Walking in Marrakesh

 After traveling around the Europe it was finally a time to cross the continent. I always loved Africa most, so it came to me as a natural decision to go there first. I pick Morocco, but not so sure why, as I’ve never heard much about this country before. I bought a ticket first, and then I started to plan my journey there. It was only for a week, so I can’t say it was too difficult, but I`ve had a major problem with my safety as for solo female. I remember, even the day before, when I wasn’t even sure if I will catch that fly or not. Luckily I did, and it turned to be one of my first and truly amazing visit to a new continent.

Few tips to have a peaceful stay

  So starting from the beginning, as I mentioned, I was a little bit concerned about traveling to Morocco. Well, mostly because of a general opinion, I read on the internet. That was first and the last time I was reading such a things. Of course you should always be intelligent while planning where to go, and general political knowledge about the situation in the area is essential, but that’s pretty it.

Everywhere will be dangerous if you will act stupidly. I consider Marrakesh as 100% safe place to be for solo travellers. Just remember to: appreciate and respect the culture and the people around you, whenever you are, don`t wonder alone at night in non touristic areas, and keep an eye on your belongings as of thieving. Drinking alcohol in public places is not a good idea too, nobody will arrest you, but you may upset some Moroccans, as it is forbidden in most places, especially in front of mosques. Morocco is a Muslim country (98.5% of the population), so please do wear respectfully. Don’t show too much, whether you are a female or male. Even if you will decide to wear a short skirt nobody will do anything to you, but you might be harassed from time to time. Morocco really is a safe place. Tourist police is on every corner in all main areas, and they do speak perfect English, as it is one of the requirements to become one. They are very helpful, you can always ask them about directions, or you can report any problem. They are there for you. Moroccans speak good English in general anyway, especially males, as they use it for trade, so you wont be lost in translation at all.

 

Public transport is very poor in Marrakesh, probably due to the tiny roads around. Locals just get around on motorbikes and scooter everywhere, so watch out! However, bad city communication is really not a great problem, as taxis are very cheap. I would say the price range from 3-4£ for going from the south to the north (from the airport is way more, I am afraid). But that’s if you’re in rush, walking around Marrakesh is truly a delightful experience. Seems like there is always a new astonishing thing around the corner, whether it’s a building, market or a little tea shop.

It  seems like the best idea to discover the area is just to get lost a bit and wander around. Names of the streets are in Arabic, so it’s not very helpful, but every now and then there will be a sign pointing the direction to Jemaa el-Fnaa, and from there it will be easy for you to find your way around. That is also another reason to book a hotel around that area.

  When it comes to accommodation, try to stay in the city center, called Medina. I pick a hotel just 10 meters from Jemaa el-Fnaa, probably the best place to stay. And the reason for that is because it’s the most lively, colorful area that comes to life in the evening. Its seems like Moroccans sleep all day long to enjoy the lights, atmosphere, music or just a musk of a chilly wind of night. CSC_1105.jpgAll shops are open till late, till people and tourist are still around. You will find everything you need in this maze. Thought, main food stands are way too touristic for me, as they serve the same dished in every single stand, try to look around, especially in small streets. The food is more traditional, way more delicious, and its likely that you will sit with locals. During the day time try to always eat on the roof, most of the restaurants in the center got one. The view on High Atlas range is just exceptional with the unique city architecture, palm trees and Mosques. That will change your meal time to majestic and magnificent experience. Don’t look for alcohol, they don’t sell it anywhere there….sorry.

  If you love shopping then you are in the right place. I truly hate doing that back home, but even there I could walk around markets for hours! Everything is astonishing and very unique: clothes, shoes, hats, bags, tea pots, food dishes…just everything. I think, I will have to especially highlight bags.

The quality is incredible, with the big range from very small ones to very big. You can be sure that if you will get one, it will be outstanding back home, whenever you’re from. It was also the only place, so far, I have seen so many spices to buy around. I bought loads of them, especially saffron as It’s very cheap there. If I only knew before, I would arrive there with an empty bag, to be able to carry all that back home. Oh, I almost forgot to mention how important is to negotiate the price. Whatever you will hear, you have to divide in three and start, maybe even in four… especially when it comes to silver. If you see that the seller is loosing an interest, when you’re suggesting a very low price, higher it a bit. You both will always come to a good agreement.

  At the end, just quickly, I want to mention that Marrakesh, thought touched by a mass, booming tourism now, is still managing to keep their truly Moroccan spirit. Culture is present everywhere. It felt like in Bolivia for me, where people still proudly wear their traditional clothes, selling them in the shops, instead of going for more modern and commercial ones. I loved the fact that they do enjoy Medina a lot too. You can really see that. When there is someone singing, playing an instrument or just doing a fire show, locals are all around. Well, the only thing I did not like was when pushy sellers were all over you, but please note that you can just say no, walk away, it really isn’t a great problem. Mostly they were very nice and helpful. I did visit many countries, but I really don’t have loads on my list I want to visit again. Marrakesh is definitely one of them. So what are you waiting for? Check the flight now and book!

