Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One

If you want to go to Machu Picchu in Peru you have many options. You can stay in Aguas Calientes and take the bus to Machu Picchu and tour the ruins with a guide, you can stay in Cusco and take the train to Ollantaytambo then the bus to Aguas Calientes then the bus to Machu Picchu, or you can take a guided hike and camp along the way finishing at Machu Picchu. The latter is what my family and I chose to do.

There are seemingly hundreds of companies that offer treks to Machu Picchu. As far as options for hiking routes, there is the more popular Classic Inca Trek, the more difficult Salkantay Trek, or the Lares Trek in addition to alternative treks. I decided to take the Lares Trek for several reasons:  it isn’t considered as popular as the Classic Inca Trail so it’s not as crowded, it has stops along the way at salt pans (which I find beautiful), thermal baths (which I find incredibly soothing and relaxing), at a local market where we would buy foods for local families along the trek, at a local school where we would talk with the children and give them some supplies and bread, and at a local family’s house. We chose the 4 day/3 night trek, which meant we would be camping in tents for 2 nights and at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the third night then take the short bus ride to Machu Picchu the next morning.

I chose Alpaca Expeditions because it came recommended. I later found out Alpaca Expeditions is the most popular trekking company to Machu Picchu for Americans. They promise an English-speaking guide, delicious food prepared by an on-site chef, a horse if you need assistance along the hike, a satellite phone for emergencies, small groups, and much more. There are options to upgrade some things for your hike, which I recommend. Let me just say every single one of us said many times on the trek how glad we were to have the walking poles.

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Day one of the Lares Trek- just the beginning!

The evening before our trek began, we met at Alpaca Expeditions headquarters in Cusco. We paid the balance that we owed and met with the rest of our group, a family of four from Connecticut, which meant there would only be seven of us not including those working for Alpaca Expeditions. We also met with our guide, Abelito, who explained briefly what we would be doing each day of the trek. He told us that the porters and horsemen would be in charge of carrying the tents, sleeping bags and pads, all food, water, cooking supplies, and basically everything we would need on the trek except for  personal items in a small backpack. Each of us was given a duffle bag to put our clothes and personal items in, which we would get each evening. We only had to carry a small day pack with any items we would want along the trek during the day, like sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and things like that.

Day one of our hike began with a 5 a.m. pickup in a large van at our hotel in Cusco. We drove 3 hours on curvy, winding roads, where we had to pull over after maybe an hour so I could throw up on the side of the road (and yes, I had taken an anti-nausea pill before I got sick). After I no longer had anything in my stomach, I was fine for the rest of the drive. We stopped at a market in a small town and bought sugar, flour, rice, pasta, bread, and coca leaves that we would later give to a family and school children. We took a guided tour of the market and were told all about the vegetables and other things sold there. 

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Waterfalls!

After driving for a while longer, we stopped for breakfast at a spot along the roadside overlooking a mountain. This was our first taste of food prepared by the chef and it was a great start with fruit salad, bread with jam, freshly squeezed mango juice, hot tea, coffee, and more. After a short drive to the Lares Hot Springs, we put on our swim suits in the changing area and had 45 minutes to relax in the pools. There were multiple pools with varying degrees of temperature. I’m a huge fan of hot springs so I thought it was a great way to start the hike!

We drove the short drive from the hot springs to the trailhead for the Lares Trek, got a quick lesson on how to adjust our hiking poles and we were off! After hiking for 2 hours we had a huge lunch at a beautiful spot along the trail then hiked for 1 and ½ hours more when we stopped at our first campsite that was near a lake, aptly named the Blue Lagoon. We had hiked 7.8 miles for the first day past waterfalls, sheep, and mountains, and re-fueled that evening with a hearty dinner of pasta, soup, roasted chicken, vegetables, bread, tea, and hot cocoa. Before dinner was served, we had some light snacks like popcorn, which we all devoured.

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This was a short walk from our campsite. Listening to the water flow at night was soothing.

