Category: DESTINATIONS

HOW TO CROSS THE BORDER FROM ECUADOR TO COLOMBIA | LAGO AGRIO – SAN MIGUEL

HOW TO CROSS THE BORDER FROM ECUADOR TO COLOMBIA | LAGO AGRIO – SAN MIGUEL

We’d just finished an amazing experience in the Amazon in Ecuador and were on a high.

So, hopped up on sloths and anacondas, we decided to take a chance and go against all the information we read.

We crossed the uncrossable border: from Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia.

Luckily for us, it was the perfect gamble that paid off; saving us time, and even coming with the bonus of seeing a gorgeous and rarely visited Colombian town!

So why did we do it? And how?

Why Cross the Border at Lago Agrio, Ecuador?

Let us explain.

After finishing up our amazing stay at Caiman Eco Lodge in Cuayabeno Reserve, Ecuador, we were moving on to Colombia. This involved two options:

1. Traveling 8 or more hours overnight back to Quito, Ecuador. Then a 5-hour bus ride to Ipiales on the Ecuadorian border side, and traveling onto Tulcan on the Colombian border side. You can read more about that option here.

2. A 20-minute taxi to cross the border near Lago Agrio, Ecuador to the Colombian town of San Miguel, where we could get onward transport all the way to Popayan.

We had read horror stories about the Ipiales-Tulcan border crossing. Due to the awful things happening in Venezuela, there is a huge amount of Venezuelan refugees moving through countries, particularly at this border. The offices are completely overwhelmed, and we had heard of instances where people had waited all day to be processed through immigration, only to not make it through during business hours. That means they had to return to town, find accommodation, and try again the next day, with no guarantee that they would make it through this time, either. So, not only was this the long route – but it was also the uncertain route.

Border option two sounded much better – quiet, barely anyone using the crossing, easy to access from Lago Agrio. Sounds great, right? Oh, except for this:

‘The Colombian border is less than 20km north of town but it’s best to avoid it. The area is notorious for smugglers and guerrilla activity.’ Lonely Planet

Well sure, it sounded slightly dodgier, but to be honest I would do unspeakable things to avoid another overnight bus in Ecuador. And I always think of Lonely Planet as party poopers who err on the side of Nanna advice, to make sure their butts are safe from suing.

This border did have a bad reputation in past years, but apparently, times have changed. Ecuador’s immigration history is quite unique, and also part of the reason things were so sketchy before – you can read all about it here.

So after some blog research plus checking with a number of locals how dangerous it really was, we decided to go for it and adventure into the shady world of narcotrafficantes and guerilleros. 

How to Cross the Border Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia

After speaking to a number of locals both in Lago Agrio and staff on our tour, they assured us that this border crossing was easy and I would agree with them. Speaking a little Spanish is useful, but if you’re planning on this route and don’t, this guide includes a few useful phrases should you get stuck.

Before Travelling to the Border

Old information on other blogs told us that we needed to be stamped out at the police station in Lago Agrio town before heading to the border, but this is no longer true. There are both Ecuadorian and Colombian border officials at the office at the border (la Frontera, but also called la Punta) so you can just head straight there.

We recommend if you have any USD left over to change them to Colombian pesos in Lago Agrio town. You can do this at the Western Union. We found the guy who helped us there to be friendly and professional, even giving us some change when we asked. It’s a great idea to get some Colombian pesos (COP) as you likely won’t be seeing ATMs for a while.

Lago Agrio safety is often cited as sketchy at best, but we found people to be friendly and helpful. Just don’t go wandering off into dark back streets and keep your wits about you, and you should be fine.

How to Get to the Border between Ecuador and Colombia

To get to La Punta from Lago Agrio, you need to take a special taxi truck from a specific area in town, the corner of Eloy Alfaro and Avenida Colombia.

This shared taxi only cost a few dollars, and it involved being driven down the highway extremely fast while being spoken at in rapid-fire Spanish. Very fun!

When we got to La Punta the driver asked if we had our stamp (¿Tienen sus sellos?). Err no? It seems if you are Colombian/Ecuadorian you don’t need a stamp to cross the border, or there is a special agreement in place.

However, us gringos are not so lucky – so our driver dropped us at the Immigration office to get our passports sorted out. He told us to take the bus to the border once we had our stamps (Toman el autobus para la Punta) while he and the other passengers sped off to Colombia.

No bags were allowed into the huge airconditioned Immigration office (why) so Jack and I took turns getting stamped out and in. There were a large number of Venezuelan people around waiting to be processed, I was curious what their final destination was but still feeling nervous with Spanish, I chickened out from asking them.

After about an hour our passports were ready so we walked out to where we saw someone standing in the general direction our driver had pointed us to for the bus. We asked the friendly guy if we were in the right place (¿Los autobuses para la Punta salen de aqui?) which he confirmed we were. When the bus arrived we paid around 80 cents US each or so, and rode the 5 minutes to the border.

Then we strolled over the bridge and ta-da! We were in Colombia!

Onward Transport to other parts of Colombia

After crossing the bridge the next step of the journey is to get a shared truck (camioneta) to the largest nearby town of La Hormiga.

Don’t make the mistake of taking one to San Miguel, which even tinier than La Hormiga!

You can choose to sit in the back (petrol fumes, cheaper) or the cab (cuddling up with strangers, more expensive). Both are pretty awful, to be honest – but this is an adventure!

Where to go from La Hormiga

When we arrived in La Hormiga we were a little discouraged. The bus station was tiny. We had thought we’d be able to get immediately onto a comfy overnight bus and cruise through to a larger town with ease. Not so.

After being so used to a pretty high level of comfort and established transport links on other South American transport, we were fairly shocked.

Colombia seems to thrive on mini-buses and camionetas which kinda suck. Furthermore, arriving at 4pm meant we had missed all the mini-buses for the day, and so we had the pleasure of paying 70,000 COP each for a hideously uncomfortable camioneta ride where the people behind us essentially screamed and shouted into our ears for the duration of the trip. But hey, ADVENTURE!

We took the camioneta to the closest “big town” which was Mocoa, which we had heard was the best location for onward destinations.

We didn’t see it during the day but it definitely had a shifty vibe by night, and I’m not one to be nervous about these kinds of things. Lots of strange men standing in shadows in the dark near the bus station. Reassuring.

From La Hormiga – Popoyan or Cali?

The positive – there were large, normal buses! I almost cried when I saw them, my body still sore from bracing myself from falling on the camioneta driver’s lap on the previous trip. We quickly decided between two options: Cali or Popoyan. We went with Popoyan, figuring that we preferred smaller towns to big hectic cities. My big bus happiness was short lived when we realized we had exactly 20 minutes to find an ATM, get cash and get on the bus to Popoyan.