That very western city with a great twist. 3 days in Panama City

 Nova-days travelling and backpacking style breaks out of the old frame of commercial accommodations as non-alternative places to stay. Couch surfing gets more and more popular among, not even always young, travellers. There are loads of other options too. On a farm, while working, in own tenth, loads… That is how Panama came for me too, as a little sample of that new popular way. Though, maybe not so obvious, luckily, I got invited to stay at my friend’s house in Panama City. Yes, kind Clari, my friend I have met on a scent of Machu Picchu in Peru, took me for few days under her wings to provide me with a real Panamanian hospitality, and to show me this stunning modern capital of small, however packed with beauty, country. That what traveling is all about for me: discovering world wonders and meeting great people. Clari, as Panamanian born and raised, became to be the best guide to show me around. Apart from a good time with a friend, I was able to discover all the hidden secrets of this magnificent city. The city filled by tropical nature and surrounded with a skyline bigger than Miami, but at the same time still full of history to learn about. I am aware that Panama City is globally mostly famous for its canal, but there is still so many things to do and see while there. So what are these things?


Fish Market

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  I guess it is odd to start with the Fish Market as a first of the sight-seen, but apart from the big range of fresh and delicious sea food you will be able to spot the amazing panorama of the city from there. It can be as a good start. Market is located by the cost, very close to the Casco Viejo area, which makes it a very popular place to sit, eat and chill, especially in the evening, for locals and tourists. You can taste loads of cocktails made from all different ingredients. You can pick the ready one or just create your own. You might think it`s a bit pricey, but I have been told that all the stands offer the freshest, best sea food in Panama. 

Casco Viejo

  Casco Viejo, located in the center of Panama City, brings back the history and spirit from past centuries to this modern city. It is an old town dated back to 1673, after the original town of Panama Viejo got destroyed during the pirate attack. After some time it got left out when the modern trade-style era arrived to Panama City, among with the skyline architecture. Casco Viejo got renew a century ago, when Panamanian decided to bring back some history to this Miami-like city and restore the buildings around there. The location of this Spanish colonial quarter can be easily named as most cultural place now. The narrow streets of the place stands as foundation for many churches (some even 300 years old), squares, colonial buildings and statues. you can just go to wander around with no map, and you will find something magnificent on very corner. The area is full of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. The last ones, I mentioned, are usually very crowded at night, as Casco Viejo is a popular destination for night life lovers. Actually, that would be my suggestion, to visit this place late afternoon to get a good look at architecture around, and in the evening to spot the panorama of bright lights, flashing from the great sky line building on the other side.

Panama Canal

   I have noticed that Panamanian are very proud of the canal. Almost seems like they think Panama holds the key to the one of the most important water gates in the world. Canal, that is a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and North and South America, dates back to 1515. It is worth to see it, but I don`t feel like you have to get inside to see the presentation, movie and museum. I did, but it definitely wasn’t my highlight. You can just see it from outside and that should be fine. The entrance fee is 15$.

Panamá Viejo

   Panamá Viejo, as a remaining part of the old Panama City and former capital of the country, is located at the edge of the modern city. Its been named as a World Heritage Site since 1997. You can see there structures dated back to 1519. Well worth to discover and entrance fee starts at 6$.

Mi Pueblito

  Good glimpse of the various Panamanian cultures & traditions. This site is a collection of housing and artifact replicas of the various cultures (old and modern) of Panama. While simple, it gives you a good idea that this relatively small country is formed by various ethnicity and traditions that survive to this date. The entry fee for foreigners is 3$ USD and you get a free guide (optional), 1$ for locals.

Ancon Hill

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  A hill in the heart of Panama City from where you can seen the wonderful panorama that include the canal, modern skyline and old Casco Viejo. Climbing is relatively easy and should take around 2 h, there’s no entrance fees. Apart from diverse panorama you will get surrounded by, you can see or read about loads of rare species of animals, that lives only there.

Avenida Balboa

   The avenue stands as a major financial district for Panama and the rest of Central America. Best known as one of the most expensive roads in the world, It is home to several very high building and points of interest including. The skyline at night is particularly beautiful as it is illuminated with the lights from these tall buildings.

Finding some peace in Pokhara

 Arriving, even trough a tiny roads between Himalayas and wild rivers, from a busy streets of Kathmandu to a calm and peaceful Pokhara almost seemed like a way to nirvana for me. You can find there everything that`s missing from the capital. Not overcrowded streets are surrounded by a beautiful mountain range with deadly Annapurna looking at you from every single corner, yet seems like she gives your mind a great piece of a rest.

  Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of the capital. Could be a surprising fact to learn that by occupying the area of 464.24 km2 this city stands as larger than Kathmandu, 18 times larger than Lalitpur and 2.5 times larger than Bharatpur. Because of its popularity and it​s touristic nature, as of many available activities to choose from, this area is packed with hotels, hostel, restaurants, travel agencies, and anything visitors really need. It’s well known mostly as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the Himalayas to hike. However, when it comes to the city, it is not only about the highest mountain range in the world. Pokhara`s landscape consist of a beautiful and the second largest lake of Nepal, called Phewa, with clear green waters that is an absolutely stunning thing to enjoy. On a sunny day when the sky is clear, you can even see surrounded range as a reflection on a smooth surface of the lake. Inviting waters, apart from being the main resource for fishing, offers load of activities from kayaking to just lazy ride on the boat through the lake. Or how about just simple walk around where you can sit and enjoy in one of restaurants, coffee shop or a smoothie making stands. That could be an option as well, wouldn`t it? This seems like a popular thing to do, as there are always loads of tourists along with locals around the shore too.

Cycling around the area, even up to the top of the Sarangkot, seems like a very popular activity. Alternatively, you can hire a scooter or motorbike to discover the area a bit further and see more lakes, as name “Pokhara” means the valley of the lakes itself (derived from “Pokhari” which literally means a lake). There are eight of them in total. Apart from the most popular inside the valley, previously mentioned Phewa, others are: Begnas, Rupa, Maidi, Khaste, Gunde, Dipang and Kamal Pokhari. Phewa, Begnas and Rupa are definitely three lakes worth visiting. Apart from beautiful calm surface of them, surely is wort experiencing a wilder nature of waters as rivers and waterfalls, which Pokara is famous for. The Seti River is much popular among the tourists. It runs through deep channels in the conglomerate rocks from Bagar to Sita Paila, and in some places it flows through the narrow gorge. Going through by the river sides below the hills, we can see several beautiful and dashing waters falling downhill and finally flowing to the rivers. You can even enjoy them just by passing the highway to Baglung that consist few of them on the way. The city itself also has a beautiful waterfall, and it is known as Davis Fall (In Nepali: Patale chango).

It truly is a breath-taking experience just looking at the Davis Fall in ChorrepatanThe water flowing in this fall comes from Fewa lake, and the fall is worth visiting during the rainy seasons as it possesses its maximum velocity. But lets not get stuck there for too long, there is way more to see around. Absolutely magnificent cave is just two minutes walk from there. Basically the whole Pokhara valley is rich in cave system, and it almost seems like a vision of a city hidden under the ground. Mahendra Cave, for example, is located in the city of Pokhara and can be easily accessed by the visitors in just walking distance (few kilometers), taxi ride or just by public buses. It is named after the late king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. The cave itself is amazing and you can witness many natural shapes and images of the various Hindu gods and goddesses on the stone made of the lime. Literally just a ten minutes walk from this cave there lies another one named the Bat Cave. In Nepali language it is also called Chameri Gufa. You can guess correctly who residence inside, the name suggests it well. It is called after the habitats of the bats over the cave’s wall and the ceilings. Above all caves you can find a dense forest with a stream flows, ending as a sparkling waterfall tumbling into a mysteriously hidden world of darkness. In total Pokhara is renowned for ten mystical caves. Nevertheless, right now, only nine of the caves can be visited as the Eastern Power Station cave has been badly damaged and buried, as it is under a huge landslide, leaving its beauty only for few lucky one.

  Near by Sarangkot hill is a must hike place as well. It is very popular to cycle or just walk all the way up, however, bus, taxi and scooter is an option too. Once there, you can enjoy absolutely outstanding panorama of the surrounded valley underneath and the magnificent view of the mountains. In to the northern direction we can see Dhaulagiri in the far west. Annapurna range is visible when the weather is clear on the same side. On the southern direction the village overlooks the city of Pokhara and its lake on the north-western outskirts of the city. Sarangkot is only 5 km from lake side, Pokhara, and is the highest view-point for a sunrise at just 1592 m high, but the temperature drops already 5 degrees cooler than the city. The hill can be done easily by 45 minutes car ride to the top from Pokhara and then 45 minutes hike up to the main view-point. Many tourists come to Sarangkot for sunrise view and go back after few hours, but it will be good if you will get a chance to stay there for one night and enjoy the way city light outshine from there. Paragliding is a very popular activity that can be done from that area too. You can book that at one of many agents in Pokhara, or one at the top. 

