How do you Decide Where to Travel?

I always have a long list of places where I want to travel, and it seems like my list is always getting longer instead of shorter. More times than not, I’ll listen to a podcast and they’ll discuss a place I hadn’t really considered going to before, but by the end, I’m convinced I must go there! Or I’ll read something online and see beautiful photos and add that place to my list. Sometimes a good deal on airfare will come up and I’ll snag the deal and make plans to go there even if it might not have been at the top of my list.

Often I wonder how other people choose where they travel to. Do they go to places near-by or do they go to Disney every year with their kids? Do they go to places where they always went as a kid and it’s just become a habit? Do their spouses or friends mostly choose where to go and they’re just along for the ride? Do they only have enough vacation time to visit family? Or is it something else?

20181130_114953
Grand Cayman Island exceeded my expectations and was a perfect choice for a beach trip in November

At the beginning I said I have a long list of places where I want to travel, but that’s not really correct. Actually I have three lists for travel:  one includes states in the United States where I haven’t run a half marathon yet, the second includes places where my husband and I are considering to retire early, and the third includes places where I’d like to go and visit but not necessarily live there.

My first list is short and sweet and thankfully getting shorter. It includes Nebraska, New Mexico, Iowa, and Minnesota. I already have half marathons chosen for these states (although the race in Minnesota could change) and because I like to add on a vacation after the race to turn it into a racecation, I already know which city I’ll be going to in Nebraska (Omaha).  I have a pretty good idea about Minnesota, New Mexico, and Iowa, but those aren’t quite as firm as the other states yet. I’ll  be going to Albuquerque, New Mexico and possibly Santa Fe, probably St. Paul in Minnesota, and probably Cedar Rapids in Iowa. If you have suggestions for things to check out including restaurants in any of these areas, feel free to suggest them below.

IMG_20180522_120625620_HDR
After running in the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho, we stayed in the area for a few days and hiked in gorgeous places like this!

My second list includes areas both in and out of the US that are places that my husband and I are checking out as places to retire. A big factor in choosing these areas are the weather, in addition to general location, safety and cost of living. I’ll admit I’m like Goldilocks in that I prefer to live somewhere that’s not too hot and not too cold when I retire. I also like proximity to beaches and mountains if possible and within a reasonable drive to an airport. Currently, this list includes places like southern Portugal and Spain, Ecuador, parts of Central America, as well as places in Oregon and Florida.

My husband and I would also consider living in one place for the winter months and driving (even if was a big distance but could be done in several days with breaks) to another place for the summer months. This potential dual-home idea includes places in the US and Europe. I feel like while I’ve been to the majority of the US, there are huge areas of Europe that I’ve never been to. If you have a suggestion for somewhere in Europe, Central, or South America that would check off the boxes I’ve listed here, let me know and I’ll add it to my list of places to check out. Spanish-speaking places are not a problem for us

Finally, my third list, the solely for fun list includes places like the Republic of Georgia, Slovenia, Croatia, Thailand, Vancouver, and on and on. This list is very long and seems to be growing longer all the time. The places on this list haven’t taken a priority because of the other two lists, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go there any less. I’ve been dying to go to the Republic of Georgia for several years.

IMG_20180301_151127560_HDR
The Canary Islands is a place we wanted to check out as a potential place to retire

Once I finish my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, my priority will be in choosing places on the list for potential retirement spots. Even though my husband and I plan to retire early, we still have about 11 years until that will happen. This gives us plenty of time to go to places we’re considering multiple times, during different times of the year and visiting different neighborhoods within the areas we’re considering. We have flexibility, though, because we have plenty of time, and I’ll be able to watch for airfare deals and choose according to them more than I currently do.

I know that my family and I don’t travel like most people do. Over the years we’ve been to many places that most people wouldn’t necessarily choose but yet we haven’t been to some of the more popular places. For example, we’ve been to New Zealand but not Australia. We’ve been to Austria but not France. We went to Chile but didn’t go to Patagonia. Yes, we travel a bit differently than most Americans but then again there has always been a reason why we’ve chosen to travel where we have, such as I got a deal on airfare or lodging. Or New Zealand looks freaking amazing and how could we NOT go there?!

DSC02692
Just one of many incredible views we saw in New Zealand

This brings me back to my original question:  How do you choose where you travel?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Advertisements

Some Areas in the United States to Enjoy Fall Foliage

The end of September is when fall foliage starts to appear in the eastern states in the US, beginning in the more northern states and moving down south as time passes. If you can plan a visit to the New England states for the upcoming weeks, you should be able to see some of the colorful leaves before they fall off the trees for the winter. As you might imagine, some places fill up quickly in the autumn months, so make your plans now while there’s still time.

