Discovering Shkoder by bike

  Thank universe for bicycles! Whats an amazing invention. Not only that they are an eco-friendly, enjoyable, affordable and timeless. It is also a very useful vehicle to conquer surrounded area around newly visited places. And all done in a nice, easy and quick way.

  I have visited Shkoder, a cute town in the northern part of Albania located by the Skadar Lake, in March. It was one of my many stops during my backpacking trip around Balkans. Landscape packed with magnificent hills, medieval structures, lakes and rivers creates many brilliant cycling paths to enjoy. So try to always hire a bike, if possible, while traveling, especially around Albania. There is usually an agency or hostel that can provide the service, pretty much in most places. You could really explore tree times more things than by foot, and Shkoder is probably the best place to do so.

It really is a great way to see the marvelous landscape around the castle hill, and the beautiful lake with water as clear that could be easily mistaken for Adriatic coast of Albania. Luckily, I was able to get a bike from my hostel (just 2 Euro for the whole day!), so decision has been made quickly, and I went off to enjoy the area first thing in the morning.

There are 2 routs from Shkoder you can do. Well, you can do an many as you like, but these are most popular. I would suggest one day for each, but  fit and quick bionic human can do both in one day.

First path

  This path allows you to get to the castle hill, that is actually located just 3 kilometers from the city center, and to cycle around absolutely stunning Skadar Lake. Actually, for me, it is the second (after Titicaca Lake in Bolivia/Peru) most amazing lake I have seen so far. It should be around 25 kilometers in total, and the whole path is pretty flat (except castle hill, but you will walk up), so I would rate difficulty as easy!

Before starting, please just have a 200 Lek with you, as that is the entrance fee to the castle. I beg you…don’t skip it! 200 Lek is around 1.5 Euro, and the remain ruins are absolutely in a great condition, not even mentioning the view from the top. You can spot the Albanian, and at some point Montenegrin, landscape that surround the place from every single angle there. Geologically diverse area, build of lakes, rivers and high range of North Albanian Alps, will become as a great bonus to the Castle itself.

So you will start in a place where your bike will be coming from. From the city center you will have to fallow one of the main roads in town, called Bulevardi Zogu I. You will have to head south till the point where you will see the sigh pointing the directions towards Castle Rozafa. Once you see it, cross the street (wherever you want really, as Albanian traffic is a bit anarchistic), so you will be on the left side of the road. Now you can leave your bike somewhere there, as the road up to the hill is way to rocky to cycle. If you haven’t got any lock with you, you can take your bike right to the entrance where the guard, that’s there all the time, will look after it for you. I have to say it here…Albanians are very friendly and nice.

After probably an hour on the top you can carry on with your trip. You will pick your bike, and you will go to the same place from where you turned left towards castle. Now its time to go right to wonder around the lake. The bridge is just 200 meters away on the right hand side. You have to cross it (heh a challenge as well, as the wooden bridge is full of holes), and once you are on the other side, you will take the road to the right. Now, I really don’t have to add anything, as the path from there is pretty straight forward. The whole road by the breath-taking lake is a great experience. The area around will stunt you with the beauty and peacefulness, you will face around. The clear blue waters of the lake, with the green hills full of sheep and cows, will help your mind to relax a bit. You will be also able to stop anywhere you like. There are loads of places for that.

Cycling route will finish at the camping side where road terminates. From there you can start heading back to the Shkoder. For me it was one of the best days trough my backpacking, but I know I was also lucky with great weather and an off-season time once there (not many tourists around is always as a plus for me).

Second rout

The second trip will contain cycling around different lake, river and another castle. This journey is longer than the first one, as the castle, I mentioned, is already 17 kilometers away from the city, and from there you can carry on on cycling along the river and lake. This time you will breath with the fresh air of green lowlands of Drin River Basin that will accompany you trough the whole journey. It really is up to you how far you want to go. I would recommend to do 10 km more from the castle, if you have the whole day for it. You will pass trough few little villages, so you will be ale to stack up on water and food.  This area is way less busy than the first route, I mention, so you will spend one day away from busy city life with the nature.

