Ireland Road Trip

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow” – Anita Desai


 

Ask anyone who has been to Ireland if they enjoyed themselves – the answer is always YES. Despite the cold weather and constant rain, there is something about Ireland that continues to draw people in. Ask any of these visitors what they did, and you will probably get one of two responses. Most will say they spent majority of their time in pubs getting to know the friendly locals and others will say the countryside was what blew them away. I was lucky enough to experience both and would consider Ireland a second home.

Dublin

Dublin

I had been told a few things about Ireland before I arrived. They were:

  1. It rains… a lot. So expect it! This was, however what made the country so incredibly green and beautiful.
  2. The sausages will unexpectedly be the best you’ve ever had
  3. The locals will always want to talk to you.

I learnt that all 3 were things were true.

Majority of visitors that come to Ireland generally only see Dublin or Belfast. My Irish boyfriend also hadn’t seen the West coast of Ireland as an adult, and after living in Sydney for the past 9 years, he was eager to go back and see more of his stunning country. We decided to follow the famous Wild Atlantic Way and see where we ended up. The Wild Atlantic Way is 2600 km in length, and is one of the longest defined coastal routes in the world. It winds its way all along the Irish west coast from the Inishowen Peninsula in the North down to the picturesque town of Kinsale, County Cork, in the South. We started in Westport, only 3 hours west of Dublin and began a 7 day adventure.

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My trip plan

Stop 1: Westport

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Dodging sheep on the cycleway

According to the Irish Times, Westport is said to be one of the top places to live in Ireland. It has won awards for being the cleanest town in the country and also one of the most picturesque! It is also home to the Great Western Greenway which is an old railway line constructed in the 1800’s and has now been converted into a 42km cycleway from Westport to Achill. It’s free and such a beautiful, relaxing way to see the Irish countryside. We hired bikes from a place in the main town for only 10 euros and cycled almost all day stopping for pints of Guinness and ice-creams. Considering 300 people do this trip everyday, I would recommend an early start to avoid crowds. We only made it to Newport and then turned around but avid adventurers have been known to stay somewhere overnight and come back the next day to see more of the trial.

By the end of the day – all we could think about was enjoying a delicious meal and we got very lucky. Relying on Trip Advisor hasn’t always worked well for us – so we took a gamble and wandered down the main street in town in an attempt to stumble upon a winner. We got REALLY lucky and walked into Mangos Restaurant. It was so good in fact that we ate there again on the second night! (I rarely do that!) We had an awesome seafood feast of prawns, fish, oysters and delicious wine and then rolled down to Matt Malloy’s pub for live music and a few drinks. They have music 7 nights a week and some nights you will get to witness Ireland’s most famous flute player! Be sure to walk around the streets at night and take in the late sunsets and beautiful river that runs through the centre. If you are still thirsty – walk into Moran’s for a pint.  Don’t be discouraged by the entrance – it is disguised as an old hardware shop for a bit of extra quirkiness!

crough patrick climb

The steep climb up Croagh Patrick

Climbing a mountain was on our ‘to-do’ list in this area. Croagh Patrick is 2,500 feet so we considered this a good starting point as we were relatively unfit.

Fun Fact: Scientists in the 80’s discovered that there is a large amount of gold within the mountain (almost $360 million worth!) But the county won’t allow mining as it is a site of Christian pilgrimage associated with Saint Patrick who fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century A.D. Thousands of people climb the mountain on the last Sunday in July every year. (They even climb it barefoot to re-enact Saint Patrick’s struggles!).

WARNING: It is a lot harder than it looks! We had heard stories of 80 year old women climbing this mountain – so we thought it would be a piece of cake. We started with long strong strides with a pretty fast paced and quickly realised the task ahead. It was an unexpectedly hot day and after the 4 hours it took to climb up and back, we drove straight to the beach for a swim and relax.

TIP: Wear hardy shoes and get hiking sticks if available for the walk down Croagh Patrick – it is REALLY steep and hurts your knees! 

While in Westport, we stayed in Woodside Lodge B&B which was a 5 minute walk from the main town and directly at the entrance of the cycleway to Newport. I would highly recommend!

Stop 2: Lahinch

Lahinch is a small town on Liscannor Bay, on the northwest coast of County Clare. It is popular for it’s beautiful golf courses and surf.  But considering it’s only 2.5 hours away, we made some stops along the way.  One of which was Mitchell’s Seafood Restaurant on Market Street in Clifden. It had been recommended to us by locals and we considered it a ‘must do’. Thank god we did. It was one of my most memorable meals. You definitely need to book as it is a small place. I’m certain I dreamt of popcorn prawns for 3 nights following!!!

roundstone

Dog Bay at Roundstone

A further 15 minutes south was Roundstone – a set of stunning white sandy beaches (a view I never really expected in Ireland) Dogs Bay in particular has crystal clear waters and beautiful sand dunes to explore. Most of the year it won’t be hot enough to swim but it’s worth just admiring the scenery anyway! A great place to stay in Lahinch is Crag Shore B&B for only 70 euros per night twin share. (This is also the place I had the best black pudding on the entire trip!)

