Amsterdam is an amazing city which is very easily accessible due to the amount of flights coming into Schipol airport.
When you arrive into Schipol airport the City Center is easily accessible by rail. It takes about 15-20 minutes and costs about 11 euros for a round trip ticket. You can purchase these tickets right before you leave the airport.
1. Rent a bike and go around the city
Biking is the way to go once you’re in the Netherlands. You can rent bikes from a variety of locations around the city and most hotels/hostels have bikes for rent. All the roads are extremely bike friendly so you can’t go wrong with that!
Cost: 10-20 Euros
2. Visit the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum is the largest art museum in the country and has a ton of art to view. You can easily spend a day walking around here and looking at the various pieces of art ranging from Rembrandt, Vermeer, and many others.
What could be more iconic than cruising around the canals of Amsterdam? There are a variety of tour operators with varying structures: hop on and off, river tour, rent your own boat, etc. You’ll enjoy seeing Amsterdam from an entirely different perspective than those landlubbers!
Cost: 25-100 Euros
4. Walk around Dam Square
Dam Square has some of the most notable buildings in Amsterdam including the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th century church. You can spend some time walking around here and marveling at some of the architecture that was so masterfully crafted.
5. Soak in some history at the Anne Frank House
If you were like me you had to read about Anne Frank in Elementary School without fully understanding the circumstances with which they were faced with. Now you can go and see the real thing and walk around the house and see the bookcase door.
In June of 2018, I was involved in an accident where a vehicle merged into the bicycle lane without looking or signaling and sideswiped me off my bike. I used my arm to brace myself from the fall which resulted in a TFCC tear which was confirmed by MRI.
Since I dd not want to have surgery, placing a cast on my arm and immobilizing it was my best course of action. However, little did I know, the cast would be on my arm for about two months. At that time I was also attempting to train for the 1/2 Ironman World Championships in South Africa, so it was debatable whether or not I would be able to race.
For the whole course of my casting treatment I flew multiple flights and was home only briefly for doctor’s appointments to check on my progress. The amount of flying was due to the nature of my work and also because I had summer vacation planned as well. Here are a few things that I learned during my whole casting treatment and things that you can expect as well.
1. Yes, you can still exercise with an arm cast.
I still ran and cycled with my cast on, but no swimming. I had to train somehow for the my race and didn’t want to be sidelined by this injury. I didn’t have as many quality workouts as I wanted to and couldn’t swim either but something was better than nothing. However, don’t expect the cast to smell nice and fresh. The cast will stink a lot and will take a long time to dry from your sweat.
2. Yes, you can also fly with your cast as well.
I had my cast put on 24 hours before my flight and still was able to fly. The doctor’s ordered the cast to be split into a bivalve cast which allows some room for the cast to expand. The technician took a cast saw and split it into two then wrapped it with coban so that I could remove it in case my injury swelled during the flight. I also popped a couple of ibuprofen before the flight which can help reducing swelling as well. I didn’t have any issues with the swelling during any of my flights so I was pretty lucky.
3. Showering is still possible, but with some difficulty.
For the first couple of days I resorted to holding my arm up out of the shower so the cast would not get wet. I can tell you it got pretty old quick and my arm always got tired a few minutes into the shower. Towards the end of my treatment I discovered that you could get a shower bag for different types of casts. I highly recommend getting one of these and you can find these easily on amazon.
4. Don’t expect to drive easily with a cast
Driving became a little bit more difficult for me. I drive a manual car and it gets pretty hard to shift and hold the steering wheel at the same time while you’re in a cast. However, it can be done with a little bit of practice. If you have a leg cast you’ll be out of commission.
5. Typing becomes super annoying
I relied more on dictation during this time period and I found it very helpful to use Siri or Google Assistant. The typing was both annoying on the keyboard as well as on my iPhone as well due to the restriction of movement in my digits as well due to the way I was casted. My work emails became much shorter as did my text messages as well during this time period.
6. Other things that requires two hands become much more challenging as well
I couldn’t eat steak because I couldn’t hold a fork and a knife and cut my steak at the same time. I couldn’t cook in the kitchen because that would require me to hold the pan and use the spatula as well. I relied a little bit more on easier to make foods and going out to eat during this time period and due to my decreased activity.
However, eventually I was able to heal and get my cast off so it’s not the end of the world. It did take some time but eventually hopefully you’ll be back to your old self in no time.
Alta Peak is in Sequoia National Park not far from the Giant Forest. The particular trail we took allows for a showcase of grand sweeping panoramas, beautiful trees, and lakes. According to a variety of guide books and websites – the peak is a strenuous climb and the peak itself sits at about 11,208 ft (3,416 m). Some individuals will be subject to altitude sickness so please be prepared for this and be aware of your personal health when climbing this particular peak.
At a high level, our plan involves the following:
Leaving work on a Friday afternoon and camping at a campsite
Picking up our permits early in the morning on Saturday morning
Hiking up to Alta Peak and then camping at Alta Meadow Saturday night
Packing up camp on Sunday morning and hiking out to return Sunday afternoon/evening – ready for work by Monday morning
Booking Campsites and Backpacking Permits
In order to backpack in Sequoia National Park, or for any national park for that matter, you will need to reserve a backpacking permit. Instructions on how to do that are located here. Please note that in recent years backpacking has been becoming more and more popular and permits have been notoriously hard to get, especially for highly trafficked trails. Be sure to reserve your permit early.
For Sequoia National Park in the year 2018, applications were accepted beginning March 1st at 12:01am Pacific Time – we made sure to get our permits on time.
Wilderness permits cost $10 plus $5 per person within the quota season.
We managed to get a 12 person permit for our requested dates. (12 people is the maximum amount of people who are allowed on a single permit). These permits need to be picked up in person before starting your hike – check the Sequoia NPS for opening hours as these vary between seasons.
In order to book a campsite we had to to book them directly on recreation.gov or be lucky enough to find a walk up campsite. We were able to reserve Potwisha Campground for Friday evening about two months before our backpacking trip – unfortunately we weren’t able to get the closest ones to the trailhead. Campsites do fill up quite quickly before the summer season. Please note that the maximum number of people per campsite is 6 and a maximum of 2 vehicles per campsite. We booked two campsites because we had planned for 12 people.