I, myself, loves tips like that, especially when you are visiting many cities on your way. It really can create a great balance that will aloud your eyes to have a rest from busy life, and your mind to get completely lost in simple thoughts admiring the background around you. I have to add that Albania is a very interesting country in general. You can relax there on one of many beautiful Adriatic sea beaches, you can do some hiking on North Albanian Albs, Koral Mountains or just enjoy beautiful lakes. I definitely loved my time there, and I would highly recommend to visit this country. Plus, it`s extremely cheap too, so really, there is no excuse for you not to come here! Just pack your backpack.

Matka Canyon by public bus from Skopje

  Once in Skopje Matka Canyon is a place you just have to visit. I could start with important reasons like: the beauty of the place, clear green waters of the Treska River, path trial trough the canyon…loads.

But how about the fact that Matka is located just 15 kilometers from the city? Yeah I know, just around the corner. Even if you are visiting capital just for one day, you can still add it to your schedule, as the public bus takes only 30-40 minutes to reach the canyon, and it arrives just right before the entrance. You can even get there by taxi. I’ve heard it will cost only 400-500 MKD one way (that’s around 8 Euros).

  So in order to get to Matka Canyon, you have to take a number 60 bus that leaves from the main bus station. Please note that the stop is actually located on the right hand side of the main bus terminal behind the petrol station. The stand is somewhere in the middle, and it has a sign with number 60 next to it, so you really will find it with no hustle. Ultimately, you can catch it also from the city center, as the bus makes loads of stops in Skopje on the way.

It is running quiet often. Times of departures from Skopje main bus station: 7:00 / 8:45 / 10:30 / 12:10 / 13:50 / 17:10 / 18:45 / 20:15 / 22:30.  Return from Matka to Skopje: 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00. 
Unlucky, most of the bus stands here in capital don’t have any information, so you have to ask locals where is the most convenient stop for you, if you are not going from the main one or the one near the city center (tagged on the photo). In order to travel you need to buy a card. You can not pay to the driver by cash any longer.The travel card cost 150 MKD. That`s enough for 2 ways, and probably you will have some money on it left that you can use later on for other buses, if needed. Please don’t panic if the bus is late, it`s normal. I, for example, waited 10 minutes.

Going back

The bus will leave from the same place where you got off at arrival. Repeating: return bus depart from Matka to Skopje at 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00. Please, be 15 minutes earlier, as I have been warned that bus can leave 15 mins prior departure from Matka. Matka

Sofia to Skopje by bus

 Welcome again in my so-called “from A to B” section where I will advise you on the best (or not?) ways of traveling between capitals. I will also share with you my adventures like: buying a ticket, looking for a toilet…etc. This time we are looking at connections between Sofia (Bulgaria) and Skopje, a city in Macedonia.img_1697.jpgI know that a train is a possible option, but it is not a direct one (you have to change at Nic, and it takes 10h, so no thanks), so I simply took a bus. Four-wheeler leaves from the terminal north of the city center. You can get there by underground, bus: 78, 213, 404 and tram: 3 and 12. Public transport costs 1.60 lev for one single ride. Taxi is a good option too, as you should pay just 5 lev from the city center. Once you are around, please don’t head to the big fancy, glassy new  terminal, that’s not the one you are looking for. The bus station you need is located just across the street 100 meters away from the other terminal, I mentioned, on a right hand side. It looks like a square with little shops and travel agencies all around with the bus stands in the center. IMG_1699.JPGI have chosen to go with Matpu. It is also possible that it is the only company that provides this service right now (march 2017). Bus will depart from the stand just next to the Matpu office, from where you got your ticket. The whole journey was a quiet pleasant experience. Bus did accommodate me in a confi chair, and there was a fast wifi available to use (but just on Bulgarian side…fair enough), so I was streaming youtube all the way till border. IMG_1821Also there was not many passengers in, so I could claim 2 sits to stretch. Toilet was there as well. The ticket can be paid by cash and by card at Matpu office. I paid 30 lev, a fair price for a journey between 2 countries. Three departures at: 9.30, 16.00 and 19.00 are the part of a daily schedule that is valid everyday. Please note that there may be other company that serves this route, but I can’t be definitely sure, as there was no info to be found online. Once you purchase your ticket, maybe in case just use a toilet on the side (0.60 lev), as the bus will stop only once by the loo, and the one in the vehicle may be either unavailable or not-existing. The journey takes around 5.45 h, but you will get to Skopje around 14.00, as of a time change (if you are taking 9.30 bus like me).

