually go.  They ask me questions I don’t even know the answer to sometimes, and it’s so appreciated.

 

 

These gardens are absolutely stunning and a perfect place to escape the center of Florence and be in nature! ??Where is your favorite escape? . . . . #italia #tuscany #tourguide #myfirenze #myflorence #yourflorence #Florence #firenze #boboligardens #giardinidiboboli #arno #oltrano

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Start a journal!

The number of times I have forgotten something that happened on a trip, only to be reminded by someone who went with me, is astonishing. Taking a journal and writing down names of people, places, events (especially if it’s in another language), helps immensely when it comes to blogging about it later!  Somehow I am just now going to be starting this habit with my upcoming trip to the Florida Keys, but lessons have been learned!

 

 

#PROST! My latest blog post is up on the best way to pack for Oktoberfest! Stay tuned for more advice on Munich and the wiesn! . . . . . . . #oktoberfest #beer #dirndl #packing #blogger #lederhosen #munich #florence #firenze #travel #vacation

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At the end of the day, if it’s something you’re proud of, it’s been worth it all.

If you do well, you feel well.  If you feel poorly, you perform poorly.  Be confident, and be proud.  Take constructive criticism and with every blow from the haters, use it to better yourself.  Get back on your feet and stand tall.  Learn from mistakes and be humble with your victories.  And above all, be kind.  If you are proud of what you are doing, let it show.

 

 

One last “I Love You” from Paris to I start talking about the Christmas Markets in Florence & the beauty of Interlaken!!! . . . . . #paris #iloveyou #travel #vacation #girl #parigi #pari #france

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Cusco City Guide

When you Arrive

Much like Lima, there will be hordes of taxi drivers waiting to pick you up when you arrive at the airport and they will all continue to harass you until you get into a taxi. It is best if you contact your accommodation ahead of time and have them arrange for a driver to pick you up. This will cost you the same amount (40 soles), and will make your life much easier.  If you do end up grabbing one while you are at the airport, you can probably haggle your way down to 30 soles.  Be sure to NOT give them your bag, because if you do this they will start walking to their car with it, then tell you 5 soles more “for parking” or another scam.  I actually had to fight and forcefully grab my bag back from a driver at the Lima airport when I told him I wouldn’t give him the 5 extra soles.  

Don’t be like me, just get the prearranged car.

 

Where to Stay

Compared to Lima, Cusco is a much smaller town, and everything is pretty centrally located.  You will want to stay in the historic center, and not on the outskirts, but apart from that, there’s not much else to it!!  When I say Cusco is small, almost every day we were out and about we saw someone we had met before while either on a trek, at the hostel, at the bar, or just out to dinner. You will see people you know and you will love it, Cusco becomes very intimate very fast.

There are three main hostels that pretty much everyone stays at.  Pariwana, Wild Rover, and Loki Hostel. 

Pariwana, where we stayed, is pretty social, but doesn’t have to be.  Their biggest rooms are 14-bed dorms and we paid $8 a night for those, and the privates cost us around $20-30 per night (together, so $10/$15 apiece).  Breakfast is included and they do events every night such as salsa dancing, beer pong tournaments, neon party, and one night they even had a Corona party.
Loki and Wild Rover are two other hostels about a 5-minute taxi ride (up the hill) from Pariwana.  The great thing about these hostels is Wild Rover is a CRAZY party hostel.  It’s loud to stay at, but you’re guaranteed a good time.  The bar is an absolute blast (we even met some locals there), but obviously, the travelers were what made it such a fantastic experience.  Loads of free drinks and shots were given out, and lots of dancing on the bar ensues.

Nightlife

Most of the people traveling in Cusco are there to do hiking just outside of the city, so it’s hit and miss on who you meet that wants to go out. 
Apart from Wild Rover (which I recommend for meeting people at if it’s early in the night), there are a few other bars in Lima, including a few nice rooftop bars.  For the after party, there is a fun underground club called Chango, and though most of Peru seems stuck in the 2000’s music wise, they did brighten my evening with some “Shape of You”, “Despacito”, and lots of Shakira, Enrique, sprinkled in with the occasional Pitbull.  We probably stayed until 5:30 am, and it didn’t look like it was shutting down anytime soon.

How to Get Around 

Unfortunately, unlike Lima there is no Uber in Cusco, but thankfully everything is pretty much within walking distance.  Cusco is in the mountains though, so keep in mind the town is hilly.  If you aren’t up for a walk after you’ve been hiking (I wouldn’t blame you), then you can just hail a cab from pretty much anywhere on the street.  They’re easy to haggle down and going to somewhere else in the center should only cost you about 5 soles, and going to the outskirts (one of the overlooks) will cost you about 15 soles. 

Main train station is called Poroy, and is a 35-minute taxi ride from the historic center.  This is the only way out of town and will cost you about 35/40 soles to get there.  If you are taking a taxi from your hostel to the train station and the hostel calls it for you.

Things to Do

Cusco is a great city to just wander around the side streets and poke into little shops here and there.

