The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

Take a Walk with Me Through Petra: One of Jordan’s Most Magical Places

Have you ever had one of those travel experiences that was so magical it was almost spiritual? That is how I felt when I discovered Petra. I honestly did not know much about it before going and perhaps that made the entire experience all the better. I simply fell in love with the beauty, mystique and sheer size of Petra. It is absolutely extraordinary and like no place on earth. Built over 2,000 years ago by the Nabateans as a place for camel caravans to rest and trade, the stunning “Rose City” was once one of the grandest ancient trading centers in the Middle East connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Its massive size and number of intricate hand-carved buildings, tombs, and temples literally blow you away.

The Nabateans were Arab Nomads who thrived from 312 BC to 106 AD. They became wealthy from the prosperous incense trade, using their aptitude for complex engineering and architecture to build one of the region’s most successful ancient civilizations, the Nabatean Kingdom and their capital city, Petra. At its prime, Petra housed over 30,000 people throughout its massive complex of caves, temples, and tombs. Scholars believe that their name, Nabateans, comes from the Arabic word “nabat” which means to extract water from the earth. The Nabateans channeled water to Petra from nearby springs using sophisticated pipes, hand-cut channels and large, underground water containers called cisterns to keep a constant flow of water inside Petra.  As you enter the Siq, you can see the irrigation channel carved into the rock, leading into the depths of the city. It is incredibly impressive.

Petra thrived under the Nabateans until 106 AD when there was a change in trade routes bypassing Petra and weakening the Nabatean’s power and wealth. The Romans conquered Petra and added their own Roman features to the ancient city such as the Colonnaded Street, roman baths and an expansion of the theater to seat more spectators. A massive earthquake struck in 336 AD and another devastating earthquake in 551 which lead to Petra’s eventual demise. It became a forgotten, lost city to most of the world except for the local Bedouin who kept it a secret and called it home.

Petra’s existence was unknown to the outside world until 1812 when it was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who snuck into Petra disguised as a Muslim Holy Man. The exciting news of Petra’s existence brought researchers and intrepid travelers to the site. Meanwhile, a large Bedouin community lived in Petra’s caves from the 16th Century up until 1985 when Petra became a World Heritage Site and the locals were relocated to the Bedouin Village Camp.  Today, Petra is one of the world’s most treasured sites and her mysteries are still being uncovered. Spending a few days in Petra was the absolute highlight of my trip to Jordan and a truly unforgettable experience. 

Sometimes a place is beyond words. Come take a walk with me through Petra……

P.S. If you don’t want to read this entire post, you can tour Petra with me in a little over three minutes in this video! I will take you on a walk with me through this incredible place!

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Hike to Lac Blanc, Chamonix, France

Unforgettable Hikes along the Tour de Mont Blanc: Hike from Col des Montets to Lac Blanc

Sometimes in life, the best comes last. Serendipitously, this proved true with our very last hike on our intergenerational do it ourselves Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). After ten glorious days of hiking the TMB – from the stunning Val Ferret and Val Vény in Courmayeur to our hike above the gorgeous Champex-Lac in Switzerland and finally to a variety of different hikes in Chamonix-  our hike to Lac Blanc proved to be the one hike that had us wondering when on earth we’d ever be able to come back to this magical place. The hike to Lac Blanc reminded me exactly why I hike in the first place: To feel utterly, insanely alive. And, there is nowhere I feel more alive than outside. The pure, raw beauty of the Alps and the Tour de Mont Blanc itself can all be captured in this one hike. It is a must-do for anyone in Chamonix and anyone hiking the TMB.

We had heard about Lac Blanc from our hotel and had desperately wanted to hike there earlier but the gondola lift to La Flégère was closed. So instead, we filled our first two days with a hike to the top of Le Brévent that affords stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc, and we did an incredible hike along the Grand Balcon on Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace. While both hikes are exceptionally stunning for some reason I had to see Lac Blanc. I had this nagging, unexplainable urge to do this hike so I persisted. Our hotel manager told us we could reach Lac Blanc a different way – albeit a bit longer of a hike – if we drove past Argentière and parked at the Col des Montets located in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles-Rouges. It was rated a difficult hike but was doable in anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on level of fitness. I got my dad and son to agree and on our last day in Chamonix we set off for what would be the greatest hike of the entire trip.