Wooo….adventure?

We sprinted past the dodgy men in the shadows, madly asking everyone in town where there was an ATM (¿Donde está el cajero automático?) found one, took out cash, managed to not be robbed or kidnapped by the shadow men, and got on the bus with time to spare.

We took a night bus which left at around 10pm and arrived in Popoyan at around 7am. At some points I woke up because I swear we were just driving on dirt tracks, which we probably were. The roads in this part of Colombia were the worst we experienced in all of South America.

BUT…we made it through the adventure! Alive! (Just)

Crossing the border from Lago Agrio, Ecuador to San Miguel, Colombia

To be fair I think it may have only shaved 6-7 hours or so off our total trip time, but it was a real test of everything. Patience, resilience, life skills, patience…

If you are spending some time in the Amazon near Lago Agrio, it’s definitely a good option for crossing into Colombia, or vice versa.

If you want to try an adventurous route getting from Ecuador to Colombia or Colombia to Ecuador, crossing at the Lago Agrio and San Miguel border will not disappoint you. No doubt friendly locals will help you on the way!


Have you done this border crossing and survived? Has anything changed? Let us know!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

HOW HARD IS THE SALKANTAY TREK? THE TRUTH FROM AN UNFIT HIKER

HOW HARD IS THE SALKANTAY TREK? THE TRUTH FROM AN UNFIT HIKER

So, how hard is the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu?

Well, it’s over two months later, and I’m pretty sure I’m still recovering!

Like every single South American tourist on the planet that hits Peru, we planned to go and check out the incredible archaeological site of Machu Picchu. But because we wanted to keep things open and easy for the rest of the trip there was no way we could do the Inca trail – you’ve gotta book that stuff months – literally months – in advance and that just wasn’t gonna work.

Luckily there are a few alternative options available, including:

  • The Salkantay Trek

  • The Lares Trek

  • The Jungle Trek

It’s important to note that these treks don’t actually drop you into Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, like the Inca trail does. Rather, you will end up in Aguas Calientes (sometimes called Machu Picchu town) and then usually head up to the ruins the next day, either by bus or foot, depending on how obliterated you are by the preceding hike.

We actually preferred this, as it meant you don’t have to explore the ruins as a stinky, sweaty post-hiker, which suited us just fine. BUT it also meant an insane wake-up call. More on that later.

After lots of deliberation, and Jack telling me I wouldn’t make it, and then me getting stubborn and wanting to do the opposite of what he said, we decided – we would take on…

THE SALKANTAY TREK!

If you’re thinking of doing the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and you want to know how hard it really is, well I’m here to give to you the brutal, un-sugarcoated truth!

We freewheeled it into Cusco from La Paz, with vague plans to spend a day hitting the trekking companies to work out which outfit to go with. After checking out lots (and stopping at the Choco Museo…twice…) we laboriously settled on Salkantay Trekking.

Have I mentioned that both of us hate making decisions? It’s painful.

Salkantay Trekking is probably the biggest trekking company that specializes in the Salkantay trek. We were won over by their professional set-up, great reviews online, and the fact that they were the cheapest company that we got a quote from!

Sky domes on Salkantay Trek
Amazing accommodation on our first night – feat. stars and mountains!

Their 5-day trek included amazing accommodation, all meals, trekking poles, sleeping bag, entry to Machu Picchu and of course our guide, for only $460 USD/617 AUD. This was incredibly cheap considering entrance to Machu Picchu alone sets you back around $140 USD/187 AUD!

There were a few added extras that needed to be paid in cash during the tour, but those probably only added up to around $50 USD/$67 AUD, and a lot of these were optional.

Salkantay trek with guide
Me, probably struggling to breathe and hold a conversation at the same time with our guide

At this point, we’d coughed up our hard-earned cash, put our names on the register – we were locked in and ready to go. Sort of.

Before this hike, I’d made weak attempts to ‘get fit’ and ‘exercise more’, but I just find regular exercise so boring I hadn’t really followed through at all. Give me a good book for some brain exercise, yes please, but body exercise, ew. So how was I going to complete this 5-day trek, graded as moderate to difficult, probably by people that go running for fun?

Well, I made it – but I am not going to lie. It was probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done! 

Of course I had madly googled “how hard is the Salkantay trek” in the days and weeks before we set off, but nothing can really prepare you for the difficulty until you are slogging it out over the Salkantay Mountain, through snow, feeling like the wind is about to push you off a perilous ledge, save for your trusty dorky walking poles.

I would definitely say for unfit hikers like me this is a CHALLENGING hike.

But – if I can do it, you probably can too, and the rewards are mindblowing.

This is one of the most amazing hikes we have ever been on. The scenery, the amazing amount of micro-climates you cross through, the sheer majesty of Peru and eventually Machu Picchu – it is without a doubt worth feeling like you could possibly drop dead at any moment.

Snow capped peaks in PeruLaguna Huamantay, Peru Salkantay Mountain Hiking Salkantay Moutain

River on Salkantay Trek Mountains in Sacred Valley, Peru

Here’s a brief rundown of what to expect on the Salkantay trek:

Day 1: CUSCO | MOLLEPATA – CHALLACANCHA – SORAYPAMPA (HUMANTAY LAKE)

Walking Distance – 12km / 7.45 miles
Starting Elevation – 3350 meters ASL / 10990 feet ASL
Highest Elevation – 4600 meters ASL / 15091 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 3920 meters ASL / 12861 feet ASL
Difficulty: Moderate

Day 2: SORAYPAMPA | SALKANTAY PASS – WAYRACPUNKU – CHAULLAY

Walking Distance – 22 km / 13.7 miles
Starting Elevation – 3800 meters ASL / 12467 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2750 meters ASL / 9022 feet ASL
Maximum Altitude: 4650 meters ASL / 15255 feet ASL

Day 3: CHAULLAY | COLLPAPAMPA – LA PLAYA – LUCMABAMBA

Walking Distance – 18km / 11.2 miles
Starting Elevation – 2750 meters ASL / 9022 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2400 meters ASL / 7874 feet ASL
Difficulty: Easy

Day 4: LUCMABAMBA | LLACTAPATA – HIDROELECTRICA – AGUAS CALIENTES

Walking Distance – 18 km / 11.2 miles
Starting Elevation – 2450 meters ASL / 8038 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2000 meters ASL / 6561 feet ASL (Aguas Calientes hotel)
Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Day 5: AGUAS CALIENTES – MACHU PICCHU!

Wake up at a ming-boggling 3:00am (yes you read that right) and hike up or take the bus to Machu Picchu! Return to Cusco at around 7-8pm that night. Enjoy a pisco sour, because you literally earned it!

So if you’re wondering, how hard is the Salkantay trek? Well, challenging, for sure.

