Photo Essay

My Galapagos Islands Cruise: A Travel Dream Come True

galapagos tortoise dani1

The Galapagos Island have been a dream destination for me for as long as I can remember. I had this image in my head of remote islands with stunning volcanic landscapes and free-roaming tortoises and giant iguanas. I pictured the islands to be mainly uninhabited, and if there were people living on them, they would be outnumbered by wild creatures.
galapagos island iguanaI knew the best way to see the islands was to take a Galapagos Islands cruise, to sail around the islands for a few days, go on land excursions and snorkeling trips while enjoying life on the water in between. A few weeks ago, I finally boarded a plane to the Galapagos Islands and I was curious to see how the reality of a Galapagos cruise would compare to the picture I had in my head.

Also read: The Galapagos Islands – Fifteen things to know before you go

galapagos majestic yacht at sunsetAfter a two-hour flight from Guayaquil, we arrived on the island of Baltra, a small island that, other than being home to one of two airports in the Galapagos, is uninhabited. Flying in, we could see barren reddish ground below us. Baltra is the world’s first “green” airport, which means it is running on renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, wind farms, and seawater desalination.galapagos islandsBefore we were allowed to leave the airport, we had to pay the $100 National Park fee, and our carry-ons were searched. I quickly learned that it’s not allowed to bring apples onto the islands – or any agriculture goods, for that matter. Later I learned that it is strictly prohibited to bring any food on land with us when we set foot on the islands for land excursions.

From the airport, we took a bus to the ferry pier – everyone who arrives in Baltra has to go to the island of Santa Cruz, the second largest island in the archipelago. Within minutes of having boarded the ferry, we already saw wildlife: a pelican watched us suspiciously as we were boarding the boat, massive crabs crawled around the shore, and a myriad of birds were flying above us. On the short ten minute boat ride to the other island, we passed little mangrove Islands with more birds and a couple of spotted eagle rays swam in the water right next to the boat:
galapagos spotted rayBy now, we were on the Galapagos for 45 minutes – and was already completely smitten by the islands.galapagos islands pelicanWhen we arrived in Santa Cruz, we hopped on a bus which took us on our first land excursion, before we even boarded our yacht. We drove towards the center of the island, and as we got further away from the shore, the grey, dry bushes and branches that cover the rocky ground were replaced by a lush green forest. A rainstorm had just passed through the island and the smell of fresh rain mixed with the smell of the flowers and plants was mesmerizing.
galapagos yellow birdOther than the road that cuts through the green in a straight line, there was no sign of human existence anywhere. At some point, we passed through a village. Nothing more than a few little houses, each and every one flanked by banana trees; a donkey standing on the side of the road.

Our destination? Giant tortoises! We were on our way to see tortoises in the wild, and when we turned off the main road onto a dirt road, my excitement grew. I knew that seeing Giant Tortoises would be a highlight of my trip. It didn’t take long until we started seeing giant tortoises in the grass next to us, and several times our bus had to drive around tortoises on the road. Could this place even be real?!
galapagos giant tortoisesWhile initially we all let out excited aaahs and ooohs every time we saw one of the distinctive big, unmistakable shells, the tortoise spottings became more and more regular until there were dozens of tortoises everywhere around us.
galapagos giant tortoiseWhen we finally reached the end of the road, it felt like we were in tortoise paradise. We were surrounded by tortoises of all sizes who were sitting in the high grass, happily munching away on leaves and straw. They couldn’t care less about us, a group of camera-toting tourists, literally fresh off the boat.
galapagos giant tortoiseBefore we went on a walk around the area, we had lunch at a small restaurant, Rancho Manzanillo, on an open terrace overlooking tortoise territory. As a vegetarian, I am always a bit worried about the available food options, but here, I had nothing to worry about: my vegetarian rice dish was scrumptious.
galapagos lunchBellies full, we all put on wellies and headed down to a pond where the tortoises like to gather.
galapagos giant tortoiseOur naturalist guide – obligatory on every Galapagos Islands cruise – told us that giant tortoises are the longest-lived of all vertebrate species, easily reaching over 100 years. The oldest on record lived to be 152 years, but it’s not impossible that there’s a tortoise somewhere on the islands that was already alive when Charles Darwin stopped in the Galapagos in 1835.
dani galapagos islands giant tortoiseWhen Darwin arrived, there were 15 different kinds of tortoises on the islands, now the number is down to 11. Hundreds of thousands of tortoises were killed when whalers and pirates stopped at the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are not on the brink of extinction anymore – but still an endangered species, there are only 15,000 of them left in the Galapagos, which is a tiny number.
galapagos island hammock tortoise
We learned that there are only two places in the world where giant tortoises live: in the Galápagos Islands and in the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

And the word ‘giant’ is the perfect word to describe these massive creatures, which often exceed five feet (1.5 meters) in length and reach up to 550 pounds (250 kilograms) in weight.

We spent a couple of hours with tortoises, which let us watch them eat, chill and even mate, and the two hammocks in between a couple of trees provided a perfect place for that.
galapagos mating giant tortoisesAfter saying goodbye to these gentle giants, we made our way to the port of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora. This town is the most populated urban center (population 12,000) in the Galapagos Islands and this is where the yacht that would take us around the islands over the next few days was waiting for us.
galapagos islandsThe 16-person aptly named Majestic was amazing: eight cabins for two people each, a gorgeous sun deck with Jacuzzi and sun chairs, and a beautiful dining and lounge area.
galapagos yacht majesticWe got a quick introduction to our floating home over a welcome cocktail before we changed for dinner. My cabin wasn’t big, but it didn’t feel crowded. And most importantly: it had a big, comfortable bed. The nights are the time when the boat is moving from one place to the next, so you want to have it comfy.majestic cabinAfter our first Galápagos sunset and a delicious buffet dinner, we stayed up and chatted for a while, but most people retreated to their cabins around 9pm. It was a long day and we would have an early start the next morning, because a Galapagos Islands cruise isn’t a relaxing cruise – it’s a packed itinerary with lots of excursions and snorkeling stops.
Galapagos Islands CruiseAt 6am, I woke up after a mostly well-slept night. I woke up once around 2am, which was when the boat started moving, which made me feel a little seasick. Luckily that feeling passed and I was able to sleep for a few more hours.

After waking up, I headed upstairs to the deck for a quick morning workout, and because I wanted to see where we were anchored. I got up to the deck just in time to see the sunrise. I saw an island to my right and an island to my left, Santiago and Isabela. A bunch of birds were flying right over my head, and they kept flying with the boat the entire morning. A frigate bird watched me from the navigation mast as I did some sit-ups.
frigate bird galapagos islandsI could hardly believe how serene it felt. The Islands seemed uninhabited, there were no other boats. It felt like our boat was the only one cruising around the archipelago, but I knew that there other boats out there, somewhere.
galapagos islandAfter a generous breakfast buffet of pancakes, eggs, breads, cheese, ham, yogurt, porridge, muesli and fresh fruit, it was time for our first wet landing. This means, taking the dinghy to an island near us and getting wet up to the knees while disembarking the dinghy.

Our first stop of the day was Santiago, which was inhabited by a small colony of fisherman until the 1950s, but has been uninhabited since the last of them left to join a bigger settlement on one of the other islands.
espumilla beach galapagos island walkWhen we jumped out of the dingy and waded through the shallow water onto the beach, I thought to myself, this is how Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panamá, must have felt like when he was blown off course during a voyage to Peru and landed in the Galapagos Islands instead. A deserted beach, lush green vegetation, a volcano looming in the background. The island hasn’t changed much since then.
galapagos beachThe beach we landed on is called Espumilla Beach because of the foam (espuma in Spanish) that is created as the waves crash against the shore.