We all happily took our hot water bottles from the cook to sleep with and collapsed into our warm sleeping bags for the night. It was cold that night, as is usual in the Highlands of Peru, but the sleeping bag was the kind that goes around your head to keep you warmer and we also had insulated mats to keep us off the ground and a super-warm blanket (not sure if it was alpaca or wool but I got so warm in the middle of the night I took mine off and put it on my daughter). I should also note that there were two people max in each tent (my husband had his tent to himself), which was fantastic.

The first day was pretty easy because the hiking we did was moderate and not for terribly long stretches. It was a good start for our trek and I was feeling really good about our decision to choose the Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions. We hadn’t yet reached the highest point in our trek, and I knew day two was set to be our most difficult segment of the trek. I was anxiously looking forward to what we would see and do the next day.

To be continued…

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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Cusco, Peru- Things to Do and Places to Eat Plus a Day-Trip to Famous Rainbow Mountain

Many people go through Cusco on their way to Machu Picchu. My family and I were in Cusco for 3 days/3 nights before our trek to Machu Picchu (which deserves separate entries that I’ll post later) to help acclimatize to the high elevation and for another 2 days/2 nights after Machu Picchu before we flew to Arequipa. My immediate reaction when we were flying into Cusco was surprise at how much bigger it was than I thought it would be. There are just over 400,000 people in this city that sits at 11,152 feet above sea level.

On our first day in Cusco, my husband wasn’t adjusting well to the elevation, but he also had stopped drinking coffee cold-turkey so who knows how much of his reaction was to caffeine withdrawals. We just walked around the city and took in the sights before he asked to go back to our room to rest, where he did so for several hours then woke up feeling much better. My daughter and I both had headaches that first day but they were manageable and we adjusted pretty quickly to the elevation.

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Plaza de Armas in Cusco

We ventured out on our second day in Cusco and saw a parade going on at Plaza de Armas so we watched some of that (we had also seen a parade the evening before while we were at dinner). We did some shopping at the many markets and took a ton of photos. I found Cusco to be a beautiful city full of friendly people and on more than one occasion the locals started conversations with us (completely in Spanish). They weren’t trying to sell us things either, but they were being genuinely friendly.

On our third day in Cusco we were feeling pretty adventurous and decided to walk to Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. The Statue of Christ is large but don’t expect it to be on par with Christ the Redeemer in Rio. However, the views of Cusco are amazing from here and worth going just for that. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Sacsayhuaman from the Statue of Christ, which is the real reason to come to this part of Cusco. These ruins are impressive and you can spend hours walking around and exploring. We walked here from the main section of Cusco, up what felt like a million stairs straight up through various neighborhoods. On the way back we smartly took a taxi which was worth every Sol.

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Sacsayhuaman ruins in Cusco

The evening of our third night in Cusco, we met with Alpaca Expeditions where we paid the remainder due for our trek to Machu Picchu, met with the family of four that would be joining us, met our guide, received instructions for the next day, and received the duffel bag that would remain with us for the trek although carried by porters during the day. We were all looking forward to the trek and ultimately to seeing Machu Picchu.

After we returned to Cusco from our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, we went to hike the famous Rainbow Mountain, or locally known as Montaña de Siete Colores (aka Vinicunca). This was the one specific thing my daughter requested (insisted) we do in Cusco, although I was a bit skeptical after reading some of the reviews and blog posts about it. We booked our tour locally rather than online from the US and saved a ton of money by doing that; however, we didn’t do much research and just randomly chose a tour company, which maybe wasn’t the best idea (our so-called English-speaking guide barely spoke English but luckily we spoke enough Spanish to be fine).

Rainbow Mountain, while definitely worth doing, wasn’t even the best part of the day, in my opinion, but I’ll back up before I go there. We had yet another early morning wake-up (a consistent theme for us in Peru) in order to be picked up by the driver at 4:30 am and after driving around for another hour to pick up the other people (so much for a “guaranteed” small group) we finally began the drive to Rainbow Mountain.

