May 2017 Roundup

may 2017

May 2017

*This post contains affiliate links.

I’m gonna keep this round up super short. I spent most this last month working on getting blog posts out and working my day job. I did absolutely zero travel. None. Went on a handful of day hikes and that was it. Also, in case anyone cares I wanted to tell you all that I chopped my fucking hair off last week. I know this has nothing to do with travel or my website but I think that accounts for about a 2olb weight loss.

The most exciting thing that happened around here was the release of my first ebook: ‘Beyond The Beaten Path‘. If you haven’t subscribed to my email newsletter that comes out maybe 1-2 times* per month then subscribe and I’ll send you your free copy of the ebook! If you’ve been subscribed in the past you’ve already received it in your inbox.

*I’m not one of those advantageous and annoying bloggers that send out an email daily… man, I unsubscribe from that shit too. 

 

Lost about 30lbs 💇🏽 @bei_capelli_907 ❤️

A post shared by Nicole Smoot (@triplenicki) on

As for the posts I published this month…

How to Get A Denali Road Lottery Permit: THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO ENTER! The deadline is midnight Alaska Time tonight. If you want to visit Denali and self drive, save this post.

The Pamirs Travel Guide: if you want to visit the Pamirs, the GBAO region of Tajikistan or travel the Pamir Highway you must read this guide (or print it and bring it with you!)

Alaska Travel on a Budget Guide: Traveling in Alaska is usually fucking expensive, but if you’re willing to rough it a little and do it yourself you can get away with an affordable trip.

That One Time I Went To Yemen: Most thought I was crazy, some thought it was suicide. I went and I lived to tell about it. Man am I glad I took the opportunity to visit the country while I had the chance.

The Worst Travel Day Ever: Ok, it could’ve been worse, I mean no one died. I did however get in a train wreck, lose a tooth and faint on a filthy bus station floor all in one day. It’s a glamorous life.

Free Things To Do in Anchorage: This is a re-release of a post I published in 2015, but it’s been updated! For those of you wanting to stay on a budget visiting Alaska this is a helpful list of things to do.

My Travel Photography Gear: Another updated post from 2016. I changed it up a little and recommended which solar charger to absolutely not purchase. You know because I purchased it and it’s a complete piece of shit.

How To Score A Cheap Galapagos Cruise: Man the Galapagos is expensive, which shouldn’t come by surprise as it’s super isolated. But if you follow these steps you can get on a cruise of the famed islands and explore for less!

How To Get To The Mendenhall Ice Caves: I’ve been in a few ice caves since my visit to Mendenhall Glacier, and while they’re all beautiful and amazing in their own right none of them have been as grand and impressive as Mendenhall Ice Cave. See it before it’s gone, at your own risk of course.

Tips For The Best Visit To Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu is amazing, but if you want to enhance your visit even further follow these tips to make that trip the trip of a lifetime.

New products I found this month

trtl pillow, may 2017

The Trtl Pillow

The Trtl pillow is a handy travel pillow that folds up nice and small but provides super comfortable neck support for those naps you wanna get in on trains and planes and more.

And that’s a wrap. Hopefully June is a more exciting month. So far I have two short trips planned. One on the Whistle Stop Train to Spencer Glacier and the other to Chicken, Alaska so we’ll see what happens….

Thanks for reading and of course you can follow me on all the stupid social medias if you dare.

Machu Picchu Tips- See the Wonder

Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley

What you need to know to visit: My Machu Picchu Tips.

*This post contains affiliate links.

Planning to visit Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world? My best friend Tay and I visited Machu Picchu in June of 2016, I came with low expectations and left impressed. Machu Picchu has rightfully earned its spot as one of the new seven wonders of the world. After our trip there I wanted to share some of the Machu Picchu tips we learned along the way (and even things we wished we knew but didn’t until after we arrived). Here are my Machu Picchu Tips!

Big changes to Machu Picchu starting July 1, 2017:

It has been spread through the news this month (June, 2017) that new changes will be put into place for visiting Machu Picchu. Starting July 1st tourists can only enter for a half day with an official tour guide. If you haven’t booked a guide in advance, there are official guides at the entrance who charge 100 s/. for groups of up to 4 people. Tickets will need to be purchased for the time slots of either 6am to 12pm, or 12pm to 5:30pm, however if wanting a full day at the park you can buy an entrance ticket for each time slot. From information I have read online it sounds like the tickets will remain the same prices. New rules will be put into effect as well, including the ban of selfie sticks, tripods, monopods, food & utensils, bags over 40 x 35 x 20 cm (16 x 14 x 8 in) in size, and more. To read more information on the upcoming changes read this article by Rick Vecchio of Peruvian Times. These changes are in an effort to help protect the historic site from the effects of the large volume of tourists who visit each year.

I have not yet tracked down information on how this will effect those wanting to hike up Huayna Picchu or Moñtana Picchu, if any at all. The official Peruvian Government’s Machu Picchu site referenced below in order to purchase tickets is down and has been for several days. As information becomes available I will update the following information in this post.

Buy your ticket in advance

Machu Picchu is very popular and for good reason. Since it is popular it is a ticketed site with only 2,500 tickets available each day. Tickets can be booked directly at http://www.machupicchu.gob.peThe website is available in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian.

As of May 2017 the current currency rate was 3.27 s/. Peruvian Sol to $1 US Dollar.

Fees are:

Machu Picchu Ticket:

Foreign Adult: 152 s/.

Peruvian Adult: 64 s/.

Children 8yrs-17yrs 77 s/.

Students with ISIC card 77 s/.

Children under 8yrs are free.

Wanna Hike? Purchase the correct ticket

Limited numbers of tickets are available for the Huayna Picchu Hike and the Montaña Picchu Hike. Huayna Picchu is available for hikes in the 7-8am time frame and 10-11am time frame. Tickets will be checked. Montaña Picchu is available from 7-8am and 9-10am. Only 200 tickets are sold for each time slot each day and they will be checked.

Tickets for either hike (include the standard entrance to Machu Picchu) are:

Foreign adult: 200 s/.

Peruvian adult: 112 s/.

Students with ISIC cards and children 8-17yrs 125 s/.

*These prices include ONE of the hikes (either Montaña or Huayna) NOT BOTH!

Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley

The view from atop Huayna Picchu.

Book train tickets to Aguas Calientes or Inca Trail trekking tours in advance (especially in the high season)

Train tickets can be booked on Peru Rail’s website, prices are different depending on class and time of day. But I already know, it’s downright expensive.

Hiking the Inca trail is an option for getting to Machu Picchu. Different treks range from 2-8 days in durations and on average will set you back anywhere from 1470 s/. to 2615s/.($450 to $800 quoted online), ($200-400 average once in Peru) depending on the trek, duration and group size.

A cheap alternative to get to Aguas Calientes

There is a cheaper option to take a Collectivo from Cusco or Ollantaytambo up to Planta Hydroelectico and then walk for 2 hours off to the side of the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Expect to pay about 30 s/. for a colectivo from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria and another 20 s/. for a colectivo from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico. From Hydroelectrico you will walk for about two hours before reaching Aguas.

If you manage to get ahold of a topographical map of the area before you leave Cusco you can opt to trek Mollepata, Cachora and Huanicapa if you’re feeling pretty adventurous.

Don’t skip Aguas Calientes

Ah, Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, the jumping off point if you will. Most travelers seem to skip over Aguas Calientes and go to Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco or just spend a quick night there in transit to the famed site. Aguas Calientes is a sleepy little town set in a picturesque valley with a couple attractions of it’s own including a hot spring and a cloud forest hike. I spent two nights in Aguas Calientes and wished I would have had one or two more days there to have explored Aguas a little more.

Yes, you can find cheap accommodation in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is known to be on the pricey side in comparison to the rest of Peru which is well known as an inexpensive destination. But don’t fear, with some planning you can stay in Aguas for less. Hostel dorms can be found for as little as 30 s/. to 50 s/.($10-20) per night. There is even the Camp Municipal where you can pitch a tent for 15 s/ per night. Plan to book well in advance to find the cheapest deals on accommodation, especially when planning a visit during the peak season (May to September), you know: early bird gets the worm. Another great way to cut down on expenses is to hit the market or grocer before you leave Cusco and stock up on food. Food does cost more in Aguas Calientes (and boy is the restaurant at Machu Picchu expensive, but very good).

Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley, girl sacred valley, girl Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu

Don’t forget to acclimate

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes sit a little lower in elevation than Cusco, but don’t potentially ruin your trip by not giving yourself a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude. Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous.

Get your bus ticket (or allot enough time to walk to the park)

Roundtrip bus tickets can be purchased from a little building just across the bridge from the train station. The building has a sign that says ‘Venta Oficial de Ticket de Bus‘ on it. Adult return tickets are 79 s/. ($24), children 40 s/. ($12). The first buses leave at 5:30 am and the line to purchase tickets will be lined up long before then.

If opting to walk from Aguas Calientes plan for the walk up to take 60-90 minutes on average, and you will gain about 2,000 meters in elevation on the way up there.

Know the Park Hours

The gates to Machu Picchu open at 6 am and close at 5 pm everyday. Plan your bus or walk to the park accordingly.

Good things come to those who wait: The late afternoon at Machu Picchu. Most tourists will be at the gates as the park opens to catch that famed Machu Picchu sunrise and then already leave before 1pm. After about 2pm I felt like we almost had the park and all the llamas to ourselves, there was hardly a soul there! Plus that golden afternoon light on Huayna Picchu was to die for, not to take the glory away from the sunrise, but I was very happy we stayed open to close.

Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley

When I posted this photo on Instagram I had so many people asking how I shot it with no one else in it but Tay. Well, because this was right as the park was closing. Late afternoon, I tell you what…(Although if you look real close on the right hand side of the picture you can see a line of people on a tour).

Machu Picchu Tickets for less

Did you know there’s an often overlooked cheaper option for entrance into Machu Picchu? There is an ‘evening’ ticket permitting entrance from 1pm to 5pm for 100 s/. per person. This is a good option for those that come from Cusco in the morning and go straight to the park and are only spending one night in Aguas Calientes before departing back to Cusco.

Best Time to Go?

May to September is the peak season and the time when Peru is most likely to have clear, more stable weather (Peru is notorious for having unpredictable weather, so expect anything any time of year.) October to April is the wet season with a tendency for more rain and a mist and sometimes even thick clouds that never break in the worst case.

Hiring a Guide

Having a guide is still not mandatory, although that may change in the future. If you would like to have a guide to take you through the park you can easily hire one when you arrive at the park. They will be vying for your attention as you approach the gate. Expect to pay around 140-160 s/. for a roughly two hour guided tour of the park for 1-2 people.

Don’t forget to bring you passport (and ISIC school ID card if you’re a student)

You will be ID’d when entering the park, make sure you have your passport on you when you present you ticket at the entrance. Anyone paying the discounted student fee must provide their ISIC student card at entrance.

Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley, girl Sacred valley

Budget Ideas:

No frills Machu Picchu budget with two nights in Aguas Calitenes tent camping not including food can be done for a grand total of 322 s/. ($99)!

Mini bus from Cusco to Ollantayambo: 15-20 s/.

Mini bus from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria: 30 s/.

Mini bus from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico: 20 s/.

Standard Adult entrance to Machu Picchu: 152 s/.

Two nights camping at Camp Municipal 30 s/.

Mini bus from Hydroelectrico to Santa Maria: 20 s/.

Mini bus from Santa Maria to Ollantaytambo: 30 s/.

Mini bus from Ollantayambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.


Midrange Machu Picchu Budget with two nights in Aguas Calientes in a hostel, not including food: 710 s. ($218).

Mini bus from Cusco to Ollantayambo: 15-20 s/.

Train from Ollantayambo to Aguas Calientes: 185 s/. booked in advance in cheapest class.

Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.

Two nights in Aguas Calientes Hostel: 100 s/.

Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantayambo: 185 s/. booked in advance in cheapest class.

Mini bus from Ollantayambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.


Comfortable Machu Picchu Budget with two nights in a B&B in Aguas Calientes, not including food: 1,140 s/. ($350).

Train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.

Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.

Hiring a guide for a two hour tour of Machu Picchu: 150 s/.

Two nights in Aguas Calientes Hotel or B&B: 150-230 s/.

Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.

*These are per person estimates. Hotel B&B estimate is the only exception, based on double occupancy.

Of course prices can go up quite higher than 1,140 s/. if you want to book the Hiram Bingham train ($447 each way depending on day!) and want higher end hotels or choose to book a full tour from Cusco.

llama, llamas, Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley

Just two girls, two llamas and Machu Picchu.

My last few Thrifty Machu Picchu tips:

-Book in advance for best deals on accommodation and trains.

-Prepare your own meals with market or store bought produce and goods.

-Haggle- This is almost a fine art in Peru, hone your haggling skills for the best prices in markets and on taxi rides.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Planning a trip to Peru or further afield into South America? Check out my other posts!

Peru:

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect. The lovelies at Flashpacker Connect will set you up with amazing, professional guides that are eco-conscious and knowledgable on the area.

Cusco on the Cheap: The Tambomachay to Cusco Walk. How to see four of Cusco’s nearby archeological sites in a day for next to nothing.

13 Photos That Will Make You Put Rainbow Mountain on Your Bucketlist. Eye candy that will make you wanna see it for yourself.

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever. Peru is a beautiful country, but I think I had one of worst days while I was there. In less than 24 hours I was in a train wreck, lost a tooth and fainted on a bus station floor. My misery is your hilarity here.

Bolivia:

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket to Bolivia. More eye-porn.

One Week in Bolivia: Still Not Dead or Mugged. Everyone kept telling me how bad Bolivia was going to be…

Galapagos:

How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise! The secrets exposed! Who wants to see the Galapagos for less?

Got any Machu Picchu tips to add? Comment below or e-mail me!

Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley, girl machu picchu

How to Get to Mendenhall Ice Caves

Mendenhall Ice Caves, Juneau, Alaska, top 10 in travel 2016

How to get to the Mendenhall Ice Caves

*Go at your own risk!

Hands down one of the most magical things in the world? Joining the iceworms* under the icy blue world of a glacier. The network of cerulean ice caves is what makes Mendenhall Glacier so unique and special. Mendenhall Glacier is a very popular tourist destination, conveniently located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, so if you happen to be in Juneau or are planning a trip there a visit at least to the glacier is a must, but a visit to the Mendenhall Ice Caves will likely be one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.

*Yes, iceworms really do exist!

Don’t put off a visit to Mendenhall Ice Cave for too long! The ice cave is rapidly melting, collapses from time to time and with all the shifts in climate more recently the glacier could disappear all together in a few years.

*This post contains affiliate links. 

How to get to the Mendenhall Ice Cave

*Disclaimer: There is no way to guarantee access to the ice caves, it does collapse from time to time. Ask a park ranger at the the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center for the latest condition information.

1. Go to Juneau

You must get to Juneau first. You can arrive either by air or water. Juneau is not connected to the outside world by road.

2. Head toward Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest

The glacier is located about 12 miles north of downtown Juneau. Head northwest on Egan Drive, take a right onto Mendenhall Loop Road which will turn into Glacier Spur Rd. Follow Glacier Spur until you see Mendenhall Loop Road (yes, again) on your left, turn left and then continue on it. Take a right onto Montana Creek Road. Where the road “Y”s take the right onto Skater’s Cabin road. Follow Skater’s Cabin road to the parking lot at the end. This is the beginning of the ‘West Glacier Trail‘.

3. Start the Trek to Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves

From the end of Skater’s Cabin Road parking lot, start on the West Glacier Trail and follow the trail 4.5 miles to the glacier. This is a long trek and the trail is difficult, can be dangerous in areas and is mostly unmarked. It can get slippery so be cautious where you step. This route includes bridges, hazards, loose rocks, inclines, declines and even stairs. It’s not uncommon for people to twist ankles, suffer sprains and even broken bones on this trail.

Expect the hike to take about 3.5 to 4.5 hours on average, each way. It is advisable to get an early start, especially in the winter when days are short.

3.5 Option: Rather than hike, kayak!

It’s possible to bring a kayak (or rent one back in Juneau) and kayak across the lake in the summer and land just to the western flank of the glacier.

3.75 Option: In the winter, walk across the lake

In the winter, if the ice is thick enough it is possible to walk across the frozen lake from the Visitor Center.

4. Arrive at the western flank of the glacier

Walk north along the western flank of the glacier. Be careful as the rocks and ice can be very slippery here. This is a good place to pop on your crampons.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska, Mendenhall ice caves

Me under an ice arch on the western flank.

5. Start looking for a stream coming from the glacier

This will typically lead you to the entrance of an ice cave.

6. Start looking for the entrance into the ice cave

Glaciers are constantly shifting, changing, melting, moving and sometimes growing. When I visited the opening was quite obvious. Other visitors report having to duck down or even crawl to enter. It just depends on how the glacier has shifted.

Mendenhall ice cave, mendenhall glacier, Juneau, Juneau alaska, alaska, mendenhall ice caves

Inside the opening of the ice cave.

7. Head on in

Once you’ve located the entrance, follow the tunnel in. Depending on the ice you can go to varying depths into the glacier.

Mendenhall Ice Caves, Juneau, Alaska

Into the blue abyss.

8. Enjoy the Mendenhall ice caves!

The best way I can describe what being inside the ice cave is like is to say it’s what I’ve always imagined being trapped inside a sapphire would be like. The blues flicker and flash and appear to shift to different hues. You can hear the constant movement of the glacier with the occasional groan and creak. It’s somewhere that I wanted to stay in forever and run out as fast as I could- it is an eerie feeling being under a glacier, but amazing at the same time.

Medenhall Ice Cave, Juneau, Alaska

What to bring?

Hiking boots- It’s a long hike to get out here and you want to be comfortable with good ankle support. Bringing a pair of rubber boots along will be handy as well as it can be wet going into the cave.

Crampons or ice cleats. You don’t want to be slipping and sliding around on a glacier. Crampons will provide you with the most grip. Cleats will at least give you some traction. Depending on your plans Ice axes may be helpful, although not usually necessary for most visitors.

Water- It’s no brainer. It’s a long hike.

Snacks- Like mentioned with the water, it’s a long hike.

Layers and a rain jacket Juneau is notorious for rain. Layers will keep you comfortable as it will be colder up on and in the glacier. You’ll most likely get pretty warm on the hike over.

Not comfortable going on your own? Hire a guide!

Beyond AK offers tours onto the glacier, including the ice cave. If you’re coming to Juneau on a short cruise ship stop they can arrange to pick you up and get you back to the ship before departure.

Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier Alaska, Mendenhall glacier girl, Juneau, Juneau Alaska, Alaska

Have you been to Mendenhall Ice Cave?

Or an ice cave elsewhere? I’d love to hear about it!

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Check Out These Posts For More Alaska Travel Ideas

Surreality of the Underbelly- Mendenhall Ice Cave

The story of my 2016 visit to Mendenhall Ice Cave.

Alaska Budget Travel Guide

How to travel Alaska on a small budget.

Shrine of St. Therese

A beautiful spot near Juneau, Alaska.

Free Things to Do in Anchorage

From hikes, to markets to exhibits, everything free to do in Anchorage, Alaska.

Anchorage In A Weekend

Ideas for a two day Anchorage, Alaska itinerary.