As we walked down the beach, our feet sinking into the soft golden sand, we saw several turtle nests, and several turtles in the ocean, their heads peeking out of the water every now and again. Being able to visit such a remote place made me appreciate the fact that I was on a Galápagos Islands cruise rather than trying to explore the islands from an ‘island base’ – because it’s secluded beaches like this one that you just can’t get to unless you are on a cruise.
galapagos birdWe watched the ghost crabs quickly moving into their sand holes every time we got too close, pelicans and blue footed boobies dive bombing for food with a sudden plunge – head first – into the ocean, and an American Oysterhunter enjoying the solitude.
Galapagos Islands CruiseOur second stop for the day: snorkeling! Our first exploration of the underwater world of the Galapagos took place just off the coast of Santiago. As soon as we jumped into the ocean we noticed how clear the water was, and we were surrounded by colorful fish immediately. On this first snorkeling trip we saw a small shark, a sea turtle and a spotted eagle ray. Not bad for a morning of snorkeling!
galapagos fishNext on our agenda was kayaking. We got to see the same coastal area we just explored underwater, except that we are now above water. We kayaked along the rocky cliff side of the island, watched some seals lazing in the sun and some blue footed boobies sunbathing on the rocks. Whenever I turned around, I saw nothing but the open sea. It truly felt like we were the only ones out there. So far, I still had not seen a single other boat.
galapagos sea lion on rockWe got back to the boat and had lunch, and right after we polished off our plates the boat started its engines to bring us to our next stop. While we were cruising, we had time to make use of the sun deck and the Jacuzzi. The luxury yacht is just as much a part of this experience as the landscapes we passed and the wildlife we saw.
galapagos islands cruiseA couple of hours later, our stop for the afternoon came into sight: nothing more than a barren rock in the ocean, surrounded by smaller rocks, all bleak, without any sign of life on them. There were, however, four or five other boats anchored here, and we soon learned why: Bartolome Island is home to some spectacular lava formations, the most remarkable one being Pinnacle Rock, a rock formation that rises high into the sky.
galapagos islands pinnacle rockThe tiny island is said to have some of the most beautiful landscapes of all of the Galapagos Islands, including a tuff cone of an extinct volcano that can be climbed that offers stunning views over Bartolome and the other islands, and a variety of red, orange, green, and black volcanic formations. Sadly, we had frolicked in the water for too long during our morning excursion that we ran out of time to climb the volcano before sunset, but there was still time for another snorkeling session.
galapagos islands excursionWhat the island lacks in plant and animal life is more than compensated by the surrounding sea. This is a popular spot for Galapagos penguins, and sure enough two playful penguins joined us on our swim for a while. Watching them whiz around us and chase each other was highly entertaining. After they left, we swam slowly along the rocks on the shore and spotted several sharks, spotted eagle rays, star fish and a myriad of colorful fish. We all agreed that this snorkeling session was better than in the morning – and that one had already been amazing!
galapagos penguinBack on the boat, we had just enough time to change into some dry clothes before we set off on a short sunset ride in the dinghies to see the penguins again, this time on shore, and take pictures of the lava rock formations.
galapagos islands penguiinsAfter our sunset excursion, we had our nightly briefing for the next day and were told that we’d have breakfast at 6am. Another early start, and since we had such an action-packed day, everyone retreated to their cabins as soon as we finished another scrumptious dinner.
Galapagos Islands CruiseWhen my alarm went off at 5.30am the next morning, I was everything but ready to get up. My skin burned from too much sun and too little sunscreen the previous day. We fueled ourselves with a filling breakfast and at 6.30am we were already on our way to our first stop of the day: Las Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island.
galapagos beachAgain, we arrived on a completely deserted beach, the only sign of life were the fresh traces of sea turtles who came onto the shore to make their nests in the sand. Looking at the traces, our guide commented that we must have just missed them, that’s how fresh the tracks were.
sally lightfood crabsThe only ones who joined us on our morning beach walk were the hundreds of Sally Lightfoot Crabs that move quickly on the rocks along the shore, already visible from far away, thanks to their bright orange/red bodies. These agile little crabs were supposedly named after a Caribbean dancer, and the way they can climb up rocks on vertical slopes and run in four directions, I can see why someone said they resembled a dancer.
galapagos islands sally lightfoot crabsWe walked over to a little lagoon which is known to be a popular feeding place for flamingos. When we got there, we saw only one lone flamingo marching around the muddy water, but the flamingo population on the Galapagos is only 600, so even seeing just one of these distinctively colored birds felt special.
galapagos flamingoAfterwards, it was time for another snorkeling session. This time, we got to swim with turtles! Even though I’ve swam with turtles in the Philippines and in Mexico, it never loses its magic for me.
galapagos sea turtleThe species of turtles we swam with, the Green Sea Turtle, is the only kind of sea turtle that nests on the Galapagos Islands. Like many species of sea turtles, the Green Sea Turtle is an endangered species, their nests often destroyed by other animals, and the tiny hatchlings being eaten by birds before they can even reach the ocean.
galapagos turtleWe followed these majestic creatures around the coral for a while, watching them feed on sea grass and going up to the water surface to get air every once in a while. For me, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.
dani galapagos beachWe returned to the boat where, as always when coming back from an excursion, we were greeted with fresh fruit juice and snacks. We spent the rest of the morning on board, enjoying the sun deck, reading a book, or just gazing out at the ocean.
galapagos cruiseOne thing I loved about my Galapagos Islands cruise was how well we ate on the ship. Sometimes it felt like all we did was eat – especially that morning. In between our post-snorkel snack and noon we got to try another tasty snack of cheese filled plantains and then it was already time for lunch. Lunch was always served buffet-style, including vegetables, rice, some kind of meat and a fresh salad. For me as a vegetarian our chefs prepared a special dish for each meal, including vegetarian ceviche (the rest of our group got ‘real’ ceviche).
Galapagos Yacht DinnerAfter a couple more hours on the boat we reached Santa Cruz where we got off the boat to spend the afternoon in the small town of Puerto Ayoro, to buy some souvenirs, have a drink, or to check our emails (there was no Wi-Fi on board). We all loved the sea lions that seemed to have taken over the town – they were lounging on an otherwise empty dock, frolicking in the water, and stretching out on some benches along the pier.
galapagos sealGetting a glimpse of small town life on the Galápagos Islands was fascinating – can you imagine growing up in a place that remote? The town didn’t have much more than a bunch of souvenir shops and restaurants, a few small hotels and a big playground for kids to play.
Galapagos Islands CruiseWe got back to the boat just in time for another beautiful sunset, and then it was already time for our Farewell Dinner and Farewell cocktail. The days on the boat had gone by way too fast!
galapagos cruise sunsetMy Galapagos Islands cruise was not quite over yet though: On our last morning, we got up early for one last sunrise snorkeling session around Kicker Rock, a rock in the middle of the ocean that is popular with hammerhead sharks. Galapagos Islands CruiseAnd yes, it didn’t take long until we spotted the first shark! In addition to sharks, we were joined by a group of sea lions, a lonesome turtle and again, hundreds of colorful fish. A memorable end to our four-day cruise.
After breakfast, we disembarked in San Cristobal where we were once again entertained by the local sea lions who take up every single free spot around the pier. One last moment with these adorable creatures, and then we were off to the airport, where one last adventure awaited us.
galapagos sealSince our cruise ended in a different island than we departed from, we got to take a tiny 8-seater plane back to the main airport in Baltra. I ended up in the co-pilot seat, terrified at first, but quickly easing into the experience and enjoying the vast ocean views with a little island coming into view every once in a while. This was my first time in such a tiny aircraft, and having a front row seat for it made it even more exceptional than it already was.
Galapagos Islands CruiseAs we approached the airport in Baltra, where our connecting flight to Guayaquil was waiting, I felt the strong urge to skip the flight and stay longer in the Galapagos. I was not ready to get back to the mainland, where emails, work and deadlines were awaiting me. I wished I had more time in this remote paradise – the Galapagos Islands had captivated me in a way no other place has had a grip on me in a long time.
Galapagos Islands CruiseI am not sure if I’ll ever get to return to the Galápagos Islands, but if I do, I’ll make sure to spend more than four days there – I already missed the Majestic, which we had left only a couple of hours before, and I wanted to explore the islands we didn’t get to see on our cruise – like Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island or the beaches of San Cristobal Island.
galapagos land iguana


Galapagos Islands Cruise

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16 Favorite Travel Moments Of 2016


2016 was an interesting year, with travels I didn’t see coming at all, and visits to places I had on my travel wish list but didn’t think I’d go to this year. I terribly failed at my travel wish list – out of the ten places I wanted to visit, I only made it to one (Colombia).

2016 was the year I started off by saying I really want to slow down (see: The Evolution Of A Nomad), but then I ended up traveling more than in previous years. Even though I only visited six countries, my time in the US was spent between five states, and I ended up on 23 flights (from one place to another, not counting connecting flights), which means I took about two flights per month.2016 travelsI tried to add up the number of beds I slept in and came up with 82, but to be honest, I may have forgotten a couple. That means I’ve slept in a new bed every five days, and at least 12 beds more than in 2015, even though I visited less countries this year – down from 15 countries last year. I spent time in five different US states, however, I spent around a month in each: Washington, New York, Arizona, Texas and California.

I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to narrow it down to 16 favorite moments, because I’ve had special moments in each place I visited. I had to cut out Dallas, which I unexpectedly loved, my days in a beach hotel in Brighton this past summer, a month in Seattle with so many moments I cherished, or my awesome weekend in Cologne in July.

I shared the details of each month’s ups and downs in my monthly round-ups, but here are my top 16 travel moments of 2016 as a whole:

16 Ice skating in Manhattan

There are only two things in New York City that get me excited for winter: Central Park covered in snow (which I witnessed two years ago) and the ice rinks. Despite spending all of December in New York last year, I never found someone to go ice skating with. This year, I finally made it to Bryant Park for an ice skating session, and if I end up spending next winter in New York, I’ll definitely invest in skates – so much fun!New York Bryant Park Ice Skating

Thanks for the photos, Kristin!

15 Visiting the Amazon

When I mapped out my time in Colombia, I decided not to visit the Amazon, simply because it was a bit of a hassle to get down there (only accessible by plane) and I felt like it wasn’t a good place for a solo traveler. When a friend I met on my travels through the country happened to fly down to Leticia though and invited me to tag along, I didn’t have to think twice. I was going to the Amazon! Soaking up life in small villages along the Amazon (only accessible by boat) was an amazing experience, and seeing the seemingly endless green of the Amazonian jungle was truly awe-inspiring. Kayaking in the Amazon and seeing pink river dolphins were the icing on the cake.Colombian Amazon

14 The Sweet SoCal Life

Last year, I spent a few days in L.A. – my first visit to Southern California since 2010 – and even though it was only a brief visit, it was one of my 2015 favorite travel moments. This year, I was lucky enough to return to SoCal, and ended up spending over a month there, three weeks of which were housesitting for my friend Jen in Long Beach. Looking after her pup Henry was such a treat, and I loved getting a taste of the sweet Cali life: runs on the beach, going for drives along the Pacific Coast Highway, and exploring L.A.’s neighborhoods. I feel extremely lucky that I got to spend so much time in this beautiful State.California

13 A day in Rome

I only had one full day in Rome after my week-long hike through Umbria and Latium, but I sure made the most of it. I wandered around Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood, for hours, I returned to some of my favorite landmarks (the Colosseum, the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain), I had tasty pizza and gelato, and even got to see the papal audience.Rome

12 Beach hopping along Mexico’s Pacific Coast

I’ve seen so much of Mexico in the past few years, but for some reason, I never made it to the popular Riviera Nayarit. This year, I finally made it to the famous Pacific beaches and beach hopped between Sayulita, San Pancho and Puerto Vallarta. I loved each place for different reasons, and was happy to enjoy beach town living for a few weeks. My routine there was simple, but it gave me so much joy: a few hours of work in the morning followed by a jungle hike or a SUP session, an hour at the beach with a good book and watching the sunset with a cold beer.Riviera Nayarit

11 Christmas Markets in Germany

I admit it: I am not the biggest fan of winter in Germany. It’s grey, it’s cold, it rains a lot, and the sun comes up at 8am and disappears at 4pm – if it shows itself at all. But one thing that got me excited about spending the Holidays with my family? The Christmas Markets! There’s just nothing like a German Christmas Market with mulled wine, sugar roasted nuts and other Christmas Market foods, seeking out gifts and catching up with friends over a glass of hot eggnog.Christmas Markets