There are a few museums, ruins and different things you can tackle, as well as a great Cacao Museum where you can make your own chocolate and learn about the history of the ancient Incas and their dedication to Cacao.  Apart from wandering and the ruins within the city, Cusco is the place where you take all of your hiking trips from.  From Cusco you get to Machu Picchu, this is how you get to Rainbow Mountain, it’s how you do all of the different treks.  When you get to Cusco you can walk into any shop and see the different trek options, difficulty level and more.

There us also a great market to explore, and try some of the fresh local food.

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Lima City Guide

 

When you Arrive

When you arrive at the Lima Airport, there will be hordes of taxi drivers waiting and they will all continue to harass you until you get into a taxi. It is best if you contact your hostel ahead of time and have them arrange for a driver to pick you up. It will cost you the same amount (40 soles) and will make your life so much easier.  If you do end up not prearranging and grabbing one while you are at the airport, you can probably haggle your way down to a price of 30 soles (10 USD).  When you do this, be sure to NOT give them your bag when they offer. If you do, they will start walking to their car with it, then tell you they want 5 soles more “for parking” or some other similar scam.  I actually had to fight and forcefully grab my bag back from a driver at the Lima airport when I told him I wouldn’t give him the 5 extra soles.  After that happened we hopped in a taxi share with some kids from Madrid who were apparently terrified of the traffic in Lima.

Don’t be like me, just get the prearranged car.

5 Sights to See

  1. Cathedral of Lima
    Located in Plaza de Armas, walk around the square and head inside the cathedral for a beautiful sight.  Don’t forget to peep into the other churches in Lima while you are walking by, there is some truly stunning architecture.
  2. Catacombs (Church of San Francisco)
  3. San Martin Square
    One of the main squares of Lima, this beautiful area is a great place to sit and people watch, or hail down a taxi/tell an Uber to come scoop you up!
  4. Jiron de la Unions
    The main shopping street in the historic section of Lima. Fun to walk down and window show while eating a gelato or another treat!
  5. Kennedy Park
    There are so many cats!! And you can adopt one and bring it home if you like! Or just donate to the cause.  There is also a lot of great artwork inside the park and loads of restaurants nearby.

How to get Around

Uber

The best way to get around in Lima is via Uber.  If you’re unfamiliar with the on-demand taxi app, download it before you head to Lima because it will be a lifesaver.  Uber in Lima is much cheaper than it is in the US (and it’s already cheap), and is less expensive than traditional taxis.  Be careful when you do so though, as the drivers aren’t as vetted as they are in the US.  One of the Ubers that picked us up in Lima had to be HOTWIRED to start, and stalled out at every stop light that we hit.  When we got out there was also nasty gunk on my brand-new boots (ew) and the driver either didn’t know how to get into the airport (seriously?) or he just didn’t want to pay the 5 soles to get into the terminal parking area.  Either way, he dropped us off on the side of the road near the airport and we were forced to walk to our terminal.  Needless to say, we reported him!

Keep in mind there is something over 1 million personal cars in Lima with no updated system, so traffic is horrible.  Expect every taxi ride to take longer than what it says it will.

By Foot

Lima isn't reeeeallly walkable from one neighborhood to the next by foot (you could do it but it would be a lot), but within one neighborhood it is doable.

Bus

As a note, there are buses that you can use to get around, and they are probably in certain situations much faster than car since they have their own lane.  We, however, did not brave them because we felt safer taking Uber, as the busses looked a little sketchy and complex to navigate, though I met plenty of people who did so successfully. 

Where to Stay

Miraflores is by far the best neighborhood to stay in Lima.  A bit far from the historic district, it is safer, and quainter than other neighborhoods, with some beachfront, and great dining options.  All three of the hostels I listed below are good options to stay in this area. I stayed at both the Red Psycho Llama and Healing Dog, and both are low key, good vibe hostels.  Pariwana is a bit more of a social hostel, we stayed at the sister hostel in Cusco, and everyone who stayed at both said the one in Cusco was better, but that they were both fantastic places to stay.

  • Red Psycho Llama Eco Hostel
    • Good vibes, good breakfast
    • cute rooftop bar
    • not very social
    • we had the 4 bed dorm to ourselves for 2 nights
  • Kaclla, The Healing Dog Hostel
    • has an awesome dog mascot that is hairless and so ugly he is cute
    • good vibes
    • good music
    • not very social
    • weird breakfast
    • really cute
  • Pariwana
    • social
    • has sister hostel in Cusco of same name
    • more acessibe than the other 2, but not as cute

What to Eat

I could never be a food blogger because I'm terrible at taking photos of food....how do they do it?!?! Either way the cebiche looks delicious even in this terrible photo!
Cebiche

The best way to explain Cebiche (or ceviche) is that it’s like a soupy version of sushi.  It’s delicious and a must try when you are in Lima. A great place to go in Miraflores, Lima for cebiche is La Mar Cebicheria.  The food was incredible, we ordered the mix Cebiche as a starter, then split a seafood pasta for an entrée.  Very reasonable prices for one of the top restaurants in Lima, and they also had an amazing Pisco Punch (see below) and after 2, I was feeling a buzz.