TIP: For the real foodies out there – stop at Moran’s on the Weir for a pint of Guinness and a plate of oysters – they complement each other extremely well. 

Morans on the weir

Guinness and Oysters at Moran’s on the Weir

In the town of Lahinch, I would highly recommend going to O’Looneys Pub right down on the promenade near the beach. If you get a spot on the balcony, you can watch the sunset (which takes hours to set in Summer!) The food and drinks are decent but it’s the view and atmosphere that make it worthwhile!

View from O'Looney's

View from O’Looney’s

If the day didn’t tire you out enough – there is always a place for some live music in these Irish country towns. In lahinch – the place is go is Danny Macs. The locals are so into music, you might see a few of them opt to join in the band with their own instruments and next thing you know – you are surrounded by gorgeous Irish music and maybe some dancing if there’s room!

 

 

Stop 3: Dingle

cliffs of mohrShortly after leaving Lahinch, we took a slight detour backward and visited Ireland’s famous Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. The cliffs are 214m high and span over 8km! We parked our car near Lough North and walked along the cliffs admiring the views and watching the playful horses on the different farms. The terrain is easy to walk but it can be cold with the wind so be prepared!

TIP: 5 minute drive from the cliffs is a restaurant called Vaughans Anchor Inn. Don’t miss it – they have unbelievable fresh seafood platters! My advice is to go there hungry!

If you have a full day in Dingle like we did – there is endless things to do. However, after all of our eating and drinking, we decided that we would spend the day exercising and being as active as we could. Some people say we went overboard, but I would do it all again! We started with the day early and climbed Mount Brandon.

11536138_10152965310093513_7173004120534553022_nFun Fact: Mount Brandon is 970m  high. Considering how far west the mountain is, and also how high, it means it is the last place you can see the sun in Ireland before it sets. The locals believe this is one of the reasons it became a Christian site but no one really knows!

Normally this walk is supposed to take 3 hours. It took us 4 because we got very lost at the start. The initial part of the trial is very clear up until you get to a river, the track veers off to the right which is quite deceiving. DO NOT follow the track here. Stick to the river until you see more white markings and continue on. We made the mistake of following the faint path until it abruptly ended and we found ourselves on the wrong side of the mountain! Lesson learnt. The climb was really beautiful. Just like Croagh Patrick, this mountain is also considered a pilgrimage and has white crosses lined all the way up the path to the top. If you are lucky enough to get a clear day like we did – the view is magic. If not, don’t be disappointed. It is cloudy 95% of the time!

cycle dingle

Stopping mid cycle trip to take in the view

When we returned back to the car, we drove back to town and had a quick bite at Harrington’s Pub where we demolished the tastiest seafood chowder I have ever had.  With fuel in our bellies, we then went directly to the bike hire shop. It cost us 15 euros each to hire a bicycle for 24 hours. We were pretty excited because we had read about an annual cycle challenge around the entire Dingle Peninsula (42km) but unfortunately we were missing the event by only a few weeks. That didn’t stop us – we decided to do the challenge anyway and begun cycling our way from town. We were either extremely unfit or the bikes were terrible, but we were exhausted only 1 hour in! The views throughout the peninsula were astonishing. We drove through farmland, small towns, cliff faces and then roads. It took us over 5 hours to complete the 42km cycle and it was worth it! We felt amazing afterwards!

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Part of the cycle track shared with the road in Dingle

We ate dinner at ‘Out Of The Blue’ Seafood Restaurant which was a recommendation from Irish locals and visitors from Dublin too. We were so hungry after the cycle and the climb that we ordered 4 dishes to share between us both (and we ate everything!) We had mussels, oysters, tuna and squid. It was awesome! Most nights you need to make a booking so if you have time – call for a table! We were super lucky.

We stayed at Baywatch B&B for 70 euros a night and I am positive these were the most comfiest beds we had experienced in months!! Considering all the work we did that day – it was priceless.

Stop 4: Killorglin

Devils Ladder

Devils Ladder

We learnt our lesson pretty quickly about the importance of a good bed after a day’s hiking. So when we arrived in Killorglin, it was a no brainer. We were planning on climbing the highest mountain in Ireland – Carrauntoohil and needed a night of comfort. We splurged and stayed at Country Lodge B&B for 120 euros a night. It was worth it. We met up with a bunch of mates from Dublin and enjoyed a nice meal at Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar which has been set up in an old church! Very cool. High ceilings, the bar as the alter and lots of grouped tables on the floor. It was an impressive place – and you paid for it too!

The next day we were ready to climb. Carrauntoohil is 1035m high (3400 feet) and takes 6-7 hours to complete round trip. We went through a local tour company as it is not something you can do on your own. We paid 46 euros per person to have our guide and there was approximately 15 people in our group. The walk takes you through many terrains, the most famous being the ‘devils ladder’ – a very steep rocky slope at the base of the climb which definitely heats up the legs. This part of the climb takes almost an hour itself but luckily enough you come down a different way. We packed sandwiches, and plenty of water and snacks which helped. The peak of the mountain is absolutely freezing so be prepared. We had a cloudy day so couldn’t see much of a view but if you are lucky enough to get a clear day – it is supposed to be beautiful.