Each campsite costs $22 per night of camping.
Driving to the campsite from Los Angeles takes roughly 4 hours to get there without traffic. If you’re planning to go during rush hour or after work on a Friday night – plan for an additional 1 hour of driving time depending on traffic conditions. We also stopped on the way there to get dinner and there are many affordable options along the way. If you’re looking to save some cash on road trips check our other article here.
According to trail condition reports the previous weekend we were told that there would be snow at the top of Alta Peak. We packed traction devices and trekking poles for this particular hike as well as cold weather gear. We later learned that much of the snow had melted and traction devices nor trekking poles would be required for this particular trip. However, it is still important to check trail conditions before going early in the season as snow melt is variable.
You will most likely need a food storage container as well for your food during the evening. There is some conflicting information as to what’s listed on their website vs what the rangers will tell you in person. Their website indicates that a portable food storage container is recommended but not required while at the permit issue station they say it’s required. I would bring a food storage container just in case the rangers are not aware of what’s listed on their website. It’s $5 for 3 days to rent a Garcia Bear storage container from their visitor’s center.
Site 16 is an excellent campsite that has room for two cars and up to five tents. It also has a small trail to the Marble Fork Kaweah River next to the campsite.
Find topo maps of the area from United States Geological Service here. USGS stopped updating their printed topos decades ago, some of these maps do not accurately reflect the current landscape.
We had originally planned to start from Wolverton Trailhead to Alta Peak to Moose Lake and back out on the Lakes Trail. However we were thwarted by high mountain passes and lack of time so we opted to stay at Alta Meadow and return back on the same trail.
We got an early start to the day and woke up around 5:45 to leave our camp by 6:15 to arrive at Lodgepole Visitor’s center by 7:00. We managed to pick up our permits quite easily and found that there were many walk in backpacking permits available. We also enjoyed some breakfast outside the Visitor’s center before driving over to the Wolverton trail head and beginning our hike.
The hike initially started in the Giant Forest so most of this was shaded and continued with a very gradual incline. Once we approached the top of Panther Gap a nice vista emerged! I can’t emphasize how amazing this view is and you’ll just have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate the beauty of it.
After reaching Panther Gap we continued for about a mile and enjoyed these vistas for a while until we were back in the forest.
Once the trail split to ascend Alta Peak, the grade increased significantly . The difficulty of this portion of the trail is harder than normal due to the thin air at this altitude. One of the members of our group started experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness which can be common at higher elevations. We also found marmots at this altitude. Be sure to watch out for these guys and don’t leave your pack unattended – they’ll be sure to tear right through your bag to get to your food.
As we continued ascending closer and closer to the tree line the terrain more closely resembled high alpine terrain. On our ascent we saw a lot of thick snow – in some places the cover reached about 2 feet.
The ascent does involve some bouldering and rock hopping since we had to work around some of the thick snow. We found the climb to the geological marker can also be a little nerve wracking due to the sheer dropoff on the other side of the marker.
On the way down we experienced similar views that were seen at Panther Gap. It’s quite amazing and you’ll definitely want to stop and take it all in before moving on.
Once we reached Alta Meadow we attempted to go cross country and ascend the ridge to Moose Lake. However, due to time constraints we decided to turn around and attempt the ascent another day.
We turned around to Alta Meadow and set up camp there for the evening. The campsite there is really spacious and practically empty during the early season. There is also a water source close by if you head back about 1/4 of a mile back onto the trail towards the trail head. We found the water to be flow to be quite strong and suitable for our needs.
We had a very nice dinner filled with Mountain House ( Italian Style Pepper Steak & Lasagna ) and other goodies. Mountain House is very easy to prepare and a quick option but they are more expensive and do take up more space in your pack.
In the evening we were even visited by a few deer – be sure to keep your food in a bear can for the evening!
The following morning we got to sleep in as it would be quite a relatively easy day to get out of camp. We found that the evening temperatures, at an elevation of just under 9000 feet, was not that cold and quite bearable.
It took us about 2 hike out from our campsite to the trail head. We made excellent time as it was downhill and easy going.
Following our hike we decided to visit Sequoia Brewing Company in Visalia, CA. They have a variety of interestingly named themed beers such as: The General Sherman IPA, Mount Whitney Pale Ale, Half Dome, and many others. Their food was quite deliciously as well and very affordable depending on what you decide to get.
This one was fairly affordable and can also be done cheaper by cutting out the dining options or by preparing your own backpacker meals.
Cusco is the capital of today’s Cusco region and the historical capital of the Inca Empire. It was also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. This article explores some of the tourist attractions and things to do in Cusco.
When we landed at Cusco, we immediately felt the change in elevation. Cusco sits at 11,000 feet of altitude. There are a lot of stairs going up and down the city. We were constantly out of breath, even just after climbing one flight of stairs. It is a good idea to give yourself at least a day or two in Cusco to get acclimated to the elevation before continuing on the Inca Trail hike. One of the people in our group got altitude sickness during our hike and had to be carried out of Machu Picchu. Read more about that here.
We paid 50 Soles for a local taxi to take eight of us from the airport to the Central Plaza in Cusco. I definitely recommend going the local taxi route and haggling, since taking an Uber is more expensive. We were told by one of our Peruvian friend who arrived later that even paying 50 Soles was too expensive for the ride. So haggle, haggle, and haggle! 🙂 Once you get to the Central Plaza, everything is within walking distance. There are also taxis next to the Central Plaza if you are traveling a little further.
We had some issues with the Airbnb that we initially booked so we randomly walked in to Hotel & Mirador Los Apus and it worked out very well. Los Apus is very reasonably priced with their walk in rate for 11 people, 5 rooms (one triple) for $557 USD . The walk in rate was also cheaper than their rates on the official website. The hotel is centrally located and it is a ten minute walk to Cusco’s Central Plaza. There are many more options with either closer proximity to the Central Plaza or fancier accommodations, but both come at higher price points.
