Short but sweet: a three day road trip along the Icefields Parkway

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At the end of September I took the shortest but sweetest road trip through the Canadian Rockies along the Icefields Parkway. I’m not really one for driving much but this road has easily made its way to the top of my ‘Favourite Roads to Drive’ list. The route is surrounded by soaring  snowy peaks, terrific glaciers and brilliant blue lakes – what more could you ask for from a Canadian road trip? All of this amazing scenery was enhanced by the colourful, autumn leaves getting ready to fall.

My friend Jess and I started roughly planning our road trip back in July but until September it felt more like a daydream than a reality. We hired a rental car and set off after work late on Sunday night with the plan of driving to Kamloops (four hours east of Whistler). We only had the first night’s accommodation booked and packed sleeping bags and blankets with the intention of sleeping in the car at least one night to keep spending down.

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Driving my first automatic was great. We were given a Ford Escape as a free upgrade which meant we would have more than enough space for sleeping and the heated seats were a dream.

Day one: Jasper, Medicine and Maligne Lakes

Our trip along the Icefields Parkway started in Jasper. The town itself is rustic and traditional-looking with the train line running beside the main streets. We had a quick, healthy lunch in the Patricia Street Deli before heading out to Maligne Canyon. (By this time it was already early afternoon as we had lost an hour due to the time zone changing as we crossed into Alberta.)

Our first stop as we drove through the canyon was Medicine Lake. Even with the dark clouds looming overhead, it was still a spectacular sight. It was extremely shallow with parts of the riverbed poking through creating a strange, marbled grey-blue colouring. On one side of the lake huge grey stone slabs burst out of the ground; on the other, a sad troop of dead trees stood burnt and bare from a past forest fire. This immense view was an unexpected highlight of the trip for me and is often over looked in favour of it’s sister Maligne Lake.

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While Maligne Lake is beautiful, it wasn’t the best weather or time of day to view it in all its glory. The distance snow-capped Rockies at the far side of the lake draw your eye immediately. The shimmering, dark water is enchanting and on a good day you sit for pondering life for hours.

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By this point in the day, we sadly realised we wouldn’t have time to visit the popular Miette Hot Springs so drove back to town for warm supper before looking for a place to park and sleep for the night. Opting to reduce the hours of driving the next day, we parked by the trailhead of Wilcox Park and settled down for our first night in the car.

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Day two: Wilcox Pass, Peyto Lake and Banff town (briefly)

We awoke to frozen condensation on the inside of the car windows. Despite all my preparations, I spent most of the night shivering in my sleeping bag, trying to keep my nose from falling off my face from lack of blood. At 7am the sun was still hiding behind the mountains so we went back to sleep for another hour.

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By 8am we were greeted by a cold, cloudless, blue sky and decided to get going while the weather was on our side. Parking next the trailhead had turned out to be a great plan as the parking spaces were quickly starting to fill. I had researched hikes that take you to a viewpoint for the Athabasca Glacier, a free way to see it and hopefully a less crowded option. The Wilcox Pass seemed to be the best choice (I got my information from 10hikes.com). It’s a scenic route taking you up through an bank of trees opposite the glacier and then up a ridge to the pass.

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There was a lot more snow than we had expected but it was still passable in good hiking boots. Starting early also meant we had the 360° views almost entirely to ourselves and the snowy pillows and clouds which had formed during the morning seemed to go on forever.

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Getting back to the car around midday, we had our packed lunches and headed off down the Icefields Parkway to Peyto Lake. This lake was one of my ‘must-see’ destinations. Having seen all my friends stop off there on longer road trips, I knew from their pictures it would be unmissable.

When we pulled into the car park it was bustling; naively I hadn’t realised the lake would be such a tourist hot spot. At the main platform it was awful with people battling to the get the perfect shot of themselves in front of the iconic aqua lake. This is just the kind of situation I hate being in – it feels like such an unnatural way of appreciating nature. Thankfully I had done my research so we detoured to the ‘Upper Viewpoint’ (thanks again 10hikes.com). Here we had a peaceful and uninterrupted view of the awesome lake, mountains with a dusting of snow and endless evergreen forest. It was hard to believe a few hundred metres away crowds were squabbling for space while we had our own private area. It’s the kind of view you dream of seeing and even now it’s hard to believe I was really standing on that rock with the wind whipping around my head.

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After deciding against another night in the cold car, we drove on the Banff town centre in search of cheap, last minute accommodation. We soon realised this isn’t something Banff offers. After checking a couple of hotels and ringing around the local hostels, the only place we could find that had a half-reasonable price was back the way we had just come, in Lake Louise. So we grabbed a quick bite in the surprisingly commercial town centre (a bit disappointing in my mind – who needs multiple shopping malls in a mountain town?) before heading there to enjoy a well-deserved shower and good sleep in a warm bed.

Day three: Lake Louise, the Plain of Six Glaciers and Johnston Canyon

We were raring and ready to go on the final day of our road trip. Being in Lake Louise had its benefits as it was the next stop on our list. We got a good spot at the car park even though we didn’t arrive until after 9:30am. Thankfully the lake itself wasn’t too busy with tourists evenly spread around the bank. There were plenty of spots to pose for photos and even with clouds covering every inch of the sky, the lake still had its characteristic turquoise colouring.

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10hikes.com came in handy one more time with its suggestion of the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. This was undoubtedly the pinnacle of the trip for me. I’ve never seen so many snowy glaciers in such a rugged setting, even in Patagonia.

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I hiked hard and fast up the narrow snow-covered ridge to the furthest point of the trail and quickly put my coat back on for the exhilarating bum-slide adventure on the way down (no one else seemed mad enough to attempt this technique).

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The wind was wild up there and it was nearly impossible to a good shot to prove you’d made it all the way to the top.

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Annoyingly the nearby Moraine Lake car park was still full after we had finished visiting Lake Louise so we has to pass on this popular attraction. It will certainly be somewhere to go back for from what I’ve heard and seen online. This meant we had time for one last stop before leaving the Icefields Parkway.

We drove to Johnston Canyon and ventured up to the smaller of the two main waterfalls. It was just a short walk from the car park along a narrow, man-made platform system. Thankfully is wasn’t crowded so we didn’t have to overtake too many times. Although it was a short stop-off, it was still an amazing canyon to see and worth a full tour next time around.

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Before we knew it, we were on our way back to Whistler, which is saying a lot as it was 10 hours of driving. In three days we covered hundreds of miles (I forgot to check for the final count…) and saw some of the world’s most amazing and breathtaking landscapes. As always, more time would have been great, but I see this adventure as more of an introduction to the Canadian Rockies than the final chapter.

If you have any questions about the road trip, feel free to drop me a message in the comments below.

Why am I still here if Whistler is closed?

