Adventure Travel Blog

  1. What is it like to trek the Inca Trail?

    Anna x country skiing Anna on 26th August 2011 | 1 comment

    The Inca Trail is one of those iconic treks that I have always wanted to do. I managed to miss South America completely on my first round the world trip, so when I was given the chance to go to Peru for Tourdust, I jumped at the chance.  The opportunity of trekking through the Andean Mountains for three days culminating in a sunrise arrival at Machu Picchu was something I could never refuse. So, I booked my ticket, dusted off my backpack and headed off to the Southern Hemisphere. 

    Even seasoned travellers are not immune to the horror stories of acclimatisation and instant doom when they fly into altitude from sea level. As the plane started its descent amongst the mountains into Cusco, I wondered whether I would survive long enough to find out whether my brand new hiking boots would give me blisters.  To my surprise and delight, I made it to my guesthouse in Cusco and despite being ridiculously out of breath every time I attempted to climb upstairs and a dull headache, I was in pretty good shape.  I followed acclimatisation instructions to the letter, drank copious amounts of coca tea and rested, almost obsessively, for the first 24 hours. I met with my guide for the pre-trek briefing. He was lovely, with smiling eyes he reassured me that the symptoms of altitude sickness would pass and that trekkers with a good level of fitness had no problems once they were off trekking. At the back of mind I couldn't help the nagging of self-doubt that was creeping through me.  Was now the moment to admit that I had done absolutely no trip preparation and the last time I did any regular exercise was as a student running to catch last orders at the pub. I decided to keep schtum and nodded sagely.

    The first morning of the trek was a painfully early start. I had what would be the last shower for several days, donned my hiking boots and waited for the pick up. We were transferred by bus to the starting point of the trek and met with our guide and porters.  There were 10 of us trekking altogether we smiled nervously at each other. My fellow trekkers were, for the most part, a good 10 years younger than me. I felt old and out of shape. With dread building inside me I wondered what I had let myself in for and why on earth I hadn't done this in my backpacking days.  There was no time for self-doubt, however, as we started off walking towards the check point and the beginning of the trail.

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    The first five minute of the trek were some of the most surprising of my life. We crossed the bridge and started walking up what looked like a steep incline. Actually, compared with what was to come, it was a very medium incline.  I positioned myself at the back of the group and panted as I walked. As I reached the top, everyone else was in the same shape as me. There was almost a communal sigh of relief as we realised that we were all in the same boat.

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    For the rest of the day, we trekked together, introducing ourselves and sussing each other out. Every now and then I would stop and look around me. The scenery was breath-taking. The Urubamba river roared beneath us and the snow-capped peaks formidable. Over the course of the next few days, I would never fail to be moved by the beauty of my surroundings. We headed onwards, with the inclines becoming steeper. As we trudged along, we were overtaken at a great pace by the porters carrying camping gear and supplies for the trekkers. One was balancing a dozen eggs at the top of his pack. They seemed to almost dance along, despite their heavy loads.  I was also met by trekkers coming in the opposite direction. The Inca Trail is a one-way trip, but some people (usually those who haven't spent any time acclimatising) have to turn back early on due to altitude sickness. It was a sobering sight. I slowed my pace, took time to take lots of photos and determined to enjoy every moment.

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    The second day of the trek is the one that people fear most as it involves climbing Dead Women's Pass and, more significantly, climbing to an altitude of 4,200. Even the porters slow down at this altitude. The group split up, everyone taking the trek at his or her own pace. Despite the fact that I had read accounts of the trail being busy and over-crowded, I barely saw anyone else during that day. I panted my way to the top, pausing along the way to admire the beautiful flowers and the magnificent views.  Reaching the top of the pass was an incredible feeling. My sense of achievement was only over-ridden by the awe-inspiring setting.   

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    By the morning of Day 3, we were all very well acclimatised and the trekking felt much more manageable.  Today we were to climb a further two passes, stopping along the way to explore Incan ruins. The ruins I saw were so beautifully preserved and in such a dramatic setting, it would be hard not to be bowled over by them. As someone raised in the West, where so much of our culture and history is well documented, it was fascinating to be somewhere where the entire theories of a civilisation were based on stories and hearsay. With no written word from the Incas themselves, all we know about them is what the Spanish conquistadores recorded and what has been passed down in story from for generations. I loved the fact that I was at liberty to devise my own theories about their heritage.  I was now fully immersed in my trekking experience. The grotty squat toilets were no longer a problem and I wasn't craving a shower. As far as I was concerned, this trek could go on and on. The rest of the world felt a very long way away.  The trekking was much easier going as well and as we started to descend towards our final campsite, I was filled with excitement about getting to Machu Picchu the next day.