 The border crossing might be a bit annoying. It is probably due to the fact that you are leaving a Schengen now. Your passport will be checked twice by Bulgarian and Macedonian side. Border control will do the same with your bag, it will be search twice, so maybe don’t try to smuggle anything 😉 Sniffing dogs are at the border too. After 30 mins, you will get back to the bus, and you will head off to Skopje. You will arrive at the main bus terminal that is located east of the city center. One you’re out, you will get attacked by taxi drivers offering their service. Take it if you are tired, they will charge you a fair price. The capital is very small, so I just walked to my accommodation. It took me 15 minutes to get to the main square in the center. So that’s it, you reached your destination…congratz, now leave your bag and go to explore the city!

Rila Monastery from Sofia by bus

 Hidden in the mountain wildness 1174 meters high above the sea level, Rila Monastery became as a number one attraction in Bulgaria. Remarkable scenery around and an impressive monk`s building itself creates something truly magnificent, something where the old spirit can be still present, felt and found. IMG_1668.JPGWhen you look at it, you can notice how well the architecture collaborates with surrounded nature. It feels almost like monastery grew from the ground respecting the peaceful flora around. The location makes it easy to be reached from the capital of Bulgaria on a daily bases. So here I come with my advise for you guys, on how to get to that remarkable place yourself.

  Before heading off please take a warm clothes with you like jacket, shoes etc. There is still snow (March, April) around, and the temperature can be very low. Ok, so after my grany`s tips, we are ready to go.

 In order to reach Rila Monastery you need to catch a bus from Ovcha Kupel bus station. You can get there by tram number 5, and you can do that from the stop by Palace of Justice in the city center, from where the tram departs. The ticket cost just 1.80 lev and can be bought from the driver. Well…I have been told by one local that it is 1.60, so maybe the driver charges a little for an extra job as a seller. I guess number 5 departs very often as, even that it was Sunday, I waited only 5 mins. Once you are in the tram, you can count stops to get off on 13th (or 12?). You will see a Kaufland shop on the left and an ABC market on the right, so you wont miss it!

Now go to the right, and just 300 m away you will find a bus station. Don’t bother to ask for the ticket at the counter, as it can be only purchased in the bus. It cost 11 lev (march 2017) one way, and it can be paid only by cash. Please note, that the bus is always full, and it`s the only one you can catch for the trip, so please be earlier to claim a ticket and sit. Mine was full, people were standing (2h drive), and I`ve witnessed that 2 people were deny as of lack of the space. I would suggest to be 30 mins before to be 100% sure that you will get to the Rila that day. Bus will leave at 10.20 am (it should wait there 30 mins before the departure time) from the stand number 7. IMG_1682.JPG
As I mention before, the journey takes around 2h. Please keep your ticket with you just in case, as we had to change the bus in one little cute town just 30 mins away from monastery. We also stopped there for half an hour. The second bus came exactly to the same place where the first one dropped us. Nobody checked our tickets, but as I mentioned, just keep it with you. From there the journey was very pleasant with spectacular view of the mountain range, rivers and forest on the way. IMG_1664.JPGWe arrived after 30-40 minutes right by the entrance at exactly 13.00. The same bus (from the same place) departs at 15.00 back to Sofia, and that is your only option to get back, or you will have to get very friendly with local monks, so they will accommodate you….but highly not possible. Well actually there is a hotel on the side, but to be frank, one day is more than enough to see monastery, unless you want to hike some hills around. You will be given 2 hours to look around, and that is enough time, trust me. There is no fee for the entrance which makes the whole trip extremely cheap (around 10 Euros total). Please go around to see everything and visit impressive church in the center. The side feel so peaceful (even with tourists around), you almost want to stay forever.  IMG_1688High peaks, that surround the place, creates a beautiful background to the mystical and old monastery. There is a museum to visit too, but you need to pay 8 Lev entry fee (20 with English speaking guide). To warm you up, coffees and teas are available from the dispensary machine and from loads of other stands. There is one restaurant (accepts cards) on the side where you can have a good meal for a fair price, but please remember you need to get off at 15.00. Souvenirs shops with little figures, postcards, local honey and loads more are around too. Have a look, they do have loads of interesting and unusual stuff there. 2 free toilets are available on the side. If you have a spare bottle, get some water from the well, it is a great quality one.

