A Guide to Visiting Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

On your next trip to Spain, there are lots of things you might want to do. Something that you don’t want to miss is a visit to Sagrada Familia basilica. 

Whether you’re religious or not, it’s an architectural masterpiece and famous landmark in the heart of Barcelona that is visited by around 5 million tourists every year. 

But don’t let the prospect of large queues keep you from visiting! If you weren’t convinced before, here’s how why you need to visit Sagrada Familia on your next holiday to Spain.

See also: The Best Tourist Attractions in Barcelona

Sagrada Família, Barcelona Spain
Sagrada Família

The History of Sagrada Familia

While Gaudi is the most famous name behind the Sagrada Familia towers, nine architects have taken on the project since his death, and it’s still incomplete today. 

In case you didn’t know, Gaudi was a dedicated Catholic, and he was notably obsessed with both nature and religion. His plans for the Sagrada Familia towers involved representing the entirety of Catholic history. This project was to become his grandest legacy. 

Despite changing hands, every architect involved has remained true to Gaudi’s original plans from 1883. The original completion date was set for 2026. However, this has been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 – with no new end date in sight.

Currently, all ticket sales are funding the completion of the project – churches or the government do not back it. So, when you visit Sagrada Familia, you’ll be financing the completion of Gaudi’s famous landmark. 

Private donations are also accepted to build the Sagrada Familia towers further. Whenever it is eventually completed, it will become the tallest church globally.  

Another of the fantastic Sagrada Familia tips is that Gaudi was buried there in 1926, located within the El Carmen Virgin chapel. Despite being incomplete, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – another amazing fact to tick off your bucket list!

Is visiting the Sagrada Familia towers worth it?

If you’re asking if visiting the Sagrada Familia towers is worth it during your next trip, the answer is a resounding yes!

That’s because the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia was built in 1882. It is a monumental church with ties to the Holy Family and was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

What’s even more amazing about the Sagrada Familia is that it features breathtaking architecture by Antoni Gaudi, one of the world’s most famous architects. He pioneered a new era of architecture called Catalan modernism, which features free-flowing curves and organic forms. 

You can find nine completed spires, of 18 in the original design, with plans for further completion in the coming years.

See also: Things to Do in Barcelona: Our Barcelona Activity Guide

Visiting Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
Visiting Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Tips for visiting the Sagrada Familia

As this monument is one of the most popular in Spain, and because it’s in the middle of the city of Barcelona, you can expect queues to be extremely long. The best time to visit Sagrada Familia is as early as possible in the morning. 

The Sagrada Familia opens at 9 am when queues are at their shortest. The period between 9 to 11 am is generally less crowded.

However, you may want to get inside the monument for the best photographic opportunities later in the day. For amazing pictures, the best time to visit Sagrada Familia is between 5-6 pm, when the sun sets. 

The sunlight shines through the colourful stained glass at this hour, producing dream-like sights and images. It’s also possible to attend evening Mass at 6 pm, which comes at no charge. Here, visitors must dress and act appropriately.

Some other things to consider include:

  • Length of visit. Most tourists want to know how long to visit Sagrada Familia towers to make the most of their trip. The recommended time is around 2 hours, but you can stay as long as intended. 
  • The price. Sagrada Familia ticket cost is between €33 and up to €99 for an 8-hour guided tour that includes Montserrat.
  • The best time to visit Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia hours of operation are from 9 am till 6 pm every day. Sagrada Familia’s hours of operation for Mass is 6 pm. 
  • Different kinds of tickets. You will need a special ticket to visit the Sagrada Familia towers that include tower access; this is not granted with a basic ticket. 
  • Ticket availability. Make sure to get your tickets in advance, as tickets can sometimes sell out by 5 pm. It’s also an option to buy online tickets to streamline the process. Look for availability and book your tickets below:
  • Extra packages. You may find a higher Sagrada Familia ticket cost for inclusive packages, such as a Sagrada Familia and Park Güell combination tour
  • Guided tours for foreign visitors. There are several guided group tours available in different languages. When you visit Sagrada Familia, the currently available options include English, German, Italian, French, and, of course, Spanish. 
  • Can I get a Sagrada Familia audio guide free? You can find free audio guides online, but these cannot compete with guided tours. 
  • Planning your arrival. You can find public transport links that will take you to visit Sagrada Familia – the L2 or L5 via the metro or one of many dedicated buses, including the 19, 33 and 34. 
  • What to wear. Remember that when you visit Sagrada Familia, it is a holy place of worship. Visitors need to dress appropriately, meaning that tops should cover their shoulders, and shorts/skirts should come mid-thigh. Hats are not allowed at the Sagrada Familia.
  • Navigating the Sagrada Familia. You should download the official app to manage tickets, find audiobooks and more. The app costs €26 from the official website. However, it is possible to visit without downloading the app, too.
Visiting inside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Interior of Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, Spain – depositphotos.com

Summary

We hope we’ve answered the question ‘is visiting the Sagrada Familia towers worth it?’ The answer is yes – it’s great to visit year-round!

You should add Sagrada Familia to your itinerary next time you go to Barcelona. 

Don’t miss out on your chance to visit Sagrada Familia and its massive cultural and historical significance. Whether planning how long to visit Sagrada Familia or finding the Sagrada Familia ticket cost price, we hope our Sagrada Familia tips have made planning much easier for you!

Looking for more things to do in Barcelona? Check out the below posts:


Downtown Rio de Janeiro: Why it’s Worth Visiting

When it comes to discovering all of the wonders of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, it’s natural that your mind tends to wonder to the many tourist attractions. And while those spots are popular for a reason, there is a hidden gem that all travellers to Rio should experience: downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Downtown Rio de Janeiro – the not so obvious Rio de Janeiro – may not have any beaches that bring in the masses, but you will be entranced by its charm. From its beautiful churches and architecturally stunning buildings, downtown Rio de Janeiro will soon have you under its spell.

See also: Top Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The revamping of downtown Rio de Janeiro

City

To the surprise of many who first encounter downtown Rio de Janeiro, there is quite a bit to do there! From more cultural and historic scenes to outdoor adventures, this location has been created with every tourist in mind.

For starters, it is worth noting that the local City Hall has been dedicating its time and resources to renewing and revamping this area. From the moment you step downtown you will immediately notice a newfound energy and life in this space that definitely makes it worth the visit. Every corner of this location is being redesigned to cater to the needs of locals and tourists whilst offering everyone access to authentic Brazilian experiences.

Downtown Rio de Janeiro attractions, Brazil
Municipal Theater – Theatro Municipal in Downtown Rio.

Top attractions in downtown Rio de Janeiro

Jus

Don’t be blinded by all of the attractions in the city centre that you accidentally overlook all that downtown has to offer you. There is an exquisite list of attractions that will keep you busy and entertained for hours. Better yet, many of them are affordable too, meaning you won’t have to break the bank trying to truly experience downtown Rio de Janeiro.

