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Cecily Franklin

Europe Insider Tips

A Guide to Krakow, Poland

*Covid-19 edit: this guide is purely for bookmarking purposes, please stay home as we help to Flatten the Curve*

Krakow is definitely one of the most amazing European cities that I’ve visited. This was my first time visiting Poland, and what an introduction it was. Krakow remains a perfect blend of the old and the modern with its fascinating history, sprawling metropolis, charming neighborhoods and world class cuisine, Krakow is truly a treasure.

With three days in Krakow, there’s plenty of time to explore the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Old Town, visit the city’s top museums, and see more of Poland’s historic sites and natural wonders. Here are some ideas on how to spend 72 wonderful hours in and around Krakow

Krakow Old Town

Start your city exploration in the Krakow Old Town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. Follow our outline for a self-guided Krakow walking tour or join one of the Krakow sightseeing tours

Main Market Square

A stroll down Ulica Florianska (St. Florian’s Street) leads directly into the Krakow Main Market Square – one of the largest medieval squares in all of Europe. On the square are some of the city’s most historic sights. Link to Google Maps for sights on the Main Square.

 

St. Mary’s Basilica

Rising above the Main Market Square are the mis-matched towers of St. Mary’s Basilica.

Note: a ticket is required to climb the tower – and only a few people are allowed to climb it per hour – so purchase in advance if going to the top is on your list of Krakow things to do.

A ticket is also needed to enter the church to take photos. If you would simply like to enter to pray – and take a look around from the back of the church, you can enter through the door facing the square.

Town Hall Tower

The 230-foot-tall Town Hall Tower is all that remains of the Krakow Town Hall (the rest of the building was torn down in 1820), but an interesting fact about the tower is that it leans slightly, hence its nickname, “The Leaning Tower of Krakow.”

Another fun fact is that the basement of the tower was once a prison and torture chamber!

Krakow Cloth Hall

At the center of the square is the iconic Krakow Cloth Hall – a long, covered hall lined with vendors that dates to the 1300s. Goods, like spices and wax, were brought from the east and exchanged for local products, like textiles and salt from the mine.

Today, the shops sell traditional souvenirs such as Amber jewelry from the Baltic’s, lavender, handmade soaps, magnets etc. to passerby’s and tourists.

Rynek Underground

Below the Cloth Hall is the Rynek Underground – a fascinating museum detailing the history of the market and lengthy history of the city of Krakow. Opened in 2010, the museum incorporates the original excavated merchant stalls into hi-tech displays. Tip: Admission is free on Tuesdays.

Wawel Castle

 

Visiting the castle at the top of Wawel Hill tops the list of things to do in Krakow!

There is evidence of a castle on the hill dating to the 11th century. The castle was expanded and destroyed several times throughout history, resulting in an interesting blend of architectural styles. Today, the castle is a UNESCO Heritage Site and a museum.

Entrance to the grounds is free, but tickets are required to visit certain exhibits such as: The State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Crown Treasury, The Lost Wawel (I saw this room and it was VERY cool), Oriental Art, and The Dragon’s Den.

The Cathedral is free to visit, however, tickets are required for the underground tombs, the Bell Tower and Cathedral Museum.

Grab a Beer

Get a taste of Krakow’s buzzing craft beer scene at one of the many multitaps. Some popular suggestions for craft beer in Krakow’s Old Town:

Multi Qlti Tap, Viva La Pinta, House of Beer, Wielochmiel and Relaks Craft.

Interested in trying Polish vodka? You can get that at the craft beer bars, too! It’s cheap and pungent and is best used for its original purpose – to stay warm in the freezing winter months!

Jewish Quarter

Plac Nowy

Sometimes referred to as the Jewish Square, Plac Nowy is the market square in Kazimierz in the center of the Jewish quarter. Although it is slightly run down and fairly small for a market square, it remains very popular.

Market vendors line the outskirts of the square and sell their goods every morning at the market.

The building in the center of the square was originally used as a chicken slaughterhouse. Today it has a number windows from which vendors sell the traditional Polish snack, zapiekanka (a pizza baguette.)

Each vendor offers their own unique combination of toppings – and they are all cheap and filling, making for a great snack or dinner-on-the-go.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine dates to the 13th century and was continuously used to mine table salt until 2007. Today, visiting the mine is one of the most popular Krakow day trips. There are a number of guided tours (in several languages), as well as a health spa.

The Tourist Route takes visitors down 800 steps into the mine and traverses multiple corridors that tell the history of the mine. Throughout the mine there are statues of Poland’s most famous residents – all made of rock salt – as well as four chapels.