Pisco Sour

The famous drink of Peru!! A must have while you are in the country, and definitely while enjoying some of Lima’s wild nightlife.  Pisco Sours are strong, but don’t taste it, so basically the perfect drink.  Oh, did I mention they are delicious?

Catch of the day

If you’re a seafood fan, be sure to ask the waiter at the restaurant what the catch of the day is!! Fresh seafood is brought into Lima daily, so you never know what you might get on the menu.

What to Do

Parc Malecón

6 miles of boardwalk through the city of Lima is a great way to spend the afternoon.  Inside this park, there are playgrounds, dog parks, and skate parks.  There is also a park dedicated to love, which looks very similar to Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.  The art is a must see, and the views of the ocean are stunning.  You’re sure to see a young Peruvian couple or two in love while you’re there!

Larcomar Mall and Watch the Sunset

This multilayer mall is an interesting place in Lima. There is a bunch of shopping (mostly overpriced), but the cool thing about the mall is that it is built into the side of a cliff overlooking the sea.  There are a few restaurants, and if you are here around sunset, you are sure to have an amazing view.

Get a Surfing Lesson

Walking down along the pier you are sure to be hailed down by Peruvians offering to teach you how to surf.  The waves in Lima are mostly gentle and great for beginners, so it’s not something to fear at all if you’ve never tried it before.  As always do a little bit of research on different companies before you go and general prices, then haggle your way down.

Go to the Beach

Don’t feel like spending money?  Slip on your bikini and walk down to the beach with a bag full of drinks and a towel and spend all day soaking in the Peruvian sun.  Even in May at the start of the Peruvian “winter”, the weather was perfect for us to lay out on the beach, even if we weren’t about to go swimming in the cool Pacific.

Huaca Pucllana

These incredible ruins located directly inside of Lima were largely undiscovered and weren't even a historic site until around the 1980s.  Before then they were dunes in the city (they knew the ruins were there but not to what extent), and people would use them for various things such as motocross racing.  The city finally made it into a historic site after there was a desire to build a highway through these ancient ruins even older than Machu Picchu.  The ruins are very cheap to get into (and literally located right in the middle of Lima), and there is a restaurant right at the site that looks out over the ruins.  We didn't eat there, but rumor on the street is the food is good.  However, we did have quite a few cocktails after our tour, and we never felt more like Incan Divas than that moment.

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Rainbow Mountain

 

High in the Andes, at an altitude of 5200 meters (15,600 feet) lies the mysterious and well-hidden Vinicunca Mountain, commonly referred to in the traveler world as Rainbow Mountain.  There is little online about how to get to this amazing natural wonder, except reading that there is little online about it.  How to get there, food, preparation, why you should go, what to expect, are not things that have been covered extensively online about visiting this crazy place just a 3-hour bus ride from Cusco, so I’m going to give you the lowdown- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you haven;'t already and want to, check out my blog on Machu Picchu as well, there's plenty of great advice there for you to prepare on seeing one of the 7 modern world wonders!

If you don’t want to read about my experience and just about how to get there/costs/preparation, go ahead and skip to the bottom…. but I promise the story is a good one and involves a bus catching on fire.

My Experience

I’m just going to give you guys the ~shortened~ version of my experience with Rainbow Mountain, and then give you pointers, because I feel like if I share my experience with you then you’ll be even more prepared than if I just gave you a list of ways to prepare- so here goes.

We booked our Rainbow Mountain tour through our hostel, Pariwana, in Cusco.  The hostel is very reputable, and the cost for the trip was only 100 soles (about $35 USD), so we had assumed they had vetted the tour company, considering plenty of people booked through the hostel daily for this excursion.  At the time of booking, we asked if we could go ahead and purchase horses for the trek, and the lady at the desk responded that we could purchase a horse when we got to the trail, and it would cost around 70 soles ($25 USD) per horse.  A little wary, we took her word and assumed it would all be fine.

We were set to be downstairs ready to go on our adventure just before 3:30 AM, as that was when the bus would take off.  This is not how the day started.  The bus took off from our hostel around 3:15 AM leaving us behind- so I walked up to the reception guy to ask why it had left early and what was going on. One of our friends was on the bus, his name had been called and was messaging me the entire time.  The reception man assured me the bus would be back. I still don’t understand why they needed to make two pit stops at our hostel, but alas, I will just blame that on Peru, there’s probably no good reason.  The bus finally picked us up around 3:45 AM, and we then wandered around Cusco for another good hour and a quarter, stopping at several hostels (some of them twice) and picking up more people.

We finally left Cusco around 5 am after picking up the tour guide from a gas station on the outskirts of town (super weird), and we all attempted to fall asleep on the bus with no heat while the driver played “Despacitos” on the stereo.
We eventually arrived at our breakfast point, which also was an opportunity for us to use the restroom (aka holes in the ground, which we expected, but for some reason smelled like horse poop). At this point, we were running about 45 minutes behind schedule from when we were due to arrive at breakfast.  ‘Breakfast’ consisted of 2 pieces of bread, not enough jam, and instant coffee or tea.  Let’s just say it was not enough to sustain anyone for a 16-kilometer trek, and when we later found out that other tour groups got EGGS with their breakfast, we were not happy campers.