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This is a question I have been asking myself on and off since Whistler mountain closed on the 22nd April 2018. I have always been very clear that the reason I came to Canada and to Whistler is to ski. I chose this resort out of all the other quieter, less expensive resorts in Canada because of its huge terrain. I spent a month or so training to be a ski instructor and an amazing six weeks teaching children how to ski. Now the lifts are closed and the snow is melting, what am I still doing here?

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I don’t have a profound answer to this question. I’m not sure I even have a real answer. All I know is I don’t seem to be able to leave. All the people I have met here over the winter have been telling me how much I will love summer; how it is so much better than winter, how there is so much more to do. But when you are doing something you love, do you need anything more?

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Over the last six months, skiing has become a huge part of my life. It has transformed from a hobby to a lifestyle – something I plan my week around. All of my best moments since being here have been on skis, whether it’s passing my instructing qualifications, helping a friend to conquer new heights, teaching my first lesson, winning a race, getting the freshest tracks on the biggest day of the year or starting each Sunday watching the sun rise over the mountains. This mystical place has won my heart and just because it’s closed for the winter doesn’t mean I can turn my back on it.

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What I didn’t realise when I chose Whistler was that it has such a popular mountain biking scene in the summer. Those who know me well will know I don’t know how to ride a bike. It’s not something I talk about much, mostly because I find it embarrassing. People always follow this discovery with, “do you know how to swim?” as though I’m deficient in all of life’s basic lessons. Maybe this will be the year I learn to ride, if I can afford to buy a bike, but for now this activity is barred to me.

There’s lots of other summer activities that are popular with locals here like fishing, camping, frisbee golf (frolf) and swimming in lakes, I just need to find one that works for me.

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In the last year while I traveled through South America I discovered a passion for hiking that I’d never had in the UK. I’d always thought walking was just a slow way to get to where you wanted to be. Thankfully, there’s a lot of hiking to do in Whistler and British Colombia. While I have to be a lot more careful not to wander into a bear here than I did in Patagonia, there’s still going to be places I can discover on my own. And anyway, if I need to be part of a group to hike, at least it encourages me to be more sociable.

So, while I might still be sad that the ski season is over, I’ll try to make the most of the summer in front of me and the beautifully transforming landscape that surrounds me here. It might not be a winter wonderland but it still beats the skyscrapers of London hands down.

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Ushuaia: the end of the world and the end of my Patagonian adventures

It’s not as apocalyptic as it sounds in Ushuaia. ‘El Fin del Mundo’, as Ushuaia likes to call itself, translates as ‘the end of the world’ but they’re using this title in a geographical sense as it’s the last city in the south of Argentina, closest to Antarctica. It’s also most travellers last (or first) stop in Patagonia. It rivals Torres del Paine for expensiveness and there’s a lot of attractions to spend your money on. Luckily, although maybe not for my bank balance, I had four full days to spend here so I had time to do all of them. I realised that I may never come back to Ushuaia so I should make the most of the opportunity and cough up some of my cash.

Day one: El Tren del Fin del Mundo and Tierra del Fuego National Park


Most people consider the train at the end of the world an expensive gimmick but for someone who had never been on a steam train before, I was really excited to experience it. The train is an important part of the penal history of Ushuaia (more on that later) and takes you through parts of the Tierra del Fuego National Park which you couldn’t otherwise see. The carriages are little three-seater compartments which made me feel like I was on the set of the Hogwarts Express (another reason I wanted to take the train) and there is an interesting audio guide which is played during the journey.


I had perfect weather for this day and halfway through the ride we were able to get out and take pictures of the train and amazing surrounding scenery – stamped by the clear impact of deforestation during the time the area was inhabited by the prison occupants. Instead of replanting, this area is left as an mark of the history of the city.

After the train ride, the minibus which had dropped me off at the train station picked me up and took me further into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The bus dropped me off at the end of Route 3 – the most southern main road in Argentina. From there, there are a number of short walks you can do around the peat marshes and Lapataia Bay area. This is a beautiful place that you could easily spend the whole day strolling around. Annoyingly I only had a few hours so I couldn’t walk all the trails but the bits I saw were outstanding. I didn’t know anything about peat before reaching Ushuaia but it has a lot of positive benefits and it changed the look of the landscape from the rest of Patagonia.




Day two: The Beagle Canal cruise

The next day I shelled out for the most expensive day trip of my time in Ushuaia – a cruise of the Beagle Canal. I don’t know a huge amount about the Antarctic expeditions and navigations of the south but I do know that the Beagle Canal was an important part of the history of this period. It’s the only passage through Argentina and Chile out to the Pacific Ocean and I felt very lucky to be able to afford a boat trip along this notary route.

Most of the boat trips include a visit to the (weird) bird island, the sea lion island and the lighthouse at the end of the world. Only some include the penguin island (Isla Martillo), mostly because it’s the furthest away. These trips which include a chance to see the penguins are the most expensive but I decided that I hadn’t come all this way not to see them. It’s only just the start of the season where the penguins arrive so it was a bit of a gamble to go with this option but it was definitely worth it.

The (weird) bird island was the first stop and it was jam-packed with these seagulls posing as penguins. I was momentarily deceived before I remembered penguins can’t fly (thanks Madagascar movie). They weren’t the main attraction of the trip but still pretty cool to see and they were much better than the plain old white seagulls we get in England.

Next was the sea lion island which I thought was very impressive although quite quiet – only a handful of sea lions were perched on the rocky cliffs. They clearly don’t like the boats visiting them because they kept swimming away every time we got closer. It was the first time I had seen a sea lion not in a zoo (and I’m not even sure I’ve seen them in the zoo). They’re so much bigger than you would expect and their ‘lion-like’ qualities are interesting to watch.


Les Eclaireurs lighthouse was the next stop and it really has an unstated beauty. It’s not technically the last lighthouse at the end of the world but that’s what it’s famous for. The distinct red and white against the blue of the sea stands out starkly adding to the meaningfulness of the remote location. I took so many picture of this simple lighthouse – it’s situation is just mesmerising.


Finally we reached the penguins! The gamble was worth it because there were a fair amount of penguins to see. The island housed two types of penguins the Magellanic penguins and Gentoo penguins (I had to look this up because I couldn’t remember their names so I’m sorry if they’re wrong). The Gentoo penguins are bigger and just stood still in the middle of the island. I couldn’t see them so well from the boat but it was nice to see two types of penguins and really I was just glad they were there. The Magellanic penguins were a lot more active and spent a lot of time on the shore. We were really close to them at one point and could observe their flock-like nature as the swam and walked in groups. As always I wanted more time to see them but they were amazing to see and worth spending the extra money on.

Day 3: hiking to Laguna Esmeralda

I thought I had finished my hiking days in Torres del Paine but no. I heard about this popular and moderate difficulty hike to see Laguna Esmeralda – a blue-green lake surrounded by mountains. Although this sight is nothing new in my trip through Patagonia, I had heard a lot of people speak about this hike and I had time to spare so decided I would go to visit it.