The most impressive chapel, St. Kinga’s Chapel, is a cavernous space complete with bible stories carved along the walls – and an altar and chandeliers… all made of rock salt. Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the top things to do in Krakow, Poland.

Lake Zakrzowek

Spend an afternoon at Zakrzowek; an old stone quarry which was closed and filled with water. Zakrzowek offers a turquoise oasis almost right in the city center. It’s truly only about a 5-10 minute drive from the Jewish quarter, but you feel like you’re in the countryside once you get to the lake.

There are paths around the lake and hiking trails in a nearby park. You can even take scuba diving lessons here as the water is 30 meters deep and the school has permission for diving.

See a Live Jazz Show

I had the pleasure of seeing a jazz show on my birthday in Krakow! It was such a special, memorable experience. After traveling for such a long time, it had been a hot minute since I’d seen a jazz show, and it was so worth it.

Steps from the Old Town Square, underground you’ll find Harris Piano Jazz Bar. It is a truly lovely atmosphere in this underground cozy cellar. You can purchase food, snacks, drinks, or just hang out by candle light until the music starts.

Where to Eat

There are a TON of restaurants to choose from in Krakow of all different types of cuisine. I typically ate breakfast in the Jewish quarter every morning, as I loved wandering around the (less crowded) streets and having a bit of peace to start the day.

These 3 cafes boast traditional Jewish breakfast food, typical American style breakfasts, delicious tea and coffee, and let’s not forget croissants, pancakes, and crepes.

 

BreakfastHevre, Urban Coffee, Le Scandale

For lunch every day, I found myself in the Old Town as I was in between sight-seeing. I found one of these restaurant, Chimera, on Trip Advisor, and I can honestly say I don’t think I would have found it otherwise. It looks like a tiny diner from the outside.

Upstairs is a buffet-style serve yourself lunch. Downstairs is an actual cave that as you enter you feel like you’re stepping into a different world. They serve Polish/French cuisine, homemade soup, bread, and delicious local wine and beer. Such a fun way to break up your afternoon.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sissi is a cute outdoor patio tucked away from the Main Street. They serve fresh salads, charcuterie, cocktails, and local fish and other meat dishes.

LunchKolanko No 6, Chimera, Sissi

Dinner is always a hard meal for me if I only have 3 nights in a city. Trezo was the first dinner we had in Krakow and it did NOT disappoint.

Similar to Chimera with the style of food, but in a much more modern, upscale restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. There was live music and a lovely atmosphere to enjoy our first meal in Krakow.

For a more casual dinner, Hamsa served traditional Israeli cuisine – hummus, fresh pita, kebabs, you name it. It was all delicious.

DinnerTrezo, Ristorante Sant’Antico, Hamsa Mediterranean

Overall Krakow was such an amazing introduction to Eastern Europe – a part of the world I had never been to before! I hope that these suggestions and ideas will inspire you to arrange your own trip to Poland!

Latin America

A DIY Guide To Trekking Patagonia

Patagonia is one of the wonders of the world that you don’t want to miss; a region in South America at the most southern tip of the world before reaching Antarctica. Southern Patagonia, stretching across Chile and Argentina, has long lured travelers to what is very nearly the end of the world.

There are many options and routes that you can choose from when planning your trip depending on where you’re starting and how much time you have.

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park are the region’s top highlights. For a complete journey through Patagonia, combine visits to both halves of the region; crossing the border from Argentina over to Chile.

There is a fair amount of research you must do in order to make your experience run smoothly, but I’ve provided some very useful tips and tricks that will be sure to make your planning a heck of a lot easier!

When To Go

The first thing you need to plan around is what time of year you’re looking to go. The weather in Patagonia can be extremely temperamental at any time of the year, but will be especially unpleasant during the winter months of the southern hemisphere; June – August being the coldest months.

The best time to visit Patagonia is during the spring and summer months when the weather is warmer, drier, and more predictable than the cooler months.

A lot of people enjoy hiking in the snow, but I found the summer to be a very enjoyable time to hike and camp. This also means less “warm” gear that you’ll have to lug with you if you go during the summer months, i.e. December – March.

Planning Your Route Through Patagonia

The first thing you need to figure out is how much time you have, and what hikes/places you want to see in order to create your itinerary.

If you don’t know where to begin, there are a few major destinations in Patagonia – starting in Bariloche; the furthest north part of Argentinian Patagonia and the closest city to Mendoza and Buenos Aires; both of which have international airports.

LATAM and Sky Airlines are the two major low-cost airlines flying to Southern Patagonia, with flights ranging from $50-$130 depending on the distance and the season; December – March being more expensive.

I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires before beginning my journey through Patagonia, wandering around the city, exploring the Argentinian capital and preparing for the upcoming weeks of adventures.