We arrived at the trailhead shortly after ten. There were plenty of parking spots remaining which was of course a good sign that this beloved hike was not too busy yet. It was an absolutely perfect day for hiking with a few scattered powderpuff clouds, brilliant sun and glorious blue sky. We could not have asked for a better day for our last hike.

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

The start of the trail is right behind the Reserve Naturelle del Aiguilles Rouges, France

Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges, France

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Hiking in Val Ferret, Courmayeur Italy

Two Days in Courmayeur

Tucked within two valleys, the Val Ferret and Val Veny on the southeastern side of Mont Blanc in the Aosta Valley of Italy lies the lovely alpine town of Courmayeur. Known for its divine scenery and proximity to three iconic long-distance hikes, Courmayeur is the perfect place to base your stay for exploring its stunning alpine scenery.

Courmayeur is actually a series of small hamlets peppered throughout the valley with a historic central village within the heart. Linked by both a tunnel and (for the more stunning view) a cable car to its counterpart, Chamonix, on the other side of Mont Blanc in France, Courmayeur offers a great mountain holiday any time of year.

Before the opening of the 11.6 kilometer-long tunnel in 1965, Courmayeur was relatively small and isolated. Today Courmayeur is known as one of the best ski resort towns in the Alps as well as a wonderful base for hiking, biking and exploring the divine beauty of the Italian Alps.

Why Go

When dreaming about an idyllic European town, Courmayeur is just what comes to mind. Courmayeur is a charming town awash in history, quaintness and ethereal beauty. It’s pedestrian-friendly walking streets are filled with lovely shops and boutiques, and a multitude of open-air cafes and restaurants that dazzle any foodie. Her lovely stone villas and glorious architecture all set against the sensational backdrop of the Italian Alps make Courmayeur the perfect place to base your stay for the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) or for those who want to refuel and relax in a lovely intimate Italian town.

Courmayeur, Italy

View right outside my hotel window in Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur, Italy

View from our hotel down Viale Mont Bianco one of the main streets into town.

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How Ecotourism is Helping Protect Endangered Howler Monkeys in Belize

The Yucatan Black Howler Monkey is the largest monkey in the Americas, and found only in a small section of Central America. Originally called baboons by the locals, the Yucatan Black Howler Monkey has been listed as an endangered species since 2003 and its population has declined over 60% due to loss of land, hunting and disease. Yet an innovative, community-led grassroots project called the Community Baboon Sanctuary located in the Belize River Valley outside of Belize City is doing wonders to conserve and protect both the monkeys and the local community who support them. It was the first place I visited on my trip to Belize with G Adventures and was the perfect way to start off a week of adventure and sustainable travel.

I arrived in Belize City on a non-stop morning flight from cold, wintry Minnesota. The moment I walked off the plane, I was greeted with the sticky, thick humidity of the tropics. A smile instantly came across my weather-worn face. I was ready for some sun and adventure, both which would be coming over the next eight days in Belize exploring the jungle, ancient Mayan ruins, and marine life in the world’s second largest barrier reef.

After gathering my luggage, I was greeted by a representative from the Black Orchid Resort where I’d be spending the first two days of my trip. Located next to the mangrove banks of the Belize River near the tiny village of Burrell Boom, it was the perfect alternative to staying in Belize City. The Black Orchid offered peace, beauty and nature yet was not too far away from the major tourist attractions and very close to the Community Baboon Sanctuary where we would be spending our first full morning.

After an evening of settling in at the hotel and meeting my fellow group of travelers with G Adventures, we were ready to depart for a morning tour of the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). I was extremely excited to visit the CBS because I love monkeys and I am passionate about seeing sustainably run conservation projects on the ground. We arrived around nine and were met by our guide Robert who would first give us an overview of the project and then take us on a wonderful nature walk within the sanctuary where we would learn about the flora and fauna of the rainforest and be able to observe the monkeys in the wild.

