Pamir Highway Guide

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Pamir Highway Guide

*This is an extremely long post with information I have personally gathered over my travels in Tajikistan, so yes, some links in here are affiliate links.

As we made the colorful twists and turns down out of Shurabad Pass with my first glimpses across the River Panj into Afghanistan, I knew this surely wouldn’t be my last adventure along the famed Pamir Highway. What was historically an important route along the Silk Road was turned highway by the Soviets between 1931 and 1934 as a means to transport troops and provisions rather than the yaks, silk and horses of the past.

Looking to do the ultimate roadtrip? Look no further than the Pamir Highway, or the M41 as the Soviets had named it. So what gives me the gall to write about it? I’ve now done the route between Dushanbe and Osh twice. Some legs I’ve done several times such as Alichur to Murghab that I’ve now traveled 5 times, the true M41 between Khorog and Alichur I’ve done 3 times, I have spent enough time in Khorog that the family who owns the homestay I routinely stay at knows me by first name and treats me like a relative and my favorite restaurant doesn’t even ask, they just bring me out a bowl of Qurutob when I turn up at lunchtime. The only stretch that I haven’t fully explored ‘off-highway’ (yet) would be the far eastern Pamir. I have done the route by private 4×4 hire, shared taxi and hitchhiking, the only area I don’t have any expertise in is cycling it.

Pamir Highway Route

By Derived from CIA map by Bantman at en.wikipedia, transferred to Commons by User:Man77 using CommonsHelper. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s not really an official beginning or end of the Pamir Highway. So, unofficially I will say that it extends from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, transits a brief stint of southeastern Uzbekistan and traverses Tajikistan to end in Osh Kyrgyzstan. For most of you, your M41 adventure will extend between Dushanbe and Osh, with most time spent between Khorog and Osh.

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Table of Contents:

1. Money Matters
2. Dushanbe to Osh or Osh to Dushanbe?
3. How to get a Tajik Visa
4. How to get a GBAO Permit
5. Other Permits
6. How to Travel the Pamir Highway
7. Dushanbe to Qala-i-Khumb
8. Qala-i-Khumb to Khorog
9. Khorog to Murghab
10. Murghab to Osh
11. Time Zones
12. Pamir Highway Budget
13. Packing List

Money Matters

In this article you’ll find prices quoted in Tajik Somoni, Kyrgyz Som, and US Dollars. At the time of writing (December 2017) The exchange rates are:

   8.80 TJS = $1.00 USD
69.74 KGS = $1.00 USD

Note that the US Dollar is widely accepted, especially in Tajikistan. Some drivers and accommodations will actually prefer dollars over Somoni. Come prepared with a stack of bills ranging from $5 to $100, it is best to arrive with US dollars from home if starting from Dushanbe as you will sometimes have difficulty getting money out of ATMs, you can easily get USD in Osh from ATMs as many dispense both USD and KGS. Still expect to pay for smaller purchases, such as items in shops and bazaars in Somoni (Som if in Kyrgyzstan).

Note: There are NO ATMs between Khorog and Osh.

ATMs can be found in Osh, Khorog and Dushanbe. I’ve had no issues with ATMs in Kyrgyzstan, however in Tajikistan I’ve found ATMs at times to feel more like a slot machine… Like are you gonna give me money or not?

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Dushanbe to Osh or Osh to Dushanbe?

Ultimately this is pretty much just up to where you want to start and end. Many people find flying into Bishkek or Osh from their home country to be much cheaper (for me the prices to Dushanbe are always nearly the same), and will start from Osh. Others will start from Osh and make a clockwise road trip through Tajikistan (first heading into northwest Tajikistan visiting Khujand, the Fann Mountains and finally onto Dushanbe and will come back to Osh via the Pamir Highway), while others will take this approach in a counter-clockwise direction. It’s completely up to you. Before my first trip I had read on a blog or two that you should opt to go Osh to Dushanbe because the views are better, but I’m here to say that the views are equally stunning both directions.. not to mention: you can in fact turn around and catch the view that you are driving away from. I know, crazy concept! 

Price-wise costs will likely be nearly the same, so decide what route works best for your travel plans and go with it!

Tajik Visa

Most visitors will need a visa to enter Tajikistan, good news is: most nationalities are eligible for an E-Visa which is super simple and can apply for online here.

Visa Policy of Tajikistan, Pamir Travel Guide

Note: The E-Visa is only meant for single entry for a length of 45 days. If you plan to go into Afghanistan (or any other neighboring countries) and return, technically you’re supposed to apply for a double entry visa which means you do need to apply at an embassy. The visa can easily be acquired at embassies in Bishkek, Almaty, Tashkent and more. I didn’t have enough time to apply for a double entry visa before leaving home, so I applied for an e-visa prior to arriving and then applied for a second e-visa after I got my visa for Afghanistan- I later found out from a host that you’re not technically allowed to have out two e-visas with dates that overlap. I had zero problems crossing back into Tajikistan with the second e-visa. Just because I had no problems doing it doesn’t mean anyone else will have no issues or that it won’t change in the future- just an FYI.

The E-Visa will set most people back $50 USD, applying in an embassy prices can range somewhat.

If you’re planning to apply for visas on the road check out Caravanistan’s embassy reports.

GBAO Permit

If you want to take a trip down the Pamir Highway you will need a GBAO Permit. This will cost you $20 additionally when applying for an e-visa. If applying in embassy it should cost somewhere around the same amount.

Tajik National Park Permit

Tajik National Park Permit.

Other Permits

Other permits for travel in the Pamirs (however are not necessary if you don’t plan to visit these places) are the Tajik National Park Permit and the Zorkul Permit. These are only necessary if you plan to visit areas in the Tajik National Park or if you plan to go off the Pamir Highway to visit Zorkul. Both can be applied for at the PECTA office inside the Central Park in Khorog. The only other permit would be the Lake Sarez Permit, the only way I am aware of obtaining the permit is through Sarez Travel.

How to Travel the Pamir Highway

You have a few options here. You can opt to hire a private 4×4, go via shared taxi, organized tour, cycle, hitchhiking…. In this guide I will only be covering the true Pamir Highway route, meaning it won’t include the Wakhan, Shokhdara or Bartang Valleys. Those are included in separate travel guides. Note that it is easy enough to camp along the Pamir Highway if you are say, cycling or hitchhiking. Just take normal precautions and ask permission if it looks like you’re on someone’s private land. Temperatures can get downright cold at night even in the summer, so be prepared. Otherwise plan to stay in the homestays scattered along the Pamir Highway.

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4×4 Hire

Probably the best option for taking in the scenery if you don’t plan to stray too far away from the main road/routes if at all, although this is the most expensive way to do it aside from an organized tour. The going rate for a 4×4 hire (Landcruiser or Pajero) with a driver I’ve seen anywhere between 0.65¢ to 0.90¢ USD per kilometer on offer. The length of the M41 between Osh and Dushanbe is roughly 1,335 kilometers, so the full trip will likely cost around $1,000 USD plus about $20/day for the driver’s accommodations- more if you plan on taking side trips. If you can wrangle together a group of 4-6 travelers this can cut costs dramatically. The best places to look for other travelers is via the forum on Caravanistan, or putting a notice on the board at the PECTA office (if planning to hire from Khorog to Osh) when you arrive in Khorog.

Shared Taxi

If you thought there was public transport along the Pamir Highway you were sorrily mistaken. The closest things to it are shared taxis and marshrutkas. A shared taxi is quite literally just about anyone with a vehicle sitting in the shared taxi lot headed for _____. They leave when full. Marshrutkas are usually shitty Chinese mini buses with next to no suspension that depart when full (meaning 7 people, sometimes more if a family of 8 decides to jump in while 6 of you are waiting for the last passenger to leave). The most common routes are Dushanbe to Khorog, Khorog to Murghab and Murghab to Osh (or vice-vera). Prices (roughly) are as follows:

Dushanbe-Khorog: $34-39/300-345 TJS.

Khorog-Murghab: $14-20/120-177 TJS.

Khorog-Shazud $2.30-5.70/20-50 TJS. (Shazud to Bachor via taxi/4×4 $11-17/100-150 TJS).

Murghab-Osh: $14-20/120-177 TJS.

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In my experience with shared taxis and marshrutka I’ve never had to haggle for the price as driver’s had given an honest price when I asked the cost, but I did know the relative costs beforehand (asked local friends), and I speak enough Russian/Tajik to argue. If the price they give is higher than the usual range, haggle.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is relatively easy along the Pamir Highway although plan to pay something and be prepared for possible lengthy wait times. It isn’t impossible to do it for free but most drivers do expect a few Somoni. Good idea to pack a tent, some food, and cold weather gear in case you don’t manage to find a ride and need to camp somewhere and wait until morning. I always give a few Somoni when hitchhiking even if I’m not asked for payment. You can sometimes hitch on Chinese trucks from Khorog to Murghab from Tank, just 22 kilometers east of Khorog. The trucks aren’t allowed to transit the city during the daytime and they do expect payment. From Murghab to Khorog these Chinese trucks will stop overnight 2km northeast of Murghab and depart around noon, (expect to pay 30-40 TJS on these two routes). Hitchhiking tends to get a bit more difficult when you stray off the M41 such as parts of the Wakhan Valley, Shokhdara Valley, and Bartang Valley can get a bit testing at times waiting for a ride (I’d say the Bartang and Shokhdara more so). Hitching the Khargush Pass between Langar and Bulunkul is notoriously difficult, though not impossible

Organized Tour

There are several companies that offer organized Pamir Highway Tours. Kalpak Travel, Pamir Horse Adventure, Pamir Highway Adventure, Sarez Travel, among many others can arrange tours. Most organized tours I’ve seen advertised come in between $1,200 and $4,000 USD per person, of course depending on length of tour and levels of accommodations in cities.

Self Drive

Whether your driving in your own car or motorbike from Europe or East Asia as part of a greater Silk Road adventure, plan to rent in Kyrgyzstan, or buy a vehicle once you’re in the region. I’ve never self drove the Pamir Highway, but have read in the past that renting or even buying a vehicle is easier from Kyrgyzstan than Tajikistan (I can’t say how true this is from personal experience though!) Renting a Pajero or Landcruiser, I was told by people I met in Khorog costed them $120 per day for the rental from Osh. If you’re looking into buying a vehicle over there Caravanistan and its forums would be a good place to start your research.

Cycling

This is a bucketlister for many cyclists. Majority of the the other travelers I’ve met in Tajikistan have been cyclists. I do not have any expertise in this as I have never personally cycled the M41, so I’ll turn you over to some blogs that do! Good blogs to visit are We Love Mountains, Blanca on a Bike, and Traveling Two.

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Khafrazdara Lake, in the Pamirs but not on the highway.

Looking for a little more information on the Pamirs?

Want to know about treks in the area and some alternative routes? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide.

Dushanbe to Qala-i-Khumb

There are two routes to get you between Dushanbe and Khorog- the Northern or the Southern Route, three if you count the Tajik air flight. So which should you choose, the Southern Route or Northern Route? Well, that’s entirely up to you. The Northern Route stays on the true M41 the entire way from Dushanbe to Khorog, whereas the Southern Route strays off of it and rejoins it in Qala-i-Kumb. The northern route is shorter, but notoriously more difficult.

Back in the big Dushe

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Dushanbe

Ahh civilization and the bustling capital of Tajikistan. It’s fairly Soviet-esque but still uniquely Tajik. Dushanbe has a number of accommodations from expensive Soviet-era hotels, hostels to homestays. My go-to any time in Dushanbe is Hello Hostel. It’s in a quiet neighborhood a few blocks from Rudaki (the main road), and the staff is amazing. I have also heard great things from friends and other travelers about Greenhouse Hostel and Yeti Hostel, all of which are located in the same neighborhood.

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Mevlana Yakub Charka Mosque in Dushanbe.

Where to get shared taxis from Dushanbe

Head to the Badakshanskaya Avtostansiya at 149 M. Nazarshoev, just behind the Sheraton Hotel. Walk through the gates and continue walking, people will likely ask where you are wanting to go and point you to where the Khorog bound taxis wait. Most shared taxis will depart Dushanbe for Khorog (or Qala-i-Khumb) early morning between 5am and 8am. Few will depart on Friday, Saturday and Sunday so you may have to wait a bit until yours fills up. There is a small chaikhana here to grab breakfast at right next to the taxis as you wait. Expect a shared to taxi to take anywhere from 14 to 20 hours between Dushanbe and Khorog.

Southern Route

This is the most common route and the route that most of the shared taxis use. This way will take you south to Kulob first passing the Nurek Reservoir before beginning the ascent up the Shurubad Pass, once over the pass you’ll descend down onto the River Panj with views into Afghanistan.

Nurak reservoir, Tajikistan, Pamir Highway

Nurak Reservoir

Nurek Reservoir

Worth a short stop to stretch your legs and take in the beautiful scenery.

Kulob

Not much of interest to most in Tajikistan’s third largest city aside from the 14th century Mir Sayid Ali Hamadani Shrine.

Shurubad Pass

If coming from Dushanbe the top of this pass this will be your very first (of many!) GBAO checkpoints, or last if coming from Osh. You will wind down out of the pass to the border with Afghanistan and follow the River Panj until Qala-i-Khumb.

Northern Route

This is the road less traveled. You will stay on the M41 the entire way between Dushanbe and Khorog. From Dushanbe you will first head east toward Vahdat and continue to Obigarm where shortly afterwards the road will make a turn toward the south to Tavildara, up and over Sagirdasht Pass before descending down to Qala-i-Khumb. Note that the Sagirdasht Pass is typically closed from October until May due to snow.

Tavildara

Tavildara is a small town along the M41. It’s a great jumping off point for adventures off the M41 into Garm and the Rasht Valley.

Sagirdasht Pass

This 3,252 meter (10,670 feet) monstrosity is typically blanketed in snow from October to May, sometimes longer. In the brief summer it is possible to cross over the pass. Lots of beautiful and colorful wildflowers in spring and summer and great camping opportunities.

Qala-i-Khumb to Khorog

The Pamir Highway from Qala-i-Khumb all the way to Khorog stays along the River Panj, giving you sometimes pretty close glimpses into Afghanistan’s Badakshan Province.

Qala-i-Kumb

You’ll feel like you’ve hit civilization once you reach Qala-i-Khumb, there are several shops, restaurants and accommodations. Darvaz Guesthouse is a good, inexpensive option as well as Roma Jurayev. There are pricier options like the Karon Palace Hotel.

Vanj Valley

Vanj sits just off the M41. If you plan to pay a visit to Tajikistan’s largest glacier, Fedchenko from the village of Poi-Mazar this is your jumping off point.

Rushan

Rushan is your jumping off point for adventures further into the Bartang Valley. You can opt to get dropped in Rushan rather than continuing onto Khorog. Try Homestay Mubarak +992 934052304 or Rushan Inn Guesthouse +992 935550049 for accommodations .

Bartang Valley

If you want an amazing side adventure to the Pamir Highway the Bartang Valley has tons to offer. Check out the Bartang Highway Travel Guide for more information on Bartang travel. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is to the picturesque village of Jizeu.

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Somewhere between Khorog and Murghab.

Khorog to Murghab

I’m focusing on the actual M41 for this Route. I will be releasing separate guides for the Wakhan and Shokhdara Valleys.

