Peru & The Quarry Trail Trek to Macchu Picchu – Travel Tips & Tricks

Peru, famous for one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. There are so many ways to see Machu Picchu, some more common than others. The known Inca Trail is one, but have you heard of the Quarry Trail?

Everybody has heard of the Inca trail in Peru, and for many, it’s a bucket list item for when they finally plan a trip to Peru and visit the infamous Machu Picchu. My husband and I were firmly in this boat when we booked our Peru intrepid tour. 

But when we were asked what hiking option we wished to do: Inca trail or quarry trail, we were intrigued. What was this quarry trail trek option?

The quarry trail is another hiking option for those wanting to see the Peruvian landscape and Machu Picchu and in our opinion, turned out to be our best option! Keep reading to see why 🙂 

How can you visit Machu Picchu?

There are various itineraries for Machu Picchu, but generally, the three most common options for visiting Machu Picchu are: 

  1. No hiking, you catch a train to the town Aguas Caliente and from there, hop on one of the many regular buses from the town up to Machu Picchu. This is ideal for visitors who don’t wish to trek or have limited time visiting this wonder of the world. 
  2. Hike the very well known 4D/3N Inca trail and on the last day, enter Machu Picchu at sunrise through the sun gate. 
  3. Hike alternative trails, including the 3D/2N Quarry Trail. At the end of the 3rd day after trekking, check into a hotel in Aguas Caliente and on the following morning (4th day), catch a bus from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu. 

For options 1 and 2 there is a wealth of information out there already, particularly from people who have hiked the Inca trail and lived to tell the tale. 

Below we would like to share our experience of choosing option 3 where we hiked the Quarry Trail and why we chose it over the classic Inca Trail. 

What is the Quarry Trail?

This 26km 3 day, 2 night hike takes you through gorgeous Peruvian landscapes, ascending to a maximum altitude of 4,450m (14,599ft) – slightly higher than the classic Inca Trail. Permits are not required to hike this trail, and while you think that may mean more hikers, it’s the opposite! 

Day 1: Beginning at 9 am, you first drive to Choquequilla, a ceremonial place for the Inca for a ‘test run’ mini hike. After the visit, you’re driven to the starting point at Rafq’a where you begin the 7km ascent from 3,600m up to your campsite at 3,750m. 

Day 2: From here, you’ll trek for 14km through two passes, reaching your highest elevation of 4,450m at Kuychicassa pass. You’ll see sacred sites including Intipunku (‘Sun gate’, though not to be confused with the Machu Picchu sungate!) and camp at Choquetacarpo at 3,750m.  

Day 3: Another early morning wake up, but with a more leisurely 7km hike back down to Ollantaytambo, with stops including Kachiqata quarry for which the trek gets its name. You’ll arrive back in Ollantaytambo town around midday and catch a train back to Aguas Caliente and spend the night in a hotel there. 

Day 4: After yesterdays shower and good night rest in a comfortable bed, take a bus from the town up to Machu Picchu at 6 am and catch the sun hitting Machu Picchu first thing in the morning. You’ll spend the day in Machu Picchu with a guided tour from 9 am – 11 am. 

Why choose the Quarry Trail over the Inca Trail?

While we didn’t do the Inca Trail, we were part of a group where fellow group members did do the classic route, and of course, we couldn’t help but compare notes. Keep in mind though our observations are based on what we experienced and what we factually know about both the Inca Trail and Quarry Trail. 

Below are some of our thoughts on why the Quarry Trail was an excellent fit for us and why it could be a better alternative for you too:

1)    You won’t be hiking with 499 of your closest friends 

Perhaps the best differentiator between the Quarry Trail and Inca Trail is the number of other tourist hikers you’ll encounter along your trek. On the Inca Trail, permits for 500 hikers are issued each day and sell out months in advance. This means that throughout your 4 days, you’ll be hiking alongside many other tourist groups, tour guides and their porters. 

In contrast, you are virtually hiking alone with your group on the Quarry Trail. During our 3 days, we encountered one other hiking group briefly on our second day; otherwise, it was all locals going about their daily lives. You truly feel you are trekking off the beaten path in the serene Peruvian wilderness! 

2) Be treated to unbeatable views 

Every day during our 3-day hike brought the most incredible views of Peruvian mountains and valleys. The scenery from start to finish was spectacular, with a particular highlight waking up on the 3rd day in the clouds as you looked out to views of Nevado Veronica mountain.   

3) No dreaded stairs

If you’ve read up on the Inca Trek, you’ll know the second day of the trek is essentially a giant stair master session at altitude. On the Quarry Trail however, there are virtually no stairs! It is predominantly meandering paths through the Peruvian landscape, and while there are definite inclines or steep parts, there is no full day dedicated to feeling the burn like in the Inca Trail. So, if you suffer from bad knees or ankles, this could be a key difference. 

4) Stress less with emergency horses! 

If you are worried about fitness levels or injuries, a bonus aspect of the Quarry Trail is it comes with emergency horses. Due to the terrain, pack horses are used to carry all bags, food and equipment (as opposed to the traditional porters on the Inca trail). Included in this team of horses are two horses designated “emergency horses”, which as the name implies, can be used in the case of any individuals falling ill or injured. 

On our trek, we had one lady fall ill with the flu on the first day, and two others suffer more severe altitude sickness. So for some parts of the trek, under the request of our guide they were popped up onto these horses. If these individuals had on the Inca Trail, they would have been forced to ‘tough it out’ or likely be turned back to town by their guides. 

Another minor side benefit of having horses as opposed to porters is the weight limit for your packed duffel is a little bit more lax. On the Inca Trail bags are weighed precisely to ensure Porters are not carrying additional weight, however, on the Quarry Trail this didn’t happen. That’s not to say you can bring your whole suitcase though as the duffel bags provided are limited in size anyways. 

5) Still physically challenging

Although emergency horses are provided, they are just that – only for emergencies and when needed. You are still climbing to elevations of 4,450m, and as two relatively fit and young people, we found the Quarry Trail physically demanding without being overwhelming. 

6) Meet locals and experience their way of life

A wonderful aspect of the Quarry Trek is passing through small local towns and having many opportunities to meet locals and see their way of life. 

Before embarking on our tour, our group leader took us to the farmer markets where we were able to purchase fresh fruits or biscuits to distribute to families we met along the way. 

On the morning of our second day, our guide provided wonderful insight into the lives of local Peruvians, with one family kindly inviting us into their homes and allowing us to see firsthand how they lived. 

7)    Only 3 days and 2 nights camping

Another benefit of the Quarry Trail for us was the length of the trek. At 3 days and 2 nights, it is 1 night shorter than the Inca Trail and we felt it was the perfect amount of time for us.  

8) You’ll be clean and well-rested for your visit to Machu Picchu

 When you finish trekking on the 3rd day and return to a hotel in Aguas Caliente, you’ll be rewarded with the best hot shower of your life. You’ll be able to sleep in a comfortable bed the night before and be well-rested (not to mention clean!) when you enter Machu Picchu. That simple luxury should not be discounted! 

9) See Machu Picchu without the hordes of tourists & still visit the famous Sungate

As you catch a bus up to Machu Picchu on the morning of the 4th day, you can be one of the first people to enter Machu Picchu. You’ll be able to experience the site people-free. As we arrived in the first wave of buses, we were also treated to seeing the first rays of sunlight hit the Incan site. 

A common misconception is that the Inca Trail allows you to be amongst the first people entering Machu Picchu. Whilst it does allow you a magical sight of seeing Machu Picchu through the Sungate at sunrise (albeit at a distance), you’ll need time to hike back down to the site. In contrast, those visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliente by bus will enter the grounds well before the hikers get there. 