Places to see in Rila Monastery:

  • The Church (located just in the heart of the monastery
  • Museum (on the right hand side)
  • The cookhouse (can be found not far from the restaurant and food stands)
  • Monastic cells

I have read online that there is a cave to see too, but it`s located 4 kilometers away, and I don’t think it is possible to do with your 2 hours time restriction.

  Time to go “home”

   There is a time for an end for everything, and at Rila Monastery (for the one who took a public transport) that time is 15.00. So again you will get a return ticket from the driver, and you will head back to Sofia to the same bus station from where you departed. You should be back before 17.30, and this time we did not have to change the bus. Again, you can catch a tram back to the city center. The whole journey from the start is nice, easy and very cheap. The end.

Travelling between Bucharest and Sofia

 There are loads of out of date information online about connections between Bucharest and Sofia and vice versa, so I decided to enrich the internet with more current schedules (March 2017). To complete your goal, either you will take a bus or train. Fly is an option too, but I know that is expensive.

Bus

  I took a bus to travel to Sofia from Bucharest. As of march 2017 there are no longer any companies with minibuses that provides a service between these two capitals. My transport was a direct one.

IMG_1635
Dodgy Filaret Bus Station

I paid 120 Lei (around 26€) for the trip, and I bought the ticket at the Filaret Bus Station, from where the bus departs. Please note that you can pay only in cash, and there is no cash machine there, so be prepared. Purchasing at the station is  the only option so far, so I am afraid it is not possible to book your sit online. Actually, I remember that when I approach the counter to buy a ticket, the kind lady told me that I need to wait 5 minutes till she will finish eating her banana…. I gave her 20 in case she had some afters to consume too. No problem whatsoever, I’ve been trough worst. Eventually banana lady served me, and she spoke as good English as was required to close the deal.

IMG_1626The Filaret Bus station, that probably isn’t very impressive but do the job, is located in southern part of the city, but still close to the center (around 20-30 mins walk from Parliament). Ultimately you can always take a bus, tram or taxi. My local Romanian friend advised me that taxi shouldn’t cost more than 8-9 Lei from the city center.IMG_1638As I mentioned before, I didn’t manage to find any current info online, so I took a bus that was departing at 16.00. Now I know that there is another bus that leaves at 13.00, so you can arrive way earlier (god if I only knew, I wouldn’t have to drive with drank taxi driver in Sofia, I could just walk). It does say at the counter’s window that bus arrives at 23.30 at Sophia’s main station for buses and trains (located north of the city center), but we arrived at 22.40, and that was probably due to the fact that the border wasn’t busy at all. We stopped there only for 5 minute where our passports got checked. There is also another bus from different company that leaves at 22.30 from Filaret too,  so you have 3 direct options: 13.00, 16.00 and 22.30, and they run from Monday to Sunday. The bus will leave from stand number 1. Even that it was a Friday, vehicle was almost empty, so I claimed all 5 sits at the end to stretch my legs. Joking, just 3. Mine did not have a toilet, so either don’t drink or use charming bathroom (1 Lei) at the Filaret Bus Station prior departure.IMG_1629.JPG

On the way it will stop just twice, and journey takes around 7h. First stop will be after the border on Bulgarian side and just for 10 minutes. I am sure there must be a toilet, but I couldn’t locate one. Second stop will be a bit longer, 20 minutes, where you can use a loo and buy something to eat or drink. Toilet will cost 0.30 Bulgarian Lev. Once you will reach your destination, you can walk 20 minutes to the center, take a taxi (I paid 4.40 Lev), tram or bus.

Option 2

  There are several buses that leaves hourly to Russe (Bulgarian side). From there, just outside the border, you can catch another one to Sofia. As fare as I am aware, it will be twice cheaper, but I just couldn’t be bother .

Train

 Please check current timetable, but for sure train leaves twice a day from Nord Station at 12.45 and 22.25, and it should cost around 30 euros. My French friends from hostel told me that they are very comfortable but slow, and you can book a bed for overnight train there too.