What I didn’t know was that the hike is a VERY muddy one through peat marches, bogs and through a very muddy woods. To us English, it was definitely an occasion for wellies but I didn’t have any so hiking boots had to do. Thankfully I picked up a large stick to hike with near the start because I had a number of sticky situations were I was stuck balancing on a stone in the middle of a peat bog. Even when a guide told me I had gone the wrong route I stubbornly persevered and managed to find a route out.


After two hours of hiking through the mud, I eventually reached the lagoon and it was completely free from other hikers. I must have had the perfect timing because I could take all the pictures I wanted without obstruction. The lake was half-frozen and this made it stand out against the others I have seen. The surrounding mountains were clearly visible despite the clouds sitting behind them and I felt lucky to get such good weather.

Day four: the history of Ushuaia

On my last day I had to check out of the hostel at 10am which was quite annoying considering my flight to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 8:30pm. But the hostel did let me leave my big pack there during the day even if I wasn’t allowed to stay. This meant I had time to visit all the museums in Ushuaia and learn about the history of the city.

The best place to learn about Ushuaia is the famous Museo Maritimo y del Presidio (the maritime and prison museum) housed in the original prison. This is a huge museum and after spending two hours there I did start to lose concentration so I definitely could have learnt more about the maritime heritage and Antarctic expeditions but I focused on the prison section of the museum as I’d learn about this on the train trip.

In the start of the 1900s, the Argentinean government set up a penal colony in Ushuaia that was built by the prisoners themselves. It was modelled on other successful colonies such as the UK had started in Australia. I’ve never been inside a prison before and it was really interesting and eerie to visit. The building itself is amazing with five pillars of cells that convene on a circular space used for gatherings. One pillar has been repainted and holds the exhibition about the prison and other is left completely as the prisoners would have experienced it. In the first I didn’t think the place would be too bad to stay, in the latter I quickly changed my opinion. It was freezing and bleak and depressing. The hard manual labour in the forest cutting down firewood for the prison, reached by the train, seemed like a nice escape from this confined existence.

In the afternoon I also visited the small Fin del Mundo Museo which didn’t have much worth seeing expect a large stuffed bird exhibition which was very interesting. I also went to Historia Fueguina (a thematic gallery that’s a bit like Madame Tussaud’s). It was a really interactive way to learn about the history of the southern tip of South America and the cultures that existed before today. I would definitely recommend visiting it for the story of the native cultures and the exploration of the 19th century that brought Charles Darwin to the continent and helped to establish his Origin of Species.

And that’s it, before I knew it my time in Patagonia was over. I had amazing time with all types of weather and landscapes. I wasn’t sad to return to metropolitan civilisation as I really am a city-girl but I will look back on the adventures all the time and hopefully return in the future!

My dos and don’ts for hiking the world famous ‘W’ trek in Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is undoubtedly the most famous national park for hiking in Patagonia and probably the whole of South America. Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of it, I hadn’t before I started researching for this trip. What I didn’t know is that Torres del Paine is probably one of the most expensive national parks in South America, if not the most expensive. It’s not just the entry fees and transport, but you also have to decide between camping or staying in refugios (kind of like mountain lodges with dorm rooms). Food is expensive too unless you’re willing to carry five days worth of meals on your back for the whole trip. With all these different things to think about as well as route variations – you can go east-west or west-east and you can spend four or five days hiking – there’s a lot of preparation and planning that needs to go into doing this trek, even at the very start of the season in October.

I’m going share my experience of the ‘W’ from preparation to advice, including my favourite parts of the hike and some adventures along the way. As a spoiler now I’ll let you know it didn’t all go to plan but I did manage the whole route without getting lost once. However this blog could not be more aptly named for this post as throughout the five days hiking I lost more things than I think I have lost in my whole trip!

So, here are my dos and don’ts for successfully hiking the ‘W’ in Torres del Paine:

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Do book your refugios or camping spots more than two weeks in advance. I only started booking 10 days in advance and this caused me a few issues. The companies that own all the accommodation, Vertice and Fantastico Sur, can be very slow to respond to emails so it’s best to give them as much time as possible.

Don’t pay extra at the refugios for bedding (or other equipment unless you only need it for one night). You can rent a sleeping bag in Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park, for $3,000 pesos a day (£3.60). It might add weight to your bag but it saves a fair amount of money. The same goes for tents, hiking poles and any other equipment you might need.

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Do the route in four days instead of five. Most guides will tell you that the route takes five days and should go left to right. But unless you are extremely unfit, have a serious injury or have time to waste, then it wont take you five days. Save yourself one night of accommodation and do it in four. The park map has estimates for the time it takes to do the route so this can help with planning your stops.

Don’t pack more things than you need. Before you reach the park you should know if you are eating in the refugios or bringing your own food. The same goes for clothes, you’ll know how many days of hiking clothes you need. Any thing extra in your bag just adds weight to your pack and more weight means less fun. It also means more things to lose. Also, keep any miscellaneous items in bags within your pack as it’s easy to drop things along the way without noticing (headphones, padlocks etc…).

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Do bring your passport. The refugios and campsites will ask to see and take a photocopy of your passport and travel card for tax purposes so make sure you bring it with you. Put it in a safe part of your pack, inside a zip-lock bag if you have one. Also you can get a free passport stamp at the ranger office when you pay your park entry fees and as there’s not much for free here, take it when you can.

Don’t arrive in Puerto Natales on the weekend. This small town is ghostly most of the time but especially during the weekends. If you arrive during the week you can visit the offices for Vertice and Fantastico Sur to complete your accommodation bookings or ask any questions in person. The supermarket also gets very empty on a Sunday so the selection of snacks is very low.

Do go to the Erratic Rock briefing in town before the hike. A hostel and hiking rental shop called Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales give free briefings daily at 3pm in their hostel. These guys are experts and they gave me loads of great advice. They’ll answer all your questions. So highly recommend this!

Don’t lose your bus ticket before you’ve even left the town. This is just one for me probably but if you’re buying a bus ticket to Torres del Paine in advance from your hostel (recommended) then don’t lose it. Or panic and think you’ve lost it, run all the way back to hostel when it was in your bag all along. Put it in a safe place that you’ll remember (not inside your passport).

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Do make friends with the people on your route. On your first night, find out who is going in the same direction through the park as you and which campsites or refugios they are staying at. You’ll see them everyday for the next four or five so it’s much nicer if you get to know them.

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Don’t forget to pack a day bag. There will be at least three times when you can drop off your big bag at a refugio or ranger lodge and hike with a smaller pack for the day. I forgot to pack a smaller bag so I had to carry my packed lunch in a plastic bag. Hiking hands free is much easier and I was already carrying a huge water bottle around with me. One lady even asked me if I was hiking because I seemed so relaxed with my equipment (none of the gear but some idea).