After only a few minutes of walking through the streets of downtown Rio you will immediately notice that there are a plethora of museums, cultural centers (some are free, like CCBB), and lots of places that still have a touch of that 19th century feel. In fact, it’s like walking into the past and getting to reexperience all of its gorgeous surroundings. We can all thank City Hall for this as this has been a great part of their mandate – to refurbish and restore many of the historical artefacts of the area.

If you aren’t too sure where to start when it comes to figuring out where you should go first, then here are a few ideas for you:

  • Go to the Municipal Theater – Theatro Municipal. It was inspired by a similar building in Paris – the Opera House. It has just been restored, and it is beautiful, Praca Marechal Floriano s/n RJ. It is an absolutely breathtaking building with a rich history that deserves your attention. You can also take in the architectural sophistication of this building too as its designs and structures have transcended various eras.
  • Just around the corner, you will see the National Library – Biblioteca Nacional (Av. Rio Branco, 319 – Centro), that was finished in 1908 and houses more than 13 million books and the National Museum of Fine Arts – Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Av. Rio Branco, 199 – Centro). Not only will you be enthralled by their book collections but by the aesthetic appeal of this national library!
  • A little further, an example of modern art on open air, that you can appreciate freely, by one of the most important artists of the world, Candido Portinari. This is a definite bucket-list entry that deserves a top spot too.
  • If you would like to visit the picturesque neighborhood of Santa Teresa, just take the tram and enjoy the ride – there is plenty to feast your eyes on whilst route the destination. Always remember to take very good care of your personal belongings, especially because the tram is open. It’s very cool, but I recommend that you do it during the day for safety reasons.
  • If it’s the first Saturday of the month, you should defiantly, without a doubt, visit the Lavradio Fair. It will immediately remind you of Santelmo, in Buenos Aires, or Portobello Road, in London. But you will have no doubt that you are in Rio de Janeiro – the music will tell you. It’s in the bustling streets that are filled with locals chatting and playing music as well as the decadent smells coming from all of the restaurants the dot the area.

See also: Casa Rosa: Best Place to Be on a Sunday Afternoon in Rio De Janeiro

Join this downtown Rio walking tour!

Candelaria Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Candelaria Church in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Among the best places where you can go to eat and/or have fun are:

– Carioca da Gema (Avenida Mem de Sá, 79, Lapa, Admission US$ 7, Open 7 days a week)

– Rio Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio, 20, Lapa, Closed on Mondays) – there are two shows on weekdays (starting at 7:30 pm) and three shows on Fridays and Saturdays (usually starting at 10 pm)

– Democraticus (Rua do Riachuelo, 91, Lapa, Admission US$ 5, Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)

– Santo Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio, 36, Lapa, Open for Lunch, shows on Saturdays, usually 9:30 pm)

See also: Foods, Drinks and Bars You Should Try While in Rio de Janeiro

Read about Day Trips from Rio.


A Guide to Visiting Paris in the Spring

Paris is a beautiful city, and it’s also the capital city of France. While it’s a great place to visit year-round, visiting Paris in the spring is a fantastic sight. Spring time in Paris is truly remarkable; you’ll find it full of flowers, trees, lively crowds and an overall fantastic atmosphere.

The weather starts to clear up after the cold winter months, leaving you with the wonderful scents as the spring flowers start to bloom. What could be better than witnessing the changing of seasons from frost to flower? 

Spring is truly a magical time in Paris. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling to Paris in the spring time.

See also: Paris for Beginners: Where and What to Eat, See or Do

Paris in the spring
Spring blossoms in Paris, France

Paris weather in spring

Spring in Paris is one of the most popular times of year to visit, and the season lasts from March to May. You can expect Paris weather in spring to start out chilly, with highs of 54°F/12°C in March, 61°F / 16°C in April and 68°F / 20°C in May. 

The average lows for March are 41°F/5°C, you can expect 45°F/7°C lows in April and 52°F/11°C lows in May. As you can see, the weather warms up in May but remains cool throughout the season, especially at night. Don’t forget to pack warm clothes for your Paris weather in spring, especially if you visit in March. We highly recommend traveling with Merino wool clothes as they work well for all weather types.

Tips for visiting the “city of love” in the spring 

Having a Paris spring is nothing short of amazing. Still, there are some things you should know before visiting to make your holiday and planning process more enjoyable.

  1. Paris is always busy, no matter what time of year you decide to visit. This is especially true when you book tickets for a significant landmarks or museums. You’ll likely need to book for famous sights like the Eiffel Tower or Catacombs weeks in advance. Social distancing measures have also limited the number of visitors allowed per day, and some ticket booths are even closed. So make sure to book your tickets ahead of time!
  1. Book a central hotel. Paris is a beautiful city for walking around at any time of day. Spring is even better, as it offers cherry blossoms, sunshine and a fantastic atmosphere. There are many great forms of accommodation, from hotels to guest houses and apartments. 
  1. There are a lot of public holidays during spring time in Paris. The high season really kicks off in April, and Easter is the first major holiday of the year for the French. You can expect Paris to be especially crowded during the Easter holidays, as well as holidays like Labour Day and Victory Day in early May. 
  1. Be prepared for flexibility on short notice. Spring time brings unpredictable weather with it. While it’s rare that you’d lose a whole day to rain, it could definitely ruin your plans to walk in Monet’s Gardens or other outdoor activities in Paris. 
  1. Pack enough to keep warm. While Paris in the spring is not the coldest time of year, it sometimes shows off its four seasons in a day. Packing a lightweight jacket, like a puffer or down jacket, should be enough to keep you out of the cold that you’ll find in a Paris spring. There is an extensive range of temperatures in a Paris Spring, so bear this in mind when you start packing. Check out our stylish city packing guide.
  • Get the Paris city card. Save money and get access to two of the most iconic locations in and around Paris: the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower along with enjoying a cruise along the Seine. Buy the Paris City Card.
Get the Paris City Card
What you get with the Paris City Card

Related read: The Paris Pass and Why it’s Worth it

Top things to do during spring time in Paris

Paris has rightfully earned its popularity as one of the most famous cities in the world. Naturally, the number of things to do in Paris is nearly endless. While you don’t need to specifically wait to visit Paris in the spring, some places and activities are much nicer when visiting in the spring time.

  • If you are an art lover, you need to visit the Atelier des Lumières and the Louvre. The Palais Royal is an elegant and historical building offering covered galleries worth a visit. 
  • Since Paris has pleasant spring weather, you might enjoy a sightseeing bike tour. If you don’t feel confident on your own, you can book a guided bike tour of Paris to give you the best overview of the city.

