Banff with a toddler in an RV

For the July 4th holiday weekend, my family of three visited Banff National Park in Canada, in an RV, with a toddler no less. Planning a trip with a toddler requires a lot of planning and thinking ahead. So here’s a primer of all you need to know about taking your young family to Banff for a 5-6 day holiday.

Lake Louise Banff

Lake Louise and Fairmont Chateau from Fairview Overlook

Why Banff?

Banff is Canada’s first national park and is world renowned. Justifiably so, as the park offers majestic and awe-inspiring natural beauty in a way that is accessible to everyone. The trans-Canada highway 1 winds its way through the National Park and every turn and corner offers postcard-esque views of the Canadian Rockies, alpine scenery with bright teal lakes and snow-capped jagged peaks. The road is tripping with viewpoints to stop your car and pull your camera out.

What about Jasper?

Banff and Jasper are neighboring national parks separated by about 200 km. It takes 4 hours of driving (without all those vista point stops) to get from Banff town to Jasper… so this may be a feasible option only with a longer stay or for people without kids.

Getting In:

The nearest big city is Calgary (YYC international airport), 1.5 hours from Banff town. We rented our RV in Calgary, but rental cars are just as feasible an option. Banff is west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada highway. All distances and speeds are in km, keep in mind.

Major attractions in and around Banff

Expect each of the following to take a day at least. In other words, young families may be wise to not combine two of these attractions.

  • Banff National Park and Banff town – Lake Minnewanka, Johnston canyon, Sundance canyon, Cave and historic museum etc.
  • Lake Louise, the image that comes to mind when people think of Banff is a bright turquoise lake with a glacier in the backdrop. The picture is completed by the castle-like façade of the Hotel Fairmont on the shores of the lake. Lake Louise is a 30 km drive from Banff, expect it to take ½ hour to 45 minutes.
  • Icefield parkway and the Athabasca glacier – this is on the highway that connects Banff and Jasper. It is a 100 km from Lake Louise, 2-3 hours at least. The Columbia icefield that feeds the glacier cannot be seen, but the Athabasca glacier is the main attraction. It is in the middle of nowhere, and the visitor center just across the street from the glacier offers facilities. The parkway is studded with lakes and is a treat to sore eyes.
  • We bought the Brewster adventure package which included the following. It was expensive at $160 per person (free for kids below 6). Totally optional but fun nonetheless.
    • glacier adventure (drive on glacier in a specially designed ATV)
    • Canyon skywalk (glass skywalk abutting over a 1000 feet canyon
    • Boat cruise on lake minnewanka
    • Banff gondola ride

Where to stay if staying in hotels:

  • Town of Banff – Banff is a quaint, pretty and tourist-friendly town with lot of stay options. This is the most ideal location as its close enough to Lake Louise and a long day trip on the Icefield Parkway. Once that is done, the rest of the trip can be enjoyed on smaller hikes, lakes and Banff attractions.
  • Lake Louise – This is ideal if your trip is very short (3 days). You can still see all attractions listed above with lesser driving. Lake Louise seems more expensive than Banff and may not have that many hotels.
  • Canmore – Canmore is ½ hour drive from Banff, towards Calgary. Canmore has many budget options and motels for those on a restricted budget. It is a pretty town and has a lovely visitor center with picnic tables and a comfortable wi-fi lounge. Just at the edge of the visitor center, is a bike trail which is part of an extensive trail network. There is a bike trail that goes all the way to Banff town.

RV Parking in Banff

For day use parking, well posted signs indicate where to park your RV. Banff has a website www.banffparking.ca which shows parking lots around Banff town, both for cars and RV. However, the town is so walkable that it’s best to park a little out of the town and walk around. Public washrooms and benches to keep your family comfortable are everywhere.

Both Banff and Lake Louise have RV campgrounds. However, we ran out of luck when trying to book a spot for 2 nights on our trip. Thankfully, they have overflow campgrounds which may accept you if go early enough. At Banff, trailer court campground has overflow parking for RVs on the outer edge of the campground. For a fee, you can access the showers and flush toilets and use the sewer dump.