Growing up in West Virginia, I always loved when the trees turned from green to wonderful shades of yellow, red, and orange, but on the flip side, I somewhat dreaded it because that meant winter was coming. Nonetheless, regardless about how I feel about winter, West Virginia is a perfect place to enjoy the fall foliage. Many people flock to Bridge Day, which is West Virginia’s largest festival held on one day and one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Bridge day is held every year on the third Saturday in October on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County, coinciding with peak fall foliage in the area. Thousands of people come to this festival to watch as BASE jumpers from around the world jump off the bridge and rappellers go up and down the catwalk. There’s also plenty of things for spectators to do including run a 5k starting on the bridge and ending in Fayetteville. This is just one of many areas in West Virginia you can visit in the fall to experience fall foliage. Others include Huntington, Charleston, or one of the state parks would be a great option as well!

20171104_130941
This was taken in Huntington, WV, when I ran a half marathon there in the fall.

North Carolina also has plenty of places to visit if you want to see some gorgeous fall foliage. For those of you that don’t know, North Carolina can be divided into three basic parts:  the mountains on the west, the central area known as the Piedmont with the capital of Raleigh, and the coastal region on the east. Most people that want to see fall foliage will focus on the mountains in the western part of North Carolina. Western North Carolina is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with many fun cities to go camping, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Some of my favorite cities in western North Carolina are Asheville (see my posts:  Camping in Asheville, North Carolina;and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina), Boone, and Blowing Rock.

IMG_20181102_155526
Gorgeous fall foliage in North Carolina

I’ve visited all of the New England states for half marathons, and I have been to three states in the fall, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. I was in a small town about an hour outside Boston, called Newburyport and loved that part of Massachusetts. The nice thing is you can still do plenty of things in Boston and easily pop over to the quieter areas like Newburyport when you want a break from the traffic and congestion. Rhode Island is one of my favorite states I’ve ever been to and I feel like it’s one of the most under-rated states. I went to Newport and we drove all over that area, stopping in some tiny towns to visit art galleries or local shops. There are also mansions such as The Breakers and Marblehouse that you can tour plus gorgeous beaches all around that area (although it’s definitely not peak beach season there in the fall but that just means they aren’t as crowded). We were in some tiny towns in New Hampshire for the half marathon that most people wouldn’t come to visit, so I can’t speak as much about that, but if you’re in the northern part of the state like I was, it’s a short drive over the Canadian border to Montreal, which I absolutely loved (see my post:  Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other).

dsc01732
Yellow leaves everywhere (and a little orange) in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Some other states you might not think of when you think of fall foliage are Indiana and Arkansas. I visited both of these states in the fall when I was running a half marathon there, and found I enjoyed both places more than I expected I would. Most people think of Indianapolis when they think of Indiana, home of the famous Indy 500 races, but I was in a small town on the border with Kentucky and the Ohio River called Evansville. The Evansville Half Marathon perfectly coincides with the West Side Nut Club Festival, now in its 98th year (!) and also more recently a taco festival and music festival also occur around the same time in October. Here are links for more information:  Evansville Half Marathon and Nut Club Fall Festival.

IMG_3494
The race start at the Evansville Half Marathon with the fall foliage all around

For my half marathon in Arkansas, I ran the Cotter River Half Marathon, which I absolutely raved about. This was in November, which is a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage in Arkansas. Although there are some options for things to do and places to stay in the Cotter area, I decided to drive to Hot Springs after the race and spend a few days there. Hot Springs can be a bit touristy in parts, which I usually don’t like, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hot Springs much more than I thought I would. My family and I went to one of the local bath houses and had several extremely affordable treatments done and we hiked all around the National Park there. For more on the race, see my post, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and for more on Hot Springs, see my post, Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

IMG_1656
The back of some of the bathhouses in Hot Springs, Arkansas

I know I left off some places to enjoy fall foliage in the United States because that would be way too long and I haven’t been everywhere, so now your turn, where are some of your favorite, perhaps off-the-beaten path places to enjoy fall foliage that I didn’t mention here? Do you live in a state where there is no substantial fall foliage? Do you travel to see fall foliage?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

How to Earn Miles with a Credit Card if You’re not Airline-Loyal

More and more, airlines are changing the game when it comes to using frequent flyer miles. In March of this year, United Airlines announced to people in their MileagePlus frequent flyer program they would be doing away with award charts. Instead, they changed to “dynamic” pricing for flights using award miles. This means there is much variability in prices for flights booked using miles, and although it’s still possible to get a good deal, it’s becoming harder. Delta made this change a couple of years ago and American Airlines is moving toward dynamic pricing.

This can be frustrating if you’ve been saving up miles for a specific destination only to find out you’ll have to use much more miles than you originally thought you would. If you’re like many Americans and aren’t loyal to one specific airline but just choose the lowest price, it can be difficult to earn enough miles to actually use them for a free or low-cost flight. Perhaps you only take one or two flights a year and they’re relatively short flights within the United States. Again, it would take you a very long time to accrue any kind of substantial miles assuming you fly economy class.