Related tour: Paris: Charming Nooks and Crannies Bike Tour

  • You could book a relaxing cruise on the Seine. This is one of the most budget-friendly activities to enjoy when visiting Paris. 

Related tour: Seine River Sightseeing Cruise with 3-Course Dinner

  • Spring time in Paris is not complete without visiting one of many parks. Paris has over 400 parks, so there is definitely no shortage of variety to choose from! It’s also a great time to take a day trip to Versailles.
  • Go for drinks and dinner at a restaurant. Enjoy an apéro, which is a drink and small nibble before dinner. Check out our guide to the nightlife in Paris.
  • Paris has 5 hills. If you’d like to stroll through Paris on a less-crowded route, walking on the slopes can offer fantastic panoramic views of the city without the extensive foot you might find on the streets.

Related read: A Guide to the Arrondissements of Paris

  • If you are a fan of architecture, visit the Butte aux Cailles neighbourhood. It offers beautiful art deco buildings with unique colours. Rue Montorgueil is another great neighbourhood that offers a mix of rural villages and urban sights.
Famous Eiffel Tower with spring tree in Paris, France - depositphotos.com
Famous Eiffel Tower with spring tree in Paris, France – depositphotos.com

Blossoms, fresh air & a new lease on life

It’s a great idea to visit Paris in the spring time. From the relatively mild Paris weather in spring to the fresh blooming scent of new plant life, much of the liveliness of Paris returns in spring.

Spring also offers excellent opportunities for visiting the many parks that Paris offers, visiting famous museums, taking a bike tour of the city, or even visiting a food market.  

Regardless of your interests, we’re sure you will find something to do that is unique to Paris – whether you’re an art lover, urban explorer, foodie or photographer! 

Visiting in winter? Check out our guide to winter in Paris!


A Guide to Visiting Banff National Park in Winter

If you are looking for the ultimate outdoor adventure, the quintessential winter wonderland and the most memorable snow-topped landscapes around, then you need to visit the Banff National Park in winter.

Not only is this time of year the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies but there are so many sparkling, snow-dusted adventures to be had.

So, get comfortable and bookmark this blog as we offer you the ultimate guide to visiting Banff National Park in Winter.

Taking a deeper look at Banff National Park

For those unfamiliar with this picturesque location, the Banff National part is actually Canada’s first national park. It is made up of emerald lakes and rivers, snow white glaciers and pristine wilderness that surrounds the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, Canada.

This incredible getaway is not adored for its winter themed experiences but the mere fact that this little escape is known for only having 4% of its natural terrains accessible by road. This means that wherever you are able to drive, you know that you will be surrounded by untouched, unspoiled nature in all of its wintery glory!

Banff National Park in winter
Scenic winter mountain landscape in Canadian Rockies – depositphotos.com

When is it winter in Banff National Park?

The region’s winters fall between the months of January and March with the air being noticeably cold and dry. That being said, it is significantly warmer than similar mountainous areas in Alberta with the area only receiving a moderate amount of snow – unless you are on high ski hills. Despite the cold, there’s plenty of sunshine and not a lot of wind.

It is important to keep in mind that January is by far the coldest month in Banff National Park, with an average low of about -15°C (5°F). While January may be the coldest time of the year it is the best time to visit this location. Not only will you experience the full snow-draped experience, but it is also less busy at the end of January as many people are returning home from their trips.

How to get to Banff National Park

If you are preparing for your Banff winter trip you will most likely be flying into Calgary International Airport. Once you’ve landed you will then embark on an incredibly scenic 1.5 hour drive down the TransCanada Highway that will take you through the heart of the park. You will then continue west until you reach the mountains of Banff.

How to travel around Banff National Park in Winter

When it comes to any vacation, it is natural to want to rent a car. If you are looking to have a little more freedom to go and do whatever you want at a time of your choosing, renting a car is a great idea. Keep in mind that there are heavy snowfalls, so you will want to have some experience driving during or right after a snowstorm.

There are also a number of car rental providers in the town including Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise – all of which have offices in the area. You can search across all car rental providers here.

Alternatively, you could skip the renting of a car all together and opt for local transportation options. Even during the winter, they are fully operational and incredibly affordable too. There are a number of shuttle options available that can take you from the airport to your accommodation and take you around the entire area. There are also notable eco-friendly bus options that can easily take you to your next activity.

What to wear when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter

Naturally, you will be packing all of your regular essentials from your toiletries to your electronics and chargers, passports and all. However, given the fact that you will be experiencing some pretty cold bouts of weather it is essential that the following items are in your suitcase.

  1. Layers. You will without a doubt be layering for most of your trip as a way to insulate yourself. Try to get as many long-sleeved cotton shirts and leggings as possible. Read more about why Merino Wool clothes are perfect for layering!
  2. Winter boots. Nevermind aesthetics, you will need functional, warm boots that can handle the snow, water and mud. If they have some grip, even better!
  3. Woollen socks. It is common for tourists to get frostbite in their toes due to a lack of proper, adequate socks. Keep those toes warm and as dry as possible with THICK Merino Wool socks.
  4. A hat. This may seem strange given that it is winter but keep in mind that the sun is very much still present and oh so harsh, so make sure to bring a hat that not only protects you from the sun but can keep your head nice and warm.
  5. Ice cleats. On the topic of being able to trudge your way through the snow, purchasing/ renting high quality ice cleats is an absolute must.
  6. Mitten. Here comes the frostbite again. It is so easy to lose feeling in your fingers given the cold. Keep your hands protected with the help of insulating mittens that can keep you warm even in the harshest of winter weather. Don’t forget your scarves and beanies too!

If you’re going hiking in Banff National Park (in winter or summer) – check out these hiking sunglasses.

Winter in Banff National Park
Magnificent Winter View of Bow River Valley in Banff National Park on a Snowy Day.

Where to stay when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter

Fairmont Banff Springs

If you are looking to experience a world class winter escape then look no further than the Fairmont Banff Springs. This gorgeous resort has a 32 m lap pool and a 20 m heated outdoor pool. Better yet, after a long day taking in all of the activities on offer, you can make use of the resort’s Willow Stream Spa that has 27 treatment areas and offers a variety of relaxing massages and beauty treatments. Other on-site activities for guests include bowling, tennis, horseback riding, and golfing.

Rimrock Resort Hotel

If you are looking to live in a lap of luxury then the Rimrock Resort Hotel is your ideal accommodation spot. Not only does it offer all guests access to the exclusive indoor pool and a hot tub, but Rimrock Resort Hotel is located 6-minute drive from Banff centre and near the Upper Hot Springs. There is also a renowned on-site restaurant that has a number of decadent dishes and local cuisines on offer.