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Don’t go crazy and eat a whole box of powdered potatoes if your reservations don’t work out. Because I arrived in Puerto Natales on a Sunday and didn’t managed to finalise my booking with Vertice – their refugios weren’t aware of my reservations. This meant on my second night of accommodation, where I had intended to have dinner, there wasn’t enough food for me. So instead of acting rationally, I bought a box of powered potatoes with a packet of cheese and salami from the mini market and ate the whole box as their only ‘hot’ option.

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Do set off early on your Frances Valley day. Depending on what route your doing this could be your second or third day, but whatever direction, it will be a long day. For most people the views of the Frances valley and from the Britanico viewpoint (in the middle of the W-shape) are the best. If you set off early then you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the views and rather than rushing to make it to you next camp before sunset.

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Don’t miss any opportunity to climb up to the Torres base. I know that regrets are futile when you’re travelling but I regret not going up to the Torres base twice. It’s meant to be the hardest part of the whole route to hike but it’s also the hardest part to see clearly as it’s notorious for changeable weather. If you have time, go up twice to see the Torres because you never know when it will be clear enough to see the mountain tops. We rested when we arrived to the camp, ready to go up the next morning but in the morning there was a snow storm and we couldn’t see much more than an outline. Annoyingly it completely cleared up in the afternoon as we were leaving the park.

Do wear hiking boots. This sounds like obvious advice but I did actually see two people hiking up to the Torres in the snow with slipper-style pumps on. Just crazy.

Don’t fall into the mud. At some points the route is very muddy and boggy, especially if you take the Chilenos shortcut. I managed to get a little stuck in middle of a bog and while jumping with my big bag, fell flat into the mud. Thankfully I had my coat and water-cover on my bag otherwise I would have been very wet and muddy. Also don’t try to dry your muddy alpaca gloves by the fire and burn them so that you have to throw them away.

Do make time to really enjoy in the views and take as many pictures as possible. While you’re hiking to a schedule and you want to have enough time to get to all the sights each day, make sure you leave time to just sit and enjoy the views. There’s no point paying all that money to rush around the park and not enjoy the amazing landscape. Even if you don’t need the break physically, you’ll appreciate the time just to relax and stop as often as you like to take as many pictures as you want.

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El Calafate and El Chalten: the frozen heart of Patagonia

Geographically central between the Lake District and Ushuaia, El Calafate is a very popular stop for travellers and has always been part of my itinerary from the beginning of my planning back in 2016. When I first saw a picture of the Perito Moreno glacier in my LP bible (Lonely Planet guidebook) I knew I had to make time in my trip to see it. If I’m honest I didn’t even know it was in Patagonia at the start, it’s famous in it’s own right and travellers come from around the world just to see it, but combined with the nearby town of El Chalten, it’s actually the frozen heart of Patagonia.

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The famous Perito Moreno glacier sits within Parque National Los Glaciares – a large area of glaciers, mountains and woodlands. In total there are 47 glaciers and it’s the biggest area of ice outside of Antarctica – that’s pretty impressive. The only downside about these amazing glaciers is they are very expensive to visit. Even just an unguided bus journey there and back costs £19.40 plus a park fee of £21.55. There are all kinds of activities you can do like trekking on the glacier and kayaking in the icy lake but seeing as my budget wasn’t able to stretch that far, I went with the regular bus.


You also get the longest amount time to see the glacier if you choose the bus option and after some pretty crappy guides so far on this trip, I decided a quick visit to the Glaciarium (glacier museum) the day before would give me all the information I would need. It even had a cool 3D cinema where you get to see real footage of lots of different glaciers in the national park as well as learning how they’re formed.


Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier in the national park and one of the few glaciers in the world that isn’t shirking due to climate change (it has a cyclical movement instead). The museum has a great time-lapse video of the glacier breaking off and reforming through winter to summer that explains this really well. This movement cycle has allowed a great network of viewing platforms to be built around the glacier’s peninsula, so that you can take in it’s colossal size and shape from all angles year in, year out.



I had five hours to wander around these platforms and take nearly 200 pictures of the impressive blue-looking glacier and it didn’t disappoint. It is just as spectacular in real life as it is in the pictures and even without blue skies it’s still stunning. I even managed to see a few chunks of ice break off – you can hear them crack and crash into the lake from most parts of the platform area. It’s a bit a strange to think I spent five hours watching a big ice sheet but unless you see it for yourself, you won’t understand its magnificence.

(I also got to see the condors that I had missed in Colca Canyon, Peru.)

Upsala & Spegazzini glaciers boat trip

Although I couldn’t afford to do the ice trekking, I could just about afford the boat trip Rios de Hielos (rivers of ice) where you get to see two other glaciers only accessible by boat (£86.22 + £21.55 park fees). It’s still pricey but there’s not much point in flying to El Calafate, paying to stay in hostels and not see what you’ve come to see.

I booked the boat trip through my hostel (America del Sur – hugely recommend them) and although no one else had signed but for this trip, I was excited to see something a bit extra to the Perito Moreno glacier. The trip includes a five hour boat ride through the Lago Argentina (Argentina’s largest lake) up to the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers.

The Upsala glacier is a very large glacier that frequently breaks off so you can’t get very close to its face. It does have the advantage of producing lots of icebergs which float towards the lake. Our boat stopped by one huge iceberg (remember you only see about 10% of its surface area above the water) which looked so blue. It was quite an amusing tussle to get past other tourists to take pictures but anyone who is used to commuting in London can handle it. With the glaciers and snowcapped mountains reflecting the light from all angles, it can be quite hard to get good quality pictures but with just an iPhone 6, I did the best I could and almost dropped the phone into the water multiple times.

Next the boat goes to see the Spegazzini glacier (named after an Italian botanist, I think) which it’s safe to get very close to. The boat was so close it was actually a bit nerve-wracking but it was amazing to see the glacier’s pathway from the top of the mountain range curve down the mountainside to join the river. At this point it started to rain or snow but I tried my best to get to decent pictures. In the end I settled on a video panorama as the best way to really capture its immense size.

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The boat trip was worth the high cost to see these amazing glaciers which are otherwise inaccessible. It was definitely worth the hostel-cooked pasta diet I’ve been on for the last two weeks to afford it.

El Chalten: Hiking to Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre

Near to El Calafate is a small town called El Chalten in the northern sector of Parque National Los Glaciares. It has loads of great hiking trails and thankfully you don’t have to pay the expensive park fees to hike there. It’s also home to the world-famous Mount Fitz Roy which stars on the American Patagonia clothing company’s logo.

I only had two days set side for El Chalten so I knew I would have to make the most of my time there. I had already researched the routes and planned out which hikes I wanted to do – I decided on Laguna de los Tres to the base of Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre to base of the Torre mountains. The first is the most popular and supposedly the most challenging so I planned to tackle this on my first day, leaving the slightly less challenging for second when I would be a bit more tired and stiff. It turned out the weather was much better on my first day so I’m really glad I did do the routes this way around.