Eating Vegan/Vegetarian at Banff and surrounding areas

At first glance, it does seem as though there are very limited options for herbivores. We cooked most of our meals in our RV with groceries purchased at the Safeway in Calgary, so we only had to eat outside twice. We absolutely enjoyed the vegan options at Nourish Bistro at Banff (cash only!).  At Lake Louise, Laggans deli and the Trailhead Café, both located in the Visitor Center complex have vegan and vegetarian options. Trailhead had a Falafel wrap and Laggans had vegan chili, vegetarian soup, bread, tofu rolls and a quinoa salad. In Canmore, a vegan google search yielded at least two cafes that had vegan options. Both Banff and Canmore have Indian restaurants, which is always a safe bet for herbivores.

5 day itinerary for RV travel (works for car travel too)

  • Day 1: Take cab to RV rental center at Calgary. Check out RV and stock up on coffee, groceries and gas at Safeway nearby. Head out on 1 west towards Banff. Spend the night at Canmore or Banff. At the toll entrance, pay National Park fees. Pay for a day less than you need if you have a morning flight. You can make up the difference later or not need it at all.
  • Day 2: Icefield Parkway. On the way back, hike Peyto lake and bow summit. Expect this to take all day. Spend the night at Lake Louise campground.
  • Day 3: Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, Bow Valley Parkway. Spend night at Banff campground.
  • Day 4: Explore Banff – Gondola, boat cruise, Banff town.
  • Day 5: Banff town – cave and natural history museum, castle gardens, Sundance canyon, vermillion lakes.
  • Day 6: Drive back to Calgary, return RV, cab to airport.
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A guide to RV camping at Banff

24 Hour Airplane Trip With A Toddler

In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, I opened my family’s upcoming airline reservation to India to discover to my utter dismay that one leg was MISSING from the ticket! I thought we had dream prices for our family of three (with her own seat for our 22 month old), but turns out it was just a dream and a 16 hour leg was missing from the reservation. This revelation was followed by frantic calls to the airlines, the travel agent, hefty cancellation fees and a new, much more expensive booking where our daughter would be a lap infant or more appropriately, lap toddler!

24 hour plane journey with a toddler

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8 Day Bhutan Itinerary

We visited Bhutan for our wedding anniversary and I thought that entitled us to a more relaxed pace and also exceed our budget to more than usual (overview of our trip here). With the exception of a hike to the Tatksang monastery (Tiger’s nest) we rarely did anything strenuous. We walked around the cities quite a bit, but it all really came down to soaking in the tiny, gorgeous Himalayan Kingdom’s culture and ambience.

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Taktsang Monastery Paro (Tiger’s nest)

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Bhutan Travel Guide For Indian Citizens

Bhutan, India’s landlocked neighbor on the north east is slowly and cautiously edging its way into modern life. It’s normal to see sign boards in front of public offices and monasteries that all Bhutanese citizens be dressed in their national attire in order to enter. An office worker in Thimphu on his way back home will make a quick stop at a roadside temple and hug and gracefully rotate the prayer wheels a few times. The streets are clean, there are no power cuts (they export hydro electric power after all) and chilies are eaten as a vegetable. The king and queen make a fairy-tale, handsome couple and are much loved and the cities are surrounded by the lush and verdant mountains of the lower Eastern Himalayas and no one honks or yells! The dazzling monasteries perched in exotic locations will leave you feeling awestruck.

Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) – Bhutan’s most famous landmark

Geographically, the bordering Indian state of Sikkim is just as beautiful with vistas of the majestic snow capped Kanchendzonga, the differences between India and Bhutan are immediately evident just as soon as we cross the border at Jaigaon – Phuentsholing. Due to India’s good relations with Bhutan and being their primary trade partner, Indians do not need a visa or prohibitive tourism fees to enter and visit Bhutan, while the rest of the world has to pay the steep fee of $280 per day to visit as a tourist. An opportunity to experience Bhutanese culture and lifestyle before it full and well throws open its doors to tourists around the world makes Bhutan a must-see for the Indian traveler.