Is it worth it? An unequivocal, resounding, YES!

If you are thinking about going to Machu Picchu, and you are a bit of a nature nut, I highly recommend considering doing the Salkantay trek.

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A GUIDE TO THE OTHER WORLDY WONDER OF THE UYUNI SALT FLATS

A GUIDE TO THE OTHER WORLDY WONDER OF THE UYUNI SALT FLATS

After spending some much needed time staying put in one place in Sucre, it was time to get moving again – this time to the harto frio (intense cold) of the Uyuni salt flats and the landscapes surrounding it, in the South-west corner of Bolivia. Every Bolivian that we talked to commented on the extreme cold, but also the incredible beauty, of this desolate yet captivating area of the country.

Travelling to Uyuni

After getting dropped at the station by our Bolivian host family Dad (so nice!) we hopped onto a bus bound for Uyuni, which took about 7-8 hours. Note that in the Sucre bus station there were weird fake bus ticket counters (re-sellers?) that you have to walk past to get to the real ones. We bought our tickets in advance from a travel agent so we were guaranteed a seat on the bus, for about 80 bolivianos each (15 AUD/11 USD). The bus took us via Potosi, but was direct so we did not have to change buses.

Potosi looked pretty damn grim. I know that a lot of people stop there purely to do mine tours, but given they are real, working mines (read: dust, explosives, claustrophobia) we were pretty happy to leave it off our itinerary. No colonial charm here, just haphazard, unpleasant on the eye buildings, and lots of rubbish. Everywhere. Piles and piles of rubbish wherever you are is one of the most affronting aspects of traveling through Bolivia, and it’s truly heartbreaking to see. We tried our best to avoid using disposable packaging wherever possible, so as not to contribute to the problem.

Arriving in Uyuni close to dusk was a bizarre experience. Huge packs of dogs roamed the dusty streets, the temperature was dropping precipitously fast, and locals waddled around in enormous doona-like coats. We had definitely arrived in the wild wild west, or maybe even the Siberia of South America.

Choosing a Tour Company for the Uyuni Salt Flats

After quickly locating our rather bizarre accommodation (prices are relatively high in Uyuni so we took what we could get!) we headed out to lock-in a tour to the Uyuni salt flats for the next morning. It’s possible to book online in advance but to get a cheaper price it’s totally doable to check out tour agencies on arrival and book it in then and there.

We ended up choosing a 3-day, 2-night Uyuni salt flats tour with Salty Adventours, which had positives and negatives that I will go into a little later. We also chose to go with a Spanish speaking guide to practice our Spanish, which had the unexpected side-effect of us touring with an awesome, respectful group of people. Oh and it was about $50 AUD/$40 USD cheaper, woohoo!

Uyuni Salt Flats Tour: The Good, The Bad and The FREEZING

Before heading out on our tour, I did as little research as possible, in order to be surprised by what we were going to see. Of course, everyone has seen the classic Uyuni salt flat photos, but this part of the world had so much more to offer than that!

If you want to keep it a surprise, maybe stop reading here, but if you’re intrigued I’ve got all the deets for you.

Day 1: The Salt Flats, Isla Incahuasi…and some other random stuff

We set off at 10:30am, a pretty civilised time to start a multi-day tour, meeting at the office of Salty Adventours. We were able to leave our large bags at the tour company’s office which was handy, although I would recommend locking your bag as they sit just behind the desk of the tiny space. Make sure you pack PLENTY of warm clothes – I cannot stress this enough. If you haven’t got ample warm clothing (I’m talking 3-4 layers of warmth minimum) it is possible to buy clothes in Uyuni town. Do it.

Our first stop was the train graveyard, which in reality is just a whole lot of junk in the desert. I didn’t find it that interesting, mainly it was a little sad the wanton way humans create so much waste. This stop was only 20 mins though so we were out of there fairly quickly, I definitely think they could scrap that stop considering the already jam-packed itinerary.

Next up was a short stint in a town that I can’t even remember the name of that essentially just sold souvenirs, again an unnecessary stop. The most interesting part of the town was on the way, when we saw a wild Vicuña on the side of the road! So cute.

Around this time I started feeling the altitude a little – even while taking Diamox, a medication that apparently speeds up acclimatisation. It’s important to remember that this tour takes place at altitudes of between 3000-5000 metres, so plan accordingly, either by slowly working up to the altitude in Uyuni town, or acclimatising for a few days there, taking it easy.

We continued on to the ultimate Insta-fodder, the salt flats themselves. I’m not sure what the weather is like during the rest of the year around Uyuni, but in May when we visited there were brilliant blue skies every single day. The blinding white of the Uyuni salt flats was magnified by the unrelenting sun and made for a spectacular sight. We had a few stops along the salt flats, including lunch in a bizarre salt pavilion, which was complete with salt drop-toilets and a salt llama. Interesting.

Our last stop on the salt flats was to take some super cliched photos, you know the ones. It was quite a hilarious experience as none of our group was that into it, but it definitely broke the ice and was a bit of fun.

The last destination of the day was Isla Incahuasi, and I don’t know why I was expecting water in the salt flats! but I was, and so Isla Incahausi was a bizarre and astounding sight.

It’s a tall island marooned in the salt flats that is covered in enormous cacti! Some of these cacti are over 10 metres tall, and considering they only grow 1 centimetre per year, they are some pretty ancient spiky plants. The views from the top were incredible, and it boggled my mind trying to imagine this landscape as a huge inland sea, which is what is was hundreds of thousands of years ago.

We trucked on, and after experiencing an absolutely incredible sunset, we had a long hour and a half drive to our accommodation for the night. As soon as the sun began to set, the temperature plummeted. During May, June and July the overnight temperature can drop to -20 celsius, which is no joke! Our guide had some kind of aversion to using the heater and kept turning it off after asking for it to be put on. When we arrived I was chilled to the bone and could not function!

The hotel was really cool, entirely made of salt, which as it turns out is not actually that practical. The floor was literally loose salt, so it covered your stuff and made you really salty, in both aspects of the word. It was a cool experience but I really struggled to enjoy myself on night one because I was so damn cold! So again – bring triple the amount of warm clothes that you think you’ll need.

Day 2: Lagoons, Flamingos and Colourful Mountains

Setting off at the extremely uncivilized time of 6:30 on day two, I managed to cheat myself into a few extra minutes of sleep by skipping breakfast, score. During today’s traversing, we left the salt flats behind for completely different landscapes.

We stopped by multi-coloured mountains, bizarrely beautiful colourful lakes with crunchy white borax deposits, and tons of flamingos. The landscapes were truly mindblowing and it was such an added bonus to see so much more incredible natural beauty beyond the Uyuni salt flats. The accommodation that night was a little more basic, but had the added bonus of flocks of Vicuña hanging around.