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The view of Khorog and the Ghunt River from the Botanical Gardens

Khorog

Khorog will always have a special place in my heart. I have spent a lot of time here, more time than any other sane tourist probably would have. It’s a fairly compact city and is easy enough to get around on foot, although there are two marshrutka routes. Khorog is a great place to base yourself for trekking in the Central & Western Pamir, Bartang Valley, Wakhan Valley, Shokhdara Valley and more. It’s also where you’ll want to pick up an Afghan Visa if you plan  to cross the border in the Wakhan Valley. The best things to do before you leave Khorog is to at least spend an afternoon in the shaded Central Park and a visit to the Botanical Gardens. There are several restaurants in Khorog, my favorites are Nan-Melan for Qurutob, Delhi Darbar for Indian food and Hotel Lal cafe for a pizza. There is a nice chaikhana in the Central Park on the riverside. Khorog has a decent sized bazaar in the middle of town where you can stock up on just about anything. There are several accommodation options in Khorog, my favorite being Do Nazarbek Hostel. Nazarbek is very friendly and helpful and treats you like family, and although it’s listed as a hostel each room is a double with private toilet and shower, each room is $20 per night. Other good options are Hostel KhorogStay, Bomi Jahon, Khorog B&B, Hotel LAL, and the ever popular Pamir Lodge.

Where to go for shared taxis and marshrutkas

For shared taxis and marshrutkas bound for Murghab via the Gunt Valley and for the Bartang Valley go to the parking lot alongside the Bazaar (there’s also vans everywhere in the lot selling melons), and even out front of the bazaar in the completely clogged road. The driver’s will likely find you before you find them. Just say where you’re wanting to go and they’ll point you to the vehicles headed that direction. If you plan to head to the Wakhan or Shokhdara Valleys you’ll need to cross the footbridge in that same parking lot for the Murghab taxis. Once across the river there is a lot over there. If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place, ask- people in Khorog are extremely friendly and helpful. Khorog-Dushanbe shared taxis should cost 300 TJS and take 14-20 hours. Khorog-Murghab shared taxis will ring in at 150 TJS (120 TJS for marshrutka) and take about 7-8 hours. A marshrukta bound for Shazud (for those planning to visit Bachor) will cost 20 TJS per seat and 50 TJS in a shared taxi and takes about 3-4 hours (Hiring a taxi from Shazud to Bachor should cost about 120 TJS on average additionally). Shared taxis bound for the Wakhan Valley’s Ishkashim should cost 50 TJS and take 3 hours, and expect to pay 120-250 TJS for the 7 hour drive to Langar. You may have difficulty finding transport on Sundays out of Khorog as nearly everything is closed that day.

Bachor

Bachor is located off the M41 via the village of Shazud. From Bachor you can trek to Yashilkul, Bulunkul or make a loop of to the stunning mountain lakes beyond Bachor. Technically you’re supposed to have a Tajik National Park Pass out here, but I was never asked for it.

Jelandy

Jelandy is home to a hot spring that many from Khorog will make a occasional weekend family trip out of.

Koi-Tezek Pass

This 4,272 meter pass will make you feel like you’re on the moon with its lunar landscapes and high altitude.

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Bulunkul.

Bulunkul

This small village just off the Pamir Highway and allegedly the coldest place in all of Tajikistan (a record low temperature was recorded at -60ºC!). Bulunkul isn’t much to write home over, but the morning reflection of the swirled mountains in the morning are worth it. It’s also the gateway to Yashilkul.

Yashilkul

A 4km drive or walk from Bulunkul, and a much bigger lake. You can do some treks out of Yashilkul, but you do technically need that Tajik National Park Permit to visit (I was never asked for mine at Yashilkul).

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The view from Alichur.

Alichur

A predominately Kyrgyz community that consists of scattered white homes, a small handful of homestays, a restaurant and a mosque. Alichur doesn’t see many travelers stay overnight, so curious locals will likely give you a tour of their village.

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Ak-Balyk.

Ak-Balyk

One of my absolute favorite places in Tajikistan and it’s ironically easy to access. Just north of Alichur it will be on your right side if you are Osh bound, on your left if Dushanbe bound. Whatever you do, stop! Especially in the morning, the water is crystal clear. But don’t get in it or pee in it- its sacred. Ak-Balyk means ‘white fish’ in Kyrgyz.

Bash Gumbez

Just a few kilometers of the Pamir Highway, Bash Gumbez is nearby to an old Chinese tomb.

Madiyan Valley

Just south of Murghab extending toward the west. If you follow the jeep tracks up far enough there is a hot spring out here. You can hike up and over Gumbezkul Pass and reach Pshart Valley (or vice-versa).

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Murghab.

Murghab to Osh

This is the final stretch (or the beginning if you’re starting in Osh)! Murghab to Sary-Tash is a strange adventure through lunar landscapes, but beyond Sary-Tash you begin to descend towards the Ferghana Valley.

Murghab

Welcome to the wild-wild East! This is your best base to explore the Eastern Pamir from. It’s equal parts weird and wild really, from the shipping container bazaar, the dead goat polo At-Chabysh festival, to the Soviet era reminants- Murghab will keep you occupied for at least a couple days. There is a chaikhana in town, but most people just eat at their homestays. I’ve randomly ended up at Tulfabek Guesthouse +992 935389159 every time I’ve stayed in Murghab, it’s a great value at only 45 TJS per night including breakfast. Other places popular among backpackers are Pamir Hotel +992 93050586321762 and Erali Guesthouse +992 93563751421618. One thing to note about Murghab is that electricity is irregular. Don’t be surprised if it’s out or so weak it’s nearly impossible to charge anything while you’re there.

The Murghab to Osh shared taxi 🚕

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Shared taxis from Murghab

From the bazaar expect a small few vehicles to depart daily toward Khorog and usually a couple to Osh/Sary-Tash, although if you want to guarantee a seat best to arrange the day before. Expect to pay about 120 TJS for the 7-9 hour drive to Khorog and 150 TJS for the 12 hour ride to Osh. Some evenings drivers will go homestay to homestay asking if anyone is looking for a shared taxi in the morning (the last time I was in Murghab this was how I ended up arranging my shared taxi), you can also ask at your homestay and they will likely make a call and get you square to leave in the morning.

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The colorful Pshart Mountains.

Pshart Valley

This rainbow swirled valley sits just north of Murghab and can be combined with the previously mentioned Madiyan Valley via Gumbezkul Pass.

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Ak-Baital Pass.

Ak-Baital Pass

White Horse Pass in Kyrgyz. This pass goes up and over 4,655 meters, be on the lookout because many times Marco Polo sheep can easily be spotted from the highway. Don’t be surprised if it’s snowing up here, even in mid-summer.

Kyrgyz kids playing in Karakul.

Karakul

Karakul is a large lake created by a meteor impact and with a twilight zone-esque village of the same name at it’s shores. There are a scattering of homestays in Karakul and some even have signs posted on the highway as you cross through the village.

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Karakul.

Kyzyl-Art Pass

This is the second highest border crossing in the world at 4,282 meters. Wave goodbye to Tajikistan and hello to Kyrgyzstan (or vice-versa). There are some beautiful color striped mountains in this no-mans land between Kyzyl-Art and Bordobo.

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

Bordobo

This is the Kyrgyz side of the border crossing, not too far from Sary-Tash.

Sary-Tash

Home to a couple shops and a small handful of homestays. Hostel Muras is a good place to start. Plan to head off 30 kilometers west to Sary-Mogul for the best views of Pik Lenin or to stay at the yurtstay at Lake Tolpur.

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Suleman Too in Osh.

Osh

Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city in a flat valley with a giant rocky mountain in the center of it. Osh is ancient, interesting and has a strange vibe. Occasional ethnic tensions come to a head here as it sits in the gnarl of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan coming together in the Ferghana Valley. But, Osh is normally completely safe to visit. Things to check out here include the large and sprawling Osh Bazaar, Suleman Too, Cave Museum, Animal Market and of course the Lenin Statue. There are a plethora of restaurants here, my favorite being Izyum- if you need a break from Central Asian fare. My personal favorite for accommodation is Osh Backpackers, the staff is very helpful and great to chat with.

Where to grab shared taxis in Osh

Shared taxis bound for Tajikistan (Pamir Highway) usually can be found at the Murghab-Baza taxi stand and sometimes at the Argomak taxi stand, expect to pay about 1,500 Kyrgyz Som per person in a shared 4×4 for the 12 hour ride. You can also speak with your guesthouse and ask for them to arrange for you. For transport to most elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan by marshrutka or shared taxi head to the Main Minibus Station. If bound for Batken to continue into Tajikistan’s Ferghana Valley cities of Isfara, Khujand, and Istaravshan head to the Batken Minibus Stand.

A weird thing about time in Eastern Tajikistan

The entire Murghab District of Tajikistan (think: Murghab, Alichur, Bulunkul, Bash Gumbez, Rangkul and so on…) operates 1 hour ahead of Tajikistan time. Therefore the Murghab District operates on Kyrgyzstan time. I always ask once I’m in Eastern Tajikistan which time we’re leaving/meeting/etc. in the morning just to verify.

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

Pamir Highway Budget

What should your budget be? Well, that all depends on how you wanna go about this.

For accommodations

Expect to pay $10-20 USD per night including breakfast and dinner.

For food

As breakfast and dinner is likely included in the cost of your homestay, expect to pay anywhere from 10 TJS to 40 TJS for lunch at a chaikhana.

For Transportation

This is largely dependent on if you go about this via 4×4 hire or by shared taxis. Expect a 4×4 hire without side trips at an estimated 7 days to come in around $1,200 USD (of course this can be split amongst 2-6 of you). If doing the journey solely by shared taxi/marshrutka expect your cost to be $65 USD per person.

So my estimated budgets for the Pamir Highway are:

Via private 4×4 hire (meaning you on your own)

$180 per day

Via 4×4 hire shared amongst 4 passengers

$50 per day

Via shared transport

$25 per day

*These are averaged over 7 days.

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Packing List:

Here are a few handy items I like to have on me when exploring in the Pamirs.

The Inreach Explorer +. A GPS & SOS beacon, that can also send and receive text messages. Delorme/Garmin 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.

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

I use the Osprey Aura 65L Backpack, and recommend Osprey’s products because of their guarantee. Shop backpacks here!

A tent it handy if you plan to do any trekking, or are planning to cycle or hitchhike the Pamir Highway. 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 planning to camp while cycling or 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!

Don’t forget the sunscreen! Don’t let the cold fool you.

Mosquito Repellant can prove handy in spring time at lower elevations, although I’ve personally never ran into many bugs out here in my late summer and fall adventures.

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 this to be a handy item for Tajik, Russian and Kyrgyz phrases, not so much for the Wakhi phrase section, which appears to be 100% all incorrect.

Maps:

The Pamirs by Markus Hauser. Can be found online on Amazon, or can always be picked up at the PECTA office. The creators also created a Northern Tajikistan map as well as Southern Tajikistan map.

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 in the Murghab district.

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.

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WANT MORE POSTS TO HELP PLAN YOUR TRIP IN TAJIKISTAN?

I’ve spent a good chunk of time exploring Tajikistan over the last couple years, so check out these posts to help you start planning your trip!

Pamir Travel Guide- Everything you need to know before setting out into the rugged and wild Pamir Mountains.

Fann Mountains Guide- Wanna visit the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan’s premier trekking destination? Look no further.

Bartang Valley Travel Guide– How to visit all the places and see all the things along the Bartang Highway.

Tajikistan Travel Guide- The ultimate guide to traveling Tajikistan.

Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan- What it’s like and what you need to know before you ladies out there travel solo to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

NEED MORE INSPIRATION TO GET YOU TO BOOK THAT TICKET TO TAJIKISTAN?

Here’s some click bait for you…

10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan- Who doesn’t love a generic ‘10 reasons‘ posts? At least it’s not a generic destination…

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan- A little about my first time trekking in the Fann Mountains.

Tajikistan, Fann Mountains, Alovaddin, Lake Alovaddin, Alauddin, Lake Alauddin

10 Off The Beaten Track Destinations For 2018

10 Off The Beaten Track Destinations For 2018

How do you like that clickbait title? Ha! Jokes on you, they aren’t even all full blown countries in the UN’s eyes. But seriously though- Here’s 10 awesome places for your to do list in 2018. And Merry Christmas to everyone out there!

*This post contains affiliate links.

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Antarctica

It’s not a country, it’s a whole freakin continent! Looking to get far away from the tourist crowds? Very few people visit Antarctica- but I’d guess it has mostly to do with the costs… it isn’t a cheap vacation, nor one with easy access. But, none the less- penguins, icebergs and the midnight sun are calling. Wanna learn how to save on a trip to Antarctica? Check out the Antarctica Travel Guide, what it was like to visit the McMurdo Dry Valleys, 10 Reasons to Visit the Ross Sea, and a visit to the Subantarctic Campbell Island of New Zealand.

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Oman

When people ask me where a first-timer to the Middle East should go my answer is always instantly Oman. You can’t go wrong with a visit to Oman. Camping in sand dunes under the stars, meeting some of the most friendly and welcoming people on Earth, desolate yet stunningly beautiful beaches, rocky mountains and deep canyons, well preserved and crumbling apart fortresses, and crystal clear turquoise water filled wadis are all found in this very one country. To make things even easier most signs are not only written in Arabic but English as well- making roadtripping in Oman so easy it’s ridiculous. Plus if you’re trying to keep to a tighter budget: You can freely camp in much of the country.

Check out my One Week Oman Roadtrip Guide.

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Alaska

Wanna watch the Aurora dance while peeking out of an ice cave and have a moose walk across the horizon? Well, theoretically this is a possibility. Alaska the last frontier, the United State’s forgotten redheaded step child (no really, they do forget we are in fact a state sometimes). Come for the dramatic sceneries, stay for the wildlife and good luck trying to break out of its cold embrace. Alaska has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but it doesn’t have to be: Learn how to Travel Alaska on a Budget. Wanna hit the highlights in a week? Check out the One Week in Alaska Roadtrips Series. Looking for an experience to get your heart rate up and give you one of the most epic experiences around?  Head over to How to Get to the Mendenhall Ice Cave.

Wanna join a tour and hopefully see the Northern Lights (only in the winter of course!)? Check out Northern Lights tours here. Looking for anything from wildlife tours, cruises, cultural tours, helicopter tours and everything in between? Check out these Alaska tours on offer!

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Tajikistan

Does this surprise you? Well it shouldn’t. This is got to be the most beautiful country on earth. Skyscraping mountains meets world class hospitality in this cross roads of the ancient Silk trade route. With countless trekking opportunities, cultural experiences galore, a handful of fun cities, and the road trip of all roadtrips you’ll adventure to your hearts content in Tajikistan. Need help planning your travels to Tajikistan? Check out these posts:

Tajikistan Travel Guide

Bartang Travel Guide

Pamir Travel Guide

Fann Mountains Guide

Wanna join me on a tour of the Pamirs in June?

I will be leading an expedition into the wilds of Tajikistan’s remote Pamir, China’s Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan as well as Pakistan’s stunning Hunza Valley June 9-24 with Inertia Network. Click here to read up on the itinerary and to sign up!