After an hour and a half we stopped for “breakfast” at a roadside restaurant that didn’t have heat where they sat us (and was freezing at the early morning hour) and we had what amounted to about a half an egg, some bread with jam, and tea. Good thing our hotel packed a breakfast for us to take with us when we left that morning! We drove another hour and a half and reached Rainbow Mountain. We were given a wooden pole (better than nothing but by no means a walking pole) by our guide and were told to be sure to be back at the van in four hours at 1 pm. There was no commentary about the area, no information given, nothing other than I’ll see you later!

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Rainbow Mountain

I’ll tell you something about Rainbow Mountain you may already suspect- it’s extremely crowded. The majority of the walk there was pretty easy although it was at 17,060 feet at the peak (starting altitude is 14,189 feet), that is, until the final 400 meters, where it went straight up and I was huffing and puffing to get my breath. One of the women from our group wasn’t acclimated to the elevation and was having a really difficult time before she even reached the climax of the climb. There are horses there you can pay to take you up the mountain to the base of the final steep point, however, and many people were taking part in that.

We chose to pay the extra admission fee to Red Valley, which is adjacent to Rainbow Mountain, and I liked that even more than Rainbow Mountain. When you’re walking through Red Valley, you can see all of the colors of the earth one at a time as you walk along, including black, white, red, brown, green, white, and purple. It may sound easy to hike back down the mountain, but I actually found that part even more difficult than going up. You pretty much slide down the mountainside, trying not to fall (although many people around me fell multiple times) while you “walk” down loose rocks and/or sand. On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at the same place where we stopped for breakfast for lunch that consisted of mediocre soup, baked chicken on skewers, salad, bread, red jello (really?), and some vegetables. Our guide also gave us a very brief talk about Rainbow Mountain that didn’t contain any information I didn’t already know.

On our final day in Cusco we discovered what I wish we had known about for the first part of our time in Cusco:  Avenida el Sol. This part of Cusco had a very different feel from the rest of the city to me. It felt more modern, cleaner, with more locals and less tourists. In addition to the shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, there is a nice mural and a large market where you can buy local items (sweaters and other clothing, jewelry, artwork, etc.). Maybe the best part is there were no baby alpacas on leashes held captive all day by women sitting around who want you to take their picture for a fee (absolutely horrible and illegal although it still happens).

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Some cool artwork on Avenida el Sol in Cusco

A note about the temperature in Cusco in relation to hotels and hostels. Cusco is quite chilly at night and in the mornings so if you go be sure to dress in layers. I wore a light down jacket and gloves at night and early mornings when we were out and was comfortable but would have been cold in anything less. The hotels and hostels also often don’t have heating on par with what you’d find in the United States. I found our hotel room, which was the basement of the building to be downright freezing and the space heater they gave us was useless. Although our accommodation had two-bedrooms, two bathrooms with kitchen and sitting area for only $60/night, I “down-graded” us to a one-room, one-bathroom accommodation for $55/night that was higher up in the building in hopes that it would be warmer for our return stay after our trek to Machu Picchu. It was warmer but still not what I would consider warm, just tolerable. It’s not just me, either, I read review after review of multiple hotels where people said their room was too cold.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Cusco include La Bodega 138 (get the wood-fired pizza), Cafe Balkon Azul (phenomenal service and food), El Paisa (great seafood, huge portions, and good drinks), and Deli Monasterio. Nuna Raymi was good but the server was too pushy with the drinks, appetizers, and desserts and it was very loud when we were there (I realize this isn’t always going to be the case). View House Restobar has amazing views of the city but the service is notoriously horrible if you’re going for food (I heard nearby Limbus Restobar is great but they were closed when we went there).

If you want to book a trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend going with Alpaca Expeditions. There are literally hundreds of options but I found Alpaca to far exceed my expectations, which were set pretty high.