10) You’ll still be able to see the famous Intipunku Sungate

 After entering Machu Picchu by the main gates and snapping a few hundred photos, there is still the opportunity to hike up to the famous Intipuku Sungate. And the best part? By the time you arrive all the Inca Trek hikers will have started their descent down – so there won’t be a huge crowd! 

Also, whilst not the Machu Picchu Sungate, there is also a sun gate to be seen on the Quarry Trail. The vista from this viewpoint simply took our breath away. Emerging from the mist, it offered incredible views over the valley and was well worth the slight detour! This sun gate is located just before you reach the camp on the 2nd day and only adds an extra 15-20 minutes of walking time.  

11) No 3 am wake-up call! 

On the 4th and last day of the Inca Trail, hikers experience a 3 am wake up call and approx 1.5-hour wait in the cold outside the gates of Machu Picchu. While the gates only open at 5:30 am, many groups get up early to be the first ones in. This early wake up is also necessitated by the fact that porters need to pack up campsites by 4 am to be able to catch their early train back to town. If they miss the early morning one, their next train isn’t till nightfall! 

In contrast, if you are travelling to Machu Pichu by bus from Aguas Caliente, you can head down to the bus stop at any time you wish. If you do want to be one of the first ones in, however, you may need to start lining up from 4:30/5am. Being said, we only arrived at the bus stop at 5:50 am but through our wonderful guide, were able to jump straight onto a bus and bypass the queue. We’re still not quite sure how he managed it, so definitely don’t bank on your guide being able to do it too!  

Are you interested in booking the Quarry Trail?

We booked our Quarry Trail trek as part of our Peru/Bolivia intrepid tour here. [https://www.intrepidtravel.com/en/peru/explore-peru-bolivia-116640]

Just some final bits and pieces:

  • Keep an eye out for travel expos or sign up to Intrepid sale updates as you can easily get this tour at a discount. 
  • Remember to check your insurance covers activities at altitude!
  • Remember to check the weather at that time of year and bring layers. You get pretty hot trekking during the day but at night, temperatures are cold.  
  • If you have them, pack your trekking boots. 

 Being said, my husband and I completed this Quarry Trek with regular sneakers (and terrible tread!) with no issues. Luckily it didn’t rain during our trek as if it did, I think it may have been a different story…3

Check out some of our tips and tricks when travelling to Peru.

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Top 12 Things to do While You’re Waiting at the Airport

Check out our list of 12 things to do while you’re waiting at the airport. These tips could score your free WiFi and money!

Waiting long hours in an airport can be very dull. This is especially true when you have a delayed flight and are stuck inside the terminal with nothing to do.

So whether you’re waiting long hours in an international or domestic airport, here is a list of the top 12 things you can do to get comfortable or kill some time while you wait.

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first

(Or skip down to point 9 and the BONUS tips, which could earn you some extra cash):

1. Restaurant or bars

An obvious one, but there’s likely a lot of restaurants and food about the airport. Take some time to relax and eat or drink. In some airports, they also offer discount voucher booklets for select food and drink places – so keep an eye out for these as you may save a few dollars!

2. Explore the duty-free

Large international airports always have lots to explore and buy and best of all it’s tax free. Time for a shopping spree!

Duty free shopping

3. Plan your trip ahead

Not sure what you’re going to do in the country you’re about to visit? Have you worked out how to get to your accommodation from the airport? Downloaded google maps for the area?

Now’s the chance to sit and plan what you’re going to do and see.

Maybe we have some tips for you to help you out. Check out some the places we’ve visited for things to do, and tips and tricks to help you out.

4. Game of cards

Whether you’re outgoing and can talk to strangers, or you’re travelling with someone, a game of cards to kill time is never a bad idea. If you don’t have a deck, you can always buy one for pretty cheap at the newsagencies about the airport.

Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

5. Get a massage

Feeling a bit stressed, and need to relax. Why not grab a massage somewhere. There’s often massage shops around the airport or if you’re looking for a cheaper option, even massage chairs to sit back and relax.

6. Watch people

Gabby and I love observing people, their traits, actions and stuff going on. It can be sometimes a bit rude, but when you have hours to kill and only people around you to entertain you, it’s hard to not start creating fun backstories for those around you.

7. Read a book or listen to a podcast

If you have a book with you, have a read.

You can check out the local book shops around the airport.

Or you can download the Kindle app on your phone to read or listen to podcasts.

8. Charge your devices

The great thing about modern airports is they now have a lot of spots around for you sit down and charge your devices. Look around for power points and USB ports to make sure you have enough power to last the flight.

Now for some of the things, you may not have thought of!

9. Join the local airport WiFi – For free!

Hear me out! Joining the WiFi be may obvious, but I have a couple of tricks for you to get a better and longer connection. Most airports have a free, but often limited, WiFi connection, but are some tricks to get around this.

Option 1 – Boingo:

If you have a Boingo membership, you’ll likely find your free WiFi quite easily, if it’s available. You can download the Boingo app on your phones app store (iOS or Android).

Tip: Sign up to 28 Degrees mastercard and receive a free subscription to Boingo. The best part about 28 degrees is it charges no international transaction fees and offers great conversion rates, so is perfect for travelling.

Option 2 – the Wi-Fi MAC hack trick

A nice trick, if you’re computer is already connected to a time capped free WiFi, is to fool the network with a different MAC address. 

You can download this tool for Windows, https://technitium.com/tmac/

You can try this one for MAC, https://github.com/halo/LinkLiar

You’ll need to log back in each time, but these tools will fool the network into thinking a new computer has connected, allowing you to have unlimited free WiFi while you’re relaxing at the airport.

Option 3 – Crowd source Free WiFi password tracker

A hit and miss sometimes, but this is an opportunity for some free WiFi, no tricks needed. This crowd source project aims to provide free passwords for airports around the world. Just search for your airport, and hope the passwords are there for you to use.

You can also check out more about this crowd source project here.

Check out the map here.

10. Hang out at a club lounge

Club lounges, although usually for members, often have a paid entry service, anywhere from $50USD and upwards. Inside is a buffet of free food, alcohol, and usually a better WiFi connection.

If you’re a club member for select airlines or credit cards, you’ll likely have a couple of free club passes up your sleeve (For example, AMEX or Virgin Credit cards). Check your memberships and credit card terms and conditions, and explore if you get any free lounge passes up your sleeve – you won’t regret it!

Tip: Check your credit cards for this perk early, ideally before your departure day as some banks will need time to process and send out your lounge pass.

11. Find a comfortable place to catch up on some sleep

There is this fantastic website we found, that shares where all of the best sleeping spots are at select airports. 

  • Click the link below, 
  • type in the airport you’re at, 
  • and find a place to get a bit of shut-eye.

Sleepinginairports.net

This saved our life after a 4:30am flight with 7 hour layover in Rome!

12. Games on your smartphone

Smartphones are the new potable consoles of 2019! Every month, new phones come out, with more features and more power than the last one. As they continue to improve, so does the quality of video games that are available on them.

Coming soon, we’ll share all of the best free and paid co-op games you can play to kill time. In the mean time, open up your app store, and type coop games for some choices, using your free WiFi connection of course.

BONUS tips for your next airport trip!

If you’re flying Singapore Airlines and are transiting through Singapore Airport, this one is for you!

If you are flying with Singapore airlines and are transitting through Singapore Airport, you are actually eligible for a $20 voucher to use at the Singapore Duty Free stores.

You can’t use this to buy food at the food courts, but you can look to get delicious snacks at the stores around the duty free shops. Or, perhaps it’s an additional discount for that nice bottle of liquor or piece of clothing you’ve been eyeing.

Flight delays in Europe, could mean you are eligible for some extra cash!