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Artsakh

Formerly known as Nagorno-Karabakh. This territory technically is Azerbaijan in the UN’s eyes, but the majority ethnically Armenian population will beg to differ. The territory has operated as its own country since the 1994 ceasefire. Mountainous and rugged this landlocked region will amaze you with every twist and turn. From incredibly warm and welcoming locals to hiking opportunities galore this is a destination for an adventurer at heart. Another upside? The Republic of Artsakh is pretty easy on your pocketbook. Wanna visit the Nagorno-Karabakh yourself? Check out the 3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip.

Not into self-driving? It is possible to visit the Nagorno-Karabakh by public transport, Don’t Stop Living has traveled the region pretty extensively and the Unusual Traveler offers some info on getting to Nagorno-Karabakh by public transport. Want to join an organized tour including both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh? Check out these tours.

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San Blas Islands, Panama

Looking for the perfect Caribbean destinations without the crowds? With over 300 tiny islands glimmering off the coast of Panama with bright white sands and nothing more than a few palm trees and a couple huts the San Blas is a perfect beach getaway. The friendly Guna-Yala people inhabit 49 of those islands and will welcome you in. With no ATMS, electricity few and far between, colorful reefs, an interesting culture, and pristine beaches the San Blas is the perfect spot. Check out tours to the San Blas Islands here. You can also go the longer route and visit the San Blas from Colombia as well.

Thinking about paradise? Well, I finally wrote about my trip to the San Blas, so start planning a trip with my San Blas Islands Travel Guide.

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Afghanistan

Sure, much of the country has been ravaged by war for the latter 1/3 of the past century- but some parts of the country have remained nearly untouched. Make it to the remote Wakhan Corridor and eventually you’ll be met by people that haven’t a clue what the Taliban even is. Of course this isn’t a trip for inexperienced travelers. Read up on safety before planning your trip. Wanna find out how to easily get a visa to enter Afghanistan? Read this post. Not sure if you should travel the Wakhan Corridor as a solo female? Well, I did it, read about it here.

Looking to visit beyond the Wakhan Corridor? Check out the Afghanistan Travel Guide from Lost With Purpose.

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Moldova

One of the least visited countries in Europe… why? Well probably because not many know where it even is and it doesn’t have beaches. It may not be the most instagrammable country in Europe- but man is it a fun ride. Is this really what travel has become? If a destination is Instagrammable or not?

Anyways Moldova is awesome! With the compact capital of Chisinau with its fun cafes, beautiful parks and Central Bazaar. Some of the most interesting sights in the country? Get underground for that- the cave monastery at Ohieul Vechi and the underground wine cellars of Cricova and Milesti Mici are a few of the best attractions in the country. Did I say wine? Yes! Moldova is known for it’s wine.

Then there’s also the separatist region of Transnistria, if you wanna get off the beaten path when you’re already off the beaten path.

Check our my Moldova posts: 10 Reasons to Visit Moldova and Where the F*** is Moldova?

Cyprus, Paphos, 10 off beaten track destinations 2018

Cyprus

Ok, this one isn’t really off the beaten path for many British holiday-goers. With that said, Cyprus is a gigantic island and discovering beautiful spots with next to no tourists is very possible. With the last divided capital in the world and the little-visited Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (this is not a political statement, it’s just how the island currently is governed) there are amazing spots to check out where you might have a lovely beach all to yourself. A few great places to start are the Karpas Peninsula, Akamas Peninsula, and coast just south of Paphos.

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Namibia

Want to visit an African country with varied terrain and lots to offer? Head to Namibia! Giant red sand dunes? Check. Coast and beaches? Check. Rocky canyons? Check. Wetlands? Check. Grass plains? Check. Abundant wildlife? Check! Namibia is a great place to start for first-timers to the African continent and with so much wildlife and vastly different sceneries all jammed into its borders you’ll surely not be disappointed.

Read about my trip in Namibia (sorry its photo heavy… one of my very first posts).

NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?

Start shopping plans over at World Nomads.

 

3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Roadtrip

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3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Roadtrip

*This post contains affiliate links. 

On my most recent trip I visited Armenia, but after meeting another traveler on the shared taxi down from Tbilisi to Yerevan I set out to travel Nagorno-Karabakh with him and two Armenian sisters. The best part is, none of this was my idea!

*Most countries do advise against travel to Nagorno-Karabakh (Republic of Artsakh) as there are no embassies or consulates to help you if something happens to you. There are occasional skirmishes with Azeri forces as the region is still recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, but these are few and far between. You can read up more on the US Dept of Fear Mongering’s (ahem, I mean, the US Dept of State’s) website here. Visiting Nagorno-Karabakh can get you banned from visiting Azerbaijan as it will be viewed as you having entered Azerbaijan illegally. In one case there is a travel blogger who has been arrested for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh repeatedly. To stay on the safe side, it is wise to visit Azerbaijan first and visit Armenia with a trip into Nagorno-Karabakh afterwards. 

Nagorno-Karabakh, a country that doesn’t really exist

When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990’s the ensuing fight escalated in the mountainous area of Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenian and Azeri forces. A cease-fire was reached in 1994 after many lives lost, the displacement of many people: most all Azerbaijanis that had been in the area expelled to Azerbaijan and almost as many ethnically Armenian that fled the fighting and onto Armenia. When both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence from the USSR the fighting that began in 1988 broke out into full scale war. In the end Nagorno-Karabakh remained a region of Azerbaijan in the eyes of the world, however with a government all its own, a majority Armenian population and the only access point being that of with Armenia. In early 2017 Nagorno-Karabakh underwent a referendum, part of that referendum included a name change to the Republic of Artsakh, although the former name is most commonly used.

And I lied, this is really is a 2 Day Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip…

The first day was spent en route to the Republic of Artsakh, you know, just to be clear with you all.

Nagorno-Karabakh quick facts

Currency: Armenian Dram (AMD)

484 AMD= $1 USD (As of December 2017)

Language: Armenian (However it is an East Armenian dialect very different from Armenian spoken in Yerevan, similar to Southern Syunik and Eastern Tavush dialects)

Drives on: Right

Capital: Stepanakert

Population: 146,000~

Religion: Armenian Apostolic (majority)

Day 1: Yerevan to Goris.


Yerevan:

Go pick up your ride, grab a little food before heading out of Yerevan, and get going early. Make your way to Tatev, first of course making scenic stops along the way. Shop rental cars here.

Tatev:

Unfortunately when we arrived in Tatev it was socked in thick cloud cover. There is a cable car called Wings of Tatev that runs from Halidzor to Tatev Monastery. Costs are 4000 AMD rt/3000 AMD ow, additional 2000 AMD for audio guide.

Goris:

You’ll likely arrive in Goris in the late afternoon or early evening. We messed around so much that we didn’t arrive until about 8pm. We had a tent and climbed up to the caves above the Goris Cemetery and camped up there, in a tent, inside a cave, on Friday the 13th, in October… I can’t make this stuff up guys. If camping isn’t your thang, check out Goris accommodations here. You could opt to stay in nearby Tatev, or Halidzor.

Armenia, Goris, Goris Cemetary, Goris cave

Watching the sunrise from inside the cave!

Day 2: Goris to Sarsang Reservoir.

Goris:

Get up and going at sunrise, especially if you opted to camp above the Old Goris Cemetery, you’ll have amazing morning views of the sun rising over the jagged rocks all around.

Khndzoresk:

Make the short drive to Khndzoresk, a beautiful rural Armenian village. The biggest attraction? The Khndzoresk Swinging Bridge. The bridge connects the two sides of the village on either side of the gorge. Once across to the other side there are plenty of trails to explore and even a monastery.

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The Khndzoresk Swinging Bridge.

 

Armenia, Khndzoresk, Khndzoresk Bridge, Khndzoresk swinging bridge

An overlook in Khndzoresk.

Crossing the “border” into the Republic of Artsakh:

Once back on the main highway connecting Goris to Stepanakert you will eventually cross the border at Berdzor. There is a building at the border, you’ll hand over passports and get registered here. Theoretically you can get a visa issued at Berdzor, but the Armenian girls we were with said they’d never crossed with foreigners that have gotten it at the border, and we were told by the border guards to continue to Stepanakert for it. You can also get a visa in Yerevan, but you will still need to register in Stepanakert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (thus making it pointless to get one in advance, because you have to go there to get a visa anyways).

Hunot Canyon & Zontik Falls:

After crossing into Nagorno-Karabakh head toward Shusha and turn right off the road and follow it (best using Maps.me) to a trailhead. This trail will take you into Hunot Canyon to the beautiful Zontik Waterfall. I wasn’t too enthused about visiting a waterfall, but Zontik has got to be the most beautiful fairytale of a waterfall I’ve ever seen. This is a short trek only about 20 minutes each way. There are a few long hikes that can be done in this area.

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Hunot Canyon.

 

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Zontik Falls.

Stepanakert:

Next head towards Stepanakert and get your visa! The address for the Republic of Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs is: 28 Azatamartikneri Street, Stepanakert. It’s not far from the Stepanakert bus station. The phone number is: +374 47941418. Hours that I stalked down on Caravanistan state it’s open 7 days a week 12pm to 3pm. We arrived at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon and were told to return at 6pm. Not sure what the actual hours of operations are. Once we arrived again at 6pm we were brought back by a friendly man working who issued our visas in no time flat. The cost is 3000 AMD for most nationalities for a 21 day tourist visa. They will just hand you the visa, (good to ask them to not put it in your passport, just in case) as they know that if you have evidence of having visited Nagorno-Karabakh in your passport that Azerbaijan will deny you entry into Azerbaijan, or worse.

Stepanakert is a nice small city with a few restaurants and is easily walkable.

Looking to spend a day, or a few in Stepanakert? Check out Stepanakert accommodations here.

Tatik-Papik:

As we waited for the MFA to re-open we decided to make a visit to Tatik-Papik, the one attraction I knew of inside of Nagorno-Karabakh prior to visiting. Tatik-Papik means Grandma & Grandpa in Armenian. This monument is also known as ‘We Are The Mountains’. It’s a must-visit for anyone heading to Stepanakert on a Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip.

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Tatik-Papik in Stepanakert.

Sarasang Reservoir:

Our end goal was to camp under the stars at Sarsang Reservoir this night. However, we got a later start than we had anticipated having to wait to acquire visas, so we didn’t get there until long after dark. There are several scenic stops to make along the way to Sarsang Reservoir.

Sarsang Reservoir is a great place to camp. Just pick a dirt road off the main highway and explore until you find a good spot (we camped here, via Maps.me). Note that where we camped there are wild marijuana plants all around. Yes, we used them as a fire starter… Again, I can’t make this shit up.

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Stargazing at Sarsang Reservoir.

Oh yeah… and the stargazing is unreal out here.

Not looking to camp at Sarsang Reservoir? The city of Martakert is less than 30 kilometers away, Shop Martakert accommodations here.

Day 3: Sarsang Reservoir to Yerevan.

Sarsang Reservoir:

Watch sunrise over the reservoir hopefully with a nice morning mist rising off the lake. Get on the road early and head toward Karvachar.

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Sarsang Reservoir in the daylight.

Karvachar:

Karvachar is a village with a nearby geyser (about 8 kilometers away). On our way to the geyser we were flagged down by a group of men at a little picnic shelter next to a hot spring pool. We were invited for a big Armenian feast of a lunch, that was heavy on the Araki (liquor). With grilled vegetables, shashlik, smoked fish, lavash and more being passed around. After the Araki fueled lunch it was time for a quick swim in the hot spring pool, and off we went!

Some random roadstop lunch attendees.

Norabak-Karvachar Route:

Get ready for a real Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip adventure through the mountains! This route is going to take you up and over high mountain passes and back into Armenia. We had a small two wheel drive SUV and made it, but a good ol’ Russian Lada or 4WD would make it a little easier. You’ll constantly be stopping along the way for all the photo opportunities.

Note: There is no actual border crossing in the mountains here that we came across.

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Passing villages.

 

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Crawling up the steep mountain roads on our Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip.

 

Nagorno-Karabakh, Karabakh, Artsakh, Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip,

The views!

Lake Sevan:

Now back into Armenia and out of the mountains make sure to visit Lake Sevan. We did manage to pay a visit to Hayravank and Sevanavank Monasteries. Lake Sevan is one of the largest freshwater alpine lakes in all of Eurasia. There are several beaches around the lake, good for a swim in the summer.

Hayravank Monastery:

A beautiful church on the shores of Lake Sevan surrounded by Khachkars, which are Armenian Cross-stones.

Hayravank, Hayravank Monastery, Armenia, Lake Sevan, Sevan, Lake Sevan Armenia,

Hayravank Monastery.

Sevanavank Monastery:

A beautiful monastery located on a narrow peninsula on the northwest shore of Lake Sevan. This peninsula used to be an island, but during the Stalin-era the lake was artificially drained, leading the water level to drop by 20 meters, turning the small island into a peninsula.

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Sevanavank Monastery.

Yerevan:

Now go out and celebrate now that you’re back in Yerevan, your Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip is complete. I stayed at Hostel Vagary and can’t recommend it enough! The hostel is super clean and the staff is great. Shop all Yerevan accommodations here.

Start planning your Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip here:

Shop rental cars here!

Got questions about planning a Nagorno-Karabakh roadtrip?

Ask in the comments below!

Bartang Highway Guide- Travel Tajikistan’s Remote Pamir

*This post contains some affiliate links.
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Bartang Highway Guide

With flashes of green alluvial plains nestled along the Bartang River, sandwiched between stark and barren walls of rock- this is the Bartang Valley. The Bartang Valley is one of the most remote and desolate stretches of the famed Pamir mountains in Tajikistan. If you’re looking for an adventurous deviation from the famous Pamir Highway the Bartang Highway has all the makings of a true expedition into the wilds of Tajikistan. With some of the Pamir’s most hospitable people, premier trekking, and beautiful villages a trip up the Bartang Highway surely won’t disappoint. To truly discover the beauty of the Bartang Valley and find the hidden gems- you’ll have to venture out beyond the highway. The most popular trip into the Bartang Valley is the short trek to the beautiful little village of Jizeu.

Want to join me in the Pamir in 2018?

Okay, this won’t take place in the Bartang Valley.. but if you’re interested in experiencing life with Kyrgyz nomads in Tajikistan’s Eastern Pamir, seeing the Chinese Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan and exploring the super remote Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan check out my group tour I’ll be leading with Inertia Network in June of 2018!

How to get to the Bartang Highway

The Bartang Highway runs in a northeasterly direction from the village of Rushan just off the Pamir Highway (M41) all the way up past Kök Jar and Shurali where shortly after it meets again with the M41 near Karakul.

Villages along the Bartang Highway

Village after village dot the Bartang Valley as you make your way along the highway. Some are no more than a scattering of a handful of homes, others are a little larger.

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Savnob Village.

Rushan- The jumping off point for most Bartang Valley adventures. Rushan is located just off of the Pamir Highway, 65 kilometers north of Khorog. The village has a couple petrol stations, several shops, chaikanas (teahouses), car service, bank and homestays. If you end up spending the night here try Mubarak Homestay +992 934052304 or Rushan Inn Guesthouse +992 935550049. Homestays can arrange transport to the drop off point for Jizeu. You can also head to the taxi stand and try to catch a marshurtka, or attempt to find a shared taxi headed up the valley to your final destination.

Yemtz- Small village with one shop.