The sad news that there were no showers available that night was partially alleviated by a free bottle of wine with dinner. One of the English speaking guides invited us to the local bar which I’m sure would have been an experience – however, we were all done for at the ridiculous time of 8pm. Which was probably a good thing, considering our departure time the next morning was… 5:30am!!! I didn’t sign up for this. Okay I guess I did.

Day 3: ‘Rustic’ hot springs, more desert and stepping into Chile

Dragging ourselves out of bed in the dark, without power, when it was -15 degrees celsius was not the high point of the tour. But we soldiered on and came to our first stop, some incredible natural geysers that were at an altitude of around 5000 metres above sea-level! I really thought that someone might fall into one of the sulfurous pools, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Next stop was the hot springs…which were…er…rustic? I was really looking forward to relaxing and being warm for the first time in 3 days, but when we arrived we found out we only had 40 minutes to soak! Our group joked about hiding under the water when our guide came, but because one of us needed to get to the Chilean border it was just a joke, sigh. The hot springs themselves were incredible, but the infrastructure surrounding them was terrible! Picture a tiny wooden shack for around 30+ women to change in. Glamorous. Added to that were the surliest, rudest staff perhaps in all of Bolivia! Anyway, the springs served their purpose and I finally felt warm again!

After the springs, we continued to head to the border of Chile, close to the San Pedro de Atacama desert. We visited more lagoons, including the incredible Laguna Colorada which was jaw-dropping. We also stopped by bizarre rock structures in the desert, including the Piedra de Arbol, which were interesting sites.

We saw even more wildlife too, including vizchacas (a cute Bolivian sort of rabbit) and foxes, which was really cool. We weren’t expecting to see any wildlife in such a harsh environment, so it was another added bonus.

We made it to the border of Chile just in time to drop off one of our group to the awaiting bus, and then we started the long drive back to Uyuni. The drive was punctuated by some cool stops, but it was definitely a long one.

When we arrived back to Uyuni, we quickly re-packed our stuff on the street and headed out for a goodbye pizza dinner with our group at the unexpectedly delicious Minuteman Pizza (located inside Hotel Tonio). After that, we were ready for our night bus to La Paz. I really don’t recommend hanging around Uyuni for too long, unless you have a thing for packs of dogs and sub-zero temperatures.

Overall, we had a fantastic experience due to the incredible natural beauty of this area. If I did it again, I would perhaps hope for a driver that had a little more enthusiasm for his job, and definitely a company that allows more time at the hot springs. The takeaway – absolutely do NOT miss this corner of Bolivia if you visit!


Have you done the Uyuni salt flats tour? What did you enjoy, and what would you skip next time?

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

STAYING FOR A WHILE IN SUCRE, BOLIVIA

STAYING FOR A WHILE IN SUCRE, BOLIVIA

After weeks on end in tropical climates, we arrived in Sucre, Bolivia, to crisp mountain air, clear blue skies, and a whole new set of unbelievable scenery, a welcome change! We were also ready to stay put for a little longer than usual, so we could get familiar with a place, and practice our Spanish, and Sucre was the perfect place to do just that.

We chose to fly into Sucre from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. The 1-hour flight with Boliviana de Aviavion (BoA) was easy and even included baggage for about 360 BOB ($70 AUD/$55 USD). In our eyes, a far better alternative to the 16-hour plus land route which is apparently a bone-chattering nightmare on ancient buses!

After not really understanding anyone in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and wondering if we even knew Spanish, chatting with the taxi from the airport confirmed that, yes, we did! He told us about a unique Bolivian method of protest: the bloqueo. Apparently, when there are disputes in Bolivia, roads are blocked by angry parties until the situation is resolved. And we had just missed one that was in place from the Airport to the town of Sucre! I’m not what you would do if you encountered this…it may involve setting up camp at the Airport, but luckily we didn’t have to find out.

Our main plans in Sucre, Bolivia revolved around getting stuck into learning some Spanish, as it’s a well-renowned place to take lessons. Better yet, it’s very inexpensive, and a super cute town with gorgeous colonial architecture to be based in for a while.

We studied with Me Gusta Spanish School in a semi-private class, which was just Jack and I with a teacher. It was an excellent way to brush up on some things that are still a bit murky in our Spanish brains and practice conversation. Now that the listening is getting slightly easier, I am realising how hard it is to get speaking skills up to speed. It’s so frustrating to have your mind working at one pace and your mouth at another!

For the first few days, we stayed in a Hostel called Wasi Masi run by an indigenous family. We somehow magically got our own apartment with a kitchen which was the perfect opportunity to cook for ourselves. Then we decided to try a homestay to improve our language skills, which was provided by our Spanish school. It included breakfast and lunch (which was excellent). We got to practice lots of Spanish, and our host family gave us a real insight into the political and social intricacies of Bolivian life. Plus they had really cute dogs, which was perfect because we were missing our dog in Melbourne!

If you plan on learning Spanish in Sucre I highly recommend staying with a family there, it’s a huge opportunity to practise your conversational skills, and Bolivian people are kind and friendly.

Things to do in Sucre

If you have found yourself in Sucre studying Spanish, or just visiting, there’s lots of things to keep you entertained, especially considering it’s a fairly small town.

1. Head up to the Recoleta for an amazing view

I recommend taking a slow walk up to this gorgeous lookout soon after you arrive in Sucre to orient yourself and to see the stunning view. It’s a little steep, and if you’ve come from somewhere at low altitude take it very easy as 2800m above sea level is deceptively hard on your body. There’s cute cafe up the top, or do as the locals do and bring some beer with you to enjoy the mirador.

  

2. Check out the many museums and galleries in town

There are so many to check out in Sucre, you’re spoilt for choice. The ones we visited were quite small, so you could easily check out two or three in a morning/afternoon. We visited the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore (MUSEF) and the Museum of Indigenous Art (ASUR), both of which were worth a look.

3. Sample local food at the Sucre Mercado

The Central market in Sucre has a wide variety of weird and wonderful local dishes to try, including Sopa de Mani complete with chicken foot, Saice which has some rather scary looking black potatoes in it, and Api, a sweet thick drink made of corn. If you’re not quite that adventurous, try some of the amazing delicious tropical fruit Bolivia has to offer. There are some cute fruit vendors on the ground and first floor where you can try Mango-Papaya hybrids, Cherimoya (kinda like a custard apple on tropical weather steroids) and Pacay, which looks like a giant broad bean but is filled with sweet, white, fairy-floss like flesh. Make sure you choose a cool fruit vendor likes you enough to make you pose for a staged photo in front of their fruit stand, example below.