Their hospitality was bar none to what we get in the US. Their breakfast spread is impressive and filled with Peruvian pastiries and other American style offerings such as sausage, egg, toast, and avocados. When they found out it was Aristo’s birthday during our stay there, they even got a cake for us! Furthermore, on the morning that we left for the Inca Trail, they even provided simple breakfast in brown bags for us at 4AM!
Luggage while trekking the Inca Trail
We left our luggage with Hotel & Mirador Los Apus while our four day trek on the Inca Trail. Most hotels in Cusco offer this service, as they are used to travelers staying in Cusco for the Inca Trail and other long treks.
On the morning of the trek, we got luggage tags with perforated stubs. We put our names and phone number on the tag that went on the luggage and we kept the stub part with an unique identification number matching the one on the luggage. The luggage went into their storage unit until we returned from the Inca Trail Trek.
Most places at Cusco are cash only, especially at souvenir shops, smaller restaurants, and taxi fares. So it is a good idea to exchange for cash before your trip. But if you didn’t plan ahead, don’t fret! The BCP bank, which is in the Central Plaza, will allow you to take out large amounts of Soles with a valid credit or debit card. There is also Scotiabank in the Central Plaza and many smaller banks near by. Most of these banks work with your international credit or debit card.
What to do in Cusco
There were a lot to do in Cusco while we got acclimated to the elevation. Here are some of the activities we did.
The Central Plaza, aka Plaza de Arma, is one of the most popular attraction in Cusco. It was the historical center of colonial Cusco with Spanish-style churches like the Cusco Cathedral and Church La Compania de Jesus, souvenir shops, and restaurants.
We joined the “From Bean to Chocolate” class at ChocoMuseum for one of the mornings. It was a five minute walk from the Central Plaza. The class was fun and interactive. We turned cacao beans into milk chocolate during that class. It cost ~$21USD per person (2016 rates). As of May 2018, it’s $25USD per person.
Here are some photos of chocolate making process.
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Rentals
You can sign up for a bunch of day trips while at Cusco. Aristo and Wilfred joined an all terrain vehicle day trip while in Cusco. This was actually something that was more of a spontaneous decision and not everyone in the group did but was an amazing experience. There are many tour operators in Peru and they are all along the central square. Feel free to haggle with the tour operators on the prices for the ATV rentals. We got the tour price down to 100 soles per person.
The tour itself takes around 3 hours and you follow the guides around rural villages, mountain towns, and some other locations but the best location was the salt pits which we would not have seen otherwise. Here they take extract salt by evaporating extremely salty water.
We highly recommend the ATV tour if you’re into taking a more active and cool tour. It is also much more affordable than ATV tours elsewhere in the world.
There are other adventure and sight seeing day tours that you can join at Cusco. Another tour that I highly recommend is the Rainbow Mountain tour. Jack and Aristo did not have enough time in Cusco to join this tour, otherwise we would love to have experienced it. Depending on your haggling skills, you should be able to join the Rainbow Mountain day tour for 80-100 Soles.
The tour starts around 3:30AM and ends around 6:30PM. The day trip starts with a 3 hours drive from Cusco to the Rainbow Mountain. From there, it’s an 8 hour round trip hike, at an elevation from 14,000ft to 17,000ft. Once the hike is completed, it’s another 3 hour drive back to Cusco. The hike is very strenuous and not for the faint of heart. But the views are amazing. I would love to go back at some point to do this trek.
There were a lot of street hecklers around the Central Plaza recruiting customers for massages. Usually we haggled for a while, and once we agreed on a price, we were led to their massage shop and proceeded with the actual massage. We went a total of three times, twice when we first landed at Cusco and once more after our Machu Picchu hike. All three times we were able to haggle down to 20 Soles per person. With tip, we paid 30 Soles per person per massage. We were slightly embarrassed about how smelly and grimy we were for our post Inca Trail massage. But the masseuse told us that people do that all the time and it doesn’t really bother them. The massage after the hike was much needed and certainly the cherry on top after an enriching trek to Machu Picchu.
Here are a few restaurants that we dined at.
Price range: $$$
One liner: Peruvian fusion with a classy vibe. Decent cocktails too.
Price range: $$
One liner: Traditional Peruvian food with a show
Price Range: $
One liner: Budget friendly and decent Peruvian food with a cafe vibe and patio seating
The classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a hiking trail which brings you from the 82nd kilometer marker of the Cusco Railway to Machu Picchu. It was a route of pilgrimage used by the Inca (or Emperor) in the 15th century. It is the most famous trek in South America and is rated as one of the top five treks in the world. Along the trail, you’ll trek pass Inca ruins Llactapata, Runkurakay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna.
This particular trail, which attracts many hikers today, is actually part of an extensive Inca system of trails that consists of over 23,000 km of trails that integrated many different regions of South America. It was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham between 1913 and 1915 when he was clearing fields for planting crops.
Getting Permits and Booking a Tour
The first thing we needed to do in order to hike the Inca trail was to find a tour provider. The government of Peru only allows 500 people per day to enter the Inca Trail, this includes guides and porters. A licensed Inca Trail Tour Operator must reserve these permits for hikers. Hiking the Inca trail alone is not allowed. We chose Alpaca Expeditions as they were highly rated on Trip Advisor. Please note that permits do sell out quickly. You’ll need to go ahead and book these well in advance. We booked ours about 8 months in advance to get these dates. To check for availability on Peru’s official website, click here. The website is not the most tourist friendly, and it still requires flash. You can also check for permit availability on Alpaca Expedition’s official website. On their website there is also a live chat and other useful information. We paid a $200 USD deposit via Paypal to reserve our spot, the rest was due when we got to their office in Cusco.
Arrival in Cusco – Orientation Day
After we arrived to Cusco and settled into our hotel, we checked in with Alpaca Expedition’s office. This is when the rest of our balance was due. IMPORTANT: At check in, please remember to bring your original passport and immigration forms to provide to the Alpaca staff. Immigration forms are given to you on your flight to Peru and you will need to keep it until you leave the country. They need a copy of both to present to the government for their taxes.
The night before our trek, at 6:30PM, we returned to the office for our briefing with our trekking guide and trekking group. At this point, we were introduced to our trail guide Wilson. Wilson was one of the best trail guides as he was very descriptive and entertaining. He was extremely fluent in English and the local dialects.
