Author Archives: Niru

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.
Peyto Lake.jpg

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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Cali – giving the big city a quick glance

We originally planned to spend christmas in Cali and attend the salsa festival there. However, as I mentioned in the previous post, we ended up spending it in Salento. Cali was also supposed to host a famous salsa festival and we were excited to attend it. However, we underestimated how big a city Cali is. We traveled from Salento to Cali with Ben and ended up staying in together in the same hostel. Predictably, the size of Cali put us off and we ended up giving it a wide berth by leaving next day for Popayan. So nothing much to report from Cali, except for the really tasty veggie lunch we had at a Hare Krishna restaurant.

From Cali, we made the decision to quickly depart to Popayan and then head to the border from there. Ecuador was beckoning!

Popayan – Colombia’s white city

Popayan is a lovely colonial city in the Southern part of Colombia. Its about 8 hours from the Ecuador border and was a lovely stopover for us.

Popayan’s central plaza at night is superbly lit and is a pleasure to walk around in:

The city is mostly painted in white, but what it lacks in color, it makes up for in its liveliness. People are buzzing about in the evening here:

Our room overlooking the plaza at hostel Park Life, highly recommended:

Potato empanadas and aji de mani (peanut-chili sauce). I ate so many and am so craving it now:

One of my other favorite finds, bocadillo is a sweet made with guava paste and sugar (or panela). Lightly dusted with sugar, this was the best boacadillo I had, in a shop in the town of Silva.

We took a day trip to Silva, famous for its tuesday market. But we went on a Wednesday and wouldnt recommend this day trip. I would have much rather spent my time eating potato empanadas and aji de mani!

Popayan is a great place to stop for a day or two if you’re heading to and from Ecuador. Its very relaxing, has great food, hostels and a lovely central plaza. Its only 4 hours from Cali by bus and buses are really frequent. 

We were struggling to find directions from the bus stop to the hostel when a friendly cop actually insisted on walking with us all the way to the hostel. It was a good 15 minute walk and he was so cool about it. Colombia’s people are just lovely. :)

Colors of Cartagena

Old Cartegena (the walled section) is an impressive city – colonial in style, mildly Caribbean in character and with more African influence than in the other cities of Colombia we’ve visited so far. It is a very ‘vivid’ city. Its difficult to describe the city in words, so we’ve had our cameras do it for us.

Our equipments include, a Canon S95, a D7000 with a Tamron 11-16mm F2.8 and 2 wide-eyed travelers.

I’ve included about 16 of the 50 or so pictures that I think represent Cartagena in this post. You can check out the rest of them in this Picasa Web Album.

Let us know what you think and any suggestions/recommendations you may have.

Bogota – Mural Walk

Walking through a city, I rarely pass up an opportunity to observe and document street murals. I consider them the cultural and political voice of the people of the city.  And to say Bogota has a treasure-trove of amazing street murals is in my opinion, an understatement. The artists here are amazing!

The murals included in this post scarcely represent the complete set, or even the best murals that Bogota has to offer. These are just a subset of the ones I came across that I found interesting.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Bogota – A snapshot

One thing I did not know is that Bogota is cold. Really, really cold. And rainy. Its also a really old city, with so many small lanes and tiny shops which suddenly open out to wide roads and multi-storied office buildings. Its a really nice city, but being fans of small towns ourselves and having heard great things about Colombia’s countryside, our time at the bustling capital was limited to two days. 
Here is a quick snapshot of our stay in Bogota, Colombia.
A common area just outside our hostel dorm:
Santa and the mechanized raindeer a peaceful protest:

Graffiti and street art abound in Bogota:

More graffiti and rain:

Random vegetarian restaurant discovered by Swami while walking down the street:

Small alleyways abound:

A pretty street corner building, this is a hotel:

This super narrow path actually has a street name and leads to our hostel, the pink building at the end:

Another vegetarian restaurant, spotted in random by Swami
The plaze de bolivar at night

Plenty of soy protein options to choose from in the local supermarket

Confections displayed at a shop window, they looked so indian:

At the museo de oro (gold museum)

Indian actress Asin! On a poster in Colombia in front of a Hare Krishna run vegetarian restaurant. Do you think Asin knows this?