Jizeu**- Stunningly beautiful village just a short 2 hour hike from the Bartang Highway. 7 of the 14 homes in the village are homestays. Only accessible on foot.

Padrud- Small scattering of houses along the highway.

Khijez- Small village with one shop.

Ravmed**- Another village only accessible by foot. Ask around for homestays as there are a couple in the village that are unmarked. Ravmed is a common stop on treks from Jizeu to Basid.

Dasht- Another scattering of houses along the highway.

Siponj- One of the larger villages in the valley. A few shops are scattered about.

Darjomj- Village with a small shop.

Basid- Small village surrounded in beautiful green forest, with a shrine to go check out. There are a couple homestays in the village, although ask around to find out location. There are great trekking opportunities from here.

Chadud- Small village.

Badara*- Tiny village 9km off the road. A couple of homestays are on offer but ask around the village to find out which houses. Two more shrines to check out here and an ice-house. There is one shop in the village. Several hikes start here that go out to the high pastures.

Vrinjavn- Small village.

Yapshorv- Small village that leads into Rashorv.

Roshorv*- Just off the Bartang Highway. Has one shop.

Nisur- Village where the road forks to turn toward Barchidev.

Barchidev*- An adorable village at the jumping off point for Lake Sarez (permit and local guide required). Nurumuhammed who owns Sarez Travel– the company that arranges Lake Sarez permits and trips to the lake runs a homestay out of his family’s home +992 934072546.

Savnob- One of the most scenic villages in the Bartang Valley with a couple of shops.

Rukhch- Small scattering of homes.

Pasor*- Small village just off the highway and start of the trek that leads into the Khafrazdara Valley and continues onto Grum Grijmailo Glacier.

Ghudara- A decent sized village at the end of the Bartang Valley itself. If the roads allow you get beyond Ghudara it should be possible to continue to Karakul and the Pamir Highway via Kök Jar and Shurali. The road beyond Ghudara (further north) may be impassible at times by 4×4 vehicles.

Kök Jar***- View point from up high in Kök Jar Pass of the vast rocky area and views of the meteor crater.

Shurali***- Just north from Kök Jar. Location of the geoglyphs- an ancient solar calendar made of large stones.

Dangi***- Turn off for Jalang.

Jalang*/***- The beautiful summer pasture for the Kyrgyz nomads in the area. You may even be invited to spend the night in one of their yurts. Near to Karakul Lake.

Karakul***- The largest lake in Tajikistan and nearby village of the same name.

 

*Just off the Bartang Highway but still accessible by road/4×4 track.

**Accessible only by foot from the Bartang Highway.

*** No longer in the Bartang Valley but continue along a jeep track to connect the route to the M41.

Sites to see along the Bartang Highway

To discover and experience the true gems in the Bartang Valley you’ll need to stray off the main highway itself. Here are a few of the most stunning sites along the valley.

Jizeu Village

The most popular and well known trip in the Bartang Valley. This short, yet somewhat steep 2 hour hike will take you to cross the raging Bartang River by cable bridge and continue up trails on loose shale to one of the most stunning villages in Tajikistan with pools of crystal clear water reflecting a mirror of the Pamiri sky.

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Jizeu Village.

Where the River turns Red

Between the villages of Vrinjavn and Yapshorv a stream of red water enters the Bartang River. The red color is due to sediments in the water.

Lake Sarez

A potential disaster waiting to happen, yet beautiful none the less. This Lake was formed due to the damming off of the Murghab River when and entire mountainside dislodged, forming the Usoi Dam and subsequently filling the valley with water. Special permits are needed to visit here and local guides are required. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange a trip out here.

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Usoi Dam

The above mentioned dam that caused the valley to fill with water from the Murghab River creating Lake Sarez. The Dam is massive and sight all in itself.

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Usoi Dam.

Grum Grijmailo Glacier

A 34 kilometer (68 km roundtrip, 21/42 miles) will bring you face to face with Tajikistan’s Grum Grijamilo Glacier from the village of Pasor. Pass through the beguiling Khafrazdara Valley to get here. Expect the trek to take 3-4 days. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Khafrazdara Valley mentioned below).

Khafrazdara Valley

One of the most beautiful valleys and lakes on Earth. About 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Pasor at altitudes sometimes over 4,300 meters (14,000 feet).

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Khafrazdara Valley.

Kök Jar

While no longer technically in the Bartang Valley this is a site you’ll pass either on your way out or into the valley from the northeast. Site of a large meteor crater.

Shurali

Home to ancient geoglyphs. A solar calendar made up of large stones.

Getting around the Bartang Valley

There are several ways to get to and around the Bartang Valley- By hired 4×4, shared taxi/marshrutka, or by bicycle. If hiring a private 4×4 expect prices to ring in at around 0.70¢ to 0.90¢ per kilometer- and remember the entire length of the road is 400 kilometers. For shared taxis expect the easiest places to arrange them from to be from Khorog, followed by Rushan. There is a Khorog-Basid UAZ minibus on most afternoons (don’t expect it to go on Fridays though) for 40TJS per seat. Every few days in the afternoon there is usually a Khorog-Pasor shared taxi for 120 TJS per seat- but ask around at the main taxi stand at the bazaar in Khorog. Getting a taxi to the cable bridge at the Jizeu trailhead will set you back 150 TJS from the taxi stand in Rushan, just slightly more from Khorog- a word of the wise: pre-arrange a pickup for when you plan to leave Jizeu. It’s a long walk back (hitching is difficult due to the infrequent traffic on the Bartang Highway), and there’s almost no shade. If you’ve forgotten to or didn’t- find Gulsha in Jizeu Village as he can usually arrange a car to come meet you for about 250TJS.

At the time of writing (December 2017) the exchange rate was $1 USD = 8.81 Tajik Somoni. USD are fairly widely accepted in Tajikistan in addition to the local currency.

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Services along the Bartang Highway

Services in the Bartang Valley are few and far between. It is best to come fully prepared as this is a pretty wild and remote region.

Gasoline/Petrol

The last possible place to fill up on gasoline is in Rushan (Karakul if beginning from the north), so make sure you have enough gasoline to get you through the 400 kilometer length of the road.

Restaurants

Between the turn off for Badara and the village of Vrinjavn there is a Chaikhana (teahouse) along the highway. It is not signed, however it is marked on maps.me (you’re welcome). I was made aware of it by locals.

Food and Goods

Shops don’t typically have signs along the valley and in villages. If you do find yourself in need of anything stop into a village and ask around- likely there will be one home that acts as a shop that may have a couple items on purchase (by items I mean likely the breakfast of champions: expired Chinese beer and Snickers Bars).

Car/motorbike Repairs

If you find yourself broke down along the Bartang Highway head to the nearest village and start asking around. Bartangi people are incredibly helpful and welcoming and may be able to sort out a part or help you patch up until you can exit the valley. The shared taxi I took back from Pasor broke down around Chadud, it did take several hours and a jaunt to Chadud and then onto Basid but we managed to get the taxi repaired and continue on our way with the help of the locals.

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It’s not much of a highway is it?

Trekking along the Bartang Highway

Like much of Tajikistan, the Bartang Valley has several beautiful hikes to offer. From short 1 to 2 day treks to strenuous multi day treks, the valley has something to suit just about any level of hiker. A very handy map to have on hand is the Pamirs Map by Markus Hauser, purchase it online here, or pick one up at the PECTA office in Khorog. Another handy tool I used out here was the Inreach Explorer + to map out treks by GPS and the SOS beacon gives some peace of mind.

Jizeu

One of the most popular treks in the Pamir and in the country. A short hike that can be done as one long day trek, however it is best to spend at least one night up in Jizeu village to experience the remote lifestyle and Bartangi hospitality. Expect the trek to take about 2 hours on the way in, mostly uphill. Get dropped off for Jizeu (the shared taxi drivers all know it). Cross the cable bridge and follow the trail- it is occasionally marked by spray painted rocks. In a couple of hours you’ll find yourself in a beautiful Pamiri village. Just beyond the village is a crystal clear lake. Of the 14 homes in the village, 7 are homestays. I recommend Lola Homestay after my stay there in 2016.

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Jizeu.

Jizeu-Ravmed Valley-Basid Trek

Homestays in Jizeu can help arrange guides and pack animals for the trek over the pass into Ravmed Valley onto Khijez and eventually on to Basid. Ravmed, Khijez, and Basid all have homestays available.

 

Khafrazdara Valley and Lake

From Pasor trek for 1-2 days to arrive in the beautiful Khafrazdara Valley with beautiful lakes surrounded by jagged mountains. This trek takes place all completely above 3,050 meters (10,000 feet). Another day further trekking will take you to face the Grum Grjimailo Glacier. The final lake is located about 24 km (15 mi) from Pasor, making it a 48 km (30mi) hike roundtrip. Click here to get the info sheet on the trek from PECTA (also useful for visiting the Grum Grijmailo trek mentioned below).

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Khafrazdara Lake.

Grum Grijmailo Glacier

34 kilometers (21 miles) past Pasor you’ll find yourself at the face of the immense Grum Grijmailo Glacier. All high altitude. Follow the same trail mentioned to reach Khafrazdara Valley.

High Pastures around Basid & Badara

Numerous hiking trails around both villages of Basid and Badara will take you to the high pastures nearby to explore the green fertile lands. Ask around in either village for recommendations.

Barchidev to Lake Sarez

The stunning Lake Sarez is worth the all day trek from Barchidev to witness- with perfect reflections of the Pamiri clouds above. You’ll leave Barchidev early in the morning and arrive over the Usoi Dam at the monitoring station on the shore of the lake by late afternoon. Contact Sarez Travel to arrange necessary permits and guides to visit the lake. It has been known for visitors who don’t arrange necessary permits to be fined large sums of money for being found out there.

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Permits:

There are some necessary permits to visit this part of Tajikistan. For starters, most nationalities do require a visa to enter the country. There is an e-visa available to many nationalities for $50 USD, you can apply here.

GBAO Permit:

You need a GBAO permit to visit any part of the Pamirs, thus making it necessary for the Bartang Valley. It is easiest to apply for it when you apply for your visa. You can apply for it at the same time you apply for the e-visa for $20. Otherwise apply at an embassy when applying for the visa.

Tajik National Park Permit:

You do ‘need’ this to visit many areas along the Bartang Highway, and for many treks around Karakul, Murghab, Yashilkul and more. You can apply for one in Khorog for 15 TJS per day at the PECTA Tourist office inside the Central Park. I was told you could also pay for the permit if you run into local KGB (police or national park rangers) while out and about. I bought a permit this year since it costs pennies per day and I never once was asked for it.

Lake Sarez Permit:

To visit Lake Sarez from Barchidev you do need a permit. The only way of securing this permit that I can 100% vouch for is through Nurumuhammed at Sarez Travel for $50 USD per day. I never could find reliable information if a permit is necessary if approaching from the south (trekking from Bachor and Yashikul), if you do know- let me know in the comments and I’ll add the information.

Languages Spoken throughout the Bartang Valley

Bartangi is the language spoken in villages along the Bartang Valley. It is a distinct dialect of Shughni, and can differ from village to village. The last estimate found from 1990 ranged from 2,500 to 3,000 speakers. Tajik is spoken by most in the area, Russian speakers are scattered about and it is possible to find a person here or there with English, French or German language skills.

Cell Phone coverage

Surprisingly there is mobile coverage in the valley along the highway. Megafon will work off and on, although once past Basid it rarely picked up a signal. Tcell has better coverage- but don’t expect it to work everywhere.

Safety

In general the Bartang Highway is a safe place to visit in regards to crime. Just use common sense and the same precautions you would traveling anywhere.

Earthquakes: The Bartang Valley, as well as much of Tajikistan is earthquake prone. This is why I carry that SOS beacon with me. Locals in Pasor village told me about a large earthquake that struck Gudara in 2016- above an 8.0 on the Richter scale.

Getting Lost: This is a possibility on some of the treks if you’re inexperienced. Hire a guide if this is the case.

Want more posts to help plan your trip in Tajikistan?

I’ve spent a good chunk of time exploring Tajikistan over the last couple years, so check out these posts to help you start planning your trip!

Pamir Travel Guide- Everything you need to know before setting out into the rugged and wild Pamir Mountains.

Fann Mountains Guide- Wanna visit the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan’s premier trekking destination? Look no further.

Tajikistan Travel Guide- The ultimate guide to traveling Tajikistan.

Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan- What it’s like and what you need to know before you ladies out there travel solo to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Need more inspiration to get you to book that ticket to Tajikistan?

Here’s some click bait for you…

10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan- Who doesn’t love a generic ‘10 reasons‘ posts? At least it’s not a generic destination…

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan- A little about my first time trekking in the Fann Mountains.

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How to Survive Marrakesh as a Woman: Tips for Female Travel in Marrakech

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Female Travel in Marrakech:

How to Survive the Marrakech Medina, with a Vagina.

*This post contains some affiliate links.

I won’t lie, by the time we went back to our riad after the first day in Morocco Geena and I looked at each other and both simultaneously said: I fucking hate Marrakech. We had had a car rental booked the next day and plans to head down to Sidi Ifni and neither one of us could wait to get the hell out of there. By the time we were returning from our South Atlantic coast adventures, I decided I could give Marrakech another chance. Maybe we were just off to a bad start? Nope, not the case, not in my case, not in our case. Since my trip to Morocco every time I have publicly brought up my dislike for Marrakech (particularly the Medina and Jemaa El Fna) it’s almost as if the women claiming that they had a wonderful time and never were harassed were trying to hush me up, dismiss what I was saying, or try to counter with x, y, z excuse. But then I was met with just as many, if not more women saying nope, never again will I step foot in Marrakech. More than anything else? I had comment after comment from women saying I want to go to Marrakech, can you share some tips and what I need to prepare for.

Now before you Marrakech-lovers go on the defense: This post isn’t meant for you. It’s meant to prepare other first-time female visitors for what they’re up against what they may run into. I would hate to find out that someone decided to not venture out into the rest of Morocco or cut their trip short because of the unfriendly verbal assault welcome they received in Marrakech. Trust me, the rest of Morocco has slightly more morals and respect than the Marrakech Medina. I loved Morocco as a whole, but Marrakech kept pushing me away.

And for those that were in a sense, let’s just be real here, were 100% victim blaming us for our treatment in Marrakech let me just tell you the following: I did my research. I had read about the near-constant sexual harassment, the scams, and everything else. This ain’t my first rodeo either, I’ve traveled many conservative Islamic countries. I know how to dress. I NEVER make eye contact with men, I dress pretty conservatively, I almost always have sunglasses on and I have a resting bitch face that will destroy your soul. I always look like I’m about to fuck someone up. I know what I’m doing, and yet still I’ve never in all of my travels dealt with anything near the threshold of what is Marrakech.

And with all this said, while Marrakech certainly pissed me off and annoyed me- I did not once feel in danger. I never felt like I was going to be beaten or robbed, even at night. 

If you ever ever are harmed in any way there is a Tourist Police office in Jamaa El Fna Square (ask for Police Brigade Touristique), or call +212 0524 38 46 01. Often times just threatening to call will likely get someone to leave you alone. Note that if you search ‘police brigade touristique’ on maps.me it will show you the location of the office.