IMG_20190719_191539284

There is something you can do if you fall into one of these categories of traveler. You can get a credit card that offers points that you can transfer to miles with several different airlines’ frequent flyer programs rather than just one airline. There are several credit cards out there that offer this, so figure out which airlines you fly the most with and go from there.

Here are some examples of credit cards currently available and the frequent flyer programs they’re associated with:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee)-

  • Aer Lingus
  • British Airways
  • Flying Blue (loyalty program of Air France & KLM)
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southwest
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

Citi Premier Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)-

  • Asia Miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

American Express Gold Card ($250 annual fee)-

  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alitalia
  • Aer Lingus
  • ANA
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Air
  • EL AL
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • FlyingBlue AirFrance/KLM
  • Hawaiian
  • Iberia
  • JetBlue
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
IMG_20180221_185151584_HDR
I cashed in sign-up bonus miles to use toward a flight to the Canary Islands

I will say, I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card once and it wasn’t a great fit for me and my family. If you believe some of the blogs and websites about airline miles and points, this credit card and the more pricey Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card are the best credit cards out there. However, in my personal experience, the flights offered through their portal were over-priced and not as good as I could find elsewhere. For instance, they would have extremely long layovers, limited flights to choose from, and/or more stops along the way than I would have liked. I ended up cancelling the card after I had it for a couple or so years and used the points I earned when I signed up for the card.

One credit card that you don’t hear a whole lot about but I have and really like so far is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard. Barclays has a whole slew of credit cards, including some airlines-associated ones like JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, plus cruise ships like Princess, Choice Privileges hotels, Diamond Resorts, Uber, and more. With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard, you earn 2X miles on every purchase, and you can redeem points earned on previous travel-related expenses. You earn 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem points, so that’s a nice bonus. There’s an $89 annual fee that’s waived the first year. I was a little wary about using a MasterCard for fear some places wouldn’t accept it but I only had some issues in Peru (and no where else I’ve traveled), with some places that only accepted Visa credit cards. Maybe many years ago some places would only take Visa credit cards but MasterCard seems to be accepted almost as widely as Visa nowadays, at least in my experience.

Do any of you have credit cards like these where you can use points for multiple airlines or hotels or redeem points to pay yourself back for travel like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard? If so, share your experience with them- which ones do you like best? Are there any that were over-hyped like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was for me?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Cycling, Running and Of Course Visiting Beaches in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island may not be the first place you think of when you think of vacation destinations in South Carolina. It seems like Charleston gets all of the glory in that regard. However, Hilton Head Island was voted best island in the continental United States by Travel + Leisure readers in 2019. You can read about the top 10 islands in that list here. Plus, Hilton Head Island was in Southern Living’s list of “11 Trips Every Mother-Daughter Duo Should Take in 2019,” which you can find here. Hilton Head Island has received many other accolades as well, such as #6 in U.S. News and World Report’s “15 Best Family Beach Vacations,” (the full list is here). And on, and on.

I first visited Hilton Head Island way back in the late 90’s and have since been back a few times. Very little has changed over the years, and that’s a good thing, in my opinion. When you have a place as special as Hilton Head Island, change isn’t necessarily helpful or desirable.

Hilton Head Island is small, at just 12 miles long and 5 miles across but it packs a punch with paths suitable for cycling, running, or walking. There are 6 miles of bike lanes, 117 miles of shared-use pathways (108 of which are paved), and 24% of streets have bike lanes or paved shoulders. Access to plantations is limited to residents and guests but you can purchase a day pass for Sea Pines Community, for example. Visitor passes are $8/vehicle, plus $1/bike on car (if you’re transporting a bicycle on your car into the community). You can not ride a bike into Sea Pines nor can you walk into the area.

20190812_082815
Some of the beach houses in Hilton Head Island

Things to Do

If you enjoy outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island is full of things to do besides go to the beach (more on that later). There are over 30 golf courses, at least a dozen or so places to rent bicycles not including ones that some hotels provide, 10 or 12 places to rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards, plus several fishing and boat tours.

Since I tried stand up paddle boarding for the first time in Hawaii (My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected), I’ve loved it and in addition to going on Sundays when I’m home, I also try to go paddle boarding when I’m on vacation. I had a great time in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, so of course I checked to see if there were any places to rent boards in Hilton Head and was happy to see there were a few places that rent them.

We rented stand up paddle boards from Soul SUP Paddleboard Hilton Head. You can rent boards by the day or week, take a yoga class, take SUP lessons or a tour, or buy a board from the laid-back and friendly people here. You save some money if you pick up the boards yourself but they will deliver to you for an extra fee. They provide everything you need to secure the boards to the roof of your vehicle if you will be transporting them on your own and my husband and I found it to be easier and quicker than transporting inflatable boards plus we just prefer hard boards to inflatables.