Meet the Gods in Sounion

  Having a break in the heart of the land where the democracy, philosophy and many more amazing inventions come from? Good! You wont even have to look hard as art will surround you in every single corner in Athens, and not only because Acropolis is visible from every edge of the city. Even that the unique combination of religion and literature, known as a Greek mythology, is not estrange to most of us, you will definitely leave this country with much greater knowledge about the ancient culture, history and art. dddBut apart from the capital there is one more thing to discover. It is one of the most stunning monuments in the world, build on a high hill by Aegean cost. The location makes it definitely as a must see place, and the ruins remain in a really great condition. So here we go.

Athens-Sounion

  Bus towards Sounion leaves from the Pedion Areos Park bus terminal near the National Archaeological Museum. It is located close to the entrance of the park. Transport, as the direct one, should have a label with Sounion name on the front, so you really shouldn’t miss it. My hotel was very close, so I just walked there, but it is accessible by bus, metro, tram or taxi of course. Please note that during 2017 the Athens transport ticket system will transition from paper tickets to modern electronic tickets with the use of plastic smart cards (similar to London’s Oyster cards), so please recheck before for updates on transport in this capital. Distance to Sounion is 70 km long, so it takes around 1.5-2 hours. Great news is that almost the whole way there, you will be able to view the charming Aegean Sea, as the road lays very close to the beautiful coast line of Greece. Price for the ticket should be around 6-7 Euros for one way. sdsd.jpgYou purchase it only in the bus, but not from the driver. Someone will pop in on the way with them to sell. I can’t remember if the merchant can accept cards, so maybe have a money just in case. Please carefully check a proper timetable, as during the summer holiday bus leaves every hour, otherwise every 2 h. I, as always, did not check it properly, so I`ve had to wait  an hour. I took this opportunity to walk around the park. Not really my recommendation as its full of junkies.

  I arrived quiet early, around 12.00. I think it is too soon if you are planning on staying till sunset. Journey terminates at the top of the hill, so you wont have to hike much to the monument. My goal was, of course, to watch the sunset, so I`ve had some spare time to look around. At the top you can find a restaurant and bar where you can have a hot meal, drink or coffee. Apart from that there is a beautiful coast line to look at too. I did go down to sit on the beach for a little while by the crystal clear water, but quickly run away after a completely naked Greek came towards me to chat. Around 14.00 I entered the Temple of Poseidon side.

The entrance fee is just 4 Euros (2015), and it is open till the sun will disappear in to the waters of Aegean Sea. I visited the place in January, so the staff closed the passage around 16.30. As you can imagine, the Temple is the main point of interest, but there is a route around the hill with some other remains of the ancient structures. So go and have a look! You will find sits there as well to have a rest in a stunning spot. That`s what I did. I sat alone for few minutes to watch epic scenery, when a cute turtle kindly decided to accompany me, so we watched the panorama together. The view from there is truly stunning and makes you understand why Greeks has chosen this place to cherish one of most important god in their ancient religion. Magic dusk light at sunset makes this place to look very special with the magnificent panorama of Aegean Sea that surround the cliff. When the spectacular sunset will finish, you have to leave as the side is just about to close down. As far as I remember, the return bus departs at 18.00 and is stopping at the same place from where it left in Athens. So really, it is an outstanding one day, or half day city break trip. As you see the cost is not high, and I know that some agencies will charge you around 100 Euros, so why not to do it yourself. Also, if it’s a summer time, why not to go there early in the morning. I have spotted a very beautiful sandy beach close by, where you could swim or just relax before going to see the temple. If you haven’t got much time in the Athens, you could also add Acropolis area to your day in the evening. Trust me, it is absolutely remarkable at night!

Best cycling routes around Atacama from San Pedro

  Cute little village, called San Pedro de Atacama, lies on a high plateau of Andes in the northern part of Chile. The area around creates the most outstanding landscape on the planet that includes deserts, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and salt flats found only in this part of the world. Surroundings make the scenery around San Pedro to be worth seeing at least once in your life. Together with Easter Islands and Patagonia, stands as the top place to visit once in Chile. The area is known to be one of the driest places in the world which leads to the fact that there’s not much green around, yet the unique geology structure creates there something so beautiful that is beyond anything, anything I saw so far. Not even mentioning that you can also easily see a magnificent milk way at night too.