Bariloche

Bariloche, on the banks of the immense Nahuel Huapi lake, is a major town, and a base for trekking and mountain biking. Bariloche offers everything from short walks to waterfalls to one-day hikes to excruciating multi-day treks.

While Bariloche is famous for the lake in the summer, it is also famous for winter sports. Every July – September tourists travel here from both hemispheres looking for their “endless winter”. At any time of year, this laid-back mountain town is the perfect start to your Patagonian journey.

Getting There

Most people start off from Bariloche which is where the majority of buses arrive from Buenos Aires. You can also fly into Bariloche, which is slightly more expensive ($220 vs $110), but will get you there much quicker.

The flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche takes about an hour and a half, whereas the bus takes 20 – 22 hours. The bus is a unique way to see the countryside through Argentina, but it depends on your preferences, budget, and time constraints. I personally chose to fly, but every traveler is different!

What To Do

Apurabici rents bikes for $15 a day and organizes half-day guided rides along mountain trails for $50pp. I recommend staying in Bariloche for at least a couple of nights so you can do a few different activities.

Bariloche is known for the Route of the Seven Lakes, which is one of the most popular hikes/drives to do while visiting Patagonia.

The trail goes from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes and is roughly 100 km. This route can be done by car, bus, bike or in parts by hiking. It can take a couple of days or a week depending on how much time you have. There are a number of hiking routes to choose from as well as boat tours.

One of the best things about going to Patagonia in the summer months is that if it’s warm enough (or you work up enough of a sweat) you can jump in the glacial water. This water is the clearest, sparkling turquoise water that I’ve ever seen, but don’t be fooled by the warm temperature in the air – the water is freezing! However also a nice, refreshing pick-me-up after a long hike or bike ride around the lake.

Camping or Accommodation

Where to stay while doing the trail will depend on your budget and sense of adventure. Hostels are abundant as well as camping spots, either free or of charge.

If you’re simply exploring the town, Bonita Lake House and Perikos are very affordable ($45/night) options if you’re looking for a relaxed hostel on the lake. Gran Hotel Panamericano is a charming hotel in the countryside, a short distance from the center of Bariloche with rates starting at $59/night.

During the summer months, aka peak season from December – March, I would recommend booking all accommodation in advance.

Los Glaciares National Park

Continuing south, you arrive – eventually – in the extraordinarily beautiful Los Glaciares, the largest protected area in Argentina composed of glaciers, mountains, lakes, and forests, including a vast portion of the Andes mountain range.

The main attractions are the towering Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre peaks at its northern end, and the huge, turquoise-coloured Lago Argentino to the south.

El Calafate

El Calafate is a funky, small town right on Lago Argentino, the largest freshwater lake in the country. With a range of traveler services such as biking, kayaking, and organized tours to Perito Moreno Glacier, it’s a fun place to be with all the ideal tourist facilities.

Its strategic location between El Chaltén and Torres del Paine (Chile) makes it an inevitable stop for those in transit. I immediately sensed that El Calafate had the feel of a ski-resort village with its colorful, timber buildings; boasting a ton of restaurants and bars.

For dinner be sure to check out Pura Vida – offering Argentine “home cooking”, or for a more decadent and intimate experience at a slightly higher price, Mi Rancho. Fuel up on fresh donuts, croque monsieurs, and Colombian espresso for breakfast at Olivia, an adorable cafe in a loungy setting.

What To Do

Many travelers come to El Calafate to see the lake’s world famous glacier, Perito Moreno; it’s world-famous because the ice expands until the warmer waters beneath undermine it, causing an explosion and sending tsunami-like waves out into the surrounding water.

Perito Moreno Glacier is an hour drive from El Calafate. You can easily book transportation through a tour agency or through your hostel/hotel.  These tours cost around $24 roundtrip with an entrance fee cost of $20 (CASH ONLY.)

**Make sure that you have an ample amount of cash before traveling through Patagonia. ATMs can be finicky and sometimes won’t dispense cash. There are plenty of money exchanges around so you can pay in the local currency.

If you have a extra day, or just don’t feel like doing a full day excursion, you can rent a bike in town and ride around the lake. (I say around, but realistically you won’t get too far as the lake is massive.)  I rented a bike for two hours ($8), but I recommend renting for at least three so you won’t be in a rush to get back.

From the center of town, you can bike along the road to a point that separates the inlet where the many different species of birds hang out (a cool place to bird watch, yet a place you don’t want to swim) from the main part of the lake where you can swim… if you dare jump in the glacial water! Disclaimer: not for the faint of heart.