While Bhutan is a small nation, travelers should be aware of its incredibly mountainous landscape. There are only two or three airports in the whole country. It takes a day by land to go from Thimphu to Central Bhutan; so if you have just a week, its best to limit travel to Western Bhutan. Western Bhutan has a lot to see – Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and the Jomolhari trek for those interested. Central Bhutan is well known for the Bumthang valleys, a collection of 5 valleys well known for their scenic beauty and slow paced lifestyle.

Bhutan Border Crossing For Indian Citizen Travelers (Jaigaon – Phuentsholing)

Indian citizens do not need a visa, but do need an entry permit which is available at the India-Bhutan border town of Phuentsholing or at the airport in Paro for those who fly in. There are many ways to approach the border crossing:

  1. Fly into Bagdogra airport from Kolkata. Bagdogra is 4-5 hours by taxi from Phuentsholing. This is an easy and comfortable option for those who do not wish to fly directly into Paro.
  2. Ride the overnight train to Siliguri (New Jalpaiguri station) from Kolkata. It is also possible take a train up to Hasimara, which is closer to the Jaigaon and the border.

The India-Bhutan border gate separates Jaigaon and Phuentsholing.

Downtown Jaigaon has at least 3 to 4 decent hotels, some with air conditioning. We stayed at the newly opened Ibis hotel, which has sparkling clean A/C rooms for Rs.1800 and a restaurant that serves up very tasty food. Hotel Devi and Prasant nearby are good choices too, though a/c is not available everywhere. Check before you check in.

Siliguri to Jaigaon

It’s not very easy to find a bus from Siliguri to Jaigaon. You have to go to the bus terminus to get a WB bus to Jaigaon or find the Bhutan Transport Corp bus (BTC) that leaves at 12 and 2 in the afternoon. From ‘Siliguri Junction’, the BTC buses are a 10 minute walk away, and most traffic cops know the way. Seats fill up very quickly and are cramped. The BTC buses go all the way unto Phuentsholing. You do NOT need a permit to stay overnight in P’ling. Crash for the night and get early to the permit counter to apply for yours. En route from Siliguri to the border, all buses stop at Hotel Bhutia, which has excellent veg momos. Freshen up here, as it gets really hot and stuffy.

Bhutan Entry Permit for Indian Citizens

Entry permit office is located very close to the India-Bhutan gate. Ask the guards at the gate and they will point you. The gate is only for vehicular traffic. All pedestrians will be directed to a pedestrian entrance which marks the border between the two countries. Carry two passport size photos, copies of your Indian passport or Voter ID card. You will be photographed and the permit will be issued in as little as 10 minutes if there is no traffic. No one will check your permit until you leave P’ling and there is a checkpoint outside town. Permit is valid for 7 days and can be extended up to your date of departure in Thimphu’s immigration office. For example, if the permit is valid up to the 22nd, but you leave on the 24th, you can get it extended up to 24th immediately…its not a seven day extension. Make sure you add a day or two in case plans change.

Public Transportation

There are public buses between cities, but for most other tourism, taxi is the main way to go. All cities/towns have shared taxis, which are considerably cheaper than renting one on your own. Buses from Phuentsholing to Thimphu fill up very quickly. Its best to buy the ticket the earlier day and leave soon after obtaining the entry permit. Shared taxis are everywhere, but they are not the most comfortable as they will only leave if they are full. Only Thimphu has public transport within the city. For tourists it will be efficient to hire a taxi for the day for sightseeing. You can negotiate with any taxi for the day or go through your hotel.

Vegan Food

Bhutanese people eat a dish called ema datsi in copious amounts. This is a dish containing chilies and cheese. You can also find Potato + cheese and mushroom + Cheese combos. Obviously not vegan, but vegans can survive very well here. All lunch meals include rice, dal and some side (mixed veg curry or meat) along with a sauce containing chilies. Indian food is widely available, so are snacks from India. Many nice restaurants have veg momos. Its very normal for a meal for two to run unto 400 rupees, even in a small restaurant. We may have paid tourist prices!

Dzong/Monastery Rules

Dzongs usually close at 5 pm, as they are administrative offices just as much as they are monasteries. Wear full pants and shirts that are not sleeveless. Guides recommend full sleeve, but Dzong security at Punakha told me half sleeve is okay, though sleeveless is not okay. Carrying a thin jacket helps. Photography is not allowed in any of the temples, but the courtyard should be okay. Taktsang Monastery in Paro is stricter, as they ask you to leave your bag outside.