10 Living in Mexico City

Mexico City wasn’t on my travel wish list for 2016, and not in a million years would I have thought that I’d end up there this year. But as so often happens, a life of travel often brings you to some unexpected crossroads, and I chose the road to Mexico City in March. Living there for a few weeks allowed me to revisit all of my favorite museums, neighborhoods and art galleries, and thanks to my local friends I got to know some new cool hangouts. Settling into a routine of work in my favorite coffee shop during the day and after work urban exploration was easy breezy – I could’ve stayed for much longer, but the Yucatan was calling (see #2).Mexico City

9 Summer in New York City

I was really bummed out when I learned that I had to travel to Germany for a couple of months this year, which meant missing out on my favorite time in New York: the summer. Luckily enough I was able to spend at least a month there in August (after a short week at the beginning of June) and tried to make up for lost time in those four weeks: a weekend getaway to Fire Island, the food markets, picnics in the park, outdoor movies, and even kayaking on the Hudson River. There’s just no place I’d rather be in the summer than New York.New York Summer

8 Playing tour guide in Berlin

I ended up playing tour guide in Berlin three times this year, and each time I visit the city, I fall in love with it a little bit more. Spending time in Berlin in the summer again was a real treat, because that meant I could show my visitors all my favorite things there: sunset picnics in Tempelhof Airport (sans planes), al fresco dining in Kreuzberg, strolls along the canal, bike rides through Tiergarten Park, flea markets, self-guided street art walks, beach bars and cheap wine bars, drinks with a view at Klunkerkranich, bar hopping in Friedrichshain, and I even happened to be in town for the Gay Pride Street Fest.Berlin

7 Hiking in Southern Arizona

I love my annual trips to Southern Arizona and I hope I’ll get to go in 2017, too. This year, two friends visited Tucson while I was there, which was the perfect excuse for several desert hikes. If you’ve been reading Globetrottergirls for a while, you’ll know that I can’t get enough of the desert, and especially the Sonoran Desert with its ginormous Saguaro Cacti.Southern Arizona

6 A month in Austin

2016 was the year I finally made it to Austin – a city that has been high on my travel wish list for several years now. And it did not disappoint! In fact, it turned out to be a city I loved so much that I’d consider moving there. So far, I thought NYC was the only U.S. city I could see myself live in, but Austin charmed me with its incredible live music scene, the countless food trucks, craft brew bars and coffee shops that serve beer. I loved how active the city was, with people kayaking and SUPing on the river at all times, and the lovely running and walking paths along the river and in the Greenbelt. Plus a bunch of other things which you can read here: 33 Things I Love About AustinAustin Texas

5 Beach time in Isla Mujeres

When I got to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in April, I hadn’t been to a beach since January, when I beach hopped along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. I also hadn’t taken any time off in a while, which is why I was beyond excited when the ferry pulled into the small ferry port on Isla Mujeres, a tiny islet off the coast near Cancun. I hadn’t been to the island since 2010, but I’d never forgotten the pristine beaches and crystal clear Caribbean waters. Spending a few days there after my Mexican road trip (another 2016 highlight!) felt like heaven. Read more here: Isla Mujeres – Finding Paradise in MexicoIsla Mujeres Mexico

4 New Mexico’s White Desert

This wasn’t my first time in New Mexico’s White Desert – I went there on my New Mexico road trip in 2013 and loved this spectacular desert with its white sands. When I decided to road trip from Tucson to Austin I knew I had to plan in a short detour to stop there again. Last time I visited in the morning, so this time I wanted to be there in the afternoon, for golden hour and for sunset, and my plan worked out. It was, just like the first time, an incredible experience, and I loved that because of the late hour of our visit, we had the desert almost all to ourselves.White Sands

3 Hiking in Italy

A week of hiking through the Italian countryside? I didn’t have to think long when the opportunity for this trip arose, and I loved every minute of it. We stopped in small quaint mountain towns along the way, hiked through vineyards and ate copious amounts of pasta each night. This was definitely one of the most epic hiking trips I’ve ever done.

You can read all about the hike along the Via Amerina in these two articles:

Via Amerina Italy

2 A Yucatan road trip

The Yucatan will always be my favorite region in Mexico, no doubt! So when my favorite travel companion and I decided to go on another trip together (after two weeks of backpacking in Colombia in January) and she wanted to explore Mexico, I put together an epic Yucatan road trip for us, which would introduce her to cenotes and Caribbean beaches, Maya ruins and my favorite Spanish-colonial town in Mexico: Valladolid. We even snorkeled with sea turtles! The trip went exceptionally well and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.Yucatan Road Trip Mexico

1 The jungle trek to Colombia’s Lost City

I’d been intrigued by this trek ever since I’d first heard about it in 2010. Funnily enough, I am not sure if I would’ve had the guts to do it had I visited Colombia in 2011, as I’d originally planned when I set out on my round-the-world trip in 2010. Traveling to Colombia solo and challenging myself to hike through the jungles and the mountains for a few days showed me how much my travel style has evolved over the past few years. I was so proud when, after the four-day hike, which culminated in the climb of over 1,000 stairs to reach the ruins of an ancient city, I finally set foot in the fabled ‘Lost City’ in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Even though the hike to the Lost City was a trip where you’d say it was equally as much about the journey as it was about the destination, I found La Ciudad Perdida much more impressive than I thought I would.Colombia Ciudad Perdida

I can’t wait to see which adventures 2017 will bring, but I am ready for another epic year of travel. A big Thank You to all of you for reading Globetrottergirls and following my adventures!

Happy New Year!

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My Favorite Place in Iceland: The Ice Diamonds of Breiðamerkursandur

jokulsarlon iceland diamond beach4

Steaming geysers, thunderous waterfalls, breathtaking canyons and vast lava fields – I saw more stunningly beautiful places in my week in Iceland than in any other country in such a short time. But my favorite place? None of those. My favorite destination was the place that puts the ‘ice’ in Iceland: Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s most famous glacier lagoon, and even more so Iceland’s Diamond Beach, just across the street from the glacier.visit Jökulsárlón

Iceland’s Diamond Beach

When I parked our car in the little car park right on the black sand beach, I understood immediately why it was called Diamond Beach. Like bright diamonds in different shapes and sizes, dozens of chunks of ice litter the beach, giant waves crashing against them, moving the smaller ones around, forcefully repelled by the bigger ones.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachWalking towards the water, I started seeing more icebergs floating around in the ocean, being tossed around by the waves as if they were merely paper boats and not bulky chunks of ice.diamond beach icelandIt was a spectacular sight, and I don’t think there’s anything like Iceland’s Diamond Beach anywhere else in the world (correct me if I’m wrong!).jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beachThe icebergs in the water are chunks of ice that have broken off the glacier and then slowly floated down towards the ocean, through the lagoon and the short river that connects the glacier lagoon with the open sea.diamond beachThe lagoon was formed by the receding Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, of which massive chunks of ice break off regularly. There are dozens of them floating in the lagoon before they slowly glide out into the ocean.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon icelandEven though the sea is cold, the water here is warmer than in the icy lagoon, so the ice chunks are thrown around and smoothed by the waves, and eventually they are thrown back at the beach.iceland diamond beachYou can’t help but wonder how old the ice is that has been washed ashore – these pieces had been part of the glacier for centuries!jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beach - CopyThere aren’t two days when this beach looks the same. Every day, new chunks of ice arrive and others melt, and all of them are changing their shapes all the time during the melting process and the constant washing of the waves.iceland's diamond beach

Jökulsárlón – the magnificent Glacier Lagoon

Back in the lagoon, in between the ice chunks, you can spot seals that make their way into the lagoon from the ocean, curiously inspecting the massive blocks of blue tinted ice.glacier lagoon ice iceland sealThe light blue color of the ice was one of the most fascinating things about Jökulsárlón – the only other place I’ve seen ice like this was at Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina.jokulsarlon icelandYou often only see a tiny fraction of the entire iceberg – the bigger part is usually underwater. Some of them are as big as small houses!icebergs icelandJökulsárlón translates to ‘glacial river lagoon’ and only appeared in 1935, due to the melting of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Over the years, it has become Iceland’s deepest lake, currently 814 feet (248 meters) deep. The lagoon has grown fourfold since the 1970s, to give you an idea of the current rate at which Iceland’s glaciers are melting.glacier lagoon icelandJökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach are the one place in Iceland that I really want to return to – with more time to photograph this spectacle, ideally during the winter months, when the sun rises late and sets early. Because apparently, seeing this place during sunrise (the sun rises over the ocean) is even more magical.jokulsarlon iceland diamond beach

Visit Jökulsárlón, Iceland: Practical information

How to get to Jökulsárlón from Reykjavik: There are organized tours from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón (see below), but renting a car would be preferable, especially if you want to take your time to take photos. The drive from Reykjavik takes just under five hours (231 miles/372km), and from Vik, just over two hours (119 miles/192km).

If you’re driving Icleand’s Ring Road (Highway 1), you’ll pass Jökulsárlón anyway – the lagoon and the beach are literally a stone’s throw from the road.diamond beach icelandIf you’re driving all the way from Reykjavik, plan some extra time for the drive because you’ll want to stop several times along the way to photograph waterfalls, black sand beaches and the breathtaking Icelandic scenery – trust me. It’s a lot of time in the car for a day trip, but it can be done, if you are pressed for time.glacier lagoon icelandWhen you visit Jökulsárlón, take into consideration though that in the winter time daylight is limited to six hours, so you’d be driving in the dark for most of the time, and roads can be icy. In the summer months you’ll be driving back to Reykjavik in daylight even if its 9 or 10pm! Also remember that in Iceland the weather is extremely unpredictable and can change rather quickly. jokulsarlon iceland diamond beachOther things to consider: Be careful when you photograph the icebergs right by the water – the waves can be quite high and unexpected, and several people got their cameras wet (I almost lost my phone when a wave caught me unexpectedly, and both of us got wet feet!)iceland's diamond beachDuring the summer months, you can take a boat ride across the lagoon. That’s something I’d definitely want to do when I return to Iceland (I will visit Jökulsárlón again, no question!). There are two kinds of boat rides – an amphibian boat (35-40 mins, ISK5,000/US$40), and a zodiac boat (45 mins, ISK8,500/US$69), that goes almost all the way to the glacier.jokulsarlon icelandThere is a small café in the car park of the glacier lagoon – after a couple of hours of photographing or simply marveling at the lagoon and the ice bergs on the beach, it’s nice to be able to warm up with a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate.iceland diamond beachAllow about two hours to visit Iceland’s Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón. If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably want to plan even longer than that. Make sure to dress accordingly, there’s an arctic breeze here, especially on the beach, that’s quite chilly.

dani diamond beach iceland
This would be an example for what NOT appropriately (i.e. warm) dressed looks like!