*Since people in general are stupid and sue happy: Go at your own risk. Glaciers are incredibly dangerous places, especially if you are inexperienced. You can fall into crevasses, glaciers can collapse on top of you, you can slip and fall and much more. I’m not responsible for you injuring yourself, maiming yourself, or dying, or for any belongings or items you may lose/break out there. Be careful. If you are bound and determined to reach Mendenhall ice cave but don’t have much confidence in your glacier trekking abilities it would be wise to hire an experienced glacier guide. 

Mendenhall ice cave, Mendenhall glacier, Mendenhall glacier ice cave, Juneau, Juneau alaska, Alaska, glacier

How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Swallow tailed gull, Swallow-tailed gull, gull, bird

No way!

How to Score a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

*This post contains affiliate links. 

The Galapagos Islands are notoriously known for being an expensive destination. It’s a sought after, remote, well known and a world renowned destination. But did you know you can take a cheap Galapagos cruise for much much less than the advertised prices you see online?

The following tips are going to give you advice on how to get a last-minute cheap Galapagos Cruise.

Remember, that if you pre-book a cruise online you will most likely pay exponentially more money for it, however you get that comfortable feeling that things are squared away and all you gotta do is show up. But remember convenience comes with a price tag. (Remember back when I started out blogging and I wrote that post called ‘Must be nice, how do you afford to travel‘? When I really harped on how you pay for convenience? Well these ship operators out here really benefit from convenience seekers.) For example, one couple we met on our catamaran that did so because they had very limited time paid double what we did to be on our catamaran for only 4 days (we were on it for 8)! So to cut the fat and get to the goods, here it is:

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge

The S/C Solitario Jorge.

How to Take a Cheap Galapagos Cruise

4 steps that will help you get the best price on your Galapagos cruise. Plus a couple bonus tips!

1. Bring that Cash Money.

US dollars are the official currency in Ecuador. Bring the maximum dollar amount you’d be willing to pay when you’re going from agency to agency. You can book last minute cheap Galapagos cruises after you arrive in the islands, as well as at agencies in Quito or from Guayaquil. Personally, we ended up booking a super last minute deal in Puerto Ayora. We flew into Baltra, took the bus and ferry across to the island of Santa Cruz, were dropped off in Puerto Ayora, got a room for the night, met a fun couple staying there and headed out to the Charles Darwin Station with them for the afternoon, then came back to our hotel, changed clothes and headed out to score our cheap Galapagos Cruise.

30 minutes, 1 agency and $1,200 each ($2,400 total) later, we were set up to leave the very next morning on an 8-day, Tourist-Superior Class, all-inclusive, cruise of the Galapagos Islands with a private cabin on a 16 passenger catamaran, the  S/C Solitario Jorge in June of 2016- yep friends, that’s the high season! That comes out to $150 a day each for all accommodations, meals and activities.

2. Come with flexible time constraints.

Wanting to take an 5-day cruise but only booked roundtrip tickets that will put you on the islands for 5 days and it’s high season? Well that’s was your first mistake. You need wiggle room if you want to get a cheap Galapagos Cruise. If you turn up at a booking agent with rigid timeframes these guys will sniff it out.

We went into the agent we purchased from and asked which cruises were leaving in the near future and what their lengths and stops were.

3. Don’t be scared to haggle.

If you’ve been traveling Ecuador or South America prior to your Galapagos arrival you likely know this song and dance is just a way of life here. What’s the worst? The agent says no and won’t budge. There’s a plethora of agencies around Puerto Ayora (or Quito and Guayaquil if you’re still on the mainland), so you can always pick up and move along to the next one. Knowledge of the Spanish language here is beneficial. The agent I booked with only knew a few words of English, but I knew enough Spanish to communicate my needs and to barter a price with him.

4. Know what you want.

Are you willing to go on a more economical style catamaran trip? Or are you expecting luxury? Willing to share a cabin with a stranger/strangers? How many days? Which islands and locations do you want to visit? These preferences will of course make a big difference in what kind of price you’ll pay. I’m not fussed about much. We opted for a catamaran that could only take up to 16 passengers (small group is more my style anyways). We didn’t even ask if we would be sharing a cabin with anyone else because quite frankly, we didn’t come to the Galapagos to sleep in solitude- we came for the wildlife and the unusual landscapes. We did end up with our own cabin that had a private toilet/shower and air conditioning.

I knew I wanted a minimum week long Cruise. So when we found an 8 day catamaran to the eastern islands I was sold.

Bonus tip #1: The off season.

June to September and Christmas/New Years (late December and Early January) are the peak seasons. The benefit is that there are tons of ships, yachts and catamarans leaving daily, but prices tend to be a little higher. June to September is officially the dry and cool season and the best time for wildlife viewing. December to June is the wet season so more showers and warmer temperatures can be expected, but this is when the landscapes are most lush. My best friend’s parent spent 3 weeks in the Galapagos in February 2016 and scored an amazingly cheap deal on a last minute cruise seeing that it’s the rainy off season and that they had tons of time to play with.

Bonus Tip #2: BYOB.

Yup, bring your own booze! (or soft drinks if you enjoy them). On our catamaran a beer or glass of wine would set you back $3 a piece and a 8oz bottle Coke, Fanta or Sprite $1.50 each, which isn’t astronomical, but it adds up if you’re a drinker.

Bonus Tip #3: Ask to see your vessel before you pay.

Sometimes these offers for a cheap Galapagos cruise are too good to be true. If the price is rock-bottom and way lower than what would fall within the ‘normal’ price range for a cheap Galapagos cruise, it may be for a reason. There are passenger’s accounts online for being booked onto a problematic yacht, catamaran or ship. Anywhere from rooms that smell so awful you can’t be in it without gagging to downright dangerous damages to the vessel.

Don’t forget to tip the crew!

These guys bust their asses to make sure you have a great trip. It’s not required but it is very much appreciated. We actually are still good friends with our naturalist guide Andreas (he’s seriously one of the BEST guides I’ve had the world over) he even came to Alaska a few months later and stayed at our house (of course I missed him because I was off traveling again).

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Galapagos cactus

What to be wary of.

Is the price too good to be true? It likely is. When shopping around expect 5 day cruise deals to come in around the $750 to $1,800 range depending on the cruise class. If prices are extremely low it can be a bad sign. It could include an unqualified guide, poor equipment or an unreliable ship (yes, the occasional shipwreck does and can happen out here). It’s a good idea when booking to ask to see the yacht, ship or catamaran before you agree to book.

Know what’s included. Typically most cruises will include meals, tours, and snorkel gear. Scuba trips and alcohol are usually an additional fee. Know before you pay. My cruise included meals, snorkel gear, and all tours. Scuba gear was onboard but did cost extra if anyone wanted to go diving, wet suits were onboard and available for an extra fee for the duration of the trip, and alcohol/soda was extra.

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Galapagos Sea Lion, Sea Lion

Here are the unavoidable costs:

-$300-500 roundtrip from Quito/Guayaquil airfare. Let’s face it, you can’t swim to the Galapagos. It is possible to use airline miles to get out to the Galapagos, that would be the only possible cheaper way.

-$100 per person Park Fee (children are $50). Upon arrival at the Santa Cruz Airport you will be charged this fee that MUST BE PAID IN CASH. When we arrived there were a couple people that didn’t know and didn’t have cash to pay the fee. They were allowed to continue to Santa Cruz, but passports would held there at the airport as collateral until they returned to the airport with fee money in cash. There have been rumors for the last few years of it being increased eventually to $200 or $300 per person.

-$3.00-21.00 for the ferry+bus/taxi from the Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora. Once you have paid your national park fee and grabbed your luggage, head outside and catch the free bus to the Itabaca Channel where you will get on the ferry that takes you across to Santa Cruz Island. When you get to the Channel, take your luggage and put it on the roof of the ferry and then get on. Someone will come around and collect the $1 fee. Once across to the Santa Cruz side you can either wait for the bus or grab one of the white taxi trucks. The bus will set you back $2.00 and drop you in downtown Puerto Ayora. A taxi should cost about $20 to Puerto Ayora.

-$10-100’s for accommodations. Accommodation costs can vary widely. You will likely need to stay at least a night before or after catching your cruise. There are a few Couchsurfing hosts in Puerto Ayora, so free accommodation is possible, a couple hostels offer rooms for as little as $10 per night per bed (although $20/night per dorm bed is average), private single rooms $25/n on average, $40/n on average for a double. Hotels can run the gamut from $50 to hundreds per night. Camping is possible typically with a guide and permissions from the national park (but this comes with a price tag).

-$1 on up for meals. Food costs can vary widely depending on your budget, where you want to eat and how long you’ll be on land before you get on your likely all-meals-included cheap Galapagos cruise. It’s possible to eat for as little as a few dollars per day as there are tiendas and even a supermarket in Puerto Ayora where you can purchase provisions and prepare your own meals. There is a street of local restaurants off the main road where cheap dishes can be eaten, usually a full meal will set you back $4. Expect to pay typical prices you’d pay in the US, Canada or Europe at restaurants in the main tourist area in downtown Puerto Ayora.

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge

But what about being land based and doing day tours?

If you’re on a budget and cruise prices even at last minute are too high for what you’re working with being land based is an option.

After quizzing my best friend’s parents, as well as numerous people I know back home who have gone to the Galapagos and did both cruises and land based activities the consensus was: it’s a once in a lifetime trip for most people, SPLURGE ON A CRUISE!

My best friend’s parents spent 21 days in the Galapagos, 12 were onboard a ship, the remaining were spent doing day trips around the islands. While they said they enjoyed the day trips they did, they felt the cruise was a much more valuable experience as being land based and day tripping out can really limit your options as to where you can realistically visit.

Another thing to remember that if you do decide to ultimately stay land based that you will be paying for your accommodation, meals, and tours. Tours can range from $50-$200 per day, (most hover around $100 pp/per day), accommodation can range from free if Couchsurfing to $25 per night for a private room and up to the hundreds of dollars per night range, and of course meals will range depending on your preferences. This can rack up to the same cost or more per day than a last minute cruise would cost you if you’re not careful with your expenditures.

Some savvy traveler’s report doing all this on less than $50 per day per person. Which for two people comes out to less than the cost of one person per day on the catamaran I went on. A great comparison to read is Flora the Explorer’s trips to the Galapagos on both land based and cruise trips. She really highlights the pros/cons of each.

It is possible to fly to/or out of either Baltra or San Cristobal and take ferries between the main islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana and Isabela and create sort of a DIY super cheap Galapagos cruise. You can do day tours from each location to get a mixture of different areas and islands. Each of those four  islands offers free hiking, areas you can snorkel independently and of course wildlife hasn’t cashed in on charging fees to view them, however visiting other islands beyond those four listed you usually need permissions from the national park and be accompanied by a guide. Wanna check out ferry schedules and costs? Read this post.

Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge, Red footed booby, red foot booby

A red footed booby.

How I feel about the cheap Galapagos cruise I took?

We were both very happy with our catamaran trip of the Galapagos. I feel we saw all the wildlife and all the landscapes we had come to see.  I actually do not feel a need to ever go back to the Galapagos and for good reason: because we saw so much. I don’t feel we missed anything at all. Of course we didn’t get to experience the western islands of the Galapagos because the cruises were on their three week trips to the east (The national park allows boats in the east for 3 weeks, and then the west for 3 weeks to give wildlife breaks from the boats). I was thoroughly happy with what I experienced in the eastern islands. We had an amazing guide who was knowledgable on anything Galapagos (he was born and grew up on Santa Cruz). I was also impressed with how well regulated the park is and what is being done to conserve the environment and protect it from the impacts of tourism.

two birds, birds flying together, two birds flying, long tailed Galapagos bird, white bird with long tail Galapagos, red-billed tropic bird, Phaethon aethereus, Galapagos, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Cheap Galapagos Cruise, Galapagos Cruise, Solitario Jorge, S/C Solitario Jorge

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

My Travel Photography Gear

My Travel Photography Gear

*This post contains affiliate links. 

Without a doubt, whether on the blog here, or on Instagram my #1 most asked question is what travel photography gear do you use? People are always asking what Camera I shoot with, what lenses, what I edit with. Well, here it all is!

So without further ado, here are all my secrets as to what photography gear I haul around the world with me. and PS: This is my first YouTube Video!

A few years back I started becoming more and more interested in photography. Back when I was a dumbass teenager, who thought she was going to become a famous artist one day, I thought that photography was art for people too lazy to create with their own capabilities. Ie: painting, drawing, sculpting, etc….. Boy, was I wrong.

Fast forward a few years as I stand over my newly dropped Canon Powershot SX230 HS under the blazing morning Cambodian sun at Angkor Thom. It would turn on, but when I would try to take a photo it was a 80/20 to whether it was going to take a photo. The 80% is the number against me.

So I had our tuk-tuk driver who went by Spiderman quickly take us to a camera shop back in Siem Reap. This was the day, I had been promising myself I was going DSLR after the Powershot for some time.

I walked out with the Canon 600D/t3i, and that’s where it really started. I mean really, really started… the borderline obsession.

Then fast forward to 2016, here I am. Still always toting a camera around. And believe it or not, all this gear I’m about to show you (with the exception of my tripod that I hook onto the outside) fits in a pretty small backpack!

Remember though you don’t need a big fancy DSLR camera to take great photos. There are amazing photographers out there shooting with just a smart phone. To me composition is key, and proper editing is a must. Any camera is a good camera.

So here it is guys: the Travel Photography Gear behind this blog, behind my Instagram feed.

Camera Bodies

Canon 5DS-R

travel photography gear

I have to admit, I still feel like this is waaaaaaay too much camera for me. I was perfectly happy with my Canon 600D. But as a gift, Grant bought me the Canon 5DS-R. And I’ll admit I’m totally and completely in love with this camera. It is a full frame camera and it comes with a hefty price tag of $3,899 USD. Yikes. I can’t believe I now own a camera that costs nearly as much as my first car did.

Of course I’m not saying that Canon is the way to go. My first digital point and shoot was a Kodak, then a Nikon. I stayed with Nikon for a while until I received my Canon Powershot SX230 HS as a college graduation gift. I ended up choosing to go with Canon on that fateful day I broke the Powershot only because my Mom (who works in a photo lab) suggested I stay with the same brand.

My cousin shoots with Nikon along with many friends of mine. I play with Nikon cameras from time to time and they are great.

I’d love to give one of those Sony A7II mirrorless cameras a try, but out of fear of liking it and having to completely switch over- I haven’t picked one up yet. It is tempting after seeing so many extremely successful photographers- such as Gary Arndt make the switch.

Canon 600D/t3i

travel photography gear

I still lug this body around with me. In the unfortunate event of needing a back up, I like to have it with me. It’s a good camera, its been through the abuse of me learning how to use it, how to shoot in manual, how to shoot the night sky. This is a great camera to get your photography footing on. It’s a crop sensor camera, so I also will use it to give me that extra zoom with my telephoto lens on occasion.

Lenses

I only travel with three lenses. That’s it. Of course I have other’s at home- a variety of wide angles, even a macro lens… The beauty of two people obsessed with cameras living under the same roof.

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR DI SP

travel photography gear

This is my go-to standard lens. I shoot lots of landscape shots on this lens. It’s the lens you’ll find on my camera most of the time.

Rokinon 14mm

travel photography gear

Fully manual and tricky to get the hang of, but this is my favorite lens of them all. It’s super wide angle- so it’s my go-to for my photos involving the night sky, especially with that f/2.8. Plus this lens has a wallet-friendly price tag for the quality it provides.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 DI VC

travel photography gear

My telephoto and my newest purchase. I love what I have taken on this lens- which got it’s most use so far in the Galapagos.

Tamron 2x Teleconverter

travel photography gear

Not truly a lens, more of a lens accessory. This bad boy doubles the zoom on lenses you use this in conjunction with. My 70-200mm turns into a 140-400mm using the 2x teleconverter.

It does come with some downsides- Autofocus can be spotty with it, photos do turn out darker than they should so to compensate knock your f/ down a couple stops, and fully zoomed in you do lose some sharpness. The win- it’s a whole hell of a lot cheaper than purchasing a lens with zoom capabilities to 400+mm. If I shout wildlife professionally I might be swayed to upgrade, but for the less than $200 USD I spent on this, it does the job.

More Associated Gear!

Tripod

travel photography gear
A must for taking photos- especially at night! I have used both the Zomei tripod and MeFoto Globetrotter.

Battery Grip

travel photography gear

Not an absolute must, but it does come in handy when shooting in extreme cold. It holds two batteries in it. Check out battery grips here.

Neutral Density Filter

Travel Photography Gear

I’ll admit, I don’t have the best of the best, but this does the trick. I had my parents grab me a cheap set of filters off eBay a couple years ago as an Xmas gift. You can invest and buy high quality glass ND filters. Or another hack (not personally tested) is to get some welding glass sheets. I use these to take long exposure shots when the lighting is just too bright. Shop ND filters here.

Using Lens caps to hold your SD cards

travel photography gear

Lens cap card container

An oldie but a goodie- people have been doing this for ages.

Gadgets I use in Conjunction with my travel photography gear.

iPad Mini, Clamcase, SD card reader for iPad.

travel photography gear

My baby laptop! I have an iPad mini. The clamcase is a blue tooth keyboard that your iPad clicks into. Then adding the SD card reader– now you’ve got the ability to load your photos onto the Lightroom app and voila: Photo editing on the road without the bulk of bringing a laptop with you!

travel photography gear

Solar Charger

travel photography gear

If you’re the type to wander off into the great outdoors- possibly for days on end with zero access to electricity, then a solar charger is a handy item to tote along with you. Don’t buy this one pictured (by Allpowers, it sucks! I know from personal experience). I’m back on the market for a new solar charger.

Photo Storage

travel photography gear

You got a couple options here: If traveling with a lap top and the ability to transfer files over, then an external hard drive is a great way to go. If not, well- plan to bring lots and lots of SD cards.

For Underwater and Filthy Places:

Without a doubt: The GoPro! What an easy to use durable camera.

Want to Travel and Shoot Drone footage?

Try the DJI Spark or DJI Mavic Pro!

So that is what comprises my travel photography gear.

I hope this answers all of your questions!

Do you have any hacks you use? What gear do you all use? I’m always open to new ideas!

Free Things to Do in Anchorage

This post contains affiliate links.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Eagle River, Eagle River Alaska, Eagle River AK, Travel AK budget, Eagle River Nature Center, ERNC, girl mountain

Eagle River Nature Center.

Free Things to Do in Anchorage

*Including Eagle River and Girdwood.

I’ve lived in, around or near Anchorage my entire life. Although I grew up not thinking it was too exciting of a place, after years of international travel I’ve come to realize how unique of a city Anchorage really is! You can hike a mountain and still be within the bounds of the city. Not 10 minutes away you can grab a beer and a meal. We have an extensive network of bike trails. Anchorage really has a lot on offer especially for outdoors lovers. And guess what makes it all the better? There a number of free things to do in Anchorage!

*Several parks and hikes mentioned here fall within Chugach State Park. Most Alaska State Parks are free to enter, however the many state parks parking lots charge a $5 parking fee per day (additional for camping). If you are an avid state parks user it is worth picking up a $50 annual Alaska State Parks Pass.

Hikes

*Hikes come with a disclaimer: many do have a $5 parking fee, however; entrance to the park is free.

Start shopping Alaska Hiking Books here!

The Coastal Trail

11 mile trail that winds along the coastline from Downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park.  Good for walking, biking, rollerblading, and running.  You can cross-country ski the trail as well in the winter.

Eagle River Nature Center

Eagle River Nature Center

*$5 parking fee

About 20 minutes north of Anchorage in Eagle River valley.  20 miles of trails maintained by volunteers. Also leads into the 21 mile Crow Creek Pass trail through Chugach State Park to Girdwood.