Anyhow, we ate our toast, fighting for the scraps of jelly (literally), and hopped back on the bus to drive another 45 minutes to the start of the trail.  We later found out that the location we started was NOT the normal starting point. The location we started at was an extra hour of walking to the normal drop off point, but the road to get to there was closed off that morning. This new point they dropped us off at was a town with a lean-to and two tents (not a joke).

Our gas station guide then gave us our “hiking prep”.  This “hiking prep” was essentially telling us that we had to hike for 20 minutes over a hill, then we would be able to rent our horses.  Cool.  We can make that.  He also explained briefly what Vinicunca means, and that the hike would take 3 hours to the peak and three hours back (still not sure if this was supposed to include the extra hour of walking time from our new location). The English version of our “hike prep” was about 10 minutes shorter than the Spanish version, so I’m not sure we got all the information we needed.  Oh also “chicos, friends, chicos” was this man’s favorite catch phrase.

YAY, WE FINALLY STARTED THE TREK!! 20 minutes of hiking and we could get horses so that our asses could breathe, instead of struggling for 6 the entire hours.  We get over the hill and there were no horses to be seen.  Not a single horse.  We asked our guide where they were.  We were promised horses. 
“Oh…. chicos…. the horses are on strike because of Mother’s Day.”  Excuse me?

My friend, Hezi, who was hiking with us assumed the guide was joking mentioned that Mother’s Day was yesterday.  He then continued to ask where the horses really were because we wanted to get one as soon as possible.

“No amigos, no horses today, they are on strike.”

HOW CAN HORSES EVEN GO ON STRIKE?!?!  We later found out that he told my other friend, Caitlin, who was behind us, the horses weren’t going to be carrying people today because they were mating (!?!?) …. anyways there were no horses for whatever reason, whether it be mating/Mother’s Day/ unforeseen circumstances.  At this point, we were left with one of two choices, carry on, or turn back.  So, we trucked on.

The hike there wasn’t horrible, the worst part is the fact that you can’t breathe because of the altitude.  Had I been at a sea level, it would have been a very easy hike, but when you are that high up in the air, unless you’ve been adjusted to it for WEEKS, you are going to struggle somewhat.

While we were hiking, we learned that Mt. Kilimanjaro is an elevation of 6000 meters, only 800 more than the peak we would be reaching today. People who hike Mt. Kilimanjaro are REQUIRED to do an 8-day trek leading up to the peak to adjust themselves to the altitude.  At Rainbow Mountain, you are given 6 hours.

The entire time we were trekking (especially since we started hiking over an hour later than the other groups), felt rushed.  I can’t recall a time the guides weren’t yelling at people “Vamos chicos! Vamos!” or “groups of friends, vamos!! Vamos chicos!”.  One guide even told my friend Caitlin “You are young and healthy, you should not be walking so slow!  Walk faster!  Vamos chica!”  When it comes to hiking something like this it’s not a matter of how in-shape you are, it’s a matter of how you adapt to the altitude.  Some people can hang, and others cannot.  It’s literally a matter of natural selection, survival of the fittest, whatever you want to call it, but it’s not pretty.

Finally made it to the top!!

The last 50 meters of the hike are the most challenging.  The mountain goes to a 45-degree incline (if not more) and the air is the thinnest it’s been the whole trek.  When you get to the altitude marker, you’re out of breath, and you finally able to catch your first glimpse of the mountain, 7 stunning colors, layer after layer, stacked against one another like a big huge cake- or onion, depending on what kind of mood you’re in.  You then have another 25 meters before you reach the peak with the best views and the spot for your ever-craved Instagram Photo.

When I finally reached the top I immediately fell to the ground, reaching for some water as it started to snow. Lacking breath and composure, I started to cry.  The day had been exhausting, and as I sat there with snow (and hail) flinging at me on the windy mountain top, I realized why it was so important for me to make this pilgrimage. My body was pushed to limits, and while I might be a little sore the next day, the mental exhaustion was enough to wear me out for weeks to come.  Maybe I’m dramatic (I am) but the importance and significance of seeing that mountain after everything that day, that month, that year, hit me like a wrecking ball.

The longer we stood up there the colder it became and the more it started to snow. We snapped a few of our pictures to prove we had made the ascent, I put on 3 more jackets that I had brought and we started the race back down.

Here’s where things got even crazier.

While we were at a higher altitude the snow remained snow, but as we descended, naturally that snow turned into rain.

#Goalzz

Over half the people on the trail were unprepared for this to happen.  The temperature dropped to below freezing.  We were half running back down the mountain to get out of the cold and rain.  When we finally got to the bus loop (the location we should have been dropped off at that morning) we were informed by ~people~ that our bus wasn’t there, that we were going to have to go back the way we originally came and walk that EXTRA HOUR in the rain because our bus wasn’t going to come here.  Frustrated, we made a run for it.