Paragliding is a good way to start with when it comes to more adventurous side of this area. The city offers everything from ultralight flying, skydiving and ziplining to a bungee jumping, developing a complete holiday package for a perfect vacation to all kind of tourists. But there is a last, but not least, thing worth mentioning. Remember to also visit the old side of the city where you will be able to experience and feel cultural side of Nepal along with all old temples, statues and buildings around. Old Town is a real treat for the people who love to discover a new place from its roots and history. Best explored on foot, Old Town in Pokhara offers an unmatched view of the new parts of the city in the morning, before the traffic and daily chores take over the landscape. Once there, you will come across a marketplace selling locally produced items; Bhimsen Temple, an old shrine dedicated to the Newari god of trade and commerce with Bindhya Basini Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga. You can find a good range of delicious street food as well. Its is a place to observe locals on a daily life too, getting on their daily routine. Thought, not so overcrowded as Kathmandu, you will meet loads of Nepalese to chat to, talk to. You wont be disappointed with the way they will interact towards you.

  At the end I would like to mention that I arrived to Pokhara from Kathmandu, where I was during the earthquake. I spend 48 hours at the ground, sleepless, wet, tired. I did not only found a peace, but a shelter. I felt safe there, as aftershocks were hardly noticeable, and the whole city did not get damaged as a capital. It will always stay as a very special place for me. But for you guys, I think it enough to know that it is a magical, adventurous place you just can not miss while in Nepal!

Guide on Lisbon with entrance fesses and directions (March 2019)

  This time spearing you some hassle to read, and me some trouble to write, a brief description about Lisbon to start with, I will take you straight to must see places once in this very capital of Portugal. Thought, there are many free tours available to pick, with a schedule offering almost any possible time and many places to start from, somehow there are travellers, like myself, who always prefer to do everything alone in their own time. This kind of a “extremely social and normal” group of people, again like myself, may find my guide useful. If you are planning on spending some time there and visit loads of places, I would suggest getting a Lisboa Card that can get you a free admission to many places, along with free use of Lisbon’s metro, buses, and trams. Anyway, so what is worth seeing in Lisbon then?

  • Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

    This imperious 15th-century Manueline monastery was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s “discovery” of India. It is also his resting place. The main attraction is the delicate Gothic chapel that opens up on to a grand monastery, in which some of Portugal’s greatest historical figures are entombed. 

    Address: Praça do Império, Belem. You can take a tram 15 from the city center.

    Entrance fee: 10€.

    Free on the 1st Sunday of each month and with Lisboa Card. For kids under 12 years old. Sunday and Holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – All citizens residing in national territory (ID required).

    Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Museu Nacional de Arqueologia: 12€. Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Torre de Belém + Museu Naciona de Arqueologia + Museu de Arte Popular + Museu Nacional de Etnologia + Museu dos Coches: 25€.

    Special discounts: Visitors aged 65 and older (proof of age must be shown): 50% discount. Family ticket: 2 adults + minimum 2 kids (age 13-18, documental evidence required)  50% discount. “Youth Card”: 50% discount. Student Card: 50% discount

 Open 10AM-5.30PM (Oct.-April), 10AM-6.30PM (May-Sept.). Closed Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December.

  • A monument to sea exploration

    The 50 meters high Padrão dos Descobrimentos (seen under) was built to mark 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death – one of Portugal’s greatest sailor. You can also get a nice view of the mouth of the River Tagus. 

    Address: Avenida de Brasilia, Belem. Accessible by tram number 15 from the city center.

    Entrance fee: free

    Open: 10AM-6PM (closed Mondays).

  • Torre de Belém

    UNESCO world heritage site and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. Perhaps a great suggestion to start with. Very close to the city center and harbour, Gothic towers dates back to 1500. It is very close to Jeronimos Monastery, just further to the west.

    Address: Belém Tower, Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, you can take a tram 15 from the center.

    Entrance fee: 6€ or free with the Lisboa Card. Jerónimos Monastery/Tower of Belém: 12€.

    Special discounts: Visitors aged 65 and older (proof of age must be shown): 50% discount. Family ticket: 2 adults + minimum 2 kids (age 13-18, documental evidence required)  50% discount. “Youth Card”: 50% discount. Student Card: 50%

    Free on Sunday and Holidays from 10.00-14.00 for all citizens residing in national territory (ID required) and for kids under 12 years old. 

Open 10AM-5.30PM (Oct.-April), 10AM-6.30PM (May-Sept.). Closed Mondays and 1      January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December

  • Castelo de São Jorge

    Towering dramatically above Lisbon, the mid-11th-century hilltop fortifications of Castelo de São Jorge sneak into almost every snapshot. Roam its snaking ramparts and pine-shaded courtyards for superlative views over the city’s red rooftops to the river.