The second night in Killorglin we all ate at Nicks (bookings needed!). This was a treat to ourselves for all the hard work we had endured that day. Nick’s specialises in seafood but also had steaks and pasta too. We had plenty of cocktails and wines and was the perfect way to finish the day!

Stop 5: Kenmare

derrynane walk

Derrynane Nature Walk

The Ring of Kerry is the most popular part of the Great Atlantic Way. Driving along this part is really memorable and should be done slowly. You can realistically drive around the whole ring in only a few hours, but I would recommend stopping in as many small towns as possible and getting a feel for the various festivals, foods, atmosphere and people that you come across. We stopped at the “spectacular cliffs” (which would have been spectacular if we were able to see anything through the fog!), Waterville (to see a statue of Charlie Chaplin), Port Magee (for delicious seafood chowder and view of Valentia Island) and lastly in Derrynane where we got out to stretch our legs and did a 15km nature trial hike called the “Derrynane Mass Loop”. It was beautiful and refreshing and went through rainforest, beaches, rocks, cliffs and farms.

Most of our accommodation was booked by simply door knocking which is a really refreshing way to travel. Many people I’ve told since were nervous to hear we took so many risks, but there was never a problem finding somewhere decent. This time in Kenmare, we stayed at Hallissey’s B&B for approximately 60 euros a night between us. Unlike other nights, we had planned to end up in this town so we could eat at Packie’s – a well known gastronomical restaurant that had impressed both locals and tourists for years. It was a perfect, small, cosy atmosphere. The food was amazing – fancy dishes with a cool twist all for reasonable prices.

TIP: Order the sticky date pudding at Packie’s – it was the best I’ve ever had!

Stop 6: Kinsale

Farmer's Market in Kenmare

Farmer’s Market in Kenmare

We went to check out the famers markets just before we left Kenmare and found ourselves wishing we had an apartment with a fridge so we could simply buy everything we saw. They had cheese, conserves, fresh bread, fruit, veggies, tarts, chocolates, sweets and even freshly brewed coffee. Yum!

Our plan was to drive from Kenmare to Kinsale, which directly only takes 1.5 hours, however we had the whole day so we drove via the Wild Atlantic Way on the coast and it took 3 hours all up. We stopped at Baltimore because we had heard it was a beautiful little town – but it wasn’t worth it. I would avoid it. We left instantly. We stopped and took pictures on most cliffs we drove by and soaked up the sun we had been missing the previous days. We had lunch at Clonakilty – home of the famous black pudding. It didn’t disappoint. We went to Scanalli for lunch and tried their best crab salad with black pudding and we didn’t speak the entire meal we were so immersed!

kinsale fortWhen we got to Kinsale, we wandered around the town looking for some decent accommodation for good value. We found this town significantly more expensive than the others which was interesting. More tourists I guess. We noticed a sign in the window of a cupcake bakery called Joe’s Cupcakes and it said “rooms available” and when we enquired, they were half the price of the others! This worried us a little bit but when we saw it – it was great! Exactly what we needed. The town is buzzing with pubs and bars – so different from the rest of the small towns we had encountered. We went for a run down to Kinsale Fort too and explored the ruins. It was only 6km away and was a great and private walk along the bay. If you go at sunset, the town looks absolutely stunning in the orange light.

head of kinsale

Head of Kinsale

After a pleasant sleep above Joe’s Cupcakes – we hired bikes from the local tourist office and cycled to the Old Head of Kinsale for the views. It blew our minds. The ride itself was quite hilly. There were parts I had to walk my bike up because my legs just weren’t strong enough but it was a decent challenge.

TIP: Stop at Ballinspittle bakery for their delectable cinnamon scrolls!

Majority of the cycle track on shared with the road but it wasn’t busy. That night we were pretty proud of the gruelling cycle we had completed so we rewarded ourselves with a long boozy night at the Black Pig – a cool and quirky tapas bar at the entrance of town. They have an incredible homemade bread that I couldn’t get enough of!

Stop 7: Cork

Hungover, we got up and drove straight to Cork. This was our last night of the trip so instead of a hostel or B&B, we opted for Foto Island – a beautiful resort & spa just outside of Cork. We spent the day between sauna and spa and then met up with a group of friends from Australia in town. We decided to meet at Oliver Plunkett’s Irish Bar as a meeting point before moving on ad exploring the town – however it was so fun that we never left and ended up getting kicked out at close! They had live Irish music and even got us all up to learn Irish dancing. It was so fun!

The next day we drove back to Dublin from Cork which only took 2.5 hours. I could’ve easily stayed longer everywhere we went but it was a perfect taste test of what the west of Ireland is like.

There is so much more of this beautiful country still to see. More to come.

Top 10 Worst Travel Nightmares

“The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see” – Gilbert K Chesterson


Ever feel like you are the most unlucky person in the world?

Have you ever had that sick feeling in the pitt of your stomach when you have lost your wallet or phone? And feel totally stupid because it was your fault?

Have you ever had that panic when you travel and feel totally helpless? It has happened to all of us. In fact, if I think of the top 10 worst things that can happen while travelling – I can almost guarantee it’s happened to me.