After our briefing, we were given duffel bags to pack our belongings that we didn’t need during the day – i.e. extra clothes, sleeping mats, sleeping bag, pillow, toiletries, etc. Whatever we pack in our duffel bags would be with the porters all day and not returned until we got to our camp site each night. It is important that total weight for the duffel do not exceed 7kg/14lbs. This has been regulated by the Peruvian government to safeguard the well being of the porters. That being said, the porters still carry a lot of stuff so tip them well!
Day 1 – Cusco – Piskacucho KM 82 – Llactapata Aypata
Walking distance: 8.7 miles/14 km (6-7 hours)
Elevation Gain: 3,500 Feet / 1,066 Meters
Campsite altitude: 10,826 Feet / 3,300 meters (high) above sea level
Difficulty: Moderate day (getting used to the Inca Trail)
On the first day, Alpaca Expeditions picked us up from our hotel in Cusco at 4:30 AM. We then drove to Km 82, and arrived there around 7:00 AM. Most of us took a long nap on this delightful shuttle ride. After we arrived, our cook prepared an awesome breakfast for us complete with scrambled eggs and other delightful pastries. This was the only time we got to enjoy fresh eggs and pastries as these do not transport well on the trail. Proceeding this we went through our first Inca Trail checkpoint to begin our trek (please make sure you have your original passport with you to enter the Inca Trail).
The first 2 hours of the trek were relatively easy and we made it to our first Inca site, Patallacta, which is an ancient Inca checkpoint for the approach to Machu Picchu. We were completely stunned by our first view of ancient Inca ruins. If you haven’t seen any before, it is quite a sight and we spent a few minutes just taking in the awesome views. Wilson gave us a few minutes to walk through the upper portion of the ruins before continuing on our trek.
From Patallacta, it’s another 2 hour hike to our lunch stop. This was relatively easy but with the impending rain, many of us opted to hike a little faster to get to our lunch spot.
After lunch, we hiked for another 2½ hours until we reached our first night’s campsite at Ayapata (3300 meters / 10826 feet). On this last stretch we passed through two small communities. If you want to buy any energy drinks or snacks you can do so here, you can also buy any essential items such as batteries that you may have forgotten. We arrived at our campsite by 5:00PM and it was quite a surprise to find all of our tents and belongings had already been set up for us! We had about 2 hours to rest before dinner was served at 7:30PM.
Since this was many of our group’s first time in the Southern Hemisphere we attempted to get some astrophotos of the night sky in the south. As you can see we managed to capture a lot of the stars and the movement at camp.
Day 2 – Ayapata – Dead Woman’s Pass – Runcuraccay Pass – Chaquiccocha
Walking distance: 9.94 miles / 16 km (7-8 hours)
Elevation Gain: 4,500 Feet / 1,371 Meters
Campsite altitude: 11811 feet / 3600 meters (high) above sea level (chilly weather)
Difficulty: Top day (you will have survived the two highest passes)
Area: Andes and Cloud Forest
The second day is the hardest day on the Inca trail, however your porters will make sure to fuel you up in the morning. They delivered us hot towels and tea in our tents as we awoke early in the morning (around 6:30 AM). From there we got to enjoy a nice hot breakfast filled with delicacies such as a fruit turkey, pancakes, and more!
Following breakfast we began our hike for about 4 hours up to Dead Woman’s Pass. From the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, we spent about an hour waiting for the rest of our group to catch up and also enjoyed some hot coca leaf tea.
Unfortunately on our ascent to Dead Woman’s Pass, one of the members in our party started to exhibit extreme symptoms of altitude sickness. Wilfred had to be helped by our tour guide Wilson to reach the pass.
Once we reached Dead Woman’s Pass we descended into the Pacayamau Valley for 1.5 hours until we reached our lunch spot. Lunch was amazing as always and very much needed after getting up and over Dead Woman’s Pass.
After lunch we continued onto Runkurakay Pass where we passed by some smaller ruins. These smaller ruins are much smaller than the cities and towns that we previously passed. Archaeologists assume this must have been a small post house where messengers relaxed after Dead Woman’s Pass and before continuing on for the rest of their journey towards Machu Picchu.
After reaching Runkurakay Pass, it was another hour downhill hike to reach the magnificent Inca site, Sayacmarca. To get to this particular ruin we went up some steep and narrow steps cut from stone. This was the biggest ruin we explored so far and is situated on top of a rock outcropping. The ruin is separated into two parts, a fortress on top and a farming section below.
We toured Sayacmarca for about 30 minutes and hiked for another 20 mins to our campsite. Our campsite was already set up upon our arrival and the dinner was well underway as well!
Day 3 – Chaquiccocha – Winaywayna Camp
Walking distance: 6.2 miles / 10km (5 hours)
Elevation Gain: 1200 Feet / 365 meters
Campsite altitude: 8530 Feet / 2,600 meters (high) above sea level (chilly weather)
Difficulty: Easy day – all downhill!
Area: High Cloud Forest
After our breakfast, we hiked for 2 hours along what was known as “Inca flat” (gradual inclines) and begin to enter the jungle region, known as the Cloud Forest. As we hiked, we had the opportunity to see the majesty of Salkantay, the second highest snow-capped mountain in the Sacred Valley, and a fantastic panoramic view of the Vilcabamba mountain range. Towards the end of the Inca flats we began to make our way up to the last peak at Phuyupatamarka (3600 meters / 11811 feet) which provided great views overlooking the Urubamba River.
Unfortunately during this part of the trip, Wilfred experienced serious symptoms of high altitude sickness including a fever and shortness of breath. He was carried to the next campsite by three porters who alternated carrying him down the trail.
On our descent, we visited 2 Inca ruins, Phuyupatamarka (Town in the Clouds) and Intipata (Terraces of the Sun).
Once we passed the two sites, we arrived at our campsite around 1:00PM to have lunch. We then got the rest of the day to relax and hang out before we had an orientation about Machu Picchu and what to expect the next day. In the latter part of the afternoon, Wilson took us to the near by Inca ruins, Wiñay Wayna. We spent 1.5 hours there exploring the ruins. The ruin was only a short walk from our campsite and it is truly an amazing ruin, which is second to that of only Machu Picchu.