    Address: Castelo de S. Jorge 1100º 129 Lisboa. The nearest metro station is Rossio (Green Metro Line), but involves a 20 minute walk. Mini bus service 37 goes directly to the main entrance, while the tram 28 is more enjoyable option, but also does require a slight walk.

    Entrance fee: 8.50€/5.00€/20.00€ adult/child/family.

    Open: 09:00AM to 09:00PM (from March to October) and 09:00AM to 06:00PM (from November to February).

  • Take a tram 28

    The Remodelado trams were built in the 1930s, and I do recommend the very pretty Tram 28 route. You can jump off and explore one of the passing neighborhoods, or use it as a way to get up the steep hills. Highly recommended to do so, to explore the city. The route screeches through the hills of Alfama before passing through downtown Baixa and on to the Estrela basilica.

    Entrance fee: Single ticket for this 40 minute tour of Lisbon costs now 2.85€ whether you buy from the driver or ticket machine.DSC_052.jpg

  • Elevador de Santa Justa: An Antique Elevator With City Views

    A very odd-looking Santa Justa Lift, a neo-Gothic elevator and the most eccentric and novel means of public transport in the city, creates a very interesting panorama next to surrounded buildings. It was built as a means of connecting the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, a trendy area of the city. At first glance, its riveted wrought-iron frame and battleship-grey paint conjure images of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and there is a connection: the French architect Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, designed the elevator, which was inaugurated in 1901.

    Address: south east of Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio Square) in the Baixa district and the closest metro station is Rossio. In the city center.

    Entrance fee: A return ride cost €5.15 and included in the fare is the entrance to the viewing platform, which costs €1.50. Ride on the lift is included in the 24-hour public transport ticket that cost €6.30 and can be purchased from any metro station.

    Open: 7:30 and 23:00h (7:30-21:00 winter).

  • Main square in the city is Praça do Comércio 

    The main square in the city is Praça do Comércio, a lively place with restaurants on both sides.

  • Cool down on the beautiful beach in Cascais

    Close by Cascais can be a perfect place for a break from the busy streets of the city. The beach in very beautiful and it is only 30 minutes away from Lisbon, so could be a perfect one day trip to rest, swim, get a sunbath and just relax.

    Train ticket: A single ticket from Lisbon to Cascais costs €2.25/€1.15 (adult/child). There are no return tickets so the price of a return would be €4.50/€2.30 (two single tickets).

    During daylight hours there is a departure every 20 minutes. The first train departs at 5.30 from the main train station (Cais do Sodre). The last trains of the night depart from both Cascais and Lisbon at 0:30am, 1:00am and 1:30am. Here is a current timetable.

  • Sé: Lisbon’s Imposing Cathedral

    Cathedral is a wonderful ancient complex that is steeped in history and no holiday to Lisbon is complete without visiting this magnificent monument.DSC_0553.jpg

    Address: Sé Lisbon is situated on the main road from Baixa to Alfama. The nearest metro station is Rossio (Green Metro Line) but involves a 20 minute walk. Mini bus service 37 goes directly to the main entrance, while the tram 28 is more enjoyable option but does require a slight walk.

    Entrance The religious sections of the cathedral is free to visit. The cloisters: 2.50€/1.00€ (adult/child).

    Open: 7:00AM until the evening mass, held in Portuguese, at 07:00PM. The cloisters are open every day from 10:00 to 17:00

  • Take the Lavra funicular to Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara as 2 in 1

    This is one of the most attractive viewpoints, with a pleasant garden and the castle standing on the opposite side. It is especially beautiful at night when the city is lit up below. Best to take the iconic Lavra funicular to climb up the hill of mirador.

    Address: Largo da Anunciada – Rua Câmara Pestana for Lavra funicular, then the viewpoint is just on a right hand side.

    Entrance fee: A one-way ticket cost €4 (€2 for children from 4 to 10 years old) with a return costing €5.40 (€3 for children).

    Open: 07:00-22:45, every day except Sunday, when the opening time is 09:00.

     

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 Valle 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

Convincing photos to choose an organized trip from San Pedro to Uyuni

  If you are still thinking whether you should cross the border between Chile and Bolivia yourself, please stop right now! Magnificent Salar de Uyuni is a must see place while in Bolivia or in northern part of the Chile. Tourists usually do visit this absolutely stunning and unique place from Uyuni, the town in Bolivia, or from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is not so difficult to get to salt flats without any guide, but tour agencies, that can be found in many towns all around, came up with a wonderful 3 or 4 days tours that include Salar de Uyuni, as number one attraction, along with many more wonderful places that you can see only with a guide and by 4×4. Dry salty area, as a highlight, will become just like an addition next. Salar de Uyuni will get overshadowed by beautiful lagoons, geysers, deserts, volcanoes, truly remote villages, you will spend a night in (including a hotel made of salt), and interesting rock formations. It is one of the most bizarre and beautiful places in the world you just can not miss, especially while so close to it. Paying only 180$ (inc everything as accommodation, all meals, guide, 4×4 transport) for a 3 days tour is just a bargain we have to grab. Unluckily, I have lost loads of my photos from the trip, but I hope the remaining ones will be convincing enough for you to book this trip.