El Chalten

Another popular destination in this region is the trekking mecca El Chaltén, a three-hour drive from El Calafate Airport. El Chalten is a small hiking village located directly in Los Glaciares National Park at the base of the mountains.

Although there is no airport here, the closest airport is in El Calafate. Frequent minibuses connect El Chaltén to El Calafate, a three-hour journey through the sprawling national park. There are a few different companies, but you might want to plan your flight time around the shuttle times if you’re planning to head to El Chalten from the airport.

The shuttle company I booked at the airport was called Las Lengas and left El Calafate at 1 pm, arriving to El Chalten at 4 pm; (I booked an early flight out of Bariloche to arrive in El Calafate by 12:30 pm.)

The shuttle dropped me off at the bed & breakfast, and picked me back up 4 days later to bring me back to the hotel in El Calafate.

Roundtrip this semi-private shuttle cost $50 pp, and stopped at a cool river-side hotel/café/shop halfway through the trip for 20 mins so you could get out, stretch your legs, and grab a souvenir or coffee.

**You don’t have to book the roundtrip option, but it is easiest considering you’ll have to come back to El Calafate to fly out to your next destination.

What To Do

El Chalten is the home of the esteemed Fitz Roy – a towering peak with a number of hiking, climbing, and rafting adventures to choose from. There is another main attraction in Los Glaciares National Park called Cerro Torre, the second largest peak to hike (following Fitz Roy) with a number of trails, and a sparkling glacial lake with turquoise icebergs.

At the north end of the National Park these are the two highest peaks of the mountain range, which together with forests, glaciers and lakes, create one of the most extraordinary sights to see in our country. The two major hikes to see these peaks are called Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres.

Most people do a hike of some sort, but it’s not for everyone. Alternatively, you can relax in this picturesque backpacker town, admiring the views, the condors and the craft beers.

Despite the size, there are a surprising number of cafes, restaurants, and bars of all types of cuisine. I spent 4 nights here and tried a handful of amazing places ranging from burgers and beers, to traditional Patagonian cuisine loaded with hearty portions of meat and potatoes, to a vegan café with fresh salads and juices.

La Vineria has a great selection of ales and Patagonian wines. Across the street, enjoy traditional Argentinian cuisine in a cozy log cabin at La Senyara. For a vegetarian/vegan meal, Curcuma.

Crossing The Border: Argentina – Chile

Logistics

Traveling between Chile and Argentina can be done easily by land or sea. Unfortunately, there are no flights between Puerto Natales (the base of Torres del Paine) to El Calafate. For an overland trip, you’ll need to organize a private transfer or catch a bus.

The drive takes approximately six hours cross the border between Argentina and Chile. Buy your bus ticket to Puerto Natales through your hostel in El Calafate, or head straight to the bus station and buy it through one of the tour companies.

There are several reputable bus companies that connect Puerto Natales and El Calafate, including Buses Fernandez, Buses Sur, Buses Pacheco, Turismo Zaahj, and Cootra. They run daily services that depart between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

The transfer takes five-seven hours – depending on the time spent at customs – and the cost of the ticket is $20 one way. These buses are pretty spacious and equipped with a bathroom, so as long as you have some water and snacks, you should be good to go for your journey across the border!

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is the home of Torres del Paine, a huge mountain range famous for its “three peaks”, rising high at 3,500 meters, and another stop on the journey south through Patagonia.

This park is very different from the parks I hiked in Argentina. Unlike in Los Glaciares, you must drive to the park or take a bus (public or tour shuttle.) The drive from Puerto Natales to the entrance of the park takes 1.5 hours.

There is an entrance fee to get into the park of 21,000 Chilean pesos, about $32. You must bring this amount IN CASH to the park the day of your hike, or you will not be permitted entry.

This park is a huge, protected national forest – such is Los Glaciares National Park – but has experienced many more natural disasters due to human caused forest fires over the years destroying the land, and is therefore more strictly protected.

The most popular day hike that people do is called Base Torres, which takes you to the lake at the base of the three peaks. The hike is about 18 km roundtrip to the lake and back. You can take a bus from Puerto Natales in the morning, which will then give you a time to meet back at the starting point later in the afternoon.

**MAKE sure you plan your time accordingly so that you don’t miss your return bus back to town.

There are larger hikes such as the “W Circuit” or the “O Circuit” that usually take people three to four days, with a few options for camping sites along the way. Make sure you take a map with you and know where you’re going ahead of time.

Tours

You can also book a full tour of the park through a few different agencies in Puerto Natales near the main plaza. This tour costs about $45 and is a full 12-hour guided tour on a shuttle through the entire park.