Have you been to Cusco, Peru? If so, what did you think of the city and its people? Were you as surprised as I was to see how big of a city it is?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Delaware in a Weekend

I’ve lived in West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina and I’ll admit I knew almost nothing about Delaware before I went there recently. Since I only went for a weekend, I still know almost nothing about the state but at least I can say I’ve at least seen some of the coastal areas. Other than being known as the first official state in the United States, many Americans in general don’t seem to know much about Delaware unless you happen to live in an adjoining state.

Let’s all give a little love to Delaware and learn a bit about this state. Coming in as the second-smallest state, Delaware is 96 miles long and 39 miles at it’s widest. Delaware is flat, with the highest point a mere 442 feet above sea level. There are only three counties in Delaware and some of its most popular cities include Rehoboth Beach, Wilmington, and Dover.

When I was choosing which half marathon to run for my race in Delaware (I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states), several people suggested I run a race along the coast. I thought about running the Coastal Delaware Running Festival in April with a start and finish on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, but then I found the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in May in Lewes, Delaware, just outside Rehoboth Beach. The Seashore Classic Half Marathon is a much smaller affair than the Coastal Delaware Running Festival and I really like smaller, local races.

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My family and I drove up to Delaware from North Carolina and stayed in Rehoboth Beach in a house through VRBO. The house was close to everything in the area and allowed us to easily check out everything. Within an hour of Rehoboth Beach, there are a ton of things to do such as visit a couple of state parks and multiple beaches, go to an amusement park or water park, rent bikes and ride along the Junction and Breakwater Trail, or visit some historical sites in Lewes, the first city in the first state in the United States.

The afternoon of the day that I ran a half marathon, we went to Cape Henlopen State Park to walk our dogs. Part of the race was through the state park and I wanted to check out some other areas that I didn’t see on the course. We paid our $10 entrance fee ($5 for Delaware residents) and drove to the Seaside Nature Center, where we quickly found out dogs were not allowed, even though this is where we were directed to go at the entrance gate (and the woman saw and commented on our two dogs in the car).

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I asked inside the Nature Center exactly what areas of the park were dog-friendly, and was told basically everything south of there but nothing in that area or north of there. We decided to drive to the campground and parked just before the entrance to the campground. From there, we walked along parts of the Bike Loop, the Salt Marsh Spur, Walking Dunes Trail, and Gordons Pond Trail. We got turned around several times and had to use our GPS to figure out which way to go, especially on the Salt Marsh Spur, which wasn’t marked well. Overall, Cape Henlopen State Park is very scenic and a place I highly recommend going to if you’re in the area.

There is also a plethora of shopping and dining in the Rehoboth Beach area and surrounding cities. I’ve been told many people that live in nearby Maryland cross over the border to go to the outlet mall in Rehoboth Beach to save money. There are also local, unique shops with a wide range of products and services, especially in Lewes. As far as restaurants, we ate at Kindle, The Pickled Pig Pub, and Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats. My favorite was Dogfish Head, which only fortified my claim that breweries almost always have great or at least really good food.

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Cape Henlopen State Park

As I mentioned earlier, there are multiple beaches in the area, and I would venture to say the beaches are the primary reason why people come here to visit. Lewes Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Gordon Pond Beach (within Cape Henlopen State Park), and Dewey Beach are the most popular beaches as far as I can tell. Originally the plan had been to rent stand-up paddle boards from Delmarva Board Sport Adventures after the half marathon, but that wasn’t in the cards. It looks like a fun option for kayaking or paddle boarding in the area, though.

While we managed to just get a little taste of Delaware, it turned out to be a pretty state (at least what I saw along the coast) and we had a nice time there. I do have to say that it was quite congested with traffic around Rehoboth Beach on Mother’s Day weekend, so I can only imagine how much more congested it gets during the busy summer months. The area is also pretty expensive, so be prepared for that and budget accordingly.