Hike Up Flattop

View from Flattop, Anchorage

Photo Cred: Eli Duke via Flickr

*$5 parking fee

Take the Glen Alps trailhead and follow it 1.5 miles to the top of Flattop Mountain.  Super popular trail with great panoramic views of the city.

Campbell Creek Greenbelt Trail

Runs 7.5 miles from University Lake to Dimond Blvd.  Hugs alongside Campbell creek and goes through neighborhoods.  Good for walking, running, biking and rollerblading.

Eklutna Lake

Eklutna Lake

Photo Cred: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr

*parking fee $5, campsite fee $15 p/n.

Hiking trails, the lake and a campground.  Hiking connects in with Twin Peaks, Bold Peaks Valley, Pepper Peak and East Fork Trails.

Eagle & Symphony Lakes

Eagle and Symphony Lakes

*$5 parking fee… if you can find an open spot.

Park at the South Fork Trailhead back Hiland road in Eagle River.  About 11 miles roundtrip to the lake and back.  Great blueberry picking in the fall.

Thunderbird Falls

thunderbird faill. eagle river. chukka. alaska. waterfall

Thunderbird falls

*$5 pakring fee.

2 miles roundtrip hike ending at the waterfalls. Short easy hike.

Baldy

Baldy Hike

Up Skyline road in Eagle River.  1.5 miles roundtrip.  Great views of the inlet and Eagle River to Anchorage from the top. This hike can be continued beyond to Blacktail for a longer trip.

McHugh Creek

*$5 parking fee

Ends at Rabbit Lake up in the Chugach Mountains.  14 miles roundtrip, suggested to camp overnight if doing the entire trail.  Uphill the entire way. Rabbit Lake can also be accessed via the parking lot at the end of Upper Canyon Road (Upper DeArmoun Rd), this is a much more gradual and calm hike.

North Fork Eagle River

North Fork, Eagle River

*$5 parking fee.

About 20 minutes north of Anchorage, on the way back to the Eagle River Nature Center.  1 mile roundtrip.  Good trail for families with little kids.  Easy with no elevation gain.  Runs along side Eagle River.

Mile-High Road

Mile-High Hike, Eagle River

Out in Eagle River, about 3 miles up Eagle River road, look for Mile High road and follow the switchbacks up until you come to a pull off and park there.  Walk past the antenna and you’ll see the start of the trail.  Good views to the ocean, and down into Eagle River valley.  Continues and goes up to to Mt. Magnificent.

Winner Creek Trail

40 minutes or so south of Anchorage down in Girdwood.  Nice hike through the forest.  6 miles roundtrip.  Leads up to two canyons.  Hand tram over the Winner Creek Gorge.

Crow Pass

Crow-pass-alaska

21 mile trek through Chugach State Park between Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood and Eagle River (the nature center).  Some people split into an overnight trip.

Bird Ridge

IMG_9299

*$5 parking fee, if you can find parking in the lot.

5 miles roundtrip, uphill the entire hike to the top.  Great views of the inlet.  Head towards Girdwood from Anchorage, about a half hour away.

Virgin Creek

Short hike through the lovely greens of Girdwood to this picturesque little waterfall. (I’ve been corrected that it’s not technically a waterfall, but whatever).

Girdwood, Virgin Creek, Virgin Creek Falls, Virgin creek waterfall, Alaska, Free things to do in Anchorage

Virgin Creek.

Wildlife Viewing

Potter’s Marsh Bird Sanctuary

Potter's Marsh

Photo Cred: Luke Jones via Flickr

Just south of Anchorage, park at the Potter’s Marsh parking Lot.  Half mile of boardwalks over the marsh to view local bird species.  Likely to see Arctic Terns, Seagulls, Yellow Legs and more birds.  Moose frequent the area too.

Ship Creek Salmon Viewing Deck

Watch salmon run through the creek while fisherman try to catch them.  Located on Whitney road in the downtown area.

Parks

Kincaid Park

Kincaid Park

Photo Cred: Paxon Woelber via Flicker

1500 acre park in southwest Anchorage.  Plenty of places to hike, bike and even cross-country ski in the winter.  Links to Coastal Trail.  Access to beaches.

Earthquake Park

Park between Hood Creek and Point Woronzof.  Commemorating the 9.2 earthquake that rocked Anchorage and caused numerous of its neighborhoods to fall into the ocean.

The Park Strip

Oldest park in the city.  In downtown Anchorage.

Point Woronzof Park

Park on then inlet near the airport.  Running and biking can be done here all summer, great place to cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter.

Museums, Historic Sites and Learning

Want to head indoors? Don’t worry! Of the array if free things to do in Anchorage there are a number indoor options.

Alyeska Roundhouse Museum

*Accessible only by ski lift or tram in winter… lift tickets are an arm and a leg, tram only tickets are $25. Accessible by hiking in summer and fall.

Museum sitting 2,280 feet above sea level.

Alaska Heritage Library and Museum

Small museum of Alaska cultural history and heritage.

Alaska State Trooper and Law Enforcement Museum

Exhibits, photographs and memorabilia on Alaska Law enforcement in downtown Anchorage.

Alaska Public Lands Building

Info and displays on Alaska’s state and national parks.

Campbell Creek Science Center

Campbell Creek Science Center

Photo Cred: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr

Outdoor science education center.  Learn about the creeks, forests, wildlife and plants around Anchorage.

Eklutna Village

Native Village on the north outskirts of the Municipality of Anchorage.  Visit the historic park to see St Nicholas Orthodox Church, the spirit houses and learn about the culture, history and traditions of the Dena’ina Athabascan people.

Arts

Love the arts? And do you love free things to do in Anchorage? You have options.

First Friday Art Walk

First Friday of every month.  Make your rounds to the local galleries checking out the artwork of the local talents.

Music in the Park

Every Wednesday and Friday from noon to 1pm at Peratrovich Park.  Come listen to local Alaska music and Alaska Native Performers.

Markets

Not the adventurous outdoorsy type? Anchorage offers a few markets to peruse and they fall into the category of free things to do in Anchorage. Although if you want to purchase you’ll have to pay, but looking is always free!

The Anchorage Market

Saturdays and Sundays off 3rd Avenue in downtown Anchorage in the summer.  Alaska’s largest open air market.  Eat food from local vendors, buy locally grown vegetables and buy artwork and gifts.

The Spenard Market

Farmer’s Market under the windmill in Spenard every Saturday in the summer May-September.  Buy locally grown vegetables, and goods.

Anchorage Farmers Market

Every Saturday in the summer, located off 15th Avenue and Cordova.  Come by to purchase local produce.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Anything I missed?  Contact me at adventureoflilnicki {at} gmail.com or comment below and I’ll add it to the list of free things to do in Anchorage.

Want to travel a Alaska, but you’re on a budget?

No worries! Check out my Alaska Budget Travel Guide!

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever: Nicole Gets In A Train Wreck

The most hilarious worst travel day ever, Machu Picchu, Peru

#failing, or #flailing, you decide…

The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever

I had a crappy time in Peru last year, that’s no lie. It’s not Peru’s fault, and I’m certainly not going to write a post telling you not to go to Peru because I had a shitty time, for fuck’s sake there’s enough travel bloggers that have a shitty time in a certain location and write posts telling everyone else they shouldn’t visit it either. Peru actually is a beautiful country with so many insane landscapes to fend off any traveler’s heroine like travel addiction.

So, before I start telling my story, I’ll break down the pros/cons I found while traveling in Peru. Peruvians, I know you’re a proud people and I’m not trying to piss any of you off!

Peru Pros:

-Unreal mountain landscapes in the Andes.

-Vinicunca. I got to visit with a great guide before the irresponsible tourism went full fledged, so my experience is likely very different from someone trekking today.

-Machu Picchu. I’m usually not enthralled with famous spots. It’s one of the seven new wonders of the world. I prepped by turning up in the morning with the expectation that I would hate it. I didn’t- it’s quite well managed and does in fact look exactly the same as on the post cards.

-Huacachina. What a fun desert oasis. A pleasant place to spend a couple days.

-Peruvian Amazon. Okay I didn’t get to visit myself, but the general consensus I got from other traveler’s was that it was worth the visit.

Cons:

-Difficult to communicate without proper knowledge of the Spanish language. This is not something to hold against Peru or that I’m even complaining about. If you have limited or no ability to speak Spanish communication will be a hurdle.

-High altitudes. Not all of the country is high altitude, but most of the tourist draws in the country are high in the Andes. This is something to be aware of and proper steps to avoid and/or alleviate altitude sickness should be taken.

-Driving. Peruvians as a whole are crazy behind the wheel. Sorry to all you good driving Peruvians to generalize about that. When your taxi driver is cut off and nearly slammed into for the 10th time in 5 minutes and keeps apologizing about his countrymen’s terrible driving etiquette and continually shaking his head muttering Peru, Peru, Peru it’s safe to say that driving in Peru is a nightmare.

-Bad mountain roads. Roads into the mountains that are somewhat considered off the beaten path are downright terrifying. Narrow roads on the edge of a cliff with a sheer vertical drop thousands of feet down paired with lunatic like driving makes for a death-defying ride.

-Taking a long bus between cities. At some stations we found this to be a maddening and confusing experience. When going from Puno to Cusco we bought our bus ticket and then tried to board the bus. They wouldn’t let us on. What we gathered was that we had to go to a window and pay some kind of fee or tax to get a stamp on the ticket. We did so and came back and were still not allowed on. We then had to go back to a different window and pay something else to get a hole punched in the ticket. What these fees were for? Who the fuck knows, but it could easily be charged within the purchase of the bus ticket and alleviate the confusion.

-Unchecked and irresponsible tourism. Yes, places like Machu Picchu are heavily guarded and ran quite well. Up and coming destinations are not. When we were at Vinicunca we could see it was on it’s way to catastrophe. We had an experienced and respectful guide that explained how the mountains got their unique color, was very aware of the environmental impacts and what should be done to alleviate them. He was very adamant about the importance of staying on trail. There weren’t tons of tourists yet when we visited in June of 2016, however later in the day you did see larger tour groups trekking up, who had people nearly keeling over wheezing for air (they likely were too impatient to acclimate back in Cusco), many were wandering off the trail and some were even trying to climb up on the mountain!

So here we go, the story: The Most Hilarious, Worst Travel Day Ever

To give a preface to the story: I had a sinus infection while traveling in Bolivia where I started my travels in South America last year. Sinus infections can cause tooth pain so I catagorized the pain I had been suffering to that. But it never went away on the left side. At 3:30am the day I was about to go into Machu Picchu it became apparent that my tooth had abscessed. 

I suffered through the pain to see Machu Picchu with a plan to get the tooth right the fuck out of my head the next day.

That night Tay and I went back to our hostel in Aguas Calientes. In case you don’t know any Spanish, Aguas Calientes means hot water. I proceeded to take the coldest shower ever in the history of the world in a place called hot water. WHY IN THE LITERAL FUCK IS THE WATER SO COLD?!? I think the metal on the tap had a sheen of ice on it. Tay of course thought this was the most hilarious thing she ever witnessed and snap chatted my entire rant as I used her hair dryer in an attempted to melt the ice off my body. All I wanted after a day of pain and trekking up Huayna Picchu was a shower, a hot shower, fuck I’d take lukewarm at that point. Really, the place should be called Aguas Muy Fucking Frio.

Fast forward to the ass crack of morning the next day. I’d hardly slept because of the pain. We had to be over at the train station to catch our train to Ollantaytambo at 5:30 am. We walked over with our backpacks and got on the train.

I was so unpleasant to be around that I was sure Tay hated me. A cheery couple sat across the table from us. Shortly after we all sat down I finally dozed off, but not for long.

SCREEEEEEEECH! BAM!

Bags go flying off of shelves, people scream, the coffee cart topples over in a split second shitstorm of events…..

Ladies and gentlemen, this is where Nicole gets in her first train wreck, like a literal one.

Really, can this day get any worse?

We were stopped there on the tracks. The staff looked frantic, passengers are shaken up. After a few minutes the announcement was made, we had hit a vehicle parked on the tracks. It would be a few moments before we started moving again and of course Peru Rail was apologizing for the accident.

About 20 minutes later we start moving again. This time I cannot fall back asleep.

A short while later the boyfriend across the table jumps up out of his seat, binoculars in hand. (Remember when I said that a cheery young couple sat across the table from us?) He is dead staring through the binoculars out the window and proclaims, “that’s a nice female!”  The girlfriend immediately pops up and begins fumbling for her binoculars. All the while Tay and I are gawking out the window trying to see what nice female he’s talking about.

Upon the realization that they’re losing their fucking minds over a duck, Tay and I are facing each other, eyes watering suppressing our laughter. We’ve known each other long enough that we know that the other one is trying to control themselves to not loudly blurt out, “HA! Virgins!”

*Birders are a breed of people I don’t understand. Who gets that excited over a fucking bird?

Finally, survived minor train wreck aside we arrive in Ollantaytambo.

I had already googled, pre Hostel-Aguas-motherfucking-frio departure. There aren’t but a couple dentists in Ollantaytambo and it’s currently Saturday. “There’s no hope!” I’m kinda yelling/lip quivering in a I’m-in-so-much-pain kind of way to Tay.  “We need to get to Cusco. NOW.”  Tay was on it, she had a taxi driver lined up and bartered in price in two shakes of a llamas ass. We slide into the backseat and we’re off. My Spanish sucks but I knew enough to tell him “Muy diente dolor, necessito dentista por favor!”  About 75 near death defying incidents and record time later we were cruising the streets of Cusco looking for a dentista office that looked open.

We eventually found a Dental Consult office open. Tay paid the driver and we hauled our bags upstairs. I explain upon walking through the door “Necessito diente extractcción!” Tay begins explaining more in Spanish to the staff as they whisk me behind a curtain and into a dental chair. (Tay speaks far more Spanish than I do). Tay comes back and says that they’re calling the dentist in as I’m opening and rifling through drawers inspecting equipment and cleanliness. Tay, eyes rolling announces to everyone in the office in Spanish that I’m actually a dental hygienist in Alaska and nosing around, I’m sure she even threw in there that I’m embarrassing her.

I do lots of weird stuff that embarrasses Tay. I wasn’t about to get Hep C. I definitely don’t know what the standard of care or sterilization procedures in Peru are. Luckily they had an autoclave and everything was tidy.

About 30 minutes after we arrived a dentist walks in and begins explaining that she will give me anesthesia and will begin the extraction. I told her that I knew the tooth had extremely twisted and curved roots. Working in dentistry I’d seen X-rays of my root apices and knew that tooth in particular would be a son-of-a-bitch to get out. She elevated the tooth, I could painlessly feel the pop of the ligaments being snapped and the pressure release from the draining of the infection. Then the forceps come out, the extraction begins. She’s pulling and twisting with all her might to no avail. We keep having to do more anesthesia because it keeps wearing off due to the infection. Finally after about an hour of her probably getting the hardest workout of her life, she gives up. She’s going to call another dentist who does extractions far more often, a surgeon she knows.

Dentist #2 arrives, introduces himself and gloves up. He begins reefing and pulling. About 30 minutes in he says we have to go over to his office across town where he has better access and a better variety of instruments. Soon we’re all piling into dentist #2’s small car with Tay and I’s backpacks loaded in the trunk. It looked like a clown car there were so many of us. We’re laughing,  I’m flicking my half extracted tooth around with my tongue….

About a half hour later we pull up to dentist #2’s office. It’s nice. They sit me back, I have both dentists pulling on the forceps, both of them nearly with their feet on my forehead for leverage, and finally the tooth launches out of my head. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in my life- trust me Tay could vouch for my excitement* as I sat up and yelled “YES!” Amazingly they managed to get my crazy tooth out in one piece.

The most hilarious, worst travel day ever, Nicki's worst travel moments of 2016

Good riddance tooth #15, you’re an asshole.

*I’m known for being emotionless.

Dentist #2 quickly gives me my aftercare instructions and two prescriptions, an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. He had already called a taxi to pick us up and bring us to the bus station. Did I forget to mention that Tay and I were catching a 17 hour bus to Ica, Peru that night? I did. We have a 17 hour bus ride ahead of us. The shitshow ain’t over.

I then asked for the grand total for my extraction. Everything I had read online regarding having a tooth extracted in Peru explicitly said to negotiate a price beforehand. By the time we made it in to get my tooth pulled I was in enough pain that I didn’t even think of that. Plus, what was I gonna do? Barter with potentially the only two dentists willing to work the weekend and go somewhere else in the short window of time we had? The bill? 100 whole Peruvian Sols. That’s roughly $30 US. Worth it.

After nearly 3 whole hours of 2 dentistas extracting 1 tooth, we head to the bus station

Finally we make it over to the bus station. We already had printed tickets so all we had to do was wait. Plus I had to go pick up my prescriptions. There was a pharmacy in the bus station, of course, it’s fucking closed. I go outside and look for a taxi driver to take me to the nearest farmacia. I hop in, we stop only a couple minutes up the road, I hop out hand over my scripts, I walk out with my meds and get back in the taxi. I plop back down next to Tay in our seats waiting for our boarding time. Then it hits me: I’m going to faint.

I get this strange aura when I’m going to faint (usually). My ears start ringing deafeningly loud. My vision goes kind of dark. I start to cold sweat profusely. That’s when I know I’m about to go down. At this point I turn to Tay and tell her “I’m going to faint, don’t freak out. I’m going to lie down on this filthy bus station floor for a few minutes and then I’ll wake back up and I’ll be fine.” Tay is just looking at me all confused. So I push my backpack outta the way and laid down with my head propped up on it.

Then I awoke to the loud bustling of the bus station. I open my eye, I’m facing toward the seats, I see Tay’s leg. Then I see about 17cm deep worth of dust bunnies. I swear they’re alive and moving. I quickly pop up and sit down in the seat next to Tay. She’s looking at me like, what in the literal fuck just happened? And I’m just sitting over here playing it cool with 27 years worth of dust caked to my left side*. Tay gets up and says “Uh, I’m gonna go try to find you some ice.”

*We can file this under ‘things that Nicole does that likely embarrasses Tay’.

Tay returns after a bit with a frozen water bottle, as she went into every tienda in the station and the only ice she could find was a frozen water bottle in the back of a refrigerator. Then the golden hour was upon us. It was time to board our bus!

Thankfully we paid for fully reclining seats and I passed out in my swollen, bloody, filthy agony for the next 17 hours with a frozen water bottle on my face.

17 Hours Later I woke up in Ica and finally my worst travel day was over!

I immediately took a shower. At least you guys can all laugh at my misery.

Wanna read about and see the better travel days I had in South America?

Rainbow Mountain Peru with Flashpacker Connect. These guys will set you up with great, professional guides and you won’t have to right a scathing blog post about how everyone else shouldn’t go there just because you had a shitty time

10 Photos That Will Make You Book That Ticket to Bolivia. A little Bolivia inspiration for you.

Cusco on the Cheap: The Tambomachay to Cusco Walk. How to see four of Cusco’s nearby archeological sites for cheap!

13 Photos That Will Make You Put Rainbow Mountain on Your Bucketlist. Visual stimulation that will make you wanna see it for yourself.

What Happened in South America, Pt. I. A little about what went down in Bolivia and Peru.

One Week in Bolivia: Still Not Dead or Mugged. Everyone kept telling me how bad Bolivia was going to be…

That One Time I Decided to Travel to Yemen

Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, Old Sana'a City, Old Sanaa City, Old City, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Old Sana’a.