 Small town San Pedro, with population just under 4,000, tends to be a very popular destination, so it`s packed with hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops and anything travelers need really. Please be aware that beds are always in high demand, so you really have to book your stay in advance. I did not know about it, and I had to stay longer in Santiago to spend my new year there, not in San Pedro as planned. It happened because all was already booked up. I got there on 3.01.2016, and it was still full of tourists. Once you’re lucky claiming your accommodation, go to look around. Village is very small and feels very cosy. Whoever decided to name the streets wasn’t really in his clear mind, so you can get lost very easily at first, but after some time you will know your way around well. In the center you can have a good meal or just a nice coffee. You can buy some clothes, hats or a tasty local alcoholic drink, called pisco (actually Peruvians are a bit angry, as this drink has been made first by them…or so they say). The prices around main street are not so high, but clearly set for tourists. I have found a very cool little area to eat, in far east that travelers don’t know about (you’re welcome). Meals there cost around 4$, are very local and very tasty. There are a few small restaurants (if you can call it like that) next to each other, and every single one got something different to offer. There`s one internet cafe in the center too, if you needed, and broadband is really not as bad as backpackers complain about! Apart from that, main street is loaded with tourist agencies. You can book loads of amazing trips there at a very affordable price. Please note that you need some spare Chilean pesos with you, as there is always something extra to pay on your trip (usually entrance fee). It’s good to book few. However, for me, the highlight of my stay turns to be cycling around Atacama Desert. Except for 3 days tour I took around all lagoons, geysers and salars, but that was on Bolivian side, so I will write about it in section about that country.

  Cycling. You can hire a bike literally on every corner in San Pedro. They are in a very good condition, and you are getting an extra gear with them too (spare tube, helmet, pump and map). Prices are not so high, and they do depend on length of time you are planning to rent your bike for, and the quality of your vehicle. You can hire it from an hour up to 48 hours. Loads of hotels do this service too, which makes it easy to return it and just to go straight to your room after. I used one agency to rent and once my hotel, and prices were very similar. As far as I remember, it was around 6-8$ for the whole day. So, as I mentioned, you will be given a map with routes you can do. It really is easy to find your way around, but please keep your map with you, as you wont be meeting loads of people on the way to ask for directions. Take also loads of water with you. It’s a very hot area, and climate is extremely dry. Stuck up on some snacks too, shops are only in San Pedro! The field is elevated, so better to use sunglasses and sun protection cream. Now…AGAIN! I have lost all my photos from this beautiful place. I realized that while writing this blog. I was devastated, and I almost cried. I really captured such an amazing moments, areas, friends, and I took really great photos! This place is so so special for me. I have only few from my phone left. It is the same situation, I have had with my photos from Mexico and Belize when 2/3 of my pics just disappeared from my SD card, just like that. Did anyone got the same problem? Can I fix it? I still got all my SDs, and they are full, so photos are there, somehow. Help me readers, you’re my only hope!

Routs

  • Valley of the Moon

   Valley of the Moon, or Valley de la Luna, as a part of the Salt Mountain range, is one of the most visited places in San Pedro area.

The name, probably, came from the fact that the place really looks like from different planet. The whole plateau does! The valley is accessible from the town by car or bike. It is only 10 kilometers away, and you will get there via main road. There are loads of signs on the way pointing directions towards valley, so you will easily find your way. You could walk too, but the whole area of the valley is quiet large already, so you might get tired a bit. The valley also got a spot where you can do a sun-boarding. The entrance fee is just 3,000 Chilean pesos, that’s around 4.5$. The ground around is so dry that there are no any living creatures. So again, remember to take plenty of water with you. Well, as far as I remember, there is a little shop by the entrance too, in case you will run out of drinks. With your ticket you will get a map with all highlights on it, so even with no guide you wont miss anything. I don’t even want to start here how things are looking around there, because I know I already use word “amazing” way to often here. Basically, you will see few beautiful canyons, sandy desert, unusually structured rock formations, snow looks-like a ground (minerals under the soil are responsible for the white cover) and caves. Here, I have to say that after the earthquake in Nepal, I was a bit scared to go trough that tiny little dark caves, but I got over the fear while half way trough there. With the tour, you will end your trip watching the sunset over the amazing valley. So, as you know by now, I did book my tour to see the valley, but I also got there one day on a rented bike. Two ways of doing so got pluses. With tour you will go with a nice group and a tour guy. He will take you in some caves too. But while cycling there alone, you will be very flexible.