This option is great because you get to see so much more than you would from the one day hike. There are 10 viewpoints along the tour, with a two hour stop for lunch and exploring at Lago Grey; an amazing lake with glaciers right up along the beach.

I booked this full day tour through Go Calafate. I was picked up at my hostel at 7:45 am, and dropped back off at the main plaza in Puerto Natales at 7:30 pm, so plan accordingly with your meals of the day!

Ushuaia

Ushuaia is a resort town in Argentina located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “End of the World” and is the last stop of the Patagonian journey.

Apart from being the gateway to Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia is also the port to sail across Drake’s Passage into Antarctica, an unforgettable adventure that I hope to experience someday! These tours range from $5,000 – $10,000 for a cruise ship to the white continent.

The walk to the glacier is quite long; many people prefer to get an inexpensive taxi from the town to the base, and then hike or get the chairlift (often only running in summer) from there.

Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego National Park, 11 miles (18km) from Ushuaia, is the final must-see of Patagonia for nature and outdoor lovers.

Buses leave from Ushuaia roughly every hour, although it is recommended to depart early in the morning if you are planning on hiking in the park. Visitors must pay an entrance fee of $14 USD.

There are many well-marked trails and short hikes for those wishing to spend the day exploring the park independently.

For those who want to see a bit more, longer trails and hikes are available; Sheep’s Pass takes two days, whereas a longer trek of four days can be done on the Sierra Valdivieso Circuit. The park also has two beautiful lakes and some waterfalls.


Planning your own trip to Patagonia? Be sure to check out these posts to help sort out your itinerary as well!

Latin America

How To Spend 4 Days In Lima

Lima, the capital of Peru, is often the starting point for many travelers aiming to see the epic and mountainous Machu Picchu. But don’t overlook this magical city! Here is a guide for spending four days in Peru’s beautiful capital.

When To Go

Year-round: A mild and dry climate means comfortable capital visits year-round.

Dec–Mar: (Summertime) The hottest, blue-sky months ideal for surf and sun on the coast.

Arriving In Lima

The Lima international airport is only about 20 minutes from one of Lima’s most populated touristic neighborhood – Miraflores. There are many taxis that you can take from the airport and around the city, but I highly recommend using Uber.

Many taxis don’t use a meter, which means that they can negotiate any price up or down as they see fit.

Uber has a fixed price, and a lot of the time, I found it to be cheaper than what taxis would charge from one neighborhood to another. It’s also nice to not have to rely on exact change, or carrying much cash on you at all for that matter – especially at night.

The Districts of Lima

Miraflores

Miraflores is a large district near the airport that runs along the waterfront and has a boardwalk that runs for miles above the ocean. The Malecón itself is six miles of bike lanes, walking trails, parks, and eateries, including Larcomar, a popular open-air food and shopping center. Be sure to visit the famous Parque del Amor – an oceanfront park with a giant statue of two lovers that you can’t miss.

The Malecón will take you to Barranco a couple miles down, which is another district you won’t want to miss full of museums, a major art scene, and a ton of nightlife. You’ll hit many other beaches and parks if you follow the Malecón all the way down the coastline.

Barranco

Barranco offers a little bit of a different scene – cool cobblestone streets to stroll down, a strip of nightlife, a terraced village of souvenir shops, markets, bars, and restaurants makes this bohemian quarter one of a kind.

Don’t miss El Puente de Los Suspiros (The Bridge of Sighs), a quaint wooden bridge located at the top of the stone steps that wind down to the beaches below Barranco.

There is a Barranco By Night tour, where a guide takes you around to a few of Barranco’s iconic bars and restaurant, dating back to the 1920’s!

I appreciated staying in a quieter neighborhood, Miraflores, and having the freedom to explore Barranco by Uber or by renting bikes and riding the short distance down the Malecón.

Things To Do In Lima

Stroll Around Kennedy Park

There may be one thing you’ll notice about this park that’s a little abnormal – it’s full of cats! Not mangy, stray cats – but looked after, fed cats that are free to roam about as they please and are ready for adoption. It’s a truly brilliant idea, and everyone seems to love it; especially the cats. Getting pets and free food all day doesn’t sound like the worst life, does it?

Historical Walking Tour

We booked a historical walking tour in Quito and it was awesome. There are so many different companies online to choose from, and many of them are free!

The guides will take you through the highlights of the Center of Lima, or Old Town District. The tour takes about 3 hours and usually ends with a few recommendations for lunch or dinner in the area.

I usually don’t like organized tour groups, but it was really fascinating to hear about the history of the city. Having questions answered by a knowledgeable professional made the experience worthwhile. Those personalized moments are the type of things you can’t experience by merely tracing the steps on your own. My favorite stop on the tour was visiting the San Francisco Monastery.