That One Time I Decided I Would Travel To Yemen.

*Most every country under the sun is advising against all travel to Yemen right now due to the ongoing war, Saudi-led and US-backed coalition air strikes, Al Qaeda presence, and general lawlessness. You can read the US government’s warning, here.

It was early in the morning, January 31st, 2014. I sat at my gate at the Dubai Airport in my long black dress and hijab, with my hands slightly shaking, clammy and clutching my boarding pass to Sana’a and a paper copy of my Yemeni visa.

Would I be kidnapped by a tribe and held for ransom to build a school or road? Would I be kinapped by Al-Qaeda and most likely beheaded*? Or would I come home unscathed? I mean really, who in the right mind decides to travel to Yemen?

*After all, the US government doesn’t barter with terrorists, unless of course it involves trading 5 known terrorists for the release of the precious Bowe Berghdal.

I was already playing it out in my head: The ridiculous comments people would write on the article explaining my disappearance while vacationing in Yemen. Like how I deserved to die for going there, and how stupid I am to travel to Yemen, or how much of an asshole I am for expecting the American government to bail me outta there. Believe it or not, I don’t think the ‘US government’ has an obligation to bring me home, and I do think that if they were to evacuate me, I should probably be billed for it considering I made the conscious decision to go there even with an understanding of the volatility, instability of acting government, the warring tribal factions, and a long-standing Al-Qaeda presence. Anymore, people feel highly inclined to voice their slighted and unfounded opinions online from the safety of their own couch where laziness and poor health decisions are a far likelier risk of death than a potential terrorist attack.

The announcement came across the PA system. They were boarding my row.

But, but… I had been eyeballing Yemen for years at this point, close to a decade actually. I was so close to Yemen and it’s alien island of Socotra. I wanted this. I had wanted to travel to Yemen for a long time. Two days ago I left home, 3 days ago I was at my Grandmother’s funeral, 4 weeks ago she was insisting I book my ticket to Sana’a.

I still had mere seconds to back out. The line got closer to the counter.

I could book another ticket out elsewhere, somewhere that didn’t have any advisories saying to stay away for non-essential travel. You’ve never been to the Middle East before Nicole, and you decide to travel to Yemen of all places? I noticed a group of three Asian backpackers (who I’d find out later when I ran into them in Socotra had came from Hong Kong) that looked to be about my age. I felt a little more at ease knowing I wasn’t the only foreigner headed to Yemen. Beep. She scanned my ticket and checked my visa, “Thanks Ms. Smoot, enjoy your flight to Sana’a.”

This was the trip that almost didn’t happen. I had been scouring the internet, looking at photos of Yemen and Socotra for a few years after reading some article with an obscure list of destinations to visit, and Socotra was what caught my attention more than anywhere else on it. I dug further down the rabbit hole. I figured out Socotra was technically part of Yemen. I looked at photos of Yemen, I became fascinated by the sand block buildings with gypsum icing adorning them. I knew I had to see it for myself eventually.

I booked my ticket near the end of December 2013. My grandmother had become ill near the end of November and was to have surgery the following spring in Portland. She insisted I go on a trip, after all, I had been home since my backpacking trip to southeast Asia that ended in June. She fell very ill very near my departure date, I had decided I wouldn’t go, I would reschedule my airline tickets a few days before my original departure for another time. But one week before my flight it was all over. Long story short, I attended the funeral of the human who was probably the closest person to me, the day before I left.  I’ll save you all the whole sob story.

There I was, sat in seat 23K looking down over Dubai not too long after the sun rose over it. A couple hours later I was looking out over the tidal waves of sand dunes in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter and all of its desolate nothingness.
We landed safe in Sana’a. I followed everyone off the plane, across the runway and inside the Sana’a Airport. I stepped in line at what I assumed was the passport control counter and was soon hearing my name being shouted. It was Gamal, the guide* for Sana’a that Socotra Eco-Tours arranged for me while I was in Sana’a. Gamal was dressed in the traditional garb of Yemeni men:  A long beige Thoob**, paired with a Jambiya**. I was completely in the wrong line, Gamal took me over to a window where he said something to the man behind the window, handed him my printed visa copy with my passport and before I knew it I was officially in Yemen. We picked up my backpack and we walked right out the front door.

*At the time of my visit (January & February of 2014) it was mandatory to have a guide arranged before you departed to visit Yemen in order to get a visa.

**A thoob is the traditional dress-like outfit Yemeni men wear. A Jamibiya is a dagger worn by most men in the country.

By this point all that apprehension I felt about coming to Yemen, all the crazy ideas flittering around my head earlier that morning, were gone. People were friendly, they were out and about, living their lives. Women and kids and men all yelled Salam Aleykum! into my rolled down car window.

Gamal asked what I had wanted to see during my all-too-short visit to the Yemeni mainland (trust me, I am just kicking myself for not arranging to do a tour throughout the regions open to travelers at the time). I blurted out the usual: Old Sana’a, The Bab al-Yemen, Saleh Mosque. I’m sure these are the same destinations he hears every time he guides an intrepid tourist. Yemen isn’t touristy, but it does have a tourist trail and I was on it. Gamal said, first I will take you out of the city, I will take you to Wadi Dhahr to see Dar al-Hajar, the rock palace. In the time between booking my ticket and getting to Sana’a everything I had heard of recent about Yemen said that they most emphatically warned of you not to leave the city. What was I doing first thing? Leaving the city.

We had to show my documents to the men guarding the military checkpoint at the entrance to the airport in order for us to drive away. We meandered to the outskirts of Sana’a where we began climbing up hill, crossing several more checkpoints.

Dar al-Hajar, Dar al Hajar, Wadi Dhahr, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, rock palace, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Wadi Dharhr.

As we got to the top of the mountain, Gamal screeched the car off into a dirt lot off the side of the road. From up here you could see down into the deep wadi where the unusual Dar al-Hajar stood. On the other side you had a birds-eye view of Sana’a. People were milling about the lot. People selling Yemeni snacks, people relaxing, drinking shai (tea), others staring down into the canyon below and watching the scenery, and some were shooting AK-47’s at a set up target- don’t worry, just for fun. I bought a hard boiled egg for a snack and rolled it into the communal bag of spices as we walked around.  Naturally I was drug over by some Yemenis to come shoot at the target.

Qat, khat, Yemen, Sana'a, Sanaa, Wadi Dhahr,Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Qat.

We carried on down into Wadi Dhahr after the snacks and the target practice. A man selling qat even stopped us on our way down. Qat is a leaf popular in Yemen and Somalia, it gives users a mild-euphoric effect.

Dar al-Hajar, Dar al Hajar, Wadi Dhahr, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, rock palace, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

The juxtaposition. The beautiful Dar al-Hajar and the traffic, rubbish and power lines.

Dar al-Hajar

Dar al-Hajar seems to rise up out of the bottom of the wadi like the mirage of a skyscraper. As I got closer I could see that the base was carved out of a giant rock and the palace had been placed atop and adorned in the ginger bread patterns I would see in the near future when I arrived in Old Sana’a. As I made my way in I passed by teenage boys performing traditional tribal war dances outside with swords and jambiyas. It was a Friday. Friday in islamic countries are similar to that of Sunday’s in many western countries. It’s a day off and people tend to spend it doing family activities and sharing the day with friends. It was crowded that day and I ended up the center of attention, I’m probably in hundreds of random people’s photos that day, nearly every kid and family wanted a photo with me after they met me. At one point I was dressed up by a couple of people working at the palace. I was adorned in the robes and silver jewelry alleged to have belonged to one of Imam Yayha’s wives. Everyone was curious where I was from, most thought I was visiting from Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Morocco or Turkey. They were a bit shocked when I’d say the US and even more so when they asked which state and I said Alaska. Most assumed my bloodline was descended from somewhere in the Middle East.

Traditional Yemeni Dance, Dar al-Hajar, Dar al Hajar, Wadi Dhahr, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Rock Palace, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Dar al-Hajar, or often referred to as the ‘Rock Palace’ was built in the 1930’s as a summer home for the Imam Yahya of Yemen. Inside, near the entrance of the palace was the well they used to collect water from and the kitchen. The next floors were the wives’ rooms and lounge rooms. I got a lesson in the interesting way Yemenis keep meat cooled during storage in the hot summer months- think of it as ancient refrigeration using shade and gypsum block walls. And then I was introduced to the pinnacle, one of the beautiful architectural designs of Yemen: The Qamaria.

Qamaria, Yemeni Qamaria, Dar al-Hajar, Dar al Hajar, Rock Palace, Yemen, Sana'a, Sanaa, Wadi Dharhr, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

A Qamaria.

The Qamaria is a window, but not  just any regular old window. They consist of intricate designs made of gypsum and then the design is accented with colorful stained glass. Qamarias are a popular feature of Yemeni architecture and part of what makes the country’s building styles and designs so unique. Not buying and bringing home a Qamaria is one more thing we can add to the I wish-I-would-have List.

Dar al-Hajar, Dar al Hajar, Wadi Dhahr, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Rock Palace, woman Dar al Hajar, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Inside the lower portion of the Rock Palace.

Dar al-Hajar was a great introduction for Yemen. Not only was it a historical experience, I was able to meet local people and see what a day off in the country was really like.

Saleh mosque, al-saleh mosque, al sales mosque, yemen mosque, Sana'a mosque, Sanaa mosque, mosque, Islam, muslim, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Saleh Mosque.

Saleh Mosque

Controversial and stunning. A gross misuse of money, but an almost monument to the city. The Saleh Mosque was constructed on the southern outskirts of Sana’a in 2008 and named after the president at the time- Ali Abdullah Salah. The hopes of the administration was that the mosque would help promote moderate Islam in a country that is so deeply divided, tribe to tribe and sect to sect. Saleh was the recipient of many a criticism and understandably so. The construction of the mosque didn’t come without tragedy, numerous times minarets collapsed during the building of the mosque resulting in several deaths. And of course Saleh was heavily scrutinized for spending $60-million US dollars on a mosque in his name in a country with waning socio-economic issues and spiraling toward unavoidable chaos. It is irresponsible to spend that sort of money on something so cosmetic when many of your people are malnourished and living vastly below the poverty line. But hey, look all around the world- Politicians do it all over the world to no avail and with no shame, even here in the west. I’m not condoning it, I’m just well aware that every place seems to have their ‘Saleh Mosque’ if you will.

Saleh mosque, al-saleh mosque, al sales mosque, yemen mosque, Sana'a mosque, Sanaa mosque, mosque, Islam, muslim, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

The dome inside Saleh Mosque.

Controversy aside- we can all agree on one thing. The inside of the mosque is one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s massive and once inside reeks of architectural perfection. I’ve since been in numerous mosques spanning Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia and none have rivaled the impression this one left.

Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, Old Sana'a City, Old Sanaa City, Old City, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Old Sana’a.

Old Sana’a

Beguiling and bemusing is the best way to describe it. Old Sana’a is like nowhere else. I’ve been several places since that have elements that reminds of certain aspects of Old Sana’a but nothing quite as enchanting and mysterious. It’s architectural porn really. Narrow mazes of impossible to navigate stone streets, high-rise sun baked brick homes iced like gingerbread houses with white gypsum and Qamaria windows, hunger inciting smells around every corner, exotic spices and smells emanating from the souks, and bustling with people. And to top it all off, the impressive  city has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years. Of course the city’s rich history and long standing inhabitation have lead it to being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Approaching the Old City I noticed something unusual. It was built up higher above the streets outside around it. Gamal, being the expert guide had an answer. Sana’a can receive heavy rains in the monsoon season. The city was built in a way to keep the streets from flooding. Instead, the streets below that circle the outer edge of the city will act as a wash and Old Sana’a will be encircled in a temporary moat of rainwater.

Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

The lowered streets outside the Old City.

Everything I had read leading up to me arriving in Sana’a had me thinking that I’d be walking the streets of Sana’a with Gamal and not see hardly another soul. The media, using their norm- only reporting the most negative aspects of society; made me picture Sana’a as being empty. I always have envisioned war-zones or as Yemen’s case at my time of visit ‘teetering on brink of war-zone’ as being devoid of people, empty streets, no sign of life. People staying inside homes and peeking out windows, only darting out when they absolutely needed something. This wasn’t the case at all. Sana’a was happening.

Bustling Old Sana'a, Bustling old Sanaa, Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Bustling Old Sana’a.

People were at every turn. People grabbing my hands and dropping pistachios, almonds and raisins into them, grabbing scoops of spices and running them under my nose, women taking me by the arm and throwing Yemeni wedding gowns on me, men glazey eyed with bulging cheeks full of Qat, Gamal welcoming me into teahouse after teahouse for a cup of shai, kids waving hello and women grabbing me by the arm and whirling me into their homes only to whip off their abayas and niqabs to sit and chat with her friends and their new star foreign friend she found in the souk. This was the reality of Sana’a. Of course at any moment everyone knows a missile could strike, a grenade could blow off or a bomb could explode. But should people be in constant fear and forced not to live because of it? Sana’a was everything and more than what I envisioned it. I never even could sense a fear or wind of caution. Even though I know that Sana’a is incredibly dangerous as of now, I hope that the spirit and life in the Sana’anis is still present. One of my favorite things about the city was heading to the rooftop of one of Sana’a’s highest buildings to sip some shai as the sun set and the Call to Prayer sang from minarets near and far all over the city. As the Call to Prayer came to a close the city’s night came right back to life. The bustle carried on. Sana’a really is Arabian Nights come to life.

Bab al-Yemen, Bab al Yemen, Bab al Yaman, Bab al-Yaman, Gates to Sana'a, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

The Bab al-Yemen.

Bab al-Yemen

This is the gate to Yemen, giving access to Old Sana’a passing through its over one-thousand-year-old fortified walls. The gate is busy, people constantly walking and driving in and out. A woman driving a Landcruiser full of kids laid on her horn to get my attention while the whole car waved at me. She wanted to make sure that I knew they were welcoming me into their city. Gamal even added, “See, Yemen is much more progressive than Saudi Arabia. Woman drive here, did you know that?”. Obviously Gamal is used to most tourists assuming that some of the restrictions of its neighbors happen here.

Bab al-Yemen, Bab al Yemen, Bab al-Yaman, Bab al Yaman, Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, woman Bab al-Yemen, Woman Bab al Yemen, woman Bab al-Yaman, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

A portrait Gamal snapped of me atop the Bab al-Yemen

The most magical of the Bab al-Yemen was still yet to come. Gamal ushered me toward a dark hallway corridor. I could see white gypsum steps going up inside. This was the passage that led atop the Bab al-Yemen. There we stood with several other onlookers watching the lively city under that golden light as the sun started to make its escape below the horizon.

The Great Mosque of Sana’a

The Great Mosque of Sana’a is the oldest in Yemen and one of the oldest in the world. It was built sometime estimated between 630AD and 715AD. According to local legend it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad was involved in the planning and construction of the mosque, although no evidence has been uncovered proving this legend true. One important discovery made was during a 1972 renovation in which the Sana’a Manuscript was discovered, along with several copies of an ancient version of the Quran, and thousands of rare Arabic Manuscripts that are tied to the start of Islam, Sheba’s Palace of Ghamdan and the Umayyad Period. The ancient Sana’a Manuscript is the oldest known, intact copy of the Quran. It contains Quran verses that differ from the present day version. The mosque is only open to members of of the Muslim faith, so I was unable to enter but was able to appreciate it from the outside. Gamal even pushed me up near the entrance and had me stick my head in just to see. The Great Mosque was a pride to Gamal and all Yemenis, after all- it is the location of the oldest copy of the Quran.

Spice Souk, Souk, Old Sana'a Souk, Old Sana'a Spice Souk, Sanaa spice souk, old sanaa spice souk, souk, yemen souk, souk Yemen, Yemeni souk, Yemeni spice, Yemen spice, Sana'a spice, Sanaa Spice, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Spice Souk.

Spice Souk

Mountains of colorful spices, nuts, coffee beans and dried fruits neatly arranged in rows lined the narrow alleyways of the busy market. Every exotic small you could imagine swirled around in the air. Even though I’d traveled traveled extensively through Europe and Asia by this point, I’d never experienced a market quite this interesting or ancient.

This is one of the oldest souks in the world.

Yemeni flatbread, flatbread, flatbread Yemen, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen, Yemeni restaurant, Sana'a restaurant, Sanaa restaurant

Gamal and the giant flatbread.

What I Ate

With a little influence from neighbors and mountains that sectioned the country off from much of the Arabian Peninsula over the years Yemen has developed a cuisine distinctly their own.

Lunch is the main meal in Yemen, which made it my favorite. Going into a restaurant at lunch time was a fun experience. When Gamal and I walked into the first restaurant I ate at, we were brought to a table in the middle of the room, quickly after we were seated we were brought tea and coffee. Other guests started pouring in, many of the groups with women came in and asked for a private area where the staff brought out portable frames with fabric to block them in. Other families and groups ate out in the open as we did. It was quite interesting watching how the women managed to skirt the food around their niqab and into their mouth without seeing any skin.

Pretty soon our table was inundated with dish after dish after dish. Basically the way it worked was plates of dips, sauces vegetables, rices and meats came out covered with plastic wrap. Gamal showed me that in Yemen you take spoon full of the dishes and put them on your own plate and then the dishes are taken to other tables. It’s very communal.

Then the cornerstone of any Yemeni meal came out: The largest flatbread I’d ever seen in my life. Flatbread is your utensil for eating. You use it to pick up your dips, sauces, veggies, meat and rice and bring it to your mouth. Flatbread is the mode of transportation in the Yemeni food scene.

There was Salta, Ful Medames, Yogurt, Chili Sauce, Harees, Kabsa, Mandi, Kebab and Thareed just to name a few. Everything tasted exotic to me and I loved every bit. Most dishes are spiced with a mixture called Hawaij that includes anise, ginger, cardamom and fennel. Other important spices in Yemeni cuisine include fenugreek, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cilantro, mint, turmeric and chilis.

Of course dessert is involved with any lunch. I was served a sweet Bint al-Sahm with the famed Yemeni honey drizzled over it.

Breakfasts and dinners are generally lighter meals and will be centered around a flat bread and tea or kawa. Fatoosh, Fattut and Full are common dishes at both meals. Yogurt with honey is also a popular side. The one difference between the two meals is that breakfast sometimes includes pastries.

Where I Slept

Arabia Felix, Arabia Felix hotel, Hotel, Sana'a Hotel, Sanaa Hotel, Yemen Hostel, Yemeni Hotel, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

My room at the Arabia Felix. Sorry about the grainy iPhone picture… this is what I mean by regretting not knowing how to properly use a camera.

I stayed at a small family ran hotel called the Arabia Felix* that stood right in the heart of Old Sana’a. I had a room on the fifth floor where I had views out over the city. It’s a popular place for traveling Yemenis and backpacker types.

Sure, there are bigger hotels outside the Old City with armed guards, but I rather stay in something a little more Yemeni and in the middle of it all.

Of course come sun up, there was no more sleeping as the Call to Prayer echoed throughout the city and into the room. But at the same time there is something magical and enchanting about the Call to Prayer ringing out over the city and having the sun glimmer through the colorful glass of the Qamarias above my windows. I remember getting up, cracking my window open and just sitting in the frame watching the city wake up.

*The name Arabia Felix is a nickname that was given to the country by the Romans in ancient times meaning ‘Happy Arabia’.