The CBS is an exemplary community-led grassroots conservation project that works to protect the natural habitat of the endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys while also working hand in hand with the local community through education, community development and sustainable ecotourism practices. The CBS was founded by American primatologist Dr. Robert Horwich in 1981 after he identified the region of the lower Belize River Valley as one of the largest habitats of black howler monkeys in North Central America. Working with the local community of private landowners, the pioneering idea of creating a voluntary sanctuary for the monkeys was formed. Property maps were drawn up for each landholder and they were asked to sign a voluntary pledge that outlined the management plans for conservation.

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Meet Six Companies That Are Empowering Women Through Travel

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated around the world in honor of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s roots began back in 1909 by women in New York City and gained popularity in Russia after women gained suffrage in 1917. March 8th was officially adopted as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975 and has been celebrated around the world ever since.

Over the decades much progress has been made in regards to women’s rights however there still remains a lot of work to be done in achieving gender parity and improving the lives of women. One area that can certainly help improve women’s lives is sustainable employment and as the travel industry booms around the world, there is a great opportunity for women to increase their livelihoods through sustainable tourism.

As a member of Impact Travel Alliance, the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals, I am highlighting some of the amazing female-run travel businesses and tour operators supporting women’s programs around the world.

While I haven’t had the honor of traveling with all of these organizations, I was fortunate to have joined Lokal Travel on one of their early trips. In 2017, I went with Lokal Travel on a trip to the remote Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica where I met Xiñia, a former gold miner who has opened up her remote jungle cabin, “Descanso El Pizote” to rural tourism. Her story is one of heartbreak and hope as for years she had no choice but to continue the backbreaking work of gold-mining until she met the co-founders of Lokal Travel who changed her life. Today, her dream is to grow Descanso El Pizote into a full-time business sharing her beautiful rainforest property and her passion for the jungle with tourists. Then she can quit gold mining for good and it would be a win-win situation that promotes sustainable rural travel while conserving the environment.

Dos Brazos de Tigre Lokal Travel

Xiñia leads the way to her jungle cabin with her walking stick ready.

Xiñia’s story is similar to the hopes and dreams of many women around the world who are seeking to improve their lives through sustainable tourism. Not only does it improve these women’s lives, it also provides the traveler with a unique experience to do something different. For me personally, these kinds of trips have been the most rewarding travels of my life and I feel wonderful knowing that my travel dollars are making a difference on people’s lives.

In fact, I just returned from Belize with G Adventures and was thrilled to see that our trip included a visit to a Mayan women’s co-op to watch a live demonstration on making traditional pottery and corn tortillas. As part of G Adventure’s commitment to responsible travel and tourism, G Adventure trips always include a travel for good element to give back and support the local economy. In this case, it was to support the local Mayan women.

San Antonio Women's Coop Belize

At the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize watching a Mayan woman show us how to make corn tortillas.

Here are six amazing organizations that are working to help empower women through travel.

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Bell Tower, Prague

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Prague: A Complete 2-3 Day Itinerary

While Paris has always been my first love, little did I know that I’d also fall madly in love with the old world charm and beauty of Prague. In my opinion, few cities in the world compare to the magical architecture of these two cities, both equally adored in my eyes. I first saw Prague while I was living and studying abroad in Paris back in 1993, just four years after the Velvet Revolution. With over 40 years of communism, much of Prague’s beauty had been shroud in mystery and wasn’t unveiled for the world to see until 1989 with the fall of communism.

Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this charming city even more fascinating. Founded around the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, Prague became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava. Feuding kings, bloody wars, and the building of the Old Town Square surrounding the immense Prague Castle defined this prospering city that reached its glory in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV. Charles IV commissioned the building of New Town, the spectacular Charles Bridge, the Gothic masterpiece Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Charles University, the oldest in Central Europe. Thanks to Charles IV, the “golden age” inspired much of the beauty you see in Prague today.

When to Go

Today, Prague relishes as one of the top major tourist destinations in all of Europe where people from all over the world come to take a step back in time and marvel at this masterpiece of architectural delight. Prague’s multi-layered history of architecture takes us back to her founding 1,100 years ago in the Romanesque era to her flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, all within 3.34 square miles.