4. Cruise through Parque Bolivar

A surprisingly huge park very close to the centre. Stroll through and observe the raging hormones of the young people of Sucre, slide down a giant dinosaur or scale the eiffel tour. Nope not kidding.

5. Take a free Salsa or Reggaeton class at Joyride Cafe

Sucre is a small town, and the fun thing is nightspots aren’t divided into tourists and locals, they all kinda hang out at the same venues at night. Joyride cafe is one of those venues, and it has a free salsa dancing class that is actually a lot of fun! The teacher was enthusiastic and patient and there was a big crowd getting into it. Directly after the class, our dance saloon promptly transformed into a wild nightclub and while we weren’t planning to stay, suddenly we were being kicked out at 1am. So, a fun night out, even if you’re hopeless at dancing, like we are.


Have you been to Sucre? Tell us what you loved about this picturesque town, or what you would like to do there!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE DUNES OF LENÇÓIS MARANHENSES AND ATINS

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE DUNES OF LENÇÓIS MARANHENSES AND ATINS

Let me start off by saying Lençóis Maranhenses National Park and Atins have been my favourite destinations in Brazil so far. I will go into more detail about why, but just know that I love feeling like I’ve ventured into far corners of the world, and this is for sure one of the furthest corners that I have been to!

We traveled from Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas, then onto Atins in order to access the stunning Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Was the 10-hour trip (with 2 of those hours spent in a truck that must have had some kind of amphibious capabilities) worth it? Well…

I’d say yes. Yes it was.

We accessed Lençóis Maranhenses from both Atins, a tiny village stuck between the Rio Pregucias and Atlantic Ocean, and Barreirinhas, a gritty yet functional town and had completely different experiences, both positive!

So if you want to see a natural wonder of the world – just go. We had never seen another landscape like it before and probably never will again. I’m sure that Lençóis Maranhenses’ remoteness and relative inaccessibility have prevented the selfie-stick toting Instagram hordes from trashing it…so far. But few things stay out of reach to the masses forever, so do try and go if you are in Brazil!

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (Parque Nacional Lencois Maranhenses)

This incredible preserve consists of a staggering 1,550 km² area of sand dunes. A stunning sight in the dry season, things get even more amazing during and after the wet season, when hundreds of dreamy freshwater pools form in the spaces between the dunes. These lagoons (or ‘lagoas’ in Portuguese) last for around five months of the year, eventually evaporating, only for the whole process to begin again the next year.

Lençóis Maranhenses (which translates to bedsheets of Maranhão – the state where it is located) was only discovered in the 1970s according to our guide, which we found incredible, given its size.

Few live within the park’s boundaries, although nomadic groups still reside there, changing their location and subsistence changing according to the season.

How to get to Lençóis Maranhenses

To get to Lencois Lençóis Maranhenses National Park you’ll first have to get to one of the towns that serve as access points to the park: Atins, Barreirinhas or Santa Amaro.

Where to stay – Atins, Barreirinhas or Santa Amaro?

For a trip to Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, you have a choice of three places to stay as a base: Barreirinhas, Atins or Santa Amaro. We didn’t have time to check out Santo Amaro, so I’ll stick to the first two.

Atins

Finding up to date information on Atins (pronounced A-chins) was a pain, so if you plan on going there I hope this helps. Atins is a tiny village located right on the Eastern edge of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. This gorgeous sleepy town is remote and has a minimal tourist infrastructure, especially if you are a backpacker (I’ve got no idea how you would cook meals here – no mini-market in sight!). But it is extremely quiet and charming, quite the opposite of Barreirinhas. If you’re up for the extra travel, Atins makes a rather lovely place to stay, but just be aware that it is super quiet. If you’re happy with that vibe, definitely check it out.

Note: There is NO ATM in Atins, and many of the accommodation providers only accept cash. Make sure you have enough.

How to get to Atins

To get to Atins (which must be accessed from Barreirinhas) there are two options: Truck (Jardineira) or Speed boat (Lancha).

On the way in we took the truck, which was easy to find- we simply headed to the street parallel to the main street of Barreirinhas (where Banco Do Brazil is located) and walked a few metres, before we heard someone shouting ‘Atins!’. We were bundled onto the truck with the boxes of sugar and toilet paper and that was that. The price of the truck was 30 reais each ($12 AUD/$10 USD), and the journey takes about 2 hours.

And oh what a journey it was! It hadn’t occurred to us that the wet season meant we were about to drive through puddles, rivers, lakes, and every other body of water that you can imagine. At times the water was ankle high – even while we were sitting on the 1.5-2m high platform of the back of the truck! I spent the whole time enjoying the hair-raising experience, but also secretly dreading the moment that they ordered us off the truck to push it when it got stuck. Luckily, that never happened. But be aware, this is two hours of intense 4WD driving, so be prepared for that if you choose this route!

On the way out of Atins, we chose the speed boat so that we could get back to Barreirinhas in time for an afternoon tour to Lagoa Bonita. This was a much easier and less bone rattling affair, that cost 50 reais each ($20 AUD/ $16 USD) and only took an hour. The catch was the boats leave at 6:30am – ugh. But worth it to not potentially have to push a 4WD out of deep, dark, scary water. A truck will pick you up from your pousada to drop you to the boat.

Where to stay in Atins

There is a surprisingly large amount of accommodation in Atins given its tiny size! We stayed at Pousada Villa de Pescador which we really liked. The rooms seem to be brand new and are very clean with super cute bathrooms. They also had AC and were completely bug-proofed which I appreciated. You can also book tours and transfers there which is handy.

Check out Booking.com or Airbnb for other options.

What to do in Atins

Tours of Lençóis Maranhenses can be organised by your pousada for about 70 reais ($25 AUD/ $22 USD). The driver will pick out the best lagoons at the time that you visit. During our tour we saw Lagoa Capybara and Lagoa Siete Mulheres, and also a waterfall that flowed onto the beach!

Most tours include a lunch stop at one of the restaurants inside the park – Catino do Atins and Shrimp de Luzia. They essentially serve the same things – the story goes that they were a brother and sister that used to work together but has a falling out. Senor Antonio went off and started up a competing restaurant against his sister, so don’t worry which you end up at – they’re both good! Try the Shrimp Grelhado (Grilled Shrimp) washed down with icy cold beer.

It’s also possible to walk to the edge of the park from town. We did this and while it was hot and exhausting it was very scenic. Take lots of water and don’t wander into the dunes alone.

There are a few small bars in Atins – try checking out the tiniest bar ever, run by a cute old couple ‘Bar Estress Zero’. Follow the main road until just after Pousada Tia Rita and just before Eco Pousada Filhos do Vento you will see a pedestrian path to your left. Walk down it until you see the sign for the bar and turn right just after it. Get there about 45 minutes before sunset, sit on the tiny wooden table at the top of the dune with a caipirinha, and soak up the view.