If you are flying within the EU, which means you are departing from an EU country and arriving in an EU country, and your flight is delayed by 3 hours (from you scheduled arrival), you are eligible to be subsidised by up to 600 Euros (depending on delay time and flight distance). Yes, you read this right.

So, for example, if your flight from Spain to Greece, has been held up and you arrive 3 hours and 1 second late, you can claim compensation.

This is one of the EU’s best kept secrets!

Check out some of the details, to see if you’re eligible to claim compensation; here.

The form to complete, if you were delayed is here.

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Crowd Source Project, Making Airport WiFi Accessible & Free to Everyone

Free WiFi at the airport, what!? You have to check this great tool to help you find all the latest passwords for accessing WiFi in airports around the world.

Started by FoxNomad, this remarkable initiative now helps travellers all over the world to access free WiFi at the airport.

Map with WiFi passwords

The full story can be found here

You can check out their story here: https://foxnomad.com/2016/04/26/map-wireless-passwords-airports-lounges-around-world-updated-regularly/

He also has a fantastic Facebook page, which keeps everyone up to date on the latest updates. There are also apps you can download from iOS and Android App stores. Links are available on FoxNomads page, linked above and here.

It’s an excellent tool, especially when it works.

You can check out some other WiFi hacks here, for you next visit to the AirPort.

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12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Bolivia: Tips & Tricks!

Bolivia has an ever-growing tourist following. With a rich culture and otherworldly landscapes, it’s a must-see destination in South America. But with any new country, you need to be prepared. Here are 12 of our tips and tricks, we wish we knew before travelling to Bolivia.

What Bolivia may lack in wealth, it more than makes up for in the richness of its varied landscapes, culture and history. One of the least developed and poorest of the South American countries, Bolivia still has a growing tourism culture. It’s increasingly growing in popularity as a travel destination, as it should be! This is due to its other-worldly salt flats, stunning landscapes spanning volcanoes, deserts and forests and varied local cultures (with over 37 official languages!). Bolivia has something to offer everyone.      

1)   Ensure you have enough time to acclimatise to the altitude

Bolivia is a country at very high altitudes. La Paz is the highest unofficial capital in the world* at over 3,600m above sea level, Uyuni – the gateway to the salt flats – lies at 3,656m, Potosi at 4,067m and Sucre at 2,810m.

As such you should consider a buffer in time (at least 24 hours) to acclimatise. This is particularly relevant if you are flying direct into La Paz. Ideally, to minimise the negative symptoms that might occur, a gradual climb up to altitude is best. However, this is not always possible, particularly if you are beginning your journey in La Paz.

We are not doctors by any stretch of the imagination, but some key things to know about altitude sickness are:

  • Altitude sickness, unfortunately, can affect anyone. There’s just no way to predict who and how badly it will impact an individual. It doesn’t matter if you’re the tallest, most muscular, lean or the most yoga-loving person.
  • There is medication you can take, commonly called Diamox, or Acetazolamide (if you need to buy it in Bolivia). This can help alleviate the symptoms. It’s recommended to start these two days before you arrive at altitude.
  • Be warned though it is a diuretic, so it will make you pee a lot more. It’s almost a glimpse into life at the age of 80+….
  • Stay hydrated and aim to drink 1.5 – 2L of water per day. Hydration plays a crucial role in helping you acclimatise!
  • If you are starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness, i.e. headaches, dizziness, nausea or a general feeling of unwellness, rest immediately. if it gets worse, see a doctor.
  • Most hotels also hold oxygen tanks for guests as having 10-15 minutes of oxygen can also help alleviate the symptoms, so ask if you need it! 

*Sucre is the official capital but La Paz is the country’s seat of government

2)     Cash is king

As with many developing countries, cash is required to pay for most things. During our time in Bolivia, only at select restaurants (and typically the pricier ones) do they accept credit cards. At the markets and most shops, they predominantly deal in cash.

Best local bank to use

When in Bolivia, our recommendation is to use either Santa Cruz bank or Banco Nacional de Bolivia (BNB). Both are reputable banks and best of all, neither charging a local ATM fee. Just look for the green signs!

Planning to visit the salt flats?

The salt flats are undoubtedly the highlight of a trip to Bolivia and to visit them you will need to hire a tour guide. To maximise your chances of having a great experience, here are some key things to note before you head there:

3)     Know what time of year you’re going for the salt flats

If you are looking to recreate that perfect reflection shot you’ve seen before you need to head there during their summertime or wet season. This typically runs from November to April and sees the salt flats wet enough to provide those infamous shots. The downside during wet season is, the salt flats can get rained out and closed to tourists due to flooding. During dry season which runs from May to October, there is slim to no chance of this occurring. Also, perspective shots are easier to take; however, the trade-off is it will be much colder and you do miss out on the opportunity for reflection photography. 

Sunset over the salt flats Uyuni, Bolivia
Sunset over the salt flats – Uyuni, Bolivia

4)     Do your research carefully before booking your salt flat tour guide

When picking a tour operator ideally they come recommended, but if not make sure they have excellent reviews (that are recent). Even through Intrepid, a renowned tour agency, our experience with the local tour operator they used was less than ideal. After being asked and agreeing to a delayed departure at 10 am, we were still left waiting until 11 am when they finally rocked up.

Why? They hadn’t yet filled the last car so spent the morning looking for tourists who would sign on last minute.

Our tip is to confirm whether the car is already full (or if they will depart with less than 6 in the car) and what time you depart in the morning.

Having a delayed start time eats into the time you have on the salt flats. Unfortunately for us, it meant we only had about 45 minutes to take photos. Including the group shots, this was not nearly enough time, particularly when you’re playing around, trying to work out perspectives and helping out your fellow travellers with their shots as well. 

5)     Know your itinerary

If you book a three-day tour, you should know that you only have 1 day on the salt flats, being the first day of the tour. Most tour operators will then head out from the salt flats and circle back around to Uyuni, never passing back through the salt flats. This means, your only chance for photos and to experience the flats is that first day!

We had friends ask their driver if they were coming back and after assuring them they would, guess what – they never did!

6)     Be prepared for very basic accommodation

Despite being the key attraction in Bolivia, decent accommodation in the salt flats and surrounding landscapes have yet to be built. Besides Luna Salada (the one decent salt hotel where you can expect to pay a premium), all other accommodation is very basic dorm room style. On our second night on tour, we 6 to a room, no showers and 2 toilets for 24 people….

Basic accommodation - Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
Basic accommodation – Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

7)     Pack layers, beanies, gloves and warm socks!

If you are heading there in the wintertime, it can be freezing on the salt flats. With windchill, we experienced  -18°C at 5 am when we visited the geysers. It was so cold and windy, people from only 1 of the 3 cars ventured outside to witness the geysers up close, so remember to rug up!

8)     Check out Uyuni train cemetery after dark

When we arrived in Uyuni, it would not have seemed out of place if a giant tumbleweed rolled down the main road. Uyuni is just a gateway town into the salt flats and where travellers depart and arrive back from tours. The one attraction just next to Uyuni town though is the train cemetery.

This stop is usually the first one for all salt flat tours and as such, becomes quite busy each morning.

Our tip is to visit the train cemetery at night time when it’s peaceful and to capture some fantastic night shots of the sky.

You can organise with your hostel/hotel to have a cab take you to the cemetery late at night. For 100 Bolivianos they’ll come out to the train yard with you and wait around for a couple of hours until you’re finished enjoying the night sky. I recommend doing this between 10 pm and midnight.

You check out my post here about how I took the photo above.

9)     Taking the perfect photo

Getting the perspective right is harder than it looks, and it usually takes at least two people to do.

If you are using props, our tip is not to try and line up the subject and the prop on the same horizontal plane – it is harder to do well and in focus. Instead, angle the accessory and subject diagonally in your camera frame and play with the perspective from that shot!