With only 1.3 million inhabitants, Prague sometimes can feel overrun with tourists blocking its tiny, winding cobblestone streets and filling up its squares. But despite the hordes of tourists, the magic of this city is spellbinding and is bound to take your breath away.

The best time to go to Prague if you want to avoid tourists yet take a little bit of a chance on weather is during the shoulder season meaning either Spring or Fall. We went in early May and had fairly good weather with a little spring rain. It wasn’t too unbearably crowded or hot like it gets during the busy summer months. I imagine September would be lovely in Prague.

Neighborhoods to See

Prague is made up of five independent municipalities: Hradčany (Prague Castle), Lesser Town (Malá Strana), Old Town (Staré Město) and New Town (Nové Město) and Josefov (the Jewish district) was added in 1850. Although Prague was one of the few European cities untouched by WWII, the Nazi occupation lead to the demise of the Jewish population who either fled or were killed in the Holocaust. The Germans who had formed the largest ethnic group in the city were expelled after the war. Then came 40 years of communism followed by freedom and an opening to the world.

In this guide, I will focus on the top touristic neighborhoods to see first for old world charm and architectural bliss:  Malá Strana (Lesser Town), Old Town (Staré Město), Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and Hradčany (Prague Castle). We stayed in Nové Město (New Town) which despite its name, is not new as it was founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV to link Old Town with other parts of Prague. There is plenty to see in Nové Město as well in terms of stunning architecture, the Wenceslas Square, department stores, shops, restaurants and more. Another district you must visit is Josefov, Prague’s old Jewish ghetto filled with beautiful synagogues, an old Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall. We only had time to briefly visit the Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), one of the oldest and most valuable European and world Jewish monuments, and the oldest synagogue in Central Europe. We simply ran out of time. I would highly recommend spending at least half a day in Josefov if not more. If you like to shop, then you could also easily spend a half to full day in New Town as well. The itinerary below is meant for at least 2-3 full days to explore at a leisurely pace.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

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Blackett's Ridge Hike, Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona

The Best Hikes in Tucson’s Sabino Canyon

There is no better way to connect with the raw beauty of nature than by doing a good hike. I grew up hiking and for the past twenty years, I have enjoyed sharing many hikes with my father, my siblings and my own children wherever we can find a good trail especially when we are visiting my parents in Arizona.  Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.

Fortunately for me, my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon.  Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.

While there are several hikes and walks to choose from, these are my top four recommendations for the best hikes in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. I have put them in order of difficulty which does not necessarily mean distance. All of the hikes are appropriate for children over ten as long as they have a decent level of fitness however I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under ten years old on any of these unless you are prepared to take a lot of breaks and be mindful of the dangers that exist. Instead, I would stick with walking on the paved path that runs 3.8 miles (7.6 miles roundtrip) through Sabino Canyon or even wandering around some of the shorter nature paths near the entrance of the recreation center. There is a guided tram service that brings tourists to both Sabino and Bear Canyon which is wonderful for both families with children and also hikers wanting to save their legs by using the tram to reach the start of some of the trailheads.

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is beautiful any time of year.

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First Time Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro

Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I had wanted to climb this epic mountain ever since my father did it in October 1999. There really had not been any dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.

Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my decades-long dream became a reality.  I had wanted to make this climb special and have it be somewhat similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal. Serendipitously I was connected with the U.S.-based non-profit Solar Sister, an organization that provides solar electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their fifth year anniversary, an international team was planning to climb Kilimanjaro in June of 2015.  Each climber was required to raise $4,000 to support the hiring and training for 8 new solar sister employees in Africa and to celebrate the success of Solar Sisters, we would climb Kilimanjaro together as a multigenerational, international team. It was a perfect opportunity and I seized it. Looking back today, it was even better than I ever dreamed it would be. It was truly epic. Figuring out what on earth to do next after such an incredible climb will be the challenge.

Why go?

Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty.  Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.

Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

For me personally, I had grown up hiking, and climbing Kilimanjaro had been a long-term goal of mine after seeing my dad’s photos of his own climb back in 1999. I also desperately wanted to get there soon before the snow that caps the top of this mighty beast and makes it so stunning, is gone forever. Some scientists predict that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro will be gone as early as 2030. What a tragedy!