Moose Hotel and Suites

If you are looking for a warm ambient experience that delicately balances outstanding architecture with spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes, then the Moose Hotel Suites are perfect for you. The design of the Moose is a combination of modern elegance with warm, rich, natural materials that replicate its surroundings. It is also located a 1-minute walk from the heart of downtown Banff, meaning you are nearby all of the hustle and bustle!

What to keep in mind when visiting Banff National Park in winter

Since Banff National Park is a popular place for tourists to visit, you will notice that the most common language spoken in this town is English. That said many locals do speak French, so expect to encounter a lot of strong, heavy French accents along the way. You will also notice that many of the signs around the area are written in both English and French.

If you are visiting Banff in the middle of winter you’re very fortunate that unlike many other mountainous areas, you have a significant amount of daytime. In fact, you can expect sunshine and daylight for about 10 hours of the day which is quite a win in comparison.

Remember to also exchange your current money for Canadian Dollars as that is the currency used throughout the town. Very rarely will any of the locals except any other currency, so make sure to exchange your money prior to jetting off on your vacation.

Winter activities in Banff National Park

Upper Hot Springs

Take a dip in the gorgeously geothermally heated and bubbling mineral water of the Upper Hot Springs. This incredibly rejuvenating water flows from the Earth’s crust through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault. Whilst you enjoy its warmth you can take in all of the panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains as the blue waters soothe your body. Once you are done, you can grab a quick bite to eat at the café at Upper Hot Springs.

Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking

Get some dirt under those shoes and explore the incredible terrains of the Banff National park by joining in on their Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking experience. When it comes to figuring out what to do Banff in the winter, you cannot begin your adventure without adding a hike onto your list – especially at this location. A number of professional guides will take you through the various seasonal trains where you will have a number of memorable wildlife sightings.

Go snowshoeing in Tunnel Mountain

Pump some adrenaline and get your heart racing at Tunnel Mountain. This is a particularly great snowshoeing spot as it’s right in the heart of Banff. It is also beloved by locals given its accessibility and proximity to other activities in the area. It is also really great for all skill levels too and offers amazing views too.

See also Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint on a Winter Sports Trip

Try the Fairview Loop Banff Cross Country skiing trail

Are you ready to glide your way through the spectacular landscapes of Banff National Park in winter? Then you need to make sure that you take part in some good old Banff cross country skiing at the Fairview Loop. Not only is this a much-loved sport in the country, but it is a great way to explore the surrounding areas. Just keep in mind that the general cross country season runs between mid-November and March.

Go Skating at Lake Louise

Canada is known for its scenic and charming lakes, but one that continues to reign supreme is the one and only Lake Louise. It is easily one of the most popular destinations for great skating in Banff moment. It has so much winter charm and there are a number of fun ice sculptures, horse-drawn carriages and a little ‘ice bar’ that serves a number of decadent drinks too!

You can also do a day trip to Lake Louise.

Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada
Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada – depositphotos.com

Take the Gondola Up Sulphur Mountain

Yes, indeed Canada has gondolas, and they are fantastic, especially when taking it up Sulphur Mountain. Gondolas in Banff are common and offer you the most goosebump-inducing experiences as you nestle your way through the forestry. Once you get to the very top, they serve an incredible lunch buffet for you to indulge in.

Just keep in mind that it is best if you book your tickets in advance. Not only is it cheaper than purchasing it at the ticket stand but it will also mean that you get to skip the line and head on straight to the gondola from the moment it arrives.

General tips for when you visit Banff National Park in winter

Definitely get a park pass.

It is crucial that you understand that the only way to get into Banff National Park is via a paid permit system, which supports the preservation of the park. You can opt for a day pass of the Discovery Pass which allows you to go to any park in Canada. Passes are available at the park gates, online and at visitor centres.

Leave open spaces in your schedule

It is easy to get overly excited about your trip and figuring out things to do in Banff that you overwhelm yourself. Give yourself time to wander through this vibrant town and see what’s on offer. You don’t have to plan everything until the last second.

Practice your French

Whether you are French speaking or a beginner, Banff is the perfect place to begin learning a new language. Not only are the locals friendly but they appreciate the efforts too. It is a sweet gesture that goes a long way, so try to download language learning apps or make use of free YouTube videos online.

The reality is that visiting Banff National Park in winter is an experience that you will never forget. Embarking on this winter wonderland escape will definitely be a story you share for years to come!


Visiting the Douro Wine Valley in Northern Portugal

We inch up the serpentine bends, pulling the car precariously close to the side of the narrow road closer to the river, as an SUV returning from the mountain, hurtles down in haste.

Below us lies a latticework of vines growing in schist rock terraces, arranged at pleasing angles.

As if splitting the mountain interface, the mighty Douro river carves its way, flowing between Portugal and Spain.

The river has witnessed the efforts of man and vine for more than 2000 years; in 1991 the Alto Douro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the long tradition of Port production and the resultant development in infrastructure in the area.

Related read: A Guide to Porto Street Art

Douro wine region
Douro wine region

Visiting the Douro wine valley

The Douro wine valley is as spectacular as they say, but even in the heat of summer, there are very few tourists. There are a number of rural houses across the river, some with a noble edge, and they cast ethereal shadows in the flat green waters. The terrain is unique and I feel a growing curiosity about the history and people who live and work here. 

While the grapes for some incredibly good table wines, of which we have had the pleasure over three months of living in Portugal to sample, are grown here in the Douro, the region is most famous for excellent Ports or fortified wines.

In picturesque Oporto which lies at the basin of the Douro, you will see prominent signs advertising the names of Port wine cellars. Port is stored in these cool cellars, but in order to get there, trucks must traverse the precarious journey down. We are told that it isn’t uncommon during harvest season for more than one collision or for a truck to tragically take a tumble over the side.

In the old days, barrels of pressed grapes were transported by rabelo along the unpredictable Douro.

The Douro wine estates

At various estates or quintas, you may still find rudimentary chapels built in the old style – these were houses of worship where the stewards of those small vessels would come to pray for safe passage.

At Quinta do Crasto, we are taken up to admire the views of the valley from the pool area before our tasting commences and the eye is tricked into believing the pool flows into the Douro river. 

It is here that we are reminded what we have been told before, that as popular as Port is, it isn’t so with the Portuguese. Rather, it’s an English custom that seems to live on; naturally much of the port produced is for export. The Douro developed the first appellation system, a wine classification to distinguish the three regions in which the grapes are grown. This was developed 200 years before the French system!

Later on at Quinta do Nova, we both agree that this could be the very spot for a renewal of wedding vows, except we both know we have family who wouldn’t commit to scaling the hills to get here. Lunch is an elaborate affair paired with the estate’s wines, under the shaded pergola.

After a day of exploring, Douro wine tasting (the driver must opt for sensibility, the roads aren’t worth the risk), and taking in views we head back to the beautiful CS Vintage House Hotel for a nap and a shower before dinner at Rui Paula’s DOC, a sleek and modern restaurant with an excellent reputation, on the water’s edge.