Do you love or hate Marrakech? I’ve never been a place I’ve felt so bipolar about. I had a horrible experience on arrival here in Morocco, enough to make me say Marrakech is officially the worst city in the entire world. I’m now back again trying to like this city, but the scammers, touts and disgusting harassment makes it nearly impossible, but then you round the corner into Ben Youssef Madrasa and I forgot about it for a minute, and staying at @riadchamsmarrakech made me realize there is some humanity in this city (if you ever come to Marrakech, I 100% recommend this Riad- it’s just lovely). Who wants a no-Bullshit guide to how to survive and what to avoid in Marrakech especially if you’re a woman?… I think that may be an upcoming blog post. . If you haven’t gone over and checked it out, go watch my Instagram takeover of @kkdaytravel from the 3 day Merzouga tour! #marrakech #morocco #visitmorocco #wearetravelgirls #dametraveler #darlingescapes #girlswhotravel #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #madrasa #benyoussefmadrasa #travel

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My Tips for Female Travel in Marrakech:

Trust me, I got a few up my sleeve…

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This was taken outside Marrakech. But the point is, these outfits are what we ended up wearing a lot on Morocco.

What to wear.

Disclaimer: It doesn’t matter what the fuck you wear. You’ll get harassed no matter what. From wearing a full-length muumuu with a headscarf to a knee length dress our treatment was no different. You essentially are a target for every misogynistic epithet under the sun just for being foreign and being the owner of a vagina. Even upon speaking to foreign tourists from other Middle Eastern and North African countries, they faced the same shit. Marrakechis can spot a foreigner instantly.

But I digress, it’s better the err on the side of conservatism to be respectful of the culture. Even though the male end of the culture won’t respect you either way.

Batten down the hatches, ladies.

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Good clothing options are loose fitting floor length dresses, long loose tunics paired with trousers, or loose fitting elephant pants paired with a loose t-shirt. A scarf is always a good item to have in your bag, as it can be used to cover shoulders if wearing something sleeveless or to cover your hair when you just want to hide from the non-stop bullshit.

Don’t Make Eye Contact. And don’t smile either.

Now this, this is something I hate. I hate having to walk around not making eye contact with other people. But for your own sake, don’t do it. This is an open invitation for a seemingly harmless 6 year old to tell you they ‘Wanta da sex‘ (I’m not even kidding, this actually happened), or a grown ass man to making suckling kissing noises at you.

Ignore anything said to you.

This is another one I hate! I love to mingle with locals and find out about the places I’m visiting through them. But Marrakech is a different animal. Anything said to you is just an open invite for further harassment. Even things that seem so innocent like hello, where are you from, hola, hello spice girl to other more obvious ones such as sexy baby, hello beautiful, and so on all are just openers to continue to pester you for dates, phone numbers, to tell you something insanely sexual or to sell you shit. Men don’t just walk up and casually say hi here in both our experience.

But you gotta draw the line somewhere.

I just roll my eyes and continue to ignore the hello beautifuls, the I love yous, the sexy ladys. Most of this is annoying, but harmless. Likely, over the course of your stay in Morocco you will have things said to you that range from grotesque to downright appalling. The first incident where I completely lost my shit? ‘Hey lady, leta me fucka you in da ass!‘ I went off on the kid (who looked to be about 12 or 13 years old). If he hadn’t run like hell to my reaction I would have grabbed the little fucker by his ear and drug him to his mother. Guys catcall women where I live, but if you yelled that to a woman here someone would likely beat the ever loving fuck out of you. Twice.

Don’t be afraid to make a scene.

Obviously Moroccan woman don’t put up with this shit. So if you ever feel so uncomfortable, make a giant scene. More than one woman will likely come to your aide.

You’re married.

Having a boyfriend doesn’t suffice here. Even after meeting some couples on the trip, being there with your boyfriend doesn’t suffice. If you’re with a guy, he’s your husband. If you’re there alone or with girlfriends, you’re all married. I’m not even going to explain this one, it’s self explanatory. Even if you sport the ring and carry on about your husband wherever he may be, you’re still going to have men trying to make their move.

With this said, I did meet a number of very lovely men in Morocco and even a couple in Marrakech. But they approached in completely non-sexual ways, one was the owner of a juicebar who struck up a conversation with us all because he checked to see how his product was and if there was any feedback we had to improve, if any (no feedback needed it was delicious!), another one that stuck in my mind was a young man in the villa-nouveau who passed me on his motorbike, stopped and pulled off the road ahead and walked up to me to tell me to carry my purse in front (it had bounced around to the back with my speed walking) to curb any potential thief. The last one that stuck with me was Mohammed, the man working at the riad we had booked the night we returned to Marrakech after our 3 day Merzouga tour. Geena was in tears by the time we made it to the riad (we got dropped in the wrong spot and had a pretty long walk with all our bags with men leering, not to mention a huge football game had just ended so it looked like scene from Mad Max out there). Mohammed was so alarmed, he grabbed our bags and put them in our room and took us to the terrace where he welcomed us with mint tea and said he had to run to the souk real quick and he’d be back in a few minutes. He came back with a plate of hot kefta and some flatbreads and insistence to make our evening better.


Now for the scams to be aware of.

This part doesn’t apply just to the ladies. Oh yeah, this doesn’t end with just sexual harassment. This is the most scam ridden place (I’m talking about the Medina) that I have ever been in my entire life. I have been all over East Asia, Central Asia, Southern Africa, South America, Central America, the Middle East and parts of Europe and never have I seen a scam game so strong. Now, some of the Instagram victim blamers will try to disregard this behavior by carrying on about how I must not understand what it must be like to be a Moroccan since I must be a wealthy American that’s never traveled anywhere impoverished in my life, not once, ever. I fucking get it, loud and clear. Morocco isn’t the wealthiest nation. I am fully aware unemployment and low wages are huge problems. I get that people are just trying to make a living. But never have I been somewhere where I’ve had people so aggressively try to scam tourists. I found it a bit shocking too, considering I have been a number of places that are far more financially worse off than Morocco is, and they don’t go this far. So be warned.

‘That way is closed!’

Don’t even entertain it, don’t even respond, just keep walking. The Medina is a giant labyrinth, and it’s super easy to get lost and lose every sense of direction. Well, men and boys are aware of this. So they’ve all seemed to band together and create the ‘That way is closed‘ scam. No matter where you’re going if they see your non-Moroccan looking ass coming, that way is closed. So then you might ask, well then what way is open? Then the insistence comes in. ‘No money, no money! Come I show you.’ You start to follow them and before you know it, they hand you off to a friend. Then once you arrive to wherever you’re going with friend (AKA: business partner) the demands for compensation begin. Then you’ll probably roll your eyes and ask how much? That will be met with a ‘What do you think is enough?‘ Well whatever you decide ‘enough’ is they’ll demand double. I swear you could have offered 1,000€ and they would pout and demand 2,000€.

‘The Berber festival is happening, today only! Come I will show you where the tanneries are! No Money! No Money!’

YES MONEY is really all you need to take away from this. And the funny thing about the Berber festival where they come down out of the mountains for the one day a year? This Berber festival takes place everyday of the year. But for only that day according to any of these scam artists. This one isn’t quite as bad of a rip off as the above mentioned one but it does operate in a similar manner. First you’re headed to a festival that only happens once per year (how exciting!) and you happened to be there on the one day of the year it was happening. But then before long you’re handed off to the friend (see, business partner). Then you’re brought to the tannery, given a quick tour of one of the most atrocious smelling places on Earth, then taken to a shop selling leather goods and maybe even a Berber Pharmacy and before you know it, your guide wants his money. This one wasn’t the worst scam. I mean the guy did show us some insightful things and even gave us bushels of mint to protect us from the tannery stench. I learned something! But really, I don’t appreciate the lies.

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That festival that only happens once a year for one day, every. single. day.

The animals.

And no, I’m not making reference to the disgusting behaviors of men in the Medina. I’m talking about when you’ve finally made way down to Jemaa El Fna, the main square. There’s men with monkeys, snakes, and I’m sure more than what I noticed milling about the square. Then before you know it, they’ve thrown said money onto you and now hey, it’s photo time. Except for afterwards the demands start rolling in. To the tune of 200 Dirham. I’ve seen this same game played in other countries, so I knew what it was. Although that first evening we had monkey man aggressively trying to throw the monkey on us, at one point he was even chasing Geena around the square. Like she was full on running from the guy. I never had to run away from a man with a monkey in the Caribbean, a firm NO sufficed.

The Henna scam.

This was a new one to me. I was walking in the square minding my own business when all of a sudden someone had a hold of my hand and something wet and kinda cold was spreading on my skin. Before I had a split second and a chance to even process what was going on little Miss Henna artist was about halfway thought her tattoo. Then she demanded 600 Dirham for the tattoo that I didn’t even ask for! I tried to liken it to rape. I didn’t back down on this one. It turned into a giant argument in the middle of the square.

‘Ben Youssef is closed to individuals, only groups are allowed right now. Join my group.’

As we went to walk into Ben Youssef Madrasa a man was standing next to the entrance and said that to us on our way in. Crazy enough, he had managed to thwart a few tourists into it as there was about 5 of them standing there all looking a bit confused. I rolled my eyes at him and said ‘you’re a liar, that’s the most ridiculous lie I’ve heard yet‘. That seemed to dissipate the group of potential victims who all fled the scene and followed us into the Madrasa. Whether you’re going to the Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa, or any other famed site in the city ‘groups only’ is a lie, don’t fall for it. There are official guides in the city. They have badges.

The menu scam at restaurants.

Luckily neither of us had this one attempted on us but I was told about it. You’ll sit down at a restaurant and get handed a menu and the prices are great. Then after the meal is said and done you get the check and it’s at least double what you had tallied up when ordering. Then when you ask the waiter about it, you’re brought a menu and the prices do add up. But this isn’t the menu you originally looked at. Some travelers recommend taking photos on your phone of the menu you’re given when you order to help curb this scam.

‘The meter is broken’

I think outside the United States, Australia and Western Europe no taxi meter has ever worked. EVER. My best tip is to ask someone (like staff at your riad or hotel) how much a taxi should cost to go to _____. That way you know what price to demand.

Airport Taxi scam.

Save yourself the headache and arrange an airport pickup with your riad. The going rate for a taxi between the airport and the Medina should cost about 80 Dirham, however, good luck getting it for that price. Most riads will arrange transfers for 120 Dirhams (some as high as 150). If you step out of the airport and try to negotiate a taxi you’ll likely end up paying somewhere between 200 and 500 Dirham, which is absolutely ludicrous.

‘Come for free tea’

Okay, this isn’t really a scam. I never fell for it, as I was fully aware of its workings beforehand. It’s a lure to get you to visit a shop and purchase items. Be wary of anyone offering anything ‘free’. Many times if you do not make a purchase, payment for that free tea will be demanded- which in all fairness is fine, just don’t tell passerbys you’ll gift them free tea.

Other annoyances I encountered:

Yes there’s even more annoying shit you’ll face.

Overly aggressive salesmen:

Okay this one wasn’t a surprise. And I get it: unemployment is high and wages are low. But I’ve not experienced salesmen so aggressive in my life. The only one that I thought really crossed the line was the lamp salesman. He physically picked up Geena and placed her in his shop! I of course ran in there, you can’t pick up my friend and try to kidnap her! He then blocked the entrance and wouldn’t let us out. In all of my crazy travels- this was a first for me. We had to push and scream our way to freedom.

An angry response to calling out a scammer:

We were walking toward Ben Youssef Madrasa when we were stopped by an elderly British couple who were standing there with a map, completely lost. Instantly we busted out our phones and opened maps.me to help. At this point one of the ‘this ways closed‘ guys appeared.

Me- “You don’t even know what way we’re going”

Scammer- “I will take you, no money!”

British wife- Looks as if she’s about to cry.

Me- “No thank you”

Couple- both look confused, and at a loss.

Me- Rolls eyes. “This is the usual scam, here’s how it works… First they say this ways closed, or the square is this way. Come, I’ll show you, no money! Oh hey here’s my friend _____ he will take you! Said friend takes you, then demands money. How much you ask? Well that’s up to you. Whatever you offer, he’ll demand double and still pout at whatever amount given. He will then go and split the profits with guy #1.”

Scammer- stuffs his middle finger in my face. “Fuck you, you fucking bitch! You’re a fucking cunt!”

Me- “Well, fuck you too.”

Scammer- “No fuck you! I will fuck you! I have the dick!”

Me- “You have no dick! Kiss Om-Mak!” (Kiss Om-Mak translates out to ‘Your Mom’s vaagina’ in Arabic- but is the equivalent of saying ‘Fuck your mother’)

Scammer finally shuts up and goes away.

British wife- “Everyone scams you here, everyone.”

So my point here: Unless you know a few obscene phrases in Arabic and want to use them, and don’t mind being called every name in the book I suggest not calling out the scammer as he is standing right there in front of you.

Did I just really get threatened to be raped?


Things to do to make your Marrakech experience better.

With the chaos and crazy of the medina you need and escape. It’s mental exhausting!

Treat yourself to a nice riad.

Here’s the thing, you don’t need to break the bank for a nice, relaxing riad. A good riad can make a world of difference in the mad surroundings you’re in. Here are the three riads I stayed in and can personally attest that they were all good places to stay.

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Riad Chams.

A couple things to note about hotel/riad/hostel bookings:

Most bookings online DO include the 20% VAT tax (but do double check). There is a 2.50€ city tax per person per night that is payable on arrival (I’ve not seen it included on a booking), so just remember to tack on 2.50€ per person to the listed price. All three riads I am recommending, I did stay at and all include breakfast as well as wifi. All three are located in surprisingly quiet locations considering they’re all within the medina. Was woke up to birds chirping each morning- that kind of quiet.

Riad Chams Marrakech

Address: N° 214-215 Derb Sidi Bouamer, Riad Laarous, Medina, Marrakech.

Riad Chams I think was my favorite accommodation on the trip. (This is the riad that the lovely Mohammed welcomed us with kefta mentioned above). The rooms are adorable, all doubles, includes a yummy breakfast, the courtyard is to die for the terrace is a perfect spot to relax. They can also set up tours and excursions for you as well as prepare meals (give some advance notice). Rooms range from $27 per night up to $77 per night 255 to 728 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night).  Book Riad Chams Marrakech here

Les Jardins Riad LaaRouss

Address: 56, Derb Sidi Bouamar – Riad Lâarouss – Marrakech, Medina. (it is very close to Riad Chams Marrakech).

Les Jardins Riad Laarouss is just stunning, plus Emre and Samira will go above and beyond to take care of you. I actually ended up at Les Jardins because we had booked a night at Riad Chams Marrakech, stayed one more night and they were fully booked for the remainder of the month! So they kindly called Emre and he had availability for my remaining two nights in Marrakech. And I think I lied above when I said Riad Chams was my favorite, I loved Les Jardins equally! There are three rooms here, all doubles and the decor is adorable, the breakfasts delicious and the staff are wonderful. They also serve meals (for an additional fee, give at least 4 hours notice), but whatever you do- order the chicken with lemon tagine (70 dirhams), it’s to die for and is home cooked in their kitchen (I’m not kidding it was the best tagine I had in all of Morocco!). Emre speaks so many languages it made my head spin…French, Arabic, English, Russian, Spanish and many more, so communication will not be an issue. They can book excursions and tours as well. Rooms range in price from $59 per night to $71 per night 558 to 671 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night). Book Les Jardins Riad LaaRouss here.