Trucking through snow, rain, and mud, I caught up with a group of Israeli boys who had been in my group the entire day and I had eaten breakfast with, and we discussed our struggles that we had been having that day.  Then one of their friends who was suffering from altitude sickness passed out, and they had to carry him the rest of the way back to the “town”. They gave him some food, and frustrated at the lack of guide around to help us, we all continued to the shanty town.

At points on this way back, the trail was unclear because it had been washed away by the mud, and there was not a soul in sight.  None of our guides were to be seen or heard of, so we just kept walking. At one point, I fell because I didn’t have a walking stick (I thought I was going to be on a horse) and my hands and body got a nice thick coat of mud on them.
Eventually, when we got to the “town” around 2:15 PM there were about 20 other people hiding in the lean-to, trying to stay out of the rain.  Our bus was supposed to depart at 3:00 PM but was nowhere in sight.  People were standing in the below freezing temperatures, exhausted, soaking wet, with nowhere to go, and not a tour guide or bus in sight.

Notice the snow in my hair?

At this time, the Israeli boys and I went and we pieced together their broken Spanish and my Italian to talk to a local to see if they could give us a ride to anywhere.  The local pretended he didn’t really know what we were saying and mentioned that he had to wait for a truck to come, so sorry, but all of the 25 people standing in the rain were pretty much SOL.

Eventually, I found my friend Hezi, who was in a car with a random Peruvian man trying to keep warm, so I hopped in and explained what had happened.  Nobody could make any phone calls because there was zero reception, and we had already confirmed that our bus wasn’t at the first bus loop, so why wasn’t it here?  Where could it be?  Frustrations were growing, and nobody knew what the answer was.

FINALLY, after 45 minutes of everyone standing in the freezing rain, our bus rolled on up.  My friends Caitlin and Trevor still hadn’t shown up at the location and weren’t on the bus. Even after I yelled at the bus driver to not leave, that the bus wasn’t full and that people had been left behind I was told “We will come back for them” and we took off.  I guess the phrase “Never leave a man behind” isn’t a thing in Peru.

They dropped us off at the food place again for lunch and MIRACULOUSLY Caitlin and Trevor were there.  Somehow everyone I had come with was back in the same place, and that was all that was important.  They had managed to sneak their way onto another bus at the first bus loop and get dropped off at the food location, and miraculously we had found each other.  #Fate.

We ate the food, which took forever to come out and wasn't even enough for everyone who was there.  The food then proceeded to give me and Caitlin both food poisoning for the following week.

After the bus picked up the other stragglers (how they found them is a mystery to me), we got back on the no-heat bus to head home, soaking wet. I jokingly said to Caitlin “The only thing that could make this day more exciting is if the bus were to break down.” Apparently, I spoke too soon.

At 4:45 PM, ten minutes down the road from where we just were, we all started to smell a burning noise.  We then heard a pop, and the guide says something about a fire.  The bus stopped.  It appears the bus has caught on fire.  We guess It’s OK though…nobody has to get off.  Two Spanish girls who were on the trek with us get off the bus and hail down a produce truck that is driving by.  They bargain for a minute, then hop in the back and are off.

Finally, after using a plastic bag, a blanket, and a pocket knife to fix whatever the fire problem was, we are back on the road.  At some point, we pick up 3 random Peruvians and they catch rides with us.  The headlight isn’t working and night is descending upon us as we are winding on narrow mountain passes. The headlight breaks again.

The guy fixes it (again) there is a lot of arguing with me and my friends against the tour guide, since we have no idea what is going on and we are supposed to be back in Cusco in an hour, and are still most likely more than 3 hours away.

We dropped off one of the Peruvian women in her village and I hopped out to pee on the side of the road (because who can hold it and these guys aren’t stopping unless there’s a fire) The entire time being yelled at by the guide while peeing.  It seems we are finally able to get a straight path home.

When we finally arrive back in Cusco the driver tells us that he is not going to be dropping us off at our hostels as we had thought, but that they will be dropping us off in Plaza de Armas.  We didn’t know this when we signed up for the tour, and would have been OK had we not returned to Cusco 3 hours late.  It then turns out we aren’t even dropped off in Plaza de Armas, but in the middle of the road a couple of blocks away.

We finally made it back to our hostel, mentally and physically exhausted, took a lukewarm shower and passed out within 15 minutes.

The following day, a woman from the hostel knocked on our door around 9 am…” Yes…uhm, Ms. Julia….we have a refund for you and Ms. Caitlin downstairs for your troubles yesterday.”

And like that, I have a great story, and was reimbursed for the struggles, but also given the view of a lifetime.  I’ll take it as a win.

There were loads of Alpacas and Llamas on the trail when we went.