1. Arriving with no money – tick!

Who forgets their wallet on a year long trip? I swear I remembered everything else. Two minutes before leaving for the airport, my sister convinces me to take a photocopy of all my bank cards and drivers license just incase I lost them. Good idea I thought. She quickly took them for me and placed them all in the scanner for 30 seconds. That was the last time I thought about them until boarding my flight. There were tears and phone calls and panic. Lucky I had a friend in London who could help me out! Argh!

2. Missing a flight – tick!

My boyfriend and I are regular travellers. We fly at least every 2 months for work or leisure. So you would think we would be more capable. We literally just read the flight time incorrectly and arrived for our flight long after it had departed. Embarrassing!

3. Being arrested – tick! 

Madagascar is a funny place. It’s one of those places where the police are the last people you trust. I was arrested for not carrying my visa with me through town. Which is certainly not required but I stood out as a tourist and therefore had dollar signs on my head. The policeman wanted to bribe me however i quickly jumped out the other side of the car and ran through the town to escape! Lucky I was faster than him!

4. Offending the local people – tick!

Hint to self: either learn the language correctly, or simply speak in English. My poor Spanish skills led me to continually ask for small boys to be delivered to my table rather than coffee. A red faced waitress had to correct me after 3 days. Eeek!

5. Getting diarrhoea – tick! 

This is something we have all had a some stage. The difference if whether we had it in the comfort of our own home, or camping on the Inka Trail in Peru without showers or toilets. Definitely one to remember.

6. Getting food poisoning – tick! 

I was lucky enough to get food poisoning many times on the trip – probably because i gave little thought about what it was I was eating and just wanted to try all the local produce. One time in particular I had a severe case and couldn’t leave my bed for 48 hours – not even for food or water which I really needed. And I was all by myself. I got so desperate, I had to crawl out of my bungalow in the hills of Pai in Thailand and down to the shops practically on my hands and knees to get someones attention. I got more than I asked for unfortunately.

7. Ending up in hospital – tick! 

Excitement sometimes takes the better of me, and I can make some pretty stupid decisions. One of these included getting on the back of a quad bike with 3 of my girlfriends and riding home on one the most dangerous windy streets in Ios, Greece. In summary, there was a broken tailbone, broken ankle, scarred face and an emergency hospital visit. Lesson learnt.

8. Getting lost – tick! 

Getting lost is something that is encouraged when you travel. I get motivated by quotes such as “get lost and you will find” kind of stuff. This is certainly only desirable in situations such as walking around a city. It does not include getting lost in the Albanian Mountains without a path, map, food or a watch. After 9 hours of hiking, my friend and I had to walk into a nearby house and beg a non-English speaking stranger to drive us home. Classic.

9. Sharing a tiny bed with a stranger – tick!

Usually when a hostel booking stuffs up, I just find somewhere else. However when you have booked a tiny 7 day boat trip – there isn’t too many other options. I had no choice but to share a bed with a South African woman who barely spoke 2 words to me. Did I mention it was only a double bed? Awkward.

10. Getting stuck at a border – tick!

This happened to me more than once for various reasons – whether it was simply bribery or other time I had forgotten my visa.  However on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, my dodgy bus driver left me stranded because he got a better paid offer! I was stuck in Thailand with no transport, no option to get back into Cambodia and no refund. I ended up harassing his friend for 3 hours by following him around begging to drive me to Bangkok city. He ended up doing it because he wanted me to leave him alone. It worked!

What’s the worst thing that has happened to you while travelling? Share it below!!!

Cartagena for Foodies

“One day, you will wake up and there will be no more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now!” – Anon


Top places for foodies in Cartagena

Ask any hotel concierge in Cartagena about the things to do in Cartagena and they will probably mention the mud volcano, a party chiva bus and the castle. I did none of these activities. I spent most of my time in Cartagena eating and don’t regret it at all.  

Here is my top 10 list of the best food experiences Cartagena has to offer!

  1. Pizza at La Diva

    Pizza at La Diva

    La Diva. Best pizza in the world. Seriously. We entered the small restaurant thinking we would “grab a quick easy bite” and left in astonishment at discovering the best pizza ever. I have been to Italy. In fact I have been to lots of places that claim to make the best pizza but La Diva is miles ahead of the rest of the game! I would recommend the Salami Milano (and wash it down with a delicious sangria!)

  2. Ceviche at La Cevicheria

    Ceviche at La Cevicheria

    La Cervicheria. Sponsored by Anthony Bourdian, this little gem is constantly packed. We came on a mid Monday afternoon and only managed to secure the last table in the restaurant. We ordered the fish ceviche (wow!) and crab claws drizzled in mango sauce. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we tried our first coconut lemonade. Enough said. 

  3. La Vitrola. I had read about this place as being “the best in Cartagena” and instantly wanted to go however when walking past the restaurant one day I was kinda disappointed to see how fine dining it was. We prefer the more casual and quirky dining options and this looked super fancy. We went anyway to spoil ourselves. We were blown away by how fresh and delicious the grilled grouper was and it came with an awesome coconut risotto. We really liked the wine list and live music too so we ended up having a really great night!
  4. Coconut Lemonade

    Coconut Lemonade

    La Casa de Sorocco. I had read about this place from another travel blog. The best advice I got was to make sure you share because the dishes are so big! Lucky we did because it is true. We had their famous seafood stew which was insanely delicious!! 