Lima is home to many fine religious buildings, but the San Francisco Monastery is one of the best. Providing an oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, and sitting atop the catacombs underneath the monastery where more than 50,000 skulls and bones are neatly arranged in. This is a must see attraction when visiting Lima, Peru.

Circuito Magico Del Agua

AKA The Magic Circuit of Water We had heard of a dazzling water and lights show about 20 minutes away from Miraflores that occurs every night. So, following the historical tour we hopped in a cab from Old Town to check out this novelty. The entrance fee was extremely cheap, less than a dollar per person. The park was bustling with people, tourists and locals alike.

The only thing comparable to this experience is what I remember of seeing Fantasia. Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, you are guaranteed to appreciate this show. There are 13 fountains, some of which are interactive, provide plenty of entertainment, especially at night with the illuminated shows.

This show is dazzling with a display of lasers and music all coordinating with the lights.

The light display is about an hour long. Adults and kids alike will love it, but be prepared to get wet; take a plastic bag or two to keep your cash and camera dry.

Jump Off A Cliff

Yes – you read that correctly! Grab one of the many professional guides and soar through the sky on a tandem paragliding flight.

The hotspot for paragliding in Lima is Parque Raimondi, along the Miraflores stretch of El Malecón, where highly skilled paragliding instructors can take you for a 10-minute tandem glide.

Whatever way you end up hitting the skies, pick a day that’s not too overcast, and you can expect views of the coast southwards towards Barranco, as well as far out to sea. If paragliding doesn’t appeal to you, be sure to catch a sunset one night from the park.

Sample The Cocktail Of Peru

A refreshing aperitif served before a plate of ceviche, the pisco sour is a staple cocktail in its own right. Whipped up from a mixture of pisco, lemon juice, bitters, sugar and egg white and whizzed in a blender over crushed ice, it’s impossible to visit Lima without trying a glass or three.

Learn To Surf

Lima’s Costa Verde has some surprisingly good spots for surfing. La Herradura, south of Barranco, is considered one of the best, with its powerful swell reaching up to 10-feet, making it only for those with experience. Waikiki, in Miraflores, is a good option for beginners, particularly as there are surf schools where you can learn the ropes.

Grab A Brewski

If you’re into craft artisanal beers, Lima is the place for you. There are a number of breweries in Miraflores and Barranco offering a number of local beers.

Barbarian was my favorite brewery in Miraflores, offering 20 beers on tap in a number of different sizes. There is a 10 oz size which is the perfect sampler size for those who can’t commit. This place is a must visit for any connoisseur.

Barranco Brew Company is a smaller brewery with a variety of their own craft beers, boasting great food and a chill atmosphere in the bohemian Barranco district.


While you’re at it, check out these posts for more itinerary suggestions (like why you absolutely MUST see Laguna 69), our top five can’t miss locations, our favorite hotel and inspiration for your trip to Peru and Machu Piccu!

Guides Latin America

A Guide To Isla De La Plata, Ecuador

Known as “Little Galapagos,” Isla De La Plata island off the coast of Ecuador is a nature lovers dream.

How To Get There

Arriving To Puerto Lopez – A small fisherman village on the coast of Ecuador. For some, a place to recharge. For others, a day trip to visit Isla de la Plata. Puerto Lopez is the perfect stop on your way down the coast. If you fly into Quito, you can take an overnight bus or a domestic puddle jumper to Manta, and then from there take a 1.5 hour taxi to Puerto Lopez.

Albeit not a large town by any means, I found solace in Puerto Lopez. There is a large harbor where the fishing boats go out every day to catch fresh tuna, mackerel, mahi, and other white tropical fish.

Needless to say, I ate ceviche every single day that I was there. Every single restaurant along the Main Street offers fresh fish dishes for around $6.

Where To Stay

I visited during the beginning of “off season” – so the town was very quiet. In fact, I could count on 2 hands the number of tourists I saw most days. The town is mostly oceanfront, with one Main Street paralleling the beach. Restaurants and hostels are lined up for about a mile down the road. At the end of town, on the other side of the bridge, there are a few more “touristy” accommodations. 

What To Do

The main reason that tourist visit this town is to tour Isla de la Plata. There is also a lovely beach about 5 miles north called Playa Los Frailes – a beautiful white sandy private beach at the end of a short walk through the trees. Personally, I found the beach in Puerto Lopez to be just as nice. It was empty, white sand, swim-friendly, and I didn’t have to pay to get there! The beach in Puerto Lopez runs about 2 miles long, which makes for a lovely sunset walk. You can watch the hundreds of sea birds attacking the fisherman bringing in their evening catch.

