Inca Trail Booking 101

Inca Trail Booking 101

The Inca Trail hike with my 66-year-old mother is be an experience I will never forget.  Before I started my RTW journey I asked my mom if she wanted to do the Inca Trail trek and Machu Picchu together. She immediately said yes, even though she had no idea what the trek entailed and wasn’t too sure what Machu Picchu was either. My mom thought we would be staying in hotels, but instead we spent 4 days and 3 nights hiking and camping 3000m above sea level. The Inca Trail was definitely hard, but also rewarding. There is so much history on the paths we walked, and every morning waking up in the clouds I felt accomplished. Sharing this experience with a loved one is unparalleled. Look below for Inca Trail booking tips!

When to book the Inca Trail hike

Early! If you want to book the Inca Trail you must book in advance, since there are only 500 passes available per day. During peak season I would recommend booking at least 6-7 months in advance. For example when I checked availability on March 6, 2016 all passes were sold out until August 24, 2016. During rainy season (November – January) I would recommend booking at least 4 months in advance, although sometimes people were able to find availability one month in advance. (Note: The Inca trail is closed in February). You can find availability on this site: Inca Trail Availability  

Best Inca Trail tour companies

1. Best Value Option: X- Treme Tourbulencia

I have the most information for this tour group since I booked with them. X-Treme Tourbulencia is the cheapest option and has good reviews. I would recommend this tour, but if I were to do the Inca Trail again I would go with Llama Path.

Cheapest Option: $490 + $60 for porter Delicious Food:  I was amazed by how good the food was. There was always more than enough and great presentation skills. (i.e – making a parrot out of a cucumber and some carrots) Great Guide: Our guide was very passionate and proud of his heritage and the history of the Inca Trail. It was interesting to have a guide who shared a connection with the Aztecs. Small Group: The total group size was 5, which was really nice since I was with my mom. If I was traveling solo I would’ve wanted a bigger group, but since I had my mom a smaller group was more intimate and felt like a private tour.
DisorganizedThe company does not give a lot of information before the trek and is slow at responding to emails. Often times the prices would be different on various bills that they sent.
One of the Inca sites during our 4 day Inca Trail hike

During my trip I crossed paths with various tour groups and Llama Path stood out from the rest.  You could tell everything was tightly organized and that the porters were treated better than other tour groups. (The porters have a very hard job carrying 20 kg of camping supplies everyday and running through the Inca Trail in order to set up lunch and dinner before their groups arrive).  Llama Path offers a bit more luxury than X-treme Tourbulencia, for example after 8 hours of hiking I would walk by the Llama Path tents and see that their air mattresses and sleeping bags were already made, whereas with my tour group I would have to set up my sleeping bag myself. The cons with Llama Path are that is is more expensive and has a larger group. Even though Llama Path is more expensive ($675 + $90 for porter), it is worth the extra ~$200. The Inca Trail is a once in a lifetime experience, so paying extra to get the best of the best is not that much in the grand scheme.

      3. Highly Recommended Option: Peru Treks 

Peru Treks is another great option to book the Inca Trail. They are ethical and pay their porters a good wage. It’s well organized, they really take care of you and the food is amazing (Option to have gluten free food) . This trek is also more expensive ($650 + $ for porter).

Inca Trail Tips Before Going

  1. Rent walking sticks and sleeping bags once in Cusco, it will be much cheaper, than booking through the tour agency
  2. Arrive in Cusco 48 hours before your hike to get acclimated to the high elevation.
  3. Buy Coca leaves or coca products and other snacks for your trek.
  4. Hire a porter – unless you are an experienced hiker.
Highlights of Inca Trail Trek
  • Everyone knowing me and my mom: My mom and I stuck together the entire trek and I guess we are memorable since I have an afro and my mom was the oldest one out there. When we finally got to Machu Picchu, people from other tour groups would clap for us and we had countless people come up to us to congratulate us for finishing.
  • Finally reaching Machu Picchu – I wouldn’t want to see Machu Picchu any other way. After hiking for 4 days Machu Picchu was the perfect ending and reward.
  • Sipping champagne after a 3 hour vertical hike to Dead Woman’s Pass.
  • Walking on a path with so much history and being able to see several Inca Ruins.
  • Meeting the porters at the end. The porters are amazing, and although they only speak Quechua, on the last night it was nice to learn more about them.
  • Meeting llama
Worst Parts of Inca Trail Trek
  • Bathroom situation especially when you have the runs
  • The second day is very a long and tough day.
  • Unfortunately the moment we got to Machu Picchu clouds came

Alternative Options to Machu Picchu

If you didn’t book the Inca Trail in advance, do not fret, there are other hiking options once you get to Cusco. I spent a month in Cusco and I heard the most about these treks: Lares Trek, Inca Jungle Trek, and the Salkantay Trek. All of these options are cheaper than the Inca trail trek, yet you will not see as many incan sites on the way to Machu Picchu.  You can book these alternative treks with a tour agency in Cusco. There are also train options to get to Machu Picchu that can be done in 1 or 2 days, but my advice is to hike to Machu Picchu. The whole hiking experience makes Machu Picchu more worth it. Machu Picchu is extremely touristy and crowded, so going on a trek allows scenic views without the crowd.