You will stop anywhere you like, and you will lose loads of calories, as there are loads of hills to climb. The big minus is that after the sunset its dark, and you will have to cycle back like that. The climate, like geological structure, is diverse too, so as soon as the sun is gone, it`s getting very very cold very very quickly. To be honest, sunset over the valley is something you can’t  miss. Well, anyway, you will decide! I guess it is worth doing it twice in both ways, if you have a spare time there. Why not to see the magnificent scenery twice.

  • Devils Throat

 Devils Throat is the name of a cycling path around another stunning valley. The entrance is just little bit further from Pukara de Quitor, on a right hand side. The trial is 18 kilometers long, so with the road back it`s 36. Every company, you will hire your bike from, will give you the map with the road on it. It is a very easy and pleasant path, a bit rocky at times, but mostly flat. Just in few places you will face some hills, but they are not so high at all. The land around is a bit green, with the little river that will accompany you trough the whole trail. You can see some houses on your way (watch out for angry guarding dogs :).

It really is amazing that people lives in such a peaceful and remote area. Just to warn you, that there will be no phone signal, so cycle carefully please. I did this trial with my lovely friend, I’ve  met on the top of Pukara de Quitor, Dorit. So anyway, because I was not alone, we let ourselves a bit, and we went way further than the Devils Throat trial. We crossed the river three times, holding our bikes in hands, and we got, probably, where not many tourists go. And really, again, watch your way around. I still have a big scar on my knee as a souvenir from there 😀 The whole experience was amazing, and the hills around your way will make you breathless. Me and my friend both had shoes and pants wet, but who cares. The area is so dry, nothing stays wet for too long. Dryer is definitely not needed for locals there.

  • Pukará de Quitor    

  So what stands behind this funny name? An archaeological site just north of the town. It is so close (3 km from San Pedro) that you can easily do it with Devils Throat in one day. The side is looking interesting even without the ruins. But they do add the ancient vibe to the area. It`s known that it has been structured by precolombian Atacameño people as a fortress against Inca people. The road there is very straight forward, and even I remember it by now, a year after. Just cross the river on the north-east area, to take the road along the bank of the stream. Then after some time, you should already see the signs pointing the direction. The entrance to the park is very affordable at just 3,000 CLP. You can find there also a small museum with some artifacts that have been found in the area, and a brief view of the history of the place and people who lived there and created it. There is also a place to lock your bike. The ruins are all over the little hill, you will hike. To be honest, it is not so spectacular as rest of the valley, but you can learn loads of interesting facts by reading all the descriptions. Once you’re done with it, please hike a bigger hill just next to it. At the top you will find a mirador (viewpoint), that will give you the opportunity to look at beautiful valley beneath. The road to the top, again, is not difficult, takes around 30 minutes, and its build of rocky steps. At the top you can find a little structure and some faces sculpted in the rock. They look pretty cool. When your eyes feel satisfy with the surrounded view, you can start heading back to San Pedro for a tasty lunch to satisfy your stomach now :p

Easy guide to do Santa Ana Volcano.

  The magnificent volcano of Santa Ana is one of the top must see places in El Salvador. It is also in top five on my list of most amazing nature wonders, I have seen so far. Though, the landscape of the whole country is geologically interesting, with wonderful sandy warm pacific coast beaches and islands, the volcano will probably turn as the highlight of your trip. In this quick guide I will tell you how to rich the area yourself in nice and easy way, and why it is better not to take an organized tour.

 The Volcano, also named Ilamatepec (from Spanish), at 2,381 meters above the sea level holds the title of the highest in El Salvador. It’s located west of Coatepeque Caldera. Because it is an active one please, just in case, do check before planned arrival if its open to the public view and possible to hike. Thought, it is very unlikely not to be able to trek it, the volcano got the history of a violent eruptions. The last one, in October 2005, killed at least two people, injuring several others. It’s been reported that during the activity volcano spat rocks for over 1.5 km, and some of them were the the size of a car. Before 2005, its known that the last big one happened in 1904, so obviously  not so often, but yet still possible.