Have you ever been to Delaware? If so, where did you go? Do you have plans to go there?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Travel Ideas for Animal-Loving Families

My family and I are huge animal-lovers. We have two rescue dogs that only travel with us on road trips (see my post Tips for Traveling with Dogs) so we love interacting with animals of all types when we travel to fill that void of missing our dogs. Over the years we’ve had many different encounters with animals. When our daughter was very young we would sometimes visit zoos when we traveled but that seemed to get less and less. Now we prefer to visit places that are rescue centers or see animals in their natural habitat when possible.

Our interactions with animals during our travels have run the gamut, with some places more positive experiences than others. My list of top places includes mostly dogs, exotic birds, bears, moose, butterflies, sting rays, and iguanas. I’d like to share some of the places that stand out more than others here.

When I was planning our trip to Utah, a co-worker who has been to Utah a few times recommended a place called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I looked it up and it did indeed look like a place my family and I would be interested in visiting. Not only did we visit there, but we had lunch upon arrival, stayed in one of the cottages on-site, toured the facilities with a guide, volunteered with some puppies (PUPPIES!), and even got to have a sleepover with one of the puppies in our cottage. It was even better than I could have imagined. I highly recommend staying here if you’re in southern Utah. You can read my full post on Best Friends here:  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”.

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Walking a puppy at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

San Diego, California is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is it beautiful but it’s absolutely full of things to do. When we were there a few years ago, we stopped to visit a bird rescue just outside San Diego called Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary. This is a place my daughter and I still talk about because it was such a unique experience for us. We had been to animal shows before where birds perform silly tricks and such, but we’d never been allowed to touch and interact with exotic birds before. One of our most memorable interactions here was with a bird called “Peanut,” who serenaded us and made us laugh. You can read my blog post on Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary here:  Off-the-Beaten Path Things to Do in Del Mar, California.

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Some of the birds from Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary

Many people visit Alaska to see bears, moose, puffins, and many other animals. When we visited Alaska, we definitely saw our share of many different types of animals. One of my favorite places to see animals was at Denali National Park. We went on a bus tour (an on-and-off bus where you could get off and hike then catch another bus to get back out of the park) one day and saw tons of bears, many different kinds of birds, caribou, and dall sheep. You can read about Denali National Park here:  Denali National Park in Alaska. Another animal encounter we had while in Alaska that turned out to be my daughter’s absolute favorite is when we went to Seavey’s Sled-Dogs in Seward, Alaska. What’s not to love about getting to hold adorable Alaskan Husky puppies? Going on a sled-ride pulled by some eager dogs around the grounds was a ton of fun as well!

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One of the puppies from Seavey’s Sled Dogs

Ostriches and butterflies probably aren’t the first things you think of when you think of Aruba. Many people visit Aruba for the powdery white sandy beaches and while they certainly didn’t disappoint, we also discovered a couple of places for animal-lovers. Simply known as The Butterfly Farm, this is one of my favorite butterfly farms I’ve been to anywhere. There are hundreds of butterflies here from around the world as well as caterpillars. A guided tour is included in the entrance fee, and the guide will show you how to safely handle butterflies when they inevitably land on you. We also visited the Aruba Ostrich Farm and loved it here. In addition to the tour of the ostriches (which you can feed and even go on a short but wild ride if you’re little and lucky enough like our young daughter was), you can eat lunch here, and view their African art pieces. There’s also a souvenir art shop full of local art work.

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My daughter feeding ostriches at the Aruba Ostrich Farm

Charleston, South Carolina is another one of my favorite places to visit, and I’ve been there many times over the years. On a recent visit, I discovered The Center for Birds of Prey, which is just outside Charleston in a city called Awendaw. Here, we took a guided tour and saw many different types of birds, watched a flight demonstration, and saw newly-hatched baby owls. Many people think of historical sites, gourmet food, and beaches when they think of Charleston, but The Center for Birds of Prey is also a great place to visit if you’re in the area and are an animal-lover.