Sailing the Gitano Del Mar from Panama to Colombia

Sailing the Gitano Del Mar from Panama to Colombia

There are three options to cross from Central America to South America.

  1. The Death Option – overland travel via the Darien Gap. Crossing the Darien Gap is only for the overly adventurous type due to the risk of kidnappings, treacherous jungle, crazed drug traffickers, and guerilla warfare. If one decides to cross the Darien gap by foot, then it is necessary to hire a guide, which can be costly. Since this option is expensive and dangerous, I’ll pass.
  2. The Boring Option – Fly. A one way flight between Panama and Colombia will range from $300 to $600, which is pretty expensive for a short distance.
  3. The Best OptionSailing the San Blas Islands! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Details for Sailing San Blas:

  • Duration: 4 to 5 days
  • Cost: $375 – $550
  • Itinerary: Visit the San Blas Islands for 2/3 days (sleep on the boat) and then sail for 30 hours to Colombia

Why Sailing is the Best Option

There are many boats, ranging from speedboats to catamarans, with different vibes you can choose to get from Panama to Colombia, It is important to research the boat that is a best fit for you. I recommend booking via Blue Sailing since they can match you with the appropriate boat. I told Blue Sailing that I was in my twenties and desired a social atmosphere, so they recommended the Gitano Del Mar, a Catamaran for 18 people, or the Gitanita, a monohull for 13. These two boats sail together so I decided to choose the Catamaran. Taking the Gitano Del Mar has been one of the highlights of my trip. My expectations were blown!

The Gitano Del Mar Experience

Gitano Del Mar is translated as “Gypsy of the Sea”. When I stepped on the boat I was greeted by our bubbly captain, Dingo, who took my shoes since he said I wouldn’t need them for the next 4 days. As Gypsies we were cut from the outside world with no worries. Things like showers, clothes, and cell phone reception did not matter. We entertained ourselves by playing card games, snorkeling, watching sunsets, drinking beers and rum(I learned that rum mixed with water is an acceptable mixed drink that keeps you hydrated!), and random activities like the beach Olympics. We had an international crew filled with Irish, Swiss, Germans, Canadians, Kiwis and more. It’s easy to bond with people on this trip since we are around each other 24/7.

 

 

The food was absolutely delicious! 3 meals a day are included in the cost for the boat. We had two chefs on board and each dish was sublime. My favorite meals were the seafood! Our captain would purchase fresh lobster and octopus from the local Kuna people. On our last day we caught tuna and had fresh sashimi. $550 does not feel expensive when it includes 5 days of accommodation and a happy, full belly.

 

After a couple days of visiting the San Blas Islands, the next step is a 30 hour sail to Colombia. Half of the boat got seasick, but I loved being in the middle of the ocean and riding with the waves. The ocean is serene, calm, and provides a beautiful setting.

Once we finally got to Cartagena, we stayed on the boat a little longer and enjoyed the hot sun and some beers. Eventually it was time to depart the Gitano and find some hostels in the city. For the next two days I hung out with my new friends before jetting off to Peru for the Inca Trail. It would of been nice to continue traveling with everyone, but it was time to go!

Top Ten Most Memorable Things from Guatemala and Nicaragua

Top Ten Most Memorable Things from Guatemala and Nicaragua

I have started a new love affair with Central America. I spent almost one month in Guatemala and Nicaragua, but that was not nearly enough. When I started my RTW trip I assumed one year would be plenty of time, but now I realize more time is needed, especially for an area like Central America. Therefore, I plan to visit Central America again in one year! I want to share the top ten most memorable experiences/random tidbits/reasons I love Guatemala and Nicaragua!