  5. La Patagonia. We were reluctant to try this place because it is an Argentinean steakhouse and we had just come from Argentina. (although there is no such thing as too much steak) Glad we did – it was pricey however yum! Our favourite was the grilled chicken with lemon!
  6. Shepards Pie at Oh La La

    Shepards Pie at Oh La La

    Oh La La. Raved about in reviews, I immediately want to write how amazing this place was on Tripadvisor. In fact, we even went there twice (usually a big no in a new city) and ordered the exact same thing! (Pretty embarrassing) We shared fish ceviche, shepherds pie and a fudge brownie. They sound extremely boring and simple but were so well made! Totally recommend!

  7. La Perla. Nice simple atmosphere and great cocktails! Reuniting with an espresso martini kept us over the moon all night and the fresh fish was great!
  8. Grouper & Coconut risotto at La Vitrola

    Grouper & Coconut risotto at La Vitrola

    Chicken shops. We decided to wander the local area and find some cheaper street food or takeaway and soon found a little chicken shop on Calle S. Andres. Tasty chicken and fries for $4? yes please!

  9. Yogyou Natural Frozen Yoghurt. Oh my god. I cannot express how great this yoghurt is. The owner is very friendly. I would recommend just going there to say hi even if you don’t like frozen yoghurt. They have 4 flavours – greek, natural, passionfruit and milo. All were amazing and he finishes it off with fresh toppings and can also make smoothies. Don’t miss it!
  10. Gelato. I am a gelato freak. I try gelato in every country and city I visit and am very critical. The best gelato I had was on the corner of Del Rosario and De Piedra. Try the pistachio!

Cartagena

“Travel not to find yourself, but to remember who you’ve been all along” – Anon


Top 10 things to do in Cartagena

  1. 11188319_10152853905828513_2950493822915000793_nSunset at Cafe Del Mar. It is way more about the atmosphere and relaxing music than the cocktails. In fact, the cocktails are pretty poor considering what you pay, but the views are great. For those on a budget, buy a beer from the local store and sit up on the wall next door. Same atmosphere, half the price.  
  2. Try passionfruit and ginger gin at Laboratorio Bar. This cool bar makes their own gin! They have all sorts of quirky flavours to choose from and have designed some great cocktails to compliment them.
  3. For salsa lovers – head to Havana Bar. I didn’t do this, we preferred the bar scene here however heard from a few people that it was a very fun night out! Only open Thursday/Friday and Saturday. 
  4. Listen to live music at Plaza Trinidad. Regular buskers head down here to play anything from salsa music to rumba to DJ sets depending on time and atmosphere. The square comfortably allows seating on the walled edge and a local bottle shop is across the road so you can sit with a $1 beer and enjoy the music. Bliss. 
  5. Walk around the top of the old town walls. This is probably only do-able in the early morning or evening as the cement literally soaks up the heat from the sun throughout the day making it very uncomfortably hot. I got up early one morning and went for a run with my iPod and exploring the wall without the crowds. Definitely recommended. 
  6. Playa Blanca

    Playa Blanca

    Visit Playa Blanca. Hands down one of the nicest beaches I have ever seen. You can stay overnight in a gorgeous cabana or just do a day trip. 45 minutes by car (50,000 pesos) or go by boat which takes longer (16,000 pesos). Clean beautiful sand, crystal clear water, cold beer, fresh grilled fish, music, reading and best of all – an old man comes along the beach every hour serving fresh pina coladas out of his wheelbarrow. 15,000 pesos gets you a huge pineapple skin filled with icy cold rum and coconut.  This was paradise. 

  7. Try an arejpa at Bar El Sur. We stumbled across the cute French bar one night and were hungry. We were really surprised at how good the food was! An arepa is a fried corn bread stuffed with cheese, avocado and meat. t is served hot so they all melt together. Yum!
  8. Eat ice-cream
  9. Eat fresh fruit from the street carts. Pineapples, mangos, watermelons and papaya. Some geniuses also cut it all up for you to make an easy to eat fruit salad. Perfect!
  10. Cool down at Bocagrande beach. Definitely no where as beautiful as Playa Blanca, but close enough to visit for an hour or 2 without it taking up your whole day. Pools are limited in the old town, and the heat from the cobblestone streets is very intense! Taxis there will take 10 minutes and should cost 6,000 pesos. You can hire a shady tent for 10,000 pesos. I enjoyed watching the sellers with tanning oil, snow cones, fresh fish, beer, sarongs etc. It can get annoying after awhile but good enough for a short break from the city. 