Restaurants in Atins

We were only in Atin for two nights, so one involved a cheese toastie dinner from Villa de Pescador (sometimes mustering up the energy for a restaurant is too much!)

But the other night we ate some grilled fish at Pousada Dois Irmaos, which was delicious! Plus look at these cute fish cutlery things. Awww.

How to get to Barreirinhas

Barreirinhas is located about four hours east of São Luís or about 7 hours west of Jericoacoara. The easiest option is to fly to São Luís, then grab a mini-bus from the airport.

We came from Jericoacoara in the west, which was surprisingly challenging to organise. The 220 reais (82 AUD/98 USD) mini-bus we had planned on taking only runs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and includes a mandatory overnight stop in Parnaíba, which no offense to Parnaíba, we weren’t too keen on.

So after schlepping the street of Jeri for too long, about to give up, we finally found a lady who hooked us up with 250 reais (93 AUD/ 103 USD) per person private transfer, which took only seven hours direct to Barreirinhas! Yay! If you’re looking to do the same route, check out the small travel agency opposite the Hostels on Rua Sao Fransisco in Jeri. The lady at the travel agency only spoke Portuguese, so make sure you know a few key words to explain what you want.

Where to stay in Barreirinhas

Barrerinhas has a whole lot of places to stay. If you don’t need to stay right in the centre, I would recommend staying at one of the places located on the Rio Preguica. We stayed in two places, Pousada Igarape and Pousada Villas Boas which were very basic and nothing to write home about but in a good location.

What to do in Barreirinhas

Err…get out of there and visit the dunes! We visited the Lagoa Bonita circuit which was absolutely stunning. Do keep in mind that there is a steep sand climb to enter the park, although there is a rope to assist you in the final ascent. The view from the top is truly jaw-dropping. The Lagoa Bonita tour is 70 (25 AUD/20 USD) reais and any travel agent in town or your pousada can organise it for you.

There is also the option to visit Lagoa Azul, which I am sure would also be excellent. The tour there is 60 (22 AUD/ 19 USD) reais.

Restaurants in Barreirinhas

There a quite a few restaurants in Barreirinhas, I would suggest strolling down Avenida Beira Rio where there are lots of riverfront restaurants and live musicians. We ate at A Canoa (pizza, sometimes you just need one) which was quite good and had a nice setting.


Overall this was probably the highlight of my time in Brazil. In fact, I am dead set on returning one day, this time to hike across the park, which takes about 3 days in total. It’s a breathtaking place, and I think despite the effort to get there it is truly unforgettable, and therefore worth the epic journey!

More photos to come…with a decent wifi connection!

Have you been to this unbelievable place? Would love to hear your thoughts!

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

SO, IS RIO SAFE?

SO, IS RIO SAFE?

It seems to be the question on everybody’s mind, the second that you mention the city. “Is Rio safe?”

We were wondering this ourselves, having never visited before.

Turns out, it’s much like any other big city in terms of safety, and by being smart you can dramatically improve your odds of not encountering an unpleasant incident.

    Rio, Cidade Maravilhosa

Rio is a city with possibly the most stunning natural setting in the world. Dotted by jaw-dropping jutting rock formations, lush green vegetation and flanked by some of the most famous beaches, ever, Copacabana and Ipanema.

It’s also a sprawling, big city with its fair share of problems. Rio has many homeless people, which was heartbreaking to see. Some areas also suffer from a lot of pollution.

But overall did I ever feel unsafe? Nope.

Easy ways to stay safe

I think a good philosophy to follow as a tourist is to leave anything you can’t tolerate losing at home. If it will ruin your trip to lose your iPhone, don’t take it with you. If you couldn’t stand having your camera taken, leave it at home.

That said, after leaving behind these things for the day, often we realised the places we visited were safe to have phones, cameras and such and we were a bit bummed that we didn’t have them. But I suppose it’s always better to have peace of mind rather than a better quality photo.

Tip: If you plan on spending some time on the beach and rent a chair or umbrella, the barracas or kiosques will happily look after your bag while you head into the water, so I was able to take my Kindle. There’s also lockers at the Posto which you can lock your stuff in. Easy!

Other than being mindful of petty theft, and ensuring we took Ubers or the Metro rather than wandering around lost in areas we were unfamiliar with, we didn’t really take any other crazy safety precautions.

So, is Rio safe? I know that there are people out there that have had bad experiences, but I really think the media image of the danger in Brazil, and Rio, in particular, is way overblown. As long you follow local advice and don’t do silly things you should be fine. We had a great time in Rio with no safety issues during our trip.

So please, go to Rio with an open mind, enjoy the city and its beaches. It is not the war zone that the media would have you believe!


Have you been to Rio? What did you think?

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PARATY: SEA

PARATY: SEA

Two days exploring the picturesque colonial town of Paraty, situated on the Costa Verde of Brazil was perfect. So it was onwards to part two of our stay, beach time! During some random Googling of Paraty, I had discovered a place set on a secluded speck of Brazil’s coast called Happy Hammock with gushing reviews, so I thought we’d better give it a try.

After schlepping 1.5 kilometers to the dock with our respective 20 kilograms of luggage, (the wrong dock, whoops) after discovering the is approximately one Uber in Paraty, we were met by the Happy Hammock boat.

After a brief 20-minute boat ride, we arrived to this:

A picturesque little inlet, situated on the Costa Verde of Bahia de Ilha Grande, lapped by warm emerald waters in shades I had never seen before. The sand was a rich golden colour which offset the green tones magically. Happy Hammock was set on its very own dock, inviting you to sit, relax, and when that got too much, dive off into the cooling waters.

Happy Hammock has a unique philosophy of no wifi and a communal experience for guests. I know it sounds cliched but it was so nice to disconnect from the outside world. Even when traveling, it’s so easy to waste time using social media and other online distractions which don’t really add much to your experience. I hope that we can get to another location in this trip that does not have wifi because it was totally relaxing!

On the food side of things, each morning and night the guests staying there eat breakfast and dinner together. This was painstakingly prepared by a lovely Spanish couple who were running the guesthouse. The meals were incredible, plus as an added bonus, vegetarian! Despite having to adjust to the Spanish dinner time (we were always starving by 6:30!) the wait was always worth it. We feasted on lasagne, freshly made bread, wonderful salads and washed it all down with freshly made caipirinhas. Dreamy.

During our few days we generally headed across to the beautiful Praia Vermelha, which was just a 30-minute hike or kayak trip away. Getting there early in the morning the beach was deserted and absolutely stunning. Usually, towards lunchtime, boatloads of Brazilian tourists (the majority of tourists in Brazil are Brazilian – they love to explore their country!) started rolling in, which did not a peaceful experience make! Lots of partying, loud music, dancing and shouting with friends and family ensued which was very entertaining to observe, but also our cue to head back for a more low-key swim off the dock.

