When we started planning our trip to Morocco, my friend said to me: We need more nature and more hiking on this trip. Well, the highest mountain in North Africa is luckily located in Morocco. Since there were expeditions of a few days combined with stays in the Sahara, we jumped at the occasion. Let me tell you we had no idea what we were getting into, but I'm glad we did it. As John Green wrote in Paper Towns: "If we don't die, this is gonna be one hell of a story". Well, here is the story!
To start, let me tell you a little bit more about the tour we had booked. We purchased a five days, four nights expedition out of Marrakech with a group from two to twelve people. Since there were already two of us, we knew for sure the expedition would not be cancelled even though we were visiting in October, during low season. We were to spend two days on the Toubkal, two days in the gorges on the way to the Sahara, one night in the desert in Merzouga and then one day on the road back to Marrakech. We had seen some longer treks up the Toubkal during our research, but since we had a limited time in Morocco, we decided on the shorter hike that would still take us to the top. We ended up being the only ones in our group. Although there were other people on the mountain, we were by ourselves with a guide and chef/person that leads the mule up the mountain.
The day of our departure for the Atlas, I woke up to see my friend had an eye infection. Her eye was barely opening and bright red. Not the best way to start a two day trekking journey up the highest peak in North Africa, but she decided she still wanted to go and would just put some cold water on it and wait after the hike to see if she needed medical attention. So a driver came to pick us up at the riad where we were staying in Marrakech and drove us to the small village of Imlil, about au hour away from Marrakech. In Imlil, we were greeted by Jamal, the owner of the company we booked the tour with, who explained the road up the mountain and the different steps of our journey. He introduced us to Mohamed, our guide, and Abdou, the chef. After the traditional mint tea, we were grabbing our backpacks and starting our ascension to the top of Toubkal.
On the first day, we were to climb 11 km to the Base Camp, also called "Les Mouflons", at 3207m of altitude, where we would spend the night. At first, it was a walk in the park. We were slowly going up and the view on the mountains and the little villages was beautiful. We stoped after about an hour and a half to take a sip of water and enjoy the view. After about three hours, we stoped for lunch at a little hut where we ate on the balcony in the sun. There was a Tajine of course, but also different cheeses, some traditional bread, vegetables and fruits. Everything was delicious and we had to stop ourselves from eating too much.
After lunch, we still had a way to go to get to base camp and, honestly, I was getting tired. We kept going up on a rocky path and I guess the altitude was starting to get to me as every step felt so hard. From the moment we first saw the camp, which is a huge building built out of rocks, it felt like it took a whole hour to get there. But we finally made it and were able to talk to other hikers and sit down to relax with a nice cup of mint tea before dinner. I was so tired that I was barely able to eat some fruit and some bread that night. The moment the sun set, I was ready to go to bed!
Unfortunately, I didn't have a restful night. With the time difference between Canada and Morocco (this was our second night in Morocco after landing the day before) I had trouble falling asleep. It was also pretty cold in the camp and the beds were giant structures that went the whole way along the wall, which meant we were sleeping in the same bed as a dozen strangers. Nothing to help you get a good night of sleep.
I had barely fallen asleep when Mohamed came to wake us up at 2 AM. We wanted to make it to the summit for the sunrise, which meant a very early morning start. Luckily for me, even after no sleep at all, I felt energized after the delicious breakfast.
When we stepped out the door, we were gobsmacked by the view. First, it had snowed during the evening and everything was covered by a thin blanket of white dust. Being from Canada, that's not what impressed us though. There were absolutely no clouds and no light pollution and we could see the stars. Now, I know what you are thinking: young lady, you can see the stars from anywhere on a clear day, what's the big deal? Here is my answer: you have never seen the stars like this! There were thousands of them and we could see them so clearly! Being so high up in the mountains, it felt like we were surrounded by stars. I can't even describe it correctly, but even in National Parks I had never seen a view like this one and I haven't seen anything like it since. I wish I had a good picture, but we didn't think to take one and, even then, it would never do it justice.
We started making our way to the summit, across rivers and over boulders. My friend was having some difficulties with the altitude, but compared to the day before, I felt absolutely fine. Now, there is one thing I was not expecting. We had been told that it would be about 0 degrees Celsius on top of Toubkal and we had expected it to be a little colder until the sun came up. We both had a coat (although not a Canadian winter coat), long pants, gloves and a hat and it was fine at the beginning, but after a while, the wind came up and it had to be at least negative 15 degrees. At least! It was freezing! And let me repeat, we are from Quebec City, the temperature can go down to negative forty in January and I am still alive to talk about it. We are used to cold weather. This was whatever comes after cold! But we had made it this far, so we pushed through and kept going. On the way up, you reach a point where you have to wear crampons over your boots as it is snowy and icy and slippery. You have to watch your step and, every step you make, you slip down halfway. After hiking for hours, we finally reached a plateau where we could see the sunrise. I would love to say, at that moment, that the whole struggle felt worth it, but to be honest, I couldn't feel anything. I was completely frozen and, although the view was absolutely, ridiculously, beautiful, I couldn't appreciate it at the time. My friend was a few minutes behind me and when she made it up to where I had stoped to watch the sun rise over the horizon, I could see on her face that she thought the same thing. But we weren't on the summit quite yet. We had about half an hour left of climbing to reach it, so we started walking again.