This night, the team went above and beyond on their cooking skills as they prepared a cake for one of our group member’s birthday, Cindy. They managed to scrap together a cake from the ingredients they have, and it was quite tasty as well. We were pleasantly surprised by this as we had only mentioned Cindy’s birthday through our casual conversation with Wilson during the trek.
Day 4 – Machu Picchu – The Lost City of the Incas / Hyuna Picchu
Walking distance: 4.5 miles/ 7.2 km (5 hours) – distance includes Hyuna Picchu
Elevation Gain: 1900 Feet / 579 Meters
Difficulty: The most exciting and magical day (early wake up 3.30AM)
Area: High Cloud and Subtropical Forest
Weather: Hot and very humid (bring lots of water)
On the last day of our journey we had to wake up extremely early – about 3:30 AM. We woke up this early in order to get a spot in line for hiking through the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu. The earlier we were in line, the quicker and less crowded it would be for us passing into Machu Picchu.
It was also at this time that Wilfred was having severe trouble breathing and was barely able to stand. Wilson radioed the staff at the Machu Picchu station to inform them of the situation. The staff let Wilfred and the three alternating porters carrying him into the Sun Gate early so he can be carried through to a medical facility. Wilfred later accounted that, while he was in and out of consciousness, he saw Machu Picchu in all of its glory while on the back of a porter on the way to the medical facility.
Even though Wilfred was let in early into the Sun Gate, the rest of our group remained at the entrance. We found that there were many tour groups lining up for the opportunity to be first through the Sun Gate when we got in line at 4:30AM. We were given a very simple breakfast, a breakfast biscuit, an apple, and a juice box. It wasn’t a lot, but it was fulfilling enough to get us going to Machu Picchu. We then waited until the Sun Gate open at 5:30 AM. It was also at this point we parted ways with our porters (excluding the ones that were carrying Wilfred). The remainder of the trip was between our group and Wilson.
We reached the Sun Gate by 6:30AM and were greeted with a cloudy view of Machu Picchu. We decided to sit at the Sun Gate for 20 minutes to see if the clouds would clear and they actually did! You can see the time lapse of this towards the end of our Machu Picchu video.
Once we reached Machu Picchu, Wilson explained the extended history of how the city came to be and what each different building in Machu Picchu was used for. We noticed there were extensive restoration projects underway on many of the buildings to try to restore Machu Picchu to its former glory. The awe of the city is something that cannot simply be described by words and pictures. It’s something you must truly visit yourself and see it with your own eyes.
After we finished exploring around Machu Picchu, we had earlier arranged to hike Huaynapicchu at an additional fee of $65 USD. It is well worth it to do this hike. However, some people preferred not to due to the intensity involved in hiking this particular mountain after hiking the Inca trail. Much of the trail is very steep and involves getting on your hands and knees.
Unfortunately when we got to the top, we were enveloped in clouds and could not see too much so there wasn’t much to take pictures of. However, if it’s a sunny day, you can be sure to see Machu Picchu in it’s entirety!
Tipping After the Hike
Alpaca Expeditions Tipping Verbiage: “It is customary in Peru to tip your crew at the end of the trek. Please know that Alpaca makes sure to give our entire team a good salary and they do not survive off only their tips. We do want to share some advice on how to do this, since different cultures have different preferences about tipping. Porters and chefs do prefer tips in soles. Often the entire team of trekkers will pool money together for the Green Machine and each porter will receive between 60 – 80 soles and the chef usually receives double. For your guide, this is often a personal decision and done by each separate group.”
For our group we pooled together all of our tips and gave each porter 80 soles, the chef 160 soles, and we gave our tour guide Wilson the most at 100 soles (per person from our group).
After our hike, we were given our shuttle bus tickets so we could make our way down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes.
Wilson met us in the village and took us to a nice local restaurant for our last meal together. He also gave us our train tickets at this time so we could return to Ollantaytambo.
We were booked the Expedition class train departing Aguas Calientes at 4:20. Please make sure you are on the platform at least 30 minutes ahead of time. This train takes about 2 hours and has large windows. This allowed us to see views and ruins which we previously did not see on the trail.
After our train arrived in Ollantaytambo, we were met by our Alpaca driver and Wilson who took us the rest of the way to Cusco by a 2 hour car ride. However, before stopping at our hotel, we went to visit Wilfred at the hospital.
Wilfred was carried to a medical facility at Machu Picchu and given oxygen for his altitude sickness. The doctor there then escorted him to the train station for a train back to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, an ambulance picked up Wilfred and drove him all the way to the hospital at Cusco.
Wilson was kind enough to stop at a cake shop and pick up a cake for Wilfred as it happened to be his birthday also.
After our visit to the hospital, we were dropped off at our hotel. We waved good bye to Wilson and this unforgettable journey. From there, we flew back to Lima where we sight-saw, paraglided, and fine dined at The Central. Post for Lima coming soon!
Credit to Deb LeMonds for the hike tracking data! 🙂
The summer season is fast approaching and that means more road trips. With more road trips inevitably means more fast food dining, and these costs can quickly add up with a family of 5. With the ubiquity of the internet and smartphones, these dining options can be a whole lot cheaper. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways that you can save by using apps and other options on your road trip. We’ll talk about a few of the popular options: McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and Wendy’s. If you have more tips, feel free to share them in the comments below.
The McDonald’s app is the most well developed app out of all the fast food apps. It allows deals and orders to be made in store, at the drive-thru, or in app. The app also has the most quality and quantity deals out of any other app. Depending on where you are located they will also have regional deals as well. In Los Angeles they offer deals when the Kings, LA Clippers, or Dodgers score a certain point or whatever they deem as the promotion during that period.
Some deals are specific to mobile order only, while others allow for both restaurant order and mobile order. To redeem the deal with mobile order, simply add the deal to your mobile order and continue with the order at the payment page. To use at restaurant, pull up the deal with the app and scan it when paying at the restaurant.
The one breakfast deal that I always go for on the Burger King app is the $4 for 2 Croissan’wich, 1 small hashbrown, and 1 small coffee. I can’t even get the ingredients to cook all those things for $4!