The Land of Milk and Honey

One of Yemen’s nicknames, given by Noah. Yemen is widely known to produce the finest honey in the world. The Hadromaut region in particular produces the best of the best. The people of Yemen have been keeping bees for hundreds of years. Of course before I departed the country I stocked up on some Hadromaut honey before I left the country. I also packed a large jar of Socotri honey from the island back home as well.

Ever wonder where Mocha comes from?

Along Yemen’s short Red Sea coast sits the port of Mocha. Most people in the west know Mocha as a chocolatey coffee drink slung in most coffee shops. This isn’t the real Mocha in the traditional sense of the name.

Mocha is actually a particular bean native to the fertile region surrounding the port. Mocha beans became famous throughout the ancient world for their naturally warm, chocolatey tones. At one point Yemen was a massive exporter of coffee beans along the spice trade route.

Of course I had to try some real Mocha and Yemeni coffee, or kawa as they call it.

What I Thought of The Life of Yemen’s Backbone: Women

At Dar al-Hajar when I mentioned earlier having the old Yemeni abaya and jewelry thrown on me.

Yemen is an interesting country for women, particularly the cities. Women really are walking this tight rope balancing act of old and new ways. More and more there is push for them to be educated, there is a push for them to work, but also there are societal expectations nudging them to marry young (typically to be arranged by parents) and have several children (four children is average). In some ways the expectation to go to school, succeed, have a career, get married, become a mother and take care of the home, made the lives of women not feel that different from home, while at the same time Yemeni women are subject to arranged marriages, far less rights than women in western countries, social pressure to wear a concealing cloak of black, among many other injustices that aren’t the norm in western countries that we take for granted, made Yemen feel light-years away.

The general treatment is not perfect by any means. In many parts of Yemen women are not treated well. They are married off as child brides, abused, tortured and more.

As far as women’s dress in Yemen it was very conservative in 2014, I’m sure even more so now in 2017. When I was visiting there was no law requiring what women had to wear, but the societal norm was the black abaya, paired with the niqab (the face covering veil), leaving eyes as the one visible human flesh. As Al Qaeda made its presence known throughout the country the colorful abayas traditional worn by women were soon replaced with the cloak of solid black and the use of the niqab began. Women didn’t necessarily want to give up their traditional dress, but in avoidance of potential attacks on them, many chose to conform. You still see women nipping out for quick errands near to their homes in the traditional Sana’ani Curtains.

Dressed in the Sana’ani Curtain.

Even with the sea of solid black you see around the city, women have still managed to accessorize their plain black uniforms. You see abayas worn around and being sold in shops adorned with intricate gold and rhinestone designs.

Traveling as a female in Yemen opened me up to a unique opportunity that visiting men never get to see: what the women of Yemen look like underneath the abaya. Once inside homes and into the female quarters of the house, all the layers come off. What they wear underneath is surprisingly western. Leggings, tshirts, jeans, cute dresses, jewelry and perfectly done makeup are not unusual.

You can even read this article here where a Yemeni woman is interviewed on her feelings toward the niqab. Another interview to check out is this one by Vice where women are asked about the Niqab among other things. Many women will tell you that they find the full covering including the niqab to give them a sense of reassuring anonymity.

I personally chose to wear a long sleeved flowing black dress paired with a black scarf worn like a hijab. When I was planning my trip with the help of the lovely crew at Socotra Eco Tours, I was told to dress conservatively, that covering hair was a good idea but not required, and that a key element was to look enough different that your disguise didn’t backfire on you. As a tourist you’ll probably be out doing things, activities and visiting areas where Muslim women may not be allowed or will be chastised for partaking in. Being a foreign female in Yemen and much of the Islamic world allows you a unique chance to see many things local women aren’t allowed to, and others men would never be able to, it’s as if foreign female is its own gender.

*Note: Dress on the island of Socotra is more liberal than in the mainland of Yemen, although local women tend to dress conservatively. Colorful abayas are more common, although all black is still seen. Islanders are more accustomed to seeing foreigners and western style dress.

I actually didn’t mind wearing the abaya and hijab. I found that I stayed cool with the breeze whirling the layers of fabric. It was easy enough to just whip my hair back in a bun in the morning and ignore it all day with it covered by my headscarf. I didn’t feel self conscious about how I looked in my loose fitting dress and abaya, it hides everything. While I wouldn’t want to be forced to dress a certain way whether by law or by society, if women want and choose to wear this conservative design, more power to them. Plus let’s face it even in the west due to school regulations, the fashion industry and societal pressure, women and girls are expected to dress certain ways. It’s all part of the greater plot to keep women down. In the US when female rape victims come forward the first thing they’re asked of course is, “what were you wearing?” Because these nimrods still haven’t figured out that it isn’t about what you were wearing, it’s about control and power. I’ve been catcalled, hassled, yelled at and inappropriately grabbed and touched while out back home all the while some of these events happened while being solidly covered from my toes to my collarbones.

*I know you’ve probably noticed that I have no photos of Yemeni women. Many are not comfortable with having a photo taken by a stranger and I didn’t feel comfortable just snapping photos of them

My Overall Impression of Yemen

Old Sana'a, Old Sanaa, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

I loved my entirely too short time on Yemen’s mainland. I am so happy that I did get to travel to Yemen and have the opportunity to see it. One of the only regrets I’ve ever had has been not spending more time here (we could also throw in there that I regret not knowing how to properly use my DSLR camera when I was in Yemen as well, but that’s a whole different story in its own). It’s a unique country, steeped in ancient history, contains some of the most welcoming and friendly people and is an all too often forgotten corner of the world. The poverty, the struggle, the difficult lives people lead in Yemen are apparent, especially when you compare it to its Arabian Peninsula neighbors. Yemen is more on par economically with some of its East African cousins just across the narrow Red Sea.

Yemen is home to so many important locations to all of human history. Just pick up a book on Yemen’s history and start reading, it really is one of the most fascinating countries. I think if people knew what was in Yemen and were openly exposed to what is being done to the country and how regardless of religion many of the sites being destroyed in missile strikes and blown up by fundamentalist organizations are actually important in all of human history. The oldest known copy of the Quran is here, Muslim or not that is an important document in human history. Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, up there with Jericho, Argos and Damascus in antiquity. Why no one in the west cares and even in some cases are completely unaware of what’s being done to Yemen is baffling yet quite apparent: Yemen is poor and Yemen doesn’t have known oil reserves.

I can’t wait for the day that the war is over, or at least stifled to the point that help can get in. This is one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited and I only was able to see a small sliver of it. I would love to one day go back.

You probably have noticed I didn’t include any information on my trip to Socotra in this post. The two areas of the country I visited were Sana’a and Socotra. I ultimately decided to split them into two different posts because they are so vastly different.

At this point I’d like to let everyone know as well, that Socotra Eco Tours arranged my trip for me both in Socotra and in Sana’a. They set me up with Gamal to guide me in the mainland and arranged my internal flights from Sana’a to al-Mukalla to Socotra and back.

Donate to Those Effected By the Crisis in Yemen

If you want to donate any money to Yemen’s people to help with the dark humanitarian crisis currently engulfing the country you can give money to:

The Yemeni Crisis Campaign by UNICEF.

The Islamic Relief USA fund for Yemen.

Solidarios sin Fronteras. Here you can donate money to either Yemen or Socotra or both. A Spanish organization. The website is written in Spanish as well.

The World Food Program’s Yemen Emergency Fund.

Care Australia’s Yemeni Crisis Fund.

Old Sana'a. Old Sanaa, Sana'a, Sanaa, Yemen, Sana'a Yemen, Sanaa Yemen

Travel Alaska On A Budget

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Eagle River, Eagle River Alaska, Eagle River AK, Travel AK budget, Eagle River Nature Center, ERNC, girl mountain

How to Travel Alaska on a Budget

It’s no lie: Alaska is f&*%^!@ expensive. Everything in Alaska is expensive. I know, I live here. Tourism in Alaska seems to be geared to target people on high budgets and with almost zero public transportation; traveling Alaska on the cheap can be daunting . But that’s where I come in. Here’s some recommendations to help you travel Alaska on a budget as well as general information on how to travel Alaska and what kind of activities are available.

*Some links in this post are affiliate links.

Quick budget tricks:

Come Early or Visit Late– Alaska has a short summer. It realistically spans May to September at its outer limits. The tourist season falls along the Alaskan summer. Tourism isn’t in full swing yet in May, and weather is typically nice and clear, making it in my opinion the most optimal month to visit and making flights, rental cars and excursions a little cheaper. September can be a beautiful month with the change of color but it can also sprinkle a little snow from year to year as far south as Anchorage.

Visit in the Off Season- Are you into wintersports or want to chase the aurora borealis? If you’re up to the cold and snow the winter can be a rewarding and equally as stunning time of year to visit in Alaska. Not to worry though many different winter temperatures can be found around the state, Alaska spans 1,420 miles north to south (2,285km). Temperatures in the southeast can be balmy in comparison to the rigid interior and frozen north.

DIY- Yup, do it yourself. Cut down on costs by self driving, pitching a tent and preparing your own meals.

Keep your eyes peeled for Airline Sales- We already know, getting here is expensive! Compare flights on Skyscanner and keep an eye out for the best deals.

Use Mileage- You think getting here is ridiculous, try getting around Alaska. Alaska Airlines has a pretty good stranglehold on the intercity travel within the state. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and United all fly to Alaska. Check to see if your preferred airline or a partner flies to Alaska and cash in them miles. If you have a mileage plan through Alaska Airlines many times a roundtrip ticket between two cities in Alaska will come in at 15,000 miles. Good to keep in mind.

Get Outdoors– There are endless opportunities to enjoy the nature Alaska is known for, for free! Some parking lots at recreation sites and state parks will require an on average $5.00 parking fee for the day, $10 for overnight spots.

Northern Lights Coupon Book- Many tourists swear by it, I’ve never actually purchased one, although I did have a couchsurfer leave one with me as he was leaving the state and it had some good deals in it. This book comes out each year will set you back $55 for a copy but offers some big savings on tours, hotels and more. Can be a good value depending on if you plan to book a lot of tours and hotels, etc. You can purchase one online or pick one up in Alaska. Check out their website here.

Alaska Travel Guide, Travel Alaska on a budget, budget travel alaska, alaska guide, alaska map

Alaska Map. Public Domain, by Ian Mackey. Red=Roads, Purple=Rivers, Black=Railroad.

Money and costs:

You ended up here because you’re most likely looking for way to travel Alaska on a budget. Here is some general money information:

Currency: Alaska is one of the fifty nifty United States. Yes, I have to mention that because many people aren’t sure what we are. Canada? Our own country? Russia? Are all likely guesses from people. Alaska accepts the US dollar as payment, although near the Canadian border you can sometimes find shops accepting Canadian dollars.

ATMs are easily available in cities and towns, although once you get away from civilization banks and ATMs disappear.

Exchange Rate: Last updated May 2017.

1 Euro= $1.10 USD

1 GBP= $1.29 USD

1 CAD= $0.73 USD

1 AUD= $0.74 USD

1 NZD= $0.69 USD

1 JPY= $0.01 USD

1 CNY= $0.14 USD

1 RUB= $0.02 USD

Don’t want to worry about getting cash? No problem! Travelex offers good deals for currency exchange.

Costs:

Costs will vary widely depending on your style of travel and comfort level. These are all ballpark averages and should be treated as such. To give you a rough idea for planning here are some general costs in May 2017:

Gasoline= $2.88/gallon.

Campsite= Free to $10 per night.

Hotel= $150/night.

Hostel= $60/night.

Small car rental= $35/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, but average closer to $100/day in the peak time when booking closer to arrival.

Larger car/SUV rental= $50/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, but average closer to $140/day in the peak time when booking closer to arrival.

Food= $1-5 per meal if cooking for self (even less if you plan to forage or live off ramen noodle packets), $10-15 per plate at a budget restaurant/cafe, $20-30 per plate at a midrange restaurant and $30+ per plate at a higher range restaurant.

Entrance to museums, cultural centers= $10-15 per person.

Entrance to parks= Free to $10 per person. Most of Alaska’s state and national parks are free to enter. Denali charges $10 per person to enter. Many state parks with road access and a parking lot will charge a $5 parking fee.

When to Visit:

This is all heavily dependent on what activities you want to partake in and what kind of temperatures you like. With that said Alaska’s weather is a bit of a rollercoaster and highly unpredictable. Plus, it’s a huge piece of land- 663,300 mi² ( 1,710,000 km²), the biggest state in the USA and roughly about 1/5 the size of the ‘lower 48’ states combined therefore making the temperatures and weather vary widely.  YES- It’s bigger than Texas, so leave your ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ shirt at home. Note that the following seasons are according to whats to be expected in the southern part of the state. Expect winter to be longer and summer slightly shorter from the interior and further north.

Summer:

By and far the most popular time to visit. It’s safe to say the June, July and August are officially Alaskan summer, but it can arguably be extended to May and September. Summer is the warmest with long long days as the sun will either barely dip below the horizon or never go down depending on where you go. June is usually a drier warmer month with July and August typically giving more rain, though this is unpredictable.

Fall:

Most people would regard the end of August, September and to mid October Fall. Snow can fall at any time, although usually will stave off until mid to late October around Anchorage (can vary big time year to year). Temperatures tend to fall steadily as the season goes on but is still a good time of year to get out on hikes and go camping. This is more of a shoulder season and costs tend to drop and most the tourists usually have left by September. September (and sometimes if lucky into October) is a great time to get out and enjoy the changing fall colors.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, snowboarding alaska, snowboarding, skiing, skiing alaska, turnagain

Winter:

Winter will usually last from mid to late October until mid March. These are the darkest months of the year, with December through mid February in particular, the darkest. Expect cold temps and snow. Good time to visit for winter sports enthusiasts.

Spring:

Spring usually stretches from Mid-March until April-May. The days are getting longer and the skiing is getting good as the season begins. Weather tends to be clear and warm, although it’s not unheard of to have a surprise dump of snow even into May.

Getting to Alaska:

You have three options to get to Alaska

By land:

If you have the time and are already planning to pass through Western Canada driving into Alaska is an option via the Alaska-Canada Highway. Or the Alcan as most Alaskans refer to it. This is also part of the great Pan-American Highway Adventure- the road spanning from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

By Air:

The most common way to arrive in Alaska by far. Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan all are international airports with connections to other US states as well as Canada*, Germany*, Iceland* and Russia*. US cities that have direct service to Anchorage include Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Kahului, Kona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake and Seattle. Keep an eye out on Skyscanner and Expedia for deals, or cash in mileage for a ticket.

*All international flights seasonal flights to/from Anchorage and/or Fairbanks. 

By water:

An option is to take a cruise up from Seattle though the Inside Passage to Anchorage or the Alaska Marine Highway System. Shop here for Alaska cruises. The Marine Highway starts (or ends depending on how you look at it) in Bellingham, Washington (state), makes an international stop in Prince Rupert, BC, and connects the following communities by ferry:  Akutan, Angoon, Chenega Bay, Chignik, Cold Bay, Cordova, False Pass, Haines, Homer, Hoonah, Juneau, Kake, Ketchikan, King Cove, Kodiak, Metlakatla, Ouzinkie, Petersburg, Port Lions, Sand Point, Seldovia, Sitka, Skagway, Tatitlek, Tenakee Springs, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, Valdez, Whittier, Wrangell, and Yakutat. It is possible to bring vehicles by ferry. To check on prices and see the route map click here. Although the Marine Highway is in a sense a form of public transport, it’s not that cheap but still can be a good option.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, reed lakes, hatcher's pass, hatcher's pass ak, hatcher's pass alaska

Cities, Towns, National & State Parks in Alaska:

Anchorage: Largest city in the state with every amenity you can imagine. Good jumping off point for exploring South-central Alaska. Only have a couple days to spare in Anchorage? Read my Anchorage in a weekend post for ideas of what to do in Anchorage. One a tight budget? Here are free things to do in Anchorage. Visiting in the winter and are a ski/snowboard bum? Here are the free places to ride near Anchorage.

Juneau: The state capital, located in the Southeast. Great start to explore Alaska’s panhandle, Mendenhall Glacier and nearby Glacier Bay National Park near Gustavus. Read further on my posts on to see why you should include Mendenhall Ice Cave and the Shrine of St. Therese on your visit to Juneau.

Fairbanks: The golden heart city, a great starting point for Alaska’s fierce interior. Best general area to see the aurora in winter (of course you’ll want to head out of town a little ways to get away from light pollution).

Matanuska Valley: Palmer and Wasilla are the two biggest community. Lots of outdoor explorations available and also a great jumping off point for south-central Alaska. Only a 1 hour drive north of Anchorage.

Kenai/Soldotna: Good place to stop off, resupply or use as a base for adventures in the Kenai Peninsula. Other nearby communities include Seward, Homer, Kasilof and Ninilchik.

Barrow (Utqiagvik): Point Barrow, the northernmost point of the USA, where the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas meet. The annual whale harvest and celebration is an amazing time to visit.

Nome: In northwestern Alaska. Ceremonial Finish of the Iditarod.  Not reachable by road from other parts of the state.

Bethel: Small town in southwestern Alaska. Not reachable by road from other parts of Alaska.

Kotzebue: In northwestern Alaska, very remote and no road access to other parts of the state.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, Denali, Denali National Park, Denali Alaska, Denali AK, Savage River, Savage River AK, Savage River Alaska

Savage River, Denali National Park.

Denali National Park: Alaska’s most visited national park and home to Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). $10 per person to enter the park and camping fees do apply (anywhere from $16-30 per campsite per night). You can only self drive yourself to the Savage River campground in the summer (this is only a short distance into the park). If you want to go further in you are welcome to cycle or hike the entirety of the road or opt to pay for one of the park’s buses. The non-narrated shuttle buses run between $26.50 and $34.00 depending on distance for adults 15yo and up and free for children under 15yo. The narrated tour buses will set you back about $80 per person. There is also are also free courtesy shuttles between the sites accessible by public road (that means the cut off is Savage River), the courtesy shuttles do the following: The Savage River Shuttle, Riley Creek Shuttle and the Dog Sled Demonstration Shuttle. All Make stops at the Denali Visitor Center and Wilderness Access Center. Click here for more information from the US National Park Service. Did you know in mid to late September each year you can self drive the length of the road to Kantishna in Denali National Park? Check out my post on how to get a Denali Road Lottery Permit to find out more and apply!

Kenai Fjords National Park: Another popular stop on the tourist trail on the Kenai Peninsula. Free to enter as there is no entrance fee or camping fees.

Glacier Bay National Park: Near to the tiny town of Gustavus, a short air taxi, flight or ferry ride from the capital of Juneau. Free to enter and to camp.

Katmai National Park: That postcard picture of Alaska with the bear catching a salmon right out of a waterfall? Yeah, that’s in Katmai. Brooks Falls to be exact. No entrance or camping fees.  Camping is backcountry style and careful planning is essential because this national park is crawling with bears. The only spot to camp that is serviced is Brook’s Camp Campground and is protected with electric fences Costs: $12 per person per night June 1 through September 17 and $6 per person per night in May and September 18 through October 31. Campers are limited to 7 nights in July and 14 nights per calendar year. Group size is limited to 6.

Wrangell/St. Elias National Park: Accessible by road, biggest accessisble settlement is McCarthy. Free to enter and to camp as there is no entrance gate to the park.

Kobuk National Park: In northern Alaska and extremely remote. Known for its sand dunes. No camping or entrance fees exist, although getting here can very expensive as there is no road access. Most visitors arrive by air taxi from Bettles or Kotzebue.