And tomorrow? We’ll blissfully do it all again!

Douro wine and port
Douro wine and port

Types of Port in Douro

Broadly, Port may be characterised into two types, wood and bottled aged. Wood-aged Ports include Ruby, Tawny and White. Glass-aged include Vintage and Crusted Ports. 

Port can be successfully paired with cheese, chocolate and cakes too.


Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe, Namibia

It was the 30th day of my amazing African adventure and I couldn’t believe I had been driving around this continent for a month now! After visiting so many amazing places already, next up was visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.

On this day, we left the spectacular Etosha behind and travelled onward through the desert, to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe. As we departed Etosha we were fortunate enough to be greeted by a few more animals, waving us off on our journey. We saw a male lion, with two more far off in the distance (binoculars were necessary at this point!), some ostriches, zebras and giraffes.

Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe was part of the Serengeti, Falls & Cape Town Overland: Sunsets & Safaris tour with G Adventures.

On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.
On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.

We even witnessed some springbok “spronking” (a comical four-legged jump).

A springbok “spronking”.
Photo found on Google as I didn’t manage to capture this hilarious moment, but this is a springbok “spronking”!

Starting the journey to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe

Our journey was a bumpy one, and with 70% of Namibian roads being dusty and uneven, we wouldn’t return to paved roads until we reached South Africa. We stopped off to see some enormous termite mounds, and although they weren’t of much interest to our Aussie travel friends because they can be seen in Australia too, I found them fascinating.

There are five types of termites:

  • The “workers”, who build the mounds. They are sexually immature, blind, wingless and the smallest of the three.
  • The “alates”, who are winged and have no purpose in the group. They simply hatch and fly.
  • The “soldiers”, who protect the mound, have sharp jaws and defend their colony.
  • The “queen”, who has the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. They are the only ones who lay the eggs and so the future of the mound depends on them. If the queen does die though, her daughter can take over.
  • The “king”, who mates with the queen for life and fertilizes the eggs.

All termite mounds in Africa lean to the west because of the sun and the wind, there are 3,100 species of termites and millions live in each mound. Aardvarks and other animals attack termites for food and the local people will also eat the alate and soldier termites, as they are full of protein and are delicious when fried, according to our CEO and guide Wellington. As well as a food source, the locals use the soil from the mounds to build houses.

Termite mounds in Namibia.
It’s amazing to think that such tiny creatures can create this massive mound!

We also saw the national plant of Namibia, Welwitschia mirabilis. Endemic to the Namib Desert, it can live up to 2,000 years and grows sideways.

The Welwitschia mirabilis - the national plant in Namibia
The Welwitschia mirabilis – the national plant in Namibia

The final stop before reaching Damaraland

Our final stop before reaching Damaraland was a national monument: Namibia’s Petrified Forest.

Here we were taught about a phenomenon that began around 280 million years ago, when the end of the Ice Age caused an enormous flood. Trees were uprooted and ended up in Namibia, where they were buried underground and changed form due to the penetration of minerals caused by pressure. They had become petrified, meaning they were now trees made of stone. As a result of erosion, the trees reached the earth’s surface and were discovered by two farmers in the 1940s.

The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia

Learning about the Damara culture in Damaraland

Once we arrived into Damaraland, we took a tour of the Living Museum to learn about the lost culture of the Damara people. Though they no longer live in the traditional manner, the tour aims to keep the culture alive for future generations. We watched singing and dancing and the men demonstrated their fire starting ability, which we were told was a skill they needed originally, in order to impress a woman into becoming their wife. We also entered the women’s workshop, where they were creating jewelry and knickknacks out of materials such as ostrich egg shells, seeds and porcupine spikes.

We learnt about the traditional medicines and the Damara peoples’ resourcefulness in their creation of tools. For example, they would use springbok horns to make weaponry for hunting that could also be used for pipe smoking.

Their clothing was made from goat leather and we observed a game they played for hours and would take very seriously (which I’d seen played in Zanzibar), called Bao. This would be used to teach their children how to count in the Khoekhoe language. 

The Damara people in Namibia
Our friendly guide, Sharon
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia

A tour of Twyfelfontein

The following day began with a tour of Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfelfontein. Afrikaans for “doubtful fountain”, there is a spring here which seldom receives rainfall (hence the name), but it is best known for its multitude of prehistoric rock engravings.

These were made during the early Stone Age and depict hunting maps, footprints, waterholes and animals, including giraffes, elephants, ostriches and rhinos. Some of the artists must have been nomads because there were even animals such as penguins and seals, which would’ve been found elsewhere.

The engravings were made using quartz stones and were discovered in 1921, but it was never clear exactly when they were made, with historians predicting anywhere between two to six thousand years ago. Thought to have been the work of Bushmen or Nama artists, there are more than 2,500 rock carvings and paintings in the area.

Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site

From Damaraland to Spitzkoppe

It was now time to leave Damaraland and travel south towards Spitzkoppe. En route we made a few pit stops and the first of which was at a village populated by Herero people.

We were encouraged to explore their markets, as tourists buying their handmade wares was their main source of income. I bought a beautiful bag and we gave the children water. Our CEOs told us that it was important not to give them food or sweets, as we don’t want to encourage a begging culture, we cannot give them the same tomorrow, and they may not be able to brush their teeth after eating sweets.

Wellington also referred to the saying:

‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’.

This phrase stayed with me and is something that it seems G Adventures feel strongly about because they support so many worthwhile enterprises which do exactly this.

Shopping in markets in Namibia
I bought my bag from this lady’s stall. Her dress was exquisite!
Shopping in markets in Namibia
Giving the children water from our tap at the back of the lando

We passed Brandberg Mountain, which at 2,573 metres, is Namibia’s tallest mountain. We also stopped to meet some Himba people, who are indigenous and have an estimated population of around 50,000 living in northern Namibia.

Wellington told us some information about this fascinating group, whose ancestors can be traced back to the early 16th century. They carry out arranged marriages from the age of 10 and their perception of wealth is reflected in the number of cows that they own.

They wear special contraptions around their ankles to protect them from snake bites and they make their own natural hair extensions, sun cream and mosquito repellents. Women are not allowed to use water for washing, as traditionally there were many great droughts and only the men were permitted to use this scarce commodity.

Therefore, the women used (and still use) smouldering charcoal which they would mix with herbs and wash in the smoke produced. Similarly, the men engage in polygamy but the women are forbidden from doing so.

Brandberg Mountain on the way to Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Brandberg Mountain
A Himba lady and her two sons
A Himba lady and her two sons

Arriving in Spitzkoppe

As we arrived into Spitzkoppe we noticed its many granite peaks in what seemed like every direction, as they stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. It was beautiful to walk around this almost-700-million-year-old area, and we spent the rest of the day climbing and exploring the breathtaking landscapes in the Namib Desert.

Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Just before the sun set, we clambered up one of the peaks and watched from above, listening to the bird song and gazing at the natural beauty around us.

Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Click here to view my 360° virtual tour of sunset on one of Spitzkoppe’s peaks!

In the evening, we enjoyed each other’s company around the campfire, singing and stargazing at the incredible night’s sky.

Stars in Spitzkoppe
Stars in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe

Next up, we ventured to Swakopmund, where we would be exploring the Namib Desert by board instead of foot.

Thinking about exploring Namibia? Check out the Namibia tours offered by G Adventures – many include visiting both Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.


A Guide to Visiting Portsmouth

Portsmouth, the Great Waterfront City, is packed with attractions, things to do, and summer events. As the UK’s only island city, there’s plenty of coastline to explore and history to learn about.

Visiting museums are among the top things to do in Portsmouth, while there are also a few great FREE attractions and endless shopping opportunities.

If you’re planning in visiting Portsmouth in the next few months, start planning with this Portsmouth guide.

Things to do in Portsmouth, UK
Things to do in Portsmouth, UK

Free things to do in Portsmouth

There are many great free places to visit things to do in Portsmouth. Here’s where to start.

Southsea Common

Southsea Common is a great place for a family picnic, flying a kite or having a game of football, recently voted the best picnic spot in the South East region in Warburtons Britain’s Best Picnic Site Awards.

Aspex

Portsmouth’s leading contemporary art gallery invites you to explore the innovative, contemporary and visual art on display. With exhibitions, workshops and events throughout the year from international and local Portsmouth artists.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Cycle Ride around Langstone Harbour

One of the must things to do in Portsmouth is to visit the harbour. This 15 mile ride takes in mud flats, salt marshes and reclaimed land as it loops around the harbour. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Related Read: Best UK Cycle Routes

Seafront Cycle Ride

This is a 4.5 mile ride from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard along the seafront to Eastney. This route makes a great day out, you can stop at one of the bars and restaurants along the way or one of the many attractions along the seafront. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Hilsea Lines

An eighty-hectare site surrounding the fortifications of Hilsea Lines ancient monument, including woodland, meadows and fresh brackish lakes. It is remarkable that it contains the only area of woodland on Portsea Island. The site is of particular interest to botanists and offers easy to use self-guided trails.

Millennium Trail

This Portsmouth walking trail is indicated by a chain motif set into the promenade. Historically it refers to the chains, which use to be tightened across the harbour entrance at times of potential attack. A printed handout is for sale at the Visitor Information Centres, which provides full details of the route and the history associated with the Millennium Promenade.

Farlington Marshes Wildlife Trail

Flower-rich grazing marsh and a saline lagoon, supports a wide variety of wildlife, including internationally important populations of migratory wildfowl and waders such as the black-tailed godwit. Enjoy the circular walk, mostly on the sea wall, which is approximately 4km.

St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

Explore the splendour of this city centre cathedral which was built in five phases from 1882. The cathedral was extensively damaged during World War II and subsequently rebuilt. 

St Thomas’ Anglican Cathedral

For centuries the Cathedral has watched, listened and helped the people of Portsmouth navigate the passage of time. It has witnessed wars and peace, famous marriages, been bombed and rebuilt. Everyone from all religious backgrounds is able to come along and enjoy this beautiful cathedral.

Victoria Park

A haven of green tucked away in the city centre adjacent to the Guildhall. It covers 15 acres of grassed area, well-planted flower borders and trees. In the centre of the park is an area containing an aviary with peacocks, parrots and other exotic birds, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs that children can feed. Take some time to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of this city getaway.

Canoe Lake

A popular park dating from 1886, filled with some of the mature evergreen oaks planted in 1910, as well as an impressive display of floral bedding. The main Portsmouth attraction is the man-made boating lake. There is a large and very popular children’s play area with equipment for all ages and a sand pit.

Adjacent to the lake are the remaining walls of Lumps Fort which is now a peaceful and restful setting for Southsea Rose Gardens. Canoe Lake is known as a swan’s nursery as it is one of the Mute Swans chosen sites in the Solent. At times up to 60 juveniles can congregate here for comfort and security during the winter.

Portsmouth City Museum

Visit the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Between May and September you can also take an exciting walk through their butterfly house, see how many species you can spot as they fly around your head.

Museums in Portsmouth

Portsmouth has a wealth of places to visit, but is especially well known for its museums.

When making a list of things to do in Portsmouth for your trip, make sure to include a few museums on the list.

City Museum

See the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Home to HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860, The Mary Rose Museum and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers a full day out. Add to these attractions Action Stations and Harbour Tours which bring the naval history bang up to date.

Book your tickets online before you get there to make sure that you get in.

Royal Marines Museum

Based in a former Officer’s Mess, this stately museum celebrates the famous fighting spirit and history of the Royal Marines. 

D-Day Museum

The D-Day Museum is Portsmouth’s moving tribute to the efforts and sacrifices of the Allies of WWII.  Its centerpiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery, 272 feet of panels illustrating stirring scenes of Operation Overlord.  

Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum

This small house, where Dickens parents set up home after their marriage was where the great author was born in 1812. 

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Exotic butterflies fly in the summer in the butterfly house overlooking the museum garden.

Southsea Castle

Built by Henry VIII, Southsea Castle is where he watched his favourite warship, the Mary Rose, capsize and sink in 1545.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Shopping in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is retail therapy heaven! 

With three distinct areas to go shopping in Portsmouth, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Southsea

There’s a wealth of distinctive stores in Southsea, selling everything from curios to retro clothing. Palmerston Road is home to two department stores and high-street favourites whilst Marmion Road has chocolatiers, designer jewellery, boutiques and inspirational furnishings. 

Albert Road is considered one of the city’s hidden gems and Portsmouth’s answer to Brighton’s Lanes. Discover vintage delights, edgy clothing, antiques and collectables. With a distinctly bohemian feel, the street is buzzing day and night with quirky cafés and bars.

City Centre

To find high-street style, head to the City Centre. Commercial Road and Cascades Shopping Centre are home to some of the biggest brand names in the UK.  From Thursday to Saturday you’ll also find a traditional street market dating back centuries. When you need some time out to review your purchases, head to nearby Victoria Park for a snack and a rest.

Gunwharf Quays

You’ll find top designer outlets, stylish restaurants and chic bars on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays. Meander through the pedestrian avenues and discover massive savings on designer labels and high street favourites. When your feet need a break you can relax with a cocktail overlooking the harbour or take in the views with a trip up the Spinnaker Tower.


The Complete Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu in Peru

Any trip to Peru isn’t complete without visiting Machu Picchu. It attracts archaeologists, photographers and adventurers, as well as travellers who are eager to tick it off their bucket list. 