Salt Flats, Photo on the flats, Uyuni, Bolivia
Salt Flats, Photo on the flats, Uyuni, Bolivia

10)     Bolivia is cheaper for souvenirs than Peru

A popular travel route is to visit Peru and then head down into Bolivia. If this is the case, Bolivia is generally less expensive for the same souvenirs, so it might be worth saving all your shopping until the end!

11) Be careful when purchasing alpaca or baby alpaca items!

Bolivia is famous for its alpaca and baby alpaca wear, however be warned as every street corner vendor will swear what they’re selling you is “baby alpaca”. More like “maybe alpaca!” as our guide joked. If it costs only BOB$50 (~AU$20) for a baby alpaca jumper, i’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably not what they’re claiming it to be.

Many of the jumpers sold by many stall owners are a synthetic, or wool blend, so make sure you know what you’re paying for. The basic test for real alpaca is it should feel cold to the touch – always, even if in sunlight. If you are able to as well, break off some fibres and light them as real alpaca will burn like hair whereas synthetic will melt. True 100% alpaca jumpers will set you back no less than BOB$200 (at a minimum with baby alpaca even more!) but if you’re still unsure head to stores such as Inca Brand or LAM where you’ll pay a bit more but be confident the garments are what they say they are.

Being said, a blend of alpaca and wool still makes a beautiful jumper!

12)     Always double check your laundry 

If you’re paying a local laundromat to do your washing, make sure to count the number of pieces before you drop it off. The few times used a laundry service they always managed to; misplace one of our items, or we managed to pick up someone else’s!

They manage the laundry by sewing tiny coloured threads onto the tag of your clothes. There is one colour per customer to help the sort which piece belongs to who. As you can imagine, this can still get confusing, even for the laundromat. So also make sure you remove any previous laundromat threads before you send them for another wash!

Coming Soon: Thinking about whether to do a tour or DIY around Bolivia? We’re pulling together a post that discusses just that and reviews our 25- day Bolivia & Peru intrepid tour.

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12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Greece: Helpful Tips & Tricks

If you’re anything like us, visiting Greece and its magical islands was a top bucket list item. After spending a month there island hopping, we can safely say it did not disappoint! If you’ve booked your tickets or are looking to travel there, here are just some handy tips and tricks we’d like to share that we picked up along the way.

1) Be aware of fixed taxi pricing from Athens airport & on the islands

If you are catching a taxi from Athens airport, be aware of the fixed pricing and remember that the cost is all inclusive of tolls, luggage and charges and is the price per cab not per person!

Unfortunately sometimes taxis may try and charge a higher price (such as to Piraeus Port rather than Athens city centre) if tourists aren’t aware of the pricing schedule.

Taxi TransferDay
05:00 – 24:00
Night
00:00 – 05:00
Athens Airport >> Athens city centre € 38 € 54
Athens Airport >> Piraeus Port € 45 € 60
Church in the middle of Athens

Another thing to note is once you’re on the islands, taxis typically have a fixed fare – none use meters. Make sure you confirm the price of the trip with your driver before you get into the cab.

2) The combined ticket for Athens archeological sites is worth buying IF…

If you’re looking to visit most of the Athens archaeological sites you might want to consider the combined archaeological ticket which allows you one entry into the following sites:

  1. The Acropolis of Athens.
  2. The Ancient Agora of Athens and the Museum of the Ancient Agora
  3. Kerameikos and the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
  4. The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Olympieio)
    Note: you can see this through the fence quite easily without needing to pay any entry fee!
  5. The Roman Agora of Athens and the Tower of the Wind
    Note: again another site that is out in the open with a small fence around, relatively quite small and in our opinion is not worth buying a separate ticket to visit since you can see it all from the fence!
  6. Hadrian’s Library
  7. Aristotle’s Lyceum (Archaeological site of Lykeion)

During our visit in July 2019 (high season), the combined ticket was €30 and is valid for 5 days from the date of purchase. If you do the maths, the combined ticket is only worth purchasing if you wish to see the Acropolis (€20 adult ticket) and at least two other sites.

Also it’s important to note that this combined ticket does not include the Acropolis museum which charges €10 per adult, so you’ll need to purchase this separately.

Don’t forget to buy your tickets online too and save yourself queuing up from here: https://etickets.tap.gr/

Check out our post on why we loved Athens so much here.

3) Visit the Acropolis and Museum early morning or just before closing

When we visited the Acropolis, we were ready in the queue at 8:00 am when the gates opened. This, in our opinion, is the best time to visit as it’s the least amount of crowds and before the heat of the day sets in.

This also meant we were able to head straight to the Acropolis Museum by 9:30 am where there was no queue for tickets or entry.

If you’re unable to make it this early, go late afternoon. The crowds will die down closer to closing time at 8:00 pm. On a hot summers day, I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the middle of the day as there is no shade and a lot of marble up there, which is highly reflective! Brutal would be the word.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack comfortable and grippy shoes (it gets slippery up there) and lots and lots of H2O.

4) Transport delays are part and parcel of a holiday in Greece

On our holiday alone we managed to experience a 24 hour Greece wide ferry strike, a 1 hr delayed ferry, and 3 x flights delayed anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. All in all I think we had one flight that left on schedule. Travel delays are the norm, not the exception in Greece, so when booking your ferry and flights, be sure to give yourself ample buffer time between them.

5) Google maps doesn’t work so well on the islands

On the Greek islands, particularly the smaller ones, google maps is not always your best friend. Streets that are supposed to be there won’t be there, or streets that aren’t on google maps will suddenly appear!

Also, sometimes roads on maps may end as a hilly narrow dirt street that you end up having to push your car up as the engine can’t make it (true story).

Best to get a locals directions and stick to the main roads if you can as those little backstreets may end up taking you twice as long!

6) Be aware of the Meltemi, the legendary Greek winds

The result of 2 pressure systems, the Meltemi is the prevailing recurring summer wind that blows strongly over large parts of Greece and the Aegean. These winds can wreak havoc on islands such as Milos, preventing sailing tours to certain parts of the island on a given day or making specific beaches unvisitable.

Our tip is to check the weather forecasts and note when the winds are expected to hit and where, and plan your visits accordingly.

On the island of Milos, these winds hit during summer on 15 days out of the month and unfortunately for us, it happened during our sailing tour. It just meant we were unable to visit the north of the island and that most of the “sailing boats” use their motor rather than traditional sail power. We also managed to visit Sarakiniko twice during our visit to Milos, once on a normal day and the other when the Meltemi was blowing. On the day the winds were blowing it was a ghost town as it was impossible to stay and enjoy the water as the wind was kicking up so much grit and sand it was akin to a full-body exfoliation standing there!  

7) Pack those reef shoes

As an Aussie, when we think beaches, we picture glorious inviting and soft golden sand. Sorry to burst your holiday bubble, but alas sand beaches in Greece are far and very few between. Instead, think rock or pebble beaches which can prove somewhat painful to navigate barefoot. One of the things you’ll be exceptionally grateful you packed will be reef shoes!

8) Don’t flush toilet paper

You’ll soon notice that in almost every Greek toilet there’s a little sign saying “Don’t flush toilet paper!”. Greek plumbing gets clogged very easily and can’t support toilet paper being flushed, so unless you want to make a call to the local plumber, look for the little toilet bin to throw away your used paper.

9) Don’t drink tap water on the islands

On the mainland ie Athens, tap water is fine to drink however once you get to the islands, it’s highly recommended to buy bottled water. So play it safe, as who wants to be stuck to the toilet when you’re in paradise?

Are you buying still or sparkling?
A great thing to note is all still bottled water is price regulated by the government, meaning you won’t pay more than 50 cents for a 500ml bottle or €1 for a 1.5L bottle from any little corner shop or cafe. Buying direct from groceries stores makes it even cheaper, particularly if you buy bottles in bulk.