It is possible to visit Jökulsárlón without a car! If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself, there are several tour companies offering tours to Jökulsárlón. Check out these popular tours:


All images were taken on the Highlights Of Iceland self-driving tour by Icelandic Farm Holidays. Icelandic Farm Holidays provides you with a rental car and an itinerary for every day, but you can decide individually how much time to spend in each suggested stop, or add additional ones. Accommodation is provided in a mix of Icelandic farm houses, B&Bs and hotels.


visit Jökulsárlón

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Venice fun facts & my top five travel tips for Venice

venice grand canal before sunset

I love Venice. And in my opinion, it’s a place you should visit at least once in your lifetime, no matter if you dislike crowds or not. Remember that it’s popular for a reason, hence the high number of tourists. Make sure to read this article all the way to the end for some Venice travel tips that will help you make the most of your time in one of the most unique cities in the entire world.venice afternoon sunFor me, Venice is magical. Some people I meet are more jaded, complain about Venice being too touristy, too crowded, and too expensive. And yes, all of these things are true, and yet, it is a city that doesn’t compare to any other city in the world, in its beauty, the way it is set up with its canals and surrounded by waters on all sides, its stunning architecture, and the often aristocratic and elegant, sometimes crumbling and deteriorating buildings.Venice ItalyWhen I was in Milan last fall, I realized that Venice was only 2 hours away – on Italy’s high speed train. I knew I was going to leave Milan on a Monday, which is the day Venice sees the least tourists (and it was off-season). And so I booked a train to Venice on a whim – I was so close, how could I not go? It had been years since my last visit, and I was looking forward to a couple of days of simply wandering the streets and taking photos.Venice travel tipsI’m sharing my favorite pictures with you today, plus some fun facts about Venice you might not know, and last but not least: my top five Venice travel tips. venice love locks italy

Fun facts about Venice:

There are no cars in Venice

No cars whatsoever – all you hear when you walk the empty streets at night is the clicking sound of high heels.venice couple

Venice has 170 canals  

Instead of streets, Venice is interspersed by canals – 170 of them. venice canal

Venice has over 400 bridges

To cross these canals, inhabitants have over 400 bridges connecting the different parts of the island.venice kayak

Venice is made up of 115 little islands

To be exact, I should say islands or archipelago instead of island, because Venice is made up by 115 (give or take) tiny little islands.venice island

Venice has over 200 churches

This is an amazing fact considering the compact size of Venice!Venice travel tips

The city of chimneys

The number of churches might not be all that surprising considering Italy is a strictly Catholic country, but did you know that there are 7,000 chimneys in all forms and sizes in Venice?venice sculptures

Venice has almost as many bell towers as churches

And then there are the bell towers – a whopping 170 of them! San Marco is the most famous one, and you can enjoy vistas over Venice from the top. Well worth the €8 admission, in my opinion!Venice travel tips

San Marco Campanile is a replica

Speaking of the famous bell tower: this is actually a replica of the original one! The first one collapsed in 1902. The current one was built to look like exactly like the original one.   venice love locks

Venice gets 18 million visitors per year

Venice attracts an insane amount of people every year – 15 million! During the summer, Venice sees 50,000 people in addition to its inhabitants every single day! Take into consideration that Venice only has 60,000 inhabitants and you realize how crazy this number is! Many of these tourists arrive on cruise ships, and the steadily rising number of cruise ships that dock in the lagoon city are posing many problems for the city.
venice grande canale before sunset

400 gondoliers are offering their services in Venice

For the 400 gondoliers the visitor numbers are great – they never have to worry about losing their job! except for one female gondolier, who was allowed to join the male gondoliers not all that long ago, in 2010 – the world of gondoliering is a men’s world. It’s one of the hardest to get jobs, by the way: only 3 to 4 new licenses are issued every year.Venice travel tips

Venice travel tips

Use ShareVenice to get from the airport to the city

ShareVenice is a shared shuttle service, which groups you with other passengers and thus makes your transfer from the airport to Venice much cheaper. The ticket is €19, instead of the pricey water taxis which cost anything between €100 to €160 (for 4 people with luggage) from Marco Polo Airport to Venice City Center. Venice’s water taxis also offer to share the boats with other passengers, but still charge €35 per person – booking online with ShareVenice is your cheapest option. The boats are capped at 10 passengers, and the journey takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on which dock in Venice you get off at. ShareVenice also offers very affordable tours of the Grand Canal and a glass factory tour to Murano, by the way.Venice Italy

Buy a Venice travelcard 

If you want to make the most of your time in Venice, use the vaporetti (water buses) and water taxis. You’ll get the best value for money by buying a travel card (€18 for 12 hours, €20 for 24 hours, €25 for 36 hours, €30 for 48 hours, €40 for 72 hours or €60 for 7 days). A single ride is €7, so if you’re taking 3 or more trips in a day, it’s already worth it. The best value for money is the 7 days card. A travel card will allow you to experience Venice from the water for much less than a gondola ride (they start at €80), and it’s well worth to tour the canals via boat. Bonus tip: take a golden hour/ sunset ride!Venice travel tips

Where to eat in Venice

Sadly, Venice has the reputation to have some of the worst food in Italy, which makes sense, considering most of the people who work in the city don’t actually live in Venice but in Mestre on the mainland. So the people who are actually eating in Venice are tourists who probably won’t return, so why put a lot of effort into making the food. My main tip: Eat as far away from Piazza San Marco as possible. The closer you get to the piazza, the worse (and the pricier!) the food gets, it seems. On the upside: Pizzeria Antico Forno is so good that it made it on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the best ten pizzas in all of Italy (!), and the recently opened i Tre Mercanti is an amazing food gallery with all kinds of Italian specialties and wine.


The best way to make sure you’ll have a decent meal in Venice? Check Tripadvisor. Scroll through the list of best restaurants in Venice, read through the last few reviews, and mark down the place that sounds best to you in your map. Also: don’t leave Venice without trying a Spritz, a typical Venetian drink with Campari (or Aperol), Prosecco and sparkling water. If you find a local place, you can get it for as little as €2, but even €4 is still a good price (if Spritz’s are on the menu for €8 or more, you’re probably sitting in a tourist trap).Venice travel tips

Explore more of the lagoon

Venice is amazing, yes, but there are a couple of other islands nearby that are well worth a visit, too, and they are easy to get to from Venice via water bus. Burano, a little island (actually four islands, so you still have canals and boats here) is famous for its colorful pastel houses; Murano is famous for its glass art but is also incredibly picturesque, Torcello is a tranquil little island with a famous ancient church. San Michele Cemetery Island is also a welcome escape from the crowds and has some beautiful tomb stones and graves.venice from above

Don’t sit down

Well of course you can sit down and take a break (and you should – you’ll be on your feet a lot!) but if you want to sit down in a cafe to sip a cappuccino, be aware that it’ll cost you a lot of money. Venice’s cafes are notorious for their overpriced coffees and unexpected surcharges – a €6 surcharge for a live band playing nearby is not uncommon, and with tip and the already pricey drink you can easily end up with a €15 bill for a cup of coffee, so be aware of that. The safest way to make sure you’re not overpaying for a coffee is to drink it like the locals: standing up at the counter. That way, you’ll avoid the service charge and other possible surcharges, and shouldn’t pay more than €2 for a cappuccino or €1 for an espresso.Venice travel tips

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Icebergs, Waterfalls, Geysers & Lava Fields: Highlights From an Iceland Road Trip

iceland river1

My Iceland road trip feels almost like a distant dream now. But the photos (and video!) show that it really happened – for a week, I road-tripped through one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited. If you are not sure if you want to drive the Ring Road when you travel to Iceland – have a look at my photos. I say: Driving the entire Ring Road makes for the perfect introduction to this spectacular country.