What Route to choose?

There are six main climbing routes on Kilimanjaro with the Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola Route”) being the easiest and most popular. Our group chose the longer, more scenic Machame route that can take anywhere from 6-7 days and is known as one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain, passing through five distinct ecological zones and affording dramatic views every single day of the climb. The Machame Route also has one of the highest success rates for reaching the summit since it allows proper acclimatization before the final summit push.

Total Length of Hike: 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down.

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia)

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.

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Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

A Street Art Lover’s Guide to Valparaiso

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”. –  Henry David Thoreau

Valparaiso is an art lover’s paradise. Known as one of the best street art cities in the world, its 42 cerros (hills) and labyrinth of rundown streets are graced with vibrant works of art that seem to cover every open space imaginable. There are no walls left untouched or staircases without color.

With so much art to see, it is easy to feel completely overwhelmed. Although there are plenty of excellent tours, it is not too hard to explore Valparaiso’s street art on your own. The downside is you don’t learn about the history and meaning of the art however the upside is that you can take as long as you want and see as much as you want to see. Since I’m generally not a huge fan of tours, we decided to do it on our own and I’m glad we did. Despite having sore feet and getting lost at times, it was worth the effort as we truly saw hundreds of works of art all at our own pace.

Our Tour

After a delightful Chilean breakfast, we left our hotel, Casa Galos at 893 Templeman (near #16 on the map), a little past nine o’clock into the foggy cool morning notorious for early summer in Valparaiso. I was hoping for a bit of Santiago sunshine but alas we would be stuck in the coastal fog once again.  At least we had the brilliant colors of the street art popping off the walls to brighten our day.

With a highlighted map in hand filled with squiggles, circles and stars, we plotted out our course for the day ahead in search of the best street art in Valparaiso.

Marked up map of Valparaiso, Chile

We began at the top of Cerro Alegre and headed down Monte Alegre and back up Miramar to see what art we had missed from the day before (Click here to read about yesterday’s afternoon walk). The city seemed to be asleep up here in the quiet Cerro Alegre neighborhood and you could hardly hear the horns, traffic and congestion down below near the busy port and commercial area in El Plan.

With camera in hand, I began to snap away getting lost in the technicolor of imagination of Valparaiso’s glorious street art. In retrospect, I wish I had done a better job documenting exactly where each work of art was located however I have tried my best to break it down by barrios. 

Cerro Alegre

Streets to hit: Start at the top of Cerro Alegre at Templeman and Galos, and head down Galos to Monte Alegre. You can follow both Monte Alegre and Miramar all the way down to Paseo Yugoslavo. Be sure to hit San Enrique and Lautaro Rosas as well as the “Happy Hippies” part of Templeman.

Art you will see:

Some of my favorites:

Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile
Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

Time to allow: At least 1 1/2- 2 hours to cover all of Cerro Alegre. This is my favorite neighborhood and has lots of wonderful restaurants in case you need to recharge and refuel before you continue on.

Cerro Concepción

Cerro Concepción is another fabulous neighborhood to view Valpo’s incredible street art and probably wins the prize in the most street art per square foot. It is closer to the port and center of Valparaiso so is much busier than quiet, quaint Cerro Alegre. I also found this neighborhood to be a bit more rundown than Cerro Alegre. However, the contrast between the old and new, the dirt and beauty, is what made it all the more fascinating to see.

Streets to hit: 

After reaching Paseo Yugoslavo, continue back up Miramar and wind down Urriola. Be sure to walk down Galvez to Paseo Gervasoni and Paseo Atkinson (where nearby you can look down off the cliffs to see some of the largest murals in the city painted across a few high-rise buildings). There is also a lot of cool art near the Iglesia Luterana such as the famous “piano key” stairs. You can then wind back up A. Montt towards Cerro Alegre again following any streets you missed.