Weather

Really depends on the time of the year. In June, we were supposed to see a lot of heavy rain, but we rarely saw them. Still, we are glad we packed our rain coats and a light jacket. Thats all we really needed. Punakha and Phuentsholing are hot! Thimphu and Paro are pleasant in June. I didn’t use any of my winter clothing, so I should have packed thin layers and one jacket and a scarf (instead of the two I took). Winter is supposed to be very cold, but really beautiful.

Accomodation

Easily available in the June off-season. I highly recommend all the hotels we stayed in.

  • Thimphu – Hotel Namgay Heritage Hotel, Hotel Wangchuck (the former is more expensive, but the rooms are luxuriously appointed, the latter less expensive but very comfortable and full of foreign tourists. The former is an uphill walk from the center of the town while the latter is right behind the clock tower.)
  • Paro – Hotel Holiday Home (close to the airport and 20 minute walk to town through the University. Very peaceful and comfortable. Its better to book a taxi for day sightseeing)
  • Jaigaon – Hotel Ibis
  • Phuentsholing – Hotel Yeobar – Very new and run by a former school principal. Inexpensive, huge rooms. No a/c.
  • Bagdogra – Hotel Marina – Ideal if you have a plane to catch the following day.

Managing Money When Traveling Long Term

After all the dreaming and planning of a dream trip, it comes to the point when you’re dealing with nitty gritty details. How will eat? How will we spend? Where will we do our laundry? Managing your money on the road is an unglamorous but totally necessary part of long term travel. In the event of theft, it helps to know that your bank will do everything to make your life easier.
We had a joint account with Charles Schwab, which has a great international debit card where all ATM fees are reimbursed – not all banks do this and we really appreciated this benefit. We used our Schwab ATM card in nearly every city, town and village in South America and faced absolutely NO issues. No ATM fees means that we could withdraw money in small quantities without worry of losing it.

The card was once swallowed by an ATM machine in Yurimaguas, Peru and we had to go to the bank the next morning to retrieve it. It was swallowed again in Uyuni, Bolivia and we did not get it back. Schwab froze the card for us, but we were still able to use mine. We maintained a small running balance in our checking account so that if our card were ever to be misused, our other accounts remain untouched. I carried a back up debit card from a credit union and we used this card when we paid for a tour and maxed out ATM transactions.

Our credit card of choice was Capital One Venture One with its zero international transaction fees. We used this on a few occasions. We kept an account of what we spent daily, but we did not have a budget. We knew roughly how much we were prepared to spend on each category in each country and as long as we were under that limit, we did not worry about it.
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Travel Logistics – Packing List

In an earlier post, I wrote about the backpacks we took with us on this trip. We’ve often been asked how we packed for four months. Packing for four months is really no different from packing from 1 month or for 10 months. You’re likely to get really bored with your clothes, but hey! what are shops for? I went shopping in Santiago and picked up a few things when I got really bored of what I was wearing.

Instead of a his and her packing list, I am going to write this list by category. We were still packing up our house until the previous day, so we really didn’t have a lot of time to pack our bags well.

Gadgets

  • 13″ Macbook Pro
  • 10″ Samsung Android tablet
  • Portable hard drives – 2
  • Pen drives – 2
  • DSLR – Nikon D7000 with two lenses (18-200) and a super wide angle lens
  • Canon S95 compact camera
  • Kindle – 2, one for each

Notes: 

Unless you work on the road or do heavy photo/video editing for a living, an MBP or apple laptop is not worth taking. As you know, most of the items above where stolen and we know a friend whose MBP was stolen too. If I had to re-do this trip, I’d take a used laptop or a chromebook. The heavy duty photo editing can wait until we return from our trip! Canon S95 is a superb travel camera – crisp images, normal looks, compact size – many pictures on this blog were taken using an S95.