Once you redeem a coupon, you will have 15 minutes to use the coupon code. Simply order in store or at the drive-thru and tell your cashier the 4 digit code prompted on the screen and they will have the order ready for you.
The Burger King app offers Mobile Payment option where you can add a PayPal account or a BK Crown Card. However, there’s no option to order online. It seems like Burger King has some catching up to do on their app development.
Starbucks are located throughout the US and in most airports so it makes it very easy for you to use Starbucks rewards. The difference between Starbucks and the other ones listed here is that Starbucks works on a reward scheme. You have to earn points in order to be able to redeem for free items.
As a rewards member you earn 2 points for ever $1 you spend. However, they often have promotions which fast track your earnings to redeem for items much quicker.
Example of a “star challenge” listed below.
Often times Starbucks has additional promotions where they offer certain amount of stars for loading your card with money. These are some of the best promotions as you don’t have to spend any money to get stars.
In order to redeem these points you will tell your cashier that you want to redeem your points for a reward – which can be redeemed for any menu item. It’s important to note that any redemption costs 125 stars – so even if you are deciding between redeeming for a small coffee or a sandwich, both will cost 125 stars. I usually use my rewards for something more than a drink – either a panini or a salad. My favorite panini option is: Chicken & Double-Smoked Bacon.
Note that Wendy’s is one of the few fast food chains that does not serve breakfast menu. They also generally has less offers and less value saving in their offers. But it’s still money saved by using these coupons.
The same code ordering scheme is used at Wendy’s as it is at Burger King. Follow the instruction on the app to retrieve the offer code and provide it to the cashier.
The app has an “Order” button but when I click on it, it could not find any locations near the Bay area that offers online ordering. However, it is available in SoCal at one location in Burbank so we suspect this feature is still being tested and not available nationwide yet.
One topic that isn’t discussed much in this article are gift cards. If you carefully craft your road trip, you will know which fast food or dining options are in the area. In this case, you can save even more by pre-purchasing gift cards for these particular chain establishments from places such as Costco, Giftcardbin, Ebay, and other various websites. If you stack these gift card purchases with the coupons and rewards programs listed above, it will save you a ton of money.
Alternatively, you can also use apps like Swych / Gyft to buy Fast Food Chain gift cards. These will code as 5x the points with cards like Chase Ink Plus. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points, when redeemed for travel, is valued highly due to the lucrative nature of travel redemption. These gift cards can be used with coupons as well because they are treated as cash / debit cards.
For those of us who are not familiar with Roatán – it is an island in the Caribbean Bay Islands and is part of the country of Honduras. Roatán is mainly known for its dive sites and specifically catering to divers. It also happens to be a cruise ship-docking site, which services a variety of brands such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. Our vacation was diving focused so the rest of this article will be related to diving.
There are many options to get to Roatán – Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport (RTB). Flying from the US you can choose either an American carrier or a variety of other carriers from other countries, which service RTB. Since we were flying from LAX we opted to use American Airlines and connect through Dallas Forth Worth (DFW).
Below is our flight schedule:
Flights for this region can be as cheap as 25,000 AA miles round trip. However for our specific dates the round trip cost ended up being around 40,000 AA miles round trip – so it wasn’t the best redemption but still a very good value with round trip ticket dollar costs hovering around $700 for economy tickets.
Accommodations in Roatán
There are a ton of resorts on the island itself and many of them cater to divers. I would highly suggest staying at one of the smaller resorts as they really pander to your individual needs and customize packages to your liking. We ended up staying at Seagrape Plantation Resort and opted for their 7 Nights Accommodation / 14 Dives package and chose the Ocean View Bungalow.
Seagrape also provides pick up and airport drop off service so it is really convenient and they take care of everything.
I would highly suggest opting for the Ocean View Bungalow as it is quite an awesome upgrade over the hotel experience. The bungalows all have A/C as well which is a nice added bonus during the hot and humid Caribbean heat. The bungalows have a single shared wall with another bungalow next to you but you have your own porch and balcony with a hammock. It’s an excellent place to relax after a long day of diving or resting in between dives.
Here were our details for our costs and their reservation policies:
Bungalow (Double – Per Person) $856.80
*19% Honduran sales tax
*7 nights accommodation ocean view bungalow
*14 dives each
*No additional charge for dive equipment
*2 meals per day (Breakfast & Lunch)
*Airport pickup and drop off
Reservation Policy: We require a 50% deposit due 30 days prior to your arrival. Balance is due upon check-in. Deposits are non-refundable, Deposits are valid for 1 year from the date of booking and may be applied to a future reservation within this time period. Deposits may be made by credit card, mail, or funds transfers(wired).
For those of you who are looking to get certified, the rates were not that much more to get certified at Seagrape. The open water diver course and an additional 5 dives after the course costed $904.05 per person.
Their included breakfast and lunches were simply amazing. Everyday was different and the menu was always varied and never the same. I can’t say enough about the local cooking they provide and simply say that a homecooked meal away from home is hard to get!
As a testament to their level of customer service – later on in the trip Jade got an ear infection and the owners drove us to the hospital in Coxen Hole. They spoke to them in Spanish and translated for us and helped us throughout the whole ordeal. They come highly recommended!
The diveshop is located just a short walk from your hotel room or bungalow – the walk only takes less than 5 minutes and is quite pleasant. The sign up for diving is fairly straight forward – they have a white board which you sign up for different time slots (8:30 , 10:30, 14:30). Depending on how many people they have signed up for a particular dive they will operate more boats if needed. The boat will return to shore after each dive to get new tanks so if you need to grab something in between dives you can leave it in the office where it’s relatively safe.
They do offer free rental gear as well. I personally did not rent any gear since I had my own gear but their rental gear seems to be nice and well kept. Most people who were diving here opted to use the free rental gear so that’s a huge plus if you don’t have your own gear.
Diving in Roatán
Most of the dive sites that they operate are within a 20 min boat ride from the resort so they are fairly close together. The dives here were pretty awesome and for the amount of diving we were doing we really enjoyed the temps being in the mid to low 80s.
Below are all of our dives listed in chronological order including the dive time and site
Hole in the Wall
Gibson Bight (Night Dive)
Prince Albert Wreck
If you’d like further details about dive profiles and depths please feel free to shoot us an email.