Praia Vermelha – sorry for the waterlogged Go Pro photo!

Relaxing here was one of our highlights of Brazil so far, I highly recommend staying here if you have an open mind, are craving some home-cooked food and are an eco-conscious traveler!


Have you been to Happy Hammock or any other locations on the Costa Verde? Let us know what we missed!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PARATY: LAND

PARATY: LAND

After the intense hustle and bustle of São Paulo, it was time to take things down a few notches and spend a few days in the charming colonial town of Paraty. A favourite of well-to-do Brazilian tourists from São Paulo and Rio, we arrived on the weekend to a buzzing and picturesque village, set amidst gorgeous greenery and emerald seas.

 

After spending the afternoon wandering and soaking up the cuteness of the town (plus trying not to break various bones navigating the crazy cobblestone rocks – beautiful but so hard to walk on!) we decided to scope out a spot for people watching, snacking and most importantly, drinking.

We went to Cachaçaria Cana de Praca, located on the main square, courtesy of Jack’s research. We sipped Brazil’s national drink – Caipirinhas – a deadly combination of cachaça, sugar, and lime. Seriously that’s it. After approximately two drinks we were done for, despite eating some amazing Bolhinos do Bacalao. If you visit Brazil seek these out – and remember the Portuguese word for them. They are nearly always described in horrifying terms in English, one example that we saw was “Cod Cookie”. Ew.

The next day after sleeping off the cachaça from the night before, and accepting we were not yet accustomed to the ratios found in Brazilian caipirinhas, we did some more exploring of the Centro Historico of Paraty. The sun came out and really put on a show, making it easy to wander around enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

History of Paraty

Paraty has had a number of different incarnations in its history, beginning with being the favoured shipping port during a boom in gold in the Minais Gerais mountains, hence its gorgeous decorative buildings.

After the gold boom began to thin out, coffee production took over as the main production and export of Paraty.

Finally, cachaça production became big business in Paraty, and it is still recognised today as a major producer of artisanal versions of the popular spirit. There are many stores in the Centro Historico which feature locally made cachaça, and other delicious looking handmade products.

When to go

We visited Paraty during mid-April which was lovely and is during the dry season. During the weekend there was a moderate amount of tourists, and there were even less come Monday. I would not recommend coming to Paraty during Brazilian holidays (Carnaval, Semana Santa etc) unless you love big crowds!

What to eat

There are lots of options in Paraty, try some Brazilian classics like bolhinos do bacalao (fried fish balls), pasteis (fried pastry with various fillings), or even pizza, which is done really well in Brazil! Take a phone with the capability to translate a menu because they sometimes do not include English.

How to get there

You will need to get here by bus, from either São Paulo (6 hours) or Rio De Janeiro (4 hours) or one of the smaller towns dotted along the coast such as Angra dos Reis, if you are coming from Ilha Grande. The Paraty bus station is very close to the Centro Historico and most pousadas. You can grab a taxi or Uber from the station if you have heavy luggage, but the distances are not far. Once in town you can pretty much stroll everywhere that you need to go.

Where to stay

Try to stay close to the Centro Historico of Paraty (the yellow shaded bit on Google Maps), but I would recommend not actually staying in it because it’s roped off to traffic which can make it a real mission to get in and out if you have wheeled luggage (huge cobblestones + wheels = NO!). There are tons of well-priced pousadas around.

Tips

We found the ATMs in Paraty very temperamental which led to a situation where we ran out of cash! We’re still not sure if that was due to the ATM literally being out of cash (it was Sunday night and local people seemed to be having problems too) or if it just didn’t like our cards. There aren’t really many cambios (money exchangers) in town either. Try and bring sufficient cash with you – some places also accept cards.


Overall Paraty town was a charming and scenic location to spend a few days. There are many more things to do in the area as well, such as island hopping and waterfall exploring. It is also the perfect place to break up the rather long bus trip between São Paulo and Rio De Janeiro if you are visiting both. Check out Paraty: Sea for the next part of our time in Paraty!

Have you been to Paraty, or would you like to go? Tell us about it!

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

MODERNISM: SAO PAOLO

MODERNISM: SAO PAOLO

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

LANGKAWI – A TROPICAL HOLIDAY GEM

LANGKAWI – A TROPICAL HOLIDAY GEM

I have finally made it back to one of my all time favourite countries – Malaysia! A year and a half after I first visited, I am so happy to be back. This time I am mainly hitting beach spots, and my first stop is the beautiful tropical island of Langkawi.

Langkawi has been on my mind for some time,  and when I realised I could slip in a sneaky solo holiday before heading off for a year I booked my ticket without a second thought.

Being my first solo holiday I was a touch nervous, but suddenly realised that on all my holidays – I am the crazy planner – so travelling alone has been a breeze.

Langkawi has typically been pegged as a resort island, however the tide is changing, with many different levels of accommodation popping up all over. These range right from basic guesthouses up to mid-range hotels perfect for travellers in search of a little more comfort.

I have listed my favourite locations, things to do and more importantly – eat – to kick off a trip to Langkawi! Happy holidaying.

Where to Go
Cenang Beach

This is the area that has the main tourist concentration in Langkawi. A huge slice of fine white sand and jade green water, this is a very nice beach. Don’t expect crystal clear waters because this is not that – however it is a huge pretty beach, so unlike many places in Thailand, it never feels crowded (and I was there in the high season!). This beach is not really suitable for snorkelling – try Koh Lipe for that.

Before going I had read about ‘water sports madness’ and I was pretty concerned about noisy tourists (aka d***heads on jet skis, as I like to call them) however it all seemed pretty tame to me. In fact I can safely say that the jetski use in Australia is much worse and far more obnoxious! I was able to relax under a sun lounger happily and wasn’t bothered by the water sports at all.

Comfortable sun loungers are available to rent for around 20 Malaysian ringgit per day ($5 USD/$6.50 AUD) which is a steal, considering there is not really any natural shade on the beach (super important for a redhead such as myself!)

There are bars and restaurants located on the beach, so food and drinks are never too far away if you are a stay-all-day type of beachgoer like me. I recommend locating yourself either in front of the Yellow Cafe (Southern end) or near the Meritus Pelangi Resort (Northern end).

I do wish I got to see the ‘old’ Cenang Beach as there was lots of construction sites blighting the beach while I was there. Speaking to locals they are also sad at what is happening development-wise which is a shame. Still I recommend a visit for sure.