20190811_134540
SUP!

If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you should ask someone at Soul SUP about current water conditions and get recommendations about safe places to paddle board. We went to the Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park and the Broadcreek Marina-Freeport Marina areas and saw about five dolphins, many different birds, and fish (and no alligators!) the day we went out paddle boarding. Just be sure you don’t fall into the water where there are oyster beds (I’ve been told they scrape you up pretty badly).

As I mentioned earlier, Hilton Head Island has paved pathways all over the island, making it easy to find a safe place to run and cycle. I literally walked out my hotel door and got on a path less than a tenth of a mile away and went out on a run. One thing that I should mention is this is the south, which means during the summer months it gets extremely hot and humid. By 9 am one morning on a run, it was 86 degrees with a real feel (taking into account the humidity) of 98! These pathways are sometimes shaded but not always. If you’re into running on the beach, I’ve heard the beaches here are nice for running, but personally I don’t like running on the beach and don’t even try anymore.

We rented bicycles from Bubba’s Bike Rental, and we had a coupon for 2 free bikes for the day from them, but I’m not sure I would have chosen them otherwise. They have “iffy” reviews online. There are many bike rental companies to choose from, though. Our bikes were delivered to our hotel and picked up at the hotel when we texted them that we were done with them, so it honestly couldn’t have been any easier. The bikes weren’t the greatest- they didn’t have gears and had only foot brakes (my husband said his brakes were awful) plus the seats weren’t that comfortable, but they did get us where we wanted to go. Luckily Hilton Head Island is pancake flat, so we didn’t have to worry about hills (because of not having gears).

20190810_170427_022
Cycling around the island

You can also visit Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is open every day from 10 am to sundown. Admission to climb the lighthouse is $4.50 per person and children 5 and under are free. We did this on a previous visit and got great views of the area from the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is located in Sea Pines Resort and there are many shops and restaurants as well as fishing tours, boat cruises, and watersports so you can easily spend a full day here.

Where to Eat

Some of our favorite restaurants include:

Skull Creek Boathouse (mostly seafood, brunch buffet on Sunday with made-to-order omelets plus tons of other foods, water views, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Sandbar Beach Eats (by Coligny Beach)

Hilton Head Brewing Company (good BBQ and beer, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Relish (Asian and Southern food, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Thai Smile (fantastic pineapple curry and Som Tum)

Many restaurants in the area have outdoor seating areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dog-friendly. Just call ahead if you want to bring your dog with you, to be sure.

Where to Stay and How to Get Here

In addition to many Airbnb properties, there are a huge range of hotels, including the more expensive Westin, Omni, Marriott, and even a Disney-owned resort, to more affordable but still nice hotels like Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, right down to simple, no frills motels. There are also a huge number of time shares in this area. As you might guess, places directly on the beach are more expensive but usually offer perks like a kitchen, swimming pool, bicycle rental, among others.

If you’re driving here, you can take US-278 East from mainland South Carolina directly into Hilton Head. There is the Hilton Head airport, but flights are limited.  A better option might be to fly into Savannah, Georgia, which is just 40 minutes from Hilton Head. Speaking of Savannah, you may want to consider a day trip to Savannah if you’re spending several days or more in Hilton Head or add on a few days to spend in Savannah since a day would just skim the surface of this beautiful town.

Unless you plan on spending your days lazing by the pool and walking to the beach and back to your hotel (which is fine if that’s what you like), I recommend a rental car if you want to see more of the island. There is a trolley service, The Breeze, that charges $1 per person per destination, but it only goes between Coligny and Shelter Cove, and only from 1 pm to 10 pm. Uber and Lyft are also transportation options if you don’t want to or can’t rent a car.

20190811_173733
Driessen Beach during the “dog-friendly” hours

Beaches

I would be remiss to not mention some of the beaches of Hilton Head Island. Think powdery, soft sandy beaches, many with dunes. Some of my favorite beaches on the island are Folly Field Beach Park, Driessen Beach Park, and Coligny Beach Park but there are many other beaches.  There is free parking at Coligny Beach Park and a shopping area with restaurants and a grocery store by the parking area, plus there are restrooms and a splash area for kids. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have paid parking spaces, but it’s very reasonable (we paid $1/hour at Folly and $1 for two hours at Driessen); just pay at the kiosk with cash or credit card. Driessen has a children’s playground and a long boardwalk to get to the beach, which can be a pro or con depending on your point of view. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have dunes and restrooms plus sprayers to wash the sand off. Leashed dogs are only allowed on the beaches before 10 am and after 5 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day but any time the rest of the year. All of the beaches I’ve been to on Hilton Head Island have been clean and safe. They do get crowded during the summer months especially on weekends, but they’re big enough that they can handle pretty large crowds of people without feeling too crowded.