I have no idea how long we kept walking. All I remember was seeing the summit and seeing clouds rolling in and knowing that even if we reached the top we wouldn't be able to see it. I remember thinking that with the wind, it was getting dangerous. And my friend and I looked at each other and we both knew that this was it. One kilometer to the summit and that was it. We were going back down. Reaching the summit didn't matter anymore. We were exhausted, we were cold, we had seen the sunrise and this was over.
Now over a year later, I still don't regret it. Reaching the summit wouldn't have given us anything more than what we had at that moment. It wouldn't have made us prouder of ourselves. We wouldn't have had a better view or a bigger sens of accomplishment. To this day, I still consider that we made it. But we also made it back down safe and sound and with all of our limbs which is really what matters here.
Deciding to turn back down is one thing, but it doesn't magically transport you to the base of the mountain. It doesn't erase the cold or the tiredness. We still had to walk all the way back down the mountain.
The walk back to camp is another thing that is blurry in my mind. I remember being so cold that I almost ran down the mountain. I remember stoping for a break because I felt nauseous and sitting down until our guide came up to me and said I had altitude sickness and we had to keep going down, this was the only way to feel better. Apparently going up too fast is not a good idea, but going down too fast isn't much better. Then I remember walking into the refuge and asking if we can take a nap because I felt like crap. I think we slept for maybe an hour, but I felt better afterwards and was able to eat a light lunch.
After lunch we slowly made our way down back to Imlil and every step we made I felt more and more like myself. The nausea disappeared, the tiredness was more tolerable, I felt lighter and overall way better. Altitude is no joke!
The last two or three kilometers though, were very hard. My knees were hurting and we were both tired and just wanted to get there and get some rest, but we did make it. We were welcomed at Jamal's house with mint tea that had never tasted so delicious. We had a feast for dinner and had our own room for the night where I got the best sleep of my life.
My friend did end up having to go to the doctor for her eye infection that had not disappeared and was actually getting worse and both of my knees ended up swelling pretty badly. One of them I could not bend for about five days. But, even after everything we went through, I still believe it was worth it. We got to talk to our guide ant learn so much about the berber culture and life in the Atlas. We saw some gorgeous views and in the end, we had fun!
After living through this adventure, would I climb the Toubkal again? I don't think I would do this again. Once was enough. Was it worth it? Definitely! You never know how you are going to react to being challenged like this and I am proud of myself for going all this way and making it so far. Do I want to hike another mountain after this one? Of course! I would love to hike to Machu Picchu and I would love to try to Kilimanjaro, but next time, I will bring clothes for any weather, even if it is supposed to be warm. Next time, I will plan it in advance and actually train for it. Next time, I will know what to expect. Let's do this!
It has been exactly a year (I know, this article is way overdue) since I visited the villages and sea shores of Cinque Terre and I still dream about its colorful houses, turquoise water and gorgeous scenery. It is one of the most expensive regions of Italy to visit, but Mamma Mia is it worth it! It is, without a doubt, my favorite place in Italy. If Cinque Terre is on your Bucket List, then this article is for you. If not, you will be adding it to your Bucket List in three, two, one... Done!
How to get there
In Italy in general, but especially in Cinque Terre, the best way to get around is by train. To get to Cinque Terre, you have to get on the train in La Spezia Centrale which will stop at each of the villages along the way and runs approximately every 20 minutes. One train ticket cost 4€ when I was there in 2019. This might be something to consider when you are planning your trip and booking your accommodation. The train will first stop in Riomaggiore, then Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso and will then make its way to Levanto, which is not in Cinque Terre, but on the other side of the park from La Spezia.
Hiking Cinque terre
One of the main reasons people visit Cinque Terre is to hike. You can hike all the way along the coast and up and down the mountains between the five villages and the views are absolutely gorgeous. You need a pass to be allowed to hike in the park called the Cinque Terre Card, but the good thing about the pass is you can purchase the trail & train pass which allows you to take the train as many times as you like without paying for a ticket every time. This is very useful if you don't plan on hiking the whole way through in one day or don't feel like walking all the way back at the end of the day. You can check out the prices here. It also gives you free wifi at the train stations and free access to the bathrooms in the park which is always useful when traveling. The trails can be pretty intense depending on the different sections of the park so I recommend getting a map and looking up the elevation gain and distance before starting your hike. Also, and I feel this should come as a no brainer, but I saw it so many times, please don't wear flip flops on a hike, for your safety and the safety of the first aid crew that will have to come get you if you fall off a cliff.