I set off early on the first day, reaching the start of the trail around 8:20am and having already joined forces with a couple from the hostel. They were a really nice American couple who had already been to my next stops in Patagonia so we spent a lot of time talking about those destinations. We chatted most of the way and before we knew it we’d reached 9km out of 10km without much difficulty. But this is where it started to get steeper and snowy. Except some of the snow was melting so it was quite slippy. I tried to find climbing routes through the rocks instead of the snow but this did make me quite tired. It was another hour before we reached the top but it was so worth all the hard work.

The views were amazing, even with misty clouds hugging to the peak of Fitz Roy. In front of us was a big white bowl of snow which we later decided must be one of the lakes. We enjoyed our packed lunches and rested for a bit after four hours of walking without any real breaks. At this point a few other travellers reached the top, including one Brit who said there was another lagoon just the otherwise of a rocky mound in front of us. We had decided we’d skip this lagoon and started back down the way we’d come before changing our minds. I cannot describe how glad I am we did change our minds. The lagoon was so picturesque – a clear, turquoise pool that stood out beautifully against the white and brown surroundings. It just enhanced the beauty of mountains and it’s certainly a gem that shouldn’t be missed if you walk all that way.

On the way down three more people joined our group and so we were quite a chatty hiking party on the way back, despite tired legs. It was really nice to walk with company instead of on my own and I really enjoyed the 20km without thinking about the distance for most of the day.

The next day the weather really wasn’t as good and although I felt really tired, I still went out to hike to the Laguna Torre. I’d seen some pictures of the lagoon before but they were clearly on a sunny day in the middle of summer because when I did reach it, it couldn’t have looked more different. I met two German girls I knew after the first 2km and joined their group for the rest of the way. We were quite upbeat but it was hard to shake my disappointment about the weather – I was definitely grateful I’d had a sunny day previously to see Fitz Roy.

On the way to the lagoon there is a tree graveyard of burnt trees from a recent fire that devastated parts of the woodland – caused by a careless trekker who didn’t put out a cigarette properly. It was eerie and sad to walk through and the thought that someone could be so thoughtless only makes my personal hate of smoking stronger.

The lagoon itself has a glacier feeding into it and when we reached it there were large chunks of ice floating in it. The water was dark and murky, and clouds covered the Cerro Torres which was supposed to be the main attraction of the hike. Despondent, our lunch was eaten in the rain and after taking all our pictures we quickly walked back to town. The 18km were definitely felt more keenly on the second day and I was very glad to reach the hostel at the end.

One good day out of two is pretty good weather-wise so I’m happy. El Chalten is a great warm-up for Torres del Paine, my next stop on my trip and Patagonia’s most famous (and expensive) hiking area.

Pucón and Bariloche: the Patagonia hiking adventure begins

This is the start of my Patagonia hiking adventure. Until this point I’ve felt like an authentic backpacker travelling around South America: getting an impression of the local culture, tasting the traditional food and learning about the history of each country. For the next month in Patagonia I feel like my trip will be more of a hiking adventure than a cultural one. Patagonia is very highly influenced by European settlers and in the ‘Lake District’ (where I am now) I feel like I’m staying in alpine resort – they cost almost as much too.

To continue a logical path for my trip, I’m travelling through Patagonia from north to south, exploring both the Chilean and Argentinean sides. Three weeks isn’t a ton of time to spend here and thankfully I’ve managed to find some competitively priced flights as days can be lost here catching buses between destinations. Still, I’ll be missing out a lot of really nice places to visit and go hiking. The best way to see Patagonia, I think, is to hire a car. It’s not cheap but you have the freedom to see a lot more of the area than you do if you are constricted to public transport. Hopefully at some point in the future I’ll be able to come back to do just that. But for now, I’ll just be doing a highlights of Patagonia or you could call it a best bits trip.

Pucón: luxury hot springs and solo hiking

Pucón was the first stop on my Patagonia adventure and, despite the difficulty of getting a bus ticket there before the Chilean Independence Day holiday, it was worth the wait. It’s a small to medium sized mountain town in the north of the Lake District which sits by the Villarrica lake and the spectacular snowcapped Villarrica volcano. The Lake District area in Patagonia is nothing like the Lake District of Cumbria in England. The rugged mountainous and volcanic countryside covered with a blanket of snow is so peaceful and natural; it looks like it aught to be taken from a remote ski holiday catalogue. People do come to ski and snowboard in Patagonia but much of the quality snow is back country skiing and a very difficult level.

One of the main attractions for adventure-seekers in Pucón is climbing the Villarrica volcano. But once again penalised by the national holiday, the hike wasn’t taking place during the two days while I was in town (just my luck). This was mostly a safety precaution to ensure drunk guides weren’t taking people up an active and potentially dangerous volcano but it was disappointing all the same.

On my first day, after a 12 hour night bus, I decided I would take the day to relax in the luxury hot springs situated an hour from the town. I know I’ve been to a lot of different hot springs on this trip but I’d been assured by the hostel staff that these were really worth it and I was keen to do something with the half day.

The Termas Geometricas are the nicest hot springs I have ever seen or could even imagine. The trip costed £37 (entry and transport included) and although this is a hefty price tag, especially for a backpacker budget, I am so glad it did it. The beautiful setting of the hot springs is a mountain crevice surrounded by a misty forest with lot of different waterfalls. There are 20 man-made steaming pools heated between 35 and 43 degrees centigrade, lined with slate tiles and cute little changing huts. There is also a cosy, modern lodge with an open fire and restaurant where I got a quick cheese and ham toastie. We had three hours to relax here and I made the most of this time by trying out five of the pools. I had planned to try out more but I got talking with a girl from the hostel and so ended up just relaxing.

After a lot of discussion with other travellers at the hostel the night before, I set off the next day to visit El Cañi Reserve and hike the trail. This would be my first solo hiking adventure and I was quite nervous of getting lost or being attacked by a puma. The park ranger at the entrance gave me a map and explained the route. Unfortunately it would be too cloudy to go up to the mirador (viewpoint) but I could go the rest of the way.

It’s meant to be a three to four hike to the top and it was certainly a steep walk for the first two hours. I was going slow and steady but listening to a travel podcast the whole way up (The World Wanderers – highly recommended) made time pass without me noticing. The views were good on the way up but I had a feeling without the clouds they would have been much more impressive.

After about two and a half hours I reached the snow and from this point on it was hard to tell where I was going or where I had come from. The white has a magical way of making everything else disappear; each of the trees looked so similar and I wasn’t even sure if I was walking uphill or down anymore. At three hours I saw my first other hiker, a 60-something American I later found out was called Kevin. He was on his way back from the furtherest point and told me there wasn’t far to go. It was kind of nice to know I wasn’t entirely alone – just in case I did get lost.