Hilton Head Island is one of my favorite beach destinations, especially on the east coast. The water is warm during the summer and even into the fall, the sand is soft, and the area is clean and safe. September after Labor Day is a great time to go because it isn’t as crowded and it’s a bit cooler but still warm enough to get in the ocean. October would also be a good time to visit. Have you been to Hilton Head Island or do you want to go there? What are some of your favorite beach areas in the United States?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

First-Time Lessons Learned by an American in Peru

After I visit a new country, I always like to reflect on what I learned during that visit. Inevitably there are things I should have done differently, things that surprised me about the people or places, and things that I can say I would never do again but I learned something from the experience. Peru is no different and here I would like to share some of the things I learned while I was there.

During the two weeks I recently spent in Peru, I found myself surprised on many occasions. This wasn’t my first time to South America, but it was my first time in Peru. I’ll share some of the things I learned in this beautiful country so that you can learn from some of my mistakes or just be wiser than I was and be better prepared. Peru was undoubtedly the hardest vacation to plan for of all the places my family and I have been, although we have never been to Asia or Africa and I imagine those places would also take a lot of planning by an American. I wrote up a post while I was in the midst of planning, which you can read here Planning a Trip to Machu Picchu in Peru.

20190522_085710
We saw so many llamas and alpacas in Peru- I loved it!

Here are just some of the things I learned while in Peru:

Peru is an extremely poor country so don’t expect your accommodations to be like what you typically find in the United States. That being said, there is a range of accommodations from hostels for just a few dollars per night to hotels that cost a few hundred dollars per night. The accommodations also vary widely based on what city you’re in.

Machu Picchu is every bit as stunning and special of a place as you have in your head from all of the photos we all see online. However, it does get crowded, especially as the day goes on, even with the recent restrictions on daily admissions. Get there as early as you possibly can, which you’ll likely do anyway if you’re traveling with a tour group. Pay the extra admission to climb Huayna Picchu. It’s worth every penny and every second of the elevated heartbeat that you will have climbing it. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.

20190523_104007
At the top of Huayna Picchu overlooking Machu Picchu

Take a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu. My family and I took the 4 Day Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions, which I highly recommend but there are other treks of varying degrees of difficulty and length. Meeting and interacting with the Peruvian school children and families is something so priceless it’s difficult to convey to others. The views along the trek are like scenes from some of the most epic movies you’ve ever seen, and completely incomprehensible until you’ve experienced them. Just go. Don’t worry if you’re not a “camper” or you don’t think you can do it (unless you have valid health reasons. Talk to your doctor first). You can find my posts on the Lares Trek here: Day OneDay TwoDay Three.

Areas in the Highlands region including Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Ollantaytambo (all of which many people pass through one or more nights on their way to Machu Picchu) are cold at night and in the mornings. Depending on the time of year, they are also often rainy. There is usually no central heat in the hotels and hostels in this region either (despite what they might tell you at the front desk), so bring warm sleeping attire. I wore long-sleeve wool thermal underwear and wool socks to sleep in every night while I was in the Highlands (yes, even in my hotel room).

Temperatures and climate in Peru can vary widely depending on what part(s) you’re in so wearing layers is always advisable. Arequipa is a much warmer city than Cusco and much drier so (at least where we stayed) it was noticeably warmer than where stayed in Cusco. More information about Cusco plus climbing the famous Rainbow Mountain is here. Arequipa has a European feel to it and is a beautiful city with white stone buildings.  There is a huge range of accommodations in Arequipa just like any other city. My post on Arequipa is here.

20190526_094624
One of the plazas in Arequipa

Traffic in Peru is more chaotic than any other city I’ve ever been to, which includes Greece, Italy, Chile, and other areas known to have aggressive drivers. Drivers are so aggressive especially in Lima and Arequipa they make New York City drivers look laid-back. I wouldn’t recommend driving in Peru, pretty much anywhere at all. From all of the research I conducted, I read over and over that cars are sometimes stopped by robbers especially at night and even buses can get robbed like this. I’m sure plenty of people take buses all over Peru and are fine but we chose to fly over large distances between cities. We did take some buses with the tours we took, but the longest bus ride was 3 hours and most were during the day. Flights within Peru are very affordable and efficient (although some airlines more so than others).

Peruvians are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, especially in the Highlands areas like Cusco and the surrounding rural areas. One evening in Cusco, we went into a small store to buy bottled water and the man working there ended up asking us where we were from, showed us his drawings, and told us he was glad we stopped by as he shook our hands in a friendly way. This was all in our broken Spanish since he spoke no English. Another woman that owned a small restaurant chatted with us while we waited for our take-away food and gave me 2 bags of tea for free to help with my stuffy sinuses, a bag full of extra bread, and an extra container of soup (she also spoke no English). There were many other warm and kind people we met along the way as well.