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    Another early start the next morning as we were aiming to arrive at the Sun Gate in time for the sunrise. We walked silently with head torches to show the way.  This was the first time I became aware of quite how many other trekkers there were on the trail.  I had seen other people at the campsites and along the way, but for the most part, when walking it had just been our group. Because everyone in the campsite heads off together on the final day of the trek, there were all of a sudden many more people around.  It didn't feel like a jostle, though, more like a silent pilgrimage. After a 2 hour trek, we reached the sun gate and I found a quiet spot on a rock to watch the break of dawn.  A feeling of immense elation washed over me as the sun rose from behind the mountains and the mist began to lift, revealing one of the most beautiful views of Machu Picchu. Seeing the wisps of cloud shrouding these ancient ruins the elation was impalpable, I had survived the Inca Trail and not only that I had really enjoyed myself. 

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  2. White Water Rafting in Peru's Sacred Valley

    Anna x country skiing Anna on 26th August 2011 | 0 comments

    All received wisdom about acclimatisation suggests that you should spend a few days taking it easy at altitude before commencing on a trek. So when I arrived in Cusco in advance of trekking the Inca Trail, I had a few days to spare to explore locally. I had already planned a tour of the Sacred Valley, but decided it would be fun to see the Valley from its river; The Urubamba.

    I had opted for this as an acclimatisation exercise because I figured I would be sitting down and it wouldn't really count as exertion.  As it turned out, there is more to rafting than meets the eye. You have a very long and involved safety briefing which instilled the fear of God into me, I was planning a gentle drift down a river and here I was being given instructions on capsizing. I needn't have worried, though. Once you get into a rhythm of paddling it is a lot of fun.  The class 3 rapids were big enough to give me an adrenalin rush and fast enough that I forgot all about my impending trek and concentrated on paddling like crazy through the water. It was a fantastic way to let off steam.  Buoyed by my success, I returned to Cuso elated. If I didn't make the Inca Trail, it wouldn't matter, I clearly had a future career as professional rafter.

    This trip only operates from April to November. We recommend this trip for the over 12's as the rapids can be too rough for younger children. If you have younger children and would like to include a gentler option in your itinerary, please get in touch.

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  3. The World's Best Snorkelling Sites

    Picajsxs andyjarosz on 24th August 2011 | 4 comments

    Snorkelling is often referred to as the lazy man's sport. Floating on your belly, face in the ocean and flippers moving gently if at all, you relax and enjoy what in many places can be a truly unforgettable visual experience. It doesn't involve any of the equipment that diving requires and you often don't even need to take a boat to reach your snorkelling site, with many of the world's best sites close to the shore. 

    There are many arguments online that attempt to provide a list of the top snorkelling sites in the world. Take a look at this Lonely Planet Thorn Tree thread or this rather pretty slide show from Forbes as examples of how much opinions vary on this topic. Despite these differences there are a few places that are consistently regarded as having some of the world's best snorkelling.

    1. Red Sea - wherever you choose to stay on the Red Sea coast you are likely to be have very easy access to some excellent snorkelling. The underwater magic starts close to the shore even in the tourist hotspot of Sharm el Sheikh, while smaller resorts such as Nuweiba are considered to have some of the best snorkelling in the region. 

    2. Seychelles - it's an expensive place to come for snorkelling and you'll be sharing your holiday with countless honeymoon couples - ok if you're a honeymoon couple yourself of course. With crystal clear warm water, coral only a few metres from the shore and fish bumping into your feet as soon as you step into the water this really is an easy way to enjoy the spectacular underwater world. 

    3. Australia - snorkelling or diving in Queensland are high of the list of popular activities on a trip to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef certainly needs no introduction. If you join the thousands who take a boat from Cairns or any of the other resorts along the Queensland coast to explore the reef you won't be disappointed whether you choose to snorkel or dive. The other side of Australia is also worth a look with the little known Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia a great place to snorkel among the easily accessible reef. It's also considered the best place to swim with whale sharks, the world's largest fish.  

    4. Hawaii - there are so many great locations to choose from and on any of the islands you can find the perfect place to don your mask and head into the warm water. My favourite memory of snorkelling off the coast of Maui was seeing several turtles swimming very close to us as we paddled close to our boat. 

    5. Galapagos Islands - most visitors come to the Galapagos Islands to experience the unique flora and fauna on the islands themselves, but the underwater treasures of the islands are every bit as spectacular. Snorkelling in the Galapagos offers the chance to see golden rays, eagle rays and Galapagos sharks, as well as the chance of spotting a hammerhead shark.

     

    Where is your favourite snorkelling site in the world and what makes it so special?