Riad La Famille

Address: 213 Arset Ali Ou Saleh Bab El Khamis, Medina, Marrakech.

Riad La Famille is cute and cozy and not too far walking distance from Jamaa El Fna. Nadia, the owner is very sweet and helpful. She speaks French, Spanish and Arabic but even if you’re only an English speaker she will find a way to communicate (we had no issue between what French, Spanish and Arabic I understand). Nadia can arrange tours, excursions and car rentals for you. The only strange thing that happened here was the morning we were leaving to pick up our rental car we noticed the door leading to the terrance was locked, so we were essentially locked upstairs. After a little poking around we figured out he switch next to the door was a doorbell (it looked like a lightswitch), this isn’t a complaint- we do appreciate the additional security. All rooms are double rooms and range from $35 to $41 per night 331 to 387 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night). Book Riad La Famille here.

Other options that you see on Instagram, that I did not stay at.

Curious which places you constantly see on Instagram? La Mamounia and La Riad Yasmine are home to the two most famous Marrakech pool shots you see. La Mamounia will set you back $473 to (gasp!) $5,786 PER NIGHT! I don’t know what in the ever loving fuck could be offered to get me to spend that kind of money for one night of my life, but my interest in piqued… just not enough to ever in my life book something that expensive (but La Mamounia, if you ever want to bring a doubting travel blogger who never reviews accommodations over for a press trip… wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But good news for you guys that are only out to #doitforthegram, apparently you can get a day pass to the famous pool so you can flaunt to your friends that your faux-rich. If you guys are all curious what’s the most expensive accommodation I ever booked? It was my solo trip to the Maldives over Valentine’s Day 2014. I never clued into the fact that I was in the most romantic place on Earth over Valentine’s Day until I checked in and the young lady working asked  “So it’s just you checking in for the next 3 nights?…Really, just you by yourself?” I stayed at Herathera Island Resort, now named Canareef Resort Maldives for just under $200 per night, including the meal plan, (excluding the internal flight to get out there) with a beach front bungalow, score!

La Riad Yasmine also has a famous pool that you’ve probably seen on Instagram, however it has a more friendly budget- coming in at $120 per night and up.

Treat yourself to an amazing meal.

The Marrakech Medina does have some amazing dining options, here are a few of my favorites, and all have rooftop terraces.

Un Déjeuner á Marrakech

Tagine’d out? Check out this Mediterranean meets Moroccan restaurant. We stumbled across this place by accident after visiting the Bahia Palace and our lunch was so good we returned for dinner. It is a bit on the spendy side for Marrakech- expect prices of 90 to 140 dirham for main courses, but the food is worth it!

Souk Kafé

This place serves up pretty authentic local food according to Marrakechis (locals are who recommended I try it). The tangines are tasty and come with a side of couscous (I went with the Marrakechi beef tagine and have no regrets). Expect to pay 90 to 120 dirhams for a dish.

Café Snack Riad Laarous

This is a cheaper option with good tagines and tasty paninis. Most dishes will only set you back 30-60 dirham. The manager is very kind.

Catanzaro (this is just outside the medina)

Another welcome break from the tagines, Catanzaro serves up some pretty good pizzas and Italian food. Expect dishes to come in at the 60-120 dirham range. Serves wine.

Alas, there are dirt-cheap eats on the streets

Rock up to any of the street food stalls and grab something super local (a word of the wise: choose ones that are busy and crawling with locals). Some yummy snacks to try: ma’qooda, chebakia, and b’stilla… or anything that looks delectable- try it!

Stop, Hamam Time!

I unfortunately did not visit a hamam while I was in Marrakech (I’ve experienced one in Uzbekistan and it was amazing!). Ones that came highly recommended in Marrakech were Hamam Mouassine, Heritage Spa, Sultana Spa, and Hamam Bab Doukkala. Prices can range anywhere from 100 to 600 dirham.

Book a tour

You can book walking tours of the city if you’d prefer something organized and less harassment. Shop Marrakech walking tours here. From foodie tours to artisan shopping to historic sites, there’s a tour for just about anyone.

Other great articles to check out with female travel tips for Marrakech:

READ THIS BEFORE YOU GO- Solo Female Travel Tips– By Journalist on the Run.

Solo Female Travel Guide For A Weekend in the Red City– By Weekend Jetsetter.

The Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Marrakech– By The Blonde Abroad.

Ready to start booking flights?

Check out Skyscanner for the best deals!

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Travel Karakalpakstan: The Stan Within A Stan Everyone forgot

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Travel Karakalpakstan: The Stan Within A Stan Everyone forgot.

Karakalpakstan makes up a sizable area of Uzbekistan- over one-third of Uzbekistan’s landmass. Once prosperous and powerful, Karakalpakstan was a fertile agricultural region. Now the region of Karakalpakstan the has nearly been forgotten by the outside world and left in desolate dust.

Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic in Uzbekistan. Due to the drainage of the Aral Sea the region went from being one of Uzbekistan’s most prosperous to the poorest. The area is now mostly comprised of desert and includes part of what’s left of the Aral Sea.

The region has drawn people in with its mystery from the nomadic Karakalpak people to artists such as Igor Savitsky. Karakalpakstan had also drawn negative attention from visitors that don’t give it a chance and can’t appreciate the desolation or history.

Where to go in Karakalpakstan.

Many tourists will skip over this region as they either think there’s nothing there or just don’t really know anything about. There definitely are some interesting things here you don’t want to miss.

Nukus:

The capital of the autonomous republic. Home to Nukus Museum of Art. It is a Soviet creation and was closed off from foreigners until the collapse of the USSR. Nukus will likely serve as a base for your greater adventure as you travel Karakalpakstan.

Aral Sea:

Poor diversion efforts by the Soviets have turned this once prosperous sea- actually one of the largest, yet shallow and unstable lakes in the world into one of the worst environmental disasters in history. 90% of the lake is gone leaving the basin to desertification and covered in toxic chemicals from weapons testing.

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The Moynaq ship graveyard.

Moynaq:

Uzbekistan’s once bustling only port city is now nearly a ghost town with only a fraction of its residents left. Home to the ship graveyard.

Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm:

Eight castles sit perched in the desert, they are: Toprak Qala, Ayaz Qala, Koy-Kirilgan Qala, Big Guldursun fortress, Pil Qala, Anka Qala, Kurgashin Qala and Djanbas Qala. All are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Toprak Qala,

Toprak Qala.

Kyzylkum Desert:

Kyzylkum means red sand in the Turkic language. The Kyzylkum desert sits between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers. Home to the ancient castles of Khorezm.

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Karakum Desert:

Karakum means black sand in the Turkic language. The name came from the dark soil that is sat exposed beneath the sands. The desert is sparsely populated and sees little rainfall. The Karakum continues into Turkmenistan and makes up 70% of the country. The Karakum Desert sits southwest of the Kyzylkum.

What to do in Karakalpakstan:

Karakalpakistan is a giant region and if you choose to travel Karakalpakstan it can be extremely rewarding. Let’s face it: any to travel to Karakalpakstan is already getting off the beaten path.

The castles.

The earlier mentioned Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm are a must see. Built between 4 BC and 7 AD to protect Khorezm from raids. You’ll likely have these desert castles scattered along the Amu Darya completely to yourself as they see nowhere near the traffic that Uzbekistan’s well-known Silk Road cities see. These castles are important fortifications along the Silk Road and ancient Khorezm played a huge part in the culture and history of the development of trade.

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Spend the night on the shores of the Aral Sea.

Many operators offer overnight camping trips to the new shore of the Aral Sea. This will give a full grasp of how large scale the world’s biggest environmental disaster really is. You will spend a lot of time in the car as the shoreline now sits over 100 km from Moynaq.

Visit the nomadic Karakalpaks.

Meet the people that settled the Lower Amu Darya and southern shores of the Aral Sea. The Karakalpaks are incredibly warm and welcoming. If you do decide to explore out into rural Karakapakstan far enough you can still find families that still put up the traditional summer yurts. Try to visit in early June before it gets too hot.

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Visit the Nukus Museum of Art

Also known as the Savitsky Museum. A museum with a collection of over 82,000 pieces. Only second to the Russian Museum St. Petersburg for the largest collection of Russian avant-garde artwork. Savitsky worked on collecting many pieces from Karakalpak artifacts, jewelry and clothing to avant-garde pieces. Many pieces in the museum are by Central Asian and Russian avant-garde artists whose works were banned under Joseph Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t until 1985 (One year after Savitsky’s death) that this collection was acknowledged for how remarkable it is, and not until 1991 when Uzbekistan became an independent nation that visitors could go to the museum as Nukus was off-limits during Soviet rule. One of the most interesting accumulations of ancient and modern art alike. Entrance fees are 25,000 Uzbek som for adults, 15,000 for students and 10,000 for children. Check out the museum’s website here.

Moynaq ship graveyard.

Eery and haunting, but worth a visit. Take a short trip out of Moynaq to see the rusted out abandoned ships which sit over 100 km from the current shoreline of what’s left of the Aral Sea.

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Where the Aral Sea used to be.

Money in Karakapakstan:

As of September 2017 Uzbekistan has taken big steps with its currency to get rid of the black market and the circus that surrounded it (that was mostly due in part to its government’s ludicrous ideas). It used to be that $1 USD would only officially get you around 4,000 Uzbek Som, yet the black market would fetch you a rate of $8,100 som to the dollar. So why on Earth would you exchange money at an official exchange or in a bank? But now the government has risen the official bank rate to 8,100 Uzbek Som to the dollar. It’s advisable to bring cash into Uzbekistan with you as you’ll be hard pressed to find an ATM that will actually work, this is especially true as you continue on to travel Karakalpakstan.

Getting to Karakalpakstan.

Most that do travel Karakalpakstan include it in a tour of greater Uzbekistan and even Turkmenistan that would bring them in overland from Khiva.

Flights:

If entering Karakpakstan by flight it will likely be via Nukus Airport. It’s only connections are Tashkent and Moscow-Domodedovo.

Shared taxi:

It is possible to arranage a shared taxi from Khiva or Urgench. Expect Urgench or Khiva to Nukus to run 48,000-81,000 ($6-10 USD) per seat.

Train:

There are Nukus bound trains via Samarkand from Tashkent. Check out the schedule here.

Getting around in Karakalpakstan.

Karakalpakstan isn’t easy to get around with the desolation and isolation and all. Expect to go by taxi to places such as Moynaq and ship graveyard and the going rate roundtrip will set you back about 325,000 som ($40 USD) roundtrip (3 hours each way), best to find other travelers to pitch in on the expense. A marshrutka (minibus) will cost about 810,000 som ($100 USD) roundtrip for the entire vehicle. Allegedly there is a bus between Nukus and Moynaq, but I went in with a group on a minibus, so I have no information on the regular bus for times, frequency or cost.

To go further afield to travel Karakalpakstan it would be recommended to book a tour with local guide and 4×4 through a local travel agent and find a group of travelers to try and share cost.

Where to stay in Karakapakstan.

Nukus:

Options are very limited. I personally stayed in Hotel Jipek Joli and have no complaints (okay the internet can be a bit slow, but I didn’t come to Nukus for the internet… I know some people out there will piss and moan about this). 285,000 som per night for a room ($35 USD).

Moynaq:

In Moynaq the only hotel option is Hotel Oybek (I haven’t stayed here, so can’t report anything on it). Apparently there are homestays in Moynaq, but I have heard that they are not allowed to let foreigners stay.

Ayaz:

In Ayaz, near Ayaz-Qala Fortress (between Urgench and Nukus) there is a yurt camp. Cost is 245,000 som ($30 USD) per person per night and includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Can arrange camel rides from here as well. E-mail ayazkala@newmail.ru to book, otherwise try to book the yurt camp through a travel agent in Khiva.

Everywhere else:

It would be a good idea to bring a tent as you may very well be camping outside of any settlement. If you do go on a tour to the Aral Sea they will likely provide a tent for you.

Books and Insurance I recommend

Lonely Planet’s Central Asia has some information on Karakalpakstan in it and is handy on the road. Shopping for travel insurance? Check out World Nomads .

Want to travel Karakalpakstan?

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Travel Palau On A Budget

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The Seventy Islands.

Travel Palau on a budget

Spoiler alert: Palau is not a cheap destination! However there are ways to keep costs down and visit Palau on a budget.

Getting to Palau:

Flight. Pretty much your only option is to fly, unless you own a sailboat or yacht, etc.

Flights arrive to Koror, the capital from Guam, the Philippines, China, Japan, and South Korea. Most of these flights roundtrip will cost $400-600.

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Depending on what flight network you belong to you can sometimes take one of these flights for as little as 15,000 miles if you airline or a partner fly there.

Keep an eye out for deals. When I visited Palau in November 2016, the word on the islands was that the country wanted to diversify its tourism and entice more Europeans and North Americans to visit (Palau’s tourism is almost entirely catered toward China). In 2016 a deal was ran offering tickets round trip Amsterdam-Koror for €250. This isn’t a frequent occurrence but it does happen.

Accommodation:

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Yet again most accommodation in Palau is catered toward Chinese package tourists with big budgets. If you look and are willing to sacrifice it is possible to find accommodation in Palau on a budget.

There is one hostel in Koror. Beds go for $40.00 per night in a dorm. I was in Palau to visit a friend living here, she was in fact living in the hostel dorm. This is the Pinetree Hostel and Baba who runs it is very kind. The hostel is a great way to meet other travelers and team up to save on activities.

There is another hostel in Peleliu. Check it out here.

Otherwise check Hotel and resort prices here.

Other ways to save is seeing if you can get hosted with Couchsurfing but it is few and far between.

Another budget option is AirBnb.

Getting Around:

Koror and Melekeok:

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The two main islands are connected by bridge. It is possible to rent a car and self-drive around the islands. For cheapest prices book in advance. Also know that most flights do arrive very late night so give flight details to your rental company so that they do have someone there at their counter when you arrive.

Peleliu:

The best way to get around Peleliu is by bicycle. Plan to pay around $10 per day.

Getting between islands:

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Getting on the plane!

Flights:

Flights can be arranged between Koror and Peleliu with Pacific Mission Aviation. They also connect Yap and other islands of Micronesia with Palau. Not looking to go anywhere? You can also take a scenic flight over the Rock Islands.

Government Boats:

Government boats connect Koror with Peleliu, Angaur and Kayangel. Expect to pay $5 for a one way trip.

Boat Charter:

It’s possible to charter a boat, or search for a diving boat that’s headed in the direction you would like to go. This will be much more expensive than the government boats and are quicker.

Activities:

Palau has a lot to see for how little land makes up the islands. Note that Palau is the land of fees, which drive up costs more. And double note: it is no longer possible to visit the jellyfish lake. After the extreme drought Palau suffered most of the plankton that the oddly evolved stinger-free jellies eat died off, resulting in a mass death of the jellyfish. There are very few left alive. Different time frames have been given as to the estimate when the population will begin to bounce back, but 2019 has been the most optimistic.

Scenic Rock Islands Flight:
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The German Channel.

My personal favorite! Mind you, this is coming from someone who has still not completed their PADI certificate. This was the highlight of my time in Palau. Personally if I was going to splurge anywhere when traveling Palau on a budget, this would be it! And no need to worry divers, the planes don’t fly higher than 1,000 feet. Contact Pacific Mission Aviation to book. A 45 minute scenic flight will run $180 per seat.