I continued to follow the path to the frozen lake and up to the bottom of the mirador where the footprints ended. By this point fog was setting in and I decided it wasn’t worth hanging about. I quickly ate the empanada I had brought in my backpack for lunch and started the return journey.

Not paying close attention to where I was walking, I managed to stumble onto a side trail at one point. It wasn’t until my boot fell through the snow leaving me with one leg buried to the hip and the other bent crouching above the snow that I realised I had gone the wrong way. Luckily this has happened a couple of times snowing before so I wasn’t scared, I just knew it would be wise to climb out of the whole as soon as possible.

Back on the main trail, I started to speed up my decent as it was starting to rain and I didn’t want to get stuck at the top of the mountain if the weather turned. Once I lost the snow, I started jogging my way down through the mud, now very damp and slippy. I caught up with Kevin and walked the rest of the way back with him. We were even lucky enough to catch a return bus after only 10 minutes of waiting. In total it took me six hours: four up and two down, so I was quite happy with that. The walk was challenging and peaceful – a great introduction to Patagonia.

This tree is as old as the dinosaurs and only survives in the snow
Bariloche: a waterfall, chocolate and hiking El Parque Municipal Llao Llao

My next day was spent catching two buses across to San Carlos de Bariloche in the Argentinean Lake District. Bariloche is a well-known stop on the Patagonia traveller route and a great starting place to hike from. It’s a medium sized city and loses some of the alpine charm in its bustling centre but I stayed in a wooden lodge-style hostel (41 Below) so it still felt outdoorsy and relaxing. In fact without realising it I had selected a vegan hostel. I don’t particularly believe in the idea of being a vegan but it was nice to stay somewhere that was at least trying to be eco-friendly and the other travellers were really friendly.

On my first day I joined a group from the hostel doing a short walk to some waterfalls nearby. This gave me a chance to experience the local buses system that uses contactless ‘sube’ cards which are very similar to Oyster cards in London. The walk wasn’t challenging but it was nice to chat to some new people and enjoy the countryside.


I spent the next day trying out the famous Bariloche chocolate in Rupa Nui, a chocolate shop version of Harrods. It had a very nice cafe which served delicious raspberry hot chocolates and they let me sit there for a few hours typing away to update this blog. This doesn’t sound like much for a whole day’s work but with the quality of the WiFi in Patagonia and a fair amount of travel planning to do, it took up most of my day.

Finally a full day of hiking came after this. I asked around the hostel about nice hikes and decided that the route in El Parque Municipal Llao Llao (pronounced like Jao Jao) would be a good circuit that is well-signposted and had the added bonus of no park fees. Well lucky it was well-signposted because I brought the wrong map and had no clue where I was going. I took a picture of the map in the window of the closed tourist office and used this as my guide for the whole route.

To be honest I’m not sure how long the route was in total and I wasn’t walking very fast, but it took me about five hours. It was a shame I’d forgotten to take lunch because there were loads of great picnic spots. Instead I ate the rest of my packet of biscuits and thought of the sandwich I would get from the bakery once back in town.

I started by walking through the forest to a clearing with some Arrayan trees which were sandy yellow colour that waved and wound in strange directions. These are special in Argentina and you can see why because they are quite unusual. After this the path continues on to the beach of the lake with a number of different viewpoints. The beautiful snowcapped mountains surrounding the lakes have a real sense of calm and the route for this hike brought you close to lots of the different peaks.



Towards the end of the circuit, the path leads off steeply to climb the Cerrito Llao Llao. It’s not a difficult path to climb and I was surprised that it was so quiet (I only saw two ladies on the hill) because the views were truly spectacular. You could see a long way across the Nahuel Huapl National Park and little islands were dotted across the lake like a sprinkling of floating trees. The green of the surrounding forests against the dark blue of the lake and the white of the snowy mountains was mesmerising and I’m not sure there is a better view of the area. Even without the sunshine, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect sight.

From Bariloche I’m skipping out a chunk of Patagonia to fly to El Calafate and visit the world famous Los Glaciares National Park. Expect ice, ice and more ice for the next post!

Understated Arequipa and great Colca Canyon

My whistle-stop tour of Peru continued with Arequipa and Colca Canyon in the south of the country.

Arequipa

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Often overlooked by Cusco, Arequipa is a world heritage city and Peru’s second largest. There is some stunning European-style architecture (especially the arched main square and cathedral) and even more impressive surrounding views of snow capped volcanoes and mountain ranges. I only had one full day to spend in the city before starting the standard backpacker Colca Canyon trek, so I tried to pack as much as possible into my one day – despite only having four hours sleep because of bus delays the night before.

The day didn’t begin so well with me losing my walking tour group within 15 minutes of starting the tour. I was pretty miffed by this after I had made it clear to the guide I was popping to the bathroom quickly and I spent the next hour or so wandering aimlessly around the city. This actually turned out to be quite a good thing though because it meant I got my bearings of the city quite quickly.

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With this “free time” in the morning that I had set aside for the walking tour, I went to the main local market and it was huge! They have everything you could possibly want there: all types of meat, fruit, vegetables, spices, everything. My favourite was the juice isle though, you can request any combination of juice (I had pineapple, orange and strawberry – amazing). Although South America has an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, they’re not often used in restaurants and local cooking so I welcomed this boost of vitamins and minerals.

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After drinking this in the main square – another beautiful, palm treed plaza – I visited the cathedral. It’s 10 soles for the tour (plus tips) and includes a guided tour of the main cathedral, museum and an opportunity to see the view from the roof of the cathedral across to the famous Misti volcano.

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This was a really impressive church, one of the best I’ve seen in Peru and the tour guide was extremely clear and informative – I almost felt glad I’d lost the walking tour after this. As the only English-speaking member of the group, she translated each part of the tour and explained a lot of the religious meanings for me. A special part of the tour was seeing the famous organ which has over 1,000 pipes and is the only one of it’s kind in the whole of South America (in fact only 10 were ever made).

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Next I went for a lunch at a place made for me, the Pasta Canteen. They serve affordable, yummy, fresh pasta where you can choose the type, sauce and toppings – definitely recommend.

In the afternoon my enthusiasm and energy levels were really beginning to deteriorate. By chance I stumbled across the Museo Santuarios Andinos and having read about it in my Lonely Planet guidebook decided I would visit this before heading back to the hostel for a well-earned nap. And I’m so glad I did. It is famous because the museum holds the refrigerated body of Juanita or the Lady of the Mountain who is one of the best preserved sacrifices ever discovered – she still has hair, flesh, muscles and blood. (Sadly no pictures are allowed but I’m not sure I want a dead body on here anyway.) It was really interesting learning about the history and ritual of the Inca human sacrifice – the honour of being selected and their journey from selection age, around four years old. This museum is 20 soles (plus tips) and in my opinion better than going to the monasteries for 50 soles – but as I didn’t want to pay that much I can honestly say.