  4. Why you should ditch the map and get lost

    Picajsxs andyjarosz on 18th August 2011 | 1 comment

    Reading a map

    You arrive in a city and check in to your hotel before getting ready to hit the streets and explore your new surroundings. What is the most important item that you choose to take with you on your walk around town? For many people it will be a map, whether contained within a guidebook or a separate sheet of multi-folded paper. A map allows you to plot your own city tour, to find the most direct route between two points and most importantly to find your way again when you get lost. Given such obvious benefits is there any justifiable reason why you should choose to leave your map behind? 

    The joy of getting lost


    Many people have a fear of getting lost. Within the confines of a city however, temporarily losing your bearings is rarely going to lead to you veering too far off course and there are often clues (street signs, metro maps) to help you work out where you are. Besides which, ending up somewhere you didn't expect to be is usually no bad thing. It is those moments where you stray from your intended trail that can reveal the most memorable surprises: the little-known local bakery, the fantastic bar or the beautiful old church that wasn't in the guidebook.

    More than this it is often by ditching the map that we stop looking down at our route on a piece of paper and start appreciating what is actually around us. It's a lot easier to admire buildings, observe local dress and engage in some serious people watching if we don't have to concern ourselves with following a particular trail.  

    How to get by without a map 

     

    So next time you're exploring another city and are nervous of heading out without a map, just take a few moments to follow these simple steps and your unguided stroll around town should be a pleasant journey of discovery. 

    1. Study the map in advance and know the rough whereabouts of two or three places that you are determined to visit. Knowing their locations relative to the central square or cathedral/main mosque is often enough to find them.

    2. If there is a major river that runs through the city make a mental note of its course (north-south or east-west). 

    3. Know where your hotel is located relative to the main landmarks and pay attention to landmarks as you leave your hotel so that you recognise them on your way back.

    4. Go out and enjoy! 

     

  5. Safari Camps and Lodges in the Masai Mara

    Missing Tourdust on 17th August 2011 | 0 comments

    Mara Camps Sign post

    Recommendations and price guide to a number of camps and lodges in and around the vicinity of the Masai Mara. Tourdust can arrange a wide range of safaris in the Masai Mara or can organise tailor-made Kenya holidays. Call us on 0203 291 2907 or email help@tourdust.com to discuss your requirements.

    Kenya is one of the more affordable, but also one of the most over-run safari destinations. It is strong though in two departments, the Masai Mara and the range of incredible safari camps on offer. Despite its popularity the Masai Mara is still capable of delivering knock-your-socks-off wildlife encounters and if you choose your location right, breathtaking wilderness. The choice of lodges though, can be a little bewildering..

    There are only a handful of places sited in the reserve itself, most are situated near the entrance gates or on private conservancies adjoining the Masai Mara. The advantage of the private conservancies is that camps tend to be situated in glorious wilderness, and often they play host to their own wildlife too. Bush walks and night drives aren't possible in the reserve itself, but are a huge plus when staying on private conservancies. Places situated near the gates can be a mixed bag, for example, some near the Talek River area have incredible views over the river and plains, but the drawback is over development with busier roads, touristed Masai villages and lots of fenced in camps backed up against each other. 

    Fixed lodges and hotels are relatively rare and are rightly outnumbered by the safari camps, which tend to offer a more authentic safari feel. Those not aligned with camping, needn't worry as in reality, virtually all camps offer permanent tents with solid flooring, en-suite bathrooms and comfortable beds. It is more of a hotel room with canvas walls than a tent. The advantage though is a feeling of camping amidst the bush, with open fires and sweeping views.

    The following list is a shortlist of those we most often recommend, it is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good starting point. The choice of course is an entirely personal one and will depend on your budget, and whether your prioritise luxury service and swimming pools, or are simply looking for expert guiding and a good place to rest your head.

    Recommended Large Mid-Range Camps

    All feature permanent tents with permanent flooring and en-suite bathrooms.  Whilst the ambience doesn’t compare to the top end properties, some do manage to engender a little of the candle-lit camp fire atmosphere. These camps tend to be located close to the busier park gates.