What You Will Need

  • Water Bladder Backpack
  • Extra Bottle of Water
    • There are no trashcans on the trail (unless you count the ones in the Port-a-Potties) so bring your reusable water bottle so you aren’t just carrying trash.
  • A bottle of Gatorade
    • Those electrolytes saved my life
  • SNACKS
    • Like I said…breakfast was two pieces of bread
    • Amongst these bring CACAO….I had leaves (which were disgusting) but honestly, the Cacao candy helped my altitude illness so much…I sucked on these babies the entire ascent up.
  • Camera
  • Extra Pair of Socks
    • In case you get caught in the rain/hail/snow like we did
  • Sunglasses
    • You might not need them at certain points, but they came in handy
  • Sunblock
    • As long as it isn’t snowing, you are very high in the thin air and will get sunburnt. Just ask my friend, Felix.
  • Wet Wipes/Tissues
    • Because toilets are sparse, and if they do exist they are a hole in the ground. You’re going to want to wipe somehow.
  • Hand Sanitizer/Wet Wipes
    • Again, for said bodily functions above.
    • I also fell and slipped in the mud, and my hands and jacket were coated with muck and who knows what else. I was able to use the wet wipes to get it mostly off my hands and jacket and was so grateful I had this on me!! Seriously invaluable!
  • Small Plastic Bag
    • For wet wipe trash, snack trash, other trash…ya never know
I have a ski jacket and backpack attached to my backpack here.

What to Wear

It’s cold in the morning, hot on the hike up, and in my case, snowing on the way back down.

  • Waterproof pants/leggings
    • I actually wore 2 pairs of leggings, and I’m glad I did, but that’s just me.
  • Dry Fit Long Sleeve Shirt
  • Dry Fit Pullover
  • Some Sort of Sweater
    • (I chose my new alpaca sweater and felt blessed for this decision)
  • Waterproof/Snowproof Jacket
    • You are going to want a hood, in case you get caught in the rain!
  • Long Socks
  • Hiking Boots
  • Headband/Hat
    • Not necessary, but my ears were very grateful
  • Scarf
    • Again, not necessary, but when that rain started coming down it kept my neck and face so warm, and honestly would have probably gotten sick without it.

 

What to Expect & Key Tips and Takeaways

Okay so here is pretty much the shortened condensed version of my tale, if everything had gone according to plan.  Here you can find the main takeaways for an excursion to Rainbow Mountain.

  • Wait to book your tour until you are in Cusco, as with the case with Machu Picchu, often times you can haggle your way down from a listed price.  Do your research on what company you will be traveling with first!! Then go around town and bargain with people.  It helps if you know Spanish, if not, English will work fine.
  • Be prepared to leave Cusco around 3:30 AM and arrive at the Rainbow Mountain trail around 8 AM.
  • There will not be enough food, so you will need to bring snacks to sustain yourselves
  • You will feel the altitude- even if you live in a higher elevation. Unless you are consistently at 1500 ft (5200 meters) you WILL feel the effects of the altitude…be prepared for this and plan wisely!! Make sure you are pacing yourself, taking slow, steady steps, drinking lots of water, and using whatever means of Cacao you have.
  • The trek is long, but not particularly cumbersome except for the very beginning and the very end. The rest is steady and winding, though still a challenge due to the altitude.
  • The last 25 meters or so are pretty terrifying, especially if you aren’t the biggest fan of heights. You need to climb the to the peak of the next mountain to be able to properly see the colors and display of Rainbow Mountain, and when it is windy (and snowing), it can be a bit offsetting. Focus on the task at hand and push through to the top, because that view is so worth it.
  • Speaking of making it to the top, they will rush you to get to the top by or before noon because by 12:30 they start sweeping people from the top of the mountain to start walking back. If you feel yourself falling behind, try and pick up the pace, or stand your ground and tell the guides yelling “Vamos, chicos” to suck it.
  • The walk back will feel amazingly more easy than the way there, and the views are just as stunning. Make sure to take loads of photos!
  • Even though you feel miserable, remember to enjoy your time.
  • Reapply Sunblock!
  • THERE WILL BE LOADS OF LLAMAS AND ALPACAS- or at least there were when I went!
  • There are horses (as long as they aren’t on strike) to rent in case you don’t want to walk the trail. Let me tell you THIS TRAIL IS NOT EASY.  At a normal altitude, sure, it’s fine…but at this high of an elevation, it is rough.  If you are hesitant at all on the hiking, I would recommend a horse.  You can also continue to purchase them (for dwindling prices) as the trail goes on.  If the horses are on strike that day and you planned on riding one, you’re pretty much SOL and are making the pilgrimage on foot, or turning back and waiting six hours in a lean-to.
  • Make sure your entrance ticket is included in your Tour Price when you book. If it isn’t, you will need to have 18 soles ($9 USD) ready to pay at the gate, which is halfway down the trail.

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A Guide to Machu Picchu

Everything you need to know about visiting the ancient Incan Ruins.

Undiscovered until 1911 by archeologist Hiram Bingham, the most iconic work of the Incan Empire, Machu Picchu was built around 1450, but abandoned during the Spanish Conquest.  One of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is an incredible and breathless experience which leaves you mesmerized at the history behind it. Getting to this site can be a bit complex though, so keep on reading to find out more about visiting this incredible place!

 

The sun rising over the Andes surrounding the Citadel.

How to Get to Machu Picchu

Hike It

There are tons of options when it comes to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, as well as hiking other trails in the surrounding Cusco region with Inca Ruins.  These treks can be anywhere from 2-8 days, so it depends on how much hiking you want to do/how much money you want to spend.