Gates of the Arctic National Park:

Remote park in the north of Alaska. Beautiful treks out into the Brooks Range. No park entrance of camping fees. Accessed only by air taxis from Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, Coldfoot or by hike from the Dalton Highway where the eastern park boundary runs along the highway.

Lake Clark National Park:

Located on the Alaska Peninsula, just north of Katmai National Park. No roads, no campgrounds and only one maintained hiking trail. This is the backcountry. Access is usually by air taxi. No entrance or camping fees.

State Parks: There are many state parks in Alaska. Click here to view the full list. More popular ones include Chugach, Denali, Hatcher’s Pass & Independence Mine, and Prince William Sound State Parks to name a few.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, Prince William Sound, flightseeing, flightseeing Alaska, glacier

Alaska, from above!

Getting around Alaska:

Going about it on your own is going to be your best bet at keeping to a budget. The only public transport in existence is within cities. Between cities? Forget it. In the summer months there are some tourist buses that go between common points of interest, but are expensive. Another option is by train, which you guessed it can be expensive but can be a great option for sightseeing but many times is more expensive than the price of a roundtrip airfare outside the state. Very little of the landmass is reachable by road. In fact, 82% of Alaska’s communities are not on the road system, making the use of boats and planes both commonly used modes of transportation to many places in the state.

Rental Car:

Renting a car can be a cost effective way to see the state, especially if you’re traveling with others. It also gives you the flexibility to go where you want, when you want.

Buy a Car:

Buy something cheap and used, resell it at the end. This is a common tactic you see for longer term travelers in New Zealand and can be done in Alaska as well. If your plans include a longer term itinerary in Alaska this could be a great option as you will be able to get a decent return when you sell the car off in the end.

Hitchhiking:

Hitchhiking is a good way to travel Alaska on a budget. Although not recommended in the winter because of long stretches of road and bitter cold temps. Of course hitchhiking comes with risks; there can be wildlife to be wary of along roads and of course you could get picked up by someone who has motive to do something bad to or rob you. It is possible and majority of the time goes without hiccup, but be careful out there. A great place to post or look for hitchhiking opportunities is Couchsurfing. I get e-mail updates from the Anchorage page and often see people posting that they are driving from point A to point B on date C and have D seats available, or for people looking for a ride headed from point E to point F on a range of dates.

Cycling: 

If there’s a road, there’s a way! In the summer you’ll see many cyclists cruising around Alaska. Make sure to review the road rules and be cautious; plenty of Alaskans plow around in giant SUVs and are quite oblivious to anything else on the road and just like in other parts of America they’re too busy texting while driving whilst snap chatting a selfie and Facetiming. Unfortunately bicyclists are at a disadvantage in an accident here by about a metric tonne, so be careful.

Marine Highway:

No, it’s not a tunnel underwater (I once had a friend ask this when referring to the Marine Highway), it’s a ferry system connecting a few parts of the state. Not cheap by any shot but can be used as a way to get around the vast state. The Marine Highway connects Bellingham, Washington and Prince Rupert, British Columbia to many ports in Southeast AK, South-central, AK and the Aleutian Islands.

Flights:

Depending on where you want to get to in Alaska, flying may be your only option. Alaska is largely inaccessible. Alaska Airlines, Ravn Air, Penair, air taxis and several charter flights connect Alaska’s towns, cities and villages. Larger airports served within the state are Aniak, Cold Bay, Barrow (Utgiavik), Bethel, Cordova, Deadhorse, Dillingham, Homer, Kenai, Kind Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, McGrath, Nome, St. George, St. Paul, Sand Point, Sitka,  Unalakleet, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Valdez. Keep checking on Skyscanner and Expedia for deals. Air taxis are your best bet of getting to very remote places.

Accomodation:

Yet another area that can be expensive, but if your willing to tent it or stay at a strangers place you can save big time on sleeping arrangements. There are very few hostels and guesthouses in Alaska. If you plan to go remote and away from cities, towns and major tourist centers indoor accommodation options can be non existent.

Camping:

There are countless opportunities to camp in Alaska! It’s not only a great way to save, but also gets you outdoors in nature. Some popular hikes allow free camping along routes (no cost), larger parks and national parks may have designated camping sites and will on average range from $10-$30 per site, per night. There are privately owned camp sites as well around the state. You can expect fees to be higher and may include amenities such as electricity and water.

Hostels:

Mostly found in cities or towns. Expect to pay in the $40-100 per night range.

AirBnB:

AirBnb gained a lot of popularity over the last couple years. I’ve had in general good experiences using it. Click my link here to sign up for AirBnB and receive $20 off your first booking!

*I do get credits toward my bookings if you sign up using the above link. Upon signing up you will get your own link that you can share with friends that will get you credits.

Public use cabins:

There are many public use cabins available around the state. Fees can vary from free to over $60 per night. Check out what cabins are available in state parks here.  If you join the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and pay the $20 yearly membership you can have access to seven beautiful little cabins scattered through the Talkeetna & Chugach Mountains. A word to the wise: many of the public use cabins book up far in advance especially for the summertime. Plan to book months in advance, but you can always check for last minute cancellations. The Mountaineering Club cabins are generally on a first come, first serve basis.

Couchsurfing:

I have used Couchsurfing quite a bit in my travels. If you don’t know what it is; Couchsurfing is a website where you can look for people offering free accommodations in places you plan to travel or you can opt to host travelers if you’re at home. I have both surfed and hosted on numerous occasions and have had all positive experiences, in fact most the people I have met through Couchsurfing still keep in touch and have even visited and met up with me again! Sign up for your Couchsurfing account here. Couchsurfing can be perfectly safe, read on to find out more on safety and more info in my post on Couchsurfing.

On etiquette: In most cases where I have surfed, I usually offer to buy groceries and help prepare meals for my hosts since they are after all, letting me stay for free. Everyone I have hosted in my home has always showed up with a bag of foods to prepare a meal with. This isn’t a must-do, but it is a nice offer. You can always bring small gifts from home to thank guests as well. Be creative. 

Hotels & Lodges:

Hotels can be found in most areas that tourists venture, unless you plan to get off the beaten path. Hotels typically are expensive and will run a minimum of $100 per night. Many hotels and lodges that cater to tourists come with a price tag much higher.

Activities:

There are endless activities to get out and explore in Alaska. These can range from free to thousands of dollars.

Hikes:

The trekking options in Alaska are endless! Most are free (may have a parking fee for use of car lots). Good websites to check out for hiking trail information are Alaska.org, Alaska Hike Search and All Trails.  Like to have a book in hand? Check out these books with information on Alaska hikes.

Fishing:

Alaska is known for its world class fishing. Whether you want to fly fish from the bank of one of our famous rivers or charter a boat to catch some delicious wild halibut in the open ocean, Alaska has it all! Apply for you Alaska fishing license online here. You can also pick up fishing licenses and tags at most grocery stores and even some gas/petrol stations around the state. Fishing charters can range between $100 to $350 or more.

Explore a glacier:

With an estimated 100,000 glaciers (only 616 have actual names) around the state you have endless opportunity to get out and enjoy at least one! Alaska has a number of easily accessed glaciers that you can almost drive a car right up to view. Check out this list of Alaska’s roadside glaciers. Other great ways to see glaciers are by longer hikes, flightseeing & heli tours.

*Glaciers can be a dangerous and treacherous place. People do get injured and killed by them. Glaciers can calve, people fall into crevasses and more. If you choose to walk out onto, ice climb, go ice caving, etc. you are taking your life into your own hands. Go at your own risk.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, northernlights, cook inlet, Anchorage

Chasing the Aurora: Predominately a winter activity. Head to Fairbanks and the surrounding areas for the best viewing opportunities. The months of March and September are typically when they are the most active and the cold isn’t too bitter either! Aurora can be seen all over the state. just head to an isolated dark place away from city lights. Watching the northern lights dance is always free, unless of course you opt to take an aurora tour, and remember that this is no guarantee you will actually see them. Aurora is difficult to predict and weather needs to be clear to see them.

Ski/snowboarding:

If you plan a winter or spring visit hit the slopes! There are several resorts around the state, the biggest of which is Alyeska Resort in Girdwood about 40 minutes south of Anchorage. Girdwood is regularly ranked as one of the best ski towns in the world. You can find lifts operating at Hilltop Ski Area and Arctic Valley in Anchorage; Eaglecrest on Douglas Island near Juneau; Aurora Ski Land, and Moose Mountain near Fairbanks; Mount Eyak in Cordova. Numerous backcountry operators around Alaska can take you out on skiing and snowboarding excursions around the state. If you are experienced you can go into the backcountry without a guide at your own risk. Having avalanche training is extremely advisable as well as a shovel, probe and beacon and of course knowledge of how to use them. Shop for outdoor and ski gear here! Always go with others and check avalanche conditions before you go.

*Skiing and snowboarding are all at your own risk, even at a resort. Avalanche danger is very real. Many people die every year in avalanche and ski/snowboard related accidents. Avalanches can occur at any time, even when conditions appear to be safe. You can die out there and/or be incredibly injured.

Mountaineering:

There are plenty of mountaineering options in Alaska. Hello! you know the highest peak in North America is here right? Yup, that would be Denali. Most mountaineering trips in Alaska are not to be taken lightly and many are very treacherous. For example Denali has the biggest vertical rise of any mountain with a base above sea level on Earth, even in summer temps can dip far below the freezing mark and avalanches are a real worry. Many mountaineers prep themselves for months before climbing Denali. Another famous but rarely summited peak is Mt. Foraker, one of Denali’s neighbors and is basically to Denali what K2 is to Everest. More technical and more difficult than their high flying neighbors. I personally know someone who has died on Foraker.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, ice cave, ice cave glacier, glacier cave, Travel AK budget, ice cave, Spencer Glacier, girl ice cave, blue, Spencer glacier Alaska, Spencer Glacier AK, glacier, glacier AK, glacier Alaska

Ice climbing:

Plenty of ice climbing chances around the state in the winter and even year round on several glaciers. This can be quite dangerous. If you have your own equipment ice climbing can be enjoyed in most places for free. Several companies offer ice climbing tours that you can expect to pay over $100 per person, per day for.

Fishing:

Alaska’s fishing is world class. From combat fishing on the Kenai to reeling in 100+ lb. halibut out in the sound, we got it all. Apply for an Alaska fishing license here.

Kayaking:

A popular activity for Alaskans and tourists alike. With all the lakes, rivers and coastline Alaska has there are countless kayaking trips to be had. Kayaking tours are offered and usually average in the $100 range per person.

Mushing:

Are you an Iditarod fan? There are a few companies offering tourists their chance to mush a dog sled.

Glacier cruises:

A great way to view Alaska’s glaciers from the comfort of a ship. $60 per person and up. Some do include lunch and can have transportation to/from hotel for an extra charge.

Flightseeing:

Personally if I recommended anywhere to splurge on you Alaskan travels it would be for at least one flightseeing tour. This is probably my favorite angle to view Alaska from. Prices can get quite expensive, but it offers you a very unique way to see the state’s beautiful sites. Expect to pay $150 and up per person for a fixed-wing airplane flight tour, $350 and up per person on helicopter tours. Some tours include landings on glaciers, lakes, etc.

Cycling:

Alaska, particularly the Anchorage area has a great network of bike trails.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, Denali National Park, Denali, Denali AK, Denali Alaska, Dall sheep, sheep, Alaska all sheep, Alaska sheep

Wildlife Viewing:

Bears, Moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou, Musk Ox… the list goes on. Hiring a guided tour can prove costly, some costing $400 per day! Don’t worry wildlife doesn’t charge a fee themselves and with a little luck can even be viewed while keeping your eyes peeled during long road trips. A great place to view wildlife is in Denali National Park on a bus tour which would set you back about $80 per person and will stop for wildlife so you can pour out and take photos or watch through binoculars.

Cultural Activites: 

Want to learn more about Alaska Native People’s traditions, culture, history, and languages? Check out the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage (Admission: $24.95 adult, $16.95 child) and the Anchorage Museum (Admission: Free for Members of the museum, $15 adult, $12 AK residents, $10 seniors, $10 students, $10 military, $7 children age 3-12yo and kids 2yo and under are free). In Barrow (name recently restored to Utqiagvik)  you can find the Inipiat Heritage Center ($10 adults, $5 students, $5 child, Seniors and Children 6 & under are free).

*Enjoy and partake in these activities, but remember: At your own risk. You can die or be injured doing any of these activities. 

Eat:

Alaska has some damn good food, especially when it comes to seafood. Your best budget option for eating is to stop by a grocery store and stock up on your own food and supplies. If cuisine isn’t you’re priority your money can last a bit longer in Alaska by preparing your own meals. Depending on where you’re going and what your plans are there may be no restaurants in your path anyways.

In most cities Carrs, Fred Meyers, Walmart and Target chain stores can be found. There are always locally ran food stores and or general stores as well to purchase goods from.

Foods to eat before you leave:

Fresh Alaska salmon (especially Copper River Red)

Fresh Halibut

Alaskan King Crab

Blueberries (sorry, only available in the late summer & fall)

Reindeer Sausage

Alaska has several great micro breweries!

If you happen to be around Anchorage on the weekend in the summer months, stop on by the Anchorage Market and Festival at 741 E 13th Ave. Several food vendors from around Alaska offer up some yummy Alaskan dishes (and some from the outside too). On Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays check out the similar Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market in Fairbanks at 2600 College Rd.

In most cities you can find restaurants serving up popular dishes from all over the US and the world. Alaska has a lot of good sushi restaurants. Some of my personal favorite restaurants in Alaska include: Moose’s Tooth, Glacier Brewhouse, 49th State Brewery, Double Musky, Silver Gulch, and Mile 229 Parks Highway Restaurant. These are just a few, of course there are many many more!

Foraging:

Yes it’s possible, although mostly limited to summer months to forage for your own food! It can be challenging but it is an option for those really looking to live off the land and save money. DON’T FORAGE ON PEOPLE’S PROPERTY! They tend to get pissed, and many Alaskans have guns and might shoot. Here a couple books to check out:

Safety:

Alaska can be a wild place.

Take your usual precautions when in towns and cities that you would in cities elsewhere in the world. Note that Alaska does have an extremely high rate of violent crime and sexual assaults, abuse and violence. Anchorage especially is particularly rough as of recent. Violent crime has always been high here, but seems to be elevating at a staggering level. Be careful.

Much of Alaska is wild, remote and treacherous. Attacks by wild animals do happen but aren’t common. Always make lots of noise when in the wilderness to help ward off animals, they are usually more scared of you than you are of them and it is always advisable to go as a group or at least with a buddy.

Natural disasters and forces of nature can and will kill you in Alaska. Alaska is very prone to Earthquakes, extreme cold temperature, avalanches, wildfires, tidal waves, treacherous roads and much more will not hesitate to maim or kill you.

Alaska’s weather is horribly unpredictable. You can even have extreme cold as well as extreme heat. Always be prepared, always bring layers and check the forecast but expect the worst. The weather can and will kill you.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Still want to travel Alaska on a budget?

Check out my Alaska page with more Alaska related posts!

If you’re coming to Alaska and you’re not a US citizen, head over to my post on the ESTA to see if you’re eligible for the visa waiver program.

Alaska, Travel Alaska on a budget, Alaska Travel, Travel Alaska, Alaska budget, Alaska budget travel, Travel AK budget, aurora, aurora borealis, northern lights, northernlights, Eagle River, Anchorage, Eagle River AK, Eagle River alaska

Pamir Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know To Visit Tajikistan’s GBAO

Pamir Highway, Tajikistan, Pamir, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide, Pamir Highway, M41

The World’s Most Epic Road Trip: Pamir Travel Guide

*This post contains affiliate links.

The Pamir Highway, the Bam-i-Dunya, the Roof of the World, officially the M41. Bone crushing roads, vast remoteness, low oxygen, high altitude passes, cold nights and warm souls…. Not for the faint of heart. The Pamir Highway is about as adventurous as it gets! Keep on reading to find everything you need to know to prep you for Pamir travel.

The Pamir Highway is the second highest highway in the world, only under the Karakoram Highway in nearby Pakistan. Get ready for high altitude passes, the elusive Marco Polo sheep, unbelievable hospitality, sheep herder traffic jams, broken pavement, sky scraping mountains and views straight into the Afghani Wakhan, this is the famed M41.

I am also including information on the greater GBAO region and activities to be had in the region in this post in addition to the Pamir Highway.

Wanna join an awesome expedition in 2018 in the Pamirs?

Yours truly will be leading a high altitude expedition in The GBAO region of Tajikistan, Xinjiang region of China and the northern valleys of Pakistan. I will be taking a small group of you adventurers on the expedition in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

LOCATION:

Pamir Highway Route

The Pamir Mountains take up a vast amount of Tajikistan’s Kohistani Badakshan- Better known by its former name: the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast). The Pamir Highway is the artery connecting this region with the rest of the world. The beginning of the highway is somewhat disputed between Dushanbe, Khorog, Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan), and Termiz (Uzbekistan) and all agree that Osh, Kyrgyzstan is the other end of the highway. The above map shows that Mazar-i-Sharif and Osh are the true terminus’ of the M41. I personally started my trip from Dushanbe and went up to Osh. It is very popular to do this road trip in reverse- starting in Osh and ending in Dushanbe or even doing it as a loop from Osh back up to Osh (this route would take you up through northwest Tajikistan and back into Kyrgyzstan in the end). The GBAO accounts for 45% of Tajikistan’s landmass, but only 3% of its population.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

Money:

It’s advisable to stock up on cash in either Dushanbe or Khorog if you are starting the Pamir Highway from within Tajikistan. If starting the journey from Osh, Kyrgyzstan you can stock up in Osh or even Bishkek if passing through. Some Kyrgyz ATM’s even dispense US Dollars (even better is to just have the cash already when you leave home if possible). US dollars are widely accepted, Euros and Russian Roubles generally will be taken as well. It is not uncommon for ATMs to be out of money in Tajikistan. The local currency in Tajikistan is the Tajik Somoni. The Somoni’s value seems to fluctuate, sometimes vastly.

Updated and revised! (January 2018) the exchange rate is:

$1 USD=8.81 TJS

€=10.51 TJS

£=11.93 TJS

$1 AUS=6.89 TJS

$1 CAD=7.07 TJS

1 RUB=0.15 TJS

If you want to read up more on money matters head on over to the Tajikistan Travel Guide

Visas:

Many countries can now apply for an E-visa, making the process extremely simple. Refer to the map below to find out if you’re eligible for an E-Visa, Visa On Arrival, Visa-Free Entrance or if you will need to obtain a visa from an embassy prior to arriving.

Visa Policy of Tajikistan, Pamir Travel Guide

Permits:

In order to visit the Pamir Highway which cuts through the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast) you need a GBAO permit! You can simply apply and pay for it at the same time you apply for your E-visa. If you don’t apply for the GBAO permit with your visa you’ll have to waste time attaining it from the OVIR office in Dushanbe. There are a few places in the GBAO that you need additional permits to visit, that includes: Zorkul, Lake Sarez and Tajik National Park. Click here to skip to the Permit Section of the Tajikistan Travel Guide.