Photo-guide on best places to visit in Marrakesh

  As many flavours and spices are available in Marrakesh, as many things to see are there and around. Its just booming with richness of culture present on every corner, almost aggressively attacking your eyes, and dragging in to it, and that should be considered definitely as a positive. So if you have  a good week of staying in, you should definitely have a loads of time to discover all, and maybe even to buy a trip or two to see mountains or desert. Tours can take you to many interesting places in Morocco at very affordable prices. I bought one to see three waterfalls in High Atlas Mountains and one to see the desert. I am afraid, I don’t have a current prices, but when I was there in Nov 2014, I  paid around 25£ each. Well worth it. They both were for one day. There is loads of travel agents around to reserved your place, and they will usually pick you up from the place you`re staying or from agreed place close by. But coming back to our wonderful Marrakesh, apart from organised trips, it`s definitely worth to see:15795340395_c814a9b319_o

  • MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF

It’s an Islamic college where pious clever clogs once came to study the Koran. These lucky scholars were able to look up from their manuscripts and see a physical glorification of God, with spellbinding patterns wrought in tiny mosaic tiles and carved cedar wood.

  • MARRAKESH MUSEUM

This museum is a window into Moroccan history through its collection of coins, pottery, jewellery, weapons and artwork.

  •  JARDIN MAJORELLE

Visit the stunning colourful garden, also known as Villa Oasis, to see a botanical paradise of flora and fauna with cute small turtles around.

  • EXPLORE THE RUINS OF EL BADI PALACE

The ancient ruins of the 16th century El Badi Palace that represent the wide courtyard and rock formations.

  • JEMAA EL-FNAA

A must see, must buy something there, must eat there place. Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the main square and the loud maze of traditional souks, narrow streets and amazing food.

  •  BAHIA PALACE

The Bahia Palace is both a palace and a set of gardens situated in the medina of Marrakech, just along the northern edge of Mellah, also known as the Jewish Quarter. While the exact dates for the construction of this palace are not known, records indicate that it was commissioned between 1859 and 1873. It was completed in 1900.qa.jpg

  • MEDINA

Wonder and just get lost in the city center area through a tiny streets full of cafes, shops, restaurants. You can do shopping, try tasty traditional meal, have a henna tattoo and many many more experiences. It really is a delightful place. Especially magic at night.

Backpacking South America, my route, total cost and few tips

It took me 4 months to save money and to plan my backpacking trip around South America. Being busy earning cash for my travel, I was also occupied thinking about packing, researching visas issues, planning my route and budget. It really is not so complicated, but it was my first backpacking trip in my life, and I did not have any friends that done it before, who could help me with some tips, to share some experience. I had to heavily rely on internet info and other blog posts to prepare. Yet, I still think there is not that much information about it. Here, I will share with you some knowledge about places I have visited, how I was getting from A to B, my budget, packing and some other tips.

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Planning your route 

I have to admit that I am very proud of my path. I have visited all major attractions (like Iguazu Falls, Atacama Desert, Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu, Titicaca Lake, Dead Road), and I stayed in really amazing places. The only thing I haven’t seen was Angels Falls, as my plane from Bogotá to Caracas, in Venezuela, got cancelled, so I decided just to skip this one. Now, I am thinking that I shouldn’t. Venezuela is truly beautiful, and you can see Amazon from there as well. Basically, I did not plan my whole way around SA back home. I did only think that I will try to visit all countries on this continent, and I set major things I want to see, then I was building my expected way around these places. I think I did well at the end, as I saw 9 countries in total. I booked my hostels/hotels only in 3 first locations, and I planed my route only in the country I started from, Brazil. Then after everything was natural, I was planning my way on weekly basis, changing my mind from time to time. Everything turned out pretty well, and I do highly recommend to fallow my way, but not staying as long in Florianopolis, Santiago and Montanita, as you can add some extra locations to your trip, in Paraguay for example, or just adding Venezuela at the end. I think 6 days is an absolute maximum to stay in one place.

Please note, that real-life vikitravel can be found in every hostel`s kitchen, since there is loads of other backpackers to share their experience and recommend great places to see. Always worth listen and talking to them!