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I would have liked to spend an extra day in Arequipa but I ran out of time, as always. It’s an interesting and beautiful city, perhaps the prettiest in all of Peru, and anyone who skips it on their trip is truly missing out.

Colca Canyon

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For my trip to Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon which is also double the depth of the Grand Canyon in America, I booked a trip through my hostel. I was sceptical after my experience in Huacachina but everyone in the hostel spoke highly of the tour and I decided it would be much easier than finding a tour myself without any recommendations. I’ll say upfront that our guide wasn’t very good – he didn’t add anything to the trip at all – but the tour in general was good value – decent transport, food and accommodation.

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The day starts at 3am with a long drive to Chivay. After my lack of sleep the night before this was quite difficult for me and I actually picked up a mild illness because of this. But I didn’t have time to be ill so I just carried on anyway. First we went to the Cruz del Condor to see the world famous condors – with a wingspan of up to 3 metres. Annoyingly we had to get there early because of protests on the roads which meant we didn’t get to see very many. I struggled to get many pictures but just as we got back onto the minibus lots came out and were flying over head – and annoyingly we weren’t allowed to get out again and see them.

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Next we went to the start of the trek, an impressive 3,100 metres high. I was part of a large group of 16 young travellers which definitely compensated for the lack of guide. The first part of the trek was a three hour, steep descent into the canyon (down to 2,100 metres). But what really made it all worth it was the amazing views – the pictures speak for themselves but the brilliant blue sky against the rugged golden canyon is one of the best natural sights of my trip so far. After a short lunch, we walked along the other side of the canyon for a further three hours before reaching our lodgings for the night (very basic but good enough). At this point it was interesting to see the contrast between the dry side we had descended and the lush, green side we were now walking along (this is because of the melting glaciers creating a source of water). We also saw some impressive Inca terraces here which added to the natural beauty of the place.

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The next day started at 4am with a very steep, zigzagging three hour trek out of the canyon, beginning in the dark with flashlights. I was feeling even more ill at this point and without help or encouragement from the guide decided I would walk at my own pace – even if it meant I was 40 minutes behind the rest of the group (there were lots of other groups so it wasn’t as if I was walking on my own anyway). This was hard work and the altitude and illness combined to make me feel pretty weak but I was determined to continue. I stopped to take some pictures along the way and absorb the picturesque sunrise. The last 20 minutes were very hard, mostly because I had no clue how close I was to the top – I could no longer tell how long I’d been walking and the path was so similar the whole way I felt as though I was in a trance climbing to the top. When I finally reached the top I was very sweaty and tired but pleased with myself for enjoying the scenery and not giving up or even taking many breaks for the whole three hours.

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After a breakfast at the top of the hill, we were taken to some nearby hot springs. After the great hot springs in Baños I was excited for my second experience, and my legs definitely needed it. They were a lot more rustic than the previous ones but quickly filled with other tourists who had also finished the trek. I probably preferred seeing the locals in Baños enjoy the springs but it was still a great experience.

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On the way back to Arequipa, we stopped off to see some llamas and alpacas grazing along the roadside. I actually think I was wearing my new alpaca jumper at this point which probably wasn’t very sensitive – no wonder a llama tried to spit at me. We also saw the Ampato mountain where Juanita’s body was found which added an extra something to the trip for me.

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All in all, I had a great time in the south of Peru. So many tourists come to Peru just to see Manchu Picchu but hopefully I’ve shown that there is so much more to see. I have been to Machu Picchu and Cusco before with my squash team and family nearly nine years ago. They are both amazing place and well worth seeing but definitely not the only stars of the show.

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Ecuador part three: Baños, Cuenca and my first night bus

I’m not sure how I managed to visit so many different places in Ecuador in just two weeks. Quito, Quilotoa, Mindo, Cotopaxi, Baños and Cuenca. It’s not a large country in terms of land mass but the Andean mountains and volcanoes do slow you down. Maybe it’s because there’s more of a well-travelled route in Ecuador so the tourism is more established – I kept meeting the same groups of people in different hostels in every town and city. But I’m still on track with my plans and although I would have liked to spend more time in Ecuador and there were more places I could have to seen, by the end I was definitely excited to move onto Peru.

Baños

One of my final stops in Ecuador was the highly touristy mountain town of Baños. If I thought Mindo was touristy then I was in for a surprise. Baños de Agua Santa is named after the natural volcanic hot springs which are occur in the town and surrounding areas. Today it serves as a tourist hub for high adrenaline activities such as white water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, bridge jumping (like bungee jumping except you jump with a rope instead) and quad biking.

I arrived in Baños in the early evening – it was dark and just starting to rain. Without a map downloaded on my phone or an address for my hostel (great forward planning here) I joined another backpacker in the search for their hostel to take advantage of their WiFi. Baños at night is not a very nice place to be, not because of safety but because the streets are lit up with flashing signs and cheap takeaways. It’s commercial almost to the point of tacky and the authenticity that Mindo has is completely washed away here.

I had managed to book a hostel on the outskirts of town which meant I had a bit of a walk with my big bags. When I finally arrive I was gutted to find out the WiFi didn’t work in this hostel either. How was I supposed to make any future plans without the internet for research or booking? The free dinner at the hostel nearly made up for it and the quick laundry was good but I did start to crack up a little. Still feeling positive though, I went to bed early thinking everything would be better in the morning. Unfortunately I was wrong after being woken up at 1am by a cat sleeping on top of me. As you’ll know if you read the last blog post, animals are not my thing and despite living with cats in London for the last year, I do not want a semi-stray cat on top of me in the middle of the night, especially because I haven’t had a rabies inoculation. More cracking up happened as I desperately ushered the cat out of the dorm without touching it (clapping loudly is the best method). There was no way I was risking the same thing happening again so I climbed into the empty top bunk and fell asleep soon after the trauma had faded from my thought.

The next morning I got up early and decided I would not stay the second night in that hostel, despite having already paid for it. I spent most of the morning in an Internet cafe catching up with family and friends, and uploading my blog.

Baños: The Swing

In the afternoon I wanted to go to The Swing or La Casa del Arbol (The Treehouse). This was the main reason I had wanted to come to Baños but I didn’t know much about it other than the pictures I’d seen online. At the hostel I asked if you could walk there and they gave me directions and showed my a vague route on a cartoon map. I invited two of the volunteers at the hostel to join me, which to my bad luck they accepted (I didn’t really know them and they were kind of strange) and after collecting some snacks, we set off up the mountain-side in search of The Swing.