What to do in Cinque Terre
Other then hike, there are so many things to do in Cinque Terre. You can rent a boat, go to the beach, visit the artisanal shops in all of the villages, sit on a terrace and enjoy the view, attend a tasting of local delicacies... Honestly I could have spent a week sitting on the rocks in Riommagiore and looking at the ocean. Also, don't miss the exceptionally beautiful sunsets. I personally watched from Riommagiore, but I'm sure all of the villages offer a great view of the sunset.
Where to stay
I don't have any recommandations of places to stay in Cinque Terre as there are so many cute little Airbnbs that it's no trouble finding a place to stay. The real struggle is finding a place that is affordable. I do have a few tips though. First, don't stay in Corniglia if you are taking the train unless they offer to come get you at the train station. The train station is at the bottom of the mountain, and the village is on the top. You would have to walk up about 200 steps with your luggage just to get to the village. Consider that! Second, if you are trying to visit Cinque Terre without braking the bank, consider staying in La Spezia. The neighboring city offers more affordable options and is literally a short train ride away from all of the villages of Cinque Terre. There are also hostels, something you won't find in the park.
What to eat
Honestly, it feels like all the food in Italy is delicious. Everything you try will be flavorful and there is no way to do it wrong. But in the region of Liguria, where Cinque Terre is located, is known for its pesto and focaccia (which is a kind of bread topped with anything you might like). One thing that you will also find everywhere and is a good to go option is fried anchovies. There are also plenty of different wines particular to the region the you can try in any of the restaurants. I personally tried a pesto pizza in one of the little restaurants in Riomaggiore that was the best I have ever tasted.
How long should you stay
Well, if you can stay forever, I have no idea why you would ever want to leave this little paradise. You will definitely have very strong legs after a while. But if visiting for a short time is your only option, a day is enough if you just want to hop on the train to each village, hop down for a few pictures and back on to the next one. But if you want to hike and explore the different villages, crooked streets and secluded beaches, I would stay at least two to three days. It also gives you more of a chance to catch at least one sunset if the weather is not on your side.
The best picture spots
One of the reasons most people visit Cinque Terre is to photograph its colorful villages and steep cliffs. As far as photographing the villages goes, the marinas in Riomaggiore and Manarola are tough to beat as their rock shelters around the marina offer a great standing point to photograph the village. They also offer great viewpoints on the sunset. Also, if there is one hike that you want to do for pictures, I would recommend the one between Monterosso and Vernazza. It is one of the longer ones, but it offers great view points on both villages and from the cliffs you can even see Corniglia and Manarola. There are also cute littles bridges along the way and gorgeous scenery with the olive trees and terrasses.
If I could grant a wish for everyone to visit one destination in their lives, I would send them all to Cinque Terre (not all at the same time of course). It is the kind of place that leaves an imprint on your soul and that you will always want to go back to. A little colorful miracle that you wouldn't believe is real if you weren't there witnessing it with your own eyes. I will forever consider myself lucky to have visited and been lucky enough to see, not just one, but three Cinque Terre sunsets.
North America has a lot to offer to travelers, especially the ones who enjoy nature. I consider myself lucky to have explored it from coast to coast, but there is still so much to see. One of the regions I had not visited yet was the American Southwest, home to canyons, deserts, cacti and so much more. In September of 2019, one of my friends and I set off out of Las Vegas on a two-week road trip through the red rocks and arches, going from National Park to National Park. Here are some of the places I think everyone travelling through the area should visit.
1. Zion National Park
I listed Zion as number one, not only because it was one of our first stops, but also because it was my absolute favorite. The narrow canyon, rough hikes, clear turquoise river and incredible vistas did not disappoint. It is also home to my two favorite hikes of the whole trip: The Narrows and Angel's Landing. We spent two full days in Zion to make sure we had plenty of times for the hikes and also to take our time exploring the park and not overexerting ourselves in the heat. We also took a moment to swim in the Virgin River (if you want to know more about that particular experience, you can read it here.) I loved the atmosphere in Zion. Even though it was crowded and felt squeezed between the canyon walls, it felt different from the other parks we visited. I guess seeing the canyon from the bottom probably gave a different perspective.
2. The Grand Canyon
You can't visit the American Southwest without visiting the Grand Canyon. I mean, you could, but you would miss out on one of the most impressive feats of nature. We were incredibly lucky and, not only did we get to see the canyon from the rim, meet moose and walk around the rim at sunset, we also went rafting on the Colorado river, in the middle of the Grand Canyon! It was an incredible experience. The Canyon in itself is impressive and breathtaking, but to be in the middle of it showed me how small we all are compared to the immensity of this canyon.
3. Arches National Park
Arches is a very small National Park compared to the other two, but it is definitely worth the visit. Not only does it offer beautiful views on the surrounding lands, but it is also home to more than 2000 natural stone arches! Isn't it amazing that these arches were naturally made by wind, water and sand over the years?
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, like Zion and Arches, is located in Utah and is the home of the Hoodoos. You can walk along the trail that zigzags to the bottom of the canyon and see these stone spires from up close or watch them from the rim of the Canyon, but they still make for an impressive view.