Unless you travel to Peru with a travel group, you really should have at least a decent grasp of Spanish. We found very few people who spoke English fluently even in hospitality sectors like hotels and restaurants and even on tours where the guide supposedly spoke English. It was far more common for the people we met to speak no English at all, regardless of their age or city. There is always Google translate when you’re really stuck but I wouldn’t rely solely on that.

20190524_105413-PANO
Rainbow Mountain

The toilets in the rural areas are usually a hole in the ground that you have to squat over but in bigger cities you can find actual toilet seats. However, bring a roll of toilet paper and a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times because there often isn’t toilet paper or soap. When there is a sink, it’s almost always just cold water (no hot water). However, we always had hot water in our showers at hotels everywhere we stayed, which was a welcome relief.

I would stay away from venturing out in Lima. We had a couple of bad experiences the second time we were there and we were told by someone who used to live in Lima and moved to Arequipa that it’s extremely unsafe and to stay away from the city. If you have to fly through Lima to get somewhere else, just spend that time at the airport. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the airport where you can easily spend hours. Although you may have a perfectly good experience, you just never know and it’s not worth risking it in the city. My post on Lima is here.

IMG_2249
Machu Picchu

Finally, the food all over Peru exceeded my expectations as far as taste and presentation. Who knew Peru was such a foodie country? Everywhere we went, the food was exceptional and beautifully presented. Try a Maracuyá Sour, which is made with passion fruit and is a delicious variation on the pisco sour. Other Peruvian foods I really enjoyed are ceviche, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), Aji de Gallina (creamy chicken), Causa Limeña (potato casserole), and Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken).

Have you been to Peru? If so, where did you go and what was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Tips for Viewing Geysers, Springs, and Pools in Yellowstone National Park Plus Hiking Trails and Waterfalls

Previously, I discussed the layout, entrances, and basic information about geothermal areas within Yellowstone National Park, in my post here. Now for a little more in-depth information about the fun stuff. As I mentioned previously, Yellowstone is famous for its hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers. Over 10,000 different hydrothermal features are estimated to be active within the park and more than half of the world’s active geysers are found in Yellowstone.

Everyone’s heard of the most famous geyser, Old Faithful, but this is just one out of many geysers in the park. Also famous is Grand Prismatic Spring with the blue center surrounded by green, green, yellow, red, and orange hues, but again, it’s just one of many springs in the park, with all colors of the rainbow represented. In general, what I learned is to try to see as many geyser basins as possible and get an early start or you’ll have to wait in a long line to find a parking spot (even then you’ll have to wait for parking as the day goes on).

IMG_2569.JPG
Viewing Old Faithful from above

Tip for viewing Old Faithful:  go up the Observation Point Trail for views of the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes Old Faithful. From the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, walk about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) counter-clockwise along the Old Faithful boardwalk, turn right at the Geyser Hill sign, and continue on the path. The trailhead is just after the bridge crossing the Firehole River. Although there will be some people up here with you, it is far less crowded than if you watch at the designated seated area directly in front of Old Faithful, and you’ll get a better view. Plus, there are many geysers, springs, and pools along the trails in the Old Faithful area. You can easily spend several hours in this area.

Tip for viewing Grand Prismatic Spring: park 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Midway Geyser Basin at the Fairy Falls Parking Lot. The trail is 0.6 miles out-and-back, or 1.2 miles total from the Fairy Falls Trailhead for a view from above of Grand Prismatic Spring and the Midway Geyser Basin. You can (and should) also walk around the boardwalks that surround Grand Prismatic Spring and the other springs and geysers in the area, for up-close views.

20190718_112258
Mystic Falls

If you want to see waterfalls, some of the best are Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. Fairy Falls are part of the Midway Geyser Basin, as I mentioned in the paragraph above. To get to Mystic Falls, go to the Biscuit Basin parking lot and you’ll see the trailhead for the falls there. Although it’s an easy hike to the falls, if you want to go down for a better view of the falls, it’s a bit rocky and slippery going back up so make sure you have good hiking shoes. The Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River are in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Take the South Rim Trail for the best view of the falls. Actually, Artist Point Trail, which is off the South Rim Trail will give you the best views of the canyon and falls together.

One trail to skip is the Ribbon Lake Trail. We got eaten alive by more mosquitoes on this single trail than we had encountered on all other trails in Yellowstone combined and this was with us wearing bug spray and bug bands. I didn’t even think the trail or lake were that scenic and definitely not worth all of the mosquito bites to get there and back. The Ribbon Lake Trail is off the South Rim Trail.

Safety

Buy or bring bug spray and bug bands especially if you’re coming during the summer months. You can buy bug spray at all of the general stores throughout the park. If you want to buy bear spray, you can find it at gift shops, outdoor stores, service stations, and bookstores inside the park. You can also rent bear spray in Canyon Village at the rental kiosk at the northwest corner of the visitor center plaza. Be aware that regular pepper spray is not good bear deterrent and is not recommended by park rangers.