drive the ring roadWith its surreal landscapes that often made me feel like I was on a different planet, Iceland blew my the ring road Otherworldly, that’s how most people describe Iceland, and to be honest, I don’t think there is a word that fits better than this: otherworldly. The only other place I’ve been to that I described as such were the otherworldly landscapes of Chile’s Atacama Desert, where I also came across volcanoes, a bizarre moonscape, rugged mountains amidst wide open barren lands, geysers and geothermal the ring roadIceland is different though. First of all, it is called Iceland for a reason, so there was nothing of that desert heat that I experienced in Chile. And of course there is ice in the Land Of Ice – lots of it. The glaciers, glacier lagoons and snow-capped peaks that we often marveled at were a reminder that the stunning black sand beaches were deserted for a reason: it is too cold to swim in these Arctic waters.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beach icelandBut thanks to its geothermal activity, the country is dotted with hot springs, and the best thing is that many of them are free to use for anyone. You also have hot springs with facilities and restaurants onsite, like the famous Blue Lagoon and the Myvatn Nature Baths (pictured below) in the north of the country.myvatn nature bathsFor seven days, Rease and I drove through Mars-like landscapes, through volcanic plains, often covered in bright green moss, over snow-capped mountains, alongside fjords – passing too many waterfalls to count! Skogafoss waterfallWe drove on narrow, winding mountain roads, sometimes unpaved, so that we could feel the volcanic rocks crunching under the tires of our the ring road icelandIt wasn’t only the scenery that changed constantly, the weather changed equally as much. We would wake up to a rain storm and two hours later find ourselves taking our jackets off because the sun was shining so bright.iceland sceneryMagical is another word that is often used to describe Iceland, and as we were driving along the winding roads hugging the eastern fjords, passing black sand volcanic beaches to our right and volcanoes to our left, it did feel like a magical fairy-tale land.Ásbyrgi Canyon rockIt wasn’t all too surprising to learn about the Huldufólk, the hidden folk (or simply elves), who play a big role in Icelandic folklore and are believed to live spread out all over the country. Sometimes you will spot little elf houses, basically miniature versions of Iceland’s colorful houses, in fields or on the side of the road – and it seems absolutely possible that little elves and fairies actually live in them.eskifjordur cottages by the fjordI shared more details about our Iceland road trip route and the practicalities of road tripping in Iceland in separate articles (links at the end of this post), but I wanted to start with some of my favorite images and the highlights of our road trip.southern iceland mountainOne of the most spectacular places I visited in Iceland was the Jökulsárlón glacial lake in the south of the island, which is filled with massive chunks of ice that have broken off the glacier, and slowly float out of the lagoon into the open sea.glacier lagoon ice icelandI don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere in the world – a beach littered with icebergs of all shapes and sizes, waves crashing against them. iceland road tripThe best thing about driving the Ring Road in Iceland? The journey itself! It’s not just about the stops along the way – the drastically changing scenery never gets boring. drive the ring road icelandSince Iceland is such a compact country, you can find yourself hiking on a glacier, through a lava field, and behind waterfalls – all within a few short hours.
Iceland seljalandsfoss waterfallWe hiked in the majestic Ásbyrgi canyon in northern Iceland, where I wished we had more time to see the canyon from the top – a stunning sight.iceland road tripThe northern part of Iceland was just as scenic as the south with mountains, lakes and volcanoes.
myvatn peninsulaAnd the lunar landscapes are eerily beautiful:iceland road tripSeeing geysers erupt? Definitely something you don’t get to experience a lot! The geyser pictured below erupts every six minutes, and I could’ve stayed for hours watching it erupt again and again. Geyser Eruption IcelandThe Hverir geothermal fields were completely different than the geyser above, with boiling mud pools and some of the most intense orange colors I’ve ever seen in nature. iceland hverir geothermal fieldYou can see more of these enthralling geothermal fields, mounds that are topped with sulfur-coated boulders, high-pressure steam vents that are streaming thick clouds and smelly gas into the sky, bubbling mud pools right in the beginning of my Iceland highlights video above. From there, we headed to Dimmuborgir, which are vast, oddly shaped lava fields. iceland road tripLook at these amazing lava formations!
drive the ring road icelandAnother highlight? Icelandic horses of course! While I’m not into horseback riding, I had to stop several times to pet horses on the side of the road. One of the farm houses we stayed at was actually a horse farm – something this animal lover was more than happy about.  icelandic horsesIceland has an unusually high number of waterfalls, considering how small the country is. This is due to its location – being in the North Atlantic brings a lot of rain, and being so close to the Arctic created many glaciers. iceland gullfoss waterfallThese glaciers melting, plus all the rain water, means not only lots of waterfalls, but also very powerful waterfalls – Dettifoss is in fact the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. iceland road tripI wish I could include a photo of the northern lights, because the night we saw them was definitely a highlight of the trip, but in my excitement about seeing these unique green lights dancing in the sky I managed to break my tripod while setting it up. I guess that’s another excuse to go back to Iceland!
drive the ring roadIceland being an island means that it is blessed with thousands of miles of dramatic coastline – 3,088 miles (4,970km) to be precise. The black sand beaches (which are volcanic ash, not sand) never failed to impress. drive the ring roadFjallsárlón is a smaller glacier lagoon, not far from Jökulsárlón, but with less tourists! Despite braving a rain storm during our visit, it was one of the most remarkable places we stopped at.
glacier lagoon ice icelandI am finishing this post with another thing that Iceland is really good at: sunsets! On the list for my next visit? Seeing the sunset over the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. But with lakes, volcanoes, geysers and waterfalls, there’s pretty much an epic sunset guaranteed every night, no matter where in Iceland you are. driving the ring road icelanddrive the ring roadIf you’re planning your own Iceland road trip, check out:

Planning a trip to Iceland on a budget: Things to know before you go

For more of our epic experience driving the Ring Road, read:

drive the ring roadAll images were taken on the Highlights Of Iceland self-driving tour. Icelandic Farm Holidays provides you with a rental car and an itinerary for every day, but you can decide individually how much time to spend in each suggested stop, or add additional ones. Accommodation is provided in a mix of Icelandic farm houses, B&Bs and hotels.

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Why You Need To Visit Lombardy, In 20 Photos

brescia italy

Had it really been four years? This question ran through my mind as I was watching the familiar sights of sprawling vineyards and tall cypress trees from the train. Yes, it had really been four years since I last went to Italy, a country that I list as one of my favorite countries in the world every time when asked to name my most beloved countries. And this time, I would finally explore a part of the country I’ve only ever passed through on drives to regions further south: I’d visit Lombardy in Northern Italy.bergamo pizzaI am not sure why I’ve skipped this part of Italy so many times – because it’s right on the way to my favorite region in Italy, Tuscany, where I’ve been a bunch of times. Thinking about it, Italy is probably the country I’ve visited more often than any other country. lake garda saloThe Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, Rome and Liguria – I know them all so well. And yet, even after so many visits, I still have many regions in Italy to see: Puglia, Emilia Romagna, Calabria, Abruzzo, Sicily and Sardinia, to name just a few, are all places I yearn to experience. And the north, which I passed through so many times when driving down from Germany – somehow I never stopped there, despite glorious tales of beautiful alpine mountain trails and famous lakes like Garda and Como. lake garda view over salosirmione lake garda italySo when I was invited to visit Lombardy, one of the regions in northern Italy, and to get to know Milan, I jumped at the chance.

When I finally laid eyes on Lake Garda, I couldn’t help but ask myself: What took me so long? Why didn’t I come here earlier?

I am not sure why the north doesn’t get as much attention as famous regions further south, because every place I went to was gorgeous and had something special to it.

Which is why I thought I’d introduce you to Lombardy with the favorite pictures of my trip, showing you why this part of Italy is well worth a visit.

20 reasons to visit Lombardy

1 Quaint lake shore towns

Lombardy might not have any access to the Mediterranean, but now that I spent some time there, I say: it doesn’t really need it! With famous lakes like Como and Garda, and lesser known but not less stunning lakes like Maggiore or Iseo, Lombardy still has plenty of beaches. I loved the small towns that dot the lake shores – they usually come with a picturesque promenade, colorful buildings, plenty of sidewalk cafes and lots of gelaterias.lake garda sirmione

2 Lake Garda sunsets

Who needs beach sunsets when you can have sunsets like this?! Lake Garda really showed off while I was visiting, coloring the sky in some the most vivid colors possible – none of the tourists who were meandering up and down the promenade could simply walk by – everybody pulled out their camera or cell phone to take pictures. A true show stopper!lake garda sunset2

3 Hidden gem #1: Brescia

I had never heard of Brescia before I visited the city, which turned out to be home to the most significant Roman ruins in all of Lombardy (see below)! The big university city still manages to feel like a small town in its historic core, and there are enough architectural highlights to fill a photo essay on their own: striking churches, beautiful piazzas, grand mansions, castles and the famous Santa Giulia monastery. The best part? There were barely any tourists in town!brescia town square

4 History is alive in Lombardy

Brescia’s historical heritage is among the most significant in all of Italy. There’s the 8th century Santa Giulia monastery which now houses a museum of epic proportions: here, you find a collection of over 11,000 items spanning artifacts from prehistoric times, antiquity, the Lombard Age, the Carolingian Age and Venetian ages. You could spend an entire day wandering the 12,000 square meter large museum, but wait.. there’s more! Brescia is also home to the oldest Roman ruins in northern Italy, and wandering the streets you’ll stumble across a well-preserved Roman Capitolium (Roman temple), forum and theater. I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors who got to try out brand new multimedia glasses (ArtGlass) at the museum, which transformed the ruins into the magnificent buildings they once were. It made me wish I would’ve had glasses like those when I hopped from ruin to ruin in Rome and Pompeji – what a spectacular feature and way to bring a place back to life!brescia museum

5 The scrumptious regional cuisine

I ate so much good food in Lombardy that I was seriously concerned about fitting in my dirndl – I was heading straight to Oktoberfest in Munich from here (in case you’re wondering: the zipper just closed and I tried not to breath all day). I could easily post 20 photos of the meals I devoured, but the food in Lombardy deserves its own post – for mouth-watering photos of all the ravioli, gnocchi, pizza, polenta, risotto and pastries I stuffed myself with, check out this post: Eating My Way Through Northern Italy. Pictured below are some of the best gnocchi I ever had – topped with truffles. The food alone is worth a visit to Lombardy!lombardy gnocci

6 Hidden gem #2: Bergamo

Bergamo, another town I’d heard of before visiting Lombardy, charmed me with its Citta Alta, the Upper Town, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the plains around the Lower City and offering fantastic views all the way to the Alps and even to Milan which sits southeast of Bergamo.
bergamo italy

Historic Renaissance and Baroque architecture is plentiful here, and I loved the distinctly medieval feel of the Upper Town.


7 Roman ruins with a view

The Grottoes of Catullus are the remains of a massive Roman villa, which belonged to the Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus. He sure knew to picked one of the best spots along the shores of Lake Garda, the Sirmione peninsula which The vast complex consists of the criptoportico hall (famous for its sixty pillars), there is a triple window grotto, many well preserved pillars and arches and baths, plus a collection of items found on the site. visit Lombardy

8 Olives fresh from the tree

To be honest, I had no idea olives still grew that far north – but you can find olive orchids throughout Lombardy and I loved having some fresh olives from the region with a glass of wine at night.lake garda olive tree

 9 Breakfast brioches

Italian breakfasts may seem small and unassuming – a cup of coffee and something sweet with it, usually a freshly baked pastry, like a brioche (known as cornetto in the south of Italy), but these brioches are just to die for! I’m usually not a croissant person, but these heavenly, buttery, crisp on the outside and cake-y on the inside. Speaking of croissants – I shouldn’t have mentioned that word, because brioches don’t like to be compared to their French counterparts. While similar, they’re not made the same way, and brioches can come simple (without filling), or filled with jam, honey, custard or nutella. What a great way to start the day!visit Lombardy

10 Milan’s many faces: The bohemian face

One of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip was because it’d give me the chance to spend an extended period of time in Milan. I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t all too fussed about Milan when I first visited Italy’s second biggest city in 2011, but heard glowing reviews of Milan from other travelers. I knew that Milan deserved a second chance – and I am glad I gave it another shot.