Isla De La Plata Tours

AKA The Poor Man’s Galapagos, or Little Galapagos.

About an hour off the coast of Puerto Lopez you’ll find Isla de la Plata – Silver Island, home to the blue footed boobies. The reason as to why it’s called the “poor man’s Galapagos” is pretty self-explanatory; for those who don’t want to break the bank, but still have the urge to see the blue-footed boobies and turtles!

This island is a national park, so no one actually reside son the island as it is a natural reserve. There were once inhabitants about 50 years ago, until they realized that many residents were bringing cats onto the island. Cats like to catch birds… you do the math. Apart from the boobies, there are also snakes, lizards, and many other species of birds. Tour companies actually offer a “birding” tour for those who are interested.

The most common Isla de la Plata tour costs $35-40 for the entire day. This includes whale-sighting (depending on the season), a 3-hour walking tour of the island where you’ll see the aforementioned animals, a snack and lunch, and the option to snorkel the reef before returning to Puerto Lopez.

Make sure to book your Isla de la Plata in advance if you’re planning to travel in the peak season. This runs between the months of June –October and is when the humpback whales migration period is. During these months you are pretty much guaranteed to see them. I myself did not see any whales as I toured the island in November.

If you’re traveling in the off months, you can book a tour to visit Isla de La Plata the night before and you’d be fine. Make sure to check the weather beforehand – the boat ride/hike would not be fun in the rain.

How To Book Your Tour

There are many tour companies to choose from for around the same price, but not every tour offers the same perks. The tour takes about 7hours, so plan on a full day. Don’t forget a ton of water, a hat, and sunscreen.

The tour I chose, Aventuras La Plata, picked me up from my hotel and took me to the boat at the pier. There were two guides, one English speaking and one who spoke Spanish.This was a huge perk as the tour company was able to split the group into 2 and make it a more intimate experience.

We set off on an hour speedboat journey. Disclaimer – if you get motion sickness, take a Dramamine and/or sit in the keel of the boat. One man had the misfortune of getting quite sick off the back of the boat and was out of commission for the rest of the tour (partially due to not realizing we’d be charging through the waves, mostly due to having one too many shots of tequila the previous night.)

The tour guides provided us with a post-hike snack of fruit and banana bread before docking at the coast of the island. We had a quick rundown of the different intensities of hikes we could choose between based on wildlife spotting preferences – one being easy and the other hard. Turns out both groups ended up choosing the “easy” path which took us all the way down to the edge of the cliff where we saw the blue-footed boobies not only nesting, but also flying off the cliff’s edge.

Whichever path you do choose, you have to get up the top of the hill from the beach first, which has a very significant incline. You will need your water bottle with you (this part of the walk will absolutely get your heart pumping), and to be wearing substantial shoes. There is a giant set of stairs (I believe he said it was 800 steps), and a few of the planks are slightly uneven. Once you get to the viewpoint at the top of the hill, it’s all downhill from there (until you have to walk back up to the top!) 

The Blue-Footed Boobies

Of course I had heard of blue-footed boobies years ago in biology class, but I hadn’t quite remembered what they looked like. I had spent the previous night googling them, and had high expectations of their goofy (and awesome) appearance. Seeing them up close and personal, both of those characteristics were enhanced ten-fold.

Our guide explained to us the difference between the males and females – major difference being the sound they make. I’ll never forget the piercing squawk that the males made, warning us to back off his turf.Unfortunately, most of the boobies were posted up right in the middle of the path, so we had no choice but to step on their “turf.”

We were advised not to touch them or get too close, but most of them didn’t seem to mind us walking by. There were a few that tried to chase after us, which was both hilarious and possibly a little intimidating… I sure didn’t want my ankles being nipped!

We came to Isla de la Plata in search of the blue-footed boobie, and we certainly got our fix!

As I mentioned before, Isla de la Plata is known as Little Galapagos but is literally translated to Silver Island. Our guide explained that the island sometimes lights up a beautiful silver color under the night sky. The reason? Bird poop. Lots of bird poop.

Don’t Forget Your Water, Folks

The hike down to the cliffs edge and back up the hill to the viewpoint took about an hour. The two groups had about a 20 minute gap so that we didn’t cram the trail, so our group headed back down the stairs towards the beach first and had the chance to catch our breath before the next activity.

The round-trip duration from the boat and back to the beach took about 2 hours in the sun with no shade, so we were ready for a dip in the ocean!

We all hopped back onto the boat where we were given lunch. Two small croissant “sandwiches” per person – one with tuna salad, and another with pineapple jam and cheese. It sounds like an odd combination, but it’s clearly a delicacy for a reason – sweet/salty/creamy all in one bite… yum!