Although there are bears at Yellowstone, my family and I never saw a bear on any of our hikes or driving through the park, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t bear aware. In any area of the United States where there are known bears, you should never hike alone; the recommended number is three or more people. It’s also a good idea to carry bear spray and make noise when you’re hiking so you don’t sneak up on a bear and startle it. Another option is to hike with a ranger.

IMG_2646
We saw this bison hanging out by one of the springs

In addition to bears, Yellowstone has many other wild animals. Always stay at least 100 yards (91 meters) away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 meters) away from all other animals, including bison and elk even though they may seem harmless. Less than a week after I was at Yellowstone, a small girl was thrown into the air by a bison, who park officials believe was spooked by noises from people hovering around it.

Keep on the designated pathways and trails. Children should be under close supervision by parents at all times. Do not touch thermal features or runoff, regardless of how beautiful and enticing they may be. More than 20 people have died from burns when they fell or entered Yellowstone’s hot springs (meaning some were on purpose and others were accidents).

See Everything (Within Reason)

Yellowstone is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful national parks I’ve been to and one that I’d love to return to and see more of the northern part. For me, part of the appeal is that it’s one of the most diverse parks I’ve seen, with everything from canyons, waterfalls, geysers, pools, forests, and wild animals. Probably my biggest tip for Yellowstone is to try to see everything you possibly can in the time you have there without spending the majority of your time in the car. Remember, it’s an enormous park and there’s no way you’ll be able to see everything so just choose where you want to spend your time and focus on those areas.

20190718_105458
Just one of many beautiful pools in Biscuit Basin

One way to save time is to skip at least one meal per day eaten at a restaurant and buy food and snacks you can quickly eat in your room or at a designated picnic area where there are picnic tables or seating areas (say, for lunch). Also, don’t focus on just one or two geyser areas but try to see as many as you can. At first, I was hesitant about Biscuit and Black Sand Geyser Basins, because I wasn’t sure what was there and if it was worth it. What I learned is everything is worth seeing (well, except Ribbon Lake, which I re-named Mosquito Lake).

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? If so, what were some of your favorite things you saw or did? If not, is it on your bucket list?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Learning Your Way Around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana- “World’s First and Best Park”

Although it’s not the most visited of all of the US national parks, Yellowstone National Park is certainly high on many people’s lists. Since 2015, the annual number of visitors to Yellowstone has been steadily increasing from 4 million people. By the way, the reference in the title is because we saw someone wearing a t-shirt at the park declaring that Yellowstone was the “World’s First and Best National Park;” Yellowstone was established in 1872 and was not only the United States’ first national park but also the world’s first national park.

We spent four nights in Yellowstone (so I make no claims to being an expert) and despite the fact that it’s 3,472 square miles spread out over parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, or larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, I feel like we were able to see quite a bit of the park in that amount of time. Well, sort of. We saw a decent amount of the bottom part of the park, but we really didn’t see much of the top part other than driving through it on our way to the airport in Idaho Falls. In this post I will obviously focus on the lower part of the park.

I’ll give a little bit of background geographical information here, to give everyone an idea of the lay of the land. Yellowstone has five general areas within the park. In the north is Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt, which includes Lamar Valley. The central part includes Canyon Village to the east and Norris Geyser Basin and Madison to the west. The southern part includes Lake Village, Fishing Bridge, and Bridge Bay to the east; Grant Village and West Thumb to the central part; and Old Faithful to the west.

One more thing to know about logistics:  there are 5 entrances; north, northeast, south, east, and west. The North Entrance is the only park entrance open to wheeled vehicles all year. Winters are brutal in this part of the US, and the other entrances close in the fall and don’t re-open until the spring (which can be late May for some entrances). If you’re combining Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, some people say you can make a day trip from Jackson through Grand Teton and up to Yellowstone through the south entrance, which you could technically do, but it would be a really long day with most of it spent in the car.

Geothermal Areas:  Geysers, Pools, Mud Pots, Fumaroles, and Springs

There are an estimated approximately 10,000 geothermal areas in Yellowstone. Throughout the park, there are several geyser basins. The main geyser basins are described in detail below, but there are others including Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest geyser basin in the park and is home to Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world.

West Thumb Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. This is where you’ll find the following geysers, pools, and springs:  Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Hillside Geyser, Twin Geysers, Blue Funnel Spring, Ephedra Spring, Fumaroles, Big Cone, Fishing Cone, Lakeshore Geyser, Surging Spring, Ledge Spring, Percolating Spring, Thumb Paint Pots, and more. There is also a historic Ranger Station, Duck Lake Trail, and Lake Overlook Trail.

IMG_2665.JPG

The Upper Geyser Basin includes Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, and the Old Faithful area. The walking paths that connect the Old Faithful area, Biscuit Basin, and Black Sand Basin contain a huge amount of springs, pools, and geysers. If you only have time to visit one basin, this is the one where you should spend your time. Some of my favorites on the walk between Old Faithful and Biscuit Basin are Morning Glory Pool, Grotto Geyser, Chromatic Pool, and Castle Geyser.