The altitude of Machu Picchu is 2 430 m (7,972 feet) – making it pretty impressive (acute mountain altitude sickness can occur).

If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu in Peru – here’s everything that you’ll need to know.

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu in Peru

Visiting Machu Picchu isn’t cheap (though you can do Machu Picchu on a budget). As of 2021,

With the train ticket to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also formerly known as Aguas Calientes at US$98 return and a night’s accommodation it easily adds up to over US$200. Visitors to Machu Picchu typically leave from Cusco.

From there, a visitor has the following options to reach Machu Picchu:

On foot

Hiking the Inca Trail is an alternative to get in and a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from beneath on the bus). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.

A hiker can also follow the train tracks all the way to Machu Picchu. There is only one track leading out of the Machu Picchu train station in Cusco, so it’s quite simple. It takes about four days, and you only have to pay the entrance fee. Recent regulations require reservations and the hiring of a professional tour guide to accompany you on the hike.

You can also take the less popular Inca Jungle Trail.

Walking Along the Railroad Tracks

While this route is technically illegal, the law is not enforced except at the Inca Trail checkpoint of Kilometer 82. If you wish to get to Machu Picchu by this route, leave from Ollantaytambo early in the morning, at about 5 – 5:30 AM. You will likely have to make arrangements beforehand for a taxi to bring you to Km. 82, as there are not many taxis in service at this time. Once you get to Kilometer 82, begin walking on the tracks away from Ollantaytambo.

The trip is approximately 30 kilometers, but because the ground is flat it goes fairly quickly. You can count on getting into Aguas Calientes sometime after lunch and before dinner. It is then recommended to get a hostel and see the ruins the following day. This method of travel, it should be stressed, is technically illegal, but for a budget traveller looking for an adventure, this is the best choice.

Train to Machu Picchu

The most common way is to take the PeruRail train to Machu Picchu in the morning, explore the ruins for a few hours and return to Cusco in the afternoon, though it can be a bit rushed. The train terminates at Puente Ruinas station, where buses take tourists up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The Machu Picchu station is located at Aguas Calientes; this is not the station used by tourists on a day trip.

You can book Vistadome Train round-trip ticket here.

Note: PeruRail’s Backpacker train is segregationist in the literal sense. Tourists ride in a posh car, and Peruvians ride in another car farther back, often standing room only.

Bus to Machu Picchu

From Machu Picchu pueblo Aguas Calientes a traveler can take one of the frequent buses to the ruins (US$12 each way). The bus operates from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and the ride takes about 35 – 40 minutes.

It is also possible to walk the distance, about 2 hours (8 km). This route is mainly stairs, and follows the bus route up. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 4 a.m. to make it to the top before sunrise.

You can also travel the “back way” independently from Cusco by taking a bus to Santa Maria, colectivo to Santa Teresa, and proceeding to the hydroelectric train station by foot or van and on to Aguas Calientes by foot or train. Note that hiking the tracks is technically prohibited. Do your research before choosing this route.

An experience of visiting Machu Picchu by train

Many will take the challenging Inca Trail to reach this New 7 Wonder of the World, but Lisa Rollinson discovered that even those who take the easier route will still be overwhelmed by this legendary site…  

“I had dreamed of visiting the ancient ruins since I could remember. I had heard tales, seen pictures and read books, but finally it was my time to visit this man-made wonder. 

We arrived in Aguas Calientes by train in the early afternoon. This little town is Machu Picchu’s jumping on or off point, for people who have completed their Inca Trail trek or those who are sightseeing by train. A river runs though the village and there are restaurants and souvenir shops lining the main street. You could immediately sense the excitement amongst people who were returning from the sacred ruins, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy the moment myself! 

We joined the queue of locals and visitors who were waiting to board the buses, that 25 minutes later would have us disembarking at one of the most fascinating places on our planet. 

The road snaked its way through the mountains and, as the bus rounded a corner, I had my first glimpse of the ancient Inca ruins. I realised I was holding my breath, taken aback by the size of the site.  

The most astonishing thing is the mountain-side location of the ruins. The amount of work that must have gone into clearing the land is inspiring, but the gradient they are built on is simply unfathomable. 

Our guide explained how the stones used in the construction were both local and brought in from elsewhere. It took around 90 years for the Incas to build the sanctuary and some even say that parts were never finished.  

We had plenty of time to wander at our leisure, take it all in and imagine what it must have been like when the Spanish invaded the region. It was during this time that the Incas were thought to have burned Machu Picchu and hidden themselves deeper in the mountains. 

Machu Picchu was a small community, a place of refuge, built in the most improbable landscape. ‘Incredible’ just doesn’t describe it. Even when you see it for yourself it’s hard to comprehend the scale of Machu Picchu. It will keep you wondering why the Incas decided to build on a mountainside, in the middle of nowhere. There is simply nothing that compares in our modern world!”

Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru

Highlights and things to see at the Machu Picchu, Peru

Take the time to walk around the site; there are many places to see and explore when visiting Machu Picchu. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it.

Also, be sure to wake up early to miss the thousands of people that visit the site each day, or stay till closing time. The first buses start running at 5:40AM, which will give you an hour or two in the pleasant light of dawn but before the full force of the sun begins hammering the mountainside. (If you plan to stay past 10AM, sunblock is requisite.)

Temple of the Sun

Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.

Intihuatana – Temple of the Three Windows – Main Temple – Condor

The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner’s backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a santized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.

The following sights involve some legwork:

Sun Gate

Walk back up the Inca trail away from the site and up the hill to the Sun Gate (or Inti Punku); from here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It’s a gentle walk (probably 45 mins tops round trip) and well worth it. If you stay in Aguas Callientes, it is possible to get here early enough to catch the sunrise from here. 

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Walk up Waynapicchu (in Spanish Huayna Picchu); this is the “second” hill seen in the many photos. Its a steep but short walk offering very impressive views over the site. Well worth the effort!

Waynapicchu also has ruins atop its peak. As of November 2006, visitors are no longer accepted after 1 p.m. to start the trail, and all visitors must be out by 4:00p.m.

Only 400 visitors are allowed to enter this trail each day. Buses begin leaving for Machu Picchu at 5:30. A line forms early at the checkpoint to the trail. At 7:00 A.M. 400 ticket numbers are issued and the first of batch of 200 hikers is slowly released. The second group of 200 can start any time between 10:00 and 11:00 A.M.. On busy tourist days, the limit will be reached by 7 or 8 A.M..

It is recommended that you go straight here first thing. You will be required to sign in; remember your number (or the time you signed in) so that you can find yourself in the book to sign out again. The climb is steep and at times exposed, and takes about 1 hour each way. Some portions are slippery and steel cables (a via ferrata) provide some support. Decent footwear is important. There is an extremely narrow passage near the summit (a cave).