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One of the beautiful birds at the Center for Birds of Prey

The next place I’m going to mention is definitely touristy, but a lot of fun nonetheless. As they say, some things are popular for a reason. When we were recently in Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, we went snorkeling with a tour group that took us to Stingray City. Here, we were able to touch these gorgeous creatures as they glided past us on the shallow sandbar. Our guides offered to let people hold or even kiss a sting ray (it was said to bring you good luck), but I was content to just gently touch them as they swam past me. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the endangered Blue Cayman Iguana on our guided tour of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. While you can’t touch the iguanas on the tour (they bite), you get to see them up-close on the behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. You can read my blog post on stingrays (and more) here:  Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More and my post on the botanical garden (and more) here:  Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell.

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A Cayman Blue Iguana at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in Grand Cayman Island

The final place on my list where my family and I interacted with animals is Hawaii. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii (a.k.a. The Big Island) multiple times and I’ve seen many different kinds of animals like huge turtles both in the water and on beaches on the Big Island, peacocks in Kauai, and whales off the coast of Maui. However, one of my favorite animal experiences was when we visited the Kauai Humane Society and took one of the shelter dogs on a field trip. At the Kauai Humane Society, you get to choose a dog from their best-behaved dogs and take them for a walk or wherever else you’d like for the day after paying a donation and getting some items for the day. The dog we chose, Priscilla, was extremely well-behaved in the car and on her leash. Taking Priscilla on a field trip that day was one of the highlights of my vacation in Hawaii and given all of the amazing things we saw and did in Hawaii, that’s really saying something! You can read about my vacation in Kauai here:  Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things.

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Sweet little Priscilla from the Kauai Humane Society

Are you an animal-lover? Do you try to incorporate visits to animal rescue centers or otherwise interact with animals when you go on vacation? What are some of your favorite places to visit animals?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Animal Photo Safari

Just for fun, let’s go on an animal photo safari with some of my favorite animal photos from my journeys around the world. I’m a huge animal-lover and always love to see animals when I’m traveling. I don’t go to zoos anymore, and am not going to get into that controversial subject, but suffice to say almost all of the animals here were photographed in their natural habitats. While I have never been on a “big game” tour in Africa, I have been lucky enough to see a range of beautiful creatures.

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I saw this colorful peacock on my second visit to Hawaii on the island of Kauai
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My daughter feeding ostriches in Aruba
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These beautiful flamingos were in Canada of all places (obviously not native, but some of the most colorful flamingos I’ve seen anywhere)
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There were tons of deer on a hike in Austria
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I was thrilled to actually capture this Cayman Parrot in a photo in Grand Cayman Island
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Famous seals and sea lions in La Jolla near San Diego, California
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Do you know there are more sheep than people in New Zealand?
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This friendly little fox followed us around a national park in Chile
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Sea lions in San Francisco because I love both the city and the animal
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These baby owls in Charleston, South Carolina were the cutest little things!
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We saw this alligator on an air boat tour in the Everglades in Florida
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We spotted this moose on our first day in Alaska and never saw another moose on our trip after that!
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Some of the grizzly bears we saw in Denali National Park in Alaska
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Blue iguana, an endangered species, in Grand Cayman Island

Of all of these animals, I think the fox in Chile has to be the most memorable to me. When we first saw the fox, we were naturally a bit nervous because we didn’t know what the animal would do or how it would react to us. Once we saw it was just curious and began to follow us around at a distance, we began to relax a bit (but still always kept an eye on it). I’ve never had an experience like this before with a fox and have no idea if foxes are normally like this or not. The animal was beautiful and to see it with the backdrop of the Andes Mountains was something I will never forget.

What are some of your most memorable experiences with wildlife? Does any one stand out more than others?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Over-Tourism and Tourists Behaving Badly- What You Can Do to Help

It seems like there is no end to sight to the stories about travelers behaving badly around the world. Recently, fed-up residents and business owners in Kyoto, Japan’s Gion-Shinbashi district joined together to form a “scenery preservation” committee to combat issues such “half-naked hikers, trespassing travellers and prolonged photo shoots.” Tourists have been caught kicking and destroying parts of caves all over the world including Thailand and the Caribbean that took thousands of years to form. An English family touring New Zealand behaved so badly they were eventually deported. Sadly, these are just a few examples but there are many more.