Everyone was given the option to hang out on the boat, or put on some snorkel gear and jump in! Obviously I accepted the latter option. We were anchored right near a reef, so we had the chance to see an abundance of tropical fish, and sea turtles if they decided to make an appearance. We had about 45 minutes to do as we chose before heading back to Puerto Lopez.

The entire tour took about 6.5 hours, which was the perfect duration. Just in time to jump in the shower before enjoying a michelada at one of the many beach bars. I say bars, but they’re essentially just a row of huts that all serve the exact same menu – fruity cocktails, beers, and shots of every liquor imaginable.

Another cool thing that I loved about Puerto Lopez was the abundance of Palo Santo sold in many of the shops. I have burned palo santo for years to reap it’s healing and relaxing benefits, and was unaware of it’s origination – the Southern coast of Ecuador! The only difference here being that a bag of 15 pieces of the wood cost $1, compared to in the US where the equivalent could easily amount to $40.

If you’re traveling down the coast of Ecuador, I strongly advise not missing out on this gem of a city!

Advice Solo Travel Travel Health & Wellness

5 Ways To Get Over Your Fear Of Solo Travel

Have you ever lusted over photos of people traveling around the world? Have you noticed the huge boom of people (not just millennials) transitioning their jobs and lifestyles to lead a more remote life? It may seem impossible to do, but it’s not as intimidating as you may think.

I’ve known for the last 15+ years of my life that I wanted to see the world. But, let’s be realistic… does anyone in their late teens/early 20’s think to themselves; I’m going to go by myself across the world and just see what happens. Actually, I’m sure that a ton of people do. But they’re much braver than most people are, myself included.  

Being a solo female traveler specifically can seem a little daunting, especially if you’ve read some of the horrific stories spiraling around the web these days. But on the flip side, there are also SO many wonderful stories of solo travel, for both men and women.

It’s all about having some basic street smarts, and a whole lot of open mindedness.

Personally, I never thought I would enjoy traveling solo. When I was younger, I never enjoyed doing things by myself. I was always the person who was surrounded by friends and entertainment.

In addition to that, I was always more quiet around new people. I always listened much more than I spoke (which is still true for the most part) and was talked over by many people in my life.

I hated being alone for the majority of my pre-teens until I was about 22 years old. That’s a really longtime to not be able to enjoy your own company, let alone to not even truly know yourself.

I remember actually having to force myself to do things alone, and it felt a little unfamiliar.Eventually, I grew to love it. More than love, I grew to crave it. I feel drained when I socialize too much and don’t have enough time for myself.

I think of myself as being an extroverted introvert. I am fully capable of being extroverted and communicating with people and socializing, but I also crave the days where you wander aimlessly just to explore on your own with no one else but yourself experiencing the moment.

I quickly learned that meeting people is no problem at all, in fact, I actually had to purposefully set time aside for myself because I had met so many fun, interesting people that I barely had any time otherwise!

These are a few sure fire ways to meet people traveling solo just like yourself…

Join A Walking Tour

Not only is this a great (and often free) way to get your bearings in a new city, but the nature of walking tours lends to easy conversation. Stopping for a group meal or drink also presents a great opportunity to socialize. 

Sign Up For An Organized Group Travel Tour

From day trips to multi-day adventures, small-group tours offer travel experiences that you aren’t able to access as an independent traveler, as well as an opportunity to form friendships — that can be lifelong — with the people you share the journey with. There are lots of highly affordable options, where you can choose your age group to travel with, well as your own custom tour of where you want to go.

Participate In A Few Touristy/Group Activities – Bar Crawls, Surfing, Yoga, Etc.

You may be able to find some fun group activities through social media, but also checkout what your hostel is hosting. A lot of times hostels will have sort of a community board or a big schedule where they arrange a day of surfing for everyone at the hostel, or a bar crawl throughout the town. It’s a really fun way to meet people and feel comfortable knowing that everyone will end up back at the same place.

Connect Online

There are now loads of apps designed to help travelers connect on the road. Tripr and Meetup help you meet people ahead of time who will be traveling to the same destinations. The Meetup community has almost 30 million members in 184 countries, so there’s a decent chance there will be an event of interest during your visit. EatWith allows you to attend a dinner party hosted by a local chef and can help you find and connect with other travelers willing to share advice, meet up or host you.

Stay In A Hostel

Look for hostels that have a cool shared space, as these can be great places to meet other travelers over a beer, while cooking meals or simply hanging out. Using apps and websites are great ways to find cheap hostels with photos and reviews!

Remember…magic happens outside of your comfort zone.

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