Note: Please note, depending on wind and weather conditions, there can be jellyfish in the water in Langkawi. Take precautions by wearing a stinger suit (or lycra suit covering the body), or at the least having a generous amount of vinegar on hand especially if you have children. Jellyfish stings often occur in shallow water. Box jellyfish have been reported in the waters around South East Asia so make sure that you are prepared. Of course the actual chance of being stung is very low – but it’s best to be educated!

Things to Do

Okay I’ll be honest – I didn’t do a lot while I was in Langkawi. It’s a place where you can do as little or as much as you like – there are heaps of activities that you can participate in, those that I actually did I will go into a bit more detail about.

Rainforest Evening Walk, Junglewalla Tours

I am travelling by myself, so while I’d normally have a crack at doing some kind of nature walk with Jack, I thought that this time it might be best to join a group rather than getting lost in the jungle. Solo.  So I decided to go with Junglewalla tours, a company that I saw recommended as an alternative to other cheaper ‘cattle’ tour type companies. I was really concerned with the company I chose taking an environmental approach, so I chose Junglewalla on that premise.

It was quite an odd start to the Rainforest After Dark tour, with the guides getting in the van without a word and then only introducing themselves after about 10 minutes. Quite weird and awkward! Or maybe that’s just me. After that they warmed a little and our main guide had a lot of excellent information about the flora and fauna of Langkawi. We saw a few different types of monkeys, lots of birdlife, including Giant Hornbills, and even the weird looking flying Lemurs later on.

The tour was good and I was thrilled to see so much wildlife, but on reflection I think I chose the wrong tour – I was under the impression we would be hiking through rugged jungle terrain, however  in reality we stayed in a van for most of the time, hopping out to catch a closer look at the monkeys and birds. In retrospect I would take the Jungle Trekking tour instead, which involves more hiking.

Night Market (Various Locations) 

Langkawi plays host to a kind of travelling night market every night of the week – foodie heaven. I visited the Temonyong Night Market which pops us just near the main road of the beach area on Thursday nights. It’s located near the Northern end of Cenang Beach, just behind the main strip. On other nights the market pops up in various locations – for more info on those check here

Rush hour at the Langkawi night market!

The night market was crazy busy! I was not expecting so many people, especially considering it is such a tiny market. There was roughly about 30-40 small stalls, most selling amazing interesting foods but also some with cheap clothes and trinkets. Think $2 shop stuff – I wouldn’t really plan on doing your shopping here.

   

The food is the main drawcard at the market – and oh, the food! Everything is between 0.50-3 ringgit (0.13 USD/0.15 AUD – 0.75 USD/1 AUD) which means it is an amazing opportunity to sample lots of different types of traditional food, and drinks too.

I tried Satay Ayam (chicken), Char Kway Teow (hawker noodle dish), Chicken curry puffs and Creme Caramel Pandan cake. Altogether that was a grand total of 10 ringgit (2.50 USD/3.15 AUD). Insane. I couldn’t even finish everything! Stand outs were the curry puffs and the delicious cake – definitely try these if you make it there!

   

I used a Grab driver to get there and back, which I HIGHLY recommend . In fact I got a little addicted to them and ended up taking them ridiculously short distances! Woops. For a 1-2km journey you’re looking at around 2-4 ringgit (0.50 USD/0.65 AUD) which is just too good to pass up. There is more info about Grab below.

Skycar/Skybridge

Photo: Highest Bridges

One regret I had was not having enough time to do this! Although I’m sure it would have been crowded and touristy (not my style) the location looked stunning. Check out more info here.

Where to Eat

Beware the tourist traps that Langkawi holds – many of the restaurants are geared towards Western-tastes and claim to serve ‘traditional food’ that is actually awful flavourless crap. Such a shame because Malaysian food is wonderful, and a really good quality traditional restaurant could do good business here! Anyway, I will share a few of the places that I ate at that were decent.

Orkid Ria

Orkid Ria is perhaps one of the busiest restaurants on the Cenang Beach strip. The seafood is fresh and plentiful and comes served cooked to your liking. It’s not the cheapest seafood I’ve had but it’s certainly not expensive either. This restaurant gets very crowded from about 5pm onwards so be prepared for a little wait. Overall it’s a very efficient and organised system though, and you’ll be seated in order without having to elbow another tourist out of the way.

Big, tasty prawns. Yum!
Sorry guys, you’re cute but I’m hungry.
Fresh fish, cooked to your liking. With beer. Enough said?
Tomato Nasi Kandar

This little spot was conveniently located next to Fave Hotel which was fortuitous given that I was generally too lazy to walk back to the main strip after returning from the beach for the day! I sampled some of their Nasi Kandar dishes. Nasi Kandar is a type of lunchtime buffet that is popular in Malaysia and Tomato Nasi Kandar offers a range of dishes that are very inexpensive to try. The chicken rendang was good, and I was able to order a naan to go along with it. The roti canai paired with a sweet milky teh tarik what a perfect no-fuss breakfast.

Yellow Cafe 

I didn’t actually eat anything here, but I generally settled in from of this little cafe when hanging out on the beach so I could easily trot back and forth between my sun lounger and the bar. The cocktails here are great and the beer is reasonably priced for a beach front location. It’s the perfect place to chill and watch the sun go down, a must in Langkawi! The food I did spy when I was there looked yummy, although a little pricey. The staff are very friendly too.

Where to Stay
Fave Hotel, Cenang Beach
Pool area – clean and relaxing.

I stayed at Fave Hotel, part of a chain of mid-range hotels, which I rather liked. If you come not expecting luxury but rather simple comfort, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I chose Fave Hotel because it had a pool, which was in a lovely setting backed by lush green hills. These also featured cows and roosters – cute. The rooms were functional and spacious, and the bed was actually heaven (especially compared to the rock I slept on in my next destination of Koh Lipe). It was also walking distance to Cenang Beach and the main street – although I often took a Grab car home – don’t judge me!

View from the pool. Peaceful.
Getting There and Around

Langkawi is super well serviced both internationally and domestically by Air Asia and other budget airlines. Check Skyscanner to find a great deal. I flew from Singapore to Langkawi for around $30 USD/$40 AUD in peak season.

To get around the island you have a few options. I would recommend on landing at the airport purchasing a Malaysian Simcard which you can then use to sign up to Grab or Uber (don’t forget to ask for your Malaysian phone number). I used a Grab car to get to my accommodation for 13 ringgit, a total bargain, plus as a female travelling alone, I felt safe in the fact I could screenshot the driver’s details and send them to Jack. Not once did I feel unsafe in a Grab though!

In Langkawi there is also the option to hire a scooter/motorbike or car. You need an international license for this. The rates are really very cheap, however I can’t give much more info on that as I Grab-bed everywhere!

From Langkawi you can do onward travel to Thailand via ferry which is what I did next. Check out Koh Lipe for more info on that.

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.