Unfortunately however this does not apply to sparkling water, so at restaurants be sure to check prices. On islands like Santorini we’ve seen a 1L bottle of still water for €1 but costing €7 for a bottle of sparkling!

10) Hiring a car?

On many islands, to truly visit all the exquisite beaches on offer, a car is often required. Below are just some of our experiences and tips when it comes to renting a car in Greece.

An international driving permit is a must to rent a car

To rent a car in Greece, you need an international driving permit, and this is non-negotiable. You can apply for one online easily, it takes 5-7 days to process and costs AU$42 in NSW.

Check the age of your car

If you are like us and left renting a car to the last minute when we arrived on the island (don’t recommend!), before you commit to the rental be sure to check not just the model of the car but the age of it too. You won’t believe the shit box we rented on Milos for €50 a day – I think it was honestly as old as I was and miraculously still working.  

Petrol costs are high on the island

Circa €1.72/L in July 2019 don’t forget to factor this cost in when calculating your estimated car rental cost.  

Check the price of transfers against car hire on the islands

You may find booking a car in advance can cost the same (or less if there’s 5 of you), but give you much greater flexibility. On the islands, all transfer prices are fixed too and don’t operate by way of any meter, so what is a 10-minute ride will likely still cost a minimum of €15. For eg, it cost us €25 just for a taxi transfer from Adamos port on Milos to our Airbnb house, a 12 minutes drive away versus €35 to hire a fiat panda for 24 hours with pick up at the port.

11) Another excuse to shop!

VAT is the standard value-added tax included in the price of goods and services sold in the EU. The good news for tourists though is VAT can be claimed back on goods you purchase when you leave in the EU. 

In Greece VAT can be up to 24% of the purchase price and the best news is the minimum purchase amount is only €50! All that’s required is when you purchase your goods, you receive a completed ‘tax free form’ from the retailer that you then get stamped by airport customs as you leave the EU. The last step is then to submit your stamped documents to the tax refund counter at the aurport such as Global Blue or Planet for your VAT refund!

Things to note when tax free shopping:

  • Always ask the retailer if they do tax-free shopping, as unfortunately, not all stores will offer this. On Santorini with its high tourist volume, many stores offer tax-free shopping however on smaller islands such as Milos; it’s virtually non-existent.
  • Make sure you have your passport on you! Retailers require your passport details to complete the required VAT refund form.
  • Note you won’t get the full amount of VAT back (as the tax refund agency takes a commission percentage) but use this calculator by Global Blue that works out your exact cash refund back after commissions.
  • The €50 minimum must be met at a single retailer – you can’t add up purchases from different shops to get to the €50.
  • You have a time period of 3 months to claim the VAT back from the date of purchase.

Remember to successfully claim VAT back:

  1. You need the VAT claim form completed by the retailer. No matter what a retailer might say, they need to issue this form as step 1!
  2. You can only claim VAT back when you leave the EU. So if you’re flying to another EU country in the meantime, you’ll need to wait until you’re on your way home to claim the tax back.
  3. At the airport when you get your form stamped by customs, make sure you go early and bring the goods with you as often customs will check the form and receipt against the physical goods. These custom counters are typically located before you enter the departures area.
  4. Once your custom forms are stamped, all airports will also have the tax refund counters by Global Blue or Planet where you can make your claim, and receive the refund typically onto your credit card or in cash.
  5. Don’t forget the time limit – you need to claim it by the end of the third month after that in which you buy the goods. eg, if you purchased it on the 15 January, you have until 31 March to make a claim.

12) Lose something along the way?

If the unfortunate event of losing something or theft occurs, contact the Tourism Police first. Check with your host or hotel where they might be located, or call #171 from all over Greece 24/7 to reach them.

Also – if your incident is in any way related to ferries or the ferry ports, you’ll need to speak to the Port Police specifically.

On Santorini, we had to contact the police to lodge a lost item report and we simply googled the closest police station. After a 1.5km walk in the blistering sun, we arrived only to be told to head back into town where we had just come from to speak to the Port Police.

Bonus story on the Greek Islands

The Greek Islands are a highlight of Greece, with over 200 populated islands to visit, something new is being discovered every year. But with the flurry tourism, it’s starting to lose the magic it once had.

Check out the story here during our visit to Santorini.

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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Tikal: Guide Tips & Tricks

Tikal is one of the most incredible Mayan ruins located in the heart of Guatamala. Here are 10 tips to prepare you for this must see destination.

Date visited: 18 April 2019

Tikal was an incredible site to visit, but there were a few things we wish we had known before visiting site. Here are the top 10 tips and tricks, for your visit to Tikal.

For most travellers to Guatemala or even Belize, Tikal and its sprawling 16km2 of Mayan ruins are a must-see on their travel plans. Set within 576km2 of jungle it is an awe inspiring UNESCO world heritage site that genuinely showcases the ingenuity and might of the Mayan civilisation before its gradual decline. With over 3,000 structures spanning grand palaces, pyramids and plazas, Tikal expanded and flourished to become one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya until the late 800 AD. Historians debate the cause of the Mayan decline, but it is commonly attributed to several factors including famine, climate change, disease, warfare and unsustainable agricultural practices.

The collapse of Tikal was relatively rapid for a city that had stood for 700 years, with Tikal crumbling in an estimated 100 years and eventually abandoned with the forest quickly reclaiming the settled land.
As with many other famous sites though, it was not until a thousand years later in the 1950’s when dedicated study, excavation and restoration work began to reclaim the forgotten history back from the jungle.

Below are 10 tips, tricks and things learned from our trip to Tikal!

1) Bring your passport or ID

Surprisingly not all tour agencies seem to mention this significant fact, but to purchase tickets, you will need this!

2) As in most of Guatemala, cash is king

While there are EFTPOS facilities, there are no ATM’s around, and on the day we went, the machine was down! Make sure you bring at least Q150 p.p in cash just in case to cover your entry fee.

3) Going early

Tikal is open every day from 6am to 6pm. While we opted out of the sunrise option (which required a bus leaving Flores at 3am), we did opt for the first bus after sunrise which meant the 4.30am bus depart Flores from the ‘Le Peten’ sign at the start of the bridge. (and yes, a 4:30am bus still does not get you there in time for sunrise!). It is a 1.5-hour bus ride, but you should factor in buffer time for delayed leaving times (ours was delayed by 20 minutes) and time for the whole bus to alight and purchase tickets before you are driven to the entry gates to walk through. All in all, we only arrived at the park ready to start walking at 6:50am.

Also, just a note if you are interested in the sunrise option, it is only an extra Q100 park entry fee p.p.

4) Going early for animals

Another reason to opt for the earlier bus is your chances of spotting animals in the national park is much higher! You will be there before the heat sets in and while we did not see the elusive jaguar, we did manage to see howler monkeys, toucans, woodpeckers and plenty of pisotes, all by 9am.

5) Travel quietly

If you are on the lookout for wildlife, it may seem like an obvious one, but travel silently on the trails around Tikal. You are much more likely to not scare them away and spot animals that way.

6) If you’re a Star Wars fan, bring an X-Wing model for a fun photo

George Lucas famously used Tikal as a backdrop to Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope. When we visited, a dedicated fan pulled out a tiny x wing model to take a fantastic and fun shot with it. Our only regret was not being so prepared and doing the same!

7) Beeline to the Grand Plaza, then climb the big temple

When we entered Tikal, we made a beeline for the back of the park via the Grand Plaza and worked our way forward. This meant we could get shots of the central area and larger template with relatively few people in it, as well as climb in the relative cool of the morning before the heat set in. Trust me when we say Tikal gets hot.