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Hobbiton in New Zealand. I found New Zealand to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I can’t imagine behaving so badly I got deported like the English family recently did.

Every summer there are news reports of tourists getting injured by animals at national parks in the United States. In Yellowstone National Park, officials say bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. Wanting to get that “perfect” selfie with a wild animal, some people think nothing of standing beside a bison or even a bear, then they seem to be bewildered when the animal actually charges at them. So much trash and debris (like coins) has been thrown into some of the natural pools at Yellowstone National Park that they may never fully recover.

All of this really shouldn’t be too surprising. With lower airfares and easier access to countries comes more and more tourists, which increases the likelihood of improper behavior and over-tourism. Many places including Japan have recently implemented exit taxes to help with tourist infrastructure. Venice already has a tourist tax on hotels but recently started charging 11 Euros for day visitors to help with things like waste management. Tourist taxes are nothing new. Countries all over Europe, the Ukraine, and Asia have been charging extra fees to tourists for quite some time.

Beyond charging tourists extra fees, some places have started limiting the number of tourists per day. Beijing, the Galapagos Islands, the Seychelles, and Barcelona are among the growing list of places with limits on the number of visitors allowed per day. Not only are cities and islands limiting visitors, though. The Taj Mahal began limiting the number of visitors per day after a stampede occurred there in 2017.

At overcrowded Machu Picchu, the Peruvian government is actually increasing the number of daily maximum visitors to 5,940 people, which is more than double the number recommended by UNESCO. However, with the new system, people will be spread throughout the day by having timed visits either during the morning or afternoon. Previously, people could stay all day and weren’t required to have a guide the entire time. Now it is thought that it will be easier for guards to monitor visitors’ behavior.

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Machu Picchu in Peru

Cruise ships are often a huge part of the problem. This is especially a problem in Venice, Dubrovnik, and Santorini when these relatively small areas get flooded with hundreds or thousands of visitors at once coming from cruise ships. These areas have begun putting caps on the number of cruise ships that are allowed to dock per day and/or the number of visitors from cruise ships that are allowed to enter. They have also begun to move or limit places like souvenir shops and restaurants aimed specifically at tourists.

Some United States national parks are also over-crowded at the more popular destinations (like the Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park for example, two of the most-visited parks). There has been talk of timed entries into some of the parks but not much has been implemented so far. Parking and traffic congestion is just one of many problems in places like Yosemite National Park and Arches National Park.

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Bryce Canyon in March is absolutely stunning (with far less crowds too)!

What can you do to help?

Respect the land and people where you are visiting. Don’t litter, don’t write on anything not meant to be written on, don’t talk loudly at a religious site or take photos where it’s not appropriate, don’t take anything that you didn’t carry in when you came, and keep a safe distance from all animals in nature. In other words, respect other people’s property and the land, structures, animals, and nature you are lucky enough to be visiting.

Avoid the high season. I can’t emphasize this enough. A big part of the over-crowding problem is people traveling during the summer months. However, many places are cheaper, less crowded, and can even be more beautiful during the shoulder season or off-season. I fully understand that some people can only travel during the busy summer months due to family and/or work schedules. We do what we can.

Shop and eat at local establishments. This benefits local residents and helps the local economy. The food is often better too (compared to large chain restaurants, in my opinion).

Often large groups traveling together seem to cause concern and problems for locals, so the remedy for this is simply to limit the number of people you travel with, especially in heavily-touristed areas.

Go off the beaten path so instead of going to the packed beaches in the Philippines and Thailand, go to lesser-known beaches. Instead of going to Dubrovnik, go to Zadar or the island of Vis. Instead of going to Italy, go to Malta. Sure, many people still want to visit iconic places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but if you also visit some lesser-known places instead of spending all of your time in that one over-touristed place, you may find you prefer them to the more popular touristy places.