The view of the city is fantastic as it rises out of the clouds. You can even see all the way to the sun gate. 

At the top is a mini Machu Pichu, with houses, terraces, and some HUGE drop offs where you can get some amazing photos. 

This really is the last epic moment of the Inca Trail and the bit that fewest people get to see. So get past the crowds and hurry towards the mountain, sign the book, pass through the gate and get up to the top.

Take some time to lie on your back and take in the fact that you are on the very top of the Incas world. 

Two cautionary notes: The hike is somewhat strenuous and not advised for visitors who are elderly, pregnant or have heart/lung conditions. Also, the steep stairs and cliffs you must walk along at the summit can be terrifying for those who are afraid of heights.

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)
Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Moon Temple and Great Cave

If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne). It’s a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren’t really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported).

This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carvern).

Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours.

Food at Machu Picchu

It’s officially not allowed to bring food into the archeological site. But if you’re planning to stay the whole day, bring some snacks or sandwiches and plenty of water (just be sure not to litter). Your ticket will tell you that you cannot bring food or water bottles into the site, although many people do take them anyway.

Buying them at the site is expensive, and plastic bottles are not offered (glass only). Purchase food and plenty of water and bring it with you. The concession stand near the entrance of the site is pitiful in its offerings and gets very busy at lunchtime. Once in the site, it’s not possible to buy food or drinks. There is a cafeteria near the site, where the locals who work there eat. Ask one of them and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a cheap, filling, and unique alternative to the expensive tourist snack-stand.

  • Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, +51 84 21 1039/38. 11:30AM-3:00PM. Casual lunch buffet with nice picture windows. Expensive: About $33 for buffet lunch, approximately four times that of area restaurants.
  • Tampu Restaurant Bar (Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge guests only). 5:30AM-9:00AM, Noon-3:00PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM. Expensive, but it’s at the ruins site.

Better food choices can be found by taking one of the regular buses to Aguas Calientes (the small town on the train stop to Cuzco) where there are numerous restaurants. These restaurants are not up to the standards of those in Cuzco or Lima, but are generally satisfactory. They tend to be moderately high priced. Some guidebooks report an unusually high incidence of food poisoning in the area, possibly attributable to the fairly common power outages (with loss of refrigeration). Cooked pizza and bottled beer or soft drinks are safe bets, salads and Pisco sours (made with raw egg whites) are best avoided here. 

Accommodation at Machu Picchu

Rather than returning from the ruins the same day, a traveller can stay overnight near the ruins. There are many hotels at nearby Aguas Calientes, but only one hotel at Machu Picchu itself.

Machu Picchu is not a regular town, but a protected sanctuary where new construction is not allowed. That is why all of the places to sleep, with a single exception, are in nearby Aguas Calientes. This lively town offers a wide assortment of lodging options with choices that range from no-frills hostels for backpackers, to very sophisticated hotels. It is recommended to do a thorough hotel research before committing.

The only hotel in Machu Picchu is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Guests of this hotel can visit the ruins with the same schedule of travellers who spend a night in Aguas Calientes, but can enjoy the magnificent isolation of the sanctuary. The hotel also allows guests to cut out all transfer times from the citadel to their accommodation, allowing for a longer, more relaxing time at Machu Picchu.

How much does visiting Machu Picchu cost?

There are three types of tickets for visiting Machu Picchu. All include admission to the famous Inca archaeological site. However, they also offer access to huge mountains as well as interesting museums to learn more about the Inca City.

  • Machu Picchu Solo (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu): $45 USD (152 Soles) for adults and $21 USD (70 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Mountain (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Machhu Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)

NB! Note that tickets are not sold at Machu Picchu itself, you need to get your ticket before arrival. Book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu Lost Citadel here.

When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

The dry winter months of June and July are peak season in Machu Picchu and prices rise accordingly (and Inca Trail reservations are scarce for last-minute planners).

Tourists flock to the sun-soaked coastal regions during the summer months of December and January.

The best bargains can be found during the fringe months of April and May or September and October.

Great Ideas for Visiting Walloon Brabant Safely

Although Belgium is not so big, it still offers all kinds of different activities.

One small region is particularly worth a visit: Walloon Brabant!

Whatever the season, there is always a good reason to get some fresh air and go to discover less known places.

 

Here are some ideas that will delight young and old… and can be done safely!

Get away in nature

The unmissable Villers-la-Ville Abbey

Set in the heart of nature, Villers-la-Ville Abbey is an incredible and extremely peaceful place! Travel back to the time of the monks and explore the ruins to discover the secrets of their daily life with the interactive tablet. Walk around the five gardens and admire their wonderful compositions in very different styles. Guaranteed tranquillity!

 

The huge Solvay Regional Estate

Take a trip to the wonderful Solvay Regional Estate in La Hulpe. It will captivate you with its enchanting appeal and panoramic views to take your breath away. Walk to your heart’s content around the woodland and estate… Admire the château that stands at the top of the hill and take in the beautiful French-style gardens.

 

Admire the art

The magical Folon Foundation

In the grounds of the stunning Solvay Regional Estate is a little gem that is well worth a visit. The Folon Foundation opens its doors so you can admire the impressive work of a Belgian artist of multiple and varied talents, all with a touch of magic.

 

Louvain-la-Neuve: quite an art

Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium’s youngest town, takes you on a journey… Enter the doors of the excellent Hergé Museum and meet Tintin and Snowy as well as many other characters created by this Belgian artist. Wander through the streets of the town and admire all the graffiti in many styles, with bright colours and countless stories. Louvain-la-Neuve will show you art in all its forms.

 

Enjoy local specialities

Walloon Brabant has no shortage of producers to get your mouth watering. The chocolate makers offer sweet treats with proven success. The numerous breweries will awaken your taste buds with their craft beers! Including the famous Gheuzerie in Rebecq which is unique in Wallonia. But the specialities of Walloon Brabant also include sweet and savoury tarts, vineyards and many other farming products that must be tried!

 

Feel the excitement

Do you love excitement, climbing and challenges? Then the Adventure Park in Wavre is for you! This park, in the middle of a wood, promises an exciting day of adventures! Fasten your harness and move from tree to tree as you follow different trails at height! Whiz along one of the zip lines, cross the suspended bridges and, if you are feeling brave enough, try the freefall or even a bungee jump for maximum adrenaline!

 

Practice your swing

Ideal for fans of golf, Walloon Brabant is the Belgian province with the most courses. So if you love a round of golf, head to one of the 10 courses for an enjoyable game in the heart of nature!

For something slightly different, have a go at disc golf in Louvain-la-Neuve… An unusual activity that promises a fun time!

 

Walloon Brabant certainly has some surprises in store for you!