Food:

The Pamir Highway is long with vast stretches of nothingness between settlements and towns, which is part of the allure. This can make dining a challenge. Simple meals can be had in homestays with dinner and breakfast typically being included in the cost of a night stay. If biking the length of the Pamir Highway or wanting to prepare your own meals there is a large bazaar in Khorog (pricy by Tajik standards) and a very limited small bazaar in Murghab (very expensive by Tajik standards) If starting from Dushanbe there are several markets around the city to stock up, on the way to Khorog from Dushanbe. Supplies can be purchased in Kulab (large bazaar), Kala-i-Khumb and Darvaz. Further along the Highway very limited supplies can be picked up in Bulunkul, Alichur, Murghab and Karakul. Brush up on you Russian and ask the locals. You’ll likely find yourself wandering into what looks like a house to buy some snickers bars, noodle packets or expired beer at very least. If you take the Wahkan corridor from Khorog, usually asking around town can get you the same in Ishkashim, Vrang, and Langar. You may occasionally find children in the Wakhan selling baskets of fresh picked apples in the afternoon after school for next to nothing. Chaikhanas (teahouses) can be found in Kulab, Kala-i-Khumb, Darvaz, Khorog, Dasht, Ishkashim, Vrang, Langar, Bulunkul, Alichur, Murghab and Karakul. Although many Chaikhanas in small settlements look like a home to an outsider, so ask around if you’re on your own without driver or guide to figure out where to go. Bigger towns, such as Darvaz and Khorog even have restaurants. Food will typically include the usual Tajik fare when traveling in the the Wakhan, Bartang, Shokhdara and Ghunt Valleys. Once into the eastern Pamir the population becomes predominately Kyrgyz nomadic people. In Alichur, Bulunkul, Keng Shibur, Murghab and Karakul expect to still find the usual Tajik fare with the a Kyrgyz nomadic twist. You will begin to see more yak products served, like yak’s butter and yak yogurt.

If you are a vegetarian, need not fear! Many homestay owners will ask if you are ‘vegetarianets (male)/vegetarianka (female) or sometimes they’ll just say veggie? There are enough foreign vegetarians that have traveled the region that many people are aware that vegetarians do exist, they’re not unicorns. A good phrase to learn in Russian is ‘Ya vegetarianets’ if you are male and ‘Ya vegetarianka’ if you are female. To say ‘I don’t eat meat’ in Russian, say ‘Ya ne yem myasa’. Just get used to the fact that your meals will genrally consist of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes and bread. Vegans will struggle a little more, but it is possible to just tell your hosts ‘Nyet Malacca’ meaning ‘No milk. ‘Nyet yaytsa’ means no eggs in Russian. The word in Russian for vegan is ‘Vegan” for men and ‘veganka’ for women.

tajikistan travel, tajikistan travel guide, tajik food

When to Go:

The best time to do a trip through the Pamir Highway would be from June until the end of September. For trekking July through mid September will offer you the best weather and conditions. July to August is considered to be the summer months here. It is possible to adventure along the Pamir Highway outside these months, although certain times can be very challenging. Fall is in September-October and offers stunning colors, the weather tends to get on the cold side into October. November to March is winter and will be the most difficult. Expect heavy snowfall and temps to dip below freezing. Spring time falls between April and June. Trekking at lower altitudes is nice this time of year as the plant life is nice and green. However this is the riskiest time of year in way of avalanche danger at higher altitudes.

Gear:

This is all dependent on what your plans are for visiting the Pamirs. If you plan to do multi day treks: a tent, a good warm sleeping bag (think cold nights in the mountains), small camp stove, water purification system, backpack, layered clothing, hiking boots, hat, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and trekking poles are all a good idea to bring into the wilderness with you. There are some nice day hikes and overnight hikes to be had where you can spend the night in a homestay (such as Jizeu) where you don’t need to bring much beyond maybe a small pack with a change of warm clothes and a water bottle. For trekking I carry the Osprey Aura 65L backpack and find it to be quite comfortable. Equally as important is a good pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Moab is my person fave. If you need camping supplies it’s best to pick them up in either Dushanbe or Osh before you take off.

Guides:

There are guides that lead tours in the Pamirs, as the Pamirs are Tajikistan’s #1 tourist attraction. Contact PECTA (Pamir Eco Cultural Tourism Association) to arrange guides and tours. Caravanistan and Indy Guide can both arrange tours for you as well. You can check out the Facebook Page and contact Women Rock’in Pamirs, Tajikistan’s first female tour guides!

Language:

Tajik is the official language which is nearly identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. Pamiri (also called Badakshani) languages are spoken throughout the region. Wakhi, Rushani, Bartangi, Oroshor, Khufi, Shughni, Sarikoli, Yazgulyam, Vanji, Munji, Yidgha, Sanglechi, Ishkashmi, Zebaki are all languages that fall under Pamiri, with Pamiri considered to be a dialect of Tajik. Russian is widely spoken as Tajikistan was a former region of the Soviet Union. It is possible to hire English as well as German, French, etc. speaking guides if need be.

Getting to the Pamirs:

You can either start from or end in Osh, Kyrgyzstan to/from either Khorog, Dushanbe, Mazar-i-Sharif (AFG), Termiz (UZB). The most usual is for travelers to start and end in Dushanbe and Osh (or reverse).

Flights:

You can fly into Dushanbe or Osh easily. Mazer-i-Sharif is reachable by flights via Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Fly Dubai. You can easily fly into any of Uzbekistan’s big cities and begin the trip via Termiz. There one flight per day between Dushanbe and Khorog and back, although make sure to allot up to two extra days in the event of delays. The most recent information (2014) found online was via Carivanistan with prices stated at $100 per person each way. Skip here to read more information about the Dushanbe-Khorog flight.

Private Car Hire.

The average going rate the summer of 2016 for the hire of a Landcruiser with a driver was $0.80-$0.90 per km. Drivers will usually quote you in USD and will gladly accept them too. I was lucky to meet a driver who offered to do the trip for $0.70 per km, and I immediately accepted. Always negotiate and/or agree to a price before departing. There are many different routings of the Pamir Highway which can make the cost of your trip vary widely. For most the trip connecting Dushanbe to Osh via the Wakhan will come in around 1,200-1,500km give or take.

Wakhan, Wakhan Valley, Pamir Highway, Pamir, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan, Landcruiser Tajikistan, Landcruiser Pamir, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide

For reference, here is a rough estimate if planning to hire a driver for legs of the trip:

Dushanbe-Khorog: $270/2380 TJS.

Khorog-Murghab: $270/2380 TJS.

Murghab-Osh: $350/3090 TJS.

When hiring a private car, your driver will expect a tip.

*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.

Shared Taxi.

This may require a little haggling, but here are some points of reference.

Dushanbe-Khorog: $39/345 TJS.

Khorog-Ishkashim: $5/44 TJS.

Ishkashim-Langar: $7/62 TJS.

Khorog-Murghab: $20/177 TJS.

Murghab-Osh: $20/177 TJS.

*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!

Cycling.

More than any other mode of transport you’ll probably meet and see more cyclists than cars, trucks, 4×4’s and walkers for travelers on the Pamir Highway! Cycling this highway will require being in good fitness and some smart planning as there are stretches where you may go a few days with no access to bazaars or shops or even water sources.  Many cyclists are doing the Pamir Highway as part of a greater cycling trip spanning from western Europe to the eastern seaboard of Asia or Southeast Asia.

If you plan to go the Pamir Highway via cycle, check out these blogs for more information as I didn’t personally cycle it on my 2016 trip in Tajikistan.

We Love Mountains.

Caravainstan.

Hitchhiking:

It is possible to hitchhike the Pamir Highway, be well prepared with enough food and water to span you a few days, ample clothing layers as it can be cold and windy here even in summer as well as camping equipment. There may be times where you don’t see a vehicle for hours or even days at worst case. Bring cash to offer to your driver as this is usually expected around this part of the world.

Highway Routes:

Just like Central Asia and the Silk Road, there’s no one route. There are several, let’s break it down:

Dushanbe to Khorog:

You can take Two different routes between Dushanbe that converge in Kala-i-Khumb and then continue on to Khorog, Three if you want to count the flight between the two cities.  Expect anywhere between a 14 and 20 hour adventure if going via the more common Southern Route by car. Expect substantially longer if planning to go by way of the Northern Route due to broken roads.

The Southern Route:  This is the more common route and usually the only land option open in the winters. If going by shared taxi from Dushanbe (same can be said for going the opposite direction) you’ll likely blast on through the entire route from Dushanbe to Khorog in one go with a few short stops for the toilet and snacks. If going by private car hire, your own vehicle, hitchhiking or cycling: From Dushanbe you will first head east to Vahdat and from Vahdat begin heading south. Shortly after Vahdat you’ll find yourself at the beautiful Nurek Dam, a good place to take a break and a photostop at the viewing pull off. From Nurek continue south to Kurbon where you’ll veer east again toward Kulab, Tajikistan’s third largest city and home to Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani Shrine. Kulab is a good place to stop off for lunch or to stock up on food supplies at the bazaar. Following Kulab you’ll begin the climb into the 2200m Shurabad Pass. On the way up Shurabad you’ll get to encounter your first GBAO checkpoint (or last if coming from Osh). The descent out of Shurabad Pass is a colorful one with orangy-red mountains and views to the Panj River and into nearby Afghanistan. You will follow along the banks of the River Panj with jaw dropping scenes of Afghan villages perched on riverside, rocky landings until you get to Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz. If you going by private car hire Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz are good options to spend the night.  There are restaurants, a hotel, homestays and shops in Kala-i-Khumb/Darvaz.

Nurek Reservoir, Tajikistan, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel Guide, M41

Nurek Reservoir.

The Northern Route: Snow-covered most the year and typically closed from October thru May. Head toward Garm where the rods turn south toward Labi Jar and on to Tavildara. Once past Tavildara there are several places where you may need to ford the river as many bridges are broken making this route therefore difficult. There are amazing views to be seen especially if going from Dushanbe to Khorog (eastbound). After climbing into the Sagirdasht Pass you will then descend onto Kala-i-Khumb. (I’ve not taken the northern route yet, but have heard that it is very scenic from travelers who have).

Continuing from Kala-i-Khumb to Khorog: From Kala-i-Khumb the M41 continues south along the River Panj and winds into the Vanj Valley where at the opening (from the Dushanbe side) you’ll find yourself at another GBAO checkpoint.

Pamir Highway Side Trip- Fedchenko Glacier: At the village of Vanj you can turn north off the M41 and head to Poi-Mazar where the day hike to and out of the Fedchenko Glacier- the world’s longest glacier begins. There are options for homestays in the Vanj valley at Kholov and at Dursher. Longer trips can be arranged onto the Fedchecko Glacier. Check out this video of 5 skiers who traversed the monster glacier.

From Vanj to Khorog you’re in good luck as this is the smoothest stretch of road. 90 km in to the 172 km drive between Vanj and Khorog you’ll find yourself at the village of Rushan. From Rushan side trips can be done into the Bartang Valley and beyond.

Pamir Highway Side Trip- Bartang Valley: One of the wildest mountain valleys in the Pamir. The Bartang Highway can even be done as an alternative route to the traditional Pamir Highway. The highway connects Rushan in the south all the way up to Karakul in far northeast of Tajikistan. Although the Bartang highway is widely known for its bone-crushing roads. Depending on the condition of this road it may or may not be passible. 4×4 is the most comfortable way to travel the highway, but local marshrutka do make the journey at times. There are spots where you’ll likely need to ford the river, and it’s not uncommon for parts of the highway to crumble into the river. Every now and then a crazy motorbike will make it the whole way as well. Cycling the Bartang highway is an option as well. The Bartang Highway is home to numerous jumping off points that we will discuss later, such as: Lake Sarez, Grum Grijimaillo Glacier, Jizeu Valley, Khafrazdara Valley and more.

Pamir Highway Side Trip- Jizeu Valley: One of those most popular treks in the GBAO. Day hikes, overnighters and multi-day treks can be done here. Jizeu Valley is accessed via the Bartang Highway.

Rushan is home to a couple shops, a decent functioning hotel, a homestay, a petrol station and a couple Chaikhanas. It is possible to organize transport from Rushan up to the Bartang Highway to get dropped at the cable bridge to Jizeu Valley. If wanting to do more extensive travel up the Bartang Highway via car hire its best to head on to Khorog to take care of that first. Just 65 km separate Rushan from Khorog.

The Flight:  The flight can be difficult to arrange as you can’t just go online and book a ticket. There’s supposed to be one flight each direction between Dushanbe and Khorog each day, but if weather is not perfect they will ground it. If the flight doesn’t fill up they will usually cancel due to insufficient passengers. You will need to get on the list at the Tajik Air Office located at Nissor Muhammed 5, just across from the ‘Green Market’ in Dushanbe. The last I could find was updated in 2014 on Carivanistan. Tickets were going for $100 USD per seat each way, with only 17 seats available. This is a thrilling flight in an unpressurized plane that goes through, not over the mountains. If the flight the day prior to yours was canceled due to weather, those people will have priority over you. Taking the flight could actually take you extra time or days to get out due to possible delays, so keep that in mind. It is recommended to budget at least two extra days if trying to go by flight. Even then, it’s wise to have a backup plan to go overland if need be. If going the other direction, from Khorog to Dushanbe tickets can be purchased at the Tajik Air office across the main road from the airport terminal. For your information, no one at the Tajik Air offices speaks English, or other European languages. So unless your decently confident in you Russian, Tajik or Persian language skills it may be helpful to bring someone with you that can help translate for you.

Khorog to the Junction of the M41 and the Wakhan Corridor Route.

You have three options to get between Khorog and where the three routes nearly meet up near the Khargush Pass and the turn off the M41 to Bulunkul. They are via the Ghunt Valley (the true Pamir Highway), via Shokhdara Valley or via the Wakhan Valley.

Ghunt Valley: This is the true M41 route. A stark valley that winds up into dramatic snow-capped peaks.The Bachor trek (goes into Tajik National Park) can be accessed via the turn-off at Varshedz. Eventually as the road follows the river you will end up at the hot springs of Jelandy and then climb up and over the Koi-Tezek Pass and descend toward Bulunkul.

Wakhan Valley: Probably the most beautiful route and the most popular. Gaze on to adorable villages perched on the edges of the Afghani side of the Pamir River, cross through picture perfect villages on the Tajik side of the steep valley walls and get the occasional glimpse of the high flying Hindu Kush (remember the Wakhan Corridor is extremely narrow, giving you the ability to see not only into this remote stretch of Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well). The Wakhan Valley is dotted with old ruins and even a hot spring. The Wakhan Valley route will take you through the the Beautiful Garam Chashma Hot spring, the stunning Dasht village, the largest village in the area of Ishkashim, access to the Qaaakha Fortress in Namadgut, into Darshai where a trek up into the gorge can be done, the best preserved ruin in the area: Yamchun Fortress near to the Bibi Fatima Hotspring, the ancient Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, the old city ruins of Kala-i-Panja in Zong, eventually leading onto the lovely village of Langar and the last village of the Wakhan (or first if coming from Osh) of Ratm. Leaving Ratm you will being climbing into the high altitude Khargush Pass, here you will encounter another GBAO checkpoint. From this checkpoint you can either head east to Zorkul (that is, if you’ve secured a permit at the PECTA office before leaving Khorog), or continue north into the Khargush Pass to eventually meet back up with the M41.

Wakhan, Tajikistan, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide

The Wakhan Valley. The Pamir Highway is the narrow divide between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Shokhdara Valley:  Accessed via the Roshtqala Road from Khorog, it pretty much sits in a valley between the M41 and the Wakhan Valley Route. This route will take you into seldomly visited villages. From here you’ll have amazing views of Pik Engles and Pik Karl Marx. Homestays can be found in Roshtaqala, Vezdara, Sindev, Shohirizm, Javshanguz and Bodomara. This is a valley with many ideal camping opportunities as well.

Bulunkul to Murghab:

For this stretch there are two route options, the M41 or off roading between Zorkul or Chatyr Tash/Shakhty to Shaimak up to Rangkul and back over to Murghab.

Bulunkul is a lake and small village just north off the M41 near where the three routes between Khorog and Bulunkul meet. From Bulunkul Yashilkul can be easily accessed by a short drive or long walk. Back on the M41 head east to the small twilight zone looking town of Alichur. Alichur does look like it’s on the edge of the world. There is a Chaikhana here as well as a few homestays offering meals. Ask around to find a homestay here, it won’t take long and the friendly locals will help you out. There also is a shop to pick up very basic supplies and snacks if needed, just ask around and someone will grab a family member to unlock the house/shop for you. Shortly after Alichur (or before if coming from Osh) you can’t miss the stunningly beautiful Ak-Balyk, a small crystal clear holy pond. Shortly after passing Ak-Balyk you will see some jeep tracks headed off road toward the south. One heads south toward Keng Shibur (a sheep hunting camp) via Bash Gumbez. Another track a little further up the road will bring you south between the villages of Chatyr Tash and Shakhty to Jarty Gumbez (another Marco Polo hunting camp). If not taking the off road detour you’ll stay on the M41 through the Naizatash Pass and descend down into Murghab. Right before entering into Murghab you will be stopped at yet another GBAO checkpoint.

yurt, Tajikistan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamir travel, Pamir Travel Guide, GBAO, Badakshan, M41

A Kyrgyz nomadic family’s yurt between Jasty Gumbez and the M41.

Pamir Highway Side Trip- Jasty Gumbez-Shaimak-Rangkul to Murghab detour: If you choose to take the side trip off the Pamir highway to Jasty Gumbez (even Keng Shibur too)– Just south of here the trail ties into the one coming up and over from Zorkul. Follow this and you will eventually end up in the Great Game spy outpost of Shaimak. Shaimak was a strategic location for the British and Russians as the made their advances through Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. From one view point you can see from Tajikistan into Afghanistan, Pakistan and China all at the same time. From Shaimak head north along jeep tracks to the colorful mountains of Rangkul before heading back west and ending up back in Murghab.

Murghab and Side trips from Murghab:

Murghab is a ramshackle town thrown up in a lovely and picturesque wide valley. It’s a bit of a box-house jungle (which if you’re from Alaska like me, this won’t seem too unusual of a sight for you). A number of homestays and chaikhanas are available here as well as even a hotel. From Murghab you can take two side trips, the Madiyan Valley and Hotspring or the Pshart Valley (Or the above mentioned Rangkul can be done as a day trip from Murghab and back).

Madiyan Valley: The southern more option to the west. Head up the valley’s rough roads for views of the rugged surrounding mountains to eventually end up at a very secluded hot spring.

Pshart Valley: Here you’ll be surrounded by massive mountains that are swirled with colors. It’s pretty psychedelic. The extremely intrepid can attempt to head up the broken jeep tracks and attempt to go around the northside of Lake Sarez to tie into the Bartang Highway at Kök Jar (may the force with you). Even more intrepid hikers can attempt to make the long day hike between the Pshart and Madiyan Valleys. You can organize yurtstays and pick ups back in Murghab to do the trek.

Pshart, Pshart Mountains, Pshart Valley, Tajikistan, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide

The colorful Pshart Mountains.

Murghab to Karakul:

There’s one known route between the two and that’s the M41 (I’m sure there’s some truly hardcore off-roaders who have it done it in other routes. This stretch of the M41 will take you up and over the 4655m Ak-Baital Pass, where it could very well be snowing in the middle of summer, and Marco Polo sheep can sometimes be seen right off the highway. The Pass descends down into the village of Karakul on the shores of the lake of the same name. The lake is said to unofficially be the highest navigable body of water on Earth, even higher than Lake Titicaca. Karakul is an odd village, but a nice overnight stop to break up the drive up to or from Osh. There are a small handful of homestays that are well signed right off the highway.

Karakul, Tajikistan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel ,Pamir Travel Guide, GBAO, Badakshan, M41

Karakul.