Some of these trips you can book ahead of time, but most can be booked in Cusco. I would recommend this approach because you can almost always haggle your way down to a cheaper price than what was originally listed.  The only reason I would recommend booking earlier is if you wanted to hike one of the other mountains surrounding the Machu Picchu Citadel, Huayna Picchu or the Machu Picchu Mountain, as both only allow up to 400 visitors per day. (You could also just purchase your ticket for the park ahead of time and book the trek in Cusco!)

While in Cusco there are tons of agencies to book through, as well as people on the street that will hawk you down and try and get you to book, it can actually be a little overwhelming.  Save yourself some grief and do a bit of research beforehand on what companies are good to book with, who is reliable, and what is included!  From there just haggle your options down!  

2 Day Train Trip (What I Did)

Not really up for a 4-day hike (I really like being able to shower tbh), I chose the path of taking the train the day before my visit to Machu Picchu.  We left from Cusco (the only station is Poroy Station), which is about a 25-minute drive from the city center and cost around 30 soles.

There are two train companies you can use to get to Aguas Calientes, Peru Rail (my choice) and Inca Rail.  There are three types of train, the basic, the Vista Dome, and the Hiram Bingham.   The "Vista dome" was the option we picked which cost about 80-100 USD per direction, so around 200 total.  To be quite honest it was worth it to take the step up from the basic option. The Vista Dome train is nice with comfortable ~reclining~ seats, huge windows on the sides and above you, and only on average $10 more per direction than the economy train.  On this train you can only have one 11 pound bag, so pack lightly.  They feed you food and drink included in the price, and on the night train back the following day after visiting Machu Picchu when the sun goes down and there is nothing to see, the train staff put on a dance performance and an Alpaca Clothing Fashion Show.  It was really quite fabulous.

LLAMA DRAMA

The next train up is a HUGE gap, called the Hiram Bingham and cost over $400 USD, which was crazy.  It looked super nice and if I had the money I might consider taking it, but it didn't look that fancy to me.  Regardless, Vista Dome to Aguas Calientes is the way to go!

Day Trip

You leave early in the morning, ride a bus for 6 hours, get to the ruins Midday, leave.  There are also two-day trips with buses you can take and different ways to get there.  When you get to Cusco ask your hostel, these are probably the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu, though possibly also the least rewarding.

The Town Before Machu Picchu-Aguas Calientes

Unless you're hiking in from the Inca Trail, you are most likely going to stop into Machu Picchu Town, otherwise known as Aguas Calientes.  Let me forewarn you THERE IS NOTHING TO DO HERE.  There are some pretty sketchy thermal baths that we did not attend due to a good call by a friend. All of the restaurants, minus one we ate at twice called Mapacho, are tourist traps and we are pretty sure we barely dodged food poisoning from our first dining experience.

There are plenty of places to stay (only stay one night- the night before you visit the ruins), and instead of carrying all of our stuff up to the mountain we left toiletries and the like in storage.

How to Get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

Once in Aguas Calientes you can either take the bus up to the citadel ($24 USD) or make the hike along the train track and up the mountain (about 90 minutes).  The first bus leaves at 5:30 am, and people will be lining up long before that.  We got in line at 5:15 and were on probably the 10th bus but we were still up at Machu Picchu before 6 am (they let people in early).  If you take the bus then there is really no hiking in the day at all, this is how thousands of out of shape people do it every day.

Something important to note is MOTION SICKNESS. The bus is winding around on a dirt road up to the mountain and you can't see very much out the windows. I don't get motion sickness at all really, and going up the mountain I started to feel a little queezy.

Trying to make the decision of if you should walk up to the citadel or take the bus?  Here is my recommendation: If you're not doing another mountain hike that day (MP Mountain or HP), the hike to MP from Aguas Calientes isn't that bad.  It's 60-90 minutes of straight stairs, which can be a burden, but isn't really that horrible.  Most people who are hiking up to Machu Picchu leave around 4:30 am.

If you are hiking another mountain that day, I wouldn't do the first hike, because HP/MPM hikes are BRUTAL.  Huayna Picchu is 2 hours of steep and narrow hiking, and not something you want to be exhausted for.

How to Book Your Machu Picchu Ticket

That giant mountain in the background is Huayna Picchu

If you aren't booking through a hiking agency, you are going to want to book your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu far in advance (a few months) to be sure you will get access to the site.  Only 2500 people are allowed into the site daily.  TICKETS ARE NOT SOLD AT THE ENTRANCE TO MACHU PICCHU.  The whole booking in advance thing goes double if you plan on hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain since only 400 people each are allowed to hike those.  The Peruvian website which you book your ticket on is super confusing, and a bit of a pain to use.

Normally, I would never willingly send you to another site, but these guys did a fantastic way of explaining how to book and go through the process, so click this link when you go to buy your ticket and follow their booking instructions step by step...its the site that I used and the best way to get you through that process.