Clothes

Since our travels would take us across the length of South America, we had several climate zones to pack for. It was cold in Bogota, but warm in rest of Colombia. Most of the Andes was cold and then warm jungle weather in the Amazon. But this combination worked mostly well:
  • Convertible pants
  • Cotton pants that convert into capris (light weight pants for him) -2
  • Travel skirt (Niru)
  • Shorts
  • t-shirts (4-6, including a quick dry one for hiking)
  • Tops – 2 (Niru)
  • Lightweight long innerwear – top and bottom [super useful]
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain pants
  • Fleece layer
  • Pajamas – at least 1 each – Niru found a cool one in the Otavalo market in Ecuador. Backpackers are often spotted wearing these. They are striped and really loose drawstring pants.
  • Underwear – for about a week
  • Scarves
  • Cold weather – gloves, cap, socks, sock liners
  • Socks – 3 pairs
  • Cap
  • Sarong – very useful
  • Travel towel – one each

Laundry

Laundry services are everywhere. This is one indulgence we did not compromise on. We only washed something if it was really needed – we often gave our clothes for laundry. They came freshly washed and folded.

Footwear

Hiking boots – vasque ankle length (Niru found them too heavy, but a really great pair otherwise)
Keen Newport sandals – loved them dearly. I had been wearing these for a couple of years and just took them on the trip. Wore them in a lot of places including day hikes.
Flip flops – Only Swami
Notes: If I were only traveling South East Asia, I would only carry a pair of Newport Keen sandals and flip flops. I used Swami’s flip flops to use hostel bathrooms.

Miscellaneous

Headlamps – very useful
Notebook – 1 each
Sleeping sack – we initially had this, but mailed it back
Cooking kit – brought this, but sent back
First aid kit – brought a crazy big version, but stripped it down on the road
Toiletry kit – Very basic version that we could easily replenish on the road
Mosquito repellant
Water proof matches

We packed too much!

The essence of backpacking is flexibility and agility. We realized somewhere along the way that we were losing that. I was finding it difficult to walk at high altitudes with a heavy pack and decided that I’d rather do without the things I am carrying. We first went to our cousin’s house in Los Angeles before we started on our trip. Just that one small flight led us to shedding a few things at his place. A month later, we did another purge in Quito, where we shipped a few more things to my cousin (and spent a 100 bucks doing so!). We also had all the souvenirs we bought at the Otavalo market that we did not want to carry around.
The important lesson to remember is that the world is far more connected than we realize. Everything is available everywhere. South American cities are modern and carry most modern essentials. My advice to travelers is to go to a sporting store like REI or Decathlon and get things like winter layers, hidden wallets etc and then just pack whatever is at home. Carry very less and buy what you need along the way- your back will thank you.
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23 Days in Bolivia – an Overview

Our stay in Bolivia was rather relaxing – we didn’t hit too many cities or do a lot of activities. We had to deal with getting our transportation letter from the US embassy, which was needed to enter the US as our Green cards were stolen. This required a lot of documentation and as a result we spent a lot of time at internet cafes getting everything together (our laptop was stolen too).

Itinerary

– Booked three day Salar De Uyuni tour from San Pedro De Atacama. Cross the Bolivia border on day 1 and ended the tour at Uyuni, Bolivia on Day 3 after visiting the salt flats of Uyuni.
Tupiza

– Got the 2 AM train from Uyuni to Tupiza @ 71 Bs/perso. Stayed @ Tupiza for 3 nights. Did a jeep tour; a bicycle adventure trip and a horse riding trip. Used Tupiza Tours for Jeep tour, Alexander tours for the bicycle. Met with a fellow traveler we met way back in Salento and enjoyed a few hours with him.
– From Tupiza, took a but to Potosi, an old colonial city known for its silver mines. I didnt want to go exploring a mine, but Swami did. Really enjoyed walking around plaza major and market.
– Next stop, Sucre. Loved Sucre! Sucre is lower (2800 masl only!), the climate is warmer (relatively), the city is lovely and old and there is very good veg food to be found. The market is a treasure trove! We were in constant email contact with the US embassy and getting documents ready, so no sightseeing, only internet cafes. 😀 Split our stay between forrestero and hostal colon. Colon was so cute!
– From Sucre, boarded a very comfortable overnight bus to La Paz. Wandered around La Paz’s hilly streets while awaiting our appointment at the US embassy. Once that got through, we headed out to Copacabana to spend some time at Lago Titicaca.
– Isla Del Sol, the island on Lake Titicaca can only be reached via boat from Copacabana. Spent a peaceful night there.
– It was back to La Paz where we started unwinding and getting ready for the trip back to California.