8) Alternate restroom

When alighting from the bus in the morning, don’t rush to use the bathrooms at the restaurant next to the bus drop off area. By then there are typically queues from the busload of people arriving, and the toilets themselves are in a less than appealing state. Instead, there are many bathrooms dotted around Tikal with some just inside the main entrance where there are no queues, so I recommend going there!

9) Bring comfortable walking shoes

Tikal is large, and you’ll be walking on trails through the forest or climbing up steps, so something comfortable with good grip is best.

10) What else you need to bring

Bring snacks, enough water (1.5L – 2L) and sunscreen and a hat! While there are a few stands dotted around, it’s best to bring your own snacks (particularly if you want something healthy). Also, make sure you have enough water as you’ll be walking around a lot, and while there is shade at Tikal, there are open areas you need to cross as well that are unforgiving in the sun!

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Our 6 Must-do Activities Visiting Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker is a tiny slice of paradise found in the caribbean sea where ‘no problem’ isn’t just a popular phrase but a way of life. On this chilled out island there is a wealth of activities to explore and we’ve picked out our 6 favourite.

Caye Caulker, the small island off the coast of Belize is a tiny slice of laid back paradise. As the locals like to advertise, it’s a “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” kinda island.

While it is the second largest of the Belizean Cayes, it feels a world away from any large overdeveloped town or hot spot. The island vibe is strong here, with no cars on the island and walking or golf buggies the preferred mode of transport. The only traffic sign directive is “go slow” and this perfectly sums up how you should be holidaying here.

Go slow and keep moving on the beach of Caye Caulker, Belize.
Go slow, but keep moving, on the beach of Caye Caulker

When we arrived here, we instantly fell in love. The weather is warm and sunny on this barefoot paradise, most hotels and hostels front the main street which runs along the coast of the island, and everything is within an easy walking distance. The locals are friendly and the definition of chilled, and as a bonus, everything is in English! Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language, so no need to pull out the rusty Espanol.

One of the best parts of the sailing tour was trying our hand at fishing.

There are also many minimarts on the island (strangely all but one are owned by Asian families!), however there are equally a good number of local eateries to choose from, from street food stands through to higher-end establishments.

We spent five days in Caye Caulker which was enough time to see most things, but it’s very easy to spend a week or more here given how beautiful and effortless life is 🙂

If you’re planning a getaway to Caye Caulker, here are 6 must-do things:

1) Book a sailing tour for snorkeling and a visit to Shark and Ray Alley

Book a sailing tour which includes snorkelling at Shark & Ray Alley.

We opted for a 2 day / 1 night sailing tour, and it was a lot of fun. The island is dotted with many tour operators so you can take your pick, but a sailing cruise with snorkelling included (and unlimited rum punch) is a fun way to see the coast, more of the surrounding islands, and basically relax.

Our boat accommodated 7 people so if you’re in a large group you could feasibly book out a whole boat to yourself. Almost all sailing tours will include a stop at shark and ray alley, but double-check to make sure as this is one you don’t want to miss. Fisherman historically came to this area to clean out their boats and catches, which in turn attracted all the local rays and reef sharks. So much so that now when any boats appear, they swarm underneath in great numbers!!

Shark and Ray Alley, Caye Caulker

Note: On the day we went, the currents were ridiculously strong, so be wary of that as you go snorkelling! Take fins and make sure you check where you are relative to the boat often, or you may find yourself having drifted quite far with an exhausting swim back.

2) Go fishing and cook your spoils at the local restaurant

One of the best parts of the sailing tour was trying our hand at fishing, with one of our friends successful in catching a marlin. The fish caught were served up for dinner that night but were also given to us to take back to Caye Caulker and cook up ourselves. Our captain recommended Enjoy Restaurant where for BZD$10 they’ll grill your fish and serve it up with a side of rice and veggies. It was one of the best fish we’ve ever had – the grill they use infuses the fish with amazing flavours, and there’s nothing quite like eating something you’ve caught yourself!

3) Go for a beach massage with Javier

Javier is a local providing massages by the beach for a very reasonable BZD$50 for one hour, or BZD$80 for two people for one hour each if you’re a couple! He’s located 100 metres down from the spit sign here and has a variety of methods on offer (from Swedish to aromatherapy, sports, etc). You are sheltered somewhat from the winds in his makeshift beach hut, but Javier honestly has the most amazing technique. Read his reviews, he’s fantastic, and a must-see if you’re in need for some pampering!

Rent a buggy and drive around the island of Caye Caulker
Drive a golf buggy around Caye Caulker

4) Get a fry jack for breakfast

Erolyns House of Fryjacks serve up some delicious fry jacks every morning from 6:30am. Fry jacks are essentially a deep-fried folded bread with stuffings in every combination possible using beans, cheese, chicken, ham, or bacon. All you need to know is they are delicious, cheap (BZD$3-7 depending on your filling choice), and taste even better with the local Marie Sharpe hot sauce on offer. Just try one, you won’t regret it.

5) Go for a yoga class at randOM Yoga

Go for a yoga class at randOM Yoga (on top of Namaste Cafe).

This yoga class is held on an open-top floor space and run by Jessie, a local Belizean. It’s a by-donation class meaning you pay what you feel it’s worth. Mats, straps and blocks are provided and if you are interested check the timetable on the board outside the Namaste Cafe (as it can vary based on her availability).

Also, remember to go at least 5-10 minutes early as spots fill up quick! While Jessie is very good at Tetrising everyone in, unfortunately, if the numbers are simply too many, she does have to turn people away.

6) Spend a day kicking back at Koko King

Koko King is a beautiful beach resort on the northern island of Caye Caulker. What was once all one island, thanks to a few large hurricanes, has now split it into two with Koko King on the north island and only accessible by a regular and free* boat. You can see the island across from The Split (however don’t think you can swim it!) and it’s a quick 2-4 minute boat ride away.

Koko King houses the upscale Weyu hotel, but is also open to the public for use of their beach and amenities (though note the hotel pool is the only out of bounds area).

In my opinion it is nicer than the split and is a great place to relax for a day, particularly if you rent a cabana bed! There are 3-4 cabana beds on the beach you can rent for the day at BZD$50 which is not too expensive when split with friends, however if you are keen for one I recommend going early (by 10:30am) as these go very quickly! If not, there are some beach chairs provided for free

At Koko King, there is also a decent restaurant with food and drinks (not cheap but not ridiculously priced either) as well as rubbers tyres you can float on for free and a water volleyball net if you’re keen! It’s shallow enough anyone can play, and we teamed up with another group for a fun, friendly match.

To get across, you can catch the boat provided by Koko King that runs every 30 minutes. The cost is BZD$25 or free if you spend the equivalent amount at their restaurant (which if you’re going for a few hours or over lunch is very easy to do). Note any money paid for a cabana bed also allows you to meet the minimum spend for 2 people! Just make sure you collect a wristband from the bar to prove you’ve met the spend when you leave.

Getting to Caye Caulker:

The two main ways of getting to Caye Caulker: a ferry from Belize City or a ferry from Chetumal.

Ferries from Belize City take about 45 minutes and operate up to 12 times daily with two operators; Belize Express Water Taxi or Ocean Ferry Belize.

Ferries from Chetumal take about 3.5 hours stopping first in San Pedro to complete immigration, then Continuing on to Caye Caulker. The cost is just over USD$50+and from Chetumal you’ll need to check the departure times as there are generally only 2 per day.

If you are travelling down from Mexico into Belize, another option is to catch a bus from Bacalar to Belize City between 8am – 9am (depending on your hotel location) and then the 1.30pm ferry across to Caye Caulker which sees you to the island by 2.30pm. You can easily organise this transfer via Marlin Espalda for US$40 per person which includes a small simple breakfast (think cereal/toast/tea and coffee) and a return ferry ticket to Belize City. We used them in April 2019 with no problems; they explained how to cross the border from Mexico to Belize and talked us through all the required immigration forms and process.