I loved Milan the second time around, but telling you about all the things I discovered this time around would go beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll bring you a full article on the different faces of Milan I got to see. But let me at least mention a few of the things I loved about Milan: for one, its bohemian side in the Isola neighborhood, where the tree-lined boulevards and the grand buildings reminded me of Buenos Aires.milan isola district

11 Milan’s many faces: The hipster face

And the Navigli District with its terrific street art, flea markets and hipster hangouts.visit Lombardy

12 Milan’s many faces: The historic face

And the historic side of the city, with remarkable columns, churches and of course the magnificent cathedral.milan columns

13 Pastel colored towns and villages

This is one thing I love about Italy in general, and Lombardy was no different than the rest of the country: all of its towns have narrow streets lined with pastel colored houses and green or blue wooden window shutters. So pretty!lombardy colors

14 UNESCO World Heritage (lots of it!)

Lombardy is home to only 6% of Italy’s population, but it is home to 8 of the country’s 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is quite impressive and makes Lombardy in fact the region with the highest concentration of UNESCO sites in the country! From the rock drawings in Valcamonica and the Sacri Montichapels to the combined site of the Longobord’s Places Of Power In Italy (including  Brescia’s monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia) or the workers’ village of Crespi d’Adda, there are some really interesting UNESCO sites to be explored in Lombardy. If you enjoy visiting UNESCO sites while traveling (I do), then you should definitely visit Lombardy.brescia roman ruins

15 Lakes meeting Alpine mountains

Tuscany might have rolling hills, but Lombardy has Alpine mountains that meet azure blue lakes! Being on or by these lakes, surrounded by green mountains, some of them with snow-capped peaks, is a stunning sight. And different from the Alpine lakes further north, the lakes here benefit from a more Mediterranean climate, which means the water gets really warm here during the summer months. Lombardy’s landscapes definitely stand out. lake garda island

16 Medieval castles

If you are a history buff and can’t get enough of ancient castles, you must visit Lombardy! With its many strategically placed hilltop towns, naturally there are lots of medieval castles that were built to protect the cities during the times when Italy’s regions weren’t as friendly with each other as they are today. I was impressed to see how well preserved most of them are! visit Lombardy

17 Medieval towns 

This goes with #16 above – it’s not just castles, cathedrals, palazzos and mansions that are well preserved in Lombardy – you can find entire ‘Old Towns’ all over Lomardy that still look pretty much what they used to look like hundreds of years ago. I often felt like I was stepping back in time – and I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.bergamo architecture

18 Charming red roofs everywhere

I love getting a bird’s eye’s view of a city, and in Italy I am usually in luck, since there seems to be a tower that can be climbed. Red tile roofs just have a special charm, don’t you agree? brescia views

19 A French Riviera vibe

Like I said – Lombard doesn’t even have access to the Mediterranean, and yet, in several of its lake side towns, I felt a Cote D’Azur vibe. Maybe George Clooney felt that way too, and that’s why he bought a house on the shores of Lake Como? Anyway – I loved the sophisticated flair when I strolled down the wide, palm tree lined promenades, passing yachts in the water and elegant ladies with big sunglasses and hand fans in the cafes. The main difference between here and the French Riviera? It is much less pretentious and much less expensive. visit Lombardy

20 Polenta e osei

This pastry alone is worth a trip to Bergamo, where this local specialty is from. Funnily enough it doesn’t have any polenta in it, despite being named polenta e osei, but that’s because it looks like a perfectly mounded polenta. It’s topped with marzipan and the black topppings resemble the osei, which means birds.polenta e osei bergamo

Do you want to visit Lombardy? If you need any help planning your trip, leave a comment with your question.


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My Journey Through the Philippines in Pictures


This is my very last post about the Philippines – at least for now. I am sharing my island hopping journey in pictures, and I hope that these photos will convince you to visit the Philippines. I’m already daydreaming about my next trip to this gorgeous country, and I can’t wait to visit all the places I didn’t make it to the first time around.bohol rice fieldsWhenever people ask me about my favorite places in South East Asia, I can’t stop gushing over the picture-perfect beaches I visited, the lush green islands with their scenic rice fields and softly swaying palm trees, a stark contrast to the urban sprawl of Manila which is rapidly turning into a modern, advanced city; rivaling Singapore and Bangkok with the number of skyscrapers and shopping malls that continue to emerge in the ever growing capital. When I sat in one of Manila’s third-wave coffee shops, located in one of the shiny fancy malls, after returning from Palawan, I couldn’t believe that a day earlier, I had shared the road with ox carts and that I didn’t even have cell phone reception in El Nido – now I was surrounded by people who were all glued to their smartphones again.visit the philippinesThe many faces of the Philippines were fascinating, the marine life breathtaking, the people welcoming and kind. But I’ll let the photos speak for themselves – visit the Philippines virtually through my pictures:flying into manila philippinesIt all started when I flew into Manila, and the capital couldn’t have been more surprising – I expected to hate it because everyone who had visited the city seemed to thoroughly dislike it. Read more about my time in Manila here: Living it up in Manila
bonifacio global city manilaFrom Manila, I flew to Boracay, because I was craving some beach time. I had been wanting to visit Boracay, famous for its ridiculously pretty White Beach, for years, and this travel dream finally came true.boracay island paradiseI spent hours just staring out at the water, listening to the sound of the softly clashing waves. For the first time in months, I was able to relax 100%.boracay white beach6As if a stunning 4-kilometer long beach with soft, powdery sand and crystal clear water weren’t enough, Boracay also boasts some of the most memorable sunsets I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Every single night! Read more about my time in Boracay here: Debauchery in Paradise: Letting loose in Boracayvisit the philippinesMy next stop was Bohol, a short flight from Boracay, which I added to my itinerary to meet these little guys:tarsier bohol philippinesTarsiers! The other attraction Bohol is famous for are the oddly shaped Chocolate Hills. I should have stayed longer to check out some of the beaches, but I was told there are nicer beaches in Siquijor, a nearby island reachable by ferry.visit the philippinesYou can read more about my time in Bohol here: Tarsiers and chocolate hills in Bohol
bohol rice fields philippinesSiquijor was the one place in the Philippines that exceeded my expectations – by far!visit the philippinesIt might have been the witchcraft (which Siquijor is famous for) that charmed me, or simply the incredible natural beauty of the island. Read more about this magical place here: Searching for magic in mystical Siquijorsiquijor waterfall philippinesFrom Siquijor, I took a ferry to Dumaguete, where I based myself to do what would be a highlight of my trip: Swimming with sea turtles in Apo Island! I 100% recommend adding Apo Island to your itinerary when you visit the Philippines.
sea turtle apo islandFor the stunning underwater life in all its glory, have a look at my Apo Island gallery on Flickr.

underwater world apo island philippinesThe next island on my itinerary was sadly not just a quick ferry ride away – instead, it took me nearly 16 hours to get from Dumaguete to El Nido, and the trip there included buses, a ferry, a minivan, a plane and a taxi.bacuit archipelago viewpointMy destination was worth the strenuous travel day though: Palawan, the crown jewel of the Philippines. In my opinion, you can’t visit the Philippines and NOT go to Palawan.island hopping el nidoI could go on and on about the incredibly picturesque beaches and lagoons of the Bacuit Archipelago off the coast of El Nido, but I let the pictures speak for themselves.visit the philippinesEl Nido was indeed the grand finale to a fabulous journey, and you can read more about it (and marvel at more photos!) in these two articles:

bacuit archipelago boatFrom Palawan I flew back to Manila for a few days of city life after weeks of island and beach hopping, and got to know fancy speakeasy bars, indulged in scrumptious vegetarian food (a rare find on most of the islands I went to) and visited the historic district of Manila, Intramuros, before boarding my plane to Bangkok.intramuros manilaConsidering that the Philippines consist of more than 7,000 islands, I feel like I only got a small teaser of the country, but I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the country.visit the philippinesIf you’re considering visiting the Philippines, check out my budget breakdown: How much does it cost to travel in the Philippines?, which also has some travel planning and money saving tips.el nido sunset


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The Grand Finale of my Philippines Trip: El Nido (Part I)