Below are some of the things you can expect to see on your dives:
There are also a lot of swim throughs and crevasses which you can go through. If you haven’t been through some of these before it is highly recommended that you try and go through these!
Roatán – Food
Seagrape is located in what is known as the West End and you are very close to a variety of shops and restaurants. Since Seagrape catered to us for breakfast and lunch we did have to find somewhere to go for dinner. They do not provide dinner and so we had to head out to town to take a look at the local offerings. We noticed that a lot of places have people outside heckling tourists and asking them to come in to try their food. The food here in general is pretty cheap when compared to American prices as long as you know where to go. Some of the restaurants that cater specifically to Americans and/or tourists are much more expensive and can really run up your food budget. Also please note that not all places accept credit cards but most places will accept American dollars. I have never seen the Honduran Lempira or how it looks so you can get the idea of how you will fare as an American with USD.
There are plenty of street food vendors. We were not the least bit wary of these and found these to be quite good. There was a man and his son who happily served us food on the beach and brought us large plates of meats. He served various plates of pork, beef, and or chicken for $6 each.
Another place that we found that was quite tasty was Anthony’s Chicken – it was a little more established but not quite up to the standards of a what would be considered a typical restaurant in the US. The menu was written on poster board with Sharpie – but don’t let that stop you at all!
Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken is also another really good place in the West End that offers a ton of food for $20 – you get a whole chicken + 4 fixings. We ordered two of them for $40 total and you can see how much good we got for $40! Needless to say we were completely stuffed afterwards.
Coconut Tree Diver’s Restaurant was by far one of the more expensive restaurants that we went to due to it’s proximity to a resort. Their plates ranged between $15 – $25 for dinner and we found the food to taste quite great but priced for tourists as you didn’t get quite as much food as some other places, i.e. less value.
One of the nights we decided to venture out of the West End and head into Coxen Hole to see what the non touristy side of the island had to offer. Boy were we surprised at how much cheaper everything was! The taxi ride can vary depending on how well you can haggle with a driver. We managed to get a one way ride for about $12 and the van fit all 6 of us. That’s where we found the Bay Side restaurant and we feasted on a sampling of shrimp, fish, beef, ribs, pork, and chicken. The huge sampling of food you see below only costed about $25 per person and we were completely stuffed!
Need to make sure we get a picture of the food
Another place where we got food was a local spot called Garifuna Living Food in Punta Gorda. Cleve from Cleve’s Tours took us here. It was a real eye opening experience in terms of getting to know what the locals eat. All of the food they served here was caught locally by fishermen and tasted absolutely amazing!
The street food here is also simply amazing as well – don’t miss the freshly squeezed orange juice in a bag or the pastelitos! You should be able to find these in Coxen Hole on the street – Cleve brought us to this specific location.
Cleve’s Tours and Adventures
For our last day on Roatán we needed to take a non-diving day to allow our bodies enough time to dissipate any residual nitrogen so we could fly safely. Cleve transported us from the airport which is how we found him. His tour costs $45 per person but it is well worth it. You can find his Facebook page here. It’s filled with all 5 star reviews!
Cleve is one of the most enthusiastic and passionate locals you will ever meet. He is also an extremely kind soul and it shows throughout his entire tour. Do not miss his tour!
On Cleve’s tour we visited locations such as: Punta Gorda, Little Venice, Jonesville, French Harbour, Coxen Hole, and West End. The tour is also completely customizable and Cleve will take you wherever you want to go and see. We wanted to go zip-lining and see the sloths so he took us to both of those!
For zip lining we went to Jungle Top Adventure Ziplining. It was on our way around the island and we stopped here for about two hours to complete our adventure here. It was $40 per person for the zip line tour. They also have a monkeys and birds on the premises so make sure not to miss those!
And if monkeys are not your thing but sloths are, then be sure to visit Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hang Out. Their workers will readily pluck the sloths from their trees and place them around your neck for your new Facebook profile picture.
We liked Punta Gorda and Little Venice the most as they seemed to show the local culture and heritage. Make sure to visit these places as these are definitely not touristy and the people who you see are locals.
Video Compilation of our Trip
Since we choose a resort that was semi-inclusive you can see that most of our costs are bundled into the cost of the resort.
Flights (American Airlines)
$11.20 9/11 security fee + 62.66 Carrier Surcharges + 40,000 AA Miles
There are not many options to get to Kauai (LIH) as it is fairly isolated compared to other destinations. You are limited to flight transportation options. From the mainland, there are quite a few direct flights from the west coast (Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle).
Since we were on the neighboring Island of Oahu already, we took Hawaiian Airlines directly to Kauai. The cost can range anywhere between $50 – $150 each way depending on the departure date and time. Since I was planning this trip for a while, I picked up the Barclays Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard, which gave me 50,000 points for this trip. If you are travelling between neighboring islands, the redemption on HA for a one way ticket is 7,500 points, which can turn out to be a great value depending on the price of the flights at the time. The in- flight duration from Oahu to Kauai is, on average, only about 23 minutes. Gate to gate is an average of 41 minutes – quite possibly one of the shortest flights I have taken.
Our Flight Itinerary:
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES Flight Number HA 103
Tuesday, 12 December
HNL HONOLULU, HI
LIH LIHUE KAUAI, HI
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES Flight Number HA 324
Thursday, 14 December
LIH LIHUE KAUAI, HI
HNL HONOLULU, HI
Note: Hawaiian Airlines can be strict about bringing camp stoves. If you state that you have a camp stove or have any indication that you have one they will make you dispose of the camp stove. We had two separate member of our party unlucky enough to have their backpacks searched and ordered to dispose of their camp stoves. Luckily most of us had camp stoves and didn’t have any worries about cooking on the trail.
Transportation on the Island
The transportation options on Kauai are straight forward as any other vacation location.
Taxi – Uber and Lyft are both available
Rental Car – All of the major American (Hertz, National, Avis, etc.) rental car companies are here.