Brazil: Sao Paulo (3 nights) – Florianopolis (8 nights) – Foz do Iguaçu (4 nights) – Paraguay: Ciudad del Este (1 day) – Argentina: Buenos Aires (6 nights) – Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento (1 day) – Argentina: Mendoza (2 nights) – Chile: Santiago (11 nights) – Valparaiso (1 day) – Vina del Mar (1 day) – San Pedro de Atacama (6 nights) – Bolivia: 3 days trip via desert from San Pedro to Uyuni – Uyuni (3 nights) – Potosi (6 nights) – Sucre (6 nights) – Cochabamba (3 nights) – La Paz (4 nights) – Copacabana (2 nights) – Peru: Puno (3 nights) – Cuzco (4 nights) – Aquas Qalientes, Machu Picchu ( 1 night) – Cuzco (2 nights) – Lima (3 nights) – Mancora (6 nights) – Ecuador: Guayaquil (1 night) – Montanita (10 nights) – Banos (4 nights) – Quito (3 nights) – Colombia: Cali (6 nights) – Bogota (7 nights).

Transport

I traveled around South America only by bus. Just once I used a ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. There are loads of bus companies to choose from in every single country, offering different comfort (except in Bolivia) from normal to fully recline chairs with hot meals served onboard. Mostly possible to book online in advance, again, except Bolivia. Flying is very expensive and a bit pointless while backpacking. Train is an option too, especially now is getting more and more popular, but since I have not used it even once, I can not advise you on this service. I found this blog to be very useful for people who want to travel by train. For bus prices in each country you can have a look at my other post here. Regarding buses, they are very comfortable, except Bolivia (most amazing country anyway), and mostly affordable, except Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

I am afraid missing bags from the storage space under the bus are very common, thought nothing like that happened to me, other travelers, I have met, experienced it. There is nothing you can do about it, just hope that it wont happened to you. Always keep all valuable stuff in a small bag pack with you in the bus, try not to have expensive gear, clothes and shoes, not to miss it too much, just in case.

Border crossing

As a Polish nation, I do not need any visa for any country in South America. There is no fee to pay too, not even a tax (that you pay sometimes in Central America). That is for most of the European countries, even England, Germany and France. Border crossing was always nice and smooth for me, with no any hassle, trouble or any major issues. Actually, border personnel was always extra nice and very interested in me, probably due to the fact that not so many polish people travel in that part of the world. Blond hair and green eyes helped too, I guess. Just queuing for the stamp out/stamp in was annoying sometimes (especially at night). Please note that basic Spanish is essential, as they may ask where you are going to stay, or what is your occupation. It can be also a great time to eat, as there are always loads of food stands around to choose from (not between Mendoza, Argentina-Santiago, Chile). Bus driver always wait for everyone and count passengers to be sure all are in, before continuing journey, unless he doesn’t give a damn about it..nah joking, usually he does. Don`t try to smuggle anything, sniffing dogs are present at every border, and in Colombia, even on any route to stop the bus and search bags and passengers. Thought, I did not have any problems at the border, I’ve heard some stories from male travelers that were experiencing some problems, or being asked to pay a fee, that, of course, wasn’t required.

Budget

For the 4 months of traveling, excluding flying to this continent from Europe, I have spent approx 6.800$, that including everything, staying 70% of the time in hostels, rest in hotels, all the bus travel, food, trips, activities, tickets, parties, clothes, souvenirs…. Please keep checking fly4free website for cheap deals on flights to South America. I bought mine from Belgium to Sao Paulo in Brazil with return for 650$, but can get even cheaper than that. Here is my other blog post, where I look in to prices of each country with estimated daily budget.

Health insurance

Absolutely essential and one of the most important things before traveling. Can be easily purchase online, and is very affordable. You can buy it just day before your departure, and the price will be still the same. If you are not planning anything like surfing, winter-sports, just buy the cheapest one to cover medical bills. Otherwise, if you have some crazy plans, read what your insurance will cover, trust me, I am a lawyer. No point to buy an extra option for electronic losses (phones, tablets, laptops..etc), unless, of course, it is a very good and expensive policy. My friend had her staff covered, and after being theft from her expensive Nikon camera, got 35$ as of insurance for it! Medical cover is the most essential one for a backpacker. I bought mine for around 120$ for 6 months of my travel.

Safety

Just go. Safety is your last thing to worry about before backpacking. People are mostly travel alone now anyway, especially in South America. It is a very safe place, even for solo females, like myself. Just be intelligent and don’t act stupidly (walking alone at night, going out with strangers….etc).

Apps

Maps.me is the most important application. Please don’t take a fancy phone with you, unless you can afford losing it, but good smart phone that runs this app smoothly is essential. Old samsung s series are probably the best. I say it, as I was robbed in Chile, losing my camera, tablet and good glasses, so I experienced it myself. Coming back to maps.me, it is an application that allows you to store and later use maps without wifi. You will be even able to use navigation that will show you your location and directions (no wifi needed, as it runs on GPS). I have to say, I was impresses, as GPS was working for me even high in Bolivian mountains, just almost everywhere, and always in cities and town. Apart from street names, there are almost all hostels, hotels, shops, places of interest, all public offices (post office, police, etc). You gonna use it a lot, like I did. App is free of charge.