Guatemala

  1. Being Tall! – For once in my life I was the tallest person. I’m only 5 ft 4 in, but in Guatemala I was a full head or two taller than most people. It was cool to be tall for once. Maybe I can be Guatemala’s next top model, eh?
  2. Super Friendly People – I’m used to living in NYC, which is stereotypically “unfriendly” due to individuals being on their own agenda. While in Antigua whenever (99.9% of the time) I passed someone on the street I was greeted with a smile and a “Buenos Tardes” or “Hola”.   Everyone genuinely looked happy. When everyone is friendly in a city, I immediately feel more comfortable and have a home away from home.
  3. Learning Spanish – I highly recommend going to Antigua to learn Spanish. In just two weeks, I learned enough Spanish to comfortably travel across Spanish speaking countries. For more details check out my post on learning Spanish in Antigua.
  4. Semuc Champey – Visiting these natural turquoise pools was a relaxing and beautiful experience. It was nice to find natural beauty in the middle of nowhere. For more details, check out the Semuc Champey blog post.Semuc Champey Viewpoint

 Nicaragua

  1. Volcano Boarding – If you are friends with me on Facebook, then you probably saw some pretty cool shots from my Volcano Boarding experience in Leon. In the states, I’m not sure if Volcano Boarding would be allowed due to safety regulations, but in Central America, anything goes! Speeding down a volcano on a board was definitely a fun, unique adventure!Volcano Boarding in Leon Nicaragua
  2. The Vortex of Casa de Olas – I ended up staying at the hostel, Casa de Olas, a week longer than expected. Even though this hostel is more expensive ($15 per night) than other places in San Juan del Sur, it somehow sucks you in. The owners, an older Australian couple, are like caring parents, but also want to ensure everyone has a fun time. There were 3 free open bars during the 10 days I was there. I would wake up each morning, enjoy my free breakfast of either banana pancakes or fried eggs, jump in the pool to refresh, and enjoy the beautiful view overlooking San Juan. The staff encourages an “anything goes” environment, which creates the perfect setting for a free-spirit like myself. Message me, and I’ll tell you some stories from SJDS nights.Casa de Olas in San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua
  3. Riva’s Season Opener – I am not a baseball fan, but baseball is a popular sport in Central America, so I figured I should check out the Riva’s team season opener. One of the bars, Nacho Libre, in San Juan del Sur organized a party bus to the game. During the 30 minute drive to the game, all 18 passengers were passing around shots of rum and cans of beer. By the time we arrived to the stadium everyone was in a good mood. The game was super crowded, it seemed like all of Nicaragua was out here! I sat down next to some locals, who seemed to think I was funny with my broken Spanish. They shared their drinks with me, while I encouraged them to show team pride and start some chants. San Juan Del Sur Nicaragua first baseball game

 

Both Countries

  1. Avocados! – There are avocados everywhere. In the states, I have to pay an extra $3 just to add some guacamole to my Chipotle Burrito, but in Central America they put guacamole on everything for no extra charge! Avocados are basically given away in this part of the world. The avocados are more delicious and make me oh so happy.
  2. People Love My Hair – I have never gotten so many compliments before, but it seems that people are obsessed with my hair. Looks like I’ll be rocking the fro for a while ;). I’m also adding a new section to my website dedicated to afro’s. Anytime I meet another traveler sporting a fro, their picture will be added to the Fro-etry Gallery.Traveling with natural hair
  3. Various Forms of Transportation – Traveling in Central America might not be the most comfortable, but it is creative. How many people can we stuff in the back of a van to get from point A to point B? I don’t mind being crammed in the back of a pick-up truck since it creates a more social environment, and provides a better view of all the surroundings. My favorite form of transportation would be via motorbike. Although I can’t drive a motorbike myself, hopping on the back of someone else’s bike and riding the unpaved roads creates a lil’ thrill-seeking adventure.

Currently I am traveling around South America, and I must admit that I am missing my Central America vibes. I know I will be back.

A Day Visiting Semuc Champey

A Day Visiting Semuc Champey

My current setting – rocking back and forth on a hammock, disconnected from the outside world, listening to rain pouring down. I just finished a fun filled day at Semuc Champey in Guatemala. I arrived at El Muro hostel in Lanquin after an 8 hour bus ride from Antigua. When I got to my hostel I was greeted by a free welcome shot. Soon after I realized there were only two other people staying at El Muro, but we ended up having a fun night with jenga, cuba libres, and laughs. Usually El Muro is a party hostel, but I was definitely a fan of this laid-back vibe.

IMG_4302

 

Why Visit Semuc Champey?

Semuc Champey is a natural monument famed for its limestone bridge and turquoise pools. Although Semuc Champey is in the middle of nowhere Guatemala, it’s worth visiting. I decided to book a tour, which included caving, tubing, and entrance into the pools.

  1. Caving

Caving in Semuc Champey

We started the day with caving. Although slightly unsafe, it was a fun, little adventure to explore a dark cave . We each took a candle and then walked, swam, jumped, and climbed our way through. I left the cave with a couple of scrapes from slamming my knees into rocks, but I would totally do it again.