Minca

“Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show” – Anon


11012082_10152861993973513_4314020911504333857_nPreparation goes a long way in Colombia. We learnt this upon arrival into Minca – a gorgeous little bohemian village in the mountains near Santa Marta. It’s known primarily for it’s awesome coffee and the relaxed hippy lifestyle but we were also interested in hiking. We were staying in the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta – extremely well known in the area and a great base to do day trips. We hitched a ride with an organised tour for 10,000 pesos each and arrived in Minca at 11.30am. Warning: There is very very little information around. No maps, not much English and no signage whatsoever! We sat at Minca Cafe at first to try the delicious coffee and then decided just to set off on a path in one direction and try our luck. 

giant hammockLater, we learnt that the 5 hour hike we embarked on was called the Los Pinos trek which leads up and around the top of the mountain. It started with a 2.5 hour climb uphill. Some parts were steeper than others but the scenery was beautiful. Every bend we turned, the temperature got cooler and the air felt fresher. We walked along paths with huge pine trees, small local run coffee bars, an Indian ritual retreat, waterfalls (slightly off the path) and once we got to the top, we were walking through clouds. By this point we were also dripping in sweat. We stopped at a hostel called casa Elemento perched right up the top with great views over the mountain range. They have a giant hammock over the cliff (the biggest in Colombia) and they have a pool, bar, hammocks and jungle zip lining. It is amazingly peaceful. We relaxed for awhile (and had an incredible burrito) before heading back down. Many people were staying the night. One traveller had been there for 3 weeks sleeping in a hammock outside!

On the way back down, we suddenly realised how late it was getting. The sun was setting at 6.30pm and we didn’t think we would be back in time. We took the speed up a notch and powered down – absolutely exhausted! Ideally, if we had started earlier, we could have been able to fit in the Victoria coffee farm and Pozo Azul waterfalls however we ran out of time! Such an incredible day and great exercise!! We hitchhiked home with a local family back to Santa Marta and completely collapsed. Maybe if we were prepared for the intense hike, we may not have been so tired! Overall – it was insanely beautiful and we loved Minca overall. Muchos recommenda! 

Tayrona National Park

“You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you’ll never be this way ever again” – Azar Nafasi


tayrona hikeTayrona is one of the most beautiful National Parks I have ever seen spanning 15,000 hectares in the North East of Colombia. We had heard about it from friends and decided to stay there for a few nights and  camp at Cabo San Juan. The entrance fee to the park for foreigners is 39,000 pesos each. We got the bus from santa Marta to the El Zaino entrance which took about 45 minutes and cost 8,000 pesos) The start is a little bit confusing. We were told that you can’t get there by car – you have to walk. This is true. However we thought this was from the entrance. It is not. We walked for an hour to the “start” before realising. Ah well – more excersize is good! The walk then got interesting. Stunning boardwalk platforms have been built to carry visitors through a variety of beautiful terrains. Rocks, forest, palm trees, and dried up river beds. It was also insanely hot. I can assuringly admit that I have never sweated so much in my life than I did in these 3 hours but the swim at the end is AMAZING!

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There are 3 sleeping options at Cabo San Juan. There are cabanas (150,000 pesos per night), tents (50,000 pesos) or hammocks (25,000 pesos). Shower and toilet blocks are shared by all. We had 1 night in a cabana and the other in a tent.

Cabanas

Cabanas

The cabana probably wasn’t worth the money as the room was very basic but it did have incredible views over the water and was perched up on a hill. Sunsets were amazing and it was nice to have the privacy (and where you can stand up!) We enjoyed the deck. The tent consisted of 2 mattresses with protective sheets. No pillows (warning to pillow lovers) and they tents are pitched very close together making it a little noisy but overall – its a good option for a couple of nights. 

Hammocks

Hammocks

As it is a UNESCO heritage site, you can’t bring alcohol into the park (although we snuck in a bottle of rum!) however you can buy beers at the local shop.  We loved waking up with the sun and walking 50m to the sea. It is very refreshing. We sat on the beach for the entire day. We drank rum, ate cheesy bread, went for long swims, read books and napped. It is a truly magical place. 

TIPS: 

  1. Don’t bring too much. The 2 hour hike to get there is extremely difficult in the insane heat so make it easier for yourself! Cabo San Juan has a small shop selling Agua (4,000 pesos) and a restaurant for all meals (ranging between 7,000 – 20,000 pesos – pretty good!)
  2. Wear hiking shoes! Although beach side camping sounds relaxing – it’s a trek to get there and the ground is very uneven. Hiking shoes will be a godsend! (Plus there are many hiking options to do once you are there!)
  3. BYO Snoreklling gear. Options to hire the snorkels are expensive (20,000 pesos? but probably range depending on how foreign you look) I didn’t get any, however you can apparently buy very cheap equipment in Santa Marta at the local homewares/kitchen shop. 
  4. SUNSCREEN. Shade can be limited depending on the time of day so I recommend bringing enough. 
  5. Bring more cash than you think you need. There are no ATMS obviously anywhere near the campsite or in the park at all. They also have boat trips and horse riding tours too so make sure you have enough incase you want to do those. 
  6. If you choose to sleep in a hammock, others gave me the advice to ask for the hammocks close to the bathrooms – ironically. The other area of hammocks are perched on the hill under the cabanas and apparently they get quite cold at night. It is pretty hot during the day so I can’t imagine it getting freezing however that was mentioned by a few people we met so beware! 
  7. Careful if you sit under the palm trees (which is generally the only shade you will find) – a man warned us about falling coconuts which are actually really dangerous considering the height they fall from. watch out!