5. Anteloppe Canyon
You have probably seen the pictures of Antelope Canyon all over Instagram, but it's hard to imagine exactly how deep and twisted the canyon really is until you have stepped into it. It looks beautiful on pictures, but you cannot understand how much better it is in real life until you have seen it with your own eyes. The visit is expensive and time restricted, but having a guide with you showing you the particularities of every turn and giving you cues about the best spots for photos is really worth it.
6. Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire was one of our first stops of this journey and I'm still not sure if the name is from the bright orange and red hues of the rocks or because the air is so hot it might actually burn you. Good thing the hikes were pretty short and we had cold water in the van because I am not used to this heat. But the different colors of the surrounding canyons and the enormous boulders made for an interesting stop and I would go again if I had to start the trip over. It was worth it!
7. Coral Pink Sand Dunes
I know I'm no better than a 5 year old, but I still love playing in the sand. Especially this much sand! Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a very small park that only takes an hour to visit if you want to walk around the dunes for a while, which we did. It wasn't in our itinerary at first, but since it was basically on the way, we decided to stop by and I'm so glad we did. The dunes were about 10 meters high and the sand was a deep orange color that contrasted so well with the blue sky, my arts teacher could have used it as an exemple in 5th grade arts class. Plus, I love walking barefoot in the sand so I will always make a detour to visit a desert or a beach.
There are still so many places in this area that I wish to visit like The Wave and Havasu Falls, but I am very satisfied with our trip. Being in nature for two weeks, camping and taking our time was exactly what I needed at that moment. And filling my eyes and memories with so many gorgeous views was certainly a huge plus of this whole experience.
Have you been on a road trip through the American Southwest? If so, please let me know what you think are not-to-miss places.
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It's no secret, road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. It allows you to see so much more of a destination than just taking a train or a plane. You get to stop wherever you want and for as long as you want and make your journey, the destination. Although I have taken multiple road trips with my little blue Nissan Versa, Dory, I decided to leave her at home this time and get the full road trip experience, even sleeping in the car. True I've slept in Dory before, but I don't think that would be comfortable for a long trip. Instead, my friend and I opted for a rental, and not any rental. A camper van from Escape Campervans.
Escape Campervans started in New Zealand in 2003 and now has 12 locations in America, spread across Canada and the United States. They specialize in small camper van rentals with one little detail: their vans are all hand painted by LA artists and all feature an original, one of a kind and colorful design. So not only are the vans easy to drive and well equipped, they are also amazingly beautiful. Out of the 600 of their fleet, we saw at least 40 and I can honestly say I was disappointed by maybe two. Not that I found them ugly, they just weren't as beautiful as the others in my opinion. But obviously, the prettiest one was ours: Poppy.
This is Poppy, our Mavericks camper van. It was surprisingly spacious and had a couch and table that converted into a queen bed, as well as a fully equipped kitchen in the rear. It came with all of the essentials like pans, silverware, an actual refrigerator, a sink, a gas stove, a solar panel, etcetera. We even had a solar shower, that we ended up not needing as the campgrounds were well equipped with actual showers everywhere we went. Being used to a tiny Versa, it was weird at first driving in the van, but you get used to it quickly and it was super easy to drive. You can park in regular parking spaces and there is a distance detector when backing up to help you avoid any accidents. Except for a fan or heater during the night, I can't think of anything more we could have needed. After roughing it in a tent in Banff a few years ago, I had trouble calling this camping. It was way too comfortable!
We landed in Las Vegas and rented the van out of there. We had roughly planned our itinerary, but had plenty of time for surprises and spontaneous detours. We hadn't made reservations either except for our two nights in Zion and one night in Kanab. We ended up visiting Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon and ending our trip in Death Valley before driving back to Sin City. Two full weeks of camping and I would have kept going for another two weeks!
The Escape Campervans Experience
When I rent a hotel room or car, or purchase a particular activity while traveling, one of the things I always notice is the service. Working in the travel industry, I know what kind of guest service I should expect depending on what I purchased. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but the service that we had with Escape Campervans was way above my expectations. We arrived early and were welcomed and assisted right away. The man working that day spent almost an hour with us, not because the process and paperwork took a long time, but to go over our itinerary, see if we had any camping experience or needed any information and answer our questions. The paperwork was done swiftly, but thoroughly, he gave us all the instructions in case we had an accident or had any issue with the van during our trip. All of that was done while other employees were getting our van ready, so when we were done, it was waiting for us in front of the door. We went around it together, noting any scratch or bump so we wouldn't be charged for something that wasn't our fault and he explained how every part of the van worked: the stove, the refrigerator, the sink, etcetera. And off we were, ready for all the canyons, deserts and cacti.
At the end of our trip, the same employee welcomed us back. Even though he was already helping other customers, he explained the process so we could start gathering our luggage and filling paperwork while he was finishing up. He then inspected the van with us, noted the number of kilometers and wished us a safe trip home. Everything was simple and well organized and I really enjoyed the whole experience.