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Malta, a cheaper, less-crowded alternative to Italy has beautiful beaches, amazing ruins, and delicious food!

Book a tour with a reputable eco-conscious company that will show you off-the-beaten path places that are equally if not more beautiful than the popular places.

Full disclaimer- I’m going to visit Machu Picchu later this year but will be doing so with a tour company that came highly recommended for their involvement with the community and treatment of their workers among other things. Also, I’ll be taking one of the lesser-known routes to get to the ruins. My point in bringing this up is to say you can still visit these places and not add to the problem if you do so in an ecologically-aware way. And have some respect. Respecting others and the environment around us is something we should always be doing, not just when we’re traveling.

What are your thoughts on tourists behaving badly and/or over-tourism? Any good stories you have to share? Any tips you have to pass along?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina. Duke Gardens is part of Duke University’s campus. For those of you not familiar with Duke University, it’s a private university founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present-day town of Trinity in 1838, and the school moved 70 miles to Durham in 1892. Duke University is filled with old stone buildings and is beautiful to walk around especially when all of the flowers and trees are in bloom during the spring.

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For someone like me, Duke Gardens is a place where I can easily spend hours walking around, but then I love botanical gardens. I’ve traveled to far-away places like the Canary Islands and have seen some stunning gardens around the world but Duke Gardens has to be on my top 10 list of best gardens I’ve been to. These are gardens that are beautiful regardless of the season because some areas might not be in bloom but others will be and there are enough evergreens and water areas that even in the dead of winter it would still be a wonderful place to visit.

Technically named the “Sarah P. Duke Gardens,” they consist of five miles of of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens on 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas within Duke University’s campus. Building of the gardens officially began in 1934 when a faculty member Dr. Frederick Moir Hanes convinced Sarah P. Duke to contribute $20,000 towards flowers in a ravine there. Unfortunately tens of thousands of flowers that were planted were washed away and destroyed by heavy rains and the gardens were destroyed at the time of Sarah P. Duke’s death in 1936. Dr. Hanes persuaded Mrs. Duke’s daughter to pay for a new garden on higher ground as a memorial to her mother. This time, the gardens were a success and today bring visitors from around the world to enjoy them.

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Duke Gardens is divided into a few different sections:  Historic Gardens, Doris Duke Center and Gardens, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Within each of these areas you’ll find everything from bridges to bogs to butterfly gardens and other specific gardens. There’s also the Terrace Shop where you can find Duke Gardens wall calendars, note cards, postcards and mugs along with plants and other garden supplies like plant stakes and decorative containers. You can also buy sandwiches and other snacks at the Terrace Cafe.

The gardens are enormous so you can easily spend a few hours here just walking around. My favorite areas are the Historic Gardens with all of the bulbs flowering, the row of cherry trees at the entrance, and the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The Asian-themed bridges are beautiful and I loved all of the details like handrails made out of bamboo.

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Finally, you can arrange walking tours or trolley tours on certain days and times (check the website here) for $10 per person and they typically last 1 to 1.5 hours. The grounds are open 365 days a year from 8 am to dusk and admission is free for a self-guided tour. If you park at the closest lot, you have to pay either $1 or $2 per hour depending on the time of year, but there is a free parking lot on the corner of Yearby Avenue and Anderson Street at the Duke University H Lot, about a 5 minute walk from the gardens.

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Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Duke University Chapel, which you can also walk to from Duke Gardens. The chapel was built from 1930 to 1932 in the Collegiate Gothic style and stands 210 feet tall. There are often concerts and events going on, which you have to purchase a ticket for, or you won’t be allowed to enter the chapel, so check the website here. You can also take free docent-led tours of the chapel that take approximately 45 minutes. Tours do not include access to the Chapel tower, which is unavailable to the public.

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Do you love botanical gardens like I do? Do you have favorite ones you’ve been to?

Happy travels!

Donna