2. Lunch

Lunch at semuc champey

After caving we went tubing and then had lunch. For lunch there was a cheap buffet ($3-$4) cooked by some locals, which was quite yummy. There is also a family that will sell you cheap beer ($2)

3. Semuc Champey

We ended the day exploring the pools. First we hiked up to the viewpoint, and then we relaxed for an hour or two in the pools. Semuc Champey is relaxing and has beautiful scenery. As a solo traveler I would recommend going with a tour, so that you have friends to explore for the day. Also going to Semuc Champey during off season is great, because there was no one else at the pools.

Reflecting on 3 Months in Europe

Reflecting on 3 Months in Europe

I just finished traveling across Europe for 3 months. When I booked this trip last March I made a plan that I didn’t follow:

planvsacual

If you look at my itinerary you might be confused that I went around in circles and my route looks very inefficient. Although I probably could’ve saved more money if I had a more efficient route, I’d rather go with the flow and books trips to visit people I know or meet on my travels.

Traveler Hospitality

Although I was in Europe for 3 months, I probably only paid for 2 weeks worth of accommodation. I was lucky to have European friends that I met over the years while traveling, who lent a couch or bed to sleep on. One of the main reasons I love to travel solo is because it forces me to meet people along the way. It amazes me how backpacker connections works. For example I decided to go to Oktoberfest since a guy I met in a hostel in Portugal 2 years prior offered me a free tent to stay in. I actually ended crashing on the couch of a German guy I met in Berlin 3 years ago on a free walking tour. I can meet someone for a couple hours, yet since we share a passion for travel we stay connected and end up being friends. Also, it is more enjoyable to visit people in their hometowns, since they share a pride over their city and want to show me the best experience. Thank you to all my fabulous European hosts!

Memorable European Experiences

I definitely did not give as many updates as I would like on my blog, so here are some of the most memorable experiences I had while in Europe for the past 3 months!

  1. Getting Bikes Towed in Amsterdam – Only in Amsterdam will you find more towed bikes than towed cars. Two hostess friends and I parked our bikes on the street at night on a bike rack with dozens of other bikes. When we went to get our bikes in the morning, we were surprised to see not only were there no bikes, but the actual street the bikes were on had been removed by construction workers. After asking around for 20 minutes, we ventured an hour outside the city to visit the “bike graveyard”. Luckily we were able to find our bikes and only had to pay a 15 euro fine. Overall it was a fun experience, especially riding our bikes back into the city because we got to see another side of Amsterdam.
  2. Going to a Sparty in Budapest – Budapest is known for their thermal bathes and nightlife scene. On Saturday night you can get the best of both worlds by attending a “sparty” (spa + party). I put on my bathing suit and danced to the electronic beats until the early morning at this unique party experience. Szechenyi-Baths-Spa-Party-Budapest-Perfect
  3. Caving in Budapest – This was also a unique experience. I loved putting on my caving gear and crawling through cracks and holes for three hours in a cave. The guide was a funny character, who would do things like tie your shoes together when your’e crawling under a rock.
  4. Working for the Yacht Week – I can’t explain the experience of working on the Yacht Week, since it does not feel like the real world. I had amazing crews that I loved looking after, and found out that I’m a good chef!
  5. Biking in Copenhagen and Amsterdam – Copenhagen and Amsterdam have similar feels. If you visit these cities you must get a bike and go around town.
    IMG_4060

    While biking through Amsterdam we saw tons of people with sunflowers. We decided to find the source of all the sunflowers and found a maze of 125,000 sunflowers to honor Van Gogh’s death 125 years ago.

  6. Attending Football Matches – I found my new favorite sporting event. There is so much energy in football stadiums in Europe. I attended games in Berlin and Bilbao with huge stadiums packed with crazy, avid fans.IMG_4096 IMG_4098
  7. Oktoberfest – Getting to Oktoberfest took 12 hours from Budapest, since there was a lot of regulation crossing the border. Once I finally made it to central station in Munich I put my luggage in storage, bought a Dirndl for 20 Euros, and met up with my Bavarian friend to experience Oktoberfest. For the next two days I drank, ate, and had a merry time.
  8. My failed attempt volunteering at a hostel –I figured volunteering at a hostel would be a great experience since I love people, and want to open my own hostel in the future. Turns out working at a hostel was not my thing. Due to miscommunication and me being sick I started on the wrong foot, and it seemed like the staff just didn’t like me for some reason. I’d rather pay $20 for a bed then work long shifts, and not have anyone on the staff appreciate my help. My hostel career might be over.

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