Other app I used was booking.com, but please note, booking in advance is more expensive than just good old way of turning at the hostel doors and checking in.

Flickr app is great too. It upload all your photos from your phone automatically (once connected to the internet, just turning the app on), so you are avoiding losing them with your phone. Free app again, but just need to create an account (that is free too).

Kindle/ebook/app to read ebooks is essential for every book lover, like myself.

Packing

Hmm, it is a very good question. I can just give you a few tips, I found to be useful during all my backpacking trips:

  • Less is more! First and most important. Do not take much with you, take half what you are planning in the first place. Clothes are very cheap in South America, especially in Bolivia and Colombia, and by buying them you are getting an amazing souvenir too. Something special in your wardrobe, trust me. I had an umbrella, but haven’t used it even once, so pointless to take. Shoes: funny story, as planning loads of hiking, especially in Bolivia and Peru, I bought and took very expensive Timberlands – throw them to the bin already in Brazil and was just wearing converse (for all my hiking, at the beach, on snow, salt, swamps, deserts….). 2 pairs are max to take.
  • Good light waterproof jacket and cover for backpack is a must. Here, I really love The North Face jackets, they just wont let you get wet!!
  • For girls: hairdryer is not needed, but you may want to use it in Bolivia sometimes, as of a cold temperature. Still, not worth taking it with you, there are always females around to borrow one, if needed.
  • Nova-days, we just can’t live without our smartphones, so it is very important to have an extension for the socket, as in many hostels they are far away from your bed.
  • Don`t try to save money buying a cheap backpack. It is one of the most important things and your home for next months. It will be on your back for many many hours, so very good, comfortable straps are essential. It really needs to be a top quality one. I bought a cheap one, had to sewn it many times, and I’ve had wounds on my shoulders from a very bad straps. Trust me, hurt a lot! Before my next backpacking trip I bought a good one and that made a big difference.
  • Apart from the shoes, I binned quickly, Lonely Planet book on South America got left in my third hotel, simply because I didn’t want to carry such a heavy guide-book, since everything I needed was online. Maybe for people staying in tents, when internet connection is not always available, might be helpful, but otherwise you will be just fine with your smart phone.

Injections

It is wildly required (according to an official info) to have a yellow fever injection and a proof of it! There are 5 more you may want to take. I did all of them, and I’ve had a little book to prove my yellow fever one. I read that you wont be able to enter without it (YF). However, in reality nobody checked it at the border…nobody, even once. But better to take them, just in case and for the peace of your mind.

Last tips

  • Please, wherever you are flying to, don`t stay just one night in your first location. Your body needs to rest after a long fly and adapt to the new climate. It took me 4 days when I landed in Brazil in November from a cold Europe.
  •  I`ve had 50 Euros always in my purse, just in case. Cash machine is not always available. US Dollars are good too.
  • When it comes to thieving and robberies, South America is a leader. Please, always keep an eye on your valuables. Do not keep your backpack behind, always on one arm on the side or on your chest. I was also tightening straps from the zip together.
  • Don`t drink a tab water anywhere, unless it’s confirmed by staff in hotel/hostel or by sigh close to the tap.
  • Planning to buy outstanding sweater, cardigan? Leave it for Bolivia and Peru! Best quality (especially alpaca`s wool) and price.
  • Try to, if possible, have two different types of your cards. I`ve had a Visa and MasterCard, and I found that sometime just first one worked, sometimes second. My MasterCard (credit card) was definitely more acceptable. 
  • Your passport and your wallet is your main priority! Never leave it alone, even in a locker in hostel! You don`t even realize how easy is to open it for professional. I got robbed this way in Santiago, in Chile.
  • Before departure, I gave my mother copy of my passport, insurance, injections I took, all pin numbers and account details, just in case and for peace of my mind. Please do so as well, leave it with someone you trust and memorize phone number, you newer know what might happen.
  • Take 2 types (thin and thick) of padlock. Some lockers got a thin holes (to use smaller one). Don`t worry if you will forget, they are widely available to purchase almost everywhere, along with socket extensions and adapters.
  • Do not panic if there is an error in a cash machine, it may not be your card, but machine might be just empty. It really is a common problem. I remember, in Buenos Aires, I’ve had to try 6 of them, before finding one with money in it.
  • As a budget backpacker, always check general prices in each country. You can have a look here too. A very expensive trip on Amazon trough a rain forest from Brazil might be very cheap from Bolivia, Colombia or Venezuela.