Where to stay in Caye Caulker:

Anywhere you stay on the island, you’ll be able to walk to the other end. It’s pretty small! Staying somewhere on the main road or just off it would be our recommendation as you’re closest to the action.

We stayed at Hotel Enjoy (which sits close to the ferry port, Errolyn’s fryjacks and opposite Namaste cafe) and had good wifi which is difficult to find in Belize. We have also stayed at De Real McCaw Hotel which is a good budget no-frills accommodation. On the main road closer to the Spit, it faces the beach too with cute porches out the front of every room.

Use coupon code 76983920 if booking via booking.com to get 10% back off your accommodation bill!

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7 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE VISITING CHICHEN ITZA: GUIDE, TIPS & TRICKS

Considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world. here are 7 tips, tricks and things to know before your visit to Chichen Itza.

Considered one of the new 7 wonders of the world as voted in 2007, the UNESCO world heritage site Chichen Itza is a must see in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. Located approx. 2 hours drive from the popular Tulum and Cancun, the Mayan engineering marvel is a fascinating sight to behold.

Dominated by the famous El Castillo or Temple of Kulkulcan, the ruins are made up of multiple sites and a network of paved roadways, reflecting the city complex, which was built sometime in the 5th century AD. By 600 AD, Chichen Itza had grown to become a thriving urban centre of Mayan civilisation, with an estimated 50,000 people living in the city at its height.

If you are planning a trip here (which you should!) here are 7 tips, tricks and things to know before your visit to Chichen Itza:

Beating the crowds means having the temple all to yourself.

1. Timezone differences!
Perhaps the most important of all, particularly if you are making the visit from Tulum or Cancun, is being aware of a possible time zone change. In 2015, the state of Quintana Roo (in which Cancun and Tulum are located) decided to change to Eastern Standard Time, permanently gaining an hour of sunlight for tourists. Chichen Itza located in the state of Yucatan however, which still observes Central Daylight Time. Although, during April – October when daylight saving is in play, both states operate in the same time zone.

Between October – April when daylight saving is not observed in Yucatan, this creates a time zone difference. During this time, Chichen Itza is an hour behind Tulum, so if you’re planning on getting there just before opening at 8 am don’t forget to factor that in otherwise you’ll be like us and arrive before 7 am!

2. An early start to beat the crowds
While you don’t want to be too early, you do want to get there as close to opening as possible. A small queue had already formed by 7:45 am and being amongst the first people inside for the day means you get to enjoy the quiet and awe of Chichen Itza without the crowds and in the relative cool of the early morning.

3. Taking in your SLR camera
Be mindful there is a fee for the use of what they deem professional cameras and videos at Chichen Itza and requires a separate ticket to be used (i.e. DSLR’s and go pros. Regular point and shoot cameras like our Sony RX100 was fine). As such if you’re not willing to pay the fee, or happy to use our phone to snap pics, leave your camera and GoPro at home.

4. Entry fees
You will need to buy two tickets at Chichen Itza – one is the federal fee (MXN75 p.p), and one is the state fee (MXN400 p.p). When we were there in April 2019, we could pay both tickets on credit-card, but it’s often said that the state fee is paid in cash.

5. Cenotes of Chichen Itza
Unfortunately you can’t swim in the cenotes at Chichen Itza, however, if you’re looking for great nearby ones, our favourites were Ik Kil (8 mins away) or Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman (45 mins away just on the outskirts of the nearby town Valladolid and on the way back to Tulum).

The cenote Ik Kil.

Both open top cenotes, Ik Kil though is consistently rated in the top cenotes in Mexico with beautiful vines that dip down to the 40m deep waters. It has many facilities, including an on-site restaurant, lockers and accommodation options. The entrance fee is MXN70.

For Hacienda Oxman, what’s different about this cenote is it has both a natural underground pool (with rope swing!) plus an above ground pool with a bar if you’re craving a bit of sunshine. It also has three options for entry fees, all of which include life vest use and access to the pool.

a) MXN80 flat entry fee
b) MXN100 entry fee with MXN50 redeemable on food and drinks
c) MXN150 entry fee fully redeemable though on food and drinks

While we didn’t try the food, it was nonetheless a perfect post-Chichen Itza stop for an afternoon swim and drinks!

6. Lunch
A fantastic stop for lunch near Chichen Itza is Yerberbuena in nearby town Valleidod. This serves a delicious meal with local Mexican dishes and even vego/vegan options. If you go, we highly recommend their mango frappe – it was divine!

Snapping a selfie with no crowds around.

7. Special events
There is a bi-annual festival during the spring and autumn equinox each year at Chichen Itza that celebrates the beginning of spring. An interesting fact: there is equal (12 hours each) of daylight and night.

Occurring every year in March and September – generally on the 21st of the month – on these days in the late afternoon around 4 pm, the light of the sun casts a shadow along with the steps of the Kulkulkan template that makes it appear like a serpent is slithering down the pyramid. This amazing display of the Mayan’s advanced astronomical knowledge and is a fun celebration to be had as thousands gather each year to admire this phenomenon. While we missed it this time around, if you are planning a holiday in these months, it will be well worth lining up the dates!

GUIDE TO DISNEY WORLD MAGIC KINGDOM: TIPS, TRICKS & THINGS I WISH I KNEW

Disney World is truly a magical place, but can be tough to navigate with so many people. Here are key tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your visit.

Park VisitedMagic Kingdom on EMH
Date Visited Friday 22 March 2019 during spring break
(est. crowd calendar 8 out of 10)
Park Pass & Price
1 day Disney theme park base ticket (adult)
USD$132.50 p.p including all taxes and fees

On our last 2 trips to Tokyo and Paris, we had tried to visit Disneyland but could never line up the dates or quite make it work with our itinerary. So when planning our trip to the US this time around, Disney World was designated a “must see”. Unfortunately for us though, the only feasible dates perfectly aligned to spring break in Florida and try as we might, we couldn’t shift our timing. Our park of choice for this visit was the quintessential Disney World Magic Kingdom and so to maximise our time and minimise disappointment, I researched how to plan an optimal day in Disney World and luckily this paid off!

So how you might ask did we, during spring break period, manage to only wait a maximum 35 minute per ride, see everything we wanted to see and leave exhausted, but happy after a long and magical day?

Whilst by no ways exhaustive, these are just some of our own (hopefully) useful tips and tricks for an adults-only visit to MK:

1) Definitely try and score Extra Magic Hours (“EMH”) access

EMH is where guests of Disney resorts and select hotels can spend extra time in the theme park on a given day, either before it opens or after it closes. We timed our visit with a day EMH was in the morning for MK, so during spring break this meant MK opened at 7am with a significant crowd already gathered by 6:30am. EMH is definitely worth it in the morning though as whilst there was still a crowd gathered at opening time, ride wait times are the lowest they will be all day!
See below for non-Disney hotels that can still access EMH.

2) Arrive at least 30 minutes before opening time and don’t forget to factor in time passing through security, getting on the monorail and walking!

Don’t forget to factor in time walking from your car (if you drive) to the monorail entrance, passing through security, travelling on the monorail, and then time walking down from the station to the main gates of MK.
All in all at 6am the lines were minimal and we parked close to the entrance so this took about 15 minutes for us, however the later you go, the much longer the wait becomes particularly passing through the security check.

3) Book in your Fast Passes+ when it opens and book each pass 1.5 – 2 hours apart.

The Disney Fast Pass+ is a free benefit for everyone and one you should definitely take advantge of. It essentially allows you to “skip the line” on three attractions each day and it’s booking system opens 30 days in advance or 60 if you’re staying with a Walt Disney World resort or hotel with Extra Magic Hour benefits (such as where we stayed at Disney Swan Resort –see below!)