Highlights:

– Salar De Uyuni is not to be missed! Its an otherwordly experience out there on the Altiplano.
– Sucre is a beautiful town and one can easily spend a few days here.
– La Paz is a big, modern city, but there is so much to see and do. Just walk around town and maybe do a trek in the nearby mountains. The food is great and hotels are really cheap.
– Isla del sol is cold and really isolated. A great place to unwind or write, but the food leaves a lot to be desired, especially for veg folks.
– Bolivians are unfailingly polite. Everyone says por favor and gracias to EVERYONE, irrespective of social status. Even the cops are incredibly patient during traffic bottlenecks.
– No Hare Krishna restaurants anywhere in the country!

Check out:

– La Paz: plaza murillo and plaza san francisco
– Shop  @ calle sagarnaga and linares
– Calle mercadores just off plaza murillo
– For B 2.50, try api at Mercado Lanza. Dont miss – we only found this in Bolivia.
– Really tasty tofu sandwiches at Namaste Restaurant
– Hitch a ride on one of those shared van-taxis with barely any leg room.
– Museums in La Paz are really cheap and nice way to spend an afternoon.
– Cholita wrestling
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Salt Flats of Salar De Uyuni, Bolovia

I remember the first time seeing a blog post about Salar De Uyuni and being absolutely smitten. I think it was one of those few images that stuck to my head and eventually propelled me to want to go travel for an extended time. White salt fields that stretch to infinity and the photography illusions that nature lets you play as a result were hard to resist.

Travel tips for Salar De Uyuni:

  • Book a four day tour from San Pedro de atacama or from Tupiza, Bolivia. From San Pedro, its a good way to get into the Bolivia part of your trip. You can also get to Uyuni via public transport from elsewhere in Bolivia and take a day trip to the salt flats – cheaper and faster, but a tour group is more enjoyable and affords the opportunity to bond with fellow travelers.
  • Ask for prices at many tour agencies. Get to know your tour group members – variety in nationality makes for a more enjoyable time. If everyone is of the same nationality and speak a single language that you dont know, it wont be  as much fun.
  • Get an itemized list of the services included in the tour package. Check with tourist office for reputed tour companies.
  • All tour companies are Bolivian as the tour begins only after you cross Chile border.
  • Pack in layers as the weather gets chilly in the mornings. On the day of the salt flat tour, you’ll leave your hotel before dawn.
Early morning at Salar De Uyuni


Waiting at the Bolivian border for immigration and breakfast

 

Rather fancy immigration building 
Breakfast at the border

 

Snow capped vistas

 

Tour jeeps

 

Country love!

 

Altitude check – altiplano is really really high!

 

Flamingos and red lake

 

Train graveyard

 

We were excited that we’d get to take cool photos with our really nice DSLR (Nikon D7000 for the photo enthusiast) and our handy compact camera Canon S95. We lugged it around the rest of the continent and got great pictures, but as luck would have it, two things happened. Our DSLR got stolen with a bunch of other things, and our S95 got ruined thanks to a sandboarding event at San Pedro de atacama. We were thoroughly disillusioned that we were suddenly camera-less for the last one month of our trip and that too, in Salar De Uyuni.
 
All this happened in San Pedro De Atacama, a really small town in the atacama desert. So we had to go back to Calama (not our favorite city at all) and went to a really swanky mall there to buy a basic digital camera way overpriced than the rates at Amazon (we really missed Amazon.com).
 
Sadly, the rest of our pictures, including those from Salar De Uyuni would be from this camera, though we should be fortunate for having one at all. We were not able to get those cool shots travelers get from Uyuni, but had to make do with some of these.
 
4-day trips to Salar De Uyuni can be arranged from San Pedro De Atacama from any tourist agency. The tour begins in Chile and can either end in Uyuni or you can return back to Chile. The four day tour costs 68,000 chilean pesos or ~USD 140 and includes food, stay, transportation and guide in a jeep that can carry 5-6 people. You will visit the salt flats on the 4th day, but the first three days are through a national reserve area at high altitudes (called the altiplano region).