View from the cabanas

View from the cabanas

Bali

“Don’t call it a dream… call it a plan…” – Anon


 

Ask any Australian about what Bali means to them and it might likely fall under one of 3 things: massages, food or sunbathing. For me – it’s all of these things. Sure, I went to see the volcano, explored the surrounding islands, saw the rice patties and even tried out the white water rafting.

But this blog is about FOOD.

One week in Bali is enough to rejuvenate. What better way than to try some amazing food? Here’s my pick of the top 7 places to try in 7 days:

1. Potato Head Beach Club

The ideal hangout place. Currently the trendiest place in Bali. The Beach Club is set right on Seminyak Beach housing a pool, generous day beds, 6 different bars and a delectable array of food and cocktails. I recommend hanging out here for the day. It’s free to enter so worth at least checking out. It’s not cheap but it is a must visit!

Website: http://www.ptthead.com/

2. Sarong

For Sydney siders – or those who know of Jimmy Liks. This place is owned and run by the same guy. He is a culinary genius. The place isn’t easy to find. Get a cab and give him the direct address. It is set in a beautiful Balinese mansion – great cocktail list, even better food. Set aside this place for dinner – maybe a special occasion and don’t forget to make a booking!

Website: http://sarongbali.com/

3. Sisterfields

Without a doubt, the best brunch spot in Bali. The food is insanely good. Breakfasts consist of everything from healthy acai berry bowls, poached eggs with San Danielle Prosciutto and corn fritters with chorizo and coriander cream. It’s unbelievable. Open until 5pm. 

Website: http://sisterfieldsbali.com/

4. Sea Circus

Sea Circus is neither a circus, nor is by the sea, however it offers some truly great Mexican food from aromatic tacos to fresh ceviche in a great quirky atmosphere. They are all about sharing food – so its ideal to go in a group to try more. Combine a taco with a pitcher of margaritas and you are set! They also do a great breakfast too. Open all day until 10.30pm.

Website: http://seacircus-bali.com/

5. Earth Cafe

Earth Cafe is a health food store, juice bar and cafe all in one right in the heart of Seminyak. They service up delicious healthy food all day. Pretty much everything is organic and they put a twist on it so even the hardcore carnivores would be blown away! 

Website: https://www.facebook.com/dteindonesia

6. Bumbu Bali

Bumbu Bali is Bali’s only authentic, award winning restaurant. The street food in Bali doesn’t really exist like elsewhere in Asia, so to try some real Balinese food, I would recommend this place. It is a 20 minute cab ride from Kuta. They have set menus, al la carte, a good wine list and cocktails. The spices they use in the food are incredible. 

Website: http://www.balifoods.com/

7. Boardwalk

Located right on the beach, in South Kuta, Boardwalk is a pretty touristy restaurant. But it has made this list because its touristy for a reason! It has a beautiful setting on the corner of a hill overlooking the beaches, a great cocktail bar, live music/acrobatic acts throughout the night and the food is superb! It is worth making it for happy hour!

Website: http://www.boardwalk-restaurant.com/

WHERE TO STAY?

Luxury accommodation is totally affordable in Bali. Hotels that normally cost US$300 per night would cost only half of that for the same quality – if not better.

For those backpackers who prefer the hostels for the social atmosphere, I would recommend Warung Coco. They offer dorm rooms for US$8 per night – and better yet – the so called “dorms” are actually proper hotel rooms with only 2 beds in each (and proper beds too!) They have a great big pool with plenty of sun lounges and a generous hot breakfast. Not the best location however I enjoyed the walk across to Seminyak for exercise (and cabs are cheap too!)

Enjoy!

Inca Trail Packing Checklist

Top 10 items you can’t forget!

1. Hiking Boots

Paper thin Nike’s just WON’T do it. I was on a strict budget and felt like my normal Nike runners would be good enough. Luckily I caved in and bought proper hiking boots (US$100) and it was worth every cent. The terrain is rough, very uneven and slippery so good shoes wont just save your ankles – it might save your life!

2. Head Torch

Getting up during the night in the pitch black to go to the bathroom is not fun, even in normal circumstances so a head torch is absolutely necessary. At 6pm, the sun disappears and you are on your own. Having a head torch will allow you to find your way around the campsite and organise yourself in the tent. Lifesaver. Don’t forget spare batteries!

3. Poncho

A rain jacket is simply not good enough. The rain can get insanely heavy and can come in from all angles. A poncho is your best bet to protect you and your backpack. You might look like a complete idiot but you will be smiling later when you are completely dry!

4. Baby Wipes

Washing hands before meals, going to the bathroom, cleaning your boots, wiping dirt off your skin – and more importantly to use as your shower for 4 days. Nothing else is as practical, light and easy.

5. Thermals

At night, it gets REALLY cold. Yes, I am an Australian so that may be colder than some, but regardless. One night you are camping at 3590m and it gets as cold as zero depending on the time of the year. My thermals saved me. Invest – trust me.