Murghab to Osh:

The final leg (or the beginning if going the opposite direction). This leg leading to the Kyrgyz border will continue on the weird high altitude plateau moonscape along the border fence separating Tajikistan and China. The first border check is at Kyzyl Art Pass and then will continue on 20km of dirt road to the Kyrgyz border of Bordöbö. Keep you your eyes up for views of a stunning rainbow striped mountain in the no-man’s land between the two countries. Once through the border at Bordöbö you only have 24km to go until Sary Tash. Sary Tash is the jumping off point to many nearby trekking opportunities. The large city of Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley, Osh sits 185 km north of Sary Tash. (Sary Tash and Osh will be covered in posts on Kyrgyzstan).

Karakul, Tajikistan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel, Pamir Gravel Guide, Badakshan, GBAO, M41

Final look back toward Karakul on the last stretch of the Pamir Highway before crossing into Kyrgyzstan.

*If you plan to go the Pamir Highway by bicycle check out these blogs for more information.

We Love Mountains.

Caravainstan.

Cities, Towns and Larger Villages:

Khorog: Biggest city in the GBAO with a rough population of 70,000 people. Restaurants, Hotels, Hostels, Homestays, Internet, Bazaars and Shops are available in Khorog. The population is well educated and it’s fairly easy to find English speaking locals (many will want to practice their English with you). There is a small hospital in case of small injuries but anything else will be sent to Dushanbe. Points of interest include the Central Park, Botanical Garden, and Regional Museum. The University of Central Asia is located here, as well as the Aga Khan Foundation.

Khorog

Khorog.

Murghab: Welcome to the wild-wild East, this is Murghab. Completely isolated, yet the best base to explore the Eastern Pamir from. Hotels, hostels, homestays, restaurants, internet, and a small (and expensive) bazaar are all available here.

Murghab, Pamir Highway, Tajikistan, Pamir, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan

In the heart of Murghab.

Ishkashim: The largest village in the Wakhan Valley. Homestays and a guesthouse, and a chaikhana are available here.

Karakul: An eerie village full of welcoming locals on the edge of Lake Karakul, just north of Ak-Baital Pass. The surrounding region is almost entirely uninhabited. Well signed homestays are available here, all of which serve meals.

Alichur: A small scattering of houses along the Alichur River. Friendly locals will chat you up as you walk around. Homestays and a chaikhana are available here. Good base to explore the Alichur Valley from.

POPULAR TREKS:

The options are limitless! There is so much ground that can be covered here, it really is a trekker’s paradise. Here I will list some of the more popular treks in the Pamir region. If anyone has any input to add, as this is a massive region to cover with many options, please e-mail me any treks you feel I should add at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com.

A great resource on the region is Jan Bakkar who blogs at Trekking In The Pamirs. He has written about many of the Pamir hikes on his website and has also created what I think is the only e-book around on the subject. Click here to purchase his e-book, Trekking in Tajikistan for €6. It also includes treks on the Afghan side of the border as well as the Fann Mountains in the northwest of Tajikistan with maps. It doesn’t cover every trek under the sun, but for a whole €6 I thought it was money well spent to have that information in my pocket on the side of a mountain.

Another invaluable item to own here is the Pamirs Map by Markus Hauser, You can purchase it through my Amazon link here, or directly through Gecko Maps here. I also have a spare, unused, brand new copy of the map. If you’re interested, I’d be willing to sell it to you for $15- e-mail me at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com.

Unless homestays are mentioned, it’s pretty safe to assume that you will need a tent for the treks. Some treks may have nights where homestays are an option and other nights not.

Remember, you should plan to be fully equipped and well prepared out here. If you are an inexperienced trekker or are not completely confident in your skills: HIRE A GUIDE, there’s not shame in it and they are available (mostly June-September).  Trekking in remote mountains, or anywhere for that matter, involves risks. I will not take responsibility for any loss, death, injury, illness or inconvenience out here. Altitude sickness can strike even the most fit of people. Take the necessary precautions to acclimate for the altitude before beginning any trekking in the region. These trekking recommendations are meant as a rough idea of what kind of trekking trips are available in the High Pamir and GBAO region. Skip to the Tours and Guides Section for links to websites that can help organize treks for you and provide guides.

Western Pamir:

Jizeu (Bartang Valley): Probably the most popular trek in the Central Pamir. Jizeu is a small village set around several overflowed river-lakes in a stark valley. Arrange a car or shared taxi (Probably from Khorog) to take you just past Rushan Village (Rushan is about 65km from Khorog) a short drive (23km) up the Bartang Valley to the suspension bridge*. Cross the Bartang River over the bridge and follow the trail on up to the picture-perfect village of Jizeu. Give or take the trek to the lower village will take about 2 hours if you’re in reasonably good shape. The trail is well marked and there are signed homestays when you arrive in the village. Half of the homes in Jizeu operate as homestays! Further treks can be arranged by homestay owners from Jizeu, such as Ravmed Valley and beyond to Basid.

I can personally recommend Lola Homestay in Jizeu: Good food (my favorite Qurutob), a nice big room and friendly and welcoming family. 1 night including lunch, dinner and breakfast set me back 130TJS (Sept. 2016).

*All sources I found leading up to my trip to Jizeu mentioned to make sure not take the suspension bridge as it would take you only to the evacuated former village of Red and that the way to Jizeu was by way of a hand cranked cable car. When I arrived there was no cable car (it’s actually on the other side of the river next to a suspension bridge, no longer being used). I’m guessing that this is a newly built bridge. The concrete bases the bridge is attatched to do say ‘this way to Jizeu’ in spray paint. 

Jizeu, Jizeu Village, Tajikistan, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide, Central Pamir, Bartang highway, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan, Bartang

Jizeu.

Jizeu-Ravmed Valley-Basid (Bartang Valley):Homestay owners in Jizeu can help arrange guides to accompany you and/or useful information to go at it on your own to continue over the pass into Ravmed Valley (more homestays available in Ravmed Village) and eventually onto Khijez (homestays available) and eventually on to Basid.

Fedchenko Glacier: Can be done as a difficult full day in-out hike from Poi-Mazar. Turn north off the M41 at the village of Vanj and continue up the road until Poi-Mazar. Homestay can be found in nearby Kholov and Dursher. Multi day hikes can be arranged further along and even on the glacier for those experienced and daring enough for it. A small handful of people have skied the glacier.

Central Pamir:

Khafrazdara and Grum Grjimailo Glacier: The trek along Khafrazdara will bring you to beautiful lakes surrounded by jagged mountains in perfect Tajik fashion. This is a very remote trek. From the village of Pasor (along the Bartang Highway), if you can get up here as the Bartang Highway is famous for being impassible at times. There are two stunning lakes of Khafrazdara which can be trekked to from Pasor in one to two days depending on your ambition and speed. Another day further will take you to face the Grum Grjimailo Glacier. From the glacier expect to take at least two days to make it back to Pasor.

Basid and Badara (Bartang Valley): From both villages a number of lovely hike can be taken up trails leading to the high summer pastures.

Bachor to Lake Sarez: Begin from the village of Bachor, just off the M41 in the Ghunt Valley. Continue to the confluence of the Ghunt and Andaravaj Rivers (about 4km), and then continue following the Andaravaj River up into the 4,590m Andaravaj Pass. You’ll then come down the pass with views of Zarushkul and the small lakes leading into Vykhinch. This leg will take you three days. From the settlement of Vykhinch allow one more day to reach Lake Sarez. Make sure to have a Lake Sarez Permit prior to setting out on this trek, allegedly can be arranged at the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Dushanbe, but realistically the only way I’ve seen (and personally gotten the permit) was from Nurumuhammed who own Sarez Travel.

Bachor Mountain Lakes:  More trekking can be done to stunning lakes near Bachor. Visit Trekking in the Pamirs, where Jan Bakker explains the trek.

Eastern Pamir:

Pshart to Madiyan Valley via Gumbezkul Pass (Murghab/Aksuu Valley): This is a long, demanding day hike that begins at a Horse-Breeding Center and Yurtstay set at the point where the Pshart Valley divides. Trek up the Gumbezkul Pass beginning here up steep scree to eventually end up at 4,700m with great views over the valley. Once over into Madiyan Valley you can opt to continue trekking to the Madiyan Hot Spring. From Madiyan Hot Spring you can choose to continue trekking up into Bazardara Pass and continue onto Alichur Village (See Bazardara Valley section).

Pshart Valley, Pshart, Tajikistan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel Guide, GBAO, Badakshan

Bazardara Valley (Alichur Valley): 10km east of the village of Alichur you can drive right to the foot of Bazardara Pass and trek on up Peak Alichur (5,800m). Trek further afield from Bazardara Pass and you will run into the ruins of Bazardara and eventually onto the Murghab/Aksuu Valley.

Bash Gumbez to Zorkul (Alichur Valley): Starting from the settlement of Bash Gumbez just about 30 km east of the village of Alichur a couple hikes can be done. From Bash Gumbuz head southeast to Ukchul Lake for a one day trek. The other option is to head south, up and over the 4,720m Bash Gumbez Pass and eventually onto Zorkul. Make sure you have a Zorkul permit from the PECTA office beforehand!

Alichur Village to Yashilkul and Beyond (Alichur Valley): From Alichur Village you can trek west to Yashilkul and further afield to Bulunkul, Lake Sarez and even onto Bachor.

Yashilkul, Tajikistan, Badashan

Yashil-Kul.

Zorkul Lake: Treks can be done around the lake and further out to Alichur Village, Bash Gumbuz and Jarty Gumbez.

Koi-Tezek Pass: Numerous day and multi-day treks can be taken from the side valleys of the Koi-Tezek Pass.

Wakhan Valley:

Darshai Gorge: A short hike from Darshai Village that will take you along the rushing river and eventually along a narrow path of of branches and rocks held impossibly onto a rock face. More treks can be arranged further from here including to a yurt camp. Taking a guide from Darshai Village would be wise to go beyond the rock face.

Mayakovsky Peak: Beyond the yurt camp mentioned above you can hike even further up Mayakovsky Peak (6,095m), hiking beyond the summit you’ll cross a snowfield and eventually end up at a homestay located at Bodomdara, which actually sits in the Shokhdara Valley.

Meadows of Pik Engels: Towering over the Wakhan Valley and one of Tajikistan’s most recognizable peaks, Pik Engels reaches up to 6,510m. Read more about how to do this trek on Jan Bakker’s website, Trekking in the Pamirs.

ACCOMMODATION:



Booking.com


Outside of Khorog, Murghab and Kala-i-Khumb expect to only find homestays. Homestays are typically rooms in a family’s home or separate small buildings on their land that offer a place to sleep for visitors. They almost always serve food and at least dinner and breakfast can usually expected in the cost of a nights stay. Expect homestays to run $10-20 USD per night including two meals.

In Khorog, Kala-i-Khumb and Murghab it is possible to spend the night in hotels, each city has a small handful on offer. Expect a nights stay to run in the $50-100 USD range.

If planning to trek, it’s advisable to bring a tent.

Hunting for Marco Polo sheep is a draw for hunter’s to visit the Pamir region from all over the world. The hunting season runs from November to March and most hunters stay at sheep hunting camps. From April to October the hunting camps will rent rooms to tourists and trekkers. Expect on average to pay $40 USD/night. Popular camps include Jasty Gumbez and Keng Shibur, however there are more camps scattered throughout the remote Pamir.

I stayed at the hunting camp at Jasty Gumbez and can’t recommend it enough! They have an indoor hot spring pool, rooms are heated and the meals are amazing (since I was on my own I even ate with all the guides and the family that runs the camp). All the guides and the family are very warm and welcoming. If you’re into star gazing this area is phenomenal at night. 

SAFETY:

In general the Pamir region as well as most the GBAO is a peaceful area, when hostilities do heat up (particularly in the far south near the Afghan border), Tajikistan will typically close the GBAO region to travelers.

Altitude sickness is a real risk all over Tajikistan as the country is almost entirely mountainous. Take proper precautions to acclimate to the altitude before taking off to do any strenuous activities.

The biggest dangers to be aware of in the Pamir, GBAO and Tajikistan are the weather conditions and natural disasters. In the summer lower elevation areas can get extremely hot- over 40ºC/100ºF! In the winter extreme cold can ravage the mountainous areas. Be prepared for anything. Especially in the mountains, no matter what time of year weather can change in an instant. It can go from being a warm sunny day to bad winds and freezing temps, even in summer! Tajikistan is very earthquake prone- something to take note of if you plan to do hiking. Many of those beautiful lakes only exist because of earthquake triggered landslides. For example, geologists fear that if a large earthquake dislodges the rockslide that naturally had created the dam of Lake Sarez and the dam breaches a wall of water would come hurling down the mountain valleys and wipe out and destroy villages, and roads clear down into Uzbekistan and possibly beyond. The villagers along the Bartang Highway have been trained with drills on what to do if the alarm goes off- head for high ground. Be prepared in general for survival that getting trapped out in the remote Pamir and GBAO is a possibility, by making sure you have a few days food supply and a way to filter your own water out there. A GPS is a handy tool, and even better if you have an SOS beacon. Cell phone coverage is very limited in this part of the world.

It is fairly common for travelers in this region to get sick. Sanitary and hygiene standards are not up to par with what a first worlder’s stomach is probably used to. Remember, this is one of the most remote places on Earth. It’s a wise idea to bring anti-diarrhea medication and a broad spectrum antibiotic with you. Healthcare in Tajikistan in general is pretty grim due to lack of funding. Common illnesses include Food poisoning and Giardia. There is a risk of Malaria in the extreme south of the country in the summer. There is also a risk of Hepatitis, Rabies, Polio and Tick borne Encephalitis. Occasional outbreaks of Cholera and Typhoid do occur as well.

Infrequently there is factional fighting and some warlordism that spills over the southern border from Afghanistan.

Tours and Guides:


These are tour operators and guides that can be hired to take you out on excursions and on treks in the region.

Wanna join me on expedition of a lifetime in 2018 in China, Tajikistan and Pakistan? I will be taking a small group with me in June. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

Kalpak Travel Offering a 5% discount to anyone who mentions the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 when booking! Kalpak offers an active trip along the Pamir Highway between Dushanbe and Osh, as well as trips to other regions of Tajikistan and Central Asia!

Pamir Highway Adventure

Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!

Pamir Horse Adventure

Tour De Pamir

Sarez Travel Can arrange tours all over Tajikistan, but specialized in Lake Sarez and the Bartang Valley. The only agency I’m aware of that can arrange Lake Sarez permits.

Pamir Guides

Badakshan Travel

Women Rockin Pamirs

Pamir Silk Tours

You can also contact PECTA for more recommendations. Remember that guides and drivers all expect a tip.

Ak-Baital Pass, Ak-Baital, Tajikistan, GBAO, Badakshan, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamir Travel, Pamir Travel Guide, M41

Ak-Baital Pass.

Getting Out of the Pamirs or GBAO:

Most travelers in the Pamir tend to leave either by crossing the Tajik/Kyrgyz boarder at Kyzyl Art-Bordöbö in route to Osh or exit the GBAO in Shurabad Pass as they make way to Dushanbe.

If planning to exit into Afghanistan visas can be obtained at the Afghan Consulate in Khorog. If the borders are open (they are sometimes periodically closed) you can usually cross the border at Shegnan Bridge in Khorog or at the bridge at Ishkashim where the cross-border market used to take place.

At this time it is not possible for foreigners to cross into China, however, there are rumors that Qolma Pass may open up.

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kyzyl Art Pass, Pamir, Pamir Highway, Pamit Travel, Pamir Travel Guide, M41

A Rainbow Mountain in the no-man’s land between Kyzyl Art Pass and Bordöbö.

Handy Gadgets, Gear Recommendations and Maps + Books:

These are goodies I personally found to prove quite useful on my travels in the Pamirs and all of Tajikistan.

Travel Gadgets:

One of my all-time favorite travel gadgets is the Delorme Inreach. Not only is it an SOS beacon, but it also can send and receive text messages and is a GPS. Delorme offers some good monthly plans when in use.

A Solar charger can be a great way to keep your electronics and batteries charged when trekking in remote areas of the country with no access to electricity for days on end. From personal experience I can say to avoid the solar charger by the brand All Power. Mine broke on my second day of trekking in Tajikistan.

An External battery pack can also help you out in a pinch when batteries are dead and you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Gear:

A backpack! I use the Osprey Ariel 65L Backpack, shop backpacks here!

A tent it handy if you plan to do any trekking. I use the MSR NX Hubba 1-man tent and love it! MSR also sells the same tent in other sizes: 2-man, 3-man and the 4-man Mutha-Hubba.

A sleeping bag can prove useful if trekking and also for chilly nights even in a homestay. I use a Northface Sleeping Bag cold rated to 20ºF/-7ºC.

A good pair of hiking boots. My personal favorite is the Merrell Moab hiking boot.

If planning on trekking/camping and you like to enjoy a warm meal I can recommend a Lightweight Cooking Camp Set.

I personal use the Katadyn water filter. Tap water in the entire country is unsafe for drinking and natural water sources can be contaminated. The Lifestraw or chlorine tablets are useful as well.

I still don’t own trekking poles, I probably should… click here to browse through some nicely rated sets.

A headlamp will come in handy!

Books:

‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton & Huw ThomasThis is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel and more!

‘Central Asia’ by Lonely Planet.  Handy to have with you, although don’t treat it like a bible. Many times information is out of date as things change rapidly here. The ‘Central Asia Phrasebook’ by Lonely Planet. I found to be a handy item.

Maps:

The Pamirs by Markus Hauser. Can be found online on Gecko Maps, or can always be picked up at the PECTA office. You can also order a Northern Tajikistan map as well as Southern Tajikistan map on Gecko Maps. I ordered mine through Amazon.

Great online references:

Caravanistan: Saule and Steven are a wealth of knowledge on Central Asia. They are very responsive via email and can put you in contact with numerous tour agencies in the country.

META: Only provides advisory services. Working to develop tourism.

PECTA: Can help you arrange anything Pamir. Very responsive.

Trekking in the Pamirs: Jan Bakker’s website with information on many hikes all over Tajikistan (not just the Pamirs!).

Indy Guide: Making travel in the whole of Central Asia & Mongolia easier buy providing the largest community marketplace of Central Asian tour operators and drivers.

Need Travel Insurance?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

Ready to start planning your Pamir Adventure?

Summer is just around the corner! Start planning today and make sure to check out my other posts out on Tajikistan:

Tajikistan Travel Guide– Every bit of info you need to know to travel in the gem of Central Asia.

10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan– See why this is a must-see destination.

The Bartang Highway and Valley Guide– All the info to visit this beautiful slice of the Pamirs.

Guide to Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan– You can do it!

The Pamir Highway Guide– Slightly different from this guide, this is solely focused on the Pamir Highway itself.

Fann Mountains Guide + Trekking Info– Everything you need to know to visit the beautiful Fann Mountains.

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan– My personal trip through  the gorgeous Fann Mountains.

To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, And still more to come!- My day to day breakdown of what I experienced in the Pamirs and Wakhan.

Got any Pamir Travel info to add?

Contact me at adventuresoflilnicki [at] gmail.com or even leave a comment below if you have suggestions or want to point out anything I have missed. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions either!

*The links to books & maps, travel gadgets and gear on this post to Amazon are affiliate links, if you choose to purchase these items through the links provided I am compensated at no extra cost to you! These links help offset the cost of the blog.

Ak-Baital, pond, Pamir Highway, Tajikistan, Pamir, GBAO, Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Badakshan

Ak-Balyk.