Sunrise at salar

 

 

Yummy! Breakfast

 

 

Our cook and her things make a pretty picture

 

Kiss time!

 

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A Guide to La Paz Bolivia

We spent a lot of time in La Paz, Bolivia. Nearly 10 days in all. We had to go early to the US embassy to get our transportation letters (having lost our green cards) and our flight back home wasn’t departing until 10 days later. We did take a side trip to Copacabana and Isla Del Sol, but we still had a lot of time to spare.

La Paz is incredibly hilly, cold, high, bustling with life and activity and a great place to walk around. We did take a side trip to Copacabana and Isla Del Sol, but we still had a lot of time to spare.


This was the last stop on our backpacking journey, so we were taking it easy and not doing anything hectic. Also, I was getting a bit stressed out that the trip was ending. I wasn’t sure what I had to look forward to – in terms of my career, in terms of living in India etc.
The view from Valle Del Luna
La Paz street scene
Here’s a recap of what we did in La Paz, if you have a lot of time to kill:
– We walked a lot. A LOT!! We walked tens of blocks every day and it was amazing. La Paz is extremely hilly and this is a superb workout.
– Spend time at Plaza Murillo. Plaza Murillo is the central plaza and one my favorite ways to spend time in any new Latin American city. People actually come here in droves in the evening and relax after the day’s work is done. I can never imagine this in Silicon Valley, where we’d still be at the office or heading home to watch Netflix or browse the web.
– From Plaza Murillo, walk to Mercado Lanza. Explore the labyrinth like multi-level shopping and living center. The shops are categorized by food, breakfast, meals, artisanal stuff, beauty products and everything under the sun.
– In the breakfast stalls, get Api every morning. Get the purple one, not the yellow one. Its a porridge made out of purple maize and is highly addictive.
– Palta sandwiches. I am a huge fan of palta sandwiches, ask any of the breakfast booths to make this for you.
– Walk up from Mercado Lanza on Calle Sagarnaga. Plenty of great souvenir shopping on this road. Check out all the side streets. We wandered a ways once and I happened to look up, only to spot a vegetarian restaurant out of the blue.
– Get a haircut! I got a great haircut for 45 Bs which included the wash, set and cut. Swami’s was much cheaper, but I went to a salon in the mall.
– We explored all the veg restaurants. We’d walk many blocks to each of them and just enjoy the process.
– Valle del luna. Nice day trip from the plaza. A nice hike there too.
– Check out Cholita wrestling. Hilarious Bolivian wrestling, where mean-looking women come to fight turned out in perfect Bolivian traditional wear, skirt and all. It is not advisable to go alone as the areas safety looked questionable, but with a tour organized by your hotel.
A street market scene at night
Mercado Lanza – must go for people watching and getting a dose of local living
In one of the ‘booths’ in mercado Lanza
Api – super tasty porridge like drink made from purple maize
Tiny stalls on the main road for selling stuff 
Palta (avocado) sandwiches are very easy to find and the vegetarian’s budget lifesaver
Cholita Wrestling – highly entertaining female wrestling
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Cajas National Park (near Cuenca, Ecuador)

For those visiting Cuenca, I highly recommend Cajas national park. Its just outside Cuenca, but offers excellent hiking and takes you a world apart. At the park entrance, you pay the fee and the park ranger will give you an excellent map and show you what hikes are available. The trails are very well marked and the scenery is simply beautiful.

Getting there

Get on a bus going to Guayaquil. It costs $2 per ride, even though its only 1/2 hour per ride (its roughly $1 for every one hour of bus rides) to get off at the entrance to the park. $2 entrance fee for maps and trash bag. Restroom facilities can be used here.
We walked the pink route which is clearly marked. This is a scenic and easy route. We packed our lunches at the hostel and stopped for lunch. Eventually you will hit the road back to Cuenca – flag any bus heading back and climb on. As easy as that!
El Cajas is beautiful and has a surprising mix of landscapes. Gentle meadows with creeks flowing through and stark mountain vistas abound.