Don’t make the mistake of just viewing Old Faithful explode into the air and then leave. There are many other geysers, springs, and pools on the walkway around the Old Faithful Area. Some other great ones include Beehive Geyser, Grand Geyser, Riverside Geyser, Sawmill and Daisy Geyser. Also, in addition to the seating area in front of Old Faithful, there’s an observation point a short walk uphill where you can get a less-crowded view of Old Faithful from above. More on that in a later post or this one will be way too long.

Biscuit Basin includes Silver Spring Globe, Shell, and Avoca Springs, Sapphire Pool (one of my favorites), Black Opal Pool, Jewel, Cauliflower, and Black Pearl Geysers. The Firehole River and a highway divide the basin.

Black Sand Basin contains only five geysers and hot springs but is one area not to be missed. You’ll see the colorful and aptly named Rainbow Pool (my daughter’s favorite), Emerald Pool, Spouter Geyser, Cliff Geyser, and Sunset Lake which discharges into Iron Creek, and overflows into Rainbow Pool creating a large microbial mat between the two thermal features.

IMG_2713.JPG

Midway Geyser Basin is technically part of the Lower Geyser Basin but is given its own domain. The famous Grand Prismatic Spring, which is almost 370 feet in diameter, is here, as is the now dormant Excelsior Geyser.

The Lower Geyser Basin is the largest of the geyser basin areas in Yellowstone, at 11 square miles. If you take the Fountain Paint Pot Trail, you can see the beautiful Celestine Pool; Clepsydra, Fountain, Morning, and Jet Geysers; Fumaroles (steam vents), Leather Pool, Red Spouter, Silex Spring, Sizzler, and Spasm Geyser.

Where to Stay

We decided to stay inside the park, at Grant Village, which was a wise decision especially after hearing a co-worker who went there a week before I did say he had to drive one hour just to get to the entrance of the park and then another hour or two from there depending on what part of the park he was going to that day. By staying inside the park, you’ll greatly reduce the amount of time you spend driving each day. There are nine hotel/lodges within Yellowstone and 12 campgrounds, so you do have some options. Just remember they fill up several months to a year in advance so you’ll need to make your reservations early.

However, even if you stay within the park, you will still spend time driving within the park, just because it is so spread out and enormous. For example, to get from Grant Village to Old Faithful, it will take about 30 or 40 minutes if you aren’t slowed down by construction, traffic, or animals crossing or blocking the road (we had to deal with all three of these at one time or another). If you were staying outside the park and drove in the north entrance, for example, it could easily take you 2 1/2 to 3 hours just to drive from your hotel to Old Faithful. Believe me, we saw first-hand the huge line of cars trying to enter the park from the north entrance one morning.

IMG_2632
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

As you may guess, there are no Airbnb properties or non-National Park Service hotels within the park, but there are some near the entrances if you truly don’t mind a long drive into and back out of the park or can’t get reservations in the park. Within the park, Canyon Village has Canyon Lodge and Cabins. Tower-Roosevelt area has Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins. Mammoth Hot Springs has Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins. Old Faithful area has three options:  Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Cabins, and Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins. West Thumb and Grant Village has Grant Village. Lake Village has Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins and Lake Lodge Cabins.

If you want to focus your time on the northern part of the park but also have relatively quick access to geysers, I would stay in Canyon Village. Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs to the north are great if you want to explore Lamar Valley. If you will be fishing and spending more time at Yellowstone Lake or want a fairly central location in the park, Grant Village would be a good option. Old Faithful area is great for focusing on geysers, pools, and springs since a large proportion are in this area.

Just by taking some time to learn the layout of Yellowstone and deciding where you want to focus your time, you can reduce the amount of driving you’ll be doing within the park and be able to spend more time outside enjoying the park. I feel like Grant Village was a good choice for accommodations for my family and I since it was only about a thirty minute drive to the Old Faithful area of the park (as I mentioned earlier), which is where so many of the geyser basins are but we could also get to the Canyon area in about an hour so it was a relatively central location for the places we went during that week.

Where to Fly Into

If you don’t live within driving distance of Yellowstone and/or don’t want to take a cross-country road trip, you can fly into Idaho Falls Regional Airport and drive in through the north or south entrance, which should each take about 3 hours. An alternative is to fly into Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah and come up through the south entrance, which would take about 6 hours. Jackson Hole Airport is the quickest way to Yellowstone, at only about an hour’s drive to the south entrance, but it’s also likely the most expensive option.

I have another post coming soon with specific tips for viewing geysers, pools, springs, and waterfalls plus trail info and safety.

Have you been to Yellowstone National Park? If so, what did you do there? If not, is it on your bucket list?

Happy travels!

Donna