El Nido was one of the two places I was looking forward to the most on my Philippines trip (the other one was Boracay), as everyone who had been there was raving about the unspoiled beauty of the deserted islands off the coast of Palawan, the island El Nido is located on.El Nido PalawanAs I was holding on for my dear life in the van that took me up to El Nido from Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s main airport, I was praying that it would live up to my high expectations, but since Palawan had recently been declared the most beautiful island in the world, I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t disappoint.el nido beach viewWhen I booked my flight to Puerto Princesa, I wasn’t aware that it would take another 5-6 hours to get to El Nido from the airport, which would make this a 16-hour travel day starting in Dumaguete 6am in the morning and reaching El Nido 9pm at night. The hours in the van were some of the most horrible driving I’ve experienced so far, even beating the van driver from Laos to Chiang Mai who fell asleep halfway through, forcing one of us passengers to take over the wheel.bacuit archipelago shell philippinesThis driver surely saw the narrow winding mountain roads of Palawan as his own personal race track, and several times when he accelerated before a sharp turn I was convinced we’d shoot over the guardrail into the woods.el nido las cabanas beachAgainst all odds we made it to el Nido alive, and I realized mistake #2: not booking a hostel in advance. My driver took me to a number of places, all of which were full, and just when I was about to give up hope and thought I would have to spend the night on the beach, I lucked out and got the last single room in a hostel.el nido with boatsWhen I went to explore the town the next morning, I wasn’t all too impressed, to be honest. The beach seemed dirty, and while others might find the ramshackle buildings charming, I just found them.. ugly.el nido kayakBut nobody comes to El Nido for the town. People come here for the Bacuit Archipelago. The archipelago is made of 45 islets, most of them nothing more than limestone karst cliff outcrops surrounded by crystal clear water, some of them boasting secret beaches or hidden lagoons. What all of them have in common is that they offer some of the best snorkeling in the country.bacuit archipelago island hopping tourThe best way to see as many of them as possible? Go on an island hopping tour. There are four different tours which can be booked just about anywhere in town, creatively titled Tour A, B, C and D. The tours are all pretty similar: the boats leave El Nido around 9am and get back around 5pm, include a lunch and 4 to 5 snorkeling stops.bacuit archipelago boatWhen I researched the various tours to decide which ones to go on, I had found that most people were recommending A and C, so those were the ones I went on (I would have loved to hop on all four tours, but El Nido is not the cheapest place to hang around in, and it’s probably good that there is no ATM in town, forcing you to leave when you run out of money).bacuit archipelago boatsI decided to start with tour A and on a rather cloudy morning I hopped on a little Filipino fishing boat to cruise around the comandments beach philippinesOur first stop was the 7 Commandment beach, a small sandy beach, fringed by palm trees. The snorkeling area was small and I almost didn’t go in the water because it was still overcast and I thought I might even be cold. But I am so glad I eventually did go in! There were already more fish in this little spot than I had seen in all four of my snorkeling stops in Apo Island. It was like a beautiful underwater plant garden, and I would have been satisfied staying here all day, laying out on the gorgeous beach and going for an occasional snorkeling dip, but this was only stop 1 of 5.Bacuit Archipelago underwaterThe second stop was already our lunch stop, and we spent well over an hour on a tiny strip of sand beach, and the crew was preparing lunch (lots of fresh fish, rice and fruit) while we were sunbathing and snorkeling. The snorkeling area was much bigger than on the first beach, and I loved the marine life here. You could snorkel all the way out to a massive limestone rock that stuck out of the ocean if you were a good swimmer and see plenty of fish everywhere around you.Bacuit Archipelago underwater PhilippinesAfter lunch (very filling if you’re not a vegetarian; leaving you starving if you’re a vegetarian), we moved on to our third stop, a hidden lagoon that we had to swim into, entering via a small hole in the rock. Getting there was a bit difficult because it was extremely rocky – we were all wearing our flip flops or water shoes and were still struggling. Here I could see why Alex Garland’s The Beach was apparently inspired by his time in the Philippines (even though the book is set in Thailand).bacuit archipelago lagoonHe was probably trying to keep the real beach a secret, but in this case, when five boats get there at the same time and fifty people try to make their way in there at once, it is a bit underwhelming. Only at the end, when everybody else had left and the lagoon was almost empty, I came to appreciate the stunning beauty of it with the towering limestone rocks towering high above me.bacuit archipelagoNext was an absolutely stunning stop: First we cruised in a big circle through the Big Lagoon, only open to the ocean on one side, and surrounded by massive limestone rocks on all sides. After that, we stopped outside the lagoon to snorkel in what is best described as a real-life aquarium. The coral, the plants, the fish – so so many fish – it truly felt as if someone had dropped me into an aquarium. I could’ve stayed there forever.Bacuit Archipelago underwater snorkelingThis was only my first island hopping trip in El Nido, and it didn’t disappoint. I was already looking forward to my next one!

For more impressions from Palawan and practical information on how to get to El Nido, where to stay, what to do and other things you should know before you go, check out Part II of this post: The grand finale of my Philippines trip: El Nido (Part II)

bacuit archipelago lagoonbacuit archipelago beachbacuit archipelago philippines


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Road trippin’ in Southern Israel: Masada and Timna Valley

wadi zin sde boker israel

The 4am wake-up call was painful. What had I done? Was it really worth getting up in the middle of the night to watch the sunrise from a mountaintop? But everybody told me I had to visit Masada on a trip to Israel, and apparently heading there to see the sunrise meant seeing Masada in the best light. It also meant we’d had time to continue our road trip further south and visit Timna Park, which was apparently one of the most scenic places in all of Israel.dead sea view before sunriseNot only did I have to crawl out of a bed at 4am, but I also had to climb up a steep mountain in the dark until I’d get to reap the benefits of this arduous undertaking. I was tempted to turn around under my warm, soft blanket and turn off the snooze function on my alarm.dead sea just before sunrise israelBut what was awaiting me on top of the mountain was enticing enough for me to shed off my comfy blankets and get out of bed: Seeing the sun rise over the Dead Sea.
dead sea sunrise from the mesadaI arrived at the bottom of Masada after a 1.5 hour drive from Jerusalem and looked up to the plateau I was about to hike up via the infamous Snake Path (not named for snakes, but for the many curves), in the pitch black darkness. Only the moon and the stars were illuminating the desolate landscape around me. I was late. The sun was due to rise at 6.30am, the climb was supposed to take an hour and it was already 5.40am when I finally got out of the car and started the hike.snake trail before sunrise masada israelThe rock on which Masada sits is 1,300 feet (400 meters) high, and since the beginning of time it has been difficult to reach the top on foot, and even more difficult to capture.masada plateau at sunriseMasada means fortress in Hebrew, and that’s exactly what Judean king Herod the Great built up on the plateau between 37 and 31 BC. The fortified complex of palaces, storehouses, bathing houses and armories was supposed to be his winter residence.masada just after sunriseThanks to its extraordinary setting and great condition of the palace ruins, Masada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.masada israel palaceToday, the rock is one of Israel’s most popular tourist attractions (rightly so), especially during sunrise, but when I climbed the steep slopes of the dirt path at dawn, nobody else was there. Because I was late, I walked much faster than I usually do (especially uphill!) and finally passed a couple of other hikers on my way to the top. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who’d visit Masada for sunrise, I was just the last one who had started the hike. (Side note: You don’t have to hike to visit Masada – you can also take the cable car. See below for more information & tips for visiting Masada.)snake trail before sunriseThe path is only about 1.3 miles (2km) long, but has more than 700 stairs and covers an altitude difference of 1,150 feet (350 meters). It might not seem like a long walk, but the winding path is quite challenging.snake trail after sunriseWhen I reached the top, I was soaked in sweat and breathing heavily, but the sun was just starting to show itself, starting to paint the sky bright red behind the Jordanian Moab Mountains on the other side of the Dead Sea – I had made it in time.dani watching the sunrise over the dead seaI walked around the deserted plateau, looking for a good spot to watch the sunrise and settled for a part where the ancient stone walls were still pretty much intact. I sat down and began to wonder what this place must have been like thousands of years ago when Herod used Masada as his winter getaway.visit MasadaThe story Masada is most famous for is more gruesome than glorious, however: the Siege of Masada at the of the First Jewish-Roman war which ended in the mass suicide of over 900 Jewish rebels and their families. Herod the Great had been dead for 75 years when the revolt of the Jews against the Romans began. After the fall of Jerusalem, a group of Jewish rebels fled to Masada and held out on top of the mountain for three years. Eventually, thousands of Roman troops marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion and constructed a rampart against the fortress, moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the fortress’ wall. When the Jewish defenders realized that there was no way they could besiege the Romans, their leaders decided that they all should commit suicide rather than being killed by the Roman attackers.masada israel and judean desertBecause of its isolated and safe location, Masada stayed in a fairly good condition over the centuries, pretty much untouched by humans for about two millennia!masada israel2It was only excavated between 1963 and 1965 – fairly recently. I was amazed to find so many mosaics, bathhouses and frescoes in good condition. Masada is the most complete and biggest Roman siege camp that still remains today.masada israel mosaicI took a couple of hours to properly explore the buildings and the palace, marveling at the mosaics and the well-restored buildings, trying to imagine life up here 2,000 years ago.visit MasadaWhile rain water was collected in big cisterns which are also still intact, it is still a hard place to live with the harsh, lifeless desert surrounding the rock.masada at sunriseI could see why Herold chose this place as his winter residency though: These magnificent views! The breathtaking vista towards the Dead Sea in the east, and overlooking the Judean Desert towards the West.judean desert in israelThe scenery around the Masada is just spectacular.masada cable car with sunriseWalking around the plateau I got to take in the views in all directions, and I was almost tempted to do another hike in the Judean Desert, but I had other hiking plans already: Exploring Timna Park.judean desert after sunriseThe best thing about a 4am start is that you can fit in a lot in your day – and visiting Masada was only the beginning of a day filled with incredible landscapes and hikes.Road trip israelAfter a coffee in the coffee shop at the bottom of the Masada, we hopped into the car and followed Route 90 further south. Our final destination was Eilat for some beach time and snorkeling in the Red Sea, but on the way, we’d planned to stop in Timna Valley, a desert area known for its spectacular limestone and rock formations.timna park mushroomWe had 136 miles (220 kilometers) of a scenic drive along the Dead Sea and through the desert ahead of us. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love the desert, and I was happy to sit in the passenger seat, being able to stop anytime and snap some photos along the way.timna park israelWe arrived in Timna Park about two hours later, and even though it wasn’t noon yet, we were met by an extreme heat when we left the car to buy our tickets for the National Park. When we opened the doors of the air-conditioned car, it felt like we were inside an oven!timna park hikeTemperatures easily exceed 105 °F (42 °C) in the summer months, and we were about to set out on a hike in the hottest hours of the day, with no shade to protect us.timna park rock formationsThe lady who sold us the tickets to the National Park made sure that we had enough water, advising us that there was no water anywhere in the park. Just sand, rocks, and limestone pillars.timna park rocksArmed with a map of the park we drove down the narrow road that led straight towards the rocks ahead of us.visit timna park israelThe valley, rich in copper, is famous for its ancient copper mines, which date back to the 5th millennium BC, and remnants of these mines can still be seen in various locations throughout the park, but what I found even more sensational was the natural beauty of the place.timna park israel hikersThe massive, multi-colored rocks, ranging from orange to red to black, reminded me of the canyons and arches in my beloved Southwest of the U.S., and also of the desolate desert of Bolivia’s southwest, even though that one is located at 13,000 feet and much cooler than this place. The erosion there managed to create some strikingly similar rock formations, however.timna park israelI didn’t care that it was unbearably hot, I had to explore all the formations that Timna Park is famous for.timna park israel rockThere is the mushroom, a giant red sandstone monolith that has been formed into the shape of a mushroom by sand and wind, rising high into the desert sky.timna park mushroomAfter a few stops at other formations, we reached the Arches, another famous rock formation in Timna Park, and you can hike up and even through the arches, from where you have a fantastic view over the valley.visit timna park israelI loved how moon-like this area felt; if you had put me down there and told me I was on Mars, I would’ve believed it. There was barely any life here – the bushes were dry and brown, there was no green at all.timna park desertscapeWe also stopped to see the Chariots, impressive rock drawings by the Egyptians, left many thousands of years ago when the Egyptians passed through this region.timna park israel cave drawingsThe Solomon’s Pillars were the perfect way to end our 4-hour tour of the park: three massive sandstone pillars that are towering 50 meters tall above me, definitely a highlight.timna park solomons pillarsThe night before, an Israeli singer had held a concert there, and while I was watching the crew pack up the stage, I could only imagine how staggeringly beautiful it must have been to listen to the music in this awe-inspiring setting.timna park solomons pillars israelI wish I would’ve had the chance to take some of the longer hikes, but it was just too hot. For my next visit to Eilat (and there’s no doubt that there’ll be a next time!), I know that I’ll be visiting Timna Park in the early morning when it is less hot.timna park mushroomSo far, this was one of the most memorable days in Israel: breathtaking views, a rewarding hike, thousands of years of history and stunning landscapes.visit timna park