Diving The Blue Corner:

Most who come to Palau go for the diving. The Blue Corner is as good as it gets from what diver friends tell me. Looks pretty cool from the air too.

Diving The Drop Off:

Another world class diving site. Yours truly has snorkeled here and can attest that it’s an amazing spot from what limited areas I could reach.

The Battle of Peleliu:

The Battle of Peleliu was one of bloodiest and battles of the Pacific Theater. Hire a local guide to bring you to all the sites or go at it on your own.

Rock Islands Boat/Kayaking Tour:

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$100 per person to take a day trip south of Koror around the Rock Islands. And here’s where one of those pesky fees comes in… a Rock Island Permit will set you back an additional $100 per person,

Carp Island Resort:
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Beautiful Carp Island!

Want a peaceful place to kick back and enjoy some of Palau’s finest beaches? Look no further than Carp Island. An overnight on the island including your boat transfer will set you back $95. You can purchase meals at the cafeteria or buy snacks at the shop on the island. Otherwise plan to bring your own food out and cook for yourself.

Diving trips can be arranged during your Carp Island stay. Kayaks are also on rental.

Eating:

Supermarket prices are just slightly higher than those in the USA, so food prices won’t shock you coming from western countries. Eating out isn’t much higher than in the US either. My friend living in Palau usually ate Bento Boxes as you can pick them up for $2-3 which is a dirt cheap meal.

Then there’s Peleliu…

Peleliu doesn’t have much in the way of options. Your best bet to save is to purchase provisions in Koror and bring them with you. Otherwise your options are very limited in stores or pricey resort restaurants.

Note: Tap water is not safe to drink. You will need bottled water or to bring a purifier with you.

But wait! There’s more! Fees

Remember earlier when I said Palau was land of the fee? Don’t forget to factor these in when your planning to travel Palau on a budget. Well here it goes… the pesky fees:

When departing Palau:

$20 Departure tax

$30 Green fee

Rock Islands Permit:

$100

Peleliu Land Permit:

$15

Ngardmau Waterfall:

$10

Ngarchelong Beach:

$10.

*Note: these are the fees I encountered. There may possibly be more for other sites.

Explore Palau without breaking the bank.

Hopefully this will help you visit Palau without making as big of a dent in your savings as it could.

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Have a question about traveling Palau on a budget?

Ask away in the comments below!

Solo Female Travel in Tajikistan

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Traveling Alone As A Woman in Tajikistan

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Yes it’s possible! 

But guess what? If you don’t wanna go at it solo, you can always join me in 2018 on an expedition through China, Tajikistan and Pakistan! Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

 

I spent a month in Tajikistan last year. I plan to head back this summer/fall for 6 weeks. When I tell people I traveled to Tajikistan I usually get a contorted facial expression from my listener. A face somewhere between shock, confusion, pure horror and gold-fish-with-eyes-bulgging-out like a victim of Grave’s Disease. For an added kick, throw in that I went there solo and the gasping for air in utter disbelief begins.

Yes, I, a vagina-wielding, US passport holding female went to Tajikistan by myself and lived to tell about. And guess what? I wasn’t the first, I won’t be the last, and I sure as fuck didn’t do it solely on sponsor’s dime in an 18 month race around the world in which some places didn’t even include stepping foot out of the airport*.

*YES, I am referring to what’s-her-face that broke the record for the world’s FASTEST woman to visit every country. But what I’m really ripping on here is these shitty excuses for media outlets with all out lying faux-journalists. All these bullshit spewing media websites claiming she’s the first woman to visit every country really need to pull their heads out of their asses and utilize the 30 seconds it takes to simply search Google to fact check. She’s not even the first, nor the second woman to visit every country. While the ability to do it the fastest is a feat all in itself, could the media please stop lying to everyone about it? The most disgusting part of it all to me is how many women it has inspired to attempt the same. I’ve had several female Twitter followers, Instagram followers and email messages I’ve newly received that are raising money through crowd funding and gaining sponsors for them to attempt to break her record in the name of bringing peace, equality to women and other happy Bullshit. Going on a $200,000+ race doesn’t bring solidarity or peace, or help women. How about you assholes use that crowd funded money and sponsorship dole to start a program that may help bring peace or god forbid help women become educated and fight their oppressors? Oh wait, I forgot your whole ‘mission’ to get sponsored is a sham. Sorry, I got worked up on a tangent there -rant over.  And PS: Stop e-mailing me asking for exposure on my channels.

Safety for female travel in Tajikistan

Tajikistan isn’t as dangerous as most people tend to assume since it does end in the suffix ‘Stan and in fact shares a long border with Afghanistan.

To give you an idea of what I did in my travels in Tajikistan:

I trekked for days on end, completely alone in the Fann Mountains and Pamirs.

I walked around cities and towns completely alone, even at night in Dushanbe, Khorog, Alichur, Karakul and Murghab.

I ate in restaurants and chaikhanas completely alone.

I was welcomed into countless homes in cities and in rural areas, you guessed: while I was alone.

I hired a driver to bring me from Dushanbe to Khorog over the course of two days. I didn’t want to just hire him straight out for the entirety of the Pamir Highway (M41) in case he was handsy or pervy. Guess what? He wasn’t! He was a lovely, respectful man whom I in the end wound up hiring to take me the entire length of the M41, and Khorsaan- the man who took me through the Pamirs by road became my friend. I ended up being the only passenger (although we did pick up countless hitchhikers- locals and tourists alike that joined us for usually short jaunts).

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The only two incidents that were unfavorable in way of solo female travel in Tajikistan were:

The man with a donkey I hired to help porter my gear in the Fanns on day one. I did not plan to hire one as I was offered to before I left when speaking back and forth with ZTDA. After a couple offers as I was passing through the first village on my trek I decided, why not? It may help the local economy. He seemed friendly at first but shortly after departing was very rude and kept insisting I should let him rub my legs (of course he attempted the upper thigh area) to prevent muscle cramps and even began trying to demand to sleep in my tent later that night wherever I ended up camping. Needless to say I fired him, in Russian. Note: if you want a guide or a herder with a donkey to porter your gear, hire them from a reputable agency. Lesson learned.

The second happened as I was walking down Rudaki, the main street in Dushanbe. A boy zoomed past me on a bicycle and slapped my ass as he passed. He was going fast enough that I couldn’t be an asshole and push him off his bike and drag him by his ear back to his mother to let her know what he had done. And for those of you assuming I probably deserved for dressing like a slut: I was wearing loose ‘genie’ style pants and a loose long sleeve shirt- similar to what you’d see Tajik women wearing.

To be honest I’ve been victim of worse treatment and ass grabbing by men in my home country. I mean after all one time I was fully covered from my toes to my jaw in winter gear as I left a restaurant back home and some guy drove past and called me ‘A whore asking to get fucked‘. Short of a headscarf I was essentially wearing an Alaskan version of a burqa.

Trust me, there are shit-bag scummy men all over this planet, they’re not all located in certain regions*.

*I don’t think all men are bad, in case you think I’m attempting to go on a man-hating tirade.

Aside from these two incidents, I found people in Tajikistan very respectful.

What I wore:

I had three tops with me during my travels in Tajikistan. A loose long sleeve shirt, a tshirt and a loose fitting long sleeve tunic style top that nearly went to my knees.

I had two pairs of pants I brought with: a pair of leggings which I wore with the long tunic style top, and a pair of genie pants (or elephant or harem).

A few of my lovely new friends from a feast I was invited to.

I did bring a scarf with me. Although the wearing of headscarves in public is heavily discouraged in Tajikistan as well as some neighboring countries as they’re seen as a symbol of Islamic extremism. I wore it around my neck most the time, but found it useful to have with me for entering mosques.

Tajikistan in general is a conservative country, but not extreme. Women generally wear loose fitting pants with a loose fitting shirt with short sleeve to elbow length tunic. Althought is not unusual, especially in Dushanbe to see women wearing jeans, leggings, tight fitting tops and sleeveless shirts. In Khorog, with its Ismaili majority it is not uncommon to see women wearing skirts to the knee.

What to bring?

Good news is, if you’re arriving in Dushanbe you can find most items there, some will fly into Khujand which has a decent selection of shops. The other probability is that you’re arriving from Kyrgyzstan- likely passing through Bishkek or Osh, or from Uzbekistan where you’d pass through Tashkent or Samarkand. You can find most any essential items in any of those cities as well.

I found traveling with a 65L Osprey Aura backpack and my daypack with camera gear in it to be plenty enough to tote all my belongings in. Another great purchase to make prior to arriving is sun cream as it can be tricky to track down. Bring a Diva cup with you so that you don’t have to do the burden of going on a hunt for tampons. A water filter is a good item to bring along so that you aren’t always searching for bottled water, and is great for hiking.

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How I was treated:

Quite well actually. In the Fanns and along the Pamir Highway people aren’t strangers to seeing women traveling. I’m not the only foreign female to have trekked in the region on my own. You will even see Tajik women traveling their country alone or with other women.

Many people assume that Tajikistan, a predominantly Islamic country is oppressive to its women, but it isn’t what most think. Women have a 99% literacy rate, and are the core of the workforce. Is the treatment of women equal to that of men? No. Are child brides still being married off? Yes. Is the rate of domestic violence against women high? Yes.

Tajikistan isn’t perfect, but it seems to be making strides toward getting better. There are women serving in parliament. And there was even laws put in place in 2013 making domestic violence illegal.

Most Tajik women still live a very traditional life. They marry young (in rural areas it may even be arranged), the average women will have 2-3 children, and yes, bridenapping- Although rare, does occur.

My advice for solo female travel in Tajikistan

Dress conservatively.  Like I mentioned before good go-to outfits would be loose pants and shirt or a loose tunic with leggings. If traveling in the hot summer months loose cotton and/or breathable fabrics will be your best friend.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable, look for other women. Tajik women are quick to take you under their wing.

Be assertive. If you end up in a situation where a man is being inappropriate say no and be serious. Don’t be afraid of being a bitch, cause let’s face it: Bitches get shit done.

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Even if you’re single, having a fictitious husband back home, wearing a wedding ring and having made up children (bonus points) can wield off most unwanted male attention. This is a tactic used by women traveling solo the world over.

Tajik women do travel without men, although solo women will almost always be asked why they’re on their own and if they’re married or have kids. Saying you’re single opens up an idea that you’re up for grabs.

Wear that resting bitch face, and wear it well. If you have a tendency to walk around at home without a welcoming smile this will come naturally. If not, fight the urge as it makes you look approachable. Eye contact can even welcome unwanted interaction. So if you don’t wanna deal, don’t wanna explain and show pictures of your fabled husband and made up children just look pissed off with eyes forward. However smiling and making eye contact with other women can open you up to a great experience.

Avoid going out at night, especially to nightclubs. While I did go wander about in the evenings alone at times with no issue, I didn’t go to any nightclubs. I was told solo women in a nightclub are generally assumed to be prostitutes.

You will be stared at and probably even cat called. Just ignore it. Giving it the time of day just welcomes more attention.

Learn to read Cyrillic script. Trust me, it’s not too hard and being able to at least read signs will make travel a lot easier. Learning a few Tajik or Russian phrases will make your trip more enjoyable. Okay this one goes for anyone planning a visit to Tajikistan, not just the solo girls.

My number 1 tip for solo female travel in Tajikistan?

Just go!

Take the normal precautions you’d take at home or most places you’d travel and all should be well.

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Sunrise at Lake Alovaddin

Want more info on traveling in Tajikistan?

Tajikistan Travel Guide

10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan 

Pamir Travel Guide

Fann Mountains Guide

Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan

Wanna join my expedition in 2018?

I will be leading a small group of adventurers on an expedition in China, Tajikistan and Pakistan in June. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!

Antarctica Travel Guide

*This post contains affiliate links.

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The Antarctica Travel Guide

Everything about Antarctica will have you constantly picking your jaw up off the floor. Whether it be the darling penguins, the massive seals, whales or the gem in the crown: Antarctic Ice. Wanting to visit the world’s most remote continent? In this Antarctica travel guide you will find all the information you need to know in order to start planning your trip!

*I was able to visit Antarctica in early 2017 for a whole month. I have a business relationship with Oceanwide Expeditions and traveled onboard the M/V Ortelius sailing South to the Ross Sea and Antarctica as an independent press & media representative. All opinions are my own. 

Getting to Antarctica:

You can get to Antarctica three ways: By cruise ship (most common), by chartered yacht, or by flight.

Cruises:

By and far the most common way to get to Antarctica. There are many sailings each year that leave from South America to Antarctica and back, there are a few sailings that depart from New Zealand and Australia as well.  Most cruises range from 6 to 23 days in length, however there are a handful of longer trips typically offered each year. During the summer season October-March there are cruises that depart almost daily. One important thing to note; It usually takes between 2 and 3 days to cross the Drake Passage when sailing between the Tip of South America and Antarctica, each way. So remember that accounts for 4-6 days of your cruise alone.

Advice for choosing an Antarctic Cruise:

-It is best to choose a ship that takes 100 passengers or less. These ships (typically taking 50-100 passengers) can get to places that the bigger ships cannot.

-In accordance with IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) regulations, ships carrying more than 500 passengers are not allowed to make landings on the continent. Choose carefully.

-Cruise ships typically only allow 100 people at a landing site. Therefore, if you go on a ship with 200 passengers for example, 100 people will go ashore and must be brought back before the next group of 100 can land. This will likely limit the time on land to only 1-2 hours per landing.

-Larger ships tend to be more comfortable and luxurious.

-Not all cruises are created equally. They can offer different routings and different activities. The Antarctic Peninsula is the most common area for ships to visit. Cruises such as Oceanwide Expedition’s M/V Ortelius have helicopter landings as part of your itinerary, some cruises will include kayaking and even camping. Some ships are more luxurious than others.

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Zipping around in helicopters above Andvord Bay looking down at home-sweet-away-from-home, The Ortelius.

Which cruises can I personally recommend?

I cruised to Antarctica on Oceanwide Expeditions’ Ross Sea Crossing cruise from Bluff, New Zealand to Ushuaia, Argentina in February-March of 2017. They have experienced and knowledgeable staff. I have included their booking form below so that you can begin searching cruises.

Where do the ships leave from?

Most ships will depart from Ushuaia, Argentina. Other common embarkation points are Punta Arenas, Chile; Bluff/Invercargill, New Zealand; Christchurch New Zealand; and Hobart, Australia (Tasmania).

Chartered Yachts:

Several chartered yachts do trips from South America to Antarctica. Many will include stops in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) as well as South Georgia. Most yacht trips tend to last between 3 and 6 weeks. Many of these chartered yachts are members of IAATO. Yachts can be a rewarding experience for people looking for a more adventurous Antarctic trip. Yachts won’t be as luxurious as larger ships but will give more flexibility and freedom. I personally have met Darrel Day who owns Spirit of Sydney and does expeditions down to Antarctica from Ushuaia during the summer season. Yachts are a great option for scientific researchers, film crews, skier/snowboarders, mountaineers, kayakers, divers and whale watchers.

Planes:

It is possible to fly to Antarctica, as there are 28 landing strips and 37 helipads.  This is the least likely way to visit the continent as weather is extremely unpredictable in and around Antartica. Flights are typically restricted to the summer months (because of daylight).