    #1 ILKELIANI CAMP – A good mid range budget option with 25 comfortable tents. Has some nice touches which give the place a great ambience.  Meals are served in a candle-lit mess tent and tents have concrete floors and full bathroom facilities (hot showers, toilet, basin) and proper beds.
    - Price guide: from $850pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Ilkeliani Dining TentIlkeliani Bedroom


    #2 SIANA SPRINGS INTREPID - Siana Springs is sited on a large private conservancy which is a big plus in this price range. It is set within a nice forested area which means plenty of  small game (bush bucks and monkeys) around the site but less in the way of sweeping views. There are 38 decent sized tents with proper beds, permanent floors and bathrooms and electricity (when the generator is running). There is a nice swimming pool and large dining area with a wonderful open air terrace.. The only drawbacks are buffet meals and the 25 minute drive from the camp to the Masai Mara reserve. (Family activities available)

    - Price guide: from $850pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara


    #4 KICHWA TEMBO CAMP – A very highly regarded larger mid / high end camp with 50 well appointed tents. Tents are comfortable and the camp has good service with great attention to detail. There is a great bar and fire pit area and a swimming pool with incredible views.

    - Price guide: from $1100pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Kichwe Tembo Classic Safari Tent Kichwa Tembo 2 Kichwa Tembo pool Kichwa Tembo


    #3 GOVERNERS CAMP  – Well renowned larger camp (37 tents) in an excellent game rich area. Lovely tents, great service, excellent food and fantastic location with big game walking right through the camp. (no swimming pool)

    - Price guide: from $1250pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Governers Camp Governers Camp tent location Governers Camp Bedroom Governs Camp 2

     

    Highly Recommended Small Mid/High-End camps

    The Masai Mara offers an abundance of fantastic small camps. Many are very high end, but there are a handful who are more affordable, yet still offer the wilderness feel, often with a strong environmental and community ethos.


    #1 BASECAMP MARA – Progressive camp with excellent focus on environmental impact. Located in the Talek River area minutes from the park (which is a little over developed, but is an incredible location for its views over the river and park and its proximity to the park). Tents have fantastic riverside locations with views of the river and the plains beyond.  All tents are en-suite with memorable outdoor showers and composting toilets (not for the squeamish). Has admirable ties with the local Masai community and is one of the few camps which goes out of its way to look after families. Has a raised gamewatching platform but no swimming pool.
    - Price guide: from $1100pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Basecamp Mara 2 Basecamp Mara Basecamp Mara Guide Basecamp mara community


    #2 DOROBO BUSHCAMP – Very remote camp with just six simple tents a bush bar and a fireplace. This is a bush satellite camp to the main Basecamp Mara. Hosts excellent interaction with the local Maasai. On a three day stay here you would have one day in the Masai Mara reserve and the remainder enjoying bush walks in the private conservancy in which it is located. (no swimming pool)
    - Price guide: from $1100pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara


    #3 KICHECHE MARA CAMP – Another excellent small camp (11 tents) which attempts to strike the balance between small camp luxury and reasonable prices. It is set in a superb private conservancy which hosts fantastic wildlife, the food is excellent and the tents are spacious and very comfortable. The wildlife wanders right through the camp, but with ample staff attention to safety us superb. (no swimming pool)
    - Price guide: from $1250pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Kicheche Mara Camp Bedroom Kicheche Mara Camp Dining Tent Kicheche Mara Camp 3 Kicheche Mara Camp 1


    #4 PORINI LION CAMP – One of our favourite camps located in an exclusive 20,000 acre Olare Orok Conservancy on the banks of the Ntiakatiak River, a seasonal river with permanent hippo pools near the camp. With 10 luxury guest tents the camp is very exclusive, giving you a real 'in the bush' experience. The tents are very spacious and have private verandahs along the length of the tent, providing the perfect space relax and enjoy the beauty of the African wilderness. Each tent has a double and single bed, en-suite bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers. Food is excellent with fresh baked bread and high quality meals prepared by the camp Chef. The Porini Camps are run on an inclusive basis, with meals and drinks (including house wines and beer), night game drives, bush walks and sundowners all included. (no swimming pool)
    - Price guide: from $1300pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Porini Lion Camp Interior Guest TentPorini Lion Mess at nightPorini Lion Guest BathroomPorini Lion Camp Interior Guest Tent


    #5 PORINI MARA CAMP – Arguably the best wilderness option, just 6 tents situated on their own privately owned conservancy (Ol Kinyei), run in partnership with the local Masai community. The conservancy is a stunning wilderness with rivers, forest, open grasslands and views over the Masai Mara.  The Porini Camps are run on an inclusive basis, with meals and drinks (including house wines and beer), night game drives, bush walks and sundowners all included. Because of its location it is best visited in tandem with a stay at Porini Mara Lion Camp
    - Price guide: from $1250pp for a three day safari including flights from Nairobi to the Masai Mara

    Mara Porini Guest TentMara Porini Mess TentMara Porini Guest TentMara Porini Fireplace


    Tourdust can arrange a wide range of safaris in the Masai Mara or can organise tailor-made Kenya holidays. Call us on 0203 291 2907 or email help@tourdust.com to discuss your requirements.