6. Aluminium Water Bottle

Plastic bottles are forbidden in Machu Picchu. As well as being able to keep your water cooler for longer, it can also act as a hot water bottle at night by filling it with boiling water. Voila!

7. Medication

Immodium/GastroStop (a must! You will realise what I mean), paracetamol (for the body aches if you are suffering altitude sickness), rehydration sachets (incase of vomiting to keep up electrolytes), bandaids (for blisters and scratches), altitude sickness pills (if you want to take them), and lastly cold and flu tablets (for blocked sinus which makes climbing a mountain even more difficult).

On the trek, you will also be encouraged to chew coca leaves which for available for sale at the start. By chewing the leaves to extract the juice, the coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue. Coca also eases sickness due to high altitudes.

8. Toilet Paper

This is obvious. There are toilets on the trek at some points but otherwise – its the side of a mountain and if your lucky – behind a bush. Take your toilet paper with you to avoid litter (a plastic bag is best)

9. Shewee

A She-wee is a phenomenon that I only recently discovered. It is a female urinating device which allows females to pee standing up without the mess. You can buy them online for about US$10. Check out http://www.shewee.com/the-original-shewee.html

10. Hat/Sunnies

The days are long – on day 2 you are hiking for almost 12 hours so be prepared with sunblock, hat, sunnies and insect repellant. The fatigue alone will be enough to deal with let alone sunburn!

Some of these may seem really obvious but I’m a checklist girl and they help a lot when your ticking boxes!

The best advice I got before going on the trek was to pack light. Always pack LESS than what you think you need, because I can almost guarantee you wont need it all. And most importantly – get a porter! It will save your back (just don’t forget to tip! Guidelines were approx. US$50 for all porters and chefs and an extra US$40 for the guide from EACH PERSON).

Hope this helps! Enjoy!

Preparation

TOP 5 TIPS TO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE INKA TRAIL

1. ACCLIMATISATION

For those who haven’t heard of altitude sickness – it is a horrid pathological effect of high altitude, also known as acute mountain sickness. It is caused by low oxygen levels at altitudes of over 2,400m. For those who know what I am talking about – I hope you haven’t had to experience it yourselves. Cusco is situated at 3,300m above sea level so I was warned about the possibility of altitude sickness upon arrival into Cusco. I was also warned about the importance of acclimatising to these altitudes by giving the body time and slowly ascending into these areas. With this in mind, I arrived in Cusco 3 days before starting the trek but was still unlucky enough to be hit with altitude sickness almost immediately. I had fever like symptoms – sore throat, swollen glands, body aches, fever, headache and lack of energy. I spent  days in bed and still didn’t recover before starting the trek. Other symptoms include indigestion because your body finds it more difficult to digest food at these levels.

TIP 1: Possibly stay a couple of days in Lima (1550m) and Cusco (3300m) before the trek (which goes up to 4200m) and allow the body to slowly get used to the air pressure. 

TIP 2: Take altitude tablets such as Diamox or Acetazolamide 2 days before ascending to 2700m (otherwise it is useless). These pills are available for very cheap in Cusco (no more than US$2!)

2. HIKING GEAR

As I have been backpacking for awhile, I didn’t have any of the relevant hiking gear required to undertake the Inca Trail. So I bought the following:

  • Hiking shoes (AUD$120)
  • Sweat resistant long sleeve top (25 soles)
  • Trekking socks (15 soles)

Then I hired:

  • Trekking poles (a must for the descent) – US$25 through SAS Travel
  • Extra warm sleeping bag (night 2 gets insanely cold) – US$20 through SAS Travel
  • Fleece jacket (extra warmth) – AUD$4
  • Trekking Pants that zip off at the knee – AUD$7

TIP: One of the cheaper places to hire camping equipment and hiking gear is called ‘Rosly’ – located on Calle Procuradores 394, Cusco.

3. GET IN SHAPE

I read everywhere that “anyone can do it”, “no physical fitness required” – and while I do agree with this – it is 10 times more manageable if you are somewhat fit – can walk for 10kms or so. I had been walking quite a bit during my travels so my legs had slightly more muscle than usual which helped me a lot – especially when walking down stairs (for 5 hours!) It also helped me recover quicker after the trek. So get walking!!!

4. POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Negative people are toxic. It can bring the entire group down. I was so lucky to like every single person in my tour group. But I had heard stories and witnessed a few unlucky groups that housed the ‘complainer’ or the fighting couple. Interestingly they are also the ones who had the most difficult trek. Not surprising. Keep a positive attitude and I guarantee it will help you get through!

5. BOOK IN ADVANCE

Only 500 people are allowed to start the trek each day (this includes all porters and guides too!) as a conservation measure. This means only reputable agencies have permits (and you cant do it independently) so they get snatched up quickly.This also applies to tickets up Huyanupicchu which are limited to 400 daily. I booked in January for an April trek and managed to get a spot on the 4th company I emailed! I recommend at least 6 months in advance to get a good, reputable company. I booked with SAS Travel who couldn’t be faulted! Fantastic food, great guides, perfect campsites, well organised and fairly priced!

Ask anyone who has undertaken this trek in the past – they will probably say the same thing… It is extremely difficult yet insanely enjoyable.