Aerovias DAP offers flights to King George Island in Antarctica from Punta Arenas, Chile.

Antarctica Flights, based in Australia offers overflights to Antarctica (they do not land in Antarctica, they only fly over it) from Sydney and Melbourne. Prices per passenger for one seat range from $1,199 to $7,999.

Some cruise companies offer ‘Fly & Cruise’ options but expect these to cost substantially more than just cruising.

*Note that weather in Antartica is erratic and flights are often delayed. 

Cost of going to Antarctica:

Let’s face it: Antarctica is NOT cheap, and it ain’t getting cheaper! When I announced I was going to Antarctica on my blog this was probably the #1 negative feedback I got in e-mails and comments from readers. Yes, getting to Antarctica is expensive. What are your other options to get there? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Unfortunately this is a trip that will require some saving, but fear not. There are ways to get to Antarctica for much less than what you find when you begin a search online. One thing to consider is taking one of the shorter trips to Antarctica, these of course come in much much cheaper.

Other factors that can effect the cost of your trip will include flights from home to your embarkation point and of course back home, travel insurance (yes, it is required), and if you need to purchase cold weather gear or travel gadgets.

Tips for getting the best deals:

-Keep an eye out on Antarctic cruise and yacht company’s websites and sign up for their e-mail lists. From time to time you will find deals and sales. For example, the 32 day Ross Sea trip I did with Oceanwide Expeditions original price for a quad room (the cheapest available) was a little over $24,000 per person! Eventually the trip did go on sale for $17,450. Yes, I know: it’s still expensive. It’s more than I spent to purchase my car in 2012 brand new! But nonetheless that is nearly a $7,000 savings.

-Watch online for last minute deals. These cruises don’t want to leave port with empty berths. Sometimes cruise companies will begin slashing prices. With that said, many of these trips (especially specialty cruises) tend to book up well in advance.

-Cruise prices tend to be somewhat cheaper in November, late February and March as there isn’t as much wildlife to be seen making these sailings less popular than their December and January counterparts.

-For travelers on a stricter budget with flexibility of schedule that are already in Ushuaia there is the possibility of going to the port each morning to see if there are any ships departing with any empty berths and ask for ‘dock price’. As mentioned before these ships don’t like to leave with empty berths and are likely to offer discounts. There are reports from travelers claiming to have paid $3,500-$4,000 for 10-12 day cruises to Antarctica which would usually run in the $8-12,000 range. Remember that demand for sailings to Antarctica are skyrocketing and getting on last minute is proving more difficult as time goes on and prices for these trips are getting higher.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula.

When to go to Antarctica:

Tourism is pretty much limited to the Antarctic summer from November to March. Why only November through March? That comes down to the lack of accessibility in the winter due to thick ice locking in the continent and darkness. Antarctica is shrouded in darkness from May to July as the polar winter sets in. Because of these factors, Antarctica’s summer is the best. Expect prices to be more expensive in the months of December, January and early February as there are more wildlife spotting opportunities.

By the month:

November: Pristine ice is abundant for photographers looking to shoot the perfect icy blue hues. Many penguins start to head ashore.

December: Days get longer and night disappears as the calendar approaches the solstice. Later in the month on the Antarctic Peninsula the cute, fluffy chicks hatch and rookeries are full of birds. Humpback whales show up back in Antarctic waters.

January: Ice is beginning to break up allowing expeditions to reach beyond 66ºS (the Antarctic Circle), this is the time to access the historic huts of Scott & Shackleton. The baby penguins are cute and fluffy and their parents are busy feeding the needy chicks. Temperatures tend to be on the warm side and can reach as high as 15ºC/60ºF. Days are still quite long.

February: Chicks are very active and curious. Young penguins begin to moult, penguin rookeries are full of the cute birds. February is the best time to spot whales and with the ice receded to its maximum is the best time to head as far south as possible by ship or yacht.

March: Penguins are very curious at this point in the year and a very attracted to the color yellow. March is the best time to catch the stunning sunsets and sunrises you see in photo books as the days start to get shorter and the sun finally starts dropping below the horizon fully at  night. Whale sightings are still optimal in this month and if headed to South Georgia expect to see plenty of King and Macaroni penguins.

Where to go in Antarctica:

Antarctica can be divided up into 5 sections as shown on the map below. The Antarctic Peninsula (purple), Ross Sea Ice Shelf (pink), South Pole (black dot, dead in the middle), West Antarctica (blue), East Antarctica (green).

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By Peter Fitzgerald, view the CC license here.

Antarctic Peninsula:

Antarctica’s premiere destination. This is the most visited part of the continent and easy to see why! Not only is it easiest to access- only 800 km (500 mi) between Cape Horn in South America and Livingston Island (Shetland Islands) Antarctica, but it’s the most visually impressive. A stegosaurus like spine of mountains runs along the peninsula and is in fact, the continuation of the Andes Mountains. Popular destinations on the peninsula include the Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy, Deception Island, Palmer Station, Andvord Bay, and Vernadsky Station.

Ross Sea & Ice Shelf:

The typical destination for cruise ships departing from Australia and New Zealand. The Transantarctic Mountain Range is viewable from McMurdo Sound along with the famed volcanoes- Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror. Another important feature is the Ross Ice Shelf, which is the biggest ice shelf in the world. For history buffs- many historic huts are accessible in the Ross Sea, including Scott’s, Shackleton’s, and Borchgrevink’s Huts. Popular destinations in the Ross Sea region include McMurdo Base (US), Scott Base (NZ), Ross Island, The Ross Ice Shelf, Cape Adare, Cape Hallet, and Franklin Island.

South Pole:

Reachable by expedition and typically depart from Punta Arenas, Chile by flight. Adventure Network, White Desert, Arctic Odysseys, Ice Trek, Polar Explorers, and Voyage Concepts all offer expeditions to the South Pole. Prices start at $40,000 per person and go up from there. At the South Pole sits Scott-Amudesen Station as well as the Ceremonial South Pole.

West Antarctica:

This is the whole of the continent falling in the western hemisphere (except for the Antarctic Peninsula). Much of Western Antarctica is vast, barren, nothingness. Mount Sidley- Antarctica’s highest volcano and Vinson Massif- Antarctica’s highest mountain all fall within Western Antarctica. In contrast, the lowest place on Earth not covered by ocean- the Bentley Subglacial Trench is here. Very few visitors make it to Western Antarctica.

East Antarctica:

This is the bulk of the continent and it sits in the eastern hemisphere. Barren is a great descriptor. Home to Vostock Station- the holder of the world’s coldest ever recorded temperature. Mawson’s hut and The South Pole of Inaccessibility are two of the more popular tourist draws for this rarely visited region.

leopard seal, Antarctica, Ross Sea

Up close wildlife viewing!

What to do in Antarctica:

There are so many options for activities in Antarctica. Ice, wild landscapes and the wildlife are the usual draw for most visitors.

Wildlife Viewing: Penguins and Seals and Whales, oh my! Find yourself sitting amongst curious penguin chicks with the bravest of the youngsters climbing right up onto your lap! Antarctica is a birder’s paradise- you’ll be lucky to peel your eyes away from your binoculars the entire trip both in the Antarctic and Subantarctic with Petrels, Albatross and Cormorants at every turn. Whale watchers will have plenty of opportunity to view the largest of the mammals usually in the months of February and March. And finally the seals will steal the show.

Hiking: Quite a few landing sites give visitors the chance to trek into the frozen expanses.

Photography: There’s a photo op just about every minute of any trip to Antarctica. The main show stealers will be the ice and the up-close wildlife. Even if you aren’t into photography you’ll likely find yourself snapping photo after photo.

Zodiac Cruising: Zodiacs are the main transport that cruise ships use to ferry their passengers onto the ground. These excursions will likely include zodiac cruises where you’ll likely find yourself face to face with the Seventh Continent’s wildlife.

Kayaking/Paddle Boarding: Many yachts and ships carry kayaks and some even have paddle boards aboard. A lovely quiet experience to have paddling between ice floes with penguins and seals watching you as you float on by.

Mountaineering: The Antarctic Andes and the Transatlantic Mountains are just a start. This is a harsh wilderness alluring to explore but only the most prepared should dare.

Skiing/Snowboarding: Easy to arrange on many yachts. Looking to say you’ve rode on every continent? Here’s your chance!

Camping: Want to sleep overnight in Antarctica? No problem! Many sailings include camping excursions on the peninsula. Personally my dream would be to go back, late season and camp- but this is mostly because I’d love to get lucky and get a shot of the southern lights, the milky way and some ice!

Scuba Diving: Extreme divers with the proper certifications can dive off the coast of this frozen stretch of the planet.

Polar Plunge: Take a jump into the icy cold waters. A good bragging right when at a bar back home.

Packing for Antarctica:

This is a tough one. Everyone feels temperature differently. I will list below the absolute essentials. For a detailed packing guide check out this post on Oceanwide Expedition’s Blog. Remember Antarctica is likely warmer than you imagine (trust me, it still isn’t the tropics), but for where you’re probably visiting you can plan to leave the extreme Arctic gear at home. When on land you will be moving around and walking so you will stay fairly warm so longs you’re not sitting stationary. Layers are essential.

Required Documents;

Passport– Make sure it’s got at least 6 months validity.

Visa/s– If the ship departs a country or arrives in a country you need a visa to visit. You are responsible for arranging it if necessary. Contact your nearest embassy for details.

Outerwear:

Warm water and windproof jacket– The most important thing in the jacket you bring is that it’s waterproof. There’s a good chance you’ll get splashed with water on zodiac rides. Some ships/cruiselines include a jacket in your ticket price. Check with them when you book to find out if you really need to bring your own or not. 

Waterproof pants– Snow/ski pants are a good option. Rain pants with a couple layers on underneath can do the trick as well.

Hat– Duh. Most your body heat escapes through your head, so if you’re cold cover your noggin.

Gloves– A heavier pair for colder days and a thinner pair for warmer is a good idea.

Scarf or Neckwarmer: When the wind picks up, this is always the first part of me to get cold if I forget one.

Footwear:

Knee-high rubber boots or (Wellies, gumboots, galoshes…)– Most every landing in Antarctica is a wet landing, i.e. stepping off your zodiac into the water and wading through shallow water to the shore. The most important is that the boots are fully waterproof and sturdy with a slip proof sole. Good boot brands to consider are Muck Boots, Viking Boots, and Xtratufs. Some ships/cruislines provide rubber boots, check when booking to find out if you need to bring your own.

Comfortable shoe: Think something easy to slip on and off (preferably no laces) incase your lying in bed and the ‘WHALES, HUNDREDS OF WHALES EVERYWHERE!‘ announcement comes across the intercoms. *Some ships have exercise rooms aboard, if you plan to use it bring sneakers too.

Clothing:

Note: Leave the formal wear at home, some cruises do have a captain’s dinner in which you might want to look presentable, but formal wear is not expected. Bring comfortable clothing, and remember the ship is heated!

2 Tees– Good for layering and days at sea.

2 Long Sleeves– Again, layering and days at sea.

1 Tank– For warmer days onboard or extra layers.

1 Hoodie or Sweater- Good for colder days to wear under jacket.

2 Thermal pants/lined leggings– Wear under rain pants for extra warmth.

1 Sweatpants (optional)– Good option for lazing about on sea days.

1 Pair Athletic Shorts (optional)- If you tend to run warm you’ll end up wanting these on the days above the Antarctic Convergence, it’ll get real warm in the ship.

2 Pairs of Regular Socks– For warmer days and for wearing with your ship shoes.

2 Pairs of Thermal/hiking Socks– Good for cold days and layering up in boots.

Undies (optional)– This may be too much for you….. I don’t wear underwear, plus it wastes space in my bag. However those of you that do wear undies, I think two should suffice.

1 Bra– if you have the parts necessary for one.

1 Sports Bra– Same reasoning as above.

Accessories:

Sunglasses– Ever heard of snowblindness? It’s real and it hurts.

Goggles– Especially if going skiing, but work great for windy zodiac trips where you don’t want to worry about them blowing away.

Electrical Converter with Adaptor– Keep charged.

Camera + Camera Gear– All largely dependent on what you shoot with and how into it you are. Make sure to have all necessary batteries and accessories (tripod, filter, lenses, shutter release, etc.) to go with.

External Hard Drive or Spare SD/CF Cards– You’ll likely take more pictures than you will expect. Bring extra space! Or film in the case you still shoot on a film camera.

Waterproof Bag/Backpack– Something to carry your electronics ashore with.

Binoculars- For wildlife viewing.

Water Bottle– You are allowed to bring plain water with you ashore.

Toiletries:

Sun Cream- Yes you can still get sunburnt when it’s cold.

Thick Lotion/Oil- Antarctica is the driest place on Earth.

Prescription Medications- This should be a no-brainer. Any Rx med you take, BRING IT WITH YOU! And be sure to bring enough to get you through the entirety of your trip.

Sea Sickness Patches or Pills- Better to be safe than sorry, many people do get sea sick. Can usually be purchased on board from ship medic if you’re on a cruise.

Soap- You will probably have some in your cabin already, if you need anything special it is best to bring your own.

Shampoo– Same as mentioned above about soap.

Conditioner– If you have long hair you’ll need it. Bring something thick, it’s extremely dry here.

Tampons/Pads/Diva Cup– If you have a vagina and it still does that bleedy thing every month.

Laundry detergent– If you plan to do your own laundry aboard you’ll need laundry soap. Some cruise ships have a laundry facility for you to use, otherwise yo can always wash some clothes in your shower. Most cruise ships offer a laundry service, but this is an additional cost and can be expensive.

Accommodation:

If going by ship or yacht, that will be your accommodation. Cabins on cruise ships can vary in comfort depending on how much you’re willing to spend. Some trips include camping expeditions in which your tent is typically provided. These are questions to ask upon booking.

Travel Insurance:

Antarctica is remote. Like really, really remote. Operators require proof of a travel insurance plan. Make sure the plan you choose has medivac coverage as you will likely have to be medivaced in the event of an emergency.

I personally use Allianz for travel insurance every time I travel. I have only ever had to make one claim (stitches that I had to get after a motorbike wreck in the Philippines) and the claim process was quick and easy. I submitted my receipt and bill from the clinic and within a couple of weeks I had received the news that my claim was approved. An important note on travel insurance is that in many cases you will have to pay up front when getting medical service overseas and then the insurance company reimburses you.

Safety:

Antarctica is pretty safe in regards to most things people are terrorized by media outlets with. Yes, I’m talking terrorism- by and far the least likely way any of us will die… Antarctica is pretty much free of that. The biggest dangers in Antarctica would likely be getting to close to a seal and being eaten, losing an eye to a penguin peck, frostbite/frostnip, slipping on ice and busting your ass or a hip (or any body part for that matter), falling overboard, etc. Just like anywhere else, pay attention and be careful. People on more extreme expeditions such as visiting the South Pole, scuba diving or skiing have more dangers to be concerned about than the typical visitor to Antarctica.

Now who has the Antarctica Travel Bug?

I still can’t believe I was here not even two months ago. Have any corrections on the Antarctica Travel Guide? Email them to me at adventureslilnicki [at] gmail.com.

Want more Antarctica?

Check out 10 Reasons to Visit The Ross Sea.

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Machu Picchu Tips- See the Wonder

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

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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!

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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