The track was more of a muddy path and once again I was walking slowly, although this time due to the steepness instead of altitude. The hostel guys stopped for a break after about an hour and I continued on, assuming they would catch up with me. I reached a fork in the road about ten minutes after this and spent a while considering where to go. I decided we still needed to be higher so chose the steeper path that looked to continue climbing up the mountain-side. Even now I don’t know if this was the right choice.

After about 20 minutes more, I realised the guys were not going to rejoin me and I was on my own. I adopted a small stick as my new companion and marched on up the muddy hill. I realised I was now walking though a farm with lots of poly tunnels. Doubts were starting to creep in as I had been walking for over two hours and seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t seen another person for about an hour and there weren’t any signs. I even had to walk past a cow that was on the path and I was much braver than with the cat the night before and slipped passed without too much fuss.

Soon after this I picked up a bigger stick and realised I was definitely lost when the path suddenly stopped. So I turned back around and headed back to a small side path I had seen a minute earlier – this way I didn’t have to pass the cow just yet. I clambered up the tree-lined path with the help of my stick and appeared at the top of the farm. Here I spotted a more extreme swing than the one I was looking for where you had a harness and were strapped in. Being the only tourist here, I asked a girl playing football with my broken Spanish and Google maps as my aid where I needed to go.

With renewed energy and directions, I set off excited to be close and no longer completely lost. Luckily at this point I met two Argentineans and a dog (I named him Fluffy) who were also looking for The Swing. So we joined together and with their Spanish and my enthusiasm we navigated our way to the top in just 30 minutes more. It might not have been the easiest way to get there but it was a real adventure.

Finally at the top after over three hours hiking, sweating and so glad I bought snacks, I quickly joined the queue and resolved that I would be taking the bus down (it’s only $1 anyway). Although I had to wait about half an hour for my turn on the swing I didn’t mind because it was exciting and funny watching everyone else take their turn. The man who was pushing the swing on the line I had joined (there are two swings either side of the tree) was a charismatic, hippy kind of guy with lilac dreadlocks and bare feet and he seemed to enjoy scaring the people he was pushing.

First he pushes you five or six times very high, then taps your feet and sets you spinning while you swing. He tells you to spread your arms for pictures and then before you know it your turn is over. The adrenaline makes it go by in a flash but it was a great feeling of freedom as you swing out into a canyon, like you’re at the end of the world. Thankfully the Argentineans took some pictures for me also so I have some great snaps.




Baños:Hot Springs

On the way back on the bus, I decided to go straight to the hot springs, La Piscinas de la Virgen, as they were near my hostel. Everyone has to wear a little cap in the baths which makes the whole thing more of an event than just swimming. I got there around 7pm so had to pay $3 – a dollar extra for the evening session – and the place was filled with locals – I had obviously chosen a popular time to go.

They have four pools or baths. The first downstairs by the entrance is the super hot one, heated naturally by the volcano to 42°C. I spent most of my time in here – you’re only supposed to spend five minutes at a time but I spent about 20 minutes. It felt like when you run a bath that’s a bit too hot but it never seems to cool down. I hopped in and off the side every time I got a little to hot but because you can’t guarantee hot showers in South America I revelled in the heat.


They also have a cold pool which I didn’t try, and two warm pools. One of the warm pools is very shallow and you almost lie down in it and the other is a good height for standing in or sitting on the ledge.

I really enjoyed visiting the baths and although they aren’t unique to Ecuador, they are famous for them so it was really nice to experience them and it was just what I needed after the three hour walk to The Swing. Also the backdrop of the mountains and the big waterfall made it feel more authentic than other attractions in the town.

When I got back to the hostel I packed up and moved to a different hostel in the centre of town. Luckily I got a dorm room to myself so it was quiet and relaxed, and most importantly cat free! I had the best dinner in a nearby Italian: chicken, ham and beef lasagne with garlic bread (I didn’t have any lunch though). There was even a Peruvian band playing pipes and drums in the restaurant too.

The next day I had planned to move to Cuenca but I decided to take a day out to plan the next stages of my trip, getting to Peru and what I would do there and where I would stay. It was nice to just spent a bit of extra time there, even though it was touristy, just to relax and get my bearings. The next day I caught the early direct bus and got to Cuenca in the late afternoon.

Cuenca and my first night bus

When I arrived in Cuenca, after speaking to the staff in the hostel I soon discovered that a lot of my research the day before wasn’t necessary anymore because I could take a direct night bus to Peru from there instead of going to another town first. It would also take me to Máncora instead of Piura which was a better place for me to stop off in Peru too.


I arrived in Cuenca on a Saturday evening and on Sunday nearly everything except the churches were closed. I spoke to some of the other travellers in the hostel and met a really nice Canadian called Justine who was also planning to go to Máncora and so I decided instead of waiting another day, I would travel with her to Peru. It was my first night bus and so I was glad to have some company – I’ve heard this is where most travellers get robbed so I had avoided catching them until this point.

Justine gave me a little tour of closed Cuenca and it’s churches, and then we spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the hostel. Our hostel, The Bauhouse, had Netflix and comfy sofas which is the first proper lounge I’ve encountered travelling so far. It also had great WiFi so I’d recommend staying here if you’re passing through.

The anticipation for the night bus has been building all day and in reality it really wasn’t too bad. I had downloaded a few episodes of The O.C. season 1 and slept a few hours before we reached the border. Immigration was reasonably painless, we only waited about an hour which was quite good as it can be up to seven but luckily we were one of the first coaches to reach the border.

I was quite tired when we got back onto the bus and fell into a deep sleep, hugging my valuables for all they were worth. Lucky Justine wasn’t sleeping so deeply because I would have slept right passed our stop. We reached Máncora earlier than we had expected and ended up on the side of the road in a small dusty town with our bags, no local currency, surrounded by tuk-tuks at 4am! We had only booked the hostel for the next evening, expecting to arrive in the day so weren’t sure what to do. The cash machine gave me two 100 soles notes (not helpful) so we used our dollars to get a tuk-tuk to our beachside hostel, hoping it had 24-hour reception.

We were lucky that a couple from our bus were also staying in the same hostel and were doing the same. When we reached the hostel, it really was a beach hut in the middle of nowhere (except for other hostels). Dogs awoke the sleeping owner and after checking in, we were told that the only beds available then were hammocks with mosquito nets. With no other options we put our luggage into the sheltered area and wrapped up for a chilly few hours in the hammock (lucky I’d already slept in one in the jungle in Venezuela).



All in all, although we hadn’t planned to arrive at 4am with no money and no plan, my first night bus went pretty well. I didn’t lose any possessions, I slept well and I had great company. And the reward, a few days chilling out at the beach in Máncora before getting extremely sunburnt and catching a 23 hour night bus to Lima on my own.

Spoiler: the next bus was fine too (it had fully reclining seats, dinner and breakfast and individual TV screens with English subtitles on the movies) but I didn’t sleep as well because of the sunburn which is still painful nearly a week on.

Life lesson: ALWAYS wear suncream.