Shuttle Bus – There is a bus from Lihue to Hanalei. It is a cheaper option, but it’s not used much by Kalalau hikers because bags or backpacks larger than 10″x17″x30″ are not permitted. Also, if you are on a time schedule, the bus doesn’t always cooperate. It will take you as far as Hanalei. You will have to find a ride the rest of the way to the trailhead.
We opted to get a rental car due to the logistics of getting a taxi. The rental cars here are extremely expensive given that we only needed a rental car to get to the trailhead and back to the airport. The cost of a minivan to fit all seven of us came out to approximately $600 for 3 days including a collision damage waiver (CDW).
The CDW came highly recommended on many other sites as well as the car rental company themselves. It is common for thieves to break into cars that they know will be unattended for a long time. So do not leave any valuables in your car when you leave for your hike. In addition to this, some people choose to leave their entire car unlocked so thieves will not damage any windows or doors. We left our cars locked.
Kalalau Trail Information and Campsite Booking
The Kalalau Trail provides the only land access to this part of the rugged coast. The trail traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted pali. The 11-mile trail is graded but almost never level as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush valleys. The trail drops to sea level at the beaches of Hanakapi’ai and Kalalau.
Please watch the safety video from Hawaii DLNR here. They go over some useful information for first timers as well as veteran hikers who have not hiked in Hawaii before.
Day hiking is allowed without a permit up to Hanakapi’ai valley (2 miles in from trailhead). Anyone proceeding beyond Hanakapi’ai valley must possess a valid overnight camping permit.
Camping permits for Nāpali coast are extremely popular, and often sell out well in advance, particularly during the summer. You can reserve your campsites utilizing this link.
Note: We booked our campsites about a year in advance for our trip so we didn’t have any issues finding a campsite for our time there. We got permits for two nights and camped one night at Kalalau and one night at Hanakoa.
Getting to the trailhead
We landed at 6AM and took the rental car shuttle over to Hertz where we were able to pick up the rental car.
The first thing we had to do was go to Walmart and get any supplies we needed (fuel, bread, tortillas, deli meat, etc). The Walmart is very close to the airport and there is also a McDonald’s inside. Please note that the Walmart only carries white gas and propane cooking gas. They do not carry the standard isobutane and propane mixes that are commonly used by Jetboils, Pocket Rocekts, etc. We also picked up a McDonald’s breakfast before heading out on the road to the trail head.
The drive to trail head is very scenic and also a quick one. Google maps has the drive at about an hour and fourteen minutes. If you are not in a rush definitely take some time to stop at the viewpoints on the way to soak it in.
The First Day of Hiking – Trail Head > Kalalau Beach
We’ve found that the weather here can change quite quickly. It is important to keep an eye on the weather reports and make sure that you are well prepared for whatever is coming. As soon as we arrived at the trail head there was a torrential down pour.
Since we knew we had about 11 miles to go to the end of the trail we did not wait for the rain to stop. The first 2 miles of the trail were very easy compared to the last 9 miles. It got significantly harder after we passed Hanakapi’ai.
The rain cleared up after about 3 hours into our hike and we were in high spirits again!
You’ll notice on the way to Hanakoa from Hanakāpīʻai you will pass through a number of switchbacks as well as a stream crossing. The streams were low during winter so we didn’t have any issues fording any rivers or hopping some stones during our hike.
Around mile 7 you’ll come across “Crawler’s Ledge”. It is mentioned on other sites that crossing this particular section is very treacherous and should be taken with extreme caution. When we came across this section we did not find it very difficult. There are many hand holds and the rocky trail is not as narrow as depicted on other sites. The trail leading up to Crawler’s Ledge looks like it may have been recently regraded hence our non-trepidation with this particular section.
After mile 8 we realized we were racing the sunset. We were getting tired and hungry but still had about 3 miles left to go. Our legs were tired and we weren’t moving as well with heavy packs. At some point the sun set and we were hiking in the dark.
We finally got to the campsite at Kalalau Beach around 7:30PM. Much later than we had expected but we were happy to be there. We managed to find an empty campsite, set up, eat a quick dinner, change our clothes, and then head to bed.
You can find our first day’s Strava here. Jade’s watch recorded the hike much better than my own, which stopped working 1/2 way through our hike.
The Second Day of Hiking – Kalalau Beach > Hanakoa
We spent most of our morning relaxing and exploring Kalalau Beach before heading out to our second campsite at Hanakoa. Due to the tides and the surf we were not able to make it past the end of the beach and around to the caves. It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to make it to the caves so we’ll definitely have to come back and do this trip again.
Just outside our campsite
What was very interesting is that there were park rangers who were checking permits. They had a whole list of names and what the entry and exit dates were. They looked very serious with bulletproof vests and handguns. It was pretty cool that they came in by helicopter!
The hike back for us was much more relaxing than coming in and we got plenty of time to explore and take pictures that we did not get to on the way coming in.
We made it to Hanakoa Campsite quite early in the afternoon. I believe it was around 3 PM and we got plenty of time to set up camp and relax as well. We decided to take the short half mile hike to the waterfall. This hike is fairly easy and we did this in flip-flops and sandals. Be aware if there was recent rain as it can still be muddy and slippery. This waterfall tops over 1000ft so we were lucky to get a glimpse at the last 300 – 400 ft or so. We also managed to get into the water and enjoy the refreshing cold from the waterfall.
Over the course of the night it was very windy and we were constantly bombarded by berries in the middle of the night. We believed these were Java Plums and they leave quite a stain on your tents. You can wipe it off easily with water and a paper towel. However, I decided to leave these on my tent to remember our hike. Our hike back to the trailhead from Hanakoa was also very enjoyable and felt like a breeze compared to our first day of hiking. The weather was great and the sun was shining during the duration of our hike.
After the hike was completed we had a real strong hankering for some good food. Luckily there was a BBQ spot close by in Hanaeli. Huge shout out to Chicken in a Barrel BBQ for their awesome food. The chicken and the meat were both full of flavor and very moist. They are located in Hanalei in the Ching Young Center 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy Hanalei Hi 96714.
Video Compilation of our Trip
The budget for was fairly low since the prices of the tickets are not factored in the total cost (Hawaiian Airlines mileage redemption). All in all – this was a very rewarding trip at a low budget because we camped and did not spend any nights at a hotel.