We unfortunately booked ours on the 3rd day after it opened and already missed out on securing a fast pass for the popular 7 Dwarves Mine ride. As such and given we love thrill rides, we booked our first 3 on: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Booking your Fast Passes 1.5 – 2 hours apart gave us the opportunity to fit in seeing one other ride between each Fast Pass attraction. For example we had a Fast Pass at 9:30am,11am and 12:30pm. Doing this also allows you some time to walk around and see the sites within each land without having to dash like a mad person to the next booking! Also don’t forget you can’t book your next fast pass until all 3 initial Fast Pass bookings have lapsed – so it’s best not to leave your 3rd Fast Pass booking late in the day!

4) Head straight to the 7 Dwarves Mine ride at rope drop

If like us you don’t secure a 7 Dwarves Mine fast pass, I suggest you make a beeline for this ride when the park opens as wait times reach up to 195 minutes by lunch and it never dropped below 70 minutes whilst we were there (yes it’s crazy).  Although we weren’t at the front of the line when the gates opened, we only had to wait 25 minutes for this first ride of the day!  After the 7 Dwarves, we then did the short walk to Peter Pan (a 30 minute wait) and by the time EMH ended and the park fully opened, we had seen 2 of the most popular rides, with Fast Passes+ booking for the remaining one’s!

Disneyworld selfie with Cinderellas castle.
Excitement – Cinderellas castle!

5) Constantly refresh your Disney app when booking in your next Fast Pass

Disney allows you to book more Fast Passes – albeit one at a time – once all 3 of your initial Fast Pass bookings lapse.

When we were re-booking our next Fast Pass, we refreshed constantly as new time slots opened up all the time. We were able to score a Fast Pass to Haunted Mansion, our next preference that way when the ride’s average wait time was 75 minutes.

Also, towards the end of the day the app often says all the Fast Passes are “exhausted” – but again just keep refreshing as new options always loaded back up.

Lastly, when booking in later Fast Pass slots, I’d recommend just booking whatever is appealing, even it’s a 2nd or 3rd preference. Then use the ‘modify’ reservation function in the app to keep scanning to see if another more attractive ride slot pop ups. That way you always have an option booked!

6) Bring a battery pack for your phone!

You will likely be glued to your Disney World app as it’s where all the wait times are updated in real time and where you can book your Fast Passes from. Add in free wifi park wide and the wait time for rides = significant screen time for the day.

7) Use noon – early afternoon to eat, check out the stores and take a break from the rides!

By lunch time, crowds are the craziest and wait times for the most popular rides can hit up to 200 minutes. Depending of course on when your next Fast Pass is, we used this time to grab lunch, check out the daily parade, do some shopping on main street and (for one of us) to take a quick nap to recharge.

For a summary of our day plan – see below!

Having a nap at Disneyworld
Having a nap.

8) When filling into cinemas or shows and selecting where to sit, pick the row where a fair number of people have gone before you

In every show there are attendants that direct people to fill up each row from the ends first, meaning people can’t just plop down in the middle of the row. This means that rather than choosing an empty row, if you choose a row where people have already gone before you, you have a better chance of getting a middle seat!

9) Visit the Crystal Arts shop on Main Street for the glass blowing demonstration

You get to see close up and personal a live demonstration on blowing glass by the same people who produce the wares on sale in the Disney shop! It’s an interesting and fascinating 15-20 minute show that was held every hour.

10) If you read in other blogs to skip the Happily Ever After fireworks at 9:15pm and line up for popular rides as the crowds lessen – DON’T DO IT!

Firstly, the firework show was one of the highlights of our entire day – it was the perfect end to our time at Disney World and a fantastic collaboration of fireworks, music, lasers, lights and all beloved Disney characters. It isn’t just for kids as it also touches upon many of the older classic Disney movies and isn’t a short show, going for a solid 18 minutes so it is worth the wait. We arrived about 40 minutes before the show started and got a prime position, but they do pack the square so as many people as possible can get a great view. I would also note I did check the app and wait times, and whilst they did decrease slightly on the popular rides it was only by 10-15 minutes, so still a 80 minute wait for the 7 Dwarves Mine or Space Mountain!

Firewords at Disneyworlds closing celebrations.
Night time fireworks at Disneyworld!

11) The bus may be faster

When leaving the park, if the line for the monorail is mammoth – take a bus! When exiting the park, rather than heading right to the monorail, veer left towards the buses. There are always many attendants around who will point you to the direction of the next bus. When we left, the line for the monorail was insane and rather than a >30 minute wait, we were able to board a bus straight away and was back at our car within 7 minutes.

12) If you want to buy Mickey Mouse ears, buy them at the start of the day

I ummed and ahh’d about buying Mickey Mouse ears and finally caved as owning an original pair from Disney World has been a long time want for me. If you buy it at the start of the day, at least you’ll get to wear it for the full day and maximise your cost per wear 😊

Mini Mouse ears at Disneyworld.
Mini Mouse ears at Disneyworld.

13) Check out Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn – it’s Mexican food with generous sizing sizes and affordable pricing.

If you like Mexican and are looking for a hearty meal, this is a good place.
You pay for base ingredients for your Mexican meal such as the meat, tortilla, rice, chips, etc but all toppings (cheese, salsa, sour cream, tomatos, lettuce, jalapenos) are self serve! So you can load up your plate for a filling lunch.

14) If Disney Resorts are too expensive consider these other hotels as they can access all the same Disney benefits such as the all important EMH!

  • Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
  • Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
  • Shades of Green Resort
  • Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels
  • Four Seasons Resort Orlando
  • Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek; and
  • Waldorf Astoria Orlando.

We managed to score a great deal at Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (which despite the name is not technically a “Disney Resort”) and stayed for a fraction of what the cheapest Disney Resort would have cost us.

It was a great hotel however if you do stay here make sure to check if the daily US$30 resort fee is included in your quoted price or not! Also, good to note that parking is charged at US$20 per day in addition as well.

15) Save a bit of money!

Purchase your ticket through authorised resellers such as undercovertourist.com and scout websites such as http://www.ebates.com for any cash back offers! This worked out to be cheaper than purchasing direct from Disney (though bear in mind the type of ticket we bought) and I managed to score some cash back.

If you are new to ebates, you can automatically get US$10 back (plus any cash back %) by using this referral link! https://www.ebates.com/r/GABRIE25532?eeid=28187

16) Lastly, there are some great useful websites out there already that explain ride strategy, the fast pass system and the crowd calendar if you wish to read up some more!

Our ItineraryApprox. TimingApprox. Waiting Time
Arrived at the park entrance, ready and waiting for rope drop!6:30 AM30 min to
opening
1) 7 Dwarves Mine Railway7:00 AM35 min
2) Peter Pan 7:45 AM35 min
3) Splash Mountain (FastPass #1)9:30 AM5 min
4) Pirates of the Caribbean10:15 AM30 min
5) Enchanted Tiki Room Show 10:45 AM10 min
6) Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad
11:30 AM5-10 min
7) Monsters Inc Show12:00 PM10 min
8) Presidents Hall Show12:30 PM
9) Space Mountain (FastPass #3)1:15 PM15 min
Lunch / parade / shopping / glass blowing demonstration / snooze 2:30-6:30 PM
10) Mickeys Philharmonic Magic Show15 min
11) Haunted Mansion (FastPass #4)7:15 PM15 min
12) Dumbo (FastPass #5)8:00 PM10 min
13) Happily Ever After Fireworks
(snagged a spot by 8:30pm)
9:15 PM 45min
14) It’s a small world after all (FastPass #6) 9:45 PM5 min
Home time! 10:30 PM