Practical Information: How to road trip to Masada and how to visit Timna Park

Visit Masada

  • You can visit Masada independently if you have a car or as part of a tour if you don’t have a car.
  • If you decide to hike up, start early. It gets incredibly hot in this region of Israel, especially in the summer months (up to 109°F /43°C!). The Snake Trail takes about an hour to hike, firm shoes are recommended since the path is rocky and steep, and there are many stairs. Make sure to bring enough water. If you hike up for sunrise, the cafeteria at the bottom of the rock will be open upon your return (it opens around 8am).
  • You can also take a cable car up to the top, if you feel less active. Admission with cable car (two ways) is NIS76 (US$19)
  • If you climb, and don’t take the cable car, admission via the Snake Path is NIS29 (US$7.32), but you can also hike up and take the cable car back down. Admission with one way cable car is NIS57 (US$14.42)
  • The cable car is open from 8am till 4pm (check the website for reduced hours on Holidays before your visit).
  • It is possible to visit Masada via public bus from Jerusalem, but the bus lets you off at the Masada Junction on Route 90 and you’ll have to walk to the entrance. The bus is #486, and it runs five times a day. The ticket from Jerusalem is NIS42 (US$ .
  • Abraham Tours runs a Sunrise Masada Tour from Jerusalem which also includes stops at Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. If you can’t be bothered to get up early to see the sunrise, Abraham Tours also offers a tour with a later start (7am) to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. Both tours are offered three times a week and cost NIS280 (~US$80).

visit Masada

Visit Timna Park

  • It is not possible to visit Timna Park without a car. If you don’t have your own car, you can book a tour from Eilat. The tours are pricey though (nearly US$100), and if you are a group of three or four people, it’s cheaper to rent a car for the day. That way you’ll also be more flexible.
  • It is easiest to visit Timna Park from Eilat, as it is only 17 miles (25km) north of the seaside resort. It will take you about 30 mins by car to get there.
  • Allow at least four hours for your visit; the park is spacious and the main attractions are spread out. If you’re planning to go on hikes, plan in at least six hours.
  • Make sure you bring enough water, sun screen and snacks. Nothing is available for purchase inside the park.
  • Be prepared for extreme heat, especially between May and September. 110°F /45°C around noon are not uncommon.
  • Admission to Timna Park is NIS49 (US$12.40)
  • The park is open from Sunday to Thursday and on Saturdays 8am to 4pm, on Fridays from 8am to 3pm; and in July and August as well as on Holidays from 8am to 1pm.

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Along the shores of Lake Titicaca: Discovering rural Bolivia on a 20km hike

lake titicaca dani

Lake Titicaca was our last stop in Bolivia. We arrived by bus from La Paz, and from here, we would cross into Peru. In fact, Lake Titicaca is shared by Bolivia and Peru, and we were only a few miles away from our fifth South American country when we spent a few days on the shores of one of the world’s highest lakes.

A random encounter at the lake

When we met Don Hilario, we were dead tired. We had already walked 15 kilometers, at an altitude of 12,600 feet. This random encounter, (which wasn’t so random after all), was exactly what we needed to keep us going for the last five kilometers of the hike. lake titicaca cowsThe old Bolivian campesino who lives right on the shore of Lake Titicaca doesn’t get to see foreigners very often. So when he does, don’t expect to be let off the hook any time soon. Our Lonely Planet guidebook, even though mostly unreliable in South America, was spot on in this case when it briefly mentioned you might run into an odd character named Don Hilario on the hike to Yampupata.lake titicaca view boliviaYampupata itself is not really a tourist destination, a sleepy village on the lake shore, which is why there aren’t many unknown faces passing through here. And even though the village is connected to Copacabana, the closest town, via a dusty dirt road, it is far enough to let you forget that you were anywhere near a larger settlement. Out here, the lake shore farmers and fishermen live pretty much the same way they did fifty years ago.lake titicaca housesLonely Planet also mentioned that Don Hilario had a large collection of postcards from all over the world, which he would show hikers if they were lucky, and sure enough, after sitting us down on one of the reed boats that are typical for Lake Titicaca, he went into his little hut and returned with two hands full of postcards. We were grateful to sit and rest for a few minutes, so we eagerly read every single postcard he showed us, from places like Canada, the US, Holland, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Germany.lake titicaca reed boatAfter admiring his postcard collection he offered us a ride in his new motorboat – the reed boat in front of the house seemed to be purely for show these days – but we decided to continue walking before we’d loose the last remaining bit of energy we still had.lake titicaca viewIt had taken more than four hours to get to Sicuani, the tiny village where Don Hilario lived, and it was our first ‘warm-up’ walk for our five-day trek to Machu Picchu a couple of weeks later. We were both still recovering from sickness and had never hiked at such a high altitude, so we figured it was time to test our fitness levels.lake titicaca road to yampupataThis hike, which we had found in the Lonely Planet, sounded just right for our first test run. It seemed to be mostly flat, so it would be a good way for us to ease into the high-altitude trekking.lake titicaca yampupata hikelake titicaca yampupata and isla del sol view

The perfect day hike from Copacabana

I was also keen to get out of Copacabana, were we had based ourselves for a few days, because Copacabana turned out to be a town I didn’t care too much for, except for the fantastic lake views from top of the Cerro Calvario mountain maybe. copacabana viewLake Titicaca itself is the true attraction here, and not only because it is the highest navigable lake in the world, but also because of its mystic aura. It was here where, according to the beliefs of the Inca, the creator god Viracoca rose up and create the sun and moon, stars, and the first human beings. This all took place on the appropriately named Isla Del Sol and Isla De La Luna, both only a short boat ride from Copacabana, and even closer from Yampupata. Isla Del Sol would be the place of our second warm-up hike.lake titicaca boliviaDuring the hike we barely met anyone. Every now and again a motorcycle would pass us, but if we didn’t pass through a village, we were on our own, aside from the odd llama or some sheep and pigs.
lake titicaca llamaThree kilometers into the hike, we passed a small set of Inca ruins, which we had to ourselves, and another two kilometers later we reached Chani, a small village where tourists from Copacanana who booked a boat ride on the lake were taken to experience a floating restaurant (a tourist trap).lake titicaca yampupata hike roadUp to here, the road had been following the shoreline the entire time, but now it turned away from the lake. Many empty ruins sat along the way, remnants of settlements that had been erected and left many moons ago. They added to the sinister atmosphere in this isolate place, making me wonder what it must have looked like here at the height of the Inca empire.lake titicaca deserted houseslake titicaca fieldsWe passed a religious shrine inside a cave, followed by a steady climb to the top of a hill. The altitude was hard to get used to and I felt like I was huffing and puffing more than ever before, walking slower than an 80-year old woman. When I reached the top, I was rewarded with views over the Camino Precolombino, and the road luckily went downhill again towards the water.Bolivia lake titicaca hikeNear the lake we reached the only bigger village after a few lone houses along the road. We were greeted by chickens, dogs, sheep and some farmers who were working their fields. lake titicaca sheepUp until this hike, I didn’t have the best impression of Bolivians – they didn’t seem overly friendly or welcoming, most of them seemed to see you only as a walking cash dispenser.But here, in this part the country where people barely ever get to see foreigners, we were greeted with smiles, hellos, and in the next village over by the sweet Don Hilario.lake titicaca church boliviaAfter waving goodbye to the old man, we had another uphill walk to make it through, and at this point we were fairly tired. My legs hurt, I was hungry, and I was ready to lay down.lake titicaca hikeOnce we made it to the highest point though, the fine views over the lake and the islands, the green fields and Yampupata below us made it all worth it. Now that I could see the end point, I felt a boost of energy run through me, and I knew I could do it.lake titicaca yampupata roadWhen we reached the village, we didn’t stick around long – we could have taken a boat over to Isla del Sol straight from here, but we wanted to hike across the entire island and knew that we needed more time (and some rest before the next big hike).lake titicaca shoreLuckily we found a taxi that was heading to Copacabana right away (10 bobs per person) and only half an hour later, we were back where we started.lake titicaca blue watersThe achievement of the hike felt extraordinary – and got me even more excited for the hike through the Andes to see the lost capital of the Incas, Machu Picchu. But up next was the mystical Isla Del Sol…lake titicaca views

Hiking Lake Titicaca – Practical information

The hike was definitely longer and harder than expected – it’s more like 19 or 20 km, not 17 as I had read. The road was also much more hilly (up and down) than I had thought.

It took us a total of 5 hours to get to Yampupata (incl short breaks and the 30-min chat with Don Hilario).

Pack snacks and water, as there aren’t really any shops along the way.lake titicaca hike

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