  To be able to trek you should stay for one or two nights in Santa Ana, the city just 2 hours away from San Salvador. But I understand that you may not have few spare days. The quick option, in that case, is to get a tour from San Salvador, so you will be able to do it in one day. However, if you have a time, you need to get to Santa Ana. You can catch a coach from main bus station in the capitol. Ticket can be purchased in the bus. As far as I remember, it cost me around 1$. I forgot to add that US dollar is an official currency in Salvador. Once you are in Santa Ana, you have to stay somewhere overnight, as there is only one bus that goes to the volcano side in the morning, and the return one comes at 4 in the afternoon. Not a problem at all, lucky you, this lovely town is a very touristic place. There are loads of hotels and hostels around, and mostly located by the main square that is full of markets, mercados, street food stands and restaurants. Anyway, coming back to our trip…the morning bus leaves around 7.40-8.00 am, but please check the timetable for the current time. The bus number is 248, with directions to Cerro Verde National Park, from La Vencedora terminal. Ticket is very cheap again (around 1$), and the bus will take you right to the entrance of the park, where you will have to pay to enter. So basically, you will arrive early, around 9.40-10.00. The entrance fee of 3$ is for the base camp area where you will wait, but you can buy a coffee and a small snack around while waiting. I was there alone, so a bit concerned that I will be trekking with no other tourists, but one big bus arrived just 15 minutes before 11.00 with other travelers. It was an organized trip. Once we paid (just 1$ to the guide), we were able to start. There is only one trekking session per day, and it starts at 11.00, so you will have to wait. But please be aware that it`s actually worth it, as you will be able to look around. You cant hike the volcano on your own anyway, you have no choice. Your safety is the reason for that, as you have to be assisted by the guide and one or two police man that will guard you right up to the caldera and the whole way back from the top. I’ve heard that it is because of the previous robberies that occurred in the park. I can believe that, as Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The climb is relatively easy, but remember to take a warm clothes that can withstand the wind. Its not so warm at the top. Please take snacks with you, as most of the stands with food are closed in the morning. Also the little restaurant in the base camp will be open around lunch time, so you can have a hot meal, but once you are back. Take loads of water, as hiking will take 2 hours each way. Have at least 2 liters, as you will sweat a lot, so better not to get dehydrated. Its not so difficult at the beginning. You’re are just walking trough the forest. You will be stopping at some view points to get some photos and to have a little rest, but not so often. The difficult bit starts after some time. I would say last hour is most difficult.

There is no forest anymore, so you just trek on the rocky little road. 30 minutes before finishing your hike, you will be able to smell sulfur. Once you’re on the top, you will be blown away by the beauty of the caldera. The volcanic water got an unusual intensive blue/green color, and you can see that it`s bubbling a lot. Take loads of photos. You will be given around 30 minutes there before the group will be heading back down the same way. Apart from caldera, you will have the opportunity to see a Volcano Izalco, beautiful panorama of Lake Coatepeque, Cerro Verde and, if the weather is good, the Pacific Ocean! The last one I could not see, I am afraid, but I`ve heard it is possible. It is truly breathtaking! The return bus will depart at 16.00 right from the base camp area. It will stop at the parking. The way back was very nice too, I was chatting with my broken Spanish with others, and, again, I was the only tourist there. Kind bus driver even drooped me off right by my hotel. Yes!!

  So why do I say its better to do it by yourself?

 Well, for few good reasons. First one is the fact that you will be in the bus with just locals. This is something I am always looking forward to. Everyone has been so kind to me so far, and people are always so interest in me and vice versa. Second, you will have more time to look around. Especially when back from the top. You can also have a hot meal there made by two lovely ladies. Third, not so important to me, but of course you will do it twice, if not three times, cheaper. The organized group, I mentioned before, asked me if I want to come back with them in their fancy Mercedes mini bus, as they had a spare place. I kindly said thank you, but I refused. Hehe…they were shocked a bit. I really do think it`s better to plan everything yourself, it gives you the satisfaction that you’re doing it the difficult way, however this trip is easy anyway. Example? I will always regret that I bought a tour for Machu Picchu, as I’ve had only 4 hours at the top, and that is not enough. You need the whole full day to discover Incas ancient world around that mountain. And for last, (common!) its not so complicated at all, use your head to plan sometimes!