Art you will see:

Colorful Stairways 

Fascinating Alleyways

At the edge of Cerro Concepción looking down over the cliffs are these giant works of art:

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Near Paseo Atkinson and the Iglesia Luterana:

Street Art, Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso, Chile

Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

Cerro Concepción, Valparaiso, Chile

Some of my favorites:

Time to allow: 2-3 hours

After hitting all of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción we were famished and it was time for lunch. We dined at the beautiful, yellow-colored Brighton Hotel eating perched high above Valparaiso and plotted out our course for the afternoon. We would be heading down to El Plan, the business center and up to Paseo 21 de Mayo for a bird’s eye view of Valpo’s port and even more street art.

Valparaiso, Chile Valparaiso, Chile

Stay tuned…Since I don’t want to overwhelm you too much with photos, I decided to break this guide up into two parts. Coming next is Cerro Bellavista and Paseo 21 de Mayo

Like it? PIN it for later!

A Street ARt Lovers Guide to Valparaiso

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Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

In Search of Street Art in Valparaiso’s Cerro Alegre

When planning our trip to Santiago, Chile there was no question we would spend at least a few days in Valparaiso. Known as one of the best street art cities in South America, this UNESCO World Heritage city is an art lover’s paradise. Its 42 cerros (hills) rise steeply up from the sea resulting in a labyrinth of streets, alleyways, staircases and a handful of rattling ascensores (old-fashioned funiculars dating back to the late 1800’s), all making Valparaiso or simply “Valpo” as the locals call it, one of the most unusual cities I’ve ever visited.

Valparaiso’s grittiness, seasonal fog, run-down 19th century, colorful corrugated-iron mansions and stray dogs make a sharp juxtaposition to its world-class vibrant street art that seems to cover every single free wall, staircase and building in the city. It is literally a walking museum of art and for that reason, has an unexpected charm that is hard to shake. As a street art lover, I knew that I would be in paradise and Valparaiso did not disappoint.

Street Art, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile

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Parque Andino Juncal, Chile

A Magical Hike in Chile’s Parque Andino Juncal

“Frigid winds blow as we turn into the glacier’s gorge. Without foreseeing we begin to step on ice that shines in between the fallen rocks of surrounding towering mountains” – Nicolás Echenique, our guide and the founder of Coigüe Expeditions. 

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to hike and there is no one I’d rather hike with than my dad. Growing up, my dad instilled a deep love of hiking and being outdoors. Over the years, we have continued to hike together as much as possible when I visit my parents in Arizona or on one of our annual trips. Together, we have hiked the Andes of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, and there was no way we were going to Chile without doing some hiking on our trip.

I was thrilled to discover that many amazing day hikes are reachable right outside of Santiago. On our first full day in Chile, we did an incredible “warm-up” hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier with our own private guide, Nicolás Echenique (Nico) of Coigüe Expeditions and it was a wonderful adventure. We knew we were in for a special treat when we signed up to hike with Nico again in the pristine Parque Andino Juncal, home of the largest glacier in Central Chile.

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Hamel's Alley

Exploring Central Havana’s Hamel’s Alley

On afternoon I decided it was time to explore a different part of Havana that I had yet to see, Centro Habana or Central Havana. I’d see enough of beautiful Old Havana and thought it was time to see the real Havana that has been untouched. Central Havana is the most densely populated part of town and unlike Old Havana, nothing has been restored. I hailed a coco-taxi (a three-wheeled scooter) right from my hotel in Vedado and enjoyed a fun ride down the Malecón to my first destination in Central Havana, a special place called El Callejón de Hamel or in english, Hamel’s Alley. I was in for quite a wonderful surprise!

Taking a Coco Taxi in Havana

Taking a Coco-taxi in Havana. (A three-wheeled scooter with a cover and room for two in back).

Centro Habana Cuba

Heading into Centro Habana (Central Havana), a more densely populated and rundown part of town with ramshackle buildings and potholed streets.

Centro Habana Cuba

I paid my fare which was much cheaper than a traditional taxi and wondered why I hadn’t tried a coco taxi earlier. It certainly was a fun way to see Havana! The neighborhood was dramatically different from the other parts of Havana I’d seen. Much more rustic, rundown with buildings in various states of disrepair. Yet it also felt more Cuban. More like the real thing.

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