What you will need for your Day

  • Water Bladder Backpack- honestly this was great not having to constantly take out a water bottle, this is the one I have
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • No poles/walking sticks- they damage the site and will take them from you at the gate.
  • Snackage- the only place to eat is right outside the park and is expensive, bring food in!!
  • Bandaids
  • Ibuprofen/tums
  • More water
  • Deodorant
  • Sunglasses
  • Chapstick
  • Wipes/tissues - toilet paper can be hard to come by in Peru, and the only bathroom is located outside of the park
  • A small bag for your trash- there are no trashcans in the park!

What to Wear

The Machu Picchu Citadel looks incredibly small from the top of Huayna Picchu.

The important thing to remember when it comes to what to wear in Machu Picchu (and travel in general) is LAYERS!!!  Here is a list of all the layers you should wear when doing Machu Picchu.

  • Athletic pants that are breathable
  • T-shirt or tank
  • Light pullover/ flannel
  • Outer jacket
  • Headband / hat (optional)
  • Hiking boots

What to Expect

THESE VIEWS ARE INSANE

You're gonna get dirty. Literally covered in dirt.  Even if you are doing no hiking at all, you will come back from that mountain dusty.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, there are no bathrooms within the park and nowhere to eat, so make sure you are prepared for this!! Also if you are packing snacks/need to throw something out, there are no trashcans in the park so keep in mind you will have to put it in your bag.

Also in parts of the park that require you to follow a path.  These signs indicate a certain walkway is "one way" and are a bit confusing, but most of the day this didn't matter. We disregarded the signs for most of the time, exploring around, but another time a guard got on to us and told us to turn around.

If you want a tour guide for your solo venture you can find one in the town or at the gates, just make sure they speak your language first!

Exploring in the ruins will only take a few hours, and the best time to go is in the early morning, as the lighting is stunning and not too hot, but the later in the day you go, the fewer people there will be.  

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Florence in Photos

If an amateur can take these….you know it’s gorgeous

View of the Duomo from Ghiotto’s Bell Tower
View of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo
Santa Croce

 

Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria

 

View of the Ponte Vecchio from Ponte alla Trinita
View of the Duomo from Ghiotto’s Bell Tower
Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a Florentine specialty.
The carousel in Piazza della Repubblica
A snapshot of Florence from the walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo
A view of the Ponte Vecchio from the Cannetteria
The Death of Medusa in Piazza Signoria
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Duomo)
The view from Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset
PIZZA
Church of San Lorenzo
Just another casual view from Piazzale Michelangelo

 

Davide
A cappuccino from News Cafe
More Duomo
Street Art by @Exit.Enter.K
More Piazzale Michelangelo Sunsets
Piazza Santa Croce
The Ponte Vecchio
FIRENZE FOREVER ?
Piazza della Repubblica

 

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A Bat Cave Room in Taipei’s Eden Motel

*guest post*

 

photo credit, Eden Motel

 

"I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Batman!"

 

Just like the Caped Crusader, you can now say those words out loud while staying in your very own Bat Cave at Eden Motel's Batman-themed room, if you so wish.

 

You can, of course, bring your very own English butler (and call him Alfred despite having a different name) to make your Batman experience in the hotel more authentic if you have the resources.

 

Eden Motel's themed room is every Batman fan's dream. It comes with a double bed with the Batman logo emblazoned above it, Bat Cave-inspired walls, a Bat-tub, and a Bat TV for monitoring crime outside the city - AKA watching the news.

 

photo courtesy of Eden Motel

 

Many Batman fans that have spent a night at Eden Motel have pointed how several Easter eggs were left in the room. The motel is well known for scattering gargoyle figurines around the room that look just like the ones from the fictional Gotham City for visiting to find. In addition, there are certain parts of the room that were both inspired by the Bat Cave set used in the movies starring Michael Keaton and Christian Bale's Dark Knight Trilogy.

 

The only thing that's missing in the room is the iconic pole in which the caped crusader used to use to enter the Bat Cave. So it goes without saying that the room doesn’t come with its own Batmobile.

 

 

The concept of using Batman as a feature in hotel isn’t entirely new. After all, Batman is the most successful DC Comics character ever created. Among all the many comic book icons published by the company, only Batman managed to have a thriving TV series (both live action and animated) in the 60s, a movie trilogy that has become a global sensation thanks to Christopher Nolan's superb directing, and a slew of video games for both hardcore and casual gamers.

 

Console and PC gamers know very well how great the Batman Arkham series has proved to be over the years, which shows a deeper and darker side of the villains facing Batman. For the casuals, slot gaming company Betfair recently released several Batman games in honor of the original character played by Adam West in the 60s. Titles Batman and Mr. Freeze Fortune and Batman and the Penguin Prize are some of the gaming platform’s most popular games. Batman's huge cult following is the very reason why DC Comics continues to develop Batman's story with a slew of spin-offs in celebration of Gotham City’s greatest hero.

 

So, if you're willing to pay NT 6,600 (USD 210), the Bat Cave can be yours for the night. If however, you just want to take a short rest and take pictures of the themed-room, you can also rent it per hour. Perhaps Eden Motel realized that it only takes an hour or two for fans of The Dark Knight to fulfill their dreams of being in an actual Bat Cave.

 

all images were obtained from eden-motel.com

this post contains some affiliate links

 

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