What I wish I knew before the trip
I don't think there is anything that I would change about this trip, but I wish I had known what the weather was going to be like. We didn't rent the bedding as sheets are not hard to pack and after a quick visit to Walmart, we both had a cheep pillow and blanket, but looking back, it might have been a good idea to just rent everything. On our first night in Lake Mead, it was so hot it took me a while to go to sleep. We were lying in the van, with the windows open as far as they would go and we were just sweating. Even turning up the engine to start the AC for a while did not help. But for all of the other nights, we were freezing. I guess I knew the weather dropped in the desert at night, but I never expected it to be this cold. On one night there was even snow on the ground when we woke up. Aa actual comforter or sleeping bags would have made it easier.
It also would have been good to know that National Parks campgrounds fill up very quickly even in low season. We were never stranded and always managed to find a place to sleep. Having a camper van that can fit anywhere really helped, but we probably should have made reservations for the busier places we visited like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Luckily we had reservations in Zion or I have no idea where we would have ended up!
This trip was perfect in my opinion. We had good weather, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and our ride certainly helped. Not only was it super comfy, but having everything we needed onboard made it very convenient to just stop by the side of the road and cook tacos for lunch. Having a refrigerator was the best in this warm weather as we would come back to the van after a hike and have cold water waiting for us. Plus, with the beautiful design, we met so many people who just stopped by for a chat. I would do the whole thing again any day.
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The Hôtel de Grace is the only hotel made entirely out of ice and snow in America. It is built every year starting in November and it is open to the public from the beginning of January to the end of March. One of a kind, it has been blowing guests away by its ephemeral beauty since 2001. If you haven't seen it yet, here are 20 pictures to convince you that it is worth a trip.
Every year, around 40 rooms make up the Hôtel de Glace, half of which are sculpted according to the theme chosen for that year.
The hotel also contains a chapel for weddings, a slide, a grand entrance hall and a bar where you can select one of the winter themed cocktails served in an ice glass.
Guests can stay overnight like in any regular hotel. Of course, the rooms are not heated, but the heavy duty sleeping bags work like a charm.
If you are interested in spending a night in the Hôtel de Glace, check out how I survived my experience here.
Have you visited an ice hotel before? Let me know in the comments!
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Costa Rica is a thrill-seeker's paradise. I'm not exactly a thrill-seeker, but I like to try new things and I absolutely love ziplining, so I jumped at the chance to try it in the beautiful cloud forest. The cloud forest is located high up in the mountains of Costa Rica, and the view over the rain forest and the mountains is absolutely stunning. We booked the activity through Red Lava Tours while we were in La Fortuna which allowed us to have a pretty good deal since we booked more than one tour with them, but the activity itself was with 100% Aventura and cost 50 US$ per person. 100% Aventura is located in Monte Verde and offers many activities like horseback riding and ATV tours, but their main activity is the Canopy Tour, which has the longest Superman zipline in Latin America. A full mile of flying over the rain forest face first!
The canopy tour starts with hanging bridges and a few small ziplines in the middle of the trees. There are employees on every platform that lift you up to attach you to the security ropes of every activity. Once you are comfortable with the height, the ziplines start getting longer and you pass over a valley and have a beautiful view over the mountains and the rain forest. We were a pretty small group and never had to wait for more than a few seconds between each zipline. Barely enough time to catch our breath and realize what an amazing experience it was.
When our tour started, the weather was beautiful, but as the afternoon went on, it started to get cloudy and to rain a little. While we were bummed at first about this, we changed our minds very quickly when the rainbows appeared. There seemed to be a new one appearing just for us at every turn. Did you know that from the sky, rainbows can appear in 360 degrees? I had no idea, but while we were ziplining, if we looked under us at the forest beneath our feet, there it was. A full circle rainbow! If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes and then confirmed with my friend that I had not hallucinated, I would not have believed it! So what was already a fun and exhilarating experience, turned out to be completely magical. And after the ziplining came the superman. There are three in total and so long that you are flying for about a minute before arriving on the other side of the valley. This activity just kept getting better and better!
Like I said earlier, I love ziplining. I am not scared of heights and find the feeling of flying to be fun and invigorating. So the superman zipline, it was amazing for me! It felt like being a bird and soaring through the skies. I could see everything! What I did not know though, was that the tour also included a tarzan swing. For those of you who don't know what a tarzan swing is, it's pretty much like a bunjee except you are attached by the waist instead of your feet and you basically fall down and then swing like you were holding a liana like Tarzan. When I said I'm not afraid of heights, I didn't mean that I'm not afraid of falling only attached by a rope. So of course I could have decided not to do it and walk down, but my friend has bunjee jumped before and kept telling me it's not that bad so I gathered all my courage and walked the plank to the edge where they tied me to the rope and pushed me down because I was too afraid to jump. I can now say it was scarier to look at it from the platform than the actual fall. You don't have time to think while you are falling and then you are swinging in the rain forest and that was so worth it. It's such and adrenaline rush and then you gently swing to the ground. Even though I was terrified and still would be if I went back today because the platform is very high, I would totally do it again!
All things considered, it was an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone. The view was absolutely fantastic and the employees were so nice and seemed to be having a lot of fun. The whole thing is well organized. There are employees at every platform to help you out and they come get you with ATVs at the end of the route to bring you back to the entrance. They can also pick you up at your hotel. They provide the harness and helmet as well as protective gloves. We made a detour to go to Monte Verde just for this and I do not regret it! It was totally worth it!
Would you try it?
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I recently visited Morocco on a two-week trip around the country. After much deliberation and help from my friend, we have selected the top 5 most beautiful places that you absolutely have to see on your trip to Morocco.
The Sand dunes of merzouga
I think the Sahara desert is on everyone's bucket list and probably one of the reasons most people visit Morocco. What you probably didn't know is that although part of the Sahara is very close to Marrakesh, the part that you see in movies and have dreamed of visiting is about an 8-hour drive away. The sand dunes of Merzouga are the highest in Morocco, some can reach up to 150 meters. The beautiful golden sand and immense dunes are completely worth the detour. Many companies offer guided tours to Merzouga and you can book last minute in Marrakesh or Fes. I recommend booking a private tour so you can stop along the way and really see the beauty of Morocco.
The medina in chefchaouen
The city of Chefchaouen is quickly becoming a favorite for tourists from around the globe and it's easy to see why. The blue painted walls of the medina really sets it appart from other cities in Morocco and even though legions of tourist swarm the city every day, it is easy to find a quiet spot. We spent a whole day wandering around the small alleys and finding streets more beautiful each turn. The hike to the Spanish mosque is a must if you want to get a good panoramic view of the city.
the bahia palace in marrakech
The Bahia Palace is an ancient palace form the 19th century. The walls, flours and celling are decorated with ceramics and sculptures that transform the estate into a wonderful piece of art. There are also multiple fountains and interior gardens to explore. The ensemble makes for a nice representation of islamic art and deserves to be explored in details. The entrance costs about 10 CA$ and is well worth it.
Ait ben haddou
Ait Ben Haddou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site preserved for it's history and beauty. The village made out of clay was prosper because of it's perfect location along the caravan routes. Four families still live in traditional Kasbahs in the village that is now mostly used as a movie set.
The Dades gorges
The Dades Gorges are truly in the middle of nowhere, but the high walls of the gorge and the clear water of the river made it a spot that I definitely recommend hitting while on the way to Merzouga. You will pass plenty of beautiful oasis along the valley on the way to the gorge and get a chance to see what life really looks like for Moroccans.
I was astounded by the natural beauty of Morocco as I had mostly seen pictures of it's cities before my trip. Now that I've seen it with my own eyes, I can say I loved the little villages and wilderness more than the big cities. Did one of these Moroccan beauties find a place on your bucket list?
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Morocco is a country that should be on everybody's bucket list, but it is very different in many ways from what we are used to in America. To make sure you are ready for all eventualities, here is a list of everything you should know before traveling to the Western Kingdom.
Never agree to the first price
No matter where you go in Morocco, haggling is part of their traditions and it is considered rude if you just accept the first price.
Ignoring the people on the street won't make them leave you alone
No matter where you are in Morocco, the minute you step on the street, someone will be calling after you. They want to sell you something, they want you to come into their shop, they need money for food, they want your phone number, etc. If you tell them one word, they act as if you agreed to hear their whole life story and talk to them for a few hours or to see every single article in their shop. If you act like you didn't hear them, they'll just call after you louder until you can barely even see them anymore. And if you answer back, they get mad. I found that saying hello and walking away works best in most cases. Just be prepared to be bothered every minute of every day.
You will get lost
Getting lost in every single medina is part of the moroccan experience. Honestly, I am pretty good with a map and have a good sense of directions and we still got lost every single time. My best tip would be to leave early for everything. Embrace the fact that you are lost and take it as an opportunity to wander down less traveled roads. We managed to find our way back every time without asking for directions. If you have data, Google Maps works great, and if you are completely lost, don't get directions from someone offering them as they might make you take the long way through their store or restaurant. Ask someone yourself!
Morocco is safe for tourists, but still be careful
We never felt like we were in any danger in any of the places we visited. We sometimes felt uncomfortable with the people we met, but never like anything bad could happen. You should still be careful and let someone at home know your itinerary and where you are going to be staying.
Make sure you have money on you
There are very few places in Morocco where they accept credit or debit cards. You will find lots of ATMs in big cities, but none in small villages. I recommend always carrying about 1000 dirhams on you in case you need anything and can't find an ATM. Now, if you need to withdraw money, you can't withdraw more than 2000 dirhams at a time and, about 2 out of 3 ATMs did not work or did not accept our cards. Good luck!
The water might make you sick, but mostly because it tastes DISGUSTING
At first, we were very careful and only drinking purified water or drinking from bottles. In the end, we were drinking tap water without any concern. Unless you have a sensitive stomach, tap water will not make you sick, but it does taste pretty bad.
Don't let anyone give you anything unless you are ready to pay for it
Directions, jeep rides, camels made out of leaves, you name it. People will offer to give you anything and everything in Morocco... and then ask you to pay for it. My recommendations is to never accept anything or to ask the price before you even come close to it.
Bring toilet paper
Always carry a roll of toilet paper with you. Some places will have some available to use, but most places don't. It's always good to be prepared!
Expect huge meals
The food in Morocco is delicious and very healthy, but be prepared for huge meals. It feels like it never stops coming! At first there is a soup, then a salad (which is the size of a whole meal in itself), then the tagine (a traditional meal of veggies, meat, fish or eggs cooked in a clay pot), then dessert.
Buy bus or train tickets a day in advance
To make sure you will have a spot on the train/bus you need to take to your next destination, try to buy the ticket at least a day in advance. It usually is fine to buy them the day of, but there are not an unlimited amount of trips available.
Is Morocco a country you wish to see?
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I am usually the over-planning, 23 lists writing, packing and repacking, researching for hours, booking five months in advance kind of person when it comes to traveling. I don’t want to miss anything and try to make the most of every moment while on vacation, but after traveling for a whole year, the whole process feels a lot more natural and a bit less once-in-a-lifetime to me. If you are going to be traveling every other weekend, you can’t be spending all of your time preparing your two-day trip. So when came the time to plan our return trip to Quebec City, my friend and I decided we were going to try the no-planning strategy. Don’t get me wrong, I researched all the places we could stop along the way, but the only thing we left with was a list of places we wanted to visit, an email to family members living close to those places saying we might stop by and a text to our parents saying we had no idea when we would get home, but it would be around the end of June. It turns out, it was the best idea we ever had and I am definitely doing it again the next time I am traveling!
When we left Comox (Vancouver Island, BC) on June 3rd, I was definitely nervous. We were leaving for a month of driving with an itinerary that was still filled with a bunch of question marks as our only plan. We knew we could stay with some family members along the way which reassured me a little, but more than half the nights we would have to find accommodation when we got to our destination and that was not something I was very comfortable with at the time. We did have basic camping gear (a tent, sleeping bags, utensils and a cooler) and were thinking of camping in the National Parks we would, for sure, be stopping at.
The beginning of our trip was pretty easy. We stayed with family in both Vancouver and the Okanagan. We learned how to use public transportation in Vancouver and took advantage of the free shuttles available for popular attractions. We stopped at Information Centers to ask for directions and what there was to see and talked to some of the locals for the less known things to do. Our free itinerary allowed us to use certain roads according to recommendations and to visit locations we would not have found on the internet.
When we got to the Rockies (Mount Robson, Jasper, Banff), the weather was NOT on our side and accommodation became tricky. Camping was a great way to save money, but not very efficient in the rain/snow and the cold if you want to be well rested for the next day. After a night of camping in the cold and a day of hiking in the rain, the only thing we wanted was a hot shower and a warm bed. Of course, hotels in Jasper are super expensive and way above our price range, but a visit to the Visitor Center later and we were on our way to a nice and affordable bedroom (if you are planning a visit to Jasper, check-out stayinjasper.com for affordable and comfy home accommodations). Even in peak season, we were able to find camp sites, hotels or home accommodations easily every night. And the best part, we got to choose, depending on the weather, our plans for the night or our location, what kind of accommodation would be best for us every night.
Not having a plan was also great for activities and hikes. We knew we would go to Mount Robson, then Jasper, then Banff, (then a myriad of other places in Canada and the United States,) but we didn’t have a set amount of time in each location. This allowed us to stay longer in the places that we enjoyed like Five Lakes in Jasper or Lake Moraine in Banff or leave early if the weather was horrible or if there was a bear on the trail (this did happen while we were hiking in Mount Robson! We decided not to risk it and turn around and to this day I am still okay with that decision. Being eaten by a bear is not very high on my bucket list).
The best part according to me, the official driver of this whole trip, was being able to stop for the night when driving became too hard or not having to stop for the night at set places on the days where I felt like driving. I remembered from our trip to California how terrible it was to be stuck in traffic and just wanting to stop for the night but having to keep going to make it to our hotel reservation and I did NOT want a repeat of that experience!
In every place we stopped, our visit started the same way: the Visitor Center. Every city or park has one and they are great sources of information. Hiking maps, lists of restaurants, tips on what to do depending on the weather and the different activities available were all information we got for free at every destination and, ten minutes later, we were ready to enjoy our day or multiple days. Every night when we got tired or hungry, we looked at the map and the list of campgrounds to compare the prices and amenities and decide which one would be our home for the night or, if we were on the road, we would stop at a store and ask where the hotels were located in the city (most of the time, they are all on the same street or in the same neighbourhood so you can visit a few of them to check out prices and availability and then make your choice).
A lot of things can alter your trip in seconds. Whether it be traffic, the weather, construction, attractions that are unexpectedly closed or an accident, you don’t want to be stuck in a plan that can’t be modified easily. While planning can be a great way to prevent stress and to make sure you have nothing to worry about during your trip, less planning will allow you a lot more flexibility and, especially for trips outdoors, I will continue to use the no-planning strategy. For more details on my trip across North America, click here and I’ll see you out there!
What kind of traveler are you? The planning-for-hours or the we'll-see-when-we-get-there type? Let me know in the comments below :)
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San Jose is not the place everyone dreams of going to, but it is the biggest city in Costa Rica and probably the place where you will land, so might as well go and visit. The city looks like pretty much any big city, but its population is very friendly, the mountains in the background are absolutely gorgeous and there are some nice neighborhoods that are fun to explore. So here is my guide to anyone visiting San Jose or transiting through San Jose.
What to do
In the city itself, there are some nice restaurants, cute souvenir shops and beautiful murals to see, but if you are in San Jose for a few days, I suggest taking the public bus and exploring the surrounding active volcanoes. Poas is a popular choice among tourists since you can see both coasts from up there on a clear day, but it was actually erupting during our trip so we opted for Irazu, which is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. The public bus leaves from the Teatro Nacional every morning (we asked our host at our hostel and there were a few departures everyday, but it is worth it to go early) and costs about 5 USD per person for a round trip. Entrance to the park itself costs 10 USD per person. The drive takes a few hours, but you get beautiful views of the valley and, especially since we went on our first day in Coast Rica, we were very impressed by the landscapes. The Irazu volcanoe has an impressive crater filled with blue and green water. On the day we visited, the top of the volcanoe was completely surrounded by clouds and we could barely see a few meters in front of us. We were so disappointed we wouldn't be able to see and started exploring the surrounding trails. After a while, we had no idea where we were and couldn't see the way back, when suddenly, the wind pushed the clouds away and just for a few minutes we could see the whole crater! During the hour that we spent in the park, we were lucky to get a few minutes of visibility every ten or fifteen minutes, but it was so worth it. The view was breath taking and we were so happy to just be able to see it that we enjoyed those few minutes even more. Know that the crater sits 3000 m above so level so a coat and long pants are necessary even if the weather is warm in San Jose.
Where to stay
We stayed in hostels both times we were in San Jose and had a really good experience. Our first two nights in Costa Rica, we stayed at Hostel Finca Escalante and our host Warren was super helpful and knowledgeable and really helped us figure out the rest of our trip and our time in San Jose. He also helped us with bus schedules and places to see in San Jose and gave us fresh bananas and pineapple from the garden! Yum! I highly recommend this hostel. It is close to the downtown area and we could walk to bus stations, restaurants and attractions. It is also in a quieter neighborhood.
On our last day in Costa Rica, we slept in Fauna Luxury Hostel which is still a hostel but deluxe. Each bed was in a little box with a curtain at our feet so it felt like having our own tiny room. There is a pool and sauna and a restaurant/bar. They also offer yoga classes and other activities. If you are looking for a resort atmosphere where you can relax without any worries and not looking to explore the town of San Jose, this place is perfect!
There were many affordable options on Hostelworld, but also on Booking.com or Expedia, just make sure to check where they are located depending on what you are looking for and at the amenities they offer.
Where to eat
Two words: get ice cream! Okay it's actually three words, but whatever! Seriously, they have so many options for ice cream and so many ice cream parlours everywhere in Costa Rica, but especially in San Jose and it is delicious!
In the downtown area, there are a lot of restaurants that offer any kind of food you could want. We opted for a Costa Rican meal at El Patio del Balmoral and it was delicious and affordable. There are also fruit stands at every corner with fresh seasonal fruits.
How to get around
Know that there are no street addresses in Costa Rica so the address for your hotel is going to be on avenue X between streets Y and Z. Good luck! It's actually not as bad as it sounds, just a little disorientating at first. Also, Uber is available in Costa Rica and much cheaper and safer than taking a cab. Not that cabs are unsafe (use the red taxi company as they are the only ones that are approved), but on the few occasions that we had to take one, for example from the airport to our hostel, they acted like they had no idea were we were going and took the long way and tried to give us the price in Colones and the wrong conversion in US dollars and say that their TPV machine wasn't working which was false. Public buses are safe and reliable and usually on time. We always took the bus between every city or town that we visited and never had a problem. Just be aware that you need to pay either in Colones or USD and they don't accept bank cards or credit cards. Also the schedule is not on Internet, but you can ask your host or go to the bus station the day before to see the schedule.
Even though I couldn't say that San Jose was one of my favorites in Costa Rica since it cannot rival with the smaller villages and towns, their local feel and beautiful scenery, I still enjoyed my time in San Jose. I wouldn't spend more than a few days there though. For a major city, everyone was nice and welcoming and I never felt unsafe.
Are you taking a few days to explore San Jose or are skipping it to head directly to